May 2010 Archives


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Rating: 4.6/5 (125 votes)
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JoyeGrace's DiaryI'm going to talk to Natalie today. She hasn't talked to me for a month, and I'm pretty sure it's because Ken told her not to. I think it's about time I tell her what I think. Maybe I should think carefully... hopefully, she'll listen to me. Sometimes games are just there for us when we want to have some fun, blow up the princess, and save the zombies, or something like that. Other times, we want to explore more difficult and painful stories. Grace's Diary by GPTouch manages to seamlessly integrate the theme of relationship abuse into a sensitive and moving visual novel. It won first prize in a game design contest by Jennifer Ann's Group, a charity against teen dating violence.

In the first part of the game, in classic point-and-click style, you click on various objects in Grace's bedroom to trigger memories about her friend Natalie. When you remember something important to tell Natalie, you write it down on your memo pad. Sometimes remembering something from one object can allow you to remember something from another object, so you have to click on objects more than once. Once you think you've remembered enough, you pick up your cell phone and call Natalie. Then, you click through a dialogue tree, sharing your memories with Natalie--if she'll hear you. There are two endings, so you may want to save before picking up that phone.

The delicate, sketchy quality of the art and the restrained music quickly establish a sense of intimacy. I felt as if I were really being let inside Grace's mind as she struggled to decide what to do about her friend. It may seem like a minor challenge compared to escaping from a ghost or mad man in a horror game, but the very reality of the situation made it scary in a way that those games could never be. Most of us have known or will someday know a Natalie. How to intervene? Should we even try, or will we just make it worse? The biggest flaw in the game is that the dialogue is clearly written by a non-native speaker, and hasn't been properly edited. However, despite some awkwardness, some misspellings, and some grammar errors, the meaning is still easy to grasp, and perhaps more importantly, the emotions and personality of the characters come through clearly.

Frequently, this kind of "edutainment" title is so forced, the characters so flat and predictable, and the plot so clearly just checking off boxes on a government list, that only an assignment could force you to play it. Grace's Diary doesn't try to force anything down the player's throat, nor does it allow "the message" to overpower its gameplay and plot. It's worth playing, not to "raise awareness" or to "learn the warning signs" or some other phrase that appears on a press release, but because the story of Grace's concern for Natalie, though sad and brief, is beautiful.

Play Grace's Diary


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Rating: 4/5 (55 votes)
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AdamCtouchthebubbles3_title1.pngPOP! Is there anything more satisfying than popping bubbles? Think about it: bubble wrap, bubble gum, bubble baths—the world is full of bubbles, and they are all ripe for popping. Touch the Bubbles 3, a collaboration between Komix and Gamebalance, is a mouse avoider that satisfies your childhood desire for wanton globular destruction. (And you don't even need to dig around for bubble wrap!) I'm going to go ahead and warn you right now: you are going to need a mouse. If you're planning on tackling this game with a laptop's touch pad, you are sadly mistaken. Got a mouse? Good. Using this marvel of modern ingenuity, you will direct your little sprite around 25 levels. And if you hadn't guessed from the title, your goal is to, well, touch the bubbles. This makes them pop while scoring you mega pointage, prestige, achievements, and joy. Huzzah!

Alas, the powers that be see you as unfit to pop all the bubbles. Touch anything red and you will have to start the level over. Show those guys they're wrong by avoiding red blobs, snakes, and pac-man-like entities, and pop every bubble on each level. Fortunately, you can touch the sides of the maze in most levels, as long as they are not red, of course. Each bubble popped will earn you a certain amount of points; long rapid streaks of popped bubbles will build your multiplier. Achievements are largely centered around points and slashes—knocking out multiple bubbles with one swipe of the mouse.

Touch the Bubbles knows exactly what it is and does it well. It is polished and drips with style. The soundtrack bounces along appropriately, adding atmosphere and personality to a game that would be lacking without these finishing touches. The controls are incredibly responsive, a mantra you can chant when you realize that the level design hates you and wants you to fail. However, while levels often border on frustrating, they never quite cross over into "ridiculous" territory.

There are a few things that make Touch the Bubbles stand out from other games of the genre. However, it's not revolutionary. Some powerups or different gameplay modes might have helped spice things up just a bit. Still, the game combines creativity in design with a slick style, making it one mouse-avoider worth playing. So get out there, avoid the red, earn some points, build your multiplier, and touch the bubbles. Touch the Bubbles THREE, that is.

Play Touch the Bubbles 3

Touch the Bubbles 3 is also available to play on Game Balance!


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Mobile Monday

JohnBIt's taken some time, but Google Play Android Games is finally beginning to attract some great games! Many of them have a dual existence on the iTunes App Store, but a few exclusives are starting to crop up here and there. Either way, gaming on your Android phone is getting better and better, and we\'re here to cover the top releases!

Because Google Play Android Games can only be browsed from your phone (for now), we've chosen to link all game names to their respective home pages. Click the title link to check out a game in your browser, or scan/click the image to download the game.

replicaislandandroid.jpgReplica Island - A puzzle platformer starring the Android's cute little green mascot. Dash around each stage evading enemies, collecting coins, and using your jet boost to fly for short periods of time. Forty challenging levels make this a surprisingly deep game, and best of all, it's free! The default controls map movement to the phone's track pad which, depending on your phone, is a hit-or-miss affair. The options menu lets you try tilt controls or switch movement to the keyboard, assuming your phone has a keyboard, that is.

drop7android.gifDrop7 - The jewel of the mobile puzzle genre, Drop7 is the new Tetris. Drop numbered discs to the bottom of the grid by tapping on the screen. If the number on the face matches the number of orbs in that row/column, they vanish. Special "egg" discs must be cracked open before revealing their numbers, adding an interesting wildcard flavor to the mix. Setting up chain reactions is all a matter of knowing which circles will vanish with each move. Play it smart and play it safe to stay in the game! Extremely addictive.

doodlejumpandroid.gifDoodle Jump - One of the biggest hits from the iPhone market finds a natural home on your Android phone. A simple action game at heart, all you do is tilt the device left and right to control which direction the little jumping guy moves. Keep landing on platforms to work your way skyward, and picking up springs, jet packs, shields boosts and other power-ups helps you along the way. A great visual presentation and very frequent updates makes it an excellent casual mobile game! Some older Android phones may experience sluggish movement, but the Doodle Jump team is working to correct every glitch users have encountered, which is encouraging.

zenoniaandroid.jpgZENONIA - A full-length 16-bit styled role playing game right on your phone! The action-RPG title combines Zelda-like design with upgradeable skills and plenty of inventory management. Expect just about everything you would get from an RPG released in 1995, including a slightly cheesy story. The touch controls can be a bit fussy at times, especially if you're used to having a physical controller in your hands, and the dialogue is rough, but it's hard to argue with a full-length RPG that looks this retro-good. Note: Both free and full versions of ZENONIA are available. Scan the left QR code for the full version, the right for the free.

papertossandroid.jpgPaper Toss - Scientific fact: any time any person throws paper in the trash bin, it's a game. Instead of making a mess on the ground (we know you don't always hit the goal), just download Paper Toss, a free physics game of... paper tossing! Wind direction and speed play a factor in this brutally simple game, and you'll have so much fun throwing paper away you won't mind there isn't a recycle bin in sight. The office setting was a great design choice, as many of us will be playing this while sitting in an actual office. Did I say playing? I meant reading work-related text messages...

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. Games have been confirmed to run on Android 2.1 on an HTC Eris.


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CGDC8 June 1st

The theme is "SANDBOX"!

Don't miss our CGDC #8 announcement!



  • Currently 4.1/5
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Rating: 4.1/5 (33 votes)
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Fractal

ArtbegottiI've never understood the phrase "when push comes to shove". What's that even supposed to mean? I think it has something to do with how one action can produce a significant reaction, but is it necessarily a bad thing? In Fractal, the newest puzzle game by Cipher Prime (makers of Auditorium), pushing and shoving in just the right way can lead to an explosively good time.

FractalIn Fractal, your goal is to create "blooms", which are made of six "fractals" (hexagons) of the same color surrounding a central fractal. To do this, click on any open space next to a fractal on the board (including the outside border). In any direction where there's an adjacent fractal, a new fractal appears, pushing existing fractals outward from where you click. When a bloom is made, the seven fractals are removed from the board, and create a final push from the center of the bloom, expanding out in all six directions. (Really, this all makes more sense when you see it in action.)

It is by harnessing the effects of each push that you're capable of setting up multiple blooms, chain reactions, and taking advantage of power-ups like explosions and lightning. If you're playing in Campaign Mode, your goal is to clear enough fractals with your limited supply of pushes to make it to the next level and rack up a high score. Arcade Mode challenges you to clear special fractals to boost your time remaining, and Puzzle Mode pits you against a series of brain-bending challenges that test your planning abilities.

Analysis: Cipher Prime succeeds once again in creating a puzzle with an atmosphere that pops with energy and a unique challenge. Fractal uses a music system that changes with how well you're playing, speeding up if you're running out of time or slowing down as you run out of pushes. Granted, it sometimes feels like the same loop is being played in different keys with different levels, but it's still not offensive to the ear. The combination of music and graphics creates a sense of excitement that rewards every successful move you make.

FractalBeing successful, however, is quite tricky. If you're looking to line up chain reactions or larger blooms, it's sometimes hard to remember that every move you make can have multiple consequences. Pushing some fractals into place to finish a bloom then causes six rows of fractals to be pushed outward, possibly taking the next move you had in mind out of alignment. It takes careful planning, two, three, even five steps ahead to really master this game.

Whether or not you achieve this balance of strategy and luck, Fractal is a unique puzzle that caters to all levels of experience. The three modes of gameplay (actually, five, considering that there are three different Arcade Mode challenges) provide a wide variety of ways to play, and can satisfy cravings for both quickfire explosions or tediously planned chaos.

While the complexity of Fractal is hard to describe, it's quite easy to play, but still a challenge to fully conquer. So start pushing, and watch a world of possibilities bloom before your very eyes.

WindowsWindows:
Play the online demo
Get the full version

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


(13 votes) *Average rating will show after 20 votes
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Pizza Chef 2

JohnBPizza Chef 2 does what few time management and match-3 puzzle games care to do: try something different. Instead of fusing the former with the latter or the latter with the former, Pizza Chef 2 has made both genres equally reliant upon the other, meaning you can't take the matching out of the time management and vice versa. What you get is a strong casual game of simple strategy, quick thinking, and spatial reasoning combined in a very rare balance.

pizzachef2a.jpgThe story is forgettable and largely identical to every other restaurant-themed time management game out there, so all you need to know is your job is to make your pizza shop rock by serving food efficiently. The game screen is divided into two areas: the puzzle grid on the right, and tables on the left. The grid is where most of your time will be spent, swapping ingredients to make matches. When a match is made, tiles under those pieces are activated. Active tiles represent areas of your stove that are turned on. So, as you probably guessed, customers come in, sit at the tables, and order food. All you have to do is take that food and fit it on active squares in the grid.

Once food is cooked it automatically serves itself to the customers, so you don't have to worry about delivering it to the wrong table. You'll be busy enough trying to match more tiles to keep sections of your oven burning bright. Cooked food uses the heat in a block, so you're always on the lookout for quick matches and combos so you can focus on your customers. Special tiles such as bombs or sparkling ingredients will light up large areas of the grid, so keep an eye out for them!

Between stages you get to visit the shop and purchase new recipes or upgrade your equipment. Recipes come in the form of croissants, kebabs, sandwich platters and other dishes that are different shapes to fit on your grill. The more money a dish sells for, the more difficult it is to fit on the puzzle board. Gadgets play a neat role in Pizza Chef 2, allowing you to do things like appease angry customers or keep your oven burning hot without swapping tiles.

pizzachef2b.jpgAnalysis: It may look cheesy on the surface (I'm sure there's a joke about pizza and cheese in there), but Pizza Chef 2 plays as smoothly as a delicious hunk of brie (there it is!). The puzzle/time management mechanics are expertly balanced to complement each other, not give the feeling that one was smashed on the other so the game can be called a "hybrid".

Beyond the time management meets match-3 gameplay, Pizza Chef 2 drops a few pure puzzle games your way every few levels. Expect a few different styles of mini-games, including simple hidden object scenes and a "fit all the pieces on the grid at once" puzzle. Good diversions from the main game, and you can always skip puzzles you don't want to complete.

The basic gameplay dynamics switch between matching and fitting, so you'll alternate between finding tiles to swap to trying to fit food on the grill. It's an interesting set-up, to be sure, and something about using each mechanic in a time-pressed environment is extremely satisfying.

Pizza Chef 2 may be different from most time management or match-3 games out there, but its concept isn't entirely unique. Experienced casual players will note more than a few similarities between this series and Burger Rush. Regardless of the copied mechanics, both games play well and are interesting in their own rights.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


(19 votes) *Average rating will show after 20 votes
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Tiger Eye: Curse of the Riddle Box

JohnBWe've all played the hidden object game where you have to piece together clues to some long-lost relative's hidden past. Most of the time it's fairly dull, but in the case of Tiger Eye - Part I: Curse of the Riddle Box, it's quite the opposite. The story in this hidden object game was written by author Marjorie M. Liu, and even if you're not a fan of her work, you'll appreciate the characters who have a little more depth than usual. Wrap that around a sturdy core of puzzle solving and mini-games and you've got an excellent hidden object game on your hands.

tigereyeriddle.jpgLet's share this little factoid right at the beginning: Tiger Eye - Part I: Curse of the Riddle Box is based on Marjorie's novel of the same name. It's a paranormal romance book, and the game adaptation follows the same style of storytelling. Expect a plucky female lead character with a psychic ability, a lot of soft fuzzy colors, and a beefy warrior guy who seems to have forgotten how to wear a shirt. Look beyond that exterior, though, and you'll find a game with solid puzzles, loads of unique mini-games, and overall great design.

Here's how the riddle box riddles: Dela starts off in the Beijing Dirt Market following a strange dream. Your mission objectives are listed on the bottom of the screen and are usually pretty straightforward (find ten metal weapons, open the wardrobe, fix the bike, etc.). To get things done, use those well-trained item finding eyes of yours to spot everything, then click to pick it up. Some items merely need to be found, while others must be used with other objects. There's no inventory to fuss with, so a little clicking will get you a long way.

Many spots feature sparkles or question marks, each denoting more information is to be found. The sparkling things are best, as they initiate a mini-game! Tiger Eye often feels more like a collection of mini-games than a hidden object game, as they fly at you at a fast pace and are really well done. The usual variety of puzzles can be expected from these diversions, ranging from word games to tangrams, logic puzzles, jigsaws and more. Each of which comes with a few hints and the option to skip the game entirely.

tigereyeriddle2.jpgAnalysis: Romance stories aren't for every casual gamer, and part of me wonders if Tiger Eye would be better received if the storytelling were a bit less... well, romantic. Even if you can't stand the plot content, the cutscenes are skippable, so you can go right to the next part of the game. You'll miss some decent character development in the process, but, you know, do what you've gotta do!

Aside from completing the game and getting involved with the story, Tiger Eye presents very little else to keep you occupied. The game itself is long enough, but there aren't too many reasons to go back and keep playing. Item locations are always the same, so completing levels a second time around wouldn't offer any challenge. The mini-games can be unlocked to play from the main menu, and honestly, they're one of the better parts of the game, so that adds a little replay value to the package.

If romance stories of any type are your thing, you're pretty much required to give Tiger Eye a try. And even if they're not, the game delivers a sturdy hidden object experience with loads of mini-games and some great puzzles to complete.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


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Weekend Download

JohnBOne of my favorite things about independent games are not the games themselves. It's the games' names. When you don't have to attract a certain demographic to plop down cash for your game so you can keep your massive studio in California air conditioned, you're free to have fun and call your game Mr. Heart Loves You Very Much, Squid Yes! Not So Octopus!, or Punishment: The Punishing! We love you too, indie game creators!

punishment2.gifPunishment: The Punishing (Windows, 3.4MB, free) - When a game has the same word in the title twice, you'd better pay attention. Punishment 2 is a platformer that's all about making things harder for you. Bouncey springs at just the wrong places, platforms that are way too narrow for their own good, levers that like to reset themselves, that sort of thing. A two player co-op mode is a great addition, so if you can, grab a buddy and share the keyboard for a great multiplayer experience. Just don't hit each other.

bulletzorz.gifBulletZORZ (Windows, 8.4MB, free) - Another game from Hempuli, this platformer focuses on one gameplay mechanic: hopping around on bullets. The game may look like Crayon Physics Deluxe on the surface, but obviously the gameplay is completely different. Some very creative bullet riding goes on in this game!

prototype.jpgProtoType (Windows, 19.2MB, free) - A shmup that's reminiscent of the old R-Type series in more ways than one. Blast your way across space scenery as you gradually acquire more and better weapons, each more epic than the last. The pixel artwork is excellent, the variety of enemies creative, and nostalgia will be turned on full-force when you notice the arcade cabinet scanlines on the screen.

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


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Rating: 4/5 (32 votes)
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Youda Safari

JohnBIt's Youda time! Youda Safari takes time management to the carefully-controlled realm of animal photography. Failing safari businesses are being turned into hunting grounds, and as the ever-helpful Lucy, you have agreed to help a friend liven up his tours. After all, shooting animals with cameras is better than with guns.

youdasafari.jpgEach level takes place on the safari grounds with animals lining a maze-like dirt path. Eager photographers come up to the gate and decide which animals they would like to see. Place visitors in the car, then click on animals in the order you want to visit them. The vehicle then drives along the road, stopping only to let the passengers take a quick picture.

No time management game would be complete without between-level upgrades. Youda Safari lets you buy bigger, faster vehicles to carry more passengers, but be warned that more simultaneous passengers greatly increases the complexity of the game. Snack stands are also available and will feed hungry visitors to earn you extra cash.

There are a number of in-game events you'll have to keep an eye out for as well. Sometimes you'll have an animal that needs to be fed, an obstacle in the road that needs to be removed, or a special mini-game style photoshoot you can participate in. There are even collectible photographs you can click when they appear, so don't take your eyes off the safarigoers for too long.

youdasafari2.jpgAnalysis: Youda Games is well known for their time management outings, including Youda Farmer, Youda Fairy, and Youda Camper. Come to think of it, the company is also known for naming games after itself! Either way, Youda's products are always packed with simple charm and have this uncanny ability to distill time management down to its most basic (but never too rudimentary) elements.

The pacing of Youda Safari is surprisingly quick, and you have to keep a number of items stored in your short term memory when planning out your vehicle's route. The challenge comes from this quick recall, not necessarily hectic gameplay, which is an interesting change of pace from most time management games. When you've got three passengers wanting to photograph three different animals each, it can be tricky to plot an efficient course. If you stick with it, though, you'll hit the groove and receive great rewards of yummy brain chemicals.

After a few dozen levels or so, you'll realize how Youda Safari falls short of perfection. Once you learn the ropes, you've pretty much experienced all the game has to offer. Very few new things are introduced after the first chunk of the game, leaving you performing the same tasks over and over again. Sure, it gets more difficult and that challenge is incredibly satisfying, but unless the gameplay wins you over early on, you're not likely to warm up to the game afterwards.

Youda Safari can be a brain full, but it's an extremely satisfying casual time management game!

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


  • Currently 4.6/5
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Rating: 4.6/5 (267 votes)
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JerradExit PathIt's been a while since we've seen a new game from John Cooney, aka jmtb02, but his new jump-and-run game Exit Path more than makes up for the long wait with a non-stop, single-and-multiplayer feast for the senses.

Similar to his elephant series of games, you'll be running and jumping the screen with either the [WASD] or [arrow] keys, trying to make your way through a number of screens, each with its own set of challenges. But that's about where the similarities end. For starters, I can't ever remember the elephant being tempted with freedom in a dystopian future, and I'm SURE that pachyderm never had to dodge vicious death machines at every turn. As if that weren't enough, there are going to be some jumps that are just too far to make on your own, and that's where "flow" comes in. Once you've run constantly in any direction for enough time, you'll be able to hold down either [spacebar] or [shift] and move at incredible speeds, getting enough momentum to clear huge gaps and make it past falling traps.

In jmtb02 tradition, Exit Path is filled with achievements, the reward for each one being a new piece of "flair" that you can use to customize your character, make it a bit more personal (but don't worry, 15 pieces are not required for proper performance). And that personality is going to be important once you get into multiplayer mode, where you'll be playing under an automatically assigned guest name, unless you already have an Armor Games account, which will be used instead. Multiplayer takes you directly to a lobby until the next game starts, and then it's a frantic race to the finish against four other contestants. Winner gets pride, glory, and experience points, and the loser shall live forever in shame. Or just try again. Depends on your determination level.

Exit PathAnalysis: Okay, let's go ahead and get the obvious Portal comparisons out of the way. Yes, there's the obligatory all-powerful controlling force with empty promises of freedom, but that's hardly a new theme. At least this game had the courtesy not to offer us cake. Instead, he offers us screen after screen of spikes, lasers, and eye-popping acrobatics. John has proven himself more than capable of making a wide variety of games, but some of his best work seems to lie in creating fast-paced, action-packed games, and he certainly hasn't missed the mark with this one. The need to move quickly is integrated directly into gameplay, not only with the constantly ticking clock, but also the need to build up "flow" by keeping up a constant momentum. There are also hard to reach collectibles, and a few challenges that you'll have to think about before jumping into, so there are going to be some times you'll want to go a little slower, but even then, there's still an overbearing sense of urgency.

Flash games have always had a difficult time in getting multiplayer right, but Exit Path may be the best attempt we've seen. With auto-matching, auto-leveling, and a wide variety of courses to run through, the games end up being evenly balanced and well-matched, so there's maximum fun with minimal skill imbalance. Granted, you'll want to have completed single player (excuse me, UNIplayer) mode first, so you have a basic understanding of what you're doing, but by the time you've made your way through that mode, you should feel big and empowered, ready to take on any other players out there who think they've got what it takes to be the best.

The controls can be very touchy, and some of the traps you have to make your way through are going to test your patience, but those of you who are already accustomed to John's style should have a lot to love in Exit Path. And for those of you who don't, well, there's always the audit room for you!

Play Exit Path


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Link Dump Fridays

DoraWhoosh! A wild DORA appears! A wild DORA used SAMEOLDBORINGFRIDAY! It's not very effective... a wild DORA used LINKDUMPFRIDAY! It's super effective! Sorry, kiddo, not even a Master Ball works against me. But luckily for you I've got some loot to drop, like some platformers, some dungeon-crawling, and a bonus film tribute to a popular indie art game. That's right, games and a movie.

Wild DORA used teleport! Wild DORA fled!

  • Thanks Tanks!Thanks Tanks! - Regular tanks are ugly, but because I am a girl, I am required to be smitten by these adorably pudgy little tanks that you create and direct towards your opponent's base in this strategy game. Selecting certain tanks to deliver orders can be a little frustrating, especially when they start overlapping each other, but there's an appealingly propaganda-ish vibe about the whole aesthetic that is really enjoyable. War was never so adorable.
  • ContentricContentric - How good are your reflexes? This game starts off easy as you zip around the screen collecting time to extend your play and try to avoid the black squares penning you in, and then starts ramping up the difficulty. Its replay value is mostly tied to how badly you want the highest score, so let me give you some incentive by telling you that my high score is somewhere in the vicinity of one million jillion points. So get waggling that mouse, junior.
  • The Enchanted CaveThe Enchanted Cave - I don't know what it is about roguelikes that fascinate me so much; they somehow manage to fill my brain with contented white noise, and I can lose entire days to them. This one sees you delving deep into a dungeon in search of sweet, sweet loot. You don't actually gain experience or level up when you fight enemies, so try to plan out each floor so that you get the most treasure chests and loot bags with the least amount of bloodshed. It's simple, but somehow quietly addictive in the same way Solitaire can be. The downside is the no-brainer gameplay, lack of any real narrative, and for the first few dozens floors what might be the most boring music loop in the history of zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz....
  • Project Flame DemoProject Flame Demo - This stylish little platform adventure game is unfortunately just a demo right now, but is definitely worth checking out. You play a... um... little miner dude investigating some sort of facility when a cave-in traps him underground. Fortunately, you've got a flamethrower! Just the ticket for those situations where you find yourself trapped in a place that could be full of invisible explosive gas. So give it a play and then show the developers their support, because in my experience, nothing spurs you to complete something like the knowledge that the judgmental eye of the public is firmly fixed between your sweaty shoulderblades.
  • TriggermanTriggerman - Look, up in the sky! It's Trilby! It's The Spirit! No, it's... Triggerman! Apparently. This short, strange little stealth adventure title's biggest problem is that the controls seem to be actually fighting your brain, and you can't configure them to something more comfortable. Which is a same, because I'm always up for sneaking around mafia hideouts, using a grappling hook to attach myself to the ceiling before I give some poor good a few extra ventilation holes in his head. (You'd be surprised at how little extra credit this gets me on my resumé.)
  • Short Film: Every Day the Same DreamShort Film: Every Day the Same Dream - You may remember molleindustria's sombre little piece of work Every Day the Same Dream. If you don't, you should go play it now, and then come back so you can watch this eight-and-a-half minute short film based on it by YouTube user Senikovski. It's well done and sombre, but for me personally it doesn't feel quite as emotionally affecting as its source material somehow. Still, it possesses some visually striking scenes, and is at least worth a watch if you're a fan of the original. After, we're all going to sit around stroking our chins looking profound until the assistant manager at Starbucks tells us we have to order something or get out. It'll be rad.

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Rating: 4/5 (293 votes)
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Babylon Sticks: Your Vote Counts comic

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


  • Currently 4.3/5
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Rating: 4.3/5 (111 votes)
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KyleBird Pax screenshot 1I remember when you didn't need all this fancy computer equipment with all the cd-roms, and the rams, and the video cards, all of it costing hundreds maybe thousands of dollars, to have a good time. No, all you needed back when I was a kid was a deck of cards. Sometimes you had the basic playing cards, sometimes you got the funny cards with cartoon fishies on them or comical pictures of old ladies, and that was all you needed to enjoy a fun filled afternoon with your friends. Now, thanks to KnowIn Games, you get to relive the spirit of those classic card games on your high end thousand dollar machines with the simple and fun Bird Pax card game.

If you've ever played the card game War, then you're already most of the way there in grasping how Bird Pax works. Each card has a bird on it, a number value representing that bird's wingspan in centimeters, and an associated color which indicates which family the bird belongs to. Both players have a deck and from that deck maintain a hand of six cards. During each turn you and your opponent both play one card and the card with the higher wingspan wins the hand and all the cards currently in play, and the winner will also go on to play the first card in the next hand. If both cards played have either the same wingspan, or family color, then you go into "Pax" mode. Here, three cards are played face down from each player's deck as a kind of wager, and then both player's again play a card to see who wins it all (unless, of course, these new cards initiate yet another Pax).

Bird Pax screenshot 2Besides having a hand as opposed to merely drawing from the top of the deck, Bird Pax differentiates itself from War in implementing the concept of families into the game. If you have more than one bird in the same family, you can play them like a chain combo. That is, say you play a bird from the crane family, and you have two more of those in your hand. Your opponent plays a member of the falcons that would beat your first crane. You can play another one of your crane cards to beat the falcon. Just make sure that both cards combined really will win otherwise you'll just be throwing your cards away. It's also important to note that you have to play each card individually. That is, in order to keep the chain going, you have to beat the wingspan your opponent has in play with whatever card you play.

Play continues like this until you have reached the wingspan goal for each stage. This is tracked both numerically, and visually by a line running through the center of the playing field that will shift up and down as collective wingspan totals shift back and forth between you and your opponent. If this all sounds a bit complex, don't worry. Just like the cherished card games of our youth, it takes longer to read the rules than it does to actually understand and play the game. Just, uh, you know, don't try and stick your laptop in the spokes of your bicycle when you're done. That can turn out to be kind of expensive, and, um, it doesn't really make the same sound as playing cards anyway.

Analysis: Bird Pax is simple, charming, and above all, fun. Flawless by no means, this cute and easy card game does a fantastic job of taking an established classic and tweaking it for a much more compelling and entertaining result.

Something that always bothered me about the old card game of War is that there wasn't any skill involved. There wasn't even really luck, or even a game. Once the deck was shuffled and split among the players, the ultimate outcome was already predetermined leaving us to spend however long to figure out what that ending would be. By adding in a playing hand and the family associated bring along combinations, Bird Pax adds depth and strategy to a game that had none of these things. And yes, there can be quite a bit of strategy involved with Bird Pax as you'll see the first time your 250 value bird gets taken down by a bunch of waterfowl.

But though there is depth and strategy, what makes Bird Pax compelling is that it capitalizes off of a fairly simple system. Each hand is over in a matter of seconds, no round lasts longer than a few minutes. Not particularly challenging, this card game is easy to pick up, and nearly anyone with modest math skills can play. Even if your mental math is terrible, the game helps you out with icons that indicate which cards in your hand would win, and which would launch a Pax. And all of this is offered up with bright friendly graphics, and, okay, I'll admit it, I just really like the pictures of all the pretty birds.

Of course, there's plenty that I would like to see improved in Bird Pax. The most pressing, to me, is that the target wingspan for each level is not clearly defined. You have the indicators, true, but there's no real finish line to let you know how close or far you are from finishing a round. Also, I found the AI at work here to be pretty weak. Yes, occasionally you'll get sucker punched with a combo, but for the most part the computer opponent is a pushover. This could be remedied by offering a multiplayer option, and indeed KnowIn games is supposedly working on it, but it's not here yet. Finally, and this is not so much criticism as suggestion, I think what this game really needs is customizable decks with cards that can be bought and traded. Oh, and, um, little fun facts about the birds would be nice, for, you know, my kids.

Simple rules, a nice balance between thoughtful and casual gameplay that tips towards the latter, and a bright, cheery presentation all come together to establish Bird Pax as an endearing and somewhat addictive experience. Easily squeezed into a coffee break, this card game may not have tapped into its full potential quite yet, but we definitely like what we see so far.

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KlikwerkArtbegottiPoint. Click. Point. Click. Point-p-point-p-point click click space. Drag drop. Drag drop. Drag drop click space space. Excellent, now you already know the words, so you can sing along! No, it's not Excel spreadsheet karaoke night, it's Klikwerk, a new music and reflex game by Bart Bonte.

Playing Klikwerk is as simple as following the rhythmic directions as they pop up on the screen. When it asks you to Point, point to the box. When it asks you to Click, click the box. Drag the circles and Drop them on the holes when they appear. Hit [space] when asked for Space. It's like Simon Says, except there is nobody named Simon, and there's no trickery involved. All you have to do is be fast and accurate.

If you can follow the commands quickly after they appear, you'll score 100 points. If a command is left unattended for a longer period of time, it will start to fade, and its value will drop to 50, then 25 points before disappearing completely. It's important to be fast, because scoring 30,000 points or more will unlock a bonus round where you're challenged to follow an increasing swarm of commands as they flood the screen, and missing a single command results in the end.

KlikwerkAn-an-analyze. If there are two major downsides to Klikwerk, it's that you've got to be pretty agile with your mouse (which means it's very touchpad-unfriendly), and that you're given only one two-and-a-half minute track to play with. Granted, it's not terribly easy and you might find yourself taking a few attempts to be able to make it to the bonus round, but this game might leave you wanting more.

And that's a good thing. Klikwerk is easy to pick up, but hard to put down. First, you try to get to the bonus round, then you try to increase your top score on the scoreboard. You might find yourself trying to memorize patterns to try to get an edge over the competition. Pretty soon, you'll be singing "Point click-point click-point click-point space" on your morning jog, and that's when you know you're hooked.

Bonte once again succeeds in creating a quirky gaming experience with simple style, but a tricky challenge. You've got to handle more than two commands per second on average, so you need to stay on top of the ball to keep alive. Once you've got that down, the catchy tune is just icing on the cake. Klikwerk is waiting, so as a warm-up exercise, click below to...

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FiNCK_banner.png

AdamCSurely you remember Within a Deep Forest? Perhaps you loaded up some unique user levels in Knytt Stories? Maybe you demoed and later purchased Saira? Then you have experienced programmer Nifflas' fare and I'm willing to bet you're ready for more.

Fire Nuclear Crocodile Killer (FiNCK for short) is a downloadable puzzle platformer for Windows, but don't let the title fool you. In fact, out of the four rather unrelated things it suggests, I only encountered one during the whole game. As a Nifflas game, FiNCK must live up to a certain standard of cool relaxation instead of firey, manic arcade action. However, it differs from the author's previous offerings in that it forgoes atmospheric exploration in favor of a puzzle-driven, often hair-pullingly-frustrating experience. The game itself is free, but to access custom level support, you'll need to purchase it from Nifflas' site.

FiNCK_screen1.pngThe central gameplay mechanic of FiNCK has you picking up objects and using them to suit your needs. Use the [arrow] keys to move. Stand on top of a block, bird, or bomb and press [A] to pick it up. Press again to throw the object, or press the down [arrow] to place it directly below your character again. There are a variety of things with which to interact, and all have different properties. For example, metal bricks limit your jump height when you hold them and can withstand bomb explosions, while birds will give you heightened jumping abilities. Blue blocks will slide, ignoring all previously established rules of friction. Bombs...explode. They're bombs. Furthermore, every object you pick up will give your character a small boost when thrown down. This technique is important to master in order to reach all the areas of the game.

FiNCK is deceptively large. The world covers five levels and can be navigated using the doors found scattered throughout each level. Careful, though: while some doors will move you between two areas interchangeably, others will lock you out once you go through them. You will always be able to come back, but the lack of an overworld map means the experience can be a little frustrating. The whole point of the game is to gather just 25 coins scattered throughout world. Gathering each one presents a unique challenge, whether it be withstanding a wave of creatures or building a tower just high enough to reach a small precipice.

Enemies, while not hugely varied, stand in your way and are difficult to destroy since your character has no true offensive capability. Touching an enemy means a one-hit kill which adds a further dimension of frustration to an already challenging game. Combine that with areas in which you can get stuck and believe me, you're going to die--a lot. Brave the obstacles, however, and you'll be surprised at how satisfying the collection of that one last gold coin feels.

FiNCK_screen2.jpgAnalysis: I'm a huge fan of Nifflas' games. FiNCK, from its goofy title to its charmingly simple graphics, is no different. The visual design of the game is not revolutionary, but everything moves and flows well enough to make up for a few imperfections. The original soundtrack is looped in the free version, but is pleasant and at times even enjoyable. I admit, however, that I muted the game after a while because although the music fits the game, the sound effects — particularly those that accompany jumping — drove me nuts after a while. But we are not here to get hung up on sound and visuals. How is the puzzling?

The complexity of the puzzles range from "I think I see what he's getting at!" to what I like to call "Keyboard Breaking Death." Since each area is self-contained, you will have everything you need to get to that next door or coin — you just have to figure out how. The thoughtful level design means that "out of the box thinking" is a must. Since areas reset when you die or leave and return, an object will sometimes be used for more than one purpose. For example, to access one door you might have to blow up some bricks with a bomb. When you return to the area, you might need to access a different door, meaning the bomb you used before is needed to give your character an extra boost up to a ledge. This sounds complex, but Nifflas' design is so effective that even if there is only one way to solve a puzzle, you'll feel like the solution is what makes sense and not simply what the designer wanted you to do.

All the puzzles are interwoven in an increasingly complex but relatively easy to follow map. If you want to get to a seemingly unreachable door, you will probably find your way back to it at some point. So while it's a bit overwhelming at first, getting around the world starts to feel natural and rewarding. FiNCK lacks some of the immediate exploration appeal of the Knytt saga, but improves on the problem-solving formula of Within a Deep Forest by giving the player more puzzle variety. Altogether, FiNCK is a welcome addition to Nifflas' growing library.

If you're prepared for some creative thinking and want a challenge, FiNCK will certainly provide. I did not find any crocodiles in the game (or fire for that matter), and the game really isn't about killing anything. What it is is a pleasant romp through a puzzling world that feels rewarding with each collected coin.

WindowsWindows:
Download the free full version

Mac OS XMac OS X:

Not available.
Try Boot Camp or Parallels or CrossOver Games.

Remember, if you would like to support the author, you can purchase access to custom levels and a full soundtrack on his website.


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KyleLegendOfKupapa.png Once, the Kupapians were a peaceful folk. They knew not of the anger and hate that could fill one's soul, and as a result they were all of them blessed with lives of joy and harmony. Well, not all of them. There was one of the Kupapa people, shunned, and cast aside for he had no room in his heart for the love and elation that filled the rest of his kind. He was banished, a memory erased seemingly forever from the mind of the Kupapa people. And then the creatures came, mercilessly invading the Kupapa who, without a hint of animosity in their heart, could not defend themselves. They would be forced to turn to an outcast, and the outcast would become the Legend of Kupapa.

Beneath a blackened sky you become that outcast tasked with defending and training the people that once turned their backs upon you. In this strategy defense/shooter hybrid from Ahmet Ali Bati, not only do you fight back the hordes of grotesque enemies before they wipe your people out, you must raise an army and become its general.

LegendOfKupapa.pngMost of the action takes place on the battlefield and is pretty simple to grasp. You can use either the [arrow] keys, or [WASD] to move while the [spacebar] lets you fire your equipped weapon. Get hit or let one of the enemies get from either side of the screen to the other (they come from both sides), and you'll take damage. Take too much, and, well, the Legend of Kupapa will be a short one. Of course, you won't have to go it alone for very long for between each stage you'll be given a number of options to improve your odds against the invading army.

First you can recruit and train soldiers. Depending on how many resources you have at your disposal you can bring onboard soldiers with a number of different weapons from pistols to shotguns, or you can even enlist medics to help regenerate the wounded on the field. After that you'll be taken to the upgrade panel where you can buy upgrades that affect both you and your army, or you can purchase more powerful weaponry for yourself. Just be careful, while you can freely roam about the entire battlefield, your soldiers can only travel back and forth on the row you assigned them to.

Can you regain the trust and respect of your people? Can you stop the oncoming nemesis? Will you indeed become the Legend of Kupapa? There's only one way to find out.

Legend of KupapaAnalysis: Bati's freshman game offers up a compelling story wrapped in quality retro graphics and smooth, fast, yet casual gameplay. Definitely a little rough around the edges, Legend of Kupapa is nevertheless a pleasure to play.

In many ways, Legend is quite similar to games like Eternal Red and The Next Floor. The key difference here is that instead of building lifeless turrets and traps, you are recruiting fighters that think and act for themselves. Also, your character can actually die, upping the stakes and increasing the game's intensity. Forcing you to fill in the gaps of the defenses that you built yourself, though, is a formula that ultimately works and provides for a fun time largely because it lends a more casual flair to parent genres that have a tendency to get pretty deep. No, you can't upgrade each soldier five different ways from Sunday, nor can you cycle between eight different weapons in the blink of an eye, but that only means you get to focus more on the smooth controls and shooting down bad guys. And, come on, isn't that the point?

Maybe not. One of the things that really drew me into Legend of Kupapa was a narrative that I found to be gripping. True there are a number of grammatical flaws, but I find this is easily forgiven considering that English is clearly not Bati's native tongue. Beyond the occasional error, the story is surprisingly well written with a gritty and grim edge. There's a lot of emotion and cynicism buried in the paragraph or two that you are treated to between some of the levels, definitely enough to stir up the suspense and keep you playing on to read the next bit.

Even the production is pretty solid here. The Atari era graphics are neat, though going back that far might be too retro even for retro enthusiasts, I'll admit. Personally, it's not the blocky graphics that I liked so much as the pretty neat rain effects, the occasional forks of lightning that split the sky, and the clouds of black birds in the distance, all of which give the game a nice, apocalyptic, feel. Supporting all of this is a good backtrack that taps into a kind of adventurous, militaristic spirit that is a perfect fit to both the action and the story.

Of course, there's more than plenty room for improvement here. While the action in the game is suitably fast and satisfying, it does start slow and has a tendency to flirt a little too closely with repetition and tediousness towards the end. What's more, I don't think enough was done to identify your character apart from the rest of your troops, and later on when the playing field gets crowded, it can be a little too easy to lose you character. Even the narrative, which is easily one of the game's strongest points, ends with more fizzle than flair.

But here's the interesting thing about Legend of Kupapa. As flawed as its components can be, they end up working well at compensating for each other. Though the gameplay may wander into the realm of repetition, the story makes it worth it. The graphics might not be your cup of tea, but the smooth and quick action help you look past that. On top of that, an adjustable skill setting makes this title accessible to a wide audience. As a result, Legend of Kupapa performs well despite its flaws, and I can't wait to see what Bati comes up with next.

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DoraCastawayJust sit right back and you'll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip... Likwid's isometric action/RPG title Castaway starts off when a tow-headed lad washes up on shore of a tropical island inhabited by legions of nasties, a village beset by troubles, and the little one-eyed green thing who decides to follow him around.

Thus begins the journey of Walky. Or whatever other, inferior name you want to give him. You move with the [arrow] or [WASD] keys and click on things to interact, whether that interaction is picking something up or staving its face in with a blunt object. Fighting enemies grants you experience points and treasure, and you'll have to spend a lot of time grinding your levels so you don't get flattened whenever you move to a new area. Fortunately, you have a pet to aid you in battle, who levels up as you do. You'll also come across eggs dropped by monsters that you can bring back to town and hatch to get new, more powerful pets to aid you in battle. Be warned, however, that Castaway's biggest problem can actually be summed up thusly; NO AUTO-SAVE. You can only save the game when you're back in town; if you die in the field, it's game over, and all your progress to that point will be lost. Which you could tell yourself is appropriate given the whole "stranded on an island premise", but you'll probably just hurl your monitor out a window instead. I know how you do.

It's a little bit Azure Dreams and a little bit Breath of Fire 4 (particularly where the visuals are concerned), and if you like this sort of story-lite adventuring, Castaway is actually pretty good at what it does. The story is just an excuse to go to places with progressively meaner enemies, but it serves its purpose, and you'll uncover a satisfying amount of treasure and new abilities along the way. Visually the game is top-notch, although no circle of transparency means that characters and enemies tend to vanish when they wander behind scenery. The movement controls are also a bit stiff, but a lot of that might be due to how it makes me pine for the fjords days of the 16-Bit RPG and accompanying controller.

Players who don't have the patience to sit and grind away for more levels or cash will probably be bored with what Castaway has to offer, but for fans of the genre (and similar titles like Arcuz) as I am, it provides a nice chunk of RPG-lite goodness with simple, accessible gameplay.

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Special internet high-fives to Amari and Dapostman10 for sending this one in!


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Weekday Escape

GrinnypThis week we're back to a classic room escape and, yes, we're back to Tesshi-e. The Escape Hotel 2 is Tesshi-e's latest offering and it features a fun and rarely seen dynamic, two room escapes for the price of one. Yes, while trying to escape the first room you will find yourself locked in a second room and will have to, well, escape the room to escape the room. Welcome to Weekday Escape! Dizzy yet?

The Escape Hotel 2The Escape Hotel 2 at first seems like your basic, classic room escape, in this case trying to escape from a strange hotel room. A nice strange hotel room that has furnished tea and a lovely snack (well, lovely if you like bean jelly, that is) and a comfy looking bed. However, escape you must and in the process you will have to break into the bathroom (also locked) and once in there, you will find yourself locked in. Escaping is never easy, is it? This is one of Tesshi-e's more dense escapes, featuring lots of puzzles, some major construction, and two locked rooms for the price of one (as well as the obligatory second "happy coin" escape). Literally everything but the kitchen sink has been thrown into The Escape Hotel 2. A bathroom sink, maybe, but not a kitchen sink.

The backgrounds are the gorgeous rendered 3D that we've come to expect, and there are a lot of cute touches you might recognize from previous escapes. Navigation is pretty standard for the most part, but can become a little strange and non-intuitive when you are in the corridor by the exit and bathroom door. Inventory control is intuitive as always with an "about item" button and there's even a handy save feature if you want to give up for a while and come back later. Unfortunately, there is still no changing cursor to help you find hot spots. Would someone please send Tesshi-e the memo about changing cursors?

As stated previously this is not a light escape. There are a lot of puzzles, including one very tricky letter/number nightmare that might cause a bit of head banging. On the plus side, no color based puzzles to bedevil those whose vision lacks the cones necessary to distinguish certain hues. On the minus side, the game is in Japanese (with a few key English phrases). Fortunately you do not need to read the language to figure your way out.

All in all The Escape Hotel 2 is one of Tesshi-e's better efforts, up there with Escape from 5th Door for difficulty. Fun, challenging, and it definitely won't be over in 10 minutes unless you're, you know, like Einstein or Stephen Hawking. But hey, at least you have that nice snack of yummy bean jelly to help you when your energy is flagging. So get escaping! This is Weekday Escape, not Weekday have a light snack and a nap.

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DoraPixel LegionsThis can't be right. I've always heard that "War is hell", not "War is a real-time battle of twinkly pretty neon lights". Hmmm. Well, in Pixelante's Pixel Legions all that matters is how fast your fingers are in this simple game of pixel warfare. Spawn pixels and swarm the enemy's base, trying to take it out before they take you out. It's similar to Galcon or Phage Wars in execution, but features an open playing field you can move about freely.

Your base periodically spits out clusters of pixels, which you can then use to deliver what the French call a smack down upon your opponent. Simply click on a group of pixels to select them, then click where you want them to go. Or, click and hold on a group and drag the mouse to draw a path for them to follow. (You can also move your base like this, though it moves much slower.) When two clusters of allied pixels come together, they automatically combine. The last base standing is the winner, and as you progress you'll find your enemies growing in number. I hope you're feeling quick. Rule One: CARDIO.

"So," you say, "how strategic is this game?" "Mmmmnnnyeeeeeaaaah." says I, waggling my hand in a weak sort of way. Actually, it largely depends on how cool a head you keep under pressure, particularly when facing multiple enemies, but rapidly flinging your troops into enormous swatches on the screen will still get you pretty far. Later levels start to incorporate obstacles in the terrain to contend with, and the difficulty ramps up considerably. There's no story to be had, so how much enjoyment you get out of the game largely depends on how much you like the flashy visuals and pick-up-and-go gameplay. It's great if you're looking for something fun and fast-paced to fill an hour or so, not so much if you're looking for a sweeping epic. For frantic fun, Pixel Legions is a twitchy click-fest that proves one thing; pixels are dangerous and must be stopped! No more computers; it's back to stone tablets for me.

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DoraStar RelicExterminate! EXTEEEERRRMINAAAATE!... oh, sorry. I've been playing Indigon's turn-based science-fiction strategy game Star Relic, and it seems to bring out a side in me that is a little... um, anyway. Choose one of three different races (and select your gender where applicable) to play that species' campaign; each not only has different ships and abilities, but a different set of battles to win.

Regardless of who you're playing, the goal is the same; protect your warp gate, and destroy your opponent's. The battles take place on a grid with a planet in the center, the players on opposite sides, and various obstacles occupying other places. A handy tutorial in the first mission explains everything you need to know; just click on your warp gate to deploy ships when available, and click on a ship to issue orders to it. Each turn, you gain energy that you use to warp in different ships you can then direct about the battlefield and attack. When you're done, click the planet in the center to end your turn and start your opponent's. Reduce the opposing warp gate to zero hit points by attacking it with your ships to win, but don't leave yourself unguarded. Be warned; the game only saves after each mission. You can't save in the middle of a battle, which means you have to see each one to the end or lose all your progress in it.

After each turn, the entire battlefield rotates clockwise around the planet in the center of the screen. Why should you care? Because this orbit is different depending on how close you are to the planet, and not only does it shift obstacles around the playing field, but beneficial objects such as repair stations and energy sources as well that grant bonuses to anyone who has a ship stationed nearby. Fortunately, the lack of a timer means you can sit and mull over your strategy and plan your moves in advance. Might I recommend deploying an obscene number of warships and coming down on your terrified foes like the hammer of God? It's an oldie, but a goodie.

Star RelicAnalysis: Star Relic wasn't a game I expected to enjoy at first, but found myself quickly falling prey to "... five more minutes" syndrome. The presentation is extremely tight; while I might wish everything was a bit larger, the visuals are well designed, and the inclusion of voice acting makes the whole thing feel like a professional little package. The downside to voice acting, of course, is that most ships only have one audio clip they play over and over when preforming any particular action; when your enemy gives the same command to five identical ships, hearing the same clip five times in quick succession can set your teeth on edge. The endless looping music track for some species can likewise get old quick, but fortunately there's a button to toggle it right at the top of the screen so you can play something more appropriate. I don't know about you, but I prefer to do all my conquering to Black Sabbath and AC/DC.

There is a story involving a relic (surprise) being uncovered somewhere in the galaxy that both the humans and the reptillian Klossians have their knickers in a twist over, but it's mostly relegated to short text blurbs in between battles. Which isn't necessarily the kiss of death since, while sort of interesting, it isn't integrated well enough to be compelling. No, where Star Relic shines is its simple, point-and-click strategic gameplay The gameplay is extremely accessible and easy to pick up, with only one resource to keep track of and no complicated commands to master. It also features a pleasantly robust single battle mode that lets you select your opponent and choose from a variety of maps to duke it out on, in addition to allowing your chosen race access to all its technology from the get-go.

All of this combines to form a surprisingly addictive bit of galactic strategy that is as relaxing as it is involving. What's satisfying about Star Relic's gameplay is the knowledge that when things turn south, it's usually your own fault; it might not sound comforting, but knowing any failures are from your lack of planning rather than an unfair advantage to your AI opponents. If you're careful, you can usually think your way out of any battle, even if your chances for victory look slim. And if you're not careful, well... there's always openings in the star fleet maintenance department.

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KyleSprocketRocket.png You want to go to the moon, don't ya? Of course you do, who doesn't? Unfortunately, taking a trip to visit the man in the moon isn't quite the same as running to the corner store for a gigantic soda and a bag of chips. Nope, if you want to play a round of golf in the Sea of Tranquility, there are scant few options available to you. You could go through the grueling academic and physical rigors required to be a bona fide astronaut. If that seems a bit too much like work you might try becoming a billionaire and just buy a rocket and a crew to man it for you. Or, seeing as how billions of dollars don't just drop from the skies, you could always team up with your old pals Wallace and Gromit and help them collect the cogs they need to modify their rocket propelled egg in Aardman's new physics puzzle advergame, Sprocket Rocket.

The famed man and dog duo of clay are at it again, this time with their very own rocket propelled ship. The only problem is that it's not exactly ready to leave Terra Firma for more celestial destinations just yet. That's where you come in. Lying about Wallace and Gromit's special flight lab are sixty special cogs that they need to repair and upgrade the rocket for the upcoming lunar launch. Granted, this is easier said than done. If collecting the cogs was going to be easy, they wouldn't need you to do it.

Use the [arrow] keys to pilot the rocket from room to room in the test flight complex. If you get lost, or simply want to jump quickly from one room to another, use [M] to bring up a map of all the rooms you've already visited before, and simply click on the room of your choice to zip there. Soon enough, you'll notice there are cogs that are simply impossible for your rocket ship to reach as is. That's when you get at the heart of the gameplay. You'll first need to find one of the large square ports that lets you edit the ship (they'll open when you fly past them). When the shutter goes up, hit [E] to enter edit mode where you are greeted with a blue print view of the ship. Now, using your mouse, simply draw whatever kind of attachment you think you need to overcome whatever obstacle you're currently focused on. Need a hook? Draw a hook, how about a harpoon? Go for it. You're pretty much limited only by your imagination. Once the attachment has served its purpose, simply drop it by hitting the [space] bar.

Initially, you can only affix the attachments to the ship using a sturdy kind of glue with little give. But as you collect more cogs more methods of attachment become available, including a free swinging hing, a fast spinning motor, and a slow but strong torque motor as well. Once the latter two methods are attained, any time you build a tool using them you can rotate your attachment using [Z] and [X]. Think you got the perfect tool to dig the cogs out of the ball pit in B3? Need help with the crazy cage on F6? You can even share tool templates with your friends using a simple code system available in the edit ship screen.

So don't be afraid to get creative here because your imagination is your only limit, even as we work to make sure the sky is not. Will you have what it takes to collect all the cogs and secure yourself passage to the moon?

SprocketRocket.pngAnalysis: Despite being an advergame, Sprocket Rocket delivers on just about all fronts, from unique and engrossing gameplay to high end production values. The good folks from Aardman studios that have kept us entertained for three decades manage to set our creative juices flowing freely even as they offer up treats for the eye and brain alike.

What makes Sprocket Rocket work is that it strikes the perfect balance between player freedom, and structures, limits, and goals. If you tip the scales too much towards player freedom, then the game becomes not so much a game as a directionless sandbox or a webtoy. Let the scales lean too far in the other direction, and you start to inhibit the creativity of the player which is where the soul of this game lies. Sprocket Rocket threads the needle in giving you creative control over designing the tools, but reigning this in by providing you clear goals and restricting you to creating only one piece machines. As such you are presented with a finite number of problems, but the ways in which you solve them are near limitless.

The level design does a magnificent job of supporting this concept of balance by ensuring that many of the challenges you face have open ended solutions. Granted there are plenty of stages with one fairly obvious solution where your only real task is creating the tool you need properly, but these are supplemented with plenty of stages where a number of different approaches could get the job done. The other aspect about level design that makes Sprocket Rocket just a pleasure to play is the fact that it appears to cater to a broad range of skill levels. From fairly easy to headache inducing, there's plenty of rooms that cater to all comers. And the code based tool sharing makes it fairly easy for friends to help each other out, particularly on the hardest levels where just figuring out what kind of tool to use can seem an insurmountable task.

Not only is Sprocket fun to play, but it's easy on the eyes and ears as well. The graphics, though not particularly flashy, are clean and attractive and do a good job of establishing that experimental flight lab feel. Meanwhile the music is fun, stirring, and about what you would expect from a Wallace and Gromit adventure of this magnitude. It can also, thankfully, be muted when you grow tired of it. Speaking of the duo, Wallace pops in now and then to offer you some words of encouragement now and then, or to just whistle at you if you're taking your sweet time. Actually, the whistling might be Gromit. I can't tell.

Unfortunately, if you were looking for Wallace and Gromit to feature heavily in this game, you'll be disappointed. Despite top billing, the beloved claymation stars do little but offer a few quotes and sound effects from time to time. Another sticking point some may have is that this is in fact an advergame. To be fair, though, this is not so much an advertisement posing as a game as it is a really fun public service announcement to raise awareness for England's Intellectual Property Office. To that end you will come across a number of signs that discuss intellectual property law as well as offering tips on how to protect your own intellectual property, but none of this is as ubiquitous as, for instance, having a hero plastered in logo laden paraphernalia whilst passing gratuitous product placement billboards every five seconds.

In truth, my only real complaint about Sprocket Rocket is that there isn't enough. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of levels that will keep everyone short of certified mechanical engineers busy for a while, but that doesn't mean I can't still want more, does it?

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KyleChromaticWarning: Chromatic is not friendly to those who suffer from color-blindness. If you have difficulty distinguishing between certain colors, you may want to skip this title.

You know what? There are just times when you need to go mellow. You know what I mean. Soft colors, round edges, smooth beats. That's what I'm talking about, something to just lean back and let all the tension just wash away from you. And this is exactly what Arkeus' platformer Chromatic would be if, you know, it wasn't also completely finger burning, brain breaking, throw your laptop against the wall insane. Aside from that part of it, it's totally relaxing.

The goal in this skill intensive puzzle platformer is to nab as many coins as you can and then make it to the exit in the shortest time possible. As you might have guessed, there's a twist. Actually, there are lots of twists, and all of them have to do with, you guessed it, color. As in most platformers, you move using the [arrow] keys, with an option to jump using the [space] bar, and stroke [V] to do a horizontal dash. But you can also change your chromatic blob of goo's color by hitting [Z] to turn red, [X] to turn blue, and [C] to turn yellow. Each color has a certain advantage; red moves faster and can dash for longer distances, blue can wall jump and slide slowly down walls, and yellow can double jump.

But this is only the beginning of how color affects the game. There are jump blocks that only bounce you if your colors match, platforms that only support you if you're the right color, and beams of lethal electricity that will fry you in place if you are any color but the right one. And if you thought that all you had to keep track of were the primary colors, guess again. There are stationary fields of color, and collectible pickups that combine with your chosen color to turn you into one of the secondary colors (during which time you will have the powers of both component primary colors. For instance, when green you can wall jump and double jump at the same time).

So, okay, maybe this isn't the place to go to relax. In fact, after you're done with Chromatic you'll probably need to spend an hour or two listening to soft rock and drinking something with an umbrella in it just to decompress a little.

ChromaticAnalysis: Chromatic strikes a wonderful chord in providing an original idea and executing it brilliantly while at the same time providing outstanding gameplay in a well established, perhaps even overcrowded genre. But be warned, for all of its beauty Chromatic can get insanely hard and it's highly recommended that laptop users strap down their machines before frustration gets out of hand.

All the staples of a good platformer are here. Controls are tight and responsive, and hit detection is for the most part fair and reasonable. But what really makes Chromatic stand out is the color shifting. Admittedly, this isn't an entirely new mechanic in gaming, but Arkeus incorporates it in an original and complex way here. What makes this such a bold move and an ambitious game is not just having a new color swapping mechanic, but employing this into a tough as nails skill based platformer. But Arkeus pulls this off with an approach to level design that borders on sheer brilliance.

This is all rendered in a pleasing aural and visual package that is quite pleasing, even by Flixel standards. The music is soothing (which you may need especially on the trickier levels) and the graphics are gorgeous in a very simple kind of way. I particularly like the little details, the chink sound made when collecting coins, and the wind chime sounds of changing colors. Even the splashes of colors when you jump or swap hues feel like a pleasant little treat.

But part of what sets Chromatic apart can also be its largest weakness. In being so difficult, and having such a color intensive scheme, Chromatic is not very accessible. Unlike most puzzle based platformers that forgive lapses in skill and grant you plenty of time to plot out your next move, Chromatic rarely offers up this luxury, and sometimes puts you up to the seemingly Herculean task of coping with something as complex as swapping colors mid jump to hit a double jump after a wall jump, and then anticipating an involuntary color change after hitting a stationary color field, and all of this in less than a second. If it sounds hard, that's only because it is.

It would be a shame to let that scare you off though and there are a decent amount of easier levels and a level editor if the original stages just get too intense. Despite being insanely hard and none too friendly to the color blind, Chromatic is itself an awesome achievement. It molds together blistering skill platforming with puzzle platforming whilst injecting a unique concept into the gameplay, and it does this with few hiccups and awesome production values. If you're looking for the next big challenge, or just want to see a great concept incorporated into great gameplay, you'll want to at least give Chromatic a chance.

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  • Currently 4.1/5
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Rating: 4.1/5 (117 votes)
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DoraOrton and the PrincessProving once again that you cheeky monkeys are gluttons for punishment, Orton and the Princess arises like a magnificent phoenix from the ashes of a recent Link Dump Friday when reception to this deceptively sweet looking little platformer swelled. Control with the [arrow] keys and jump with the [X] key. Your mission; to get stubby little Orton to his pink princess at the end of each level. Standing in your way? To name a few things, spikes, platforms, and... the help text? Hmmmm.

Orton and the Princess is one of those sneaky little games that lures you in with a few easy levels and lets you think "Oh, I can do that." The game really demands some fairly precise jumps, and timing everything right can lead to a fair amount of hair pulling... which, of course, is when the help text begins berating you. Because that helps. "You're not supposed to drink while playing this game, you know," it chides, after your fifth nosedive onto some spikes. You can retry over and over, but the game doesn't offer any checkpoints within the levels, so putting a foot wrong means you have to inch your way back to where you were. Combine this with how merely being close enough to exhale on spikes will get you killed, and you have a formula to come up with some really intriguing new profanity. Especially once you start encountering traps and false princesses, to name a few fun new things...

So why keep playing? Because in spite of how frequently you die, the game somehow manages to keep being fun. Maybe it's the bouncy, irrepressibly cheerful soundtrack. Maybe it's the tight level design that constantly pushes your skill to the limit. Or maybe it's the hope that the end level will let you hold down the mocking narrator and cheerfully pound the snot out of them. Orton and the Princess has its audience among gamers who like simple presentations and challenging gameplay. It's fun and frustrating in all the right ways, and really is one of those things that hurts so good.

[Please note that this game behaves differently in various browsers. If you're using Firefox, you may have trouble jumping high enough in some levels. Please try another browser if you have problems.]

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  • Currently 3.6/5
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Rating: 3.6/5 (48 votes)
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Rock-n-LOLArtbegottiWhy so glum, chum? Need something hipper to make you feel chipper? Hurry up and say yes, because I'm running out of rhyming phrases. Rock-n-LOL is a short platform game in which the goal is to find happiness by swinging your way through a sketchbook maze. Every drop of colored water you collect makes you a little bit happier! Hooray, water!

Rather than using the arrow keys to jump around, control your block-like character by shooting a short grappling hook to grab onto colored walls. Click and hold to grab, then pay attention to the circle that's appeared around your cursor. That's the attractor (doot do-doo!). While still holding the mouse, move the attractor near your character to lengthen and shorten your rope and swing back and forth. It's a bit of a different control scheme to get used to, but once you get a bit of practice, you'll be flying around levels in no time.

Rock-n-LOLAs you merrily swing your way through each level, you must grab each of the colored water droplets in order to move to the next level. You can grab on to colored walls, but not black lines, and stay clear of the red triangles that can instantly kill you! Be sure to keep an eye out for power-ups that reverse or eliminate gravity, making navigating just a bit trickier to handle.

Rock-n-LOL's sixteen levels combine in the menu to show you your long journey to find happiness, plotting your progress in colorful paper form. While it might not take you long to reach the end, Rock-n-LOL serves as a quick challenge that requires quick thinking and reflexes to make things swing your way. So cheer up, and hang on tight!

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Mobile Monday

JohnBSometimes the iTunes App Store is nothing but disappointing. Sometimes it's filled with a tolerable amount of playable games. Other times there are so many great things to choose from you kinda flip out and cry a little bit. This is one of the good weeks, so prepare to bawl.

kometen.jpgKometen - Oh. My. Stars. This game is grand. You're a comet and you are exploring the galaxy. Tap a planet and you start to orbit it. Swipe the screen to let go and fly across the black sky. Eat floating space debris and you'll slowly build a "warp" meter that allows you to cover a great deal of distance in a short time. Your only goal is to check out the universe and see what's out there, and boy will you have a great time doing it. The artwork (by Niklas Åkerblad) for this game is nothing short of phenomenal, and the whole experience is simply marvelous. Fun fact: Kometen was designed by Erik Svedäng, creator of Blueberry Garden.

phoenixspirit.jpgPhoenix Spirit - If Super Metroid starred a magical flying squirrel, it would be this game. Every bit as enchanting as the idea sounds, Phoenix Spirit is an exploration-based "shooter" (it's not really a shooter, but it controls similar to one) where you roam the forest searching for the cause of Mother Tree's illness. You'll unlock new areas and gain access to new abilities as you play, and the free-form exploration experience is heightened by the fact that you can fly in any direction. A beautiful game that draws you in right from the start.

pebblejump.jpgPebble Jump - Oh, thank you for existing, simplicity! Pebble Jump's gameplay can be summarized with two words: pebble, jump. Each grid arrangement features some empty slots, a star slot, and a handful of pebbles. The stones can only be moved by jumping over other stones, and when a pebble has been leaped over, it disappears. Your goal is to eliminate all of the pieces and have the last stone end up on the star slot. Tons of stages with three difficulty levels keep you jumping pebbles for a very long time. Pebble Jump Free is also available.

transylvania.gifTransylvania Adventure - Hey there retro gamer, whacha doin'? Hankering to play an old Apple ][ game released in 1982? Wow, what a coincidence, because that's exactly what Transylvania is! A graphical text adventure, you are on a quest to rescue Princess Sabrina from the desolate countryside. Unfortunately there's a vampire, a werewolf, a goblin, a witch, and an alien space ship hanging around to cause you trouble. The game is completely faithful to the original with the addition of a few sounds and a touch-friendly interface (which is surprisingly well-done). Created in collaboration with the original author, Antonio Antiochia, which gets a massive high-five of approval from us.

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


  • Currently 4.8/5
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Dark Fall: The Journal

GrimmrookDark Fall: The Journal is a creepy first-person point-and-click adventure game originally released independently in 2002, and then re-released globally by the Adventure Company a year later. In this classic digitized ghost story, everything begins with a panicked phone call in the middle of the night...

darkfall.jpgPete, your brother, has gained quite a reputation for himself as an architect, and he has chosen The Station as his next big project. Once a quaint hotel in the English countryside, The Station is unique in that it is built quite literally over the train tracks of a now defunct train station. Back in the early twentieth century both station and hotel bustled with activity and even served as something of a social hub for the locals. But then six people disappeared from there never to be heard from again. The Station never recovered from that, and it seemed it would be closed forever. Until your brother came along with his hopes of resurrecting the old abandoned hotel as a night club.

This is the business that brought Pete out to The Station in the first place where he ran into Polly and Nigel, two college students turned amateur ghost hunters. But by the time you arrive to the abandoned hotel, neither your brother nor his two new friends are anywhere to be seen. Like those six people from six decades ago, Pete, Polly and Nigel seem to have disappeared without a trace. Instead, as you walk through the shadow-laden train tunnels to The Station, you are greeted by the disembodied voice of a young boy, yet another victim of the hotel's dark secrets. As he guides you to the hotel, he explains that it is up to you to help not just your brother, but everyone else who has fallen prey to whatever it is that stalks the halls of the hotel.

Compared to modern point-and-click adventures of this type, Dark Fall is positively streamlined with a very simple interface. The cursor automatically changes to indicate if you can move to a certain place, use an item, perform an action, or investigate closer. Your inventory will remain at the top of the screen, and all you need to do is click on an item in your inventory when you are on a screen that requires the usage of an inventory item. There are no independent inventory or status screens to navigate. Of particular note is that the game also does not keep track of any dialogue or documents you come across along the way, and given the sheer volume of information available here, it is highly recommended that you start up a journal of your own as you play. Also of note is that your game is saved as a notepad file and you will be asked where you want the game to be saved. As a result it's also recommended that you create an independent save folder so you don't have to go hunting when you want to load your game later.

darkfall2.jpgAs you explore The Station, not only will you piece together what happened to your brother and the two college students, but you will also meet the six missing persons of yesteryear as well. You'll uncover the stories of a failed actress and a bank robber, an overworked young woman secreting her boyfriend away under her mother's nose, and an odd pair of friends whose own explorations have uncovered something great and terrible somewhere in the bowels of The Station. Can you unlock the mysteries of this once thriving hotel? More importantly, can you lock its darkest secrets back up before it's too late?

Analysis: Dark Fall: The Journal offers up a deliciously eerie adventure experience that is chock full of atmosphere and immersion. Despite some fairly obvious flaws, this story-driven spine-tingler tells a hauntingly good ghost tale that raises goose bumps without resorting to buckets of gore or cheap jump scares. Instead, mood, excellent story choreography, immersion, pitch perfect puzzles, and a subtle approach to spinning fear weave together to form this wonderfully creepy ghost hunt.

Dark Fall started life not as a computer game but as short story penned by creator Jonathan Boakes. He then built the computer game based on the story to be shared with friends and family until it was published by The Adventure Company. That The Journal had such a literary infancy may explain one of Dark Fall's greatest strengths; it's just amazingly well written and choreographed. Granted, the story is told almost completely using the old video game trope of discovering documents lying around, but while this style of story telling may be tired elsewhere, it works magnificently here. It is this aspect of the game that gives it so much depth and dimension as we are slowly and gradually introduced to the surprisingly complex tales of a rather diverse cast. In this way, the main story is a ghost story, but it is also a composite of all these other stories braided together. Each individual thread draws you in and ultimately strengthens your attachment to the main plot.

Providing nearly as large an impact on the gameplay is the extremely bare bones approach to adventuring on display here. There's no separate inventory or status screen, no cursors to manually cycle through, and most importantly no automated method of keeping track of the scores upon scores of documents, letters, narratives, journals, etc., that you will come across. This will force most who play Dark Fall to keep their own journal which might seem at first to be a decided negative, but I can say with confidence that being forced to take my own exhaustive notes throughout the game added immensely to the experience. Indeed, I credit this aspect of the game for making this the most fun I've had playing an adventure game in a very long time because I not only felt more invested than I usually do with these kinds of games, but I felt more a part of the entire process. Couple that with the fact that the inventory is on screen meaning that you never navigate away from the main playing screen and you have a game that doesn't let you walk away and hide in some options menu or status screen somewhere.

darkfall3.jpgThere are plenty of other goodies waiting inside the haunted halls of The Station. You won't be collecting a great deal of items like in many other adventure games. This is because while many adventure games rely upon finding items and figuring out where they go to supply many if not most of the puzzles, Dark Fall offers up a host of excellent and original pen and paper style puzzles that are challenging, but not so much that you'll be running for a walkthrough. Also, Dark Fall is significantly non-linear and gives you an amazingly large amount of area to explore right from the beginning. Instead of having to solve three puzzles just to get out of the first room, you have free reign over about sixty percent of the game world from the beginning (and trust me, it will still take you a while to explore that much). Finally, the audio and subtle special effects come together to create an astoundingly eerie experience. Doors that open by themselves, whispers that creep through the hallways, and silhouettes that appear for only a fraction of a second only to disappear after you blink may not leave you soiling your undergarments, exactly, but will keep you most definitely on edge.

Dark Fall's largest weakness, perhaps, is its graphics. Actually, I would say that Dark Fall has a similar visual look as the original Myst which wouldn't be so bad except for the fact that Myst is about ten years older. In fact, one could argue that Dark Fall has a lot of similarities to Myst, some good. Unfortunately, the visual similarities aren't. Actually, the graphics aren't absolutely terrible, but there are more than a few instances where they are clearly not where they could or should be (I cringed every time I saw hair brush bristles represented as a single solid mottled object). Along with the poor visuals comes the sometimes frustrating navigation. As is common of many games of this type, all the available exits in any given place are not always clearly marked. Not being able to reach vital parts of the game due to poorly mapped hotspots and a tetchy navigation system can definitely lead to undue frustration. Indeed, the entire interface, though simple, can feel somewhat clunky and unforgiving until you have gotten used to it.

Ultimately, the choice of playing Dark Fall rests on everything above as well as what kind of scare you enjoy. If you like slasher flick gore, or carnival haunted house jump scares, Dark Fall doesn't have a whole lot to offer you. If you like a good ghost hunt, though, you're definitely in the right neighborhood. It's true that this game can be rough around the edges, and I won't deny that. Nor will I deny that taking your own notes can sometimes seem like a lot of work, but in the end, all that work is most definitely worth it. No the ending is nothing to really write home about, but that doesn't matter either because in Dark Fall: The Journal, it's the journey that is everything, and as journeys go, it's one bumpy, scary ride.

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


  • Currently 4.2/5
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Rating: 4.3/5 (60 votes)
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Royal Envoy

JamesAfter the rainy season tears apart a series of islands known for their fine crafts, someone has to restore the villages there to their former glory. The king chooses that person to be you, partly based on the criteria that you do not wear a fluffy wig (rich coming from a guy who seems pretty fond of silky slippers...). Thus off you go in Royal Envoy, with the king's adviser in tow, to engage in town planning of such high speed it makes pitching a tent look like a multi-year project.

Royal Envoy is an incredibly addictive mix of strategy, city building and wack-a-mole. Hopping across a series of islands, you have to visit the respective villages on each and repair them. In reality, though, you are playing little logic puzzles. Each village has a set of goals — build certain buildings, meet upgrade requirements, attain a specific level of civic happiness or make a set sum of money. In your way is the clock, obtuse pirates and the odd piece of undergrowth. In your arsenal: workers, tax collectors and a growing catalog of buildings at your disposal.

Royal EnvoyWorkers build and upgrade stuff, tax collectors keep your fiscal future intact. Houses — which start with cabins and go all the way to mansions — generate revenue through rent, while sawmills and workshops bring in the wood, and markets and banks let you grow or manipulate money. Finally, there are upgrades that you can use to create more happiness, if the need calls for appeasing the mobs.

So far this must sound like a typical strategy game where you plan a city. It certainly wears that jacket. But Royal Envoy is about finding the most efficient and fastest way to the goals at hand. Let's say a level wants you to build three chalets, each upgraded to three stars. Upgrades and buildings require wood, so you need a sawmill. But two building spots are being blocked by a pirate seeking a bribe, so you'll not only need cash, but you'll need to generate a lot fast. Thus, apart from buildings to provide rent, a bank will be a smart idea. Or you can build a market, where you can exchange a little wood for a lot of cash. Whichever route you choose, now you have to carefully balance the action: sending collectors for tax; workmen to do upgrades or cut wood; when to use cash and wood for what task, etc.

Sounds complicated? It isn't. And once you get started, it's hard to stop...

Royal EnvoyAnalysis: Royal Envoy manages to create a creative range of challenges throughout your island adventures. When a level starts, you have time to take in the goals and think of the strategy ahead. This isn't always necessary, because with the exception of a few levels you can beat any challenge at the first attempt. The question of beating the clock — and thus collecting a golden star — is a different one. And it might sound silly, but you'll want those stars. Initially the game holds your hand, giving basic challenges or guiding you through new buildings that have been unlocked. But later on you are often given a devastated village, a set of goals and a 'good luck' slap on the back. Alternatively a level could have a very specific layout and beating it depends on figuring out what to build when, what to demolish and so on.

At its heart it is a lateral puzzler with a huge emphasis on speed and thinking on your feet. The most frustrating parts come when you have to wait for something to happen, like a load of wood to be finished. In fact, when such pauses seem too long you start to become suspicious that you are going about the challenge all wrong - and chances are you're right. It is all too easy to get engrossed with every growing challenge, so fortunately there are tons of levels to complete and Royal Envoy will keep you busy for a while. But it is equally easy to pick up and put down as you need it. And the controls are a simple matter of clicking: this game could translate very easily to a device like the iPad.

Visually it looks very good, though the attempts at appealing to as broad an audience as possible does leave the vapid story and characters feeling very juvenile. The plot is clearly meant for kids, but the puzzles themselves are perfect for all ages. Less able players will work more at finishing levels while more experienced ones will have the goal of beating the clock in mind.

In the end my greatest regret was that I have had to power through the game quickly for this review. I would have loved to move through it at a leisurely pace, taking in a few levels every day. Then again, a lot of those pesky gold stars still allude me, so I will be going back.

A Collector's Edition is also available. It contains a number of bonus levels along with a smattering of additional, just-for-fun content. Remember that Big Fish Game Club Members pay only $13.99 for Collector's Editions (or 2 club credits), and collector's editions count 3 card punches of 6 total needed for a free game.

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

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


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Fiction Fixers: Adventures In Wonderland

GrimmrookOh no! Someone has broken into the Hall of Fiction and absconded with a collection of the world's most cherished literature! Now a group calling themselves the Illiterati are going into these timeless classics themselves and making dreadful changes to the stories, potentially changing forever some of the best loved books of all time! All would most certainly be lost, but thankfully we have the Fiction Fixers to call upon.

fictionfixerswonderland.jpgIn the hidden object adventure Fiction Fixers: Adventures in Wonderland, you play a fresh-faced cadet for a kind of secret police force tasked with protecting the integrity of the collective literature from around the globe. With the recent break-in at the Hall of Fiction, you'll finally have a chance to go on your first real live case. Your assignment? To follow an Illiterati agent into Lewis Carroll's beloved children's story, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, and undo all of his mischief.

Even though this is your first case, there's no need to be nervous, as Fixer Phoebe will be right by your side to help you out and give you direction when you need. The two of you will follow Alice as she begins her adventure down the rabbit hole. Only, while she is off trying to find the Queen's rose garden, you'll be busy fixing the errors left by the Illiterati agent such as removing all the sharp instruments left in the bed of leaves at the bottom of the rabbit hole. Fixing the fiction centers around using your object finding skills in hidden object scenes, building up your inventory and solving relatively simple item-based puzzles, and testing your wits and reflexes in a selection of mini-games.

So stay sharp. It's up to you to make sure Alice finds the White Rabbit's gloves, the mad tea party goes off without a hitch (or, at least, with only those hitches we already know about), and that the Duchess makes it to the croquet game. Speaking of croquet, I do hope you are handy with a flamingo.

Analysis: Fiction Fixers jumps onto the scene with a fresh and intriguing story concept that is brilliantly delivered. While the gameplay might not live up to the originality and ambition of the plot, it does offer solid meat and potato object finding and some mini games that, if not exactly unique, are nevertheless fun and given enough of a twist to make you smile.

fictionfixerswonderland2.jpgThe classics are classics for good reason. Generation after generation, despite major shifts in culture, technology, and world view, they still manage to enchant our hearts, minds, and imagination. Anyone who has read Carroll's whimsical masterpieces has already walked alongside Alice, suffered through the caterpillar's riddles, and sneezed through the clouds of pepper being dumped in the soup. But Fiction Fixers allows you to take that walk in a very different and tactile way, allowing you to be an actual character without necessarily disrupting the integrity of the story. In fact, it should be noted that while much abridged, Fiction Fixers does treat the canon with a good measure of respect. If you're looking for line by line authenticity you won't find it, but neither will you find unforgivable liberties being taken either (like, for instance, shamelessly melding Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass to make a new, different story).

Solid production values help sell the story, giving this romp in Wonderland an almost Saturday morning cartoon type feel. The voice acting is in most cases excellent and enjoyable, and the artwork is a treat to behold. Thankfully Fiction Fixers doesn't attempt to reproduce the look of the original woodcuts or any of the more modern renditions, but instead stabs out for its own style and comes up with something that is lush, colorful, and welcoming to comers of all ages. Even when Fiction Fixers is being scary, it's not doing so in a scary movie way, but instead in a this is the scary part of the kid's cartoon kind of way.

Unfortunately, the gameplay isn't nearly as fresh as the story or its telling. The object finding is pretty standard fare with maybe a little too much reliance on finding long narrow items (yes, even the most die-hard object finders can get a little disenchanted with finding pencils, needles, chopsticks and walking canes), and none of the item based puzzles and mini-games are burdened with an over-abundance of either difficulty or originality. I will say that there are a few mini-games with just enough of a twist to make me smile, and in particular I found myself enjoying the more puzzle oriented treatment the match-3 segments received. Nothing here is particularly inspired, but neither is it particularly terrible.

Another problem that Fiction Fixers runs into is its relatively short length which may seem shorter considering that most who play this will already know most of the plot and can gauge where they are as key plot points arrive. I will say that this game does pull a rabbit or two out of its hat towards the end for a nice little surprise.

The fact of the matter is that grown-ups looking for a real meaty HOG with a juicy story might be a little underwhelmed by Fiction Fixers: Adventures in Wonderland. But then, I don't think that's this game's real appeal. There's definitely something there for those willing to take a nostalgic trip, most certainly, but the real appeal of this adventure is in sharing it with the little ones. The revisiting of a classic children's story in a new way, the brilliantly colored visuals, and even the relatively low level of difficulty suggest that this is a game that is best suited for children. More accurately, this game is at its best when shared by young and old fan's of Lewis Carroll's immortal tale.

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Weekend Download

JohnBCertain conventions in video games will never change. Platformers always involve hopping on enemies' heads. Zombies want to eat your brains. Role playing games will always start with the main character being woken up from sleep. And swinging from walls and ceilings is fun. Let's keep it that way for a very long time, shall we?

yftgh.gifYou Found the Grappling Hook (Windows, 11.9MB, free) - There's just something about swinging around on hooks that makes a game so much fun. It's probably not possible to name a single video game that couldn't be made more awesome with the addition of a grappling hook (except, you know, Grappling Hook, which already has one). You Found the Grappling Hook is well-aware of this phenomenon and thus constructs itself around nothing but grappling. Swing from the ceiling, latch on to the wall, shorten, lengthen, and move back and forth as you hand from the invisible rope. It's grappling hook action, thus it is awesome.

aztecgod.jpgAztec God (Windows, 6.3MB, free) - Killing zombies in a game is nothing new. Rolling a ball around a maze is nothing new. But killing zombies while rolling a ball around a maze while you play as an Aztec god is a bit new. Use either the mouse or [arrow] keys to rotate the playing field, causing the ball to move towards you with natural gravity. Smash the zombies to open the teleporter that allows you to move on to the next level. Simple, but satisfying!

visit.gifVisit (Windows, 3.9MB, free) - Before there was Visit 2: The Dark Tower, there was Visit, a simple platform puzzle game starring a cute little alien guy. Although it looks like Knytt on the surface, Visit bears little resemblance to it once you start playing. The central mechanic involves changing your character's color to match blocks scattered around the world, allowing you to interact with them in new ways. When you're red, you can move red blocks, for example. It's a simple idea that's executed very well, worth trying even if you've already mastered the sequel!

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


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Rating: 4.4/5 (54 votes)
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Life Quest

joyeThree months after your high school graduation, were you married, a proud parent of two, living in a mansion, and the President and CEO of the biggest company in your city? Pssh, slacker! Well, you can make up for your failure by attaining these goals and more in Life Quest, a life simulation game for PC and Mac.

Life QuestWhether your avatar is a male or a female, and whatever color of the rainbow you paint his or her face and hair, he or she will be equal in utter messed-up-ed-ness. As the game begins, you've just graduated and moved to the big city. Suddenly, the phone rings! It's a friend from high school, mentioning that she's going to buy a fish. To a real person, this would be either a random event or a great time to reconnect. The Life Quest version of you, however, sees all social interaction as one thing: RIVALRY. Now you gotta make sure you buy a fish before Daphne does!

Step one: earn money. You quickly grab one of three jobs available to you in City Hall, saving cash and scheming over your Yo Ho Hoagie at Buccaneer Burger. Once you make enough, you rush to the pet shop and buy a fish. You're treated to a drum roll and a spotlight shining down on your goofy cartoon head while Daphne is left in the dark. Sweet, meaningless victory! No sooner than you start to celebrate, the phone rings again with another former friend mentioning some innocent plan which you will immediately vow to beat them at. It's all part of your overarching goal to be "the most talked about person at the high school reunion." Oh, they'll be talking, alright.

Life QuestAnalysis: Life Quest is fairly low-pressure as sims go, with only two meters to keep track of: happiness, and the time left in your day. The two affect each other. If you aren't happy, you'll sleep poorly, and wake up the next day with less time, and if you don't have much time in the day, you won't be able to do much other than try to get your happiness back up. So it's important to remember to get the happiness level over the line before the end of the day.

As you progress, you'll also build up your stats of intelligence, practicality, and charm, which will help you learn faster, work quicker, and impress the ladies and/or gentlemen. Once you've bested every goal, you can play around with decorating your pad and yourself, have some more babies, master jobs you didn't try, or start the game over and try to beat the last rival in record time.

Despite, or perhaps because of, the silliness of the plot mechanism driving you forward, Life Quest is surprisingly charming and addictive. If you're someone who like fiddling around with doll makers, that aspect of the game alone can have you happily customizing the exact shade of blue for your character's eyes and fretting over whether the color of your motorcycle clashes with the hair of your beloved, and should it be bothering you this much that it does? Well, just place another ad in the paper for someone who likes "living dangerously" and "doing long division." That can't fail.

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Link Dump Fridays

DoraWhat time is it?

... I say, WHAT TIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIME IS IT?! Why, it's Bonus Link Dump Friday time! (And why are you yelling? Rude.) Anyway, it may not be Halloween, but that doesn't mean you have to wait until October for some chills. Especially not if you're like me and always have a hankerin' for scares! Let's take a stroll down Spooky Lane together. (Take a right off of 23 Chickadee Avenue.) This special edition of your one and only Link Dump Friday features some games that are creepy-cool and are worth a peek if you are brave of heart or just want to impress the big kids so they'll let you hang out with them. So yes, parents, please assume that most of these games are not safe for young children. Unless tears, nightmares, and checking under the bed for boogeymen for the next six weeks sounds appealing. Me? I spend all my time jumping rigged-to-detonate dirt-bikes over robotic lions who are also on fire and shoot bees out of their mouths when they roar. Nothing scares me.

  • Absentia - Episode 1Absentia - Episode 1 - More atmospheric than actually scary, this little point-and-clicker is about a girl who suddenly receives a letter one day that might point to the whereabouts of her father, who vanished fifteen years ago. The narrative is the strong point here, delivered with competent voice acting, and the game plays out on photographed backgrounds that are a nice touch. What's unfortunate is that right now the actual gameplay aspect is a bit stale, consisting primarily of tracking down note fragments in different locations and then assembling them. Hopefully the next chapter will be more exciting. Maybe with a talking animal sidekick. Everyone loves those, right?
  • Time to Wake UpTime to Wake Up - A slower, more thoughtfully creepy point-and-click tale of a man who receives a strange package one evening that ends up making him see things in a different light (bad pun, sorry), Time to Wake Up is the first game from its developers, and is fairly impressive as such, even if the gameplay doesn't quite feel as strong as the narrative itself. Some puzzles can be frustratingly fiddly, and narrative text takes a while to disappear from the screen. Still, the atmosphere is excellent, the style is appropriate, and there are several different endings for you to find. It definitely makes you want to see more from the developers.
  • The InsanityThe Insanity - About as subtle as a HummVee, this point-and-click horror adventure is the gaming equivalent of trying to read a book by Clive Barker while someone shrieks in your ear every five seconds and throws buckets of raspberry jam everywhere. You wake up in a cage in a strange laboratory and need to escape the building before your bizarre captors track you down and turn you into one of the other unfortunate creatures that walk the halls. It isn't what you might call restrained, doesn't always make sense, and some of the action sequences can be frustrating, but there's something appealing about the aesthetic and the gleeful cheesiness of the whole setup.
  • Desolation: The Stages of AnxietyDesolation: The Stages of Anxiety - An exterminator gets called into a job that might be more than he bargained for in this point-and-click game with action elements. The narrative can be a little shaky, and it took me a moment of cocking my head at the screen to understand the ending, but there are some genuinely creepy moments contained herein. When you're done, you can play the sequel, although that somehow lacks the creepy-crawly impact of the original. I actually don't know why we haven't already had this in a Link Dump, but it probably has something to do with the fact that my brain is a sieve and I can never remember what I'm about to oh hello, what are you guys doing here?
  • Darkbase 2: The HiveDarkbase 2: The Hive - Another competently done top-down shooter where you mow down legions of bloodthirsty aliens with progressively larger guns. It's not very scary, but it is appealingly action oriented and features lots of things bursting. (Take that as you will.) If this game were a movie, it would star Dwayne Johnson, Sylvester Stallone, and Samuel L Jackson (rock!), and the dialogue would consist entirely of the first two going "RAAAAAAAAAAAA" and firing their guns nonstop, while Samuel L Jackson was on the phone firing his agent. I'd watch it.

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Rating: 3.7/5 (73 votes)
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KyleMr RunnerMr. Runner likes to run, an assertion that shouldn't tax any overworked imagination too terribly hard. Nor is it particularly hard to swallow that our eponymous hero likes to jump, slide, and collect coins like so many platformer heroes before him. That he's a pitch black grinning blocky rabbit-y thingie that has chosen, of all places, a lava pool riddled mountain range with patches of anti-gravity fields thrown in as his main stomping grounds, that might be pushing things a little.

In Bit Battalion's skill testing platformer, your job is to simply get to the goal of each level (marked by a green arrow) as fast as you can. There are no princesses or bandage riddled love interests to save, no massive tower to build, and no sardonic computer to taunt you along the way. It's just you and a series of increasingly difficult stages that will push your platforming abilities to their limits. Use the [arrow] keys to run, jump, and slide, or you can use the [space] bar to do the jumping instead. Also be sure to collect as many coins as you can as they can shave off some much needed time and when you find that you need to restart, just go ahead and hit [R] to start over with a fresh clock.

At first blush, Mr. Runner seems to be bogged down by a number of problems. The hit detection, particularly around lava pools, can be brutal and lead to instances that seem more like spontaneous combustion than placing a foot wrong. The color scheme can be a hindrance, especially when you are forced to assess at high speeds the difference between black terrain, dark gray terrain, and slightly less dark gray terrain as each shade has different properties. Even physics seem weird and the controls can come off as a little sluggish and clunky at first, which is terrible for platformers of this type.

But with a little perseverance, platforming addicts will find much to enjoy in Mr. Runner's big blocky pixels. Other similar games focus on timing and reflexes and precision, and so does Mr. Runner, but what sets this game apart is the way it beautifully incorporates momentum into the familiar platform game formula. In this way, Mr. Runner has the spirit of a racer where you not only worry about running and jumping, but also finding the racing line, that exact path through a course that lets you maximize your momentum and minimize your time. The big payoff in this game is the exhilaration that comes when you discover that line and complete in mere seconds a level that took you minutes before. Even the odd physics eventually becomes a grudgingly endearing part of the game as you slowly acclimate to their strange nuances.

Clearly this game is not for everyone, but if your fingers twitch and your mouth begins to salivate upon seeing a challenging platformer, Mr. Runner is definitely worth your attention despite its up front flaws. If given time, its flaws are more than made up for by its aggressive and ambitious treatment of the concepts of speed and momentum in a platformer.

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Link Dump Fridays

DoraWelcome back! If I'm here and you're there, this must be Link Dump Friday, and as usual we, your humble servants at Jay is Games, have brought you a selection of games from the oftentimes frightening dark alley known as the "interwebs". This week we offer you a balanced diet of turn-based strategy, physics, and platforming. And then we kick it up a notch Lagasse-style with a zombie restaurant right before we jazz things up Bourdain-like with an appealingly noir superhero parody.

Special thanks this week to Andrew, who was nice enough to send me a link to The Case of Samuel Gregor, an interactive fiction title after I mentioned last week I was hoping someone would make a game similar to my favourite Kafka story, The Metamorphosis. We're buddies now, whether you like it or not. Yes, folks, we do read the suggestion box, so if you see something you think should be here, drop us a line.

  • Da Vinci CannonDa Vinci Cannon - Some might call it "a physics puzzle where you shoot a steampunkish cannon at a fort of dudes", but I call it "Crush the Castle minus the trebuchet." There are some differences, and it's certainly well made, but for the most part Da Vinci Cannon will probably give you a serious case of deja-vu. Of course, if all you really want is to fire cannon balls at helpless stationary people that squeal obligingly when crushed, it's pretty good at that, too. Which I guess makes it a success, if not a particularly original one. Kind of like every Disney teen pop star, ever.
  • Heaven or HellHeaven or Hell - An angel accidentally drops a halo that conks a demon on the head. Naturally, this can only be resolved in WAR. War with zombie snot and water pistols, but WAR nonetheless. Initially I was very excited about this adorable little turn-based battler that has you picking between angels and demons to duke it out across a map while you upgrade and unlock new units because it reminded me a bit of Ogre Battle. Instead, you get some grinding, and you get to make your clicker finger fall off; a lack of hot keys for the various actions can make battles pretty frantic.
  • Orton and the PrincessOrton and the Princess - There's a lot to like about this simple, twitchy little platformer, from the bouncy soundtrack and simple presentation to the progressively more mocking tutorial text that follows you as you play. And then your latent psychic abilities kick in and your monitor combusts from the sheer force of your hatred. Okay, so maybe that's a bit of an exaggeration; surely some of you possess digits dexterous enough to finish it easily and will brag accordingly in the comments, but the rest of us will be over here. Sulking. No, don't feel bad, it's actually pretty nice over here; we've got Scrabble and Stan brought chips.
  • Feed Mee!Feed Mee! - This is a game about a zombie king who kidnaps the winner of a cooking competition to eat her, who in turn volunteers to cook for the undead horde as long as they promise to free her after. That might be the single awesomest idea I've ever heard for a cooking game, but unfortunately it's more similar to a time management title a la Diner Dash. It's super cute and easy to pick up, but unfortunately gets repetitive fairly quickly. Does this represent a new trend in gaming? In which case, I can't wait for Zombie Salon and Undead Tetris. Which will honestly just be like regular Tetris, only squishier.
  • I Am The NightI Am The Night - [Warning: Not for children and requires Unity plug-in.] I admit I was hoping for Darkwing Duck, but this very short platformer with its amusingly growly protagonist is still fun. Clamber across rooftops taking down criminals, provided you can get around the pudgy controls. Vigilant reader John who was good enough to submit this says it isn't intended to play particularly well, which I suppose makes sense once you discover the ending, but still; does whether its intentional or not make up for clunky controls? YOU DECIDE. ... no, not you. You. Yeah. I don't trust that other guy.

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Rating: 4.4/5 (214 votes)
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DoraThe tin SoldierWhen I say The tin Soldier, you might be inclined to think about Hans Christian Andersen's sentimental story fairy-tale. In which case, you might be caught a little off guard by Alejandro Iglesias's queerly creepy and melancholic little point-and-click rendition of the tale. Emerging from his box, our one-legged hero discovers that his fellow toys are being menaced by a twisted jack-in-the-box. To put things right and rescue his lady-fair, he'll have to confront the villain... after a few unintentional detours.

The game is played with the mouse. When the cursor changes to a hand, it means you can interact with something. Click and hold on the arrows at either side of the screen, and the soldier will hop in that direction until something stops him. To use an item, simply drag it from your inventory at the top of the screen and it will snap into place when you move it over the correct spot. Characters communicate using speech bubbles with visual interpretations of words, but figuring out what each person wants is usually fairly straightforward.

The tin SoldierAnalysis: Playing The tin Soldier is a bit like having a bedtime story read to you by Tim Burton circa Stainboy era. Weird, cool, and just a bit creepy, the game doesn't possess any real violence or scares, but the overall sense of gloom that hangs over toydom might be too upsetting for some younger children. Adults, by turn, might wish the story took a bit more liberties with its source material; despite the look and feel, it's actually a fairly faithful retelling of the original story, and it would have been nice to see creator Alejandro Iglesias explore the darker side of things a bit more since the art and sound were clearly up to the job.

Unfortunately, the game is bogged down by some awkward mouse-movement controls and a little too much clicking. There's also very little help given towards some of the frequently bizarre puzzles that may frustrate some players. A section where you have to rewire a fish's brain using jellyfish tentacles stands out as being one of the biggest trial-and-error offenders, despite being fairly creative. As such, the game winds up feeling like it's leaning more on its overall sense of style than its gameplay.

The ending feels a little abrupt, and you'll probably wish it had been a bit longer, too. As it stands, The tin Soldier will probably run you a little under half an hour, and it's definitely worth a spin if you're looking for something a little bit different.

Play The tin Soldier


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Rating: 4.8/5 (110 votes)
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Babylon Sticks: Divine Intervention 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: 4.5/5 (244 votes)
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DoraGreat Dungeon in the SkyLook, up in the sky! It's a roguelike!... No, a platformer! It's Great Dungeon in the Sky! You are one of many many many many (many) adventurers to delve into a mysterious floating dungeon. But you're not working with your fellow plunderers; you're shooting, flame broiling, stomping, slashing, and otherwise ouching them to death on your way to vanquish four dragons to reach the lair of the Big Bad Boss. There's no treasure to be found, and you're probably going to wind up a smear on the floor at least once, but the good news is every enemy you stomp becomes a playable character. Rock it drow mage style, or play an underling king; if you can knock 'em down, you can suit 'em up.

All characters control with the [arrow] keys, and the [Z], [X], and [C] keys activate their respective abilities. Each ability has a cooldown period represented by the blue bar in the upper left below your health bar. Seek out the glowing green light in each level to unlock other stages to explore, but be careful; the dungeon's floors rarely stay the same, and neither do its enemies. There's no finesse involved unless you count mashing the attack keys and knowing when to run away marketable skills, but something about the simple presentation and surprising amount of replay value involved in unlocking new characters with new abilities tingles a certain part of your brain. Of course, some characters are more interesting than others, and a lot of them feel like reskins of one another, but there's still a lot of fun involved in hacking and slashing your way through the enormous roster... and maybe even unlocking a surprise or two.

Featured in a recent Link Dump Friday, the game proved to be rather remarkably popular, and we decided it deserved its own entry to bring it to those of you who are too busy on the weekends flying around in your private jets eating lobster thermidor to have seen it. (We know Counts and Countessas make up a large portion of you.) While not perhaps meaty enough a concept for some gamers, Great Dungeon in the Sky offers simple, frenetic fun with a lot of action.

Play Great Dungeon in the Sky


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Rating: 4.7/5 (362 votes)
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DoraManufactoriaManufactoria is a puzzle game about putting robots in their place. In this instance, that also includes you. But don't worry! You're special; you're not destined for an eternity of drudgery percolating coffee or shredding paper for some inferior fleshy being. Your job is to build a testing machine that makes sure your less functional mechanical brethren don't have any defects that would involve pesky murder sprees. Think it sounds easy? Oh, silly robot. You don't know what you're getting your nuts and bolts into.

The concept is thus; you need to place conveyor belts and checkpoints from the left side of the screen, using the displayed keys to rotate, to get your robots through the testing area and to the exit. Each robot comes programmed with a specific colour sequence, and you need to make sure that only the ones that match make it through. Each level will tell you what sequence to look for. Checkpoints read the colours on a robot, and spit it out in the appropriate direction, so use them to figure out what robots match the sequence, and which ones should be dropped onto the factory floor. (Be warned, checkpoints also strip the last colour they read off a passing robot, so make sure no defects sneak through!) Once you think you've got the right pathway, click the click grey arrow to start. There's no penalty for getting a level wrong, and you have infinite pieces to use, so don't be afraid to experiment. It'll help you learn the ropes!

Inspired by Zachtronics "Games for Engineers", it's one of those things that seems extremely simple at first contact, then finds you hunched over the keyboard three hours later, your hair in corkscrews, smelling of desperation and sweat. Well, maybe you smell like that. I only smell like roses and candy canes no matter what I'm doing. The game's super simple presentation and utterly brain twisting gameplay won't be to everyone's taste, but those of you who enjoy logical puzzlers may find this tingles your circuitry in all the right ways. It's great to find a game that sets out to challenge you rather than merely attempt to catch your interest for a few minutes with a load of style but no substance, and Manufactoria will definitely get those rusty gears grinding again. When you're done, make use of the level editor, because the best way to show you care for someone is to tie their brain into knots.

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Rating: 4.2/5 (45 votes)
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Mikemike-asteroidshtml5-screen1.gifHere at Jay Is Games, we are keenly interested in the development of HTML5 and how it will affect the future of browser-based gaming. If you haven't heard, HTML, the code-like scribble that determines the basic look and structure of nearly all web sites, is getting a major upgrade that will sport a number of features promising to make proprietary plugins like Flash unnecessary in many cases. One such feature that is already available is the Canvas element, which allows for the real-time drawing and animation of shapes, which makes it a plausible tool for creating games.

For example, check out this port of the arcade classic Asteroids by Doug McInnes. If you've never played Asteroids, or an Asteroids-like game, the goal is to pilot your deltoid spacecraft around the void of space, blasting large lumbering asteroids into smaller, faster, projectile-like asteroids, then blasting those into dust before they breach your hull and destroy you. Controls are basic: [left] and [right] arrows to rotate your ship, [up] to thrust, and [space] to fire space bullets. If you travel across one side of the screen, you will warp to the other side, as a reasonable depiction of the infinity of space. The game is all about controlling inertia so you don't glide into the hurling space rocks before you can maneuver into position and shoot them. Destroy or be destroyed is the only law against the impersonal Asteroids.

If you have played Asteroids before, you will find nothing new here, but a novel reimagining isn't really the point. The point is to see if HTML5 is robust enough to recreate an arcade classic. Which it can! The graphics are primitive, but they behave the way they should. Animations are smooth, controls are responsive, and hit detection is unassailable. It all just works.

One reason HTML5 is getting a lot of press is because Apple's iPhone and new tablet gizmo, the iPad, don't support Flash, for Apple is betting on non-proprietary alternatives like HTML5 to fulfill Flash's role. It's a little ironic then that this version of Asteroids will load on an iPhone or an iPad, but won't be playable, since it relies on keyboard control. Also, if Explorer is your browser, you won't be able to play, since Explorer doesn't support Canvas yet.

But if you can, check this Asteroids port out, if only to see the beginning of a new direction in online gaming.

Play Asteroids


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Rating: 4.3/5 (133 votes)
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Weekday Escape

GrinnypAh, the hot, muggy depths of the jungle. The sounds of insects, the smell of decay, the rustle of leaves as unseen creatures move nearby, as you, intrepid explorer, creep closer and closer to... some really goofy looking cannibals with an attitude problem and a professor in a cooking pot. Welcome to P.I. Chronicles: Skull Island, a wickedly fun and tangled escape designed by Masterfool.

P.I. Chronicles: Skull IslandThe story begins as the aforementioned Professor Hummingway's airplane crash lands on a mysterious island. The next thing you know the hero, Frank Spectre, P.I., is awoken by the professor's daughter. All Frank has to do is find the mysterious island and rescue the professor before the natives serve him for dinner. It all sounds simple, but trust me, it is not. This simple set up disguises a flash point-and-click adventure of epic proportions.

To begin with, there's a surprising amount of territory to cover this moonlit night as you wander around the island. Talk to the natives, pick up everything you can, explore some rather surprising areas, and you may just be able to satisfy the demands of the Chief and rescue the professor. Red arrows will appear to show you which direction you can go, and although the cursor does not change to indicate hot spots, you will notice text appearing when you hover over something that can be examined or picked up. The use of objects or combining of objects from your inventory is accomplished with a strange sort of interface. Pick up an object and you will see the text "use X with" to indicate you've picked it up, then click where you would like it to go and see if you were successful. The inventory area appears to be unlimited which is handy because by the end of the game you will have a lot of things in there. Fortunately you can scroll back and forth to view your items pretty quickly, because you are definitely going to forget that you're carrying something.

You can also interact with the locals, whether they be guards, fishermen, cooks, or the chief himself. Choose the correct dialogue to advance your quest, or you could end up wandering around being very lost in this primitive jungle. Fortunately everyone ends up being helpful in the end, you just need to figure out which questions to ask.

P.I. Chronicles: Skull IslandAnalysis: P.I. Chronicles: Skull Island is not your average escape game. Granted, you are trying to escape the island in one piece (and, preferably, with the professor in tow), but there's more to it than that. If you solve all of the riddles and please the chief, you may find yourself at game's end with a victory, but a rather low score regarding accomplishments. That is because one of the delights of Skull Island is that it is hiding what amounts to a whole second game within its confines. Take your time and really explore and a wide range of exciting new vistas will open up, taking the story in wild directions that have absolutely nothing to do with your original rescue mission and turning the whole game into a very surreal experience.

The artwork is dark and rather gloomy, as it is night after all. The design of the natives are goofy caricatures, and the goofy design holds true for all of the folks you will meet, be they cannibal or other. Despite the goofiness, you are in for quite a treat as there is a ton of stuff to explore, find, and use. Want to go for every achievement possible? Be prepared to spend quite a bit of time, and you might even want to make use of the nice built in save feature. Even if you ignore all the extras and just go for the main solution, this is not a ten minute puzzle by any means.

P.I. Chronicles: Skull Island is not your average Weekday Escape, but then, sometimes it's nice to change things up a bit. Despite the clunky inventory control the game is amusing, fun, challenging, and will last much longer than the average room escape. Take the chance, explore the jungle (and points beyond), and immerse yourself in one of the more complex and satisfying escape games we've seen this year.

Play P.I. Chronicles: Skull Island


  • Currently 4.2/5
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Rating: 4.2/5 (99 votes)
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JamesNecronatorBeing bad is hard to do! Tasked with raising the monstrous horde and overrunning the kingdom, it might seem like a done deal. After all, the stories you usually hear is about how hard good has to work to overcome evil. But it's clearly not as clean-cut, a lesson imparted by Necronator, the latest game from Infectonator developer Toge Productions.

Serving as the invisible overlord, as is often the case in strategy games, you summon monsters from a portal that has spawned near a local town. Using mana as the currency, you have to raise an army (or at least a sufficiently armed gaggle) and storm the locals, butchering peasants, stomping on guards and tearing down the buildings. Ah, evil: it's hard work, but the hands-on nature makes for great job satisfaction. Unlike Infectonator, which essentially involved dropping a bomb and hoping for the best, Necronator is a proper strategy game. You have different monsters you can spawn, ranging from skeletons to orcs and zombies, as well as a few hero units that unlock as you progress. As an evil overlord you are also armed with spells to unleash more devastation from above, a part that becomes pretty crucial later on.

Play all the Necronator games:
NecronatorNecronator 2

The monsters and spells can be upgraded, as well as the amount of mana you have, how fast it recharges and the strength of your spawning portal. If the latter gets destroyed, you cannot spawn more monsters into the map and might soon be overrun by angry locals. You can also buy additional spells and the various unit types, once unlocked, also need to be purchased. But at least it is easy keeping your bottom line healthy. You make cash from attacking villages; even if a raid fails you keep the cash and can invest in your army, making it larger and more potent.

Analysis: Before we get to its flaws, I'd prefer to gloss over them first. Necronator is a lot of fun and worth at least a minute or two of your life. Usually we would start a review on JIG with a breakdown of the controls, but befitting of any strategy title there is a bit more under the hood here and playing the game is by far the best way to wrap your head around things. Some keys are crucial, such as the [Z] short-cut to select all units, but the entire game can be played using only the mouse. Progression is linear: you only have one village you can ever attack to move forward, but you can attack villages previously destroyed for more cash or to defeat the little challenges. Progress to other villages and provinces are unlocked by destroying the town in front of you and as you overrun the kingdom, you encounter hero units in certain locations. Killing some of these unlock hero units on your side.

NecronatorInvesting in your unit upgrades is crucial, as the game slowly rolls out ever-more dangerous guards, not to mention the odd hero (who can be very devastating). Thanks to the single spawn portal and being only limited by your mana supply, you can easily spawn a new army and keep feeding monsters into the battle. More than once a fight has gone bad for me, but I managed to turn it around with some quick unit spawning and a meteor shower (or two) to level the playing field. That will teach the locals from trying to put a stop to my slaughter!

But this is a pretty ambitious use of Flash (it even has a decent soundtrack and sound effects), so a few annoyances surface. Foremost is the navigation around the map. You can use the WASD keys or click on the mini-map: either is fine, except that clicking on the mini-map removes the mouse from wherever you are focused, while the WASD keys means your fingers are slightly removed from the other shortcuts (for example, making [Q] the 'Select All Units' would make more sense). This might seem like a petty suggestion, but Necronator is very heavy on micro-management.

That exposes another flaw. Your units are simply not very disciplined and some easily break away from the main group and wander after a threat. Such initiative is usually rewarded with death as they get ambushed by some log-dragging peasant - even the dark spawn benefit from safety in numbers. When told to target something the monsters are great, but left to their own devices and they are a bit unruly. Initially this isn't a problem, as you only look at them. But later it becomes necessary to drop a few destructive spells on pesky archer or magic units to help even the odds. Essentially you spend a lot of time making sure your army doesn't get out of hand, which is tricky when you are assaulted from all sides in later battles. It's also nearly impossible to control specific units. You can select them individually or grab a bunch by dragging a rectangle over them, but the small play area and lack of a mouse scroll makes such maneuvers tricky and perhaps beyond most players. In the end you just constantly launch all your units at one spot, hammering the 'Select All' key to keep netting the new monsters you have spawned.

But when you look at the big picture, these are more nitpicks around a game that is actually well-executed (bar a bug that sometimes locks up a battle or some scenarios that are simply ridiculous to fight - taking on three heroes at once? Seriously?!). Necronator is a fun game and there is a lot to relish between the unit upgrades and surveying fields of gore and dead peasants. It's always a good sign when a game beats you over the head and you simply keep going back for more.

Play Necronator


  • Currently 3.9/5
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Rating: 3.9/5 (107 votes)
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Paint It Red 2ArtbegottiWhat's black and white and red all over? Nothing yet, as we seem to be needing more red! Paint It Red 2 by MoonMana is an interactive art game disguised as a puzzle where your black canvas needs to be covered with red paint as quickly as possible. In each level, paint flows across the screen, following (or not following) the movements of your mouse. If you guide the paint to cover a certain percentage of the screen, you unlock the next level and have the opportunity to move on... or not.

This option to move on is important, because each level has two additional goals to be met. One involves acquiring a percentage of redness within a short time limit (Speed Medal), the other involves covering a much larger space with more time (Size Medal). If you get both medals, you can unlock bonus levels that push your painting skills to the test.

Or, you can just play around. Paint it Red 2's relaxing atmosphere makes the art-based challenge feel like painting endless swirls of color on an infinite canvas. Yellow shades not only add to your red percentage (although they don't boost your score as much as red itself), they allow for some beautiful shading effects that turn the game into an interactive screensaver. You can experiment in every level you unlock, so choose the paintbrush method you enjoy the most and go crazy painting the town canvas red.

Play Paint It Red 2

Thanks to Donut and Alexander for sending this one in!


  • Currently 4.5/5
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Rating: 4.5/5 (256 votes)
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JoyeVehiclesWiu wiu! Stop in the name of law! Not very commanding, is it? Well, the stars of this physics puzzle game, Vehicles, created by Dmitriy Fyudorov and Dmitriy Zaletov, are more like the squishable cartoon cars of the law than the long arm of same, so maybe that's appropriate. Good thing, too, or else you'd never dare to send them sailing in adorable bug-eyed terror.

Your goal for each level is to remove all the "evil" cars from the play area. Using the mouse, click to start and to stop all the "good" cars, from the small police car to the large firetruck. You can also remove black and white striped blocks with a click, and red and white striped blocks by moving a good car onto the red button. For a bonus, try to get as many cars as you can into the glowing "parking" areas.

Not only is there a nice variety and a good build-up in difficulty from the first level to the thirty-fifth, but the cuteness and the good humor really shines, sometimes in some unexpected ways. Read the text at the end of level 12, and then play the next level for a good laugh.

Physics puzzle fans are always looking for the next hit, and if you've already beaten all 80 levels of Cover Orange Players Pack, Vehicles will wiu wiu that same sweet spot.

Play Vehicles


  • Currently 4.7/5
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Rating: 4.7/5 (274 votes)
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DoraRobot Wants PuppyIn case you haven't heard, robot wanted kitty. And robot got kitty! Problem solved, right? Well, not quite, since now it seems Robot Wants Puppy, and in this charming retro platformer, you'll have to unlock a host of new and weird abilities to get it one.

As before, you control your robot with the [arrow] keys, but this time you're not alone. Perched atop our hero's head is Kitty, and once you get the appropriate power up, you can hit [X] to summon his assistance in a way that is as adorable as it is undoubtedly humiliating for your enemies. In fact, whereas the original had you upgrading your robot, most of the techniques you'll earn here incorporate the kitty. If you're hit, you just respawn at the last checkpoint you touched. Move through the maze, gathering other abilities and keys to unlock the way forward and eventually make your robot the proud owner of a furry flea machine. (Sorry canine fans; cats rule, dogs drool.) You don't have to worry about the timer in the upper left corner, since it's only there to keep track of your playing time and to make you feel inadequate when other players start posting their own.

Robot Wants PuppyAnalysis: It seems developer Hamumu Software has learned one of the most important rules of design; listen to your audience. While it was cute as a button, Robot Wants Kitty was occasionally frustrating, and ultimately pretty simple. With the addition of checkpoints you can set, Robot Wants Puppy eliminates a lot of the frustrating backtracking that happened in the original whenever you were hit. The boss battles this time around, while challenging, also aren't nearly as frustrating as their predecessor... although still unfortunately not that exciting. Throwing your cat at an enemy is also funny, but can get annoying when you realise you actually have to walk over and pick the furry critter up again afterwards.

While still fairly short and straightforward, Hamumu Software has won a prize of one thousand internets for this simply because rather than making a carbon copy of the original, they made a sequel that kept the simple-but-challenging platforming concept of the original but made sure to keep the rest of the content new and interesting. I wasn't really expecting a sequel to Robot Wants Kitty, and while this one is welcome and fun, I kind of hope it doesn't make it to a trilogy; while Robot Wants Platypus would undoubtedly be equally funny, there comes a point when you start wanting more from a clearly talented developer other than the same scenario over and over.

If you would like to contribute to your future mechanical overlords' furry menagerie, then by all means play Robot Wants Puppy. Not that it will save you from the eventual assimilation, but maybe they'll play you some easy listening jazz while you're in the automatic flesh stripper. That's like friendship, right? (If not, I have some serious apology letters to write to my loved ones.) Short, fun, and certainly cute, this is one little bit of retro adventure you won't want to miss if you were a fan of the original.

Play Robot Wants Puppy

Play the entire Robot Wants series...


  • Currently 3.9/5
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Rating: 3.9/5 (59 votes)
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DoraBreaking Bad: The InterrogationWhen a fire reveals a sinister secret in the basement of a church you, as D.E.A. agent Hank Shrader are brought in to work on the suspect in The Interrogation, an advergame mystery designed to promote the television series Breaking Bad. Never seen the show? Don't worry, this is strictly a standalone story. Throughout the game, you'll be presented with sets of dialogue options to choose from. Essentially, you're trying to figure out what to say to the suspect (and how to say it) to get him to trip up. Pay close attention to the suspect's impression and body language; push too far too clumsily and he'll "lawyer up", bringing your investigation to a premature end. If this happens, you can start the entire game over from the beginning (meh) or just start over from the chapter you failed on (hooray!). If you want clues as to how to treat your suspect, you can refer to the notebook in the lower left corner of the screen.

The game consists of five chapters, and I personally breezed through them in about fifteen minutes. One way to look at it would be to say that I am an amazing detective, which is correct. But the other, less flattering way to look at it is that the game is actually very easy. It doesn't take much logic or people skills to pick the correct sequence, and in fact you're not required to actually deduce anything yourself. Once the suspect accidentally reveals more than he intended, the agent pounces on it and makes the connections himself; it's mildly disappointing, since it can make you feel like you're doing little more than pushing buttons, something easily achieved by setting up one of those little drinking bird toys at the keyboard.

As an experimental piece of interactive art, sort of, The Interrogation is an all too brief but interesting diversion. One of its biggest strengths is easily the art, which reminds me a bit of Steve Dillon, and a bit of Chris Bachalo; the expressive, realistic characters combined with the fat ink lines lends the whole thing a nice, sketchy appeal. It isn't exactly what you might call a typhoon of breathless action, but it's an interesting idea that could do with some expanding; more cases, with more suspects in each one, and maybe a bit more puzzle solving required on our part. If you're looking for a bit of gritty police procedural in your day, The Interrogation offers a bite sized chunk with an interesting story to back it up.

PlayBreaking Bad: The Interrogation


  • Currently 4.4/5
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Rating: 4.4/5 (137 votes)
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GrinnypDismantlement: FanDeconstruction can be a tricky business. Stripping down something to its most basic parts can expose flaws and contradictions, whether it be philosophy, art, or literature. As the controversy of deconstruction rages on, we must ask ourselves, "What the heck does this have to do with casual gameplay?" Okay, fine, you come up with an original way to introduce the fifth in a series of Dismantlement games. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, put your hands on your screwdrivers, it's time for Dismantlement: Fan!

For those just arriving to the party here's a brief overview: created by gam.ebb.jp, the Dismantlement series are fantastically fun little point-and-click puzzles about... well, dismantling things. They've taken a task that might have appeared in a room escape or an adventure story — breaking down an object — and elevated it to its own unique genre. Each game starts with a simple household object and leaves it to the gamer to dismantle it piece by piece until it is reduced to its component parts. One thing that makes the series so much fun is how realistic the appliance appears, at least on the outside. The interior, with its maze of strange switches, locks, and puzzles, is another story. This is an appliance designed by Rube Goldberg with a nasty hangover and an attitude to match.

As with all the games, in Dismantlement: Fan all you have is your trusty screwdriver (and, hopefully, a few brain cells) to take apart yet another appliance; this time an oscillating fan. A navigation button on the screen allows you to move from the front to the back (and back again), as well as move in and out of close ups as you puzzle out how to take apart a rather unique appliance that appears to incorporate some tricky little puzzles into its basic structure. Your mouse cursor acts as the aforementioned screwdriver to remove screws (when you can find them) and help you gleefully reduce a once useful fan to a pile of spare parts.

The Dismantlement series is very popular with our regular visitors, and Dismantlement: Fan delivers the goods with a nice variety of logic, math, and word puzzles that need to be solved before you are left with a heap of, well, components. This time around you're taking apart something much bigger than a Radio, Mouse, or Alarm Clock. Hmmm, perhaps my suggestion of taking apart a Toyota is not far in the future...

You are still faced with a bit of pixel hunting this time around, as well as one color puzzle that will make the game difficult for those with color-blindness. Nevertheless, the games continue to evolve and get better with each iteration. Without all the tricky fiddling with controls that graced the previous installment, Dismantlement: Alarm Clock, Dismantlement: Fan is much closer in style to the first of the series, Radio, with quite a bit of physical deconstruction to be had.

One still has to wonder about gam.ebb.jp's habit of putting bombs in common household appliances, but, well, one presumes the fifth time around you'd be used to it by now. For anyone who likes puzzles, logic, or just ripping things apart, take a few minutes and have fun destroying yet another common household object. Got your screwdriver? Then get dismantling!

Play Dismantlement: Fan

Thanks to Pcplague, James, and Cyberjar88 for sending this one in!


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Mobile Monday

JohnBGRAGH! INTRO PARAGRAPH SMASH INTO BRAIN, TELL YOU HAPPY MONDAY AND GIVE YOU GAMES TO PLAY! INTRO PARAGRAPH also turn caps lock off to speak in a more cordial tone.

doodlefind.gifDoodle Find - The baby cousin of Little Things and a more grown-up version of Super Search 60, Doodle Find is an object finding game that takes only 90 seconds to play. Each self-contained round starts with a handful of scribbled items on the screen. Check which item you need to find at the top of the screen, then tap it to get another task. It's every bit as addictive as Super Search 60, but the new visual direction, the added time, and all of the other little extras make it feel even more polished.

pinch.gifPinch - Games like Pinch are uniquely suited for multi-touch devices such as the iPhone and iPod Touch. Guide your orbs through each stage to the goal, passing locked gates, pushing buttons, and surviving other hazards along the way. If you need to fit through a small gap, simply pinch and separate an orb into two smaller ones. If you need to create a new color or fit over a hole in the floor, pinch and combine orbs. A nice idea that works very well on the mobile platform, though why it's orientated in portrait mode instead of the more friendly landscape mode is beyond my comprehension.

180.jpg180 - Puzzle games also find a natural home on the iTunes App Store, and 180 is one of the more interesting ones. What would normally be straight-up Bust-a-Move clone takes things to a different level by adding an extra dimension to the gameplay. Tap an empty area of the screen to fire pieces towards the top, your goal being to line up three identical colors. Each piece has a flipside, however, and you can toggle them around with a simple tap. This allows you to create some big combos and adds a little thinking to the process instead of just recognizing a color and firing away.

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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Emberwind

JohnBEmberwind is an adventure-themed platform game from indie dev TimeTrap. The city of Grendale has been overrun by gremlins commanded by the evil CandleFinger. As the short, stout gnome Kindle Elderwood, it's your job to comb through the villages and dispatch the evil little buggers from every nook and cranny. Along the way you'll get to learn new abilities and collect a whole lot of loot!

emberwind.jpgWhen you boil it down, Emberwind is really about three things: exploration, platforming, and combat. Oh, and collecting stuff. Four things. Kindle carries a nice little staff he uses to smack gremlins that come nearby. Soon, you unlock new combat abilities like a swirling attack, a rolling attack, and a rapid-fire hit that really does some damage. Kindle also has some defensive and movement tricks up his stubby sleeve, like a rocket jump, a dash, and a duck-and-hide ability that uses his pointy little hat. Pretty resourceful gnome, isn't he?

Level design is pretty open-ended and allows for exploration both above and below ground. Each sidescrolling stage is filled with secret passageways, tunnels, suspicious platforms hovering just above your jumping range, and so much more. All you have to do in each level is restore light to every house, but you won't want to leave until you feel like you've poked your nose in every hiding space the level has to offer.

And as for the collecting part of the game, you've got plenty of stuff to find: coins, acorn-like things, diamonds, more coins, and brownies (not the kind you eat, obviously). Most of the former are used mainly for scoring purposes, but the brownies are handy little guys that give you special attack abilities. One imbibes your staff with the power to stun enemies, while another shoots fire! Finding and using brownies is a lot of fun and makes combat in Emberwind thoroughly enjoyable.

emberwind2.jpgAnalysis: It's an unassuming game on many fronts, but Emberwind delivers where few games of its kind do. For starters, platformers generally encourage you to avoid enemies, as one touch sends you packing. Here, though, it's not only beneficial to hop down and attack them, it's required and it's fun! Emberwind also offers a slight non-linear flavor to its gameplay, even though from level to level you're on a straight path to the end.

The music and visual presentation in this game are both spectacular. Some of the artwork comes across as slightly grainy on an HD monitor, but the attention to color and shape makes each location overflowing with personality. There isn't too much variety in the settings, but when they look and sound this good, you really don't care.

If Emberwind has anything holding it back from perfection, it's that the game gets a little repetitive after a few hours. All of your abilities will be unlocked, and you'll pretty much just go from level to level gathering gems and bringing light to houses. Boss battles switch things up a bit, and if you take a casual approach to playing the game, you'll never suffer burnout.

Emberwind is simple on the surface but has a wealth of entertainment buried just below. The level design is absolutely enjoyable, the difficulty is just right, and the strong dose of enchantment, exploration and combat is the perfect antidote for starved platforming fans.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


  • Currently 4.6/5
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Rating: 4.6/5 (25 votes)
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BugBits

JohnBHumans have wars, dice have wars, brutes have wars, even Stars have Wars, so it's natural to assume the insect world would have its share of conflict. BugBits is a light-hearted real-time strategy game built around a war between hives of bugs. Unlock and send troops across the paths to your foe's base, all while harvesting bugs dash out to gather nectar. Each unit has strengths and weaknesses that can be used to leverage your victory, and with each passing stage, you uncover more details in a sinister plot.

bugbits.jpgEverything in BugBits is built around one resource: precious glowing nectar. Nectar spawns from flowers and is used as currency to build troops. To create units, click on the icon then click which path you want it to spawn. Choosing a path is one of the basic elements of strategy in this game, as sometimes you'll want to move strong fighters to trails where attackers are approaching, while other times you just want to slip by defenses and hit the hive where it hurts.

One of BugBit's biggest gameplay strengths is its variety of stages. Instead of throwing you in level after level of bug-on-bug brawls, you'll play survival stages, defense levels, or have a limited time to tear the enemy hive to shreds. New units are unlocked by playing rescue stages. Here, the enemy is stationary and nectar is extremely limited. Push through the enemy lines and make it to the captured soldier and it's yours to command!

bugbits2.jpgAnalysis: BugBits could be at home on a mainstream gaming service like Xbox Live Arcade. While it may prove less serious than non-casual gamers would like, for the visual presentation, number of units, and extreme attention to balance issues alone, this game was obviously made with great care. That really shines while you're playing, as you'll find you get sucked into the game at the start of every single level, always wondering what awaits you on that gorgeous world map!

You'll unlock 20 types of units in BugBits, ranging from basic fighters to the more creative warriors with very interesting abilities. Using them together effectively is great fun, and it's also a bit of a challenge, as you often have to experiment to see which combinations are the most effective. Dropping a spitting beetle behind another unit is a good idea, for example, as the spitter has a long range attack and can deal damage without stepping in the line of fire. You'll also have to balance nectar harvesting with combat, adding another layer of delightful strategy to the experience.

Visually, BugBits has a sun-warmed evening kind of feel to it, with lots of fall-type colors and a soft look about every in-game object. Even though it usually isn't necessary, you can make use of the game's 3D design and hold the [right] mouse button to zoom in and take a closer look at the action. It's neat watching beetles and caterpillars fight with other bugs.

Although it certainly doesn't mar the game beyond the cosmetic, you'll probably catch more than one grammatical trip-up while playing BugBits. It's kind of a shame, as the game looks so professional on every other front...

BugBits: love 'em, fight with 'em, unlock more of 'em. A casual strategy game that was designed this well is one you should not ignore.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


  • Currently 4.5/5
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Rating: 4.5/5 (28 votes)
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Hamlet

DoraThe play's the thing, as you might have heard. And in this case, the play's thing is a spaceship that squashes the titular character in Hamlet, a point-and-click puzzle adventure. Just before he sets out to stop his uncle, Hamlet finds himself used as an impromptu landing pad from the world's most bean-shaped time traveler. Fortunately, our (new) hero has a conscience and sets out to ensure that events in the well-known story happen the way they should, sort of, thus ensuring future generations of bored high-school students still have to write tedious book reports on it. Uh... hoo... ray?

HamletNew Hamlet needs your help in order to progress through the story, which you will render by clicking on various objects on the screen and figuring out what order to do things in order to proceed. Sound familiar? Unlike Little Wheel, however, there is frequently very little indication of what you can interact with, and what that will do, so it falls to your undoubtedly massive brain to experiment to find the solutions. Some of which will actually require some small amount of quick thinking on your part; I mean, it's not as if that giant octopus is going to wait forever for you to make your move. Time to get KRAKEN!... anyone?... *sigh*

While most of the game revolves around figuring out whether you need to click the monkey or not the monkey, there are some puzzles to be solved. Most of them are fairly simple, once you figure out what the game is asking of you. A lack of dialogue makes this harder than it sounds, but once that moment of clarity strikes, it can be surprisingly satisfying. The best advice is to think like a cartoon character; if you have to start carrying around anvils and visualising people as giant talking hotdogs when you're hungry, then so be it.

Analysis: There's a lot to like about the oddball send-up of this literary classic. First and foremost is the crisp, cut-out style of the storybook visuals, and the simple, easy to access presentation that means anyone can pick it up. There's no spoken dialogue, so I might have preferred a soundtrack rather than ambient noise to liven things up a bit. (Perhaps a Looney Tunes style melody that follows the footsteps with plucks of violin strings?) The game even features boss battles won by solving oddball puzzles that deal damage to the cartoonish baddies. Much of the humour is subtle and simply taken from your environment. While older gamers may find the relatively low challenge and sweetie-pie look not to their taste, Hamlet is actually best enjoyed by the young at heart of those of you with small children who can fit on your lap while you play. Kids, it seems, are always the first to suss out the crazier solutions to any problem. I do not have a child. I have a very heavy cat who does not appreciate being held. He was somewhat... less helpful, though hairier.

HamletSo what's the problem? Well, it's actually a bunch of small annoyances rather than any one real thing. The hint timer takes a long time to refill, so if you're stuck you might as well go catch up on your Dostoevsky while you're waiting. The cursor doesn't change when you pass it over objects, so the only way to tell sometimes what you can interact with is by everyone's favourite pastime, random clicking. To go back to the Little Wheel comparison, that game was often criticized by being too easy. Hamlet, by turn, can be more difficult simply because the logic at work can be so bizarre.

But perhaps the biggest issue people will have is that at only five acts the game feels exceptionally short. It really is the sort of thing you can sit and play through in about half an afternoon, and as such winds up feeling like it might have been better suited to a flash title. Still, while it lasts, this short and sweet title is a lot of fun, and well worth bringing any little ones you might have scurrying about the place in on. (At the very least it'll distract them long enough for you to throw out any Hannah Montana merchandise they might be holding on to.) So start firing up those neurons and warming up those clicking fingers! After all, one cannot simply walk into Mordor!... I mean, um, Elsinore. Same difference.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


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Weekend Download

JohnBA few games for your weekend perusal, all of which summon that coveted "oh, neat!" moment at least once! Also, it's a miracle I didn't type a D instead of a T at the end of the first game.

blackfoot.gifBlackfoot (Windows, 5MB, free) - A platform RPG starring all the best woodland creatures! You play as a crafty weasel on the hunt for prey. Run around the woods searching for eggs hidden in nests amongst the branches. Along the way you'll have to attack enemies to defend yourself and probably do a little wall jumping to help yourself climb trees. After killing your prey at the end of the level, use earned ability points to increase your jump, speed, and acceleration.

streemerz.gifSTREEMERZ (Windows, 8.3MB, free) - Ever play Bionic Commando? STREEMERZ is like that, only it's based on a game released for an unlicensed NES compilation titled Action 52. Oh, and it's way better. Hold [X] to send out a streamer that acts like a grappling hook. Your character can't jump, so use these streamers to latch onto walls and ceilings to pull yourself up. In addition to just being plain awesome in the gameplay department, Streemerz also has an excellent soundtrack and quite a few funny dialogue moments. Created by Mr. Podunkian.

amphibix.jpgAmphibix (Windows, 35MB, free) - An interesting blend of arcade and puzzle elements, Amphibix puts you in control of a frog out to rescue his kidnapped friend. To pass each level, simply hop from one tile to the next, clearing them by moving from the lowest number to the highest. Moving spike things get in your way, of course, but if you net five correct hops in a row, you'll gain a burst of invincibility and the game shows you which tile to jump on next.

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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Crazy Machines: Inventor Training Camp

JohnBResurrected from 2007 where it rested in relative obscurity, Crazy Machines: Inventor Training Camp is a follow-up to the original Crazy Machines game that features more Rube Goldberg-like physics puzzles. Use a variety of objects to assemble crafty "devices" that accomplish different tasks. The setup is something you might see in The Incredible Machine, though Crazy Machines streamlines the process with much simpler building mechanics, fewer pieces to fuss with, a better visual presentation, and more directed goals.

crazymachinesinventor.jpgEach level has a specific task you need to accomplish, usually something simple like knocking a basketball into a container, pushing a box across a shelf, or knocking over a few dominoes. Accomplishing that task is anything but simple, as you'll be employing tons of crazy contraptions to get the job done.

Everything is still to begin with, allowing you time to pick up pieces from your inventory and drop them on the playing area. You can control the direction, angle or function of many objects by clicking them and choosing from the array of options that appear in the overlay. It's most useful for lining up planks of wood to serve as smooth platforms for balls to roll down, or setting magnets so they pull in the correct direction. Once you think you've got everything in place, click the big green arrow button to set it all in motion.

Well... how'd it go? Did you open the trap door, set the mice running, knock the marble onto the frog which caused it to leap to the tower and knock down the box that activated the robot which pushed the crate to the goal? No? Good thing you can try it again! Pause and tweak your inventions as often as you like, but keep in mind your bonus score ticks down with each second.

Crazy Machines: Inventor Training Camp includes a personalized "lab" that allows you to create and experiment with your own puzzles. Everything featured in the main game is at your disposal, so go nuts with boilers, gears, gravity-altering devices, bombs, fire-based things, and cannons. Yes, all of that is in the game and yes, it's as cool as it sounds!

crazymachinesinventor2.jpgAnalysis: The Incredible Machine, Armadillo Run, and even Eets are just a few of the milestone building/physics games released in the past few decades. Each one sticks to the same basic formula but adds some new gameplay concept to make the experience unique. Crazy Machines adheres to the notion that creating realistic Rube Goldberg devices is an awesome thing to do. It's correct, of course, and the presentation allows you to enjoy that to its fullest.

Physics in Crazy Machines: Inventor Training Camp are superb and mimic real-life behaviors remarkably well. While I admit I've never used a magnet to pull a falling pin across the room to pop a balloon, it would probably happen something like Crazy Machines illustrates it.

Crazy Machines: Inventor Training Camp is often referred to as Crazy Machines 1.5. And for good reason, as it's not a proper sequel, more of a hefty expansion pack that features loads of new levels and a few new features to play around with. There are just over 100 stages to complete, the first third or so being more tutorial in nature while the latter really crank up the challenge and complexity.

I don't think it's possible to have too many physics puzzle games, especially when they're as quirky, well-crafted, and fun as Crazy Machines. You won't regret spending time with gem of a game, especially when you discover you can turn the professor's annoying remarks off in the options menu!

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


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Rating: 3.8/5 (56 votes)
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JerradBuilding Blaster 2The fun thing about video games is that they let us simulate actions that we would otherwise be unable to experience. Building Blaster 2 is a physics puzzle game from 2DPlay that lets you enjoy all the fun of blowing up buildings, with none of the risk of blowing up yourself. Plus, real demolitionists seldom get to use aliens in their line of work. Gamers 1, Demolitionists 0.

The game is divided into 50 levels; each will present you with a building, or set of buildings, and it's your job to transform them from buildings into piles of former buildings. To do this, you are given 20 blast points, which can be distributed through a variety of tools. TNT is the only explosive that is immediately usable, but bigger and better bombs can be unlocked as you progress, each with their own function and cost in blast points. Simply place the bombs with the mouse, adjust their timers, and push the red button, then sit back and watch the destruction unfold. The ultimate goal is to get everything below the red box, but there are bonus points to be had for hitting your rival in demolition, and penalties if you should happen to harm any innocent bystanders. The points are converted to cash at the end of the level, which is used to save up for new ways to make things go boom.

There's also a level editor, for those of you who are more into construction than destruction. All of the features that you see in the pre-made levels can be utilized in creating your own building, which can then be shared with your friends and neighbors. The same weapons you've already unlocked will still apply in user levels, so it would be beneficial to complete the game before you start playing with user-made content.

Building Blaster 2Analysis: Explosive deconstruction isn't anything we haven't seen before, but Building Blasters 2 brings new layers of depth to the genre. With a variety of tools at your disposal, and no restrictions as to where they can be placed, the possibilities for completing each level are endless. It's nice to be able to set a timer to create chain reactions, and the different types of blocks with varying degrees of fragility provide ample opportunity to change your strategy as you go. Also worth noting are the physics, which are surprisingly sound for a game involving explosives. That is to say, detonating explosives in the same layout multiple times will consistently produce the same result, so the number of surprises are kept to a minimum. The graphics are nicely done, with the cartoon-y effects working in the game's favor, and the explosions are suitably satisfying, especially once you start using better tools. There's something inexplicably satisfying about knocking down a rival demolitionist with a well-aimed girder.

There are a few minor problems that keep the game from being perfect. It's possible to initially place an explosive partially off-screen, but if you ever try to move it, it'll immediately snap completely into the play area, and you'll never be able to get it quite back to where you had it. Also, some of the level designs focus entirely on either saving civilians or attacking your rival, so these can be easily completed if you're not after points and don't mind a few casualties. But these imperfections are minor quibbles, and easily overlooked when you really get into the thrill of trying to cause maximum damage with minimum explosives. Or maximum damage with maximum explosives, if you're feeling particularly destructive. Either way, you're sure to have lots of fun!

Play Building Blaster 2


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Rating: 4.2/5 (106 votes)
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Babylon Sticks: Varmints 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: 4.3/5 (129 votes)
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Skid MKArtbegottiReady for some high-octane racing action? Skid MK is a fast-paced, eye-catching nod to Mario Kart-style racing games. With six tracks, six characters, and three difficulties to unlock, Skid MK is an entertaining new romp-around-the-track-three-times challenge.

To control your car, you use the [arrow] keys to accelerate, steer, and drive in reverse. Once you hit the track, you can collect coins which are used to purchase new characters and tracks in the store, as well as power-ups, which are activated with [space]. Some power-ups leave obstacles for your opponents to dodge, others attack them directly, and there's also a power-up to give you a speed boost. If you've played any mainstream racing games in the last ten years, you're probably familiar with all of the mechanics and are ready to go.

If you've got a one-track mind, the Single Race mode is good for a quick challenge against the (surprisingly good) AI. Playing the Skidmark Cup levels takes you on a trip through several of the courses in the game (some backwards or mirrored, just for variety), while the Time Attack mode lets you race solo against the clock to submit your times online. The collected coins can be used to unlock new tracks, cup challenges, and characters, so be sure to grab them, no matter what mode you're playing.

Analysis: While we've somehow managed to dodge this topic so far, this precaution must be given: This game is loaded with poop jokes. Between some of the power-ups, the cup names, and some of the characters themselves, there's some slightly vulgar at play here, so parents might want to give this game a shot first before letting junior take a spin.

Dirtiness aside, Skid MK is a rather gorgeous racing game. The scenery in the levels really brings out the surreal and bizarre sense of humor in its creators, yet still creates a polished atmosphere that's quite nice to look at. If you're used to playing Mario Kart or other upper-echelon racing games, you'll notice that this game feels like it's very close to them in terms of quality.

That said, there's another essential similarity: It's fun! If you can get over the lewdness, it's quite easy to get caught up in the run, and you'll be trying to get every item in the store and every achievement star the game has to offer. Sure, the steering might take a bit to get used to, but that's why it's Skid MK, not Ultra-Tight Turning Radius MK. Each race is only three laps long, but you'll be wanting more.

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Link Dump Fridays

DoraThis week, Link Dump Friday brings you the silly and the spiritual, the pink-haired alien babes and the sun with teeth made out of corn. In some countries, such a gift is an indication of deepest respect and affection. A token of undying loyalty and devotion that speaks of the depth of such feeling statues would weep to hear of it. Here at Jay is Games it just means the internet is weird and I think you're twisted enough to fit right in.

  • Wayfinder Episode OneWayfinder Episode One - This first installment in a fully voice acted science-fiction point-and-click RPG series from Hyptosis is pretty impressive. Unfortunately, it can be a little slow to get rolling, and does feature a bit of pixel hunting. I am also somewhat nervous about this one, because everything I learned about multicolour alien ladies I learned from Captain Kirk. Which makes this... a little awkward.
  • Isora and MukuIsora and Muku - An oldie but a goodie by your friend and mine, On of Eyezmaze, this is a simple mouse-controlled game where you control a magic flying girl trying to protect a strolling... uh... animal from attacking rocks and other pitfalls by flying into them yourself. Sounds logical to me. A single hit to the little critter ends the game, but by freeing animals trapped in stone you can earn continues. It takes a long while to really get started, but once it does, managing all the obstacles flying at your oblivious charge can be frustrating. No wonder everybody hates moles. Or mole children. Or... whatever is happening here.
  • Great Dungeon in the SkyGreat Dungeon in the Sky - A platformer (sort of) roguelike (sort of) with approximately umpteen million different characters to unlock, Great Dungeon in the Sky is a Flixel creation without a lot of meat to it beyond "run around a whole bunch and try not to get hit, although you probably will". Gamers who like the thrill they get from unlocking female Drow rogues will enjoy this, but I, for one, am more skeptical. I mean, you'd have to at least allow me to play a yeti thief before I... oh, they have that, too? Oh dear, there goes my free time.
  • Before the LawBefore the Law - If you have trouble convincing friends that you're "like, deep and junk?" the solution has arrived in Brandon Brizzi's short, interactive interpretation of the Franz Kafka tale. Played with the [arrow] keys, it won't take you more than five minutes to finish, although I have to say this is a pretty unrealistic game since, as you well know, I AM THE LAW! Now, of course, I'm left wondering when someone is going to turn my favourite Kafka tale, The Metamorphosis, into a game. That's good wholesome fun for everyone!
  • Uncle's Old TimesUncle's Old Times - Minoto's latest point-and-click features Ronald McDonald playing baseball, a seriously terrifying sun, and... Albert Wesker with a dye job? Hmmm. Sounds about right to me. You know, I don't think I even have to bother describing Minoto's games to you anymore, because no matter what I say, it could never quite capture how weird it is to make a drink out of the sun's teeth. There's only one ending this time, and I think it makes even less sense than usual.

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Rating: 4.1/5 (108 votes)
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Mikemike-bullethead-screen1.gifThere are three things that distinguish Bullethead from the hundreds of other similar, Space Invaders styled vertical shooters. Number one, it's by Nitrome, so you know it will be a high-production affair, with happy music and sound, and cute, colorful, pixelated artwork. The cuteness here is leavened with equal parts of weird-osity. You control a colorful anthropomorphic blob with an artillery cannon attached to his helmet, as you might expect. The [arrow] keys move, [<] shoots, and [>] jumps, though these controls are configurable. You strafe about the apocalyptic ruins of your home world as you fend off the descending hosts of alien invaders, who seem to favor jury-rigged, gunmetal gray ships and cybernetics, and a generally squishy appearance.

Number two, the variety and inventiveness of the enemy design. This style of shooter is so well tread that true originality is a far-fetched goal, but there were things in Bullethead I had never seen before, such as the critter who drops what I'm going to call the Doom Refrigerator of Extreme Inconvenience That Possibly Also Crushes You. My other favorites include the Death-Star-like vessel and the tiny, gibbering aliens contained within, and the slimy, bouncy, purple critters, possibly best described as Spheroids.

Number three, multiplayer mode. Yes, if you can crowd around your keyboard, you and a friend can play Bullethead together. Default controls for Player 2 are [WASD], [G] to shoot, [H] to jump. It's pretty much just twice the firepower in the same game, but there is something fun about playing with a good friend and yelling at them about what a hapless bungler they are, and hearing the same from them, and hey, that was my power-up, you already got multi-shot! Yeah, well you snagged that shield from me when you were already shielded up! As if such a degree of camaraderie and good feeling was insufficient, you can even give up one of your lives to resurrect a fallen comrade by standing over him and pressing the [down] arrow, leveling the disparity between player skill. Unfortunately all this activity on the screen does make the game lag a bit.

Bullethead is not rife with originality, but it's a well-implemented example of a familiar genre. Clever enemy design and Nitrome's signature style make it a worthy entry.

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Rating: 3.9/5 (46 votes)
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Mikemike-spaceparanoids-screen1.gifWho could forget the spell that Encom, that Goliath of an institution from the dawn of the digital age, cast in 1982 with its seminal classic
Space Paranoids? A vector-based 3D wonder, Space Paranoids had youngsters teeming the video arcades and computer labs, trying to navigate their virtual tanks through digital labyrinths and dodge the titular paranoia-inducing space ships. With their tractor beams and deadly pincers, those ships became an icon of the '80s, up there with Michael J. Fox, Madonna, and those inscrutable neon-colored hair scrunchies. Now, to celebrate the new 30-year retrospective of the legendary company that will grace movie theaters this December, Encom is releasing Space Paranoids on the web, free for all to play!

Most of the above is a lie. Encom doesn't exist, and Space Paranoids is a fiction. At least it was a fiction: Now it's an advergame! Via the Unity 3D web plugin, as a very clever bit of marketing for the upcoming film Tron Legacy, Disney has released Space Paranoids as though it were a re-release of a classic title, even though it is not a re-release and was never released until it was released just now. Got all that?

You play from the front seat of a virtual tank in a virtual maze, trying to outrun and outgun virtual hostiles. Navigate with either [WASD] or the [arrow] keys, and aim and fire your tank turret with the mouse. An important control feature is the ability to "center" your tank, which is done with the [space] bar. Since you can move in one direction and fire in another, you can sometimes lose the sense of what direction your tank is pointing, so centering is what you do to realign the turret with the tank treads. You have very limited ammo, but you can slowly recharge it at various yellow ammo dumps on the map. This means that, contrary to the usual hail-of-bullets approach of many shooters, you have to make a series of precise potshots before you go scurrying for more ammo with the lumbering enemy hosts in lugubrious pursuit.

Analysis: Even though it inherited the title from the original Tron, Space Paranoids is very aptly named. Because your advantage lies in speed, not firepower, the game encourages a lot of running away and waiting for enemies to come to you. There is never any doubt that you are the hunted, and it can be very tense waiting on an ammo spot to recharge and hearing the ominous mechanical hum of approaching tanks and spacecraft as they slowly stalk towards you.

Space Paranoids is one of the best looking Unity-3D games I have seen. Everything looks and runs very smoothly on my machine, with only a minimum of "jaggediness" in the way some of the maze walls were rendered. The minimalist design serves the game well, in that it both keeps the Unity engine from being overtaxed and enhances the game's retro aesthetic. You will of course need the Unity plugin to run the game, but that is usually easily rectified by downloading and installing it into your browser if you do not have it yet.

The controls take some getting used to. Not everyone likes mouse-and-keyboard controls, especially those with trackpads, but they work pretty smoothly in this case. Adjusting to the concept of "centering" is important to navigating effectively. Learn to center frequently, especially for when you pilot your tank into a corner and want to turn around. Otherwise you have to reverse with no clear way of knowing where you are going. Also, learn to strafe, moving in one direction and shooting to the side, drive-by style. Strafing is handy for quickly striking nearby targets while in motion, particularly obnoxious turrets.

Space Paranoids is not just a good advergame or a nice taste of nostalgia; It's also a fine game in its own right, and a great example of what the Unity engine can do when done well. So take the time to relive the glory days of the computer revolution. Encom thanks you.

Play Space Paranoids


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Rating: 4.1/5 (85 votes)
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KarlTrafalgar Origins.jpgIf there's one thing I associate with being a kid, it's piracy. Not the software kind (although, judging by my little brother, that's changing) but the tales of the rapscallions who sailed the Spanish main, armed with letters of marque and blasting ships to smithereens if it looked like they had even a gold earring. The salty wind on your face, the rolling ocean, the three-headed monkeys... it was a good time to be a seaman.

Trafalgar Origins, from Preloaded, is a top-down naval combat game commissioned by Channel 4, created to promote their upcoming television show. It plays similarly to Sid Meier's Pirates: use the up arrow to raise anchor, down arrow to lower anchor, left and right to steer, and [Z] or [X] to shoot port or starboard cannons. Use [space] to switch between ammo types. You create a ship's captain, name him and choose how he looks, and then you're given a ship to sail around and shoot other ships. There's some customization involved, as after every mission you earn experience points and gold coins, and you're able to spend them on upgrading your ship's crew. An interesting aspect is that while you can hire different crew members to fill different functions on the ship, they'll also take a salary from your end-of-mission earnings. You're left to decide whether to run the ship with a skeleton crew and take all the lucre or be nice, share, and lay waste to your enemies.

There are a lot of enemies in this game. There are both single player and multiplayer game modes, and each has 3 different types of gameplay. In the single player, there's Arcade, Historical, and Tutorial missions, which are oriented towards recreating historical battles, teaching you how to play, and just shooting stuff and defending targets for fun. In the multiplayer, there's Vulture, which asks you to hunt down a specific ship and loot it for a reward, Survivor, which sets you against other places in a bid to live out the time limit, and Contract Killer, which is basically Deathmatch: Naval Edition. All of these modes are fairly hefty in their content, and will keep you playing for hours. Oh yeah, and if you're a diehard completionist, there's an achievement system as well.

trafalgar_origins.jpgAnalysis: Trafalgar Origins is a very well-made and polished game. While somewhat simple, its graphics are well-designed, and I was never in doubt about what I was looking at and whether I needed to shoot at it. Despite some naysayers in the game's comments over on Kongregate, I never had any trouble handling the ship, as the wind physics are well-implemented and predictable. However, I was surprised by the lack of options when it came to acceleration — either you've dropped anchor, or you're traveling with full sails. I got used to it, but it seems like a glaring omission in an otherwise well-produced game.

The combat is both fun and challenging, as I found out when I spent the better part of an hour on a Historical mission. If you know what you're doing and the rudiments of sailing, this game can still get difficult. It's a different story in multiplayer, as I ran into a lot of lag and rubber-banding, which made it hard to get a decent volley off. When it worked, though, it was a lot of fun.

Overall, Trafalgar is an entertaining and educational peek at the age of sail, and one that will take you many hours to beat with quite a bit of replay potential.

Play Trafalgar Origins

Note: If you wish to login and play using Facebook Connect, you will have to play the game over at Channel 4


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Rating: 4.4/5 (66 votes)
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Weekday Escape

GrinnypSome room escape games feature obvious places to escape from: strange rooms, abandoned buildings, haunted houses, etc. But what about the games that take place in a space that you would really rather stay? Seriously, after certain weeks (don't get me started) you just want to find a nice bar somewhere and start kicking back the drinks. So why would you want to escape? Oh, yeah, it's Weekday Escape time, that's why. Welcome to Escape from the Small Bar.

Escape from the Small BarDesigned by Tesshi-e, this is certainly the kind of place you'd rather escape to than escape from, but escaping is what we do, so let's go. The first thing you notice in this charming little space is the warm, inviting decor. Adding to the cozy atmosphere is the tinkly piano piece playing in the background. Perfect for relaxing and trying to shed whatever troubles are bothering you. However, sooner or later we all have to go home and face reality, so eventually you'll have to try and figure out how to unlock the door. Maybe after just one more round...

Wander around with the use of navigation bars and arrows and you will find a few mysteries about this unknown bar. How can you get the jukebox to play? Can you figure your way into the back room? And will that piano player ever stop? With a nice balance of puzzle solving, use of found objects, and even a little amusing construction, you will eventually find the answers to all of those questions and more. Will you find the answers to the questions that drove you to the bar in the first place? That, dear reader, is up to you.

If you had to use one word to describe Tesshi-e's room escapes, that word would be tight. Not the most difficult escapes out there, but some of the most satisfyingly complete in terms of puzzles, atmosphere, and enjoyment. The puzzles flow logically from one to another, the backgrounds are easy on the eyes, the music isn't terribly annoying and adds to the atmosphere, and despite the Japanese writing (with a few English phrases) you can solve your way out with no problems. Tesshi-e has even eschewed color-based puzzles for this one, making it accessible to everyone who enjoys solving their way out of a locked room. Now if Tesshi-e would only discover changing cursors to prevent pixel hunting, then the games would be perfect.

Escape from the Small Bar is not Tesshi-e's most difficult, almost a "Tesshi-e lite", but a charming little escape that will leave a smile on your face. A game as compact and fun as the narrow little space it inhabits, a pleasure for those who enjoy solving their way through locked doors and yes, there is, as always, a happy coin escape. Time to go bar hopping! Just remember, you do need to leave eventually.

Play Escape from the Small Bar


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Rating: 3.7/5 (86 votes)
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DoraThe Sound WalkIn The Sound Walk, a game of rhythm and reflex from developers CCCPlay, you play a disillusioned and regretful composer trudging through a strange world trying to recapture the lost fragments of your soul. See, you sold it in exchange for success, but in the end, just like everyone else, you've come to realise that maybe that wasn't such a good idea. How does one earn back their soul? Well, certain platinum blonde vampires will be shocked to learn that all it really takes is punching a bunch of ducks in the face and high-fiving some rabbits. And of course, you need to feel the beat.

Move through the stages hitting the appropriate [arrow] keys to dodge or hit incoming obstacles in time with the music; think Tomena Sanner minus some colours and the funky end-zone dance. Each time you miss a beat or get hit, the composer stumbles, the screen dims a little more, and he loses some of his life. You can regain life simply by stringing together a series of correct key presses, but if all your life runs out, you'll have to restart. Fortunately, at certain points, you can use the [arrow] keys to guide a bird to eat glowing dots! Why? Well, firstly, why not, and secondly, it fills up your Soul Power which, when activated with the [spacebar], makes you temporarily impervious to damage.

There are three difficulty stages, Dream, Nightmare, and Dementia, but only the last two grant achievements, which are necessary to unlock the final stage. The first two also feature guides; the arrows you need to hit are displayed below the obstacles. Handy, since the game demands a fairly precise amount of timing, and it'll take some trial and error to achieve.

The Sound WalkAnalysis: We are too easily won over by anything that even remotely resembles The Nightmare Before Christmas. I was a little suspicious that The Sound Walks' faintly familiar look was a ploy to win me over through nostalgia but, happily, it's definitely got its own vibe happening. Creature designs are weird and striking, and the mood set by the vaguely discordant soundtracks is only enhanced by the way the screen gets darker the more you fail. It doesn't make a whole lot of sense, mind, but gosh that's pretty.

But while the dreamscape aesthetic and thumping soundtrack is undeniably appealing, somewhat less so is the nagging feeling that the game could have used a bit more polish. The obstacles you face on each level change according to your difficulty setting, but the music does not, making it too hard to rely on the beat of the rhythm itself. The game is extremely graphic intensive, and the slightest burp from your computer can cause the game to hitch and start missing notes and hemorrhaging points so hard it can be impossible to recover from at higher difficulties. I also wish the narrative had been implemented better; the various places you go and the creatures you encounter are visually striking, but don't appear to represent anything in particular. This means that while the game is interesting, it doesn't feel particularly meaningful, and it feels like the game misses out on the chance to tell a story in a really clever way.

Just because it doesn't measure up to what I personally wanted out of it, however, doesn't mean The Sound Walk isn't good. "Huh, that was cool," is just as valid as "Wow, that was amazing", and while The Sound Walk doesn't quite reach the latter, it easily reaches the former. If you've got the fingers for it (and the computer), it's a weird and satisfying little ramble through another world set to a catchy beat.

Play The Sound Walk


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Rating: 4.5/5 (170 votes)
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Mikemike-giveuprobot-screen1.pngGive Up, Robot, a twitchy, insane, G-rated retro platformer designed by Matt Thorson and hosted by Adult Swim's house of PG-13 online mayhem, is designed to punish you in as many different ways as possible. And that is what makes it great.

Players control a unicycling, pixelated robot with a grappling hook and a stoic tenacity, who must traverse elaborate gauntlets at the behest of a fractured, highly vocal, passive-aggressive computer overseer. Move and jump with the [arrow] keys, and deploy your grappling hook by pressing and holding [A] or [Z]. Releasing [A] or [Z] will release the hook, and you can rock back and forth by moving left and right, or tighten or loosen the slack of your grappling line by moving up or down. You can grip safely on to any surface, but while the glowy, disco-colored blocks are safe to touch directly, the equally glowy, fire-colored blocks and the spinny, bladey gizmos are harmful to Robot. Pilot Robot from one side of the screen to the other to go to the next level, and try to resist the Computer's childish taunts.

mike-giveuprobot-screen2.pngAnalysis: I say that Give Up, Robot will punish you in as many ways as possible, which is different from saying it punishes you as much as possible. Having rocks thrown at you by a Gorn could be very punishing, but it is also pretty boring. But let us count the myriad punishments Give Up, Robot inflicts.

Let's start with the eye-peeling visuals. I'm pretty sure those prone to epilepsy should avoid even thinking too hard about this game. The levels are painted in a constant swirl of alternating, psychedelic colors, and even those with the steeliest corneas may find they tire from playing too much by sheer ocular attrition. But that mind-bending palette is part of the point of the game, as you'll see.

Let us continue to sound. The background music is a serviceable but unremarkable chiptune which is but a canvass for the Computer to do its thing. When you complete a level, it chides you. "Give up, Robot," it might say. "We are no longer friends," it frequently sulks. When you die, which will happen frequently in later levels, it... I'm not sure what it's doing. It could be taunting you, or possibly trying to encourage you, but it doesn't seem to have a good fix on what either of those things are. I can accept "Good job, Robot" as sarcasm, but "I love you Robot" is twisted, strange, and hardly germane. The Computer's bizarre utterances are performed by an erratic vocorder that's as oddly musical as it is weird. Failure is worth it just to hear what the Computer says next.

Speaking of failure, let us talk lastly of the platforming, and how bad you will be at it. Sure, the first ten levels or so might be perfectly survivable. You may feel cocksure, confident, and dismissive of the Computer's efforts to vex you. Then come the falling platforms, the leap-of-faith chasms, the exit points surrounded by dangerous flame, the essential platforms reachable only by grappling onto rapidly spinning blades, which are themselves only reachable by other rapidly spinning blades. Yes, you will fail. Be grateful for Robot's infinite lives, for you will fail frequently. I failed frequently, but oddly, I was never frustrated, and never felt the need to ragequit (though I did have to abandon Level 50 to give my eyes and psyche a break). There are just so many unique ways to fail that the variety is perversely delightful.

I think that's the genius of Give Up, Robot. The psyche-melting visuals, the Computer's confused goading, and the warped panoply of possible catastrophes to suffer: All this puts you in a place where failure is almost as fun as winning. It's a hard platformer that's uncommonly fun to play, because it rewards you, in its twisted way, even when you mess up, but is still largely rewarding when you are victorious.

The game would be even more fun if the controls were a bit tighter. I also wish there were more control of the grappling hook, which deploys at 45 degrees no matter what, which is very frustrating when you are Tarzan-swinging from platform to precarious platform. But I think we should appreciate Give Up, Robot for what it is. A game where winning is great, but where losing is a blast.

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  • Currently 4.2/5
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Rating: 4.2/5 (54 votes)
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RifticArtbegottiThere are some scientists who believe that an action on one side of the universe has an effect on a galaxy on the other side. There are also scientists who believe that placing colored orbs in an astral grid is an excellent mental challenge. Riftic is a puzzle that pulls together both leagues of scientists with a challenge of logic and mental dexterity.

Each stage in Riftic is solved by filling in two picross-like grids at the same time, such that each grids' conditions are filled. If you're not familiar with color picross puzzles (see Conceptis Puzzles and Griddlers for examples), here's a quick rundown of how they work: In some of the rows and colums of the grid, you'll notice a series of numbers on the outside border. Each number tells you how many consecutive spaces are to be filled with that color. Two differently-colored fields in the same row can be filled in next to each other, but two similarly-colored fields have to have at least one empty space between them. By using the clues in the rows and columns together, the solution to the puzzle can be found, usually a picture. The main difference in this game is that if a row or column has no numbers attached to it, it's not necessarily empty; it simply means you have to use other clues to figure out what goes in those spaces.

As mentioned before, you're solving two grids at once (a "positive" grid and a "negative" grid), but the clues suggest that you'll be creating two different grids. This is where a bit of a twist comes in (and surprisingly, this "twist" actually does involve rotation). In the top-right corner, you'll find "portal agents", which, when applied to a row or column, can change the colors in it to one space clockwise on the given color wheel, one space counter-clockwise, or on the opposite side. By setting portal agents, one grid can be manipulated to look like the other, as well as help you figure out where you need to put the next colored box.

Analysis: If you're already a picross fan, Riftic is a clever variation on the puzzle you enjoy. Working back and forth between both grids to solve each puzzle is a challenging twist. If you're not familiar with picross already, this game might be a bit more of a challenge to pick up, but then again, the in-game tutorial does a much better job of summarizing basic rules of picross puzzles than I can. Regardless of your experience level, the smaller levels you start out with are good for getting you into the feel of this game, and as you start to figure out more strategies for solving puzzles, the difficulty increases just the right amount to match.

One of the confusing bits about this game is solving using both grids. It's wholly possible to solve every grid in this game without switching the controls back and forth between grids, although it'll take a bit of mental agility to remember some markings until you're able to work with them. If you do prefer to switch back and forth, keep in mind that when placing portal agents, the portals will change the contents of the opposite grid, even if you've made all of the portal switches in the other direction so far.

Once you get the hang of how the puzzles work, Riftic is a clever challenge that's a fun way to kill off a lazy afternoon. With 36 double-grids to solve, it won't be long before you're a master of poking an alien on the other side of the universe in the head.

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  • Currently 3.8/5
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Rating: 3.8/5 (104 votes)
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KarlS_Maze.jpgHaunted houses are a dime a dozen in videogames: if Luigi, Lara Croft, Leon Kennedy or the protagonists from any number of other horror games weren't trapped in their spooky prisons, it'd have to take a pretty unique game to make us pay attention.

Sorcerer's Maze is one such title, a challenging and compelling retro puzzler from David Frankel, Alex Camelio, and Tommy Pedrini (No Vinegar Productions). You play as Clyde Michaels, intrepid explorer, who must explore a mysterious mansion that stands alone in apocalyptic desert where he lives. It plays similar to Bomberman combined with one of the NES Metal Gears: using the [arrow] keys, you guide Clyde through the labyrinth of the house, avoiding or destroying skulls, ghosts, mermen and other creepy-crawlies on the way.

It sounds simple enough, but each level plays out like a logic puzzle where you can't run into any of the pieces. As Clyde navigates each floor, he doesn't have the advantage of Snake's radar: you can only see what he can see, and there are a lot of blind corners. If that weren't enough, it's impossible to open some doors unless one has killed all the monsters in a level. By the way, the monsters are color-coded, and the magical blobs that let Clyde kill them only show up once a level. And you don't know where they are until you die a few times.

Some items exist to help you out. While one scroll shows the entire map, another tells you where the exit is. Fluffy kittens give you multiple 1-Ups, which is useful when trying to puzzle out your enemies' patterns by running into them. If you get frustrated, there's a level select option to let you skip to the next floor. Occasionally you'll run into a mysterious cloaked figure who follows Clyde from floor to floor. Who is this figure, and what do they want?

S_Maze_Gameplay.jpgAnalysis: It almost feels wrong to play Sorcerer's Maze on a modern computer. It feels like something better experienced on an Amiga workstation or an old NES. The team at No Vinegar Productions replicates the retro experience perfectly, from the cryptic sprite-based cutscenes to the bloops and beeps that serve as sound effects and the pleasant chiptune soundtrack. The detail and care shown in presenting the game's art style are a large part of the game's charm; as I continued playing, for some reason I kept flashing back to playing Bard's Tale 3 on my old Commodore.

Although there isn't much story, there also isn't much need for one. The attraction is all in the gameplay: if you remember trying to fit a rectangle with sharp corners into your palms, then chances are you'll like Sorcerer's Maze for its retro-inspired gameplay style and aesthetic. It's difficult, at times almost impossible, but you're always free to skip to the next level. Just be careful; in your rush to get to the end, you might miss something important. Like the platformers and adventures of old, Sorcerer's Maze rewards persistence and attention to detail. If you want to get the best ending, you'll have to play the game like you would sitting in front of the TV in 1980: trying again and again until you can do the whole thing perfectly, without missing a beat.

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Rating: 3.5/5 (86 votes)
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DoraTigsy and the StarsTigsy and the Stars is a short, simple one-click game revolving around the titular character's infatuation with... well, with the titular stars. The idea is that Tigsy is lonely, and wants to collect all the stars he can. How? Well, it turns out NASA has been going about things entirely the wrong way, because all Tigsy needs is for you to click to make him jump, and use your mouse to guide him through the air. Jump through or land on a star to collect it; you need to collect all the stars before you touch the ground or they'll reset.

Even the addition of a few different coloured stars you need to avoid or grab in a certain order doesn't make this game particularly challenging. While it could do with a bit more variety, the soft visuals, sleepy music, and simple gameplay ultimately puts me in mind of an Orisinal game. It's accessible to pretty much anyone, and is about perfect if you're looking for something easy and relaxing. This time, collecting achievements also does more than massage your ego; for each one you earn, you get a small boost to Tigsy's abilities. It's a little touch, but a clever idea; earn your advancement through good ol' fashioned skill rather than just, say, leveling up or getting a high score. Of course, if you don't have any of that good ol' fashioned skill, you're out of luck.

Fortunately, even the less, ahem, "skillz" inclined of us will be able to finish Tigsy. Even with thirty levels, the game is pretty short. (To give you an idea of how short, one of the achievements is actually granted for finishing the game in under eight minutes.) While some may find the gameplay too simple or slow, Tigsy and the Stars is a day-dreamy little arcade exercise to cap off your day, or to limber up when you're supposed to be working, BOB.

... I... I don't actually know any Bobs who would be at work right now. I was just hoping to freak someone out.

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  • Currently 3.9/5
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Rating: 3.9/5 (108 votes)
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Mikemike-tombscape2-screen1.pngNow that the Mayan apocalypse is nigh upon us, it is only natural that we doomed mortals should develop a keen interest in all things Meso-American. Be it in summer blockbusters, tabloid articles, or even browser-based point-and-click adventure games, audiences will be looking to their popular media and entertainment for insight and assurances, before the beginning of the fourteenth b'ak'tun ushers the end of civilization as we know it. Consider Tombscape 2 as an example. Crafted by the atmospheric adventure-wrights at Psionic, Tombscape 2 casts the player as an explorer of Mayan ruins, whose quest to understand the mysteries of the pre-Columbian ancients may help you forget the impending advent of the end times.

The interface is typical of point-and-click games: Use the mouse to collect objects, move about the ruins, and solve puzzles. The puzzles are engaging but fairly easy, with a lot of finding the code here that unlocks the door there. The mood of the game is perhaps more important than the difficulty. With well-rendered visuals, appropriate sound effects, and some interesting environments, Psionic does a good job of creating a sense of discovery, though with a heaping helping of hoary pulp-adventure cliches as well. Beware of some gratuitous jump scares as well.

In addition to puzzling, the scavenger hunt aspect of the game is also very important. While you can complete the game without collecting and photographing every item you should, you will not discover the mysteries of Tombscape 2 unless you do so.

Tombscape 2 is short, simple and not wholly original, but it is a well-made and evocative bit of point-and-click adventuring. It may also provide some measure of distraction before the inexorable tide of Armageddon casts the temporal realm into oblivion. Best get to the adventure then, while there is still time.

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Mobile Monday

JohnBLast week was an amazing week to own an iPhone or iPod Touch. 100 Rogues, a highly-anticipated game from Dinofarm Games, finally appeared on the iTunes App Store, prompting thousands of eager gamers to hit that "buy now" button. Not only that, but the massively addictive Sword & Poker received a sequel that does nothing but improve upon the original. We're supposed to be casual gamers and all, but it's ok to spend multiple hours on these games. Really.

swordandpoker2.jpgSword & Poker 2 - The crazy good combination of puzzle, RPG and card game elements has returned, sporting new spells, new items, new enemies, and a new map system! The sequel to Sword & Poker retains the same grid-based battles found in the original. Take turns placing cards around a set of cards as you try to make valid poker hands (straights, pairs, flushes, etc.). The stronger the hand, the more damage you deal. Earn coins by defeating enemies and buy better weapons/equipment in the shop. It's a simple idea that's executed so smoothly that you won't be able to stop playing.

100rogues.gif100 Rogues - The roguelike is far from dead, as this stunning new iPhone release happily illustrates. Crawl through monster-infested dungeons as you hunt for loot and explore floor after floor of danger and intrigue. Tons of items and equipment can be found, which is kind of the point of a dungeon crawler, and your character slowly gains experience and new skills as you play. Don't die, though, because if you do, you're gone for good. 100 Rogues is a tightly-crafted game that draws you back time after time with its casual-friendly gameplay.

rpgsnake.jpgRPG Snake - The Adventure of Akua - Now here's a grand idea. Remember the old game of Snake, the one where you eat food and grow longer by the bite? Instead of a snake, you have a hero. Instead of eating food, you vanquish enemies. And instead of growing longer, you clone yourself. Sounds kinda quirky, doesn't it? And you would be right! But somehow RPG Snake delivers exactly what the title promises with a whole lot more. The playful visuals make it all the more enjoyable!

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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Puzzle Bots

DoraYuriko has a crush on Zander, but he's too wrapped up in pre-bought candy bars to notice. Viktor hates his job and is trying to get fired. And Doctor Hugo may be up to something more sinister than creating the world's most fabulous lab coat. Sound like a soap opera? Not quite. It's Puzzle Bots from Wadjet Eye Games, a point-and-click puzzle adventure that proves it's not the size of your gears that counts.

Puzzle BotsZander is one of "nearly four" inventors employed in Dr Hugo's Factory For Making Robots, and possibly the most addle-brained of the lot. Unlike his fellow inventors who try to create robots designed for chores, Zander's made Hero, a tiny yellow bot with what one might consider to be an unhealthy interest in "adventure" and a knack for dragging his fellow robots into trouble. Of course, it's all fun and games until he and his friends end up stumbling across a secret that one person will do anything to keep... with some aggressive presidential help.

Gameplay is simple to pick up, using the mouse to interact with the screen, and various icons pop up whenever you move will let you know what will happen if you click there. Your goals won't always be clearly outlined, so it's important that you take a cue from Hero and get out there and explore. Puzzle Bots is fairly slow and relaxing, and unlike some point-and-click games, you can never die or paint yourself into a corner, so take your time.

Although you initially only have control over Hero, as the other inventors complete their work new robots are added to the group, all with their own special abilities. You've got Ultrabot, who is the best at pushing things. Kelvin, who is the best at setting things on fire (although he'd really rather not be). Ibi, the little robotic mermaid, and Bomchelle, the hot-pink roller skater with an endless supply of explosives. While originally created to "do chores", each robot will come in handy as you attempt to solve a wide variety of weird puzzles to progress. You can swap between them simply by clicking on the robots themselves, or on their names at the bottom of the screen.

Puzzle BotsAnalysis: Although the focus here is on solving the various puzzles instead of interacting with other characters, which is a departure from previous titles from the developers, Puzzle Bots still features a lot of dialogue. Most of it very funny. There's an oddball, vaguely Futuramaesque vibe to the whole thing that makes it a real joy to play. I might have preferred more interaction with the humans in the group; clearly the stars of the show are the miniature robots, and they do the job well, but we're supposed to care about what happens to their human counterparts as well. Some of the inventors simply do not get enough screen time, which is a shame since they're almost always funny when they're around. (Such as one of my favourite scenes involving opening a window despite the fear that "nature might get in".)

Of course, it goes without saying that the whole package is extremely well put together, and not just due to its great dialogue. Areas are beautifully detailed, the tiny pixel robots are distinct and expressive, and even the cartoonified human cast is full of personality. The whole thing is colourful, charming, and packaged with an appropriately bouncy soundtrack. Maybe in the Bizarro World on the other side of the mirror Wadjet Eye makes boring documentaries about shoestrings or something, but fortunately for those of us in the real world, they make some pretty darn good games, and the passion they clearly feel for their work always shines through. The downside is that it's not terribly long, more offering several afternoons worth of play than standing up to an entire day's worth.

Puzzle BotsFor the most part, the puzzles your band of bots encounter are clever and interesting, with even the most everyday locale turned exotic by our group's tiny size. Most of them can be solved simply by experimenting with your environment, and before too long you'll almost always immediately know which robot to use for the job. If not, experiment, since each bot has useful (or funny) things to say whatever task you (try to) put them to. Unfortunately, when you do find yourself stuck on some of the weirder puzzles, you'll come to realise that the hint button isn't as helpful as you might hope. There's nothing more frustrating than to be stuck on a particular puzzle, only to finally turn to a hint and have that hint essentially be that you should solve the puzzle. Gee, thanks. That's not salt in the wound at all. You're lucky you're cute, robot.

Despite not being as compelling as, say, the Blackwell series or as story-centric as Emerald City Confidential, Puzzle Bots continues the high standards set by Wadjet Eye's previous releases. Frequently weird and definitely wonderful, it's a game for people who like fun things; the digital equivalent of a basket of puppies and Saturday morning cartoons, best enjoyed with a big bowl of sugary cereal and footie pajamas. I may wish it was longer and I'm definitely crossing my fingers for a sequel, but Puzzle Bots is a successful foray into new territory for its developers, and definitely worth your time.

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Magic Encyclopedia: Illusions

JamesClearly, sticking diligently to your academic studies is just going to end up making a lot more work for you, as aspirant wizard Catherine discovers in Magic Encyclopedia: Illusions, the third game in the hidden object/adventure series. While studiously hitting the books at the academy library, she escapes the wrath of a mysterious wizard who uses a magic book to cover the world in illusions and trap her teachers. Can Catherine stop him before he raises an army and destroys the academy?

Magic Encyclopedia: IllusionsTraveling across several exotic locations, Catherine has to solve riddles and overcome obstacles in order to change the fate of her beloved academy. At first she just needs to get out of the very place she has to save, but soon she is traveling to other parts of the world — to clay armies in China, the lairs of gods in Egypt and the legendary underwater city of Atlantis — following the trail of the mysterious Illusionist.

Magic Encyclopedia: Illusions plays like a traditional hidden object game. The chapters has five different areas, represented in a screen each. Within these areas Catherine has to track down the pieces of various objects — once assembled she can use them to solve certain problems in the scene. For example, a ladder might let her reach a high spot and a lantern can help illuminate the inside of a giant fish's skeleton. At some points mini-games come into play, usually at the end of an important section. With your help, Catherine unlocks doors, stops armies, saves her beloved academy and even has time to fix the odd sibling rivalry between gods.

Analysis: The Magic Encyclopedia series brings some method to the hidden object madness. Instead of finding seemingly random items that are completely out of place, wayward objects are actually useful and play a certain role in helping you progress (once you find all their parts). It might be as simple as a shovel to move dirt or as strange as a coconut for a cheeky Sphinx (don't ask), but they all make sense. On the other hand, if your sole joy in a hidden object game is to track down highly irrelevant items, this might not be for you. Me? I loved it, knowing that all I need is one more piece of an object and then I can do something in the scene that will put me one step closer to opening up the next location. Sometimes these puzzles cross between two locations and you have to do one thing in a new area before you can complete a puzzle in a previous one.

Magic Encyclopedia: IllusionsThese are hallmarks of the series already, so Catherine's adventure comes with a twist. As mentioned, the villain covered the world in illusions, so things are not what they appear. Initially some of the puzzles are to help Catherine see through this veil and uncover objects. But after the first chapter she gets a pair of magic glasses that lets her explore the real side of things on a whim. It ensures the illusions thing does not become a tiresome gimmick, but this trick also makes the whole idea a bit redundant. In the first part of the game there is a nifty puzzle where you can change a certain spell to affect objects in the room, but you can only do this by swapping between illusions and reality. Sadly the glasses make sure such a level of intuitiveness is never used again. They also make it much easier to find object and if you do get stuck, there is a hint function with no penalty tied to it, the only limitation being that it has to charge up after use.

The game doesn't suffer because of these design choices, but it sure does water things down. Then again, Illusions seems geared towards younger players, and the ease of it all is understandable. But slightly more, shall we say, salted individuals will get through Catherine's quest in a matter of a few hours. There is also little back-and-forth movement between scenes and apart from a few exceptions the challenges are almost all location-exclusive. Mini-games feature frequently, but nothing you haven't seen before. Then again, familiar mini-games are not a bad thing - and the ones in Illusions are certainly well constructed and executed. Perhaps another clue to its audience preference, the mini-games can all be skipped without a penalty to the player. I sure could have used that in Dire Grove...

The visuals are charming, colourful and it's a real incentive to open new locations. A lot of work also went into how scenes transition between the real and illusionary worlds, plus a nod has to be given to the character design of Catherine. The soundtrack is perfect for a hidden object game: soothing, quietly changing and hardly invasive.

Magic Encyclopedia: Illusions is definitely meant for young players. Even adult newcomers to this genre will not find it very hard to play, though it is a very safe and charming game if you are hoping to get someone into the genre. Despite its lack of calories it is immensely appetizing, at least for a late-afternoon snack. If you were hoping to go whole-HOG here, it might fall a bit short of your expectations.

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KrissX

JohnBKrissX ("criss-cross") is a rare and well-polished entry in the downloadable word game category. It's not a spelling game, it's not a word search/scramble game, it's not a guessing game (well, it kinda is); instead KrissX combines a familiar mechanic from matching games with letters and clues, creating something that resembles a mixture of Bejeweled and a crossword puzzle.

krissx.jpgWordsworth the Owl needs your help! All the letters seem to have been jumbled out of place, turning perfectly ordinary words into unintelligible drivel. Swap letter tiles and move them so that each row and column forms a word. Tiles where lines intersect give you clues to solving each word, and if you're really stuck, hover the cursor over a tile to receive a free clue. The goal is to complete each level using as few swaps as possible. You're not punished for using additional moves, but don't expect your score to be worth writing to grandma about.

The main portion of the game, quest mode, takes you through stage after stage of puzzles, each with increasing difficulty. You earn badges and unlock additional modes and puzzles by hitting milestones in this part of the game. The bulk of the levels display a sparse nest of words in front of you and challenge you to swap tiles until all is right. Sometimes, though, you'll encounter a solid block of letters and must swap tiles vertically so that each row spells a word. There are also single-word stages that challenge you to untangle the puzzle using as few moves as possible.

Here's the real selling point: a custom puzzle editor! After you work your way through around 20 levels in the main game, you earn the ability to create your own puzzles. Add words and clues with a simple menu system and KrissX jumbles everything for you, adding as much or as little difficulty as you like. Puzzles can even be shared with other players, which is an extremely cool addition to an already captivating game!

krissx2.jpgAnalysis: It's rare to see a word game make its way to the downloadable platform. It's even less likely that word game will be highly-polished, well-rounded, and interesting enough to warrant your attention. KrissX is all of that and a spoonful more, as it doesn't skimp on the visual side of things and delivers a surprising amount of gameplay for such a simple concept.

Your first impression of KrissX might leave you worried about the game's overall difficulty. The first dozen or so stages are easier than finding an apple pie at a bake sale. It isn't until you unlock some of the game's extra modes that you discover there's actual challenge to be had, though even then you probably won't strain a synapse. To bump up the difficulty, simply turn off the hints in the options menu. Then it's all anagrams, all the time.

One of the game's strongest points is the replay value. Quest mode comes with 150 levels, which isn't anything to turn your nose at. Each time you play, however, the stages will be different, as the game jumbles letters in a new way every time. Add to that the custom level editor and you're looking at a ton of word puzzles that will keep you busy for ages. Especially if you've got a word-obsessed friend you can swap challenging levels with!

KrissX is a surprisingly full-featured word game. With a marvelous visual presentation, a simple concept, and loads of customization and replay value, it's easy to sit down and have a good time with this game!

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
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Weekend Download

JohnBNew releases from either Daniel Remar or Ben Chandler, both highly-recognizable figures in the indie community, is always cause for fun-type celebration! Their games aren't as widely known in the mainstream gaming community as they should be, giving us cool people that smug, superior feeling of having a secret source of great entertainment.

herocore.gifHero Core (Windows, 2.5MB, free) - Explore the vast cave network inside of an asteroid taken over by the war machines of Tetron armed with little more than a jetpack and a blaster. Hero Core is a very Metroid-esque kind of game ripe with upgrades, enemies, and twisty, connected passageways that can only be fully accessed after defeating certain bosses or tripping generators. It's amazing how atmospheric the game is using no more than two colors and chunky pixel visuals, but you'll get pulled in right from the start. Created by Daniel Remar, author of Iji.

eternallyus.jpgEternally Us (Windows, 43.5MB, free) - Another short adventure game by Ben Chandler (author of Annie Android, Featherweight, and others) and Steve Poulton, Eternally Us tells the story of Flo and Amber, two close friends who have known each other since childhood. They are separated while feeding birds at the park, and it's your job to bring them back together. Eternally Us is pretty light on puzzles, but the strong tale of "love, life and friendship" is masterfully done with good voice acting and excellent visuals.

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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The Humble Indie Bundle

JohnBFive amazing, cross-platform indie games, one gorgeous sale. The Humble Indie Bundle lets you pick up World of Goo, Aquaria, Gish, Lugaru and Penumbra: Overture for one magically low price of whatever you want to pay. All titles are DRM-free and run on Windows, Linux and Mac operating systems, so you're free to play what you like, how you like it!

Here's the humble part: you decide where your money goes. You can distribute the cash any way you please, sending it to the game developers, one of the bundle's chosen charities, or a mixture of both. It's your choice, but either way, you get the games, and everybody wins.

Go check out The Humble Indie Bundle, get a few really great games, and help out a few charities/indie devs. You've got just over three days before the sale ends!


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Little Noir Stories: The Case of the Missing Girl

DoraAh, noir. The best things about this cheesy, much loved genre for yours truly aren't dames or hard-boiled detectives or even the classic red herring. It's crooks with names like Tony Fettucini or Big Louie the Hook. While Little Noir Stories: The Case of the Missing Girl is unfortunately lacking in that department, what it does have is a unique approach to the classic point-and-click mystery story, combining hidden-object hunting and puzzle solving with good old-fashioned gumshoeing... which, according to spellcheck, at least, is a word. How about... gumeshoelery? No? Too bad, I like that one better. Be warned, however; as entertaining as it is, Little Noir Stories will only run you a few hours of play.

Little Noir Stories: The Case of the Missing GirlIn the beginning, you play Anton Muller, a former police officer turned private investigator who works with a young woman named Amelia Chandler. When he gets a mysterious letter pointing him towards a dilapidated building and telling him to rescue a missing girl who may or may not even exist, he does what any well-trained private investigator would do; he heads out without weapons, backup, or letting his partner know where he's gone. He soon discovers that the building has been converted into a sort of makeshift apartment complex, and that its tenants don't appreciate him nosing around. After all, they all have their secrets, and they'd prefer that they be kept hidden.

The game actually gives you the option to play in Classic or Novel mode, the latter being more fleshed out with more dialogue. You interact with your environment with the mouse, clicking on objects or people of interest and solving puzzles to progress. Most of your hidden-object hunting typically consists of either finding objects a person wants, or searching a room to turn up evidence to support (or discredit) something they've told you. You'll occasionally be called upon to solve some fairly simple puzzles, all of which come with an option to skip them, but for the most part the gameplay is typical point-and-click; look for the items you need, and use them where you need to.

In a clever addition to gameplay, whenever you speak with someone, you'll be given a choice of response types to make (such as lying, being truthful, friendly, or intimidating), and it's a matter of figuring out the best approach to take with different characters to get the most out of them. In an amusing contrast, when playing as Muller's blonde bombshell female counterpart, the last two options are "charming" or "preachy"; way to stay in touch with my gender, game. It's like you know me. While picking the "wrong" option won't keep you from completing the game, it will cause some characters to withold information, and you won't learn all the "Secrets" they're hiding, which flesh our their stories.

Analysis: The Case of the Missing Girl really feels like it was originally intended to be a pure point-and-click game, and if it had kept along that track, it would have been so much better. The seedy atmosphere, the sketchy art, the different conversational tactics, all of it combines to make you feel like you're playing a real noir novel. The voice acting, when it exists, is fairly well done, and in fact I wish it had been more prevalent because it really added to the mood. Unfortunately, the hidden-object portions of the game are shoehorned in and feel out of place, as though they were only listlessly implemented because someone's girlfriend pointed out that hidden-object games are, like, popular and junk? Characters will occasionally tell you to hunt down objects for flimsy reasons, and the game is really hoping you don't notice that it's just busywork.

Little Noir Stories: The Case of the Missing GirlAs far as the story goes, The Case of the Missing Girl has an appealingly Miss Marpleish vibe with its eccentric cast and convoluted story. The ending comes far too soon, and I would have preferred more time to chat with the various characters and interrogate them about what was happening. What's unfortunate is that in a misguided effort to make the gameplay accessible, Little Noir Stories takes an over-the-top approach to guiding you where you should be and what you should be doing. Everyone appreciates a nudge now and again, but because the game so blatantly tells you what to do, you never really feel that satisfying sense of accomplishment you would hope for with a game centered around sleuthing. There should be an option to toggle the OVER HERE DUMMY sparks and the directions that crop up at the bottom of the screen. But since there isn't, it's sort of like having your mother lay your clothes out for you in the morning. And you're twenty-five.

While not perfect, Little Noir Stories: The Case of the Missing Girl does something too few games of its kind are willing to do; it tries to be different, and that's a step in the right direction away from the endless tide of boring, cookie-cutter titles released every other day. The end result is a title that, while flawed, has enough character to stand apart from the pack. The story leaves room for a sequel, and I can only hope that it will be even better, and longer, than the original. As it stands, if you can forgive the extremely short playtime, Little Noir Stories: The Case of the Missing Girl is a bumpy but fun ride while it lasts, and features enough new ideas that, with a bit more polish, it could have been a real classic.

Note: Some players have experienced occasional freezes later in the game during saving. If exiting and restarting the game doesn't fix the issue, please contact Big Fish Games' excellent Technical Support for a speedy resolution.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


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Rating: 4.3/5 (85 votes)
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DoraWake the Royalty Level PackEveryone's favourite sleep-deprived family is back, and, yes, they're still ruling a kingdom full of jerks who won't let them get any shut-eye. Wake the Royalty Level Pack is here with all new stages of physics puzzle goodness where you devise elaborate contraptions to keep the royal family awake. Look, maybe this sort of thing flies in Square Kingdom or whatever, but I can promise you if you ever tried to wake me up by launching me off a narrow perch it'd be the last thing you ever did. Rudely-Awakened-Dora is not known for her kindness and mercy.

Gameplay is the same as the original; use the few tools at your disposal to some how manipulate the surroundings on each level to wake all of the family up. You have a limited number of objects than can be placed in certain spots, and it's all about figuring out what's going to trigger a big enough reaction to wake up whatever family members are desperately trying to take a snooze on screen. Just point, click, and experiment; if you get stuck, you can hit the restart button to, uh... restart. Keen!

Play all the "Wake Up!" games:
Wake Up the BoxWake Up the Box 2Wake Up the Box 3Wake Up the Box 4Wake the RoyaltyWake the Royalty Level PackWake Up the Box 5

While these twenty levels are fun and offer the same adorable, smooth design of the original, the problem is... it's essentially the same as the original. Everything you liked about the first game is still here, and while that's certainly not a bad thing, especially considering the two game's predecessor Wake the Box was also a hit with the same formula, you might hope for a little more evolution from one game to the next. Maybe the developer should have used a Moon Stone? HA! Get it?! 'Cause, evolution... and I said... *sigh* Nevermind. The game is still fun, sleek, and a nice bundle of physics mayhem to kick-start your brain.

Play Wake the Royalty Level Pack


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Link Dump Fridays

DoraThe internet is a vast and disorienting wasteland full of trolls, n00bs, and memes that have never been funny. That's why, here at Jay is Games, it means a lot to us that you make the journey to visit. We will forever endeavour to provide you with the finest games the web has to offer and never insult your intelligence or betray you. Because you're special.

You can trust us.

  • MunekyunMunekyun - Remember Kissma? From the same creators of that particular brand of brain melting nonsense comes a game about trying to touch fingertips with a woman in a bookstore who would really rather you did not. Unfortunately, it's another simple, frantic-clicking excuse to showcase ridiculous and entertaining power ups, and developers Party Tencho don't get any points for that anymore. While the action is weirdly hypnotic, I would like to see the developers apply themselves to a game that wasn't basically "Kissma, but with slightly different graphics."
  • Secret DancerSecret Dancer - Although I find the concept of a shadowy little ballerina with ghostly laughter wanting you to follow her in a dark building late at night to be frankly freaky, apparently our good neighbours across the pond are used to this sort of thing. A security guard in London's Tate Modern Art gallery is alone one night when Edgar Degas's famous, creepy sculpture comes to life in this point-and-click game, and heartwarming messages aimed at young girls ensue. You'll spend more time actually watching video clips than you do playing, but if you're looking for something lighter and different, this may be your cuppa. Pip, pip, wot wot? Stereotypes, etc.
  • Secret ExitSecret Exit - While some of my fine fellow feathered reviewers were reminded of certain other games, for me it was a disappointingly bland presentation that landed this otherwise serviceable little puzzle/platformer here rather than within its own article. Use the clues to figure out how to get the apparently shy exit to appear in each of the thirty levels. I mean, I don't know why. Your little yellow protagonist doesn't look any happier if you do. But that's fine. I'm used to ingratitude. After all, I'm here every week, aren't I? (I'M JUST KIDDING OHGODDON'TLEAVEME!)
  • Async RacingAsync Racing - Similar to Hell is Other People, your opponents in this racing game are not cold, unfeeling processors, but the recordings of other players (like you!) who have played that track before. So while you could do your very best and blast flawlessly through the track in a performance that will make all future comers weep and curse your name, I find it much more rewarding to be a distraction by pinwheeling in no particular direction across the screen like a drunken ballerina. Yet another example of why you never ever want to play any sort of multiplayer with me.
  • Halo FlowerHalo Flower - It's been a while since we last checked in with Minoto, whose brain is like some wondrous, strange fairyland. This is another point-and-click game full of that signature silliness, featuring a sleeping elephant, a devil of some sort under glass, and a bunny with a remote control. The logic at work here does not resemble our Earth logic, which forces an "everything-and-the-kitchen-sink" approach to problem solving. But it's fun, cute, and will broaden your imagination in weird and interesting ways, like fertilizing a bonsai tree with nothing but pixie dust and ground up Hunter S Thompson memoirs.
  • TaneTane - [BONUS WEIRDNESS!] You know what? I don't even know. Less a game and more of an interactive, um, art... thing... where you try to find and click the next link, which is... Tane. If you reach the end you'll get a screen that provides a bit of explanation, but in some ways, this is more enjoyable if you pretend the collective insanity of the internet caused this to be spontaneously birthed from some strange shared consciousness of weirdoes. Bonus points if you recognise all-around rad dude KC Green's art within.

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Rating: 4.1/5 (75 votes)
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Babylon Sticks: Mob Warning comic

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


  • Currently 3.9/5
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Rating: 3.9/5 (56 votes)
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TepiikuArtbegottiIt's not often you come across a dice game that isn't like anything you've played before, and as such, you keep the deep "unlike anything you've seen before" movie trailer voice tucked away in the desk drawer. Tepiiku, a game by Alex Weldon, is one game that happens to deserve this sound bite, featuring a unique challenge of strategy, risk evaluation, and since we're dealing with dice, luck.

A round of Tepiiku is played in two halves. In the first half, players roll their six dice to determine their score. After your initial roll, you have the option to check or raise the stake. If your score is pretty high, you might want to raise the stake, as you could get more coins coming your way. The stake starts at 1 and increases for every player who raises (for a maximum of 4). To determine your score, it might help to think of these picture dice in terms of regular, "spotty" dice. Here's how you could break it down:

Tepiiku1: Ingot - Worth 1 point.
2: Gem - Worth 2 points.
3: Fire - Worth 3 points, but is canceled by water.
4: Water - Worth 4 points, but is canceled by fire.
5: Person - Each person is worth the total number of people rolled. Thus, one person is worth 1 point, two people is worth 4 points (2+2), three people is worth 9 points (3+3+3), and so on.
6: Skull - Worth -2 points.

The more complex decisions begin in the second half of the round. Each of your opponents' hands is revealed, with the highest-scoring player called the "hook", and the lowest-scoring player declared the "fish". The fish now has a decision to make: Re-roll some dice to try to make a higher score (and escape the role of fish) or pay the current stake to the hook. If you decide to re-roll and successfully raise your score enough to pass your opponents, the stake doubles, and you're in the clear (for now). Re-rolling and increasing but not beating an opponent raises the stake by one. If you re-roll and tie or drop from your previous score, the round immediately ends, and you forfeit double the stake to the hook. If you tie another player's score, they are forced to re-roll some of their dice to break the tie and determine the new hook or fish.

Analysis: As the author claims, Tepiiku is a "completely original game... not based on any existing dice games, commercial or otherwise." So far as our extensive research goes (ie, browsing Wikipedia's list of dice games), this statement is true. As such, the rules may take a bit of playing to get used to, but an in-game tutorial explains a lot of the facets of the game.

Once you get the rules down, Tepiiku provides some interesting strategic tactics for you to consider. Water is worth the most points by itself, but since it could be instantly negated by fire, could it be worth it to re-roll them to shoot for more people, which grow exponentially in value? How far behind the next player do you have to be before you decide it's not worth risking re-rolling and just paying the stake? Or, is there a stake that's not worth paying and always worth re-rolling for?

If there's one annoyance to be marked, it's a slight flaw in how the stake affects play. Occasionally, you'll get a round where two or three players go back and forth playing as the fish, and the stake doubles with each pass. Once the stake is large enough, a player might not have enough chips to equal double the stake (to pay in case of a loss), so the player is forced to immediately pay up. If the game were to continue after a player lost all of his/her chips, this would be somewhat fair, as the potential winner of the round could miss out on a lot of chips they could have earned. However, the game ends immediately when someone goes out, declaring the chip leader as first place, so having such a restriction is unnecessary, and makes coming back from a bad round difficult.

This nitpick aside, Tepiiku is a cleverly designed game that makes you think a bit before you make your move. While the basic gameplay remains the same throughout, you can choose between three modes that change the length of play. Tournament style throws you into several matches in a row, while the Single Match mode gets you, well, a single match. Survival mode adds in the extra hitch of losing an increasing amount of coins with each round that passes, forcing you to win rounds to stay alive. Tepiiku's genuinely unique gameplay makes this little gem worth a visit. So pull up a chair, start shaking, and see if you can conquer the table.

Play Tepiiku


  • Currently 3.6/5
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Rating: 3.6/5 (63 votes)
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JamesPixel Knight 2Somewhere out there is a vast kingdom that is made out of not atoms but pixels, and sniffs at such ideas as a third dimension or the art of war. When it gets overrun by evil monsters from another realm, it simply employs a valiant knight to set out and crack some netherworld skulls in the action/platform game Pixel Knight 2 from CodinSoft and Armor Games.

First, the compulsory 'brass tacts', which are also shown on screen shown you first start playing. Playing as the knight, you can run back and forth with your [arrow] keys (or [A] and [D]), jump with [W] or the Up arrow, and lay down justice with Space or [X]. The aim is to make it to the other side of the level, jumping across some low-challenge obstacles such as chasms, spikes and moving platforms, while taking out the monsters that storm you. Pixel Knight 2 is not a platforming game; it is all about action, with just some platform elements thrown in to up the challenge. The aim is to kill all the monsters and move to the next level. When you run out of health, you can restart at the beginning of the level, but your score resets, whereas the longer you stay alive, the most maximum health you gather (and keep, even if you have to restart a level). So the aim of the game is to set a high score by killing monsters and picking up treasure without getting yourself snuffed.

The enemies come in thick and fast. Actually, they are a bit timid at the start, but once you reach the third world they become mean and rush you in seemingly ridiculous situations. At first you are stormed by bats and shambling trolls (or something like that - to be honest, they look a bit like demented fur suiters to me), the pinnacle being a fireball-throwing demon and a lizard that loves to rush in. Soon, though, the stakes go up with shambling zombies, armoured skeletons and floating one-eyes monsters that I remember from some D&D manual many years ago. By the fifth there be dragons. To aid your heroic quest are different weapons that you pick up, ranging from bows and axes to boomerangs and vicious swords to some nifty stick-to-stuff orbs.

Pixel Knight 2Analysis: If you have played the first game, you will find some familiar ideas, but an entirely new experience. The original had you sitting in the middle of a level and fend off monsters until the clock ran out. In the sequel you run through various worlds, beating the monsters and collecting treasure for a high score. There is no clock counting down against you, but the focus of racking up a high score is still front and centre.

At first there was little nice to be said for Pixel Knight 2's controls. They seem floaty, unresponsive and generally an ill omen to your monster-beating ways. But nothing a good night's sleep can't fix - literally. One day I am fuming at the clumsy controls, the next I am breezily leaping over bad guys and using the levels against them. Obviously being familiar with the levels help as well. This creates a different level of depth to the game: once you really crack it and manage to run through several levels without dying, you add up quite a few health hearts - which make a huge difference later on. Knowledge of the levels is also two-fold: on one hand they avoid ambushes, but you can also backtrack and outsmart the single-minded hordes. With a over-arching mechanic that wants you to get as high a score as possible, returning to Pixel Knight 2, instead of judging it in one sitting, makes a huge difference.

The visual side has a retro charm that can't be overstated in how understated it is. In fact, somehow the levels seem even MORE 8-bit than in the first game, which is odd and yet somehow not unappealing. It certainly sticks to its name like glue (except that, technically, knights were called such because they had horses - yup, in Medieval Europe owning a horse got you a title during war; it's like showing up today with your own tank). The design of the levels reminds a little of those old make-your-own-game titles like Gamemaker, as if the developers just used a tileset. Maybe they did. It doesn't hurt the game - in fact, it compliments it.

Finally, a tip of the hat to the soundtrack, which is both exceptionally well suited to the game AND changes with each world. Not nearly enough online games do this and yet it is such an important part of giving players a sense of progression.

At first glance many things about Pixel Knight 2 seem a bit underdone, but look close enough and it really takes in those things that made classic platform/action games great. Once you find your rhythm and figured out that the axe is best left on the ground, you'll be clearing the kingdom out in no time.

Play Pixel Knight 2


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Rating: 3.5/5 (108 votes)
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JamesBiomassWe finally did it. In 2030 the world caves in under starvation and scientists have to take cover underground, away from marauding cannibals, where they perfect a new chemical process in which you combine happy molecules to make some special energy that will feed the people. Listen—Biomass' plot makes about as much sense as its soundtrack. All you need to know is that those smiling blocks from Funflow and SquirrelSquare just LOVE to be matched up.

Strip away the trimmings and Biomass is essentially just another block-elimination game. The aim is to turn one or more rows into the same colour—in this case red. Click on another colour and any other block of that same colour touching the red blocks will change as well. The endgame is to create a row of red blocks, which will then pop into happy society-feeding oblivion (one assumes). Each round adds a new row of blocks and as the difficulty goes up, more colours are added. To win, build up the score bar while making sure you don't run out of rows. Frankly, if this is new to you, one might assume you haven't been involved with this newfangled gaming thing for long...

Biomass hardly changes the genre and it isn't very dynamic in those limitations either. The power-ups do have an effect on how your selection will play out by linking to out-of-reach blocks or morphing into a different colour when not used. Technically they should play as part of your strategy, but it's nearly impossible to isolate them for later use: most of the time any colour available to you in some way touches a special block. It degenerated Biomass a bit too much into a game of luck, but the type where you happily tap your foot on the way to oblivion

What makes it fun is the way it looks and sounds. The soundtrack is unlike anything you have heard before, using a mixture of infectiously upbeat lounge music, random quotes from Martin Luther King Jr., the legend of Baba Yaga and other nuanced pop culture tidbits (was that The Wailers?) mixed into what sounds like a radio buzzing from one station to another. A soundtrack for a happy apocalypse. The blocks themselves look like they are made from clay and frequently grin, smile and stick out their tongues. It's altogether very charming and means you will play a lot of the game before it really starts to wear on you, much like an overbearing but insanely colourful children's show

Biomass wins on style and will endure for a while, plus it has 'diplomas' you can spam your Facebook friends with. And before the lack of substance and the soundtrack eventually turns you away, it will have given you a good bit of entertainment.

Play Biomass


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Rating: 4.2/5 (176 votes)
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Mikemike-adverputt-screen1.jpg"Advergame," the cheeky portmanteau for a free game made by advertising and marketing departments specifically to sell players something, is a bit of a dirty word. Many advergames are quite excellent, but some people can't shake the knowledge that they are being manipulated when they play these games; that there is an ulterior motive behind their entertainment. Reece Millidge hopes to change that. With mini-golf!

Behold, Adverputt! It's a mouse-controlled mini-golf game that embraces commercial solicitation as an aesthetic. Players take aim on a huge, single-screen course, festooned with colorful advertisements awarded to the highest bidders. Hover the cursor over the ball, then move the cursor to aim and determine the power of your swing. Aim carefully, avoid traps and obstacles, and go for the lowest score.

Even without the novel revenue-generating concept, Adverputt would be a noteworthy game in its own right. You've probably played mini-golf type games before, and this one doesn't play much differently, but the physics are tight, and the holes, while few, are imaginative and tricky without being impossible. More remarkable is the presentation. The entire course is on only one screen, and it takes up a huge amount of screen space (since it doesn't have to rely on banner ads to make money). The course looks like an impossible masterpiece of pop-art sculpture, a cross between NASCAR and Dr. Suess. Simple, effective sound design and slick animation complete the package. Delight as you sink a birdie and watch the ball as it is conveyed from one hole to the next.

The idea behind the advertisements is reminiscent of Project Wonderful, whereby prospective advertisers bid on the space they wish to use. Each hole gets its own advertisement, and they are so well integrated that they fit right into the landscape, without becoming invisible or inconsequential. After each hole a dialog box comes up with your stats and with a link to the sponsor's web site. This model might not work for every type of game, but it is a different take than banner ads or commercials during loading screens. Try it out, both for a quick, light outing of mini-golf, and for a glimpse at the possible future of in-game advertising.

Play Adverputt


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Rating: 4.3/5 (106 votes)
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Weekday Escape

GrinnypRoom escape series can be a tricky thing, no doubt about it. Each new offering must be a link in the chain; continuing the mood and feel of the original while simultaneously upping the ante to keep the whole thing feeling fresh. GUMP has managed that balancing act in Saturn, the third in a series of room explorations featuring a strange pink-haired boy lost in a very compartmentalized house. Welcome to Weekday Escape!

SaturnThe series began with our hero entering a mysterious house. Now as he solves each locked room he journeys further and further into the unknown, mimicking a journey from the outer planets to the inner solar system, starting at the farthest (Neptune) and working his way inward (Uranus, and now Saturn). Where will the journey end? Will we see the blaze of the sun close up? Is this a metaphor for delving deep into the human psyche or just a cool conceit for a series of rooms that will end up at the core of this mysterious house? Only GUMP knows and they aren't saying.

In fact, the entire series plays out in near silence, other than a few sound effects and the chilling music to accompany the young man as he journeys further and further into the unknown. There are no helpful notes telling a story, merely a series of puzzles and the occasional strange companion. Yes, the flying... well... let's say tentacle from Uranus is still there, and actually proves to be surprisingly helpful (as well as just plain surprising).

In the stark room there is not a lot of navigation, and what there is is directed by arrows at the edges of the screen. Inventory items can be examined by double-clicking, and can be manipulated while in close up. There's no changing cursor, so be prepared for a little pixel hunting, and there's even a save button if you wish to leave and come back later. GUMP has even brought back their signature puzzle. Yes, the magic square is back again. Feels like old home week.

This is all pure logic and use of found objects. No color puzzles (easy where there's practically no color), no construction, just a simple escape. On its own not terribly difficult, but when played in conjunction with the other two the atmosphere of the continuing story radiates with a subtle sense of wonder mixed with dread, enhanced by the surreal animated sequences. What could be waiting beyond the next door?

There's something unsettling about these stark, washed out sterile backgrounds, very typical of the whole series. Yet the look only adds to the sense of mystery as the player works their way closer and closer to the denouement, whatever that may be in the end. Brace yourself for some strangeness, and join the journey to the center of the house, the solar system, or the human soul. You decide.

Note: Please don't send comments about the metaphor being incorrect because Pluto is the outermost planet of our solar system. Pluto is no longer considered a planet, didn't you get the memo? If you have problems with that take it up with the International Astronomical Union or Neil deGrasse Tyson, I'm sure they'd be thrilled to hear from you.

Play Saturn

Thanks to Chiktionary, Corey, Emilia, Martha, and Cyberjar88 for sending this one in!


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Rating: 3.8/5 (67 votes)
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DoraPixel BasherChildren of the gigabyte hard drive, be not afraid of our retro trappings. Shun us no longer! We come in peace, bearing gifts of a bygone age. We know our technology may seem ancient to you, Sons and Daughters of the Polygon, but despite having its heyday back in the days when the mammoths roamed the plains listening to WHAM and MC Hammer, we assure you, we were pretty "rad". But we know we have to make an attempt to reach out to you, and that's why we bring you Pixel Basher, an arcade classic updated with new graphics, new upgrades, and new abilities. All it really needs is a highscore screen where you can try to think up profane things to spell with the three letters they give you. (Don't look at me like that, you know you did it too.)

Played with either the mouse or the keyboard, Pixel Basher is, essentially, a Breakout clone with a twist, designed to appeal to your nostalgia, the sneaky buggers. Your goal is to destroy all the blocks on screen by bouncing a ball off the paddle at the bottom of the screen; you need to hit them hard enough for them to break, and some blocks will drop items that can help or hinder you, such as granting you explosive abilities or turning portions of the screen dark. Whatever happens, keep your eye on the ball; you only have a limited number, and if they all fall off screen, it's game over. Fortunately, you've got a cannon on hand which you can fire to help destroy blocks, but it has limited ammunition... at least, at first. You can also pick up cash to spend on upgrades until your paddle is the mightiest of them all!

At only nine levels, the game is short. Like, short-short. But it's a sweet, simple snack from yesteryear wrapped up in shiny new packaging that offers a bite-sized portion of fast-paced fun. And then after you play it, you can put on your leg warmers and load up on hairspray and sample other delights from days gone by, such as Blossom re-runs and lawn darts!... hey, where you goin'? Are you overwhelmed by how awesome my childhood was? Yeah, me too. All the time.

Play Pixel Basher


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Rating: 4.3/5 (99 votes)
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TorusArtbegottiImagine for a moment that you're in Missouri, and you're playing a game of Tetris. Then, imagine that you're still playing Tetris, but you're somewhere other than Missouri. That's the feeling you'll get when you play Torus, a Tetris-based game by Ben Joffe. Instead of stacking and eliminating bricks on a flat surface, you're now building a cylindrical tower of blocks, because Dorothy, you're not in Missouri anymo—shoot, it's Kansas, isn't it?

Rather than moving your piece back and forth, Torus is played by rotating the ring-shaped base that your piece will fall upon. The [left] and [right] arrow keys rotate the base, while the [up] and [space] keys rotate the piece, and the [down] keys drop the piece faster ([WASD] can be used as an alternative). As in "old-fashioned" Tetris, your goal is to drop pieces that form complete lines, which are removed from play. Unlike old-fashioned Tetris, Torus likes to sneak in irregularly-shaped pieces, like the tetrominoes you're used to with an extra or missing -omino. Traditional mode lets you play at increasing speeds until you reach the top of the level. Time Attact [sic] mode challenges you to score as many points as you can in three minutes, and Garbage mode requires you to reduce the random stack of blocks to a height of three as quickly as possible.

While it's missing some bells and whistles (like sound effects, namely bells and whistles), and the name might be a bit of a misnomer (wouldn't true toroid Tetris wrap from bottom to top?), Torus makes use of Javascript and the Canvas element of HTML5, the next version of the venerable HTML that is the foundation of the Web. Unfortunately, HTML5 isn't yet supported by all the browsers, but it will be very soon (so upgrade your browser if you're still using an old one!). While making a step into the future(!) of gaming, Torus pays homage to a classic with its own unique twist.

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Rating: 4.8/5 (284 votes)
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DoraCursed TreasureWhen you've got 'em, everybody else wants 'em. Gems, that is. You, magnificent ruler of darkness that you are, have got an entire crater full of them, and the surrounding population has their eyes on them. So how are you to protect your horde from legions of scavenging peasants, heroes, and ne'er-do-wells? Luckily for you, in Cursed Treasure from IriySoft, you've got a steady supply of orcs, undead, and demons. You know, just lying around? In this defense game, you'll need to place towers full of minions to stop the invaders at all costs the old-fashioned way; mainly, with searing lava, explosive ballistas, and mind control. Best of Casual Gameplay 2010I mean, it's about time; this is how I've been solving my disputes for years.

The game ends if people manage to steal all of your gems, and your goal, naturally, is to prevent this from happening. You have three types of towers, each which needs to be placed on a certain type of cleared terrain. Towers automatically fire at enemies that come within range, so place them care to make the most out of roads. Slay enemies to earn cash to buy more towers, and make the use of the three spells at your disposal when your mana is up to the task. At the end of each level, you're granted experience points based on how well you did, and when you gain a level, you'll get upgrade points to sink into the skill tree.

Of course, this doesn't mean the greedy would-be thieves don't have a trick or two themselves. In addition to the clumsy peasantry you'll deal with more competent troublemakers such as ninja, who have the ability to temporarily turn invisible, and bards, who can play a song that temporarily speeds up their allies, to name just a few. Even more dangerous are Champions, superpowered (and enormous) enemies who can take a lot of damage. Get ready to hate that infernally smug laugh those rotten thieves make when they succeed in carting off one of your gems, but don't despair; even if you fail a level, you're still granted experience points, so you can just level up and try again.

Cursed TreasureAnalysis: There are a lot of defense games, but there aren't a lot of them that have that undefineable quality that makes them truly addictive and enjoyable. The Gem Craft series had it, and so, it would seem, does Cursed Treasure. Unlike many other defense titles, where you put your towers really seems to matter, and planning out your strategy and seeing it come to fruition is very satisfying. While the map visuals start to feel a little stagnant after a while (gee, this sure is some nice cloned terrain here that apparently makes up the entire kingdom), on the whole Cursed Treasure is nicely presented. There's no story, but then again, the game doesn't really need one. Presumably the raiders are motivated by greed. I mean, check those gems out. Pretty sweet, right? And I'm sure you got them under totally legitimate circumstances that didn't involve razing entire kingdoms to the ground or making unholy pacts. You would never do that. Again.

There are some minor annoyances; the game starts to drag with longer and longer levels, although the action becomes so thick you'll probably be too preoccupied to notice. It also seems a little unfair that the ranks of your enemies are forever swelling with new types and abilities, but you've got everything you're ever going to have from the get-go. Sure you can upgrade your spells and dens to do more damage, or have different effects, but after a while it all starts to look the same. On the other hand, the limited variety of dens on hand means that each type feels fully developed and can leave you equipped for any situation if you plan ahead. Your opponents never feel stronger than you are; just more varied. Learn to use your trio of towers to their fullest, and you'll never be unprepared.

I wasn't expecting much from Cursed Treasure other than a decent defense title. What I got was a surprisingly addictive time vortex that sucked in my brain and spat it out hours later, leaving me vaguely disoriented and demanding to be called "The Gem Mistress". Unfortunately, at only fifteen stages, Cursed Treasure feels pretty short, and it's over all too soon; once you've sunk enough upgrade points into certain spells and abilities, you're more than ready to mow down all comers. While it lasts, Cursed Treasure is fun, fast, and challenging. Even if it won't keep you busy for days on end, you'll definitely enjoy the ride.

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JamesLet It GlowIt might be a well-worn concept, the stalwart physics game, but something about Vyacheslav Stepanov's latest puzzle game Let It Glow really shines.

If you have played a physics puzzle game before, this should be like digging into a plate of french fries (or chips!): using your mouse you remove blocks from the scene, the aim being to position one of more conductors to let a stream of electricity jump from the power source to the light bulb. It's the type of game you'll know if you recently enjoyed Wake The Royalty or Ice Cube Bear, but with its own novel twist. Instead of knocking something off the screen, you have to reach a perfect equilibrium for at least as long as it takes to form a halo around the lightbulb.

Most conductors are round and will roll, but you get more positionally-stoic square ones. The range of a conductor can differ from puzzle to puzzle, indicated by a feint circle around the conductor. These circles are also around the power supply and lightbulb - as long as the circles touch or overlap, the power will transfer. Adding some variety to the challenge, some pieces are attached to hinged and other ones, made of steel, can't be removed.

Let it GlowAnalysis: It is interesting that when you browse through the offerings in the physics genre, they are like a crate of potatoes: seemingly the same, but at closer inspection they vary in size and shape. They all can be used for one thing (french fries) but you have to be more selective with other dishes, like a stew or mash. And they are invariably bland on their own, but with the right ingredients become something quite memorable.

Lots of physics games fall apart because of shoddy engines: bad inertia and unpredictable movement (the ever-present click-and-hold-thumbs gameplay mechanic). That's like using the wrong potato for your dish. Then there is the failure in choosing the wrong ingredients: poor level design. Usually levels are too samey or unpredictable in their difficulty. In the worst-case, you need luck to really get anywhere. To create the perfect starch-enriched physics dish, it is a matter of bringing timing, enjoyment and difficulty into perfect harmony.

The problem with both potatoes and physics games is they often don't appeal in their looks, so many developers love throwing on lots of gravy that invariably makes a slop of thing and slows down your browser. Let It Glow is not an army cook dishing it out to the troops. It's a carefully-crafted experience that may seem unappealing to the newcomer and the casual physics philistine. If you appreciate the subtle nuances of this genre and how with a few small touches, some expert preparation and just the right balance of taste and execution a physics game can really be fun, you'll love Let It Glow. No, it won't blow you away - after all, no matter how deftly you cook a potato it will never trump a steak. But it is familiar, reliable and if done right never lets you down either.

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DoraOmega CrisisCaptain's Log, Stardate: Made-up numbers. Omega Crisis from developer Lucidrine is a hybrid defense/shooter/resource management game set in the wild... uh... black yonder. The plot is fairly predictable; after discovering a new star sector rich in energy to gather and space to experiment in, your team finds yourselves under attack by hostile alien forces who, strangely, don't appreciate you plunking down into their territory and proclaiming you own everything in it. Your job is to hold them off long enough until James Cameron can make a movie about it and people can start entire internet communities dedicated to worshiping fictional ways of life. Wait, I mean, "hold them off long enough for you to gather resources and build your defenses". Don't know how I could possibly have confused the two. Well, whatever, it's not important anyway since, as we all know, it all comes down to who has the biggest cannon. And right now? That's you.

Omega Crisis is played with a combination of mouse and keyboard; point and click to shoot your cannon, and use the keyboard controls to pan around the area and locate incoming enemies. A warning siren will go off whenever enemy ships are about to appear, indicated on the map. It's in your best interests to shoot down enemies before they get close, not only so you don't, y'know, die, but also to earn tech points you can spend on upgrades between levels. (If you want, you can also replay levels you've already won to earn even more points.) You'll also earn resources that you can use to build more defenses by shifting into management mode; tap the [spacebar] to bring up a grid you can build on. You can only place a certain number of defenses, as limited by your power supply, so think carefully about what each stage throws at you to get the most out of your resources.

Keep an eye on your base's health bar, and on the timer in the bottom left that counts down to each new enemy attack. The further you go, the stronger your enemies get, but you'll gain access to stronger weapons and even gain a warship to help along the way. Although your base heals all damage between levels, your defenses do not carry over from level to level. This, I believe, is best described as SHENANIGANS syndrome.

Omega CrisisAnalysis: Lucidrine is rapidly becoming known for space-faring, high action adventures, so this slower paced defense/resource management hybrid was a bit of a surprise after the frantic intensity of, say, Cube Colossus. Omega Crisis is still very polished, but the comparatively slower gameplay makes it feel a bit restrained; more tense than adrenaline fueled excitement as you watch enemies swarm towards you and your defenses struggle to keep up.

Early on, the game is exceptionally easy if you find and park yourself over the enemy's entry point as soon as you hear the warning siren; this lets you simply lay down a continuous stream of fire that obliterates them the moment they emerge. As stronger enemies begin to arrive, however, and from multiple directions at once, juggling them all becomes a bit of a challenge that forces you to think strategically about using your defenses. Some stages also make an effort to increase the challenge by disabling your main cannon, forcing you to rely on carefully placing your defense systems instead. The downside is that enemy AI is still extremely limited, and ships tend to just fly straight towards you making no effort to avoid fire. The game makes some effort to explain this, but I'd still expect something more from an advanced civilization.

At only ten stages, Omega Crisis is more of an appetizer than a full meal; even if you replay stages to earn more upgrade points, you're probably only looking at a few hours of play rather than a full starfleet career. Despite a few bumps in its design, and the lack of any real story to speak of to drive you forward, it remains a fun challenge to sink your teeth into, if only for a while.

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Mobile Monday

JohnBI am pleased to report that this week's Mobile Monday features three games that are certifiably "replayable". Each one practically begs you to come back and play again and again, and they all deliver something unique each time you do!

swordoffargoal.jpgSword of Fargoal - The dungeon crawler is a classic role playing "genre" that seems to be lost to the modern gamer. Sword of Fargoal aims to change that with easy controls, intuitive gameplay, and a perfect pick-up-and-play style that suits casual gamers just fine. Randomly-generated dungeons are ripe for exploration, and each time you open a treasure chest, you're taking a chance to spring a trap instead of finding gold. A superb game (that also looks great) you'll play over and over again.

paperbridge.gifPaper Bridge - A physics-based building game with an irresistible art style. Your simple goal is to build a bridge so a vehicle can get from point A to point B. Fixed points on the screen serve as your foundation, all you have to do is draw black road lines and use green support girders to make the thing sturdy. The cars are always different, ranging from heavy trucks to speedy bikes and even trains! The difficulty takes a few levels to set in, but once it does, you'll be amazed how challenging such a simple game can be.

babocrash.jpgBabo Crash - Matching-centric puzzle games tend to be drab and boring. No matter how many sparkly colors you throw on the screen, you're still just swapping tiles to clear the board. Babo Crash is anything but boring. Matching several like-colored pieces summons a hero who, when activated, causes some serious destruction. Expect explosions, burning comet-like things, falling bombs, big-fisted punches, and vomit. Yes, vomit. Easily the wildest match-3 game on the iTunes App Store!

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


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Rating: 4.8/5 (24 votes)
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Sleep is Death

AlexeiHave you ever wanted to tell a story about a kitten? Or an alien? Or a mummy, or a genius, or a demon, or a block of cheese, or a little girl with the magical ability to talk to soap? Well, a little bit of time and effort with Sleep is Death will let you do just that, all in the form of a playable experience for you and a friend.

sleepisdeath.gifLess a game and more of a collaborative story creation system, Sleep is Death is the latest release from Jason Rohrer who is also responsible for games like Transcendence and Passage.

Sleep is Death is very consciously not a game, although it does have elements of competition and co-operation. It's played with two people, a Controller and a Player, and ping-pongs control of the story back and forth in 30 second increments. The mouse-driven action revolves around being able to assemble the items, characters, dialogue, and scenes necessary to move the story forward in the 30 seconds allotted.

There is a growing fan community that is building itself around Sleep is Death, which is smoothing over a lot of the rough edges of the experience. Watching the video tutorials helps get over the hump of the learning curve, and people are already developing tools and tiles and sprites for everyone else to use. It's easy to imagine a point where there is enough user-generated content created that pretty much any tile you could want would be accessible. Once sprites are created, you can do a surprising amount with the basic flip and rotate tools, so it's not hard to fake your characters standing, turning, sitting down, etc.

sleepisdeath2.gifAnalysis: Sleep is Death has some really impressive and simple content creation tools (such as a music editor, background editor, tile and sprite editor, etc.). Using them in the 30-60 second window can be surprisingly difficult at first. It took my narrator and I several minutes just to figure out how to mark one sprite as the "player character," and we would often bounce half-finished screens back and forth until one of us had assembled enough objects to constitute the next "story beat."

The game is bundled with a lot of art, so you don't have to worry about creating images to play the game. Most of them seem a little arbitrary, though, and instead of giving you a large variety of sprites to build stories with, you seem to be limited to farm hands, horned gods, and Meat Boy.

Buying Sleep is Death means you get two copies of the game, one for you and one for your playing buddy. You need two people to get any sort of experience out of this unique title, but hosting and connecting to games is easy and doesn't require opening ports or otherwise changing your router/modem's settings.

With a strong fan base that's building some great tools and additional content for the game, Sleep is Death could turn into a universal storytelling tool. It's certainly a unique experience and, provided you have a friend that's just as in to the story as you are, will provide some very memorable moments.

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Rating: 4.6/5 (31 votes)
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The Flower Shop

DoraThe Flower Shop from Winter Wolves is a visual novel/relationship simulation centering around a new college student named Steve. Rather than telling a specific story, The Flower Shop is about figuring out a direction in life, and follows Steve and the people he meets throughout the course of his summer in the small town of Fairbrook. Will he wind up in love? Will he repair his relationship with his father? Or will he decide that small town life is for him? That, as it happens, is up to you.

The Flower ShopThe Flower Shop plays like a visual novel; Steve narrates the story, and you're presented with choices that affect the plot and his relationships with the various characters. After arriving at his uncle's farm, Steve is also given the ability to plan his week out ahead of time; you can only choose one activity per day, although Steve always spends the morning working on the farm regardless of what you choose. When planning your schedule, you'll also be given a look at Steve's current stats; keep an eye on his health, since if it drops too low, he'll be too tired to go out. Balance work and play with relaxing at least once a week. Right-clicking on the screen or pressing [ESC] allows you to save the game at any time, and the plethora of save slots means you can make the most of your time and choices.

Spending time with people not only advances the story and improves your relationship with them, but has the added bonus of increasing your stats. Each person has an influence on one; running with Clara, for example, increases your determination, while talking with Jill, who's connected with the scene in Los Angeles, increases your coolness. Why is this important? Well, if you want Steve to end up with one of his ladyfriends or just to get a good ending, you need to have one or more of your stats above 80. A good strategy is to spread your time out with everyone so that Steve winds up a well rounded character rather than focusing all your attention on one person. This has the benefit of making sure your stats increase, and letting you see more plot elements so that the town feels more alive. Despite apparently consisting of only five people, a library, and a flower shop. And I thought I came from the middle of nowhere.

Analysis: If you're going to make a visual novel, it's important to have two things; an artist who knows which end of the pen to hold for the "visual" part, and a writer capable of stringing more than two words together in a competent fashion to handle the "novel" bits. In terms of simple aesthetic value, The Flower Shop actually looks really professional; while the anime style won't be to everyone's liking, characters are well designed with vivid colours, smooth lines, and distinct looks. The story is never what you would call high drama, but both the dialogue and the narrative are well written and enjoyable. Chances are you'll find someone you like hanging out with, but even if you don't, nobody says a happy ending has to involve romance. Steve makes for a good protagonist in this regard; he's a little immature, but basically a good guy, and his interactions with other characters feel natural. Women are friendly, but don't throw themselves at him or spend most of their time mooning after him; a pleasant change from most other titles in the genre. I would have preferred to be able to speak with people more to really flesh out their personalities and backgrounds, but on the whole, the cast is pretty solid.

The Flower ShopThe gardening aspect is a nice touch, but feels like it needed a bit more fleshing out to elevate it above bare minigame status. Every action takes an hour, and all you do is plant, pull weeds, water, or clean up pests; everything feels completely random, and it isn't worth it to plant different vegetables. You have such minimal interaction with your crop that tending them takes less than ten seconds, much like a Facebook application, and there's no reason to harvest them except to make cash that you can only spend on more seeds. The game winds up feeling like it would have been much better played as a pure visual novel, leaving the gardening similar to the sequences you have when interacting with people; small descriptive scenes with an occurrence and actions to take regarding it.

That said, there's a nice sense of freedom to the game that is enjoyable. If you don't find tending your crops all that exciting you can ignore them completely and spend your time chatting with the women and their friends around town. While not life-changing or particularly original, the story is heartfelt and often humorous, which offsets the more serious tones nicely. What can be frustrating is that advancing the various plot points depends on being in the right place at the right time, and there isn't really any indication of where your various stats need to be at to trigger an event.

The game offers nine endings to discover, not all of which end in muchas-smooches with someone, and an option to skip dialogue you've seen before on replays as well as the sheer number of save slots means it's a snap to go back and try different paths. Which you'll need to do, since, despite taking place over a single summer which can make the game short, there are a lot of branching paths that only appear depending on certain interactions, and your choices during them. Despite a rather lackluster approach to the gardening aspect of the game, The Flower Shop is a sweet, charming, and funny title that makes a welcome addition to the genre with a lot of quality on offer.

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Incredible Express

JohnBIncredible Express smoothly blends a time management game with a track-switching arcade experience. Think of it as a cross between Youda Farmer and Mystic Mine with a few elements from Farm Frenzy thrown into the mix. A young entrepreneur named Maria has inherited a shabby steam locomotive and discovers her services are in demand. Lay sections of track and control the direction your train runs to make pick-ups and deliveries as efficiently as you can!

incredibleexpress.jpgRunning a train isn't easy work, and it seems like every farmer in town wants you to haul their goods. Fortunately it's fairly simple to move about the village, as rails are placed in convenient locations right outside the farmers' shops. The top of the screen shows how many of which items you need to deliver to the station. The train moves on its own and automatically attaches wagons filled with goods when it touches them. Grab the wagons, then make your way back to the station to unload. At first, you can only carry two carts at once, so you have to get creative with which paths you take and what order you nab the goods.

Controlling the train is a simple matter of hitting track switches to change paths and lighting stop signals to reverse direction. The train is constantly moving on its own, and if you don't keep a close eye on its next few destinations, you'll waste valuable delivery time. Most tracks are circular, and if the train hits a dead end, it reverses on its own, so you don't have to worry about crashing, just wasting time!

Adding a layer of strategy are goods that need to be manufactured before they can be delivered. If ketchup is ordered, for example, you'll need to bring by two carts of tomatoes to the factory. The happy ketchup workers do their thing and set out their cart when they're finished. All you have to do is take it to the station! Adding these manufacturing steps places extreme importance on which carts you take and in which order. If you don't think your path out beforehand, you'll waste most of your time pointlessly driving around the tracks.

incredibleexpress2.jpgAnalysis: Incredible Express is all about managing your time, more so than most "time management" games out there today. Each move you make, each switch you activate can add precious seconds to your delivery time, and once you make a few rounds to gather all the goods you need, that can practically ruin your reputation! Fortunately the game doesn't place too much pressure on you to get things right the first time around, so ease into the experience, learn the ropes, and you'll be directing train traffic like an all-star.

Incredible Express does a great job mixing casual genres into a new experience, but it falls short in one key area: presentation. The introduction to the game features some terrible voice acting with even worse dialogue. Do yourself a massive favor and skip past it as fast as you can, the story is banal, anyway. Some of the in-game visuals look a bit rough around the edges, too, taking away some of the polished look we love seeing in games nowadays.

Despite its minor flaws, Incredible Express presents a lovely gaming experience that's very refreshing in today's atmosphere of hidden object clones and match-3 copycats.

WindowsWindows:
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Weekend Download

JohnBIt's Ludum Dare time again! Another competition, another healthy round of entertainment and creativity. Over 200 games were submitted this time around, each involving the theme of "islands". Below you'll find a few of our choices out of the lot. Be sure to check out all the games and, if you're cool, vote on them, too!

paradisefort.gifParadise Fort (Windows, <1MB, free) - Created by Arvi Teikari (a.k.a. hempuli, creator of Floating Islands Game, among others), this unique little game is all about building a fort! Dig in the sand, build ladders, walls and cannons, smack dangerous birds, go fishing and more in this cute 2D sandbox game. The controls are a little awkward at first, but once you get the hang of it, you'll have a great time playing around on your own private island.

braveislanddiver.gifBrave Island Diver (Windows, 2.36MB, free) - A platformer by jwaap that makes creative use of physics to collect stars scattered about the landscape. The little protagonist can barely jump higher than a bedbug's knee, but if you leap off a cliff, you'll get some extra momentum that can slingshot you to greater heights. Use this ability to work your way deeper below the water as well as up above the ground to find all of the stars. Some graphical flicker issues can be a problem, but otherwise it's quite an enjoyable experience.

jumppirate.gifJump Pirate (Windows, 2.5MB, free) - An exploration-centric platform game by snowyowl, Jump Pirate will probably remind you of Knytt in more ways than one. The dark island world is filled with traps and tall ledges, perfect for a pirate with your double-jumping ability. Use floating flowers to replenish your jumps in mid-air and work your way across dangerous areas to greater and greater heights. Challenging, but the rewards of exploration are great!

needles.gifNeedles (Windows, 1.54MB, free) - A short game by bento that's too cute to ignore. You play a little guy whose only goal in life is to hop from island to island. Don't fall in the water, and keep moving so the scrolling screen doesn't destroy you. That's pretty much it, but what else do you need? Charming visual set-up? Check. Non-existent price tag? Check!

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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