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June 2010 Archives


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Rating: 3.8/5 (128 votes)
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joyeBlobble WarsIt's a lesson you learn very early on, the first time someone gives you a crayon: if you can make things green, suddenly everything ought to be green. So if Blobble Wars, the new addictive action game with a dash of strategy from J. Appleyard, gives you a green blobble spitting tower, then red, yellow, blue and grey towers better watch their backs, yo.

You start each level with a single green tower. All the other towers on the field are shockingly lacking in greenness. This must end. By using the mouse, you click on your tower and drag to aim at a non-green tower. Hit it with enough of your projectile blobbles, and it will turn green! Unfortunately, the other colored towers on the field do not appreciate this and will try lobbing their own blobbles. In order to win the day, you'll have to strategize and make a plan of attack to control the field, using your captured towers in harmony with each other. If the battle isn't going your way, hit [r] to restart.

Although the mouse-dragging works well enough to beat all 20 levels even on hard, it seems a little unnecessary. You're only going to be aiming at targets, so it would make for a much simpler interface if you could just click on a tower and then click on a target for the tower to attack. Just like a real melee fight, there's a certain amount of randomness once you start doing 1v1v1 and 1v1v1v1 levels. If the other colors gang up on you, you're toast. However, it's not as random as you might think. You can manipulate the AI to a certain extent because basically whenever you aim at a tower, that tower will turn to aim back at you. I rescue towers in trouble by taking a secure tower and waving its line of fire over the enemy towers, which then turn away from the weak tower and start firing at the strong one.

Colorblind players will be pleased to know that Blobble Wars has a colorblind mode in options. With four difficulty levels, Blobble Wars can accommodate any level of skill, and its twenty levels should provide a decent amount of playing time for any blobble-spitting fan.

Play Blobble Wars


  • Currently 4.1/5
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Rating: 4.1/5 (195 votes)
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Mikemike-meteorlaunch-screen1.jpgYou've probably encountered launch games before, the sort of games where you propel some object or critter (like a hedgehog or a penguin, or even a person) for length and/or height. Shooting for distance is fun, but while there are many, many such games on the wild wild web, we here at Jay is Games do not often feature them. There are so many that it takes something special to stand out. Meteor Launch, wherein you play a Polynesian boy trying to send a sad-looking fallen star back home into space, is special, and stands out from many similar games.

Everything in the game is controlled with the mouse. Launching the meteor is done with but a click, ideally when your launcher is at its most extended for maximum thrust. You can control the path of the meteor with the mouse as well. At first, your launcher is wholly inadequate to send your space rock out of orbit, but you can purchase upgrades from a sort of masked Tahitian Edison, who will gladly sell you all sorts of sophisticated aerospace technology to aid in your mission, in exchange for glowing blue fireflies. This peculiar currency can be acquired by your meteor in flight, and the boy will also collect fireflies at night between launches. Launch, fly, avoid obstacles, and purchase upgrades, all to send your wayward extraterrestrial rock homebound.

Two things that make Meteor Launch unique among launch games: One, unlike many such games, where your launched object follows a random, Plinko-like path, Meteor Launch puts you in control. You control the direction of the meteor, and you control when to activate power-ups. It's a refreshing counter to the trend of littering launch screens with boosts and obstacles, so that you feel like the game is playing itself. Two, the story is quite charming. You might think that a tale of a Micronesian NASA would come across as goofy (Coconuts for fuel tanks! Palm fronds for aerodynamic fins!), but the concern the boy shows for his lost rock is sweet and affecting. I dare you not to smile when you finally send that fallen star back home to the sky.

It's short, not to difficult, and not a radical departure from the launch game genre, which is fine. I was occasionally frustrated when it seemed I was going too fast to anticipate oncoming obstacles, though that might have been a consequence of my lead-footed tendency to burn fuel until there was nothing left to burn. Some finesse might achieve better results. All in all, though, Meteor Launch is a cute, refreshing take on a familiar type of game.

Play Meteor Launch


  • Currently 4.1/5
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Rating: 4.1/5 (88 votes)
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Weekday Escape

GrinnypSo you've decided this year is the year to finally get into some sort of shape, and your first step is cardio. A nice stroll, whether down the block, on the beach, or to a nearby park is the best way to get started. But what happens if you get tired, or winded? Well, if you're the protagonist of many of Tesshi-e's games, you find the nearest structure (house, cottage, concrete hole in the ground) and immediately get trapped inside. In Escape from the Rest House, the latest room escape from Tesshi-e, you have done this once again. You know, there's something to be said for the internal combustion engine. Or public transportation. Or staying off of other people's property. Just saying.

Escape from the Rest HouseSo what makes this one so different? Well, dear reader, the difference is noticeable the instant you hit the new game/intro button. Wait, could it be? Is that...English? Well, at least it's Engrish, along with the Japanese text. Finally, you can play a Tesshi-e game and know what the heck is going on from the opening introduction, even if you don't read Japanese. And the story is...well, pretty much what you'd expect, actually. "I was walking along and went into this house..." is basically it. For those of us who can't read Japanese it was always a bit mysterious. For all we know it could have been something like: "I was running from these evil Russian nuclear zombie spies, and I had to duck into the nearest structure to get away before they could catch me carrying the secret blueprints/microfilm/whatever." Oh well, letdown or not, at least we know what is going on!

Well, sort of. What is a Rest House, anyway? Is it something in a park or public place where you can sit and rest for a bit? Let's presume so, since the Rest House has a very public feel to it, with its columns, benches, and fountains. A nice idea and one which can be appreciated by anyone who has tromped all over a park or national monument until their feet are bloody stumps. A fabulous place to take a load off. If only you hadn't inadvertently locked yourself in...

Navigation can be a bit tricky at first, as this is a large open space. There are some navigation bars and arrows which appear when hovered over with the cursor, but exploration of the side walls can be confusing at first. However, it is not that large a space, and eventually the navigation will become second nature as you explore the always lovely interior. Look around, open things (if you can), and explore every square inch to find your way out. The game is Tesshi-e's usual blend of use of found objects, some combining, and several fun and tricky puzzles. What makes Rest House stand out amongst the rest is not only the use of English but the lack of color-based puzzles; making life easier for our friends with color-blindness who like solving their way out of a room as much as the rest of us.

Everything you expect from a Tesshi-e game is here: tight design, easy inventory control, a save button that can come in handy when looking for the happy coin escape, occasional pixel hunting, unique combinations and animation, and some very familiar music. The games, though, keep evolving. Play the Tesshi-e games from earliest to latest and you can see the evolution. Ever more intriguing and challenging puzzles, lovely graphical design, and increasing accessibility to those who don't live in Japan or who can't see certain colors.

Granted, the English translation can be a little ...shaky at times. And once in a while you will click on something and get nothing but Japanese, but for the most part Escape from the Rest House is Tesshi-e's most accessible escape to date. Not terribly difficult, but fun, challenging, and finally you know what the heck is going on! Now if only someone would let Tesshi-e know about a changing cursor these Mild Escapes would be perfect! Well, even more fun than they are now, which is saying a lot. So play Escape from the Rest House! Now with 50% more Engrish!

Play Escape from the Rest House


  • Currently 4/5
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Rating: 4/5 (110 votes)
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DoraGalaxy JumperDo you remember the GameBoy when it weighed as much as a brick and you had to spend most of your allowance on batteries? Me too. Galaxy Jumper, the new puzzle-platformer from NinjaKiwi, isn't on the GameBoy; it just looks like it is (plus a few extra colours), and I probably would have enjoyed my childhood electronic entertainment a lot more if it had been. You play a nameless black figure, leaping from planet to planet, in your quest to... uh... leap from planet to planet.

The aim is to collect all the keys in each level to open the exit. Simply point your mouse to choose a direction, and click (or use the [spacebar]) to jump; you can tell where you'll land by the soft glowing white light that appears on a surface when you point your cursor in any direction. Miss a jump and you'll go hurtling offscreen and have to start the entire level over again. You also have to start over if you run into an enemy, get blown up, or otherwise smote. You unlock new levels by spending the coins you collect, so make sure to grab them whenever possible.

Galaxy Jumper is a good example of a simple concept done up right. Each level presents its own challenge that keeps the game from becoming repetitive and wearing out its welcome before its 27 levels are done. As you go, you'll encounter new obstacles such as planets that explode if you stay in one place for too long, or vanish once you leap off them. The problem is the one-hit KO aspect; as you can progress, levels can get quite large, and to be punted all the way back to the beginning of one because a monster rubbed up against you can be very frustrating. Of course, since all that's required to play a level is a certain amount of coins, you can simply bribe your way past one if you get stuck.

Not that you should need to. Even the levels that demand constant movement don't require you to be a wizard at the controls, and the game maintains a nice difficulty curve rather than the soul-crushing pain most "retro" platformers seem inclined to deliver. The levels are a nice mix of reflexes and simple puzzle solving, and combined with the stark presentation and atmospheric soundtrack, makes for a very fun experience. You don't need a lot of flash to make something fun, and Galaxy Jumper proves that point with style.

Play Galaxy Jumper


(15 votes) *Average rating will show after 20 votes
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joyetheusher.jpgYour entire young life has been building up to this. You were born to it, your maternal line. You, Lalu, are the Usher, charged with guiding the queen's soul to the afterlife, a task of great splendor and nobility.

But that doesn't change how you feel now. All you can think is that you've been raised to die. If only there were some way out...

The Usher is a game of interactive fiction, so in this case the only visual representation you'll find is in your brain. The game uses a text parser for you to input your commands by typing them; "take item", "move north", "inventory", and so forth. The game provides you with a description of your actions and your surroundings, and you'll need to get creative in order to change Lalu's fate. If you find yourself stuck, try typing "hint" without the quotations to get a nudge in the right direction.

Analysis: While the Usher features some of the strongest writing in a competition bursting with great writers, the tone is not quite consistent. The writing would have me really feeling the doomed melancholy of Lalu's inevitable death, and then it would throw me a line about making the passage to the afterlife as "smooth as a laxative". I'd be snickering at a king named Stanley talking about his days in "King Camp", and then the game would hit me with an evocative description of starlight dancing. These frequent sudden swerves in tone and style can hurt immersion. In order for Lalu's danger to feel real, there has to be a sense that it is also serious. It would have been different if it were true gallows humor, which depends on treating serious subjects with irreverence, and thus depends on those subjects being fundamentally serious.

The plot also takes a sudden shift at the very end. In fact, despite the game telling me "You have escaped! Congratulations!", my first reaction was that I had somehow reached a bad end. I immediately pulled out the walkthrough and discovered that the game has only one ending, and that was it. Without spoiling, though the end is an escape, the method by which Lalu escapes seemed unconnected with any of the puzzles the player has to solve. As Lalu, you will work hard to escape only to be rewarded with a deus ex machina. In fact, once you get to that point, it turns out there is nothing you can do to stop the deus ex machina. I restarted, solved all the puzzles again, and instead of doing the action that triggers the end, just typed "z" (wait) several times, and the game forced me to escape.

To some extent it only itches because the writing is excellent. The parser, too, is top-notch, especially considering that this is the first game by both designers. I can think of only one instance where it didn't accept the first verb I tried, and when I rephrased it, it accepted it immediately. The game even accepted several typos I made. The hint system is also well designed, with repeated uses of the hint command gradually revealing more about what to do next, then a warning that the next use of the hint command will be the solution, then the solution. The puzzles are neither brain-meltingly difficult nor insultingly obvious.

Despite some bumpiness, the Usher obviously charmed audiences enough to place 8th in our first ever interactive fiction competition, Casual Gameplay Design Competition #7. IF fans shouldn't miss it.

Play the Usher


  • Currently 4.3/5
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Rating: 4.3/5 (93 votes)
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DoraEposTurn-based RPG. Those of you who have hissed, flung your musty capes over your faces and flown off into the night, we bid you farewell. The rest of you, welcome to Epos, an incredibly ambitious title from MINTgames, Eli Brown, and featuring the artistic stylings of Jared Johnson. You play as Tradda d'Bolve, whose much-desired retirement is interrupted one day when he receives a letter from his King commanding him to track down a rogue Admiral. Before long, he finds himself saddled with two companions and tracking his quarry across the world. Between Tradda and the rest he so badly wants is a lot of distance, and a lot of monsters. Like, a lot-lot. Seriously.

Essentially, the game is a mostly good ol' fashioned turn-based RPG, though it revolves almost entirely around combat. You travel around the world, encountering enemies (or not) at each point, and everyone has very fancy fantasy names. You kill monsters, level up, and gain gold. The game autosaves for you after every encounter, so picking up right where you left off is simple. You play using the keyboard, with [WASD] or [arrow] keys to move, [spacebar] or [enter] to select, and [M] to open the menu between battles. The helpful in-game tutorial explains the finer points, as well as offering other tips.

EposThe battle system is slightly more robust than typical turn-based RPG fare. You're still trading blows with enemies whenever you encounter them in the classic style, keeping an eye on your hit points and your magic points. Whenever you level up, you gain skill and talent points that you can distribute however you like to tweak the party to suit your playing style. Magic spells also increase in potency if you use them often (represented by stars next to the spell name), so be sure to keep using the most useful spells if you want to get the most out of them. Further, certain spells also afflict enemies with status ailments that make them more susceptible to other elements; if an enemy becomes drenched with water, for example, try following up with an electric spell for big damage.

Analysis: Epos has been in development for "a long time", and that's pretty clear from first contact. Character and enemy sprites are appealingly cartoonish and cleanly designed, making them expressive and well-animated even despite their limited movement. Dialogue is well written and occasionally very funny, and feels natural coming out of the characters mouths. They manage to develop a good amount of personality whenever they talk, and it was definitely a pleasure to find a more "subdued" fantasy world where the emphasis was not on fetching elven lads with impossible names and flowy blonde locks.

EposThe bad news is that for people who love RPGs but hate classic turn-based battling, the battling makes up roughly 80-90% of the gameplay, and the rest is spent with your party being represented as a glowing orange icon travelling from one orange dot to another on an overworld map. Battles tend to drag, and since you can't flee from them, covering short distances to plot points takes much longer than it should. Most of all, if you're a fan of RPGs, you're going to miss the lack of environments to explore, which is a blow to the game's attempts at immersion. Would designing locations to walk around in, characters to speak with, and programming it all have been a huge undertaking? Certainly. But the game would have felt much more balanced as a result.

The experience as a whole winds up feeling a little bare-bones. All three of your heroes share exactly the same talent tree, so the only difference between them is visual representation and the stats they start out with. The only items to be found are curative or signets, which provide a boost to certain abilities; cold comfort for those of us who found tracking down bigger and better equipment for our parties to be a part of our enjoyment in the genre.

Epos aims high, but ends up falling short of greatness. If the rest of the game had been a bit more robust (a little less battle, and a lot more plot), it would have been absolutely stellar. There's a ton of charm here for those patient enough to find it, and it really is a phenomenal achievement from some very talented people. For fans of more combat-oriented RPG titles, Epos offers a lot (like, a lot-lot!), and the talent on display is easily worth at least a look, as well as your support.

Play Epos


  • Currently 4.4/5
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Rating: 4.4/5 (544 votes)
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JerradAlan Probe 2: Amateur Surgeon(Warning: This game features excessive cartoon violence, adult themes and potentially offensive language.)

Alan Probe is back! In the new sequel to the popular surgery simulation game that we all fell in love with back in 2008, the good people at Adult Swim have come up with something gorier, more excessive, and far more satisfying than any of us could have ever hoped for. Currently, only the first two chapters of this planned three-part installment are available; keep your eyes peeled for the final chapter in the weeks to come!

The story picks up exactly where we left off... well, ALMOST exactly. 51 years after we left off if you want to be specific, but who's counting? Although the doctor may have gotten gotten as rusty as his dubious tools over the years, the methods for performing the operations have changed little: choose the necessary tool with either the click of the mouse or pressing the corresponding number key on the keyboard, and then use your mouse to slice, zap, and knit your way through an increasingly freakish cast of patients. You're given a slew of tools to work with, mostly familiar from the original, although some of them have been slightly modified. This time around, though, the tools can be upgraded between patients, making them faster and more powerful. The game has a surprisingly enjoyable story to go along with it that ties directly into the plot of the original, and some of the tools have been updated for smoother gameplay, but the heart of the original can still be seen in every crazy operation and lunatic patient.

Alan Probe 2: Amateur SurgeonAlan Probe: Amateur Surgeon 2 blows the original out of the water in almost every respect. Although graphics haven't changed much, the gameplay has been given a number of tweaks to remove some of the frustrations we experienced in the first installment. In fact, the developers seem to have taken audience feedback to heart when creating the sequel, and even make a clever in-game nod to one of the more frustrating utilities of the original. Although the game can be difficult at time, there's really only one point where it can seem unreasonably difficult, and that's due to lack of instruction more than anything else (you'll know it when you see it, but remember that they mouse is not the only input source that the game recognizes). But overall, Alan Probe: Amateur Surgeon 2 stands out as the sequel fans of the original have been hoping for. A gory, over-the top game of the highest quality, the esteemed makeshift doctor's return from retirement is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser.

Play Alan Probe 2: Amateur Surgeon


  • Currently 4.1/5
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Rating: 4.1/5 (43 votes)
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Mikemike-perfectbalance3-screen1.jpgFans of the Perfect Balance series will have reason to be happy with the release of Perfect Balance 3. They also will have little new to hear from us. Perfect Balance 3 is not a wild reimagining of the series, but a refinement. The presentation may be a little slicker, but fans will find this next installment of the series quite familiar, and will be pleased that it is so.

For the uninitiated, Perfect Balance is a series a physics puzzle games that rely on stacking awkward shapes in such a way that they don't fall over, like making card houses, or stacking silverware and jam dispenser when your brunch order is late. The controls in Perfect Balance 3 are the same as the rest of the series: Select shapes and drop them in the play field with the mouse, and rotate them with [W] and [A], or [left] and [right] if that suits your fancy. Most shapes obey Newtonian physics and will drop unless something blocks them, but there are also a few special shapes. Some float, some are super-heavy, and some move in whatever direction you point them. Shapes are "live" as soon as you drop them, so it takes a delicate hand to keep everything balanced perfectly.

One new twist is the addition of gems. After beating each level, a row of gems appears at the top of the screen, which are essentially additional shapes you can add to your carefully balanced setup. Adding gems not only grants you bonus points, but you also need to successfully deploy a certain number of gems to unlock the next block of levels.

It looks good, plays well, and has a number of clever puzzles. Perfect Balance 3 is not the most original sequel, but it is exactly what fans of the series should expect.

Play Perfect Balance 3

You can also play Perfect Balance on your iOS devices!


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Mobile Monday

JohnBTime for more portable gaming! This week we've got a mixed selection of apps ranging from simulation to puzzle to card games. As usual, each game does something particularly well, whether it's a gameplay feature, an interface, or an innovative concept on its own.

godfinger.jpgGodFinger - Your finger is now an all-powerful deity that controls just about everything on a tiny planet, including the weather, the sun, the people, and their jobs. Your goal is to get as many followers as you can. In turn, they produce gold which you can use to spruce up your planet and buy some cool buildings and items. GodFinger is similar to We Rule in a number of ways, including real-time gameplay that keeps progressing even while you're away, and the ability to spend real world cash to speed progress up.

colorfall.jpgfColorfall - You've probably seen every matching puzzle game in the world by now, but you haven't seen Colorfall. Your task is to match the falling blocks in the order of the colors of the rainbow — red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet, or ROY G BIV. Any three colors in the right order will do, and it quickly becomes challenging to remember the order when blocks keep falling from the sky. As an extra bonus, iPhone owners can snap a picture with their camera to change a block to the most dominant color in that image. A very unique match-3 game you'll have a great time learning to play!

dungeonsolitaire.jpgDungeon Solitaire - A simple card game that has the uncanny ability to make you want to play it over and over again. Using custom cards with their own fantasy artwork, you must defeat the hordes of monsters attacking your castle. Place monster cards in the left column, hero cards on the right, and modifiers in empty spaces or on top of existing cards. Each character has a fight and magic stat, and when a hero is across from a monster, they do battle. The rules are simple and winning is just as much luck of the draw as anything, but you won't be able to resist round after round of the game.

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


  • Currently 4.8/5
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Rating: 4.8/5 (28 votes)
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The Oil Blue

JohnBThe Oil Blue is a clever mixture of a time management game and a tycoon simulation from Vertigo Games, creator of Shellblast. You are in charge of a crew of workers who strike out into the sea to discover new locations to drill for oil. Each island you reclaim opens the way for your employer, United Oil of Oceania, to establish a permanent operation there. All you have to do is manage the drills, sell the oil, and do it all as efficiently as you can.

theoilblue.jpgThe set-up is quite friendly to casual players, and a strong tutorial guides your way for the first few minutes of the game. Each island challenges you to drill and sell a certain number of oil barrels. To get to the oil, you'll use one of several types of machines, each with its own method of operation and level of required attention. You manage the machines in real-time, so while they search for the oil, you need to keep tabs on them to make sure they don't break down and actually harvest the oil they discover.

For example, the simplest driller, the Groundwell, is a reliable machine that never breaks down. All you have to do to keep it functioning is switch its batteries to make sure unused ones keep their charge. Let the batteries drain and you'll lose any oil in the queue, otherwise you're free to let the drill do its thing. Other machines (derricks, pump jacks, and drill rigs) require more attention to gather oil and keep in working condition, but you'll get much more oil in the process (and they're more entertaining to use).

Each day of work lasts around ten minutes, with most of that time spent under the water working the drills. When not maintaining your machines, you'll spend your time seizing opportunities to sell oil while the market is strong, upgrading drills, leveling-up your rigs, and increasing your rank to unlock numerous bonuses. You'll also need to repair some drills that accumulate wear and tear. You do this by selecting them from the market screen and then completing a quick action-style mini-game.

theoilblue2.jpgAnalysis: The premise alone probably won't attract many players to The Oil Blue, as hunting for black gold has never been glamorized as a creative, fun, or interesting job (unless you stumble upon it Jed Clampett style). But, like many simulation games, the task has been boiled down to a few basic elements and made appealing to a broad audience. If you can press a few buttons and watch a few gauges, you can master The Oil Blue, and you'll have an amazing time doing it.

Vertigo Games really hit a home run with the game's setting, artwork and music. The mood set by the entire presentation is quiet, subtly engaging, and minimalistic. You almost get the feeling you're on a lonely island running these machines all by yourself (even though you have workers with you). It's not common to see a tycoon game that goes for atmosphere, but The Oil Blue does just that, and it does it well.

With a relatively small selection of drills to manage, you might find The Oil Blue starts to drag midway through. The only variations are mathematical in nature, such as making your machines more efficient via rank or upgrading them before each work day, otherwise the only differences between islands are the number and type of drills you'll work. Player involvement takes a sharp turn upwards a few levels in to the game, so get ready to be overwhelmed!

What it lacks in complexity it more than makes up for in playability and raw intrigue. The Oil Blue looks great, plays great, and will suck you in for hours at a time. An excellent release from Vertigo Games!

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


(6 votes) *Average rating will show after 20 votes
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Little Space Duo

JohnBLittle Space Duo is a platform puzzle game that puts you in control of two unique characters — the young girl Lucy, and a floating robot named Sunny. Similar to the classic The Lost Vikings in many ways, you switch between character to use their unique abilities to make it through each level. The animation is soft and fluid, the pacing is slow and thoughtful, and the puzzles are challenging even from early in the game.

littlespaceduo.jpgLucy awakens to find herself on a strange space craft with a golden orb-like robot hovering in front of her. As it turns out, the ship she's on is an intergalactic cargo vessel, and something's gone wrong with the AI. Lucy was mistakenly picked up, and now, in order to escape and fix the ship, she and Sunny will need to work together

Each character in Little Space Duo has unique abilities you'll need to use to solve the game's puzzles. Sunny, for example, can hover freely in the air and can fit through small ducts in the ship's walls. Lucy is the only one who can use certain switches and elevators, largely due to the fact that she has hands. You'll have to control each character individually to open the right passageways so both Lucy and Sunny can reach the exit door together.

Analysis: First thought when loading Little Space Duo: wow this game looks good. The color palette fills each scene with a soft, warm appearance, even though you're on a cold robot cargo ship. The animations are very smooth and lifelike, especially for Lucy, and it's a treat to watch even the smallest button presses play out in full view on your screen.

littlespaceduo.jpgLittle Space Duo tugs at your emotions, too, even though the game isn't story-driven. Taking the role of a young girl lost on a spaceship will make you go "awww", and seeing her innocence play out in her interactions with Sunny (who, by the way, is called that because she said he's yellow and shaped like the sun) is actually quite touching. Invoking the almighty emotion card was a great move on developer Jugilus' part to make you care about the game enough to see it through to the end.

The biggest stand-out feature of Little Space Duo is its difficulty. This game is tough. Not tough as in "you have to keep doing this until you master it", but tough as in "you have to think about this to figure it out". Puzzles aren't your simple "press this switch to win!" kind of thing, they make you plan ahead, observe, and execute your strategy. Fortunately they usually don't rely on fast reflexes, so you can pretty much take your time to get things done. You'll hit many of those "ohhhh" moments when you suddenly realize how things fit together and can solve a tricky puzzle. Checkpoints are generous enough to keep you from getting frustrated, but don't be surprised if you get stumped a dozen levels into the game.

Little Space Duo may look like a fuzzy and warm puzzle game you can breeze through in an hour, but the challenge here is significant and extremely rewarding when you make it to the other side. Soak in the excellent presentation and try not to break your keyboard when you get stuck.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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

LinuxLinux:
Download the demo
Get the full version


(14 votes) *Average rating will show after 20 votes
| Comments (1) | Views (129)

Agatha Christie: 4:50 from Paddington

joye If you're a criminal, don't mess with plucky teens, avoid mustachioed Belgians, and whatever you do, if an adorable little old British lady starts investigating your series of murders, KILL HER FIRST. The murderer in Agatha Christie: 4:50 from Paddington didn't follow this piece of advice, which is a good thing, because otherwise it would be a very short mystery.

Agatha Christie: 4:50 from PaddingtonPlaying a hidden object game always means certain acceptable breaks from reality. For example, at one point in the game you have to go through an old lady's purse, and it is clearly not a real old lady's purse because there aren't any Werther's Originals. More seriously, if you're not familiar with the genre, in every scene you're given a list of objects which you must find hidden in the picture and click on. Occasionally the objects must be used within the scene itself, for example, returning candles to a candelabra. While some hidden object mysteries struggle to connect finding a chicken, a horseshoe, and the letter "D" to the plot, 4:50 from Paddington is blithely unconcerned, for the most part. It's only the mini-games that connect to the mystery: the aforementioned searching through a purse, testing for poison in a Mastermind puzzle, and matching clues by following the trails of rope. The game also offers you three opportunities to guess the murderer. The number of times you get it right affects your final score.

Analysis: This is the first game in the Agatha Christie hidden object series to focus on Miss Marple. The game continues in the tradition of the series by having well-drawn objects that are rarely unfairly small, and consistency in its time period and place. You won't be asked to find a cell phone, and if you're asked to find a hat, it's going to be something like a fedora or cloche, not a baseball cap.

Agatha Christie: 4:50 from PaddingtonWhat's more, the game's plot and story has improved markedly over its predecessor Dead Man's Folly. In that game, the large cast and sparse amount of information given made even understanding who people were confusing, much less solving the mystery. In this game, one can click on the gallery at any time to view all the characters who have shown up so far and a short bio of them. The gallery also allows you to go back through the chapters and see all the dialogue and clues. And with a greater amount of dialogue, you'll get to know the characters fairly quickly and understand their motivations. All of this is essential to catching the killer.

You can play the game in both timed and untimed modes, and once you beat the game in any mode, you'll unlock "find all", in which you can attempt to find every single object in the game—over 500 items in all. In this mode, you're attempting to find every single object while using the smallest number of hints, adding a lot more replay value to the game.

As for the writing, well, it's Agatha Christie of course, so the plot is better than 95% of the hidden object mysteries out there. If you don't know the story, you're in for a real treat. If you've already read the novel, the murderer is the same, so it won't be surprising for you, but the hidden object finding and mini-games are still high quality enough to make this game worth the purchase.

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

JohnBWhat goes into a Weekend Download feature? The recipe is a secret, but it involves lots of game playing, internet searching, and cinnamon. Especially that last one.

attackofthe50ftrobot.jpgAttack of the 50ft Robot (Windows, 162MB, free) - Ever wanted to play one of those 1950s era robot apocalypse B-movies? Yes, you have. And now you can. Created by a group of DigiPen students, Attack of the 50ft Robot puts you in the metallic shoes of a giant robot armed with lasers, a powerful punch, and the ability to pick up and throw just about anything. Run around the grainy grayscale city and crumble buildings as if they were made of gingerbread, then take on a group of UFOs when they start to get fresh. Two game modes and a 3D option (requires glasses) are included. It's a short game, but you'll be eternally glad you got to experience it.

technodronealliance.jpgTechno-Drone Alliance (Windows, 22MB, free) - A mouse-based arena shooter with a few tricks up its robo sleeves. You control a battle orb, a small circle who can attack anywhere you click. The orb is tethered to the home base which is the only thing that can take damage and gather power-ups needed to complete each mission. You also have a scanner drone who mulls about checking for enemies. Blast everything that comes on screen, then gather the leftovers to complete the stage, working your way to an epic boss battle at the end. The game's greatest strength is its ability to create a sense of teamwork even though it's a single player game. Your scanner and home base are your buddies!

apiwato.gifA Picture is Worth a Thousand Orbs (Windows, 7MB, free) - A tiny, quirky little platform game that's all about a square trying to gather circles. Each time you bump up against a wall, jump towards it and you'll slip through the membrane, tipping the screen 90 degrees and locking you in a different color cell. Also, it's really fun pronouncing the title's acronym like it's its own word.

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: 4.7/5 (39 votes)
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Dream Chronicles: The Book of Air

DoraSo apparently there is this thing called Dream Chronicles that is pretty popular. You don't need to have played the original games to enjoy this new trilogy, which follows Lyra, a half-human half-fairy girl, whose birthday party is rather rudely interrupted by a mysterious power that transports her to another dimension. (I hate when that happens, don't you?) She discovers that if she ever wants to return home, she'll have to seek out someone called "The Clockmaker"... which would be a lot easier if not for the shadowy presence that seems determined to sabotage her efforts and make sure she remains stranded here forever.

Dream Chronicles: The Book of AirDream Chronicles: The Book of Air is the first installment in a planned trilogy, and a beautiful point-and-click fantasy game that mixes puzzles and slight hidden-object hunting to create a beautiful adventure series that might not pose too great of a challenge to some players, but is still a captivating experience while it lasts. Please note that currently only the Collector's Edition is available; the standard edition will be released in a few weeks.

Use your mouse to interact with the world by clicking on various items and places. But primarily, The Book of Air is a puzzle game. When you begin, the game offers you the option to play in either casual or challenge mode, and if you want the game to offer the slightest bit of resistance you should probably pick the former. While casual mode offers simpler puzzles and the ability to skip them if you get stuck long enough, which is nice for people who just want to enjoy the game, challenge mode offers slightly harder puzzles, but won't let you skip any. You can't change the difficulty once you've chosen it, so think carefully. To help solve certain puzzles, Lyra will need to use spells, which are unlocked as you collect Dream Pieces scattered around the environment, so keep your eyes peeled for the tiny gems. (There are definitely more than you need, so don't panic if you miss a few.)

Dream Chronicles: The Book of AirAnalysis: Having never played the original series, I admit I went into The Book of Air with a bit of trepidation. Phrases like "half-human, half-fairy daughter" are to me the same sort of warning signs as bright orange colouration on a bug might be to a bird, and I expected an overly fluffy tale about princesses and pink dresses. Instead, The Book of Air puts you into a mystery from the get-go, and most of your time is given to trying to work out puzzles in order to proceed. There's a vague The Longest Journey vibe to the world you explore that I liked immediately, and fans of Myst will definitely enjoy the puzzle-centric gameplay. The addition of various spells is a nice touch, but some of them only get used once or twice.

Visually the game is striking, and wandering through it feels appropriately dreamlike. This downside to this is that the whole pace of the game is extremely slow, and not a whole lot happens. It seems like the whole point of this installment is to set the stage for the next; there are a lot of hints and whispers that point out something big on the horizon, but The Book of Air mostly just sends you from place to place solving puzzles. After a while, it starts to feel more like a virtual tour of the world as you fly from place to place, some stranger and more interesting than others.

Dream Chronicles: The Book of AirPart of the reason for this is a tendency to overcomplicate simple directives for the sake of lengthening the game. Imagine if you tried to make yourself a bowl of cereal, but when you went to get the milk the fridge was locked. To unlock it, you needed a combination. But the combination is encoded, so you need to find the decoder. But the decoder is torn into pieces and scattered around the room. So you hunt all the pieces down, assemble them, decode the combination, unlock the fridge, and get your milk... only to find the cupboard that has the cereal is guarded by a swarm of bees that need to be soothed with smoke from a specific piece of wood, which is buried in your backyard, and... well, you get the idea. It can be frustrating in The Book of Air since more often than not these extra steps take such a minuscule amount of effort to complete that there's no real reason for them to be there at all.

If you've been chomping at the bit for another foray into the Dream Chronicles world, you might be disappointed by how quickly the game is over. Of course your speed largely depends on how many puzzles you skip, and how quick you are at solving the ones you don't, but you can probably expect to spend around four hours on it. Try the demo and see if you feel it's a return to form for the series you loved so much, and remember that the standard edition will be available in a few weeks' time.

A Collector's Edition is also available. It contains a bonus locations and gameplay, soundtrack, strategy guide, screen savers, and more. Remember that Big Fish Game Club Members pay only $13.99 for Collector's Editions (or 2 club credits), and collector's editions count 3 card punches of 6 total needed for a free game.

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

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

Dream Chronicles 4 Walkthrough: The Book of Air

KeroWe've just finished a complete walkthrough (with images) for Dream Chronicles: The Book of Air! Be warned: contains major spoilers, so proceed only as a last resort.


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JerradCordyBy all rights, Cordy normally wouldn't be featured here. The Unity-based platformer from Silvertree Media is short, incomplete, and borrows freely from games with much larger budgets. It's also an amazing piece of work that just might change your opinions of what browser-based games are capable of.

You guide the TV-headed hero through lush 3D environments, using either the [left] and [right] [arrow] keys or the [A] and [D] buttons, using [up] or [spacebar] to jump. The goal is to reach the door at the end of each level, through pushing buttons, climbing up ledges, and using every part of the environment to your advantage. Controls are fairly solid, and the gameplay is plenty fun, but the thing you're most likely to notice is the graphics. We've seen some great things done with Unity in the past, but this is really in a whole new league. The animations are incredibly fluid, and the backgrounds seamlessly blend natural and mechanical elements for an experience unlike any other.

Anybody who's played the hit Playstation 3 game Little Big Planet is sure to notice more than a passing resemblance here. But rather than adapt an advanced console game into a more simplistic version, Cordy tries to go the other way, by pushing the medium almost until it breaks, leaving us with an unparallelled browser experience. The one obvious downfall of Cordy lies in the length, or rather, lack thereof. With only two brief levels, it will probably take you longer to load the game than it will to complete it. In fact, with the gorgeous graphics, captivating gameplay, and and relative brevity, it almost seems like less of an actual game and more of a showcase for what the Unity platform is capable of. But it's a very GOOD showcase, and with promises of more to come, this is definitely one to keep your eye on. I predict big things from these guys in the near future.

Play Cordy


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Rating: 4.3/5 (261 votes)
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DoraEasy JoeI would point out that a wise woman once said bunnies aren't as cute as everybody supposes, but Easy Joe, a short point-and-click puzzle game from Gamystar, is not only cute... it's pretty darned cute. Joe, our titular (and bunnicular) hero, wants to see the world. Can't say as I blame him, either, because this hip, neon world is as wonderful as it is weird. Each screen represents a little puzzle, and you click on different objects to try to figure out the correct order to proceed. A little experimentation is all that's needed, and there's no way to really get yourself stuck.

So, yes, okay, one glance at a screenshot should tell you that if the gaming world was a buffet, Easy Joe would be a light puff of cotton candy served to you by someone who could only communicate via improvisational jazz. I honestly wish there were more games like this; so gleefully silly and cleanly designed. There's an easy charm to it that makes it the perfect thing to perk you up during a coffee break, even if it isn't going to win any prizes for being intellectually stimulating. (Although I like to imagine the hot dog is watching "Inside the Actor's Studio" on the telly.)

The downside, if there is one, is that the game isn't called "Moderately Challenging Joe" or even just "Longer Than it Takes to Boil an Egg Joe". I would be surprised if the entire thing took you longer than ten minutes to complete, and there's really no reason to go back and play it again unless you just want to hear that toe-tappin', finger-snappin' soundtrack one more time. Still, Easy Joe is proof that you don't have to be epic to be fun, and this funky little gem should bring a smile to your face, unless you're the sort of person who hates joy. In which case, stop reading my articles, Mr Ebert.

Play Easy Joe


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Link Dump Fridays

DoraSo it's Friday, and you ask yourself, "Aside from this double venti mocha lotta frappawhatsis, what do I need to make my morning complete?" Answer being, of course, a ninja, a rusty pizza cutter, and a time-travelling mushroom. We know you didn't know that, but that's okay. That's what we're here for.

... well, that and the fact that without constant attention we'd wither and fade away. But then the same is true for any media personality. So everyone just stop paying attention to Chuck Palahniuk and everything will be okay.

  • One Hour BackOne Hour Back - It'll take more than a lovely plinky-plonky piano solo to win me over. This point-and-clicker is about Noah, a little mushroom dude, who has a time machine, which is broken. You'll need to travel through various places, collecting objects to travel even further back, by doing favours for people. The dialogue suffers from a few too many typos (or translation errors), and the controls often feel clunky and unresponsive (kind of like me first thing in the morning). Still, it's a cute game that would have been so much better with a cleaner, easier interface.
  • Ninja RunNinja Run - Inspired by Canabalt, this run-til-you-drop platformer is a completely historically accurate rendition of ancient Japan. Run, jump, double-jump, shuriken, and hook-shot your way through unpredictable terrain to get a high score. You can withstand several hits before you die, but it goes without saying that you probably don't want to plummet into the fathomless blue void that makes up most of your surroundings. There isn't really enough variety to keep it from getting stale long before you actually die, but it's a clever spin on a popular bit of gameplay that I'd like to see polished and expanded a bit more.
  • Nightmare MazeNightmare Maze - This odd choose-your-own-adventure style text adventure reminds me a bit of movies I've seen based on the novels of Clive Barker; it's kind of cool, but nobody knows what's going on, and there are a bunch of people in art-house berets watching it with me. There's some interesting imagery to be had as you try to navigate the series of nightmares the game throws you into, but everything is a bit too abstract to be really scary. Throw a barefoot Asian girl with long, obscuring black hair or some stone angels in and we'll talk. Actually, no we won't, because I'll be hiding under the table crying and hugging myself.
  • Amateur Surgeon 2Amateur Surgeon 2 - [Parental Warning: So very, very not for children.] A fine Scottish heritage has convinced me that I am equipped to handle any medical emergency with a combination of junk I found in my kitchen and old wives' tales. Unfortunately, people rarely seem keen to let me test this theory, so it's always nice to play a game that knows you're dangerously unqualified, but lets you operate on people anyway. (Again.) Just as ridiculous and gross as the first, but if you were a fan of the first in Adult Swim's cheerfully offensive series, that's probably good news for you. Hooray!
  • The Gun Game 2The Gun Game 2 - The sequel to 2009's aptly named gun simulation is here, and it allows you to customise your avatar, which is why the icon is an accurate representation of yours truly. The original was little more than an elaborate webtoy with accurate representations of real world firearms, but the sequel adds a lot of new material such as levels, perks, and jobs. It's actually a bit like what would come about if the creator of Super Crazy Guitar Maniac were a gun nut instead of a guitar prodigy.

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Rating: 4.2/5 (24 votes)
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joyeMonday, 16:30They say if you fold a thousand paper cranes, you'll get your wish. They also say that if you're an intern and you tell your boss about your great origami idea for Kenyan-Japanese relations, your boss will take all the credit and leave you impotent with fury at a cold, lonely desk. (It's a very old legend. Look it up.) Without even a computer to play solitaire on, it's Monday, 16:30, and time is standing still. Maybe with the help of the office gnomes you can beguile your true love in the tower next door with mime and paper airplanes? (Also an important part of the legend. I think it's one of the Icelandic sagas.)

Monday, 16:30 is a work of interactive fiction, so you use a text parser to interact with the game. The game uses typical IF text commands, such as l/look, x/examine, go to, z/wait, i/inv/inventory, and so on. In conjunction with the themes of the game, the game also uses some unusual commands such as "fold" and "mime". In general, when you get to the first use of an unusual command, the game explains it to you. If you're a total newbie to IF, you might try a game with a tutorial first, like Party Foul, or check out Brass Lantern's excellent beginners' resource center.

Analysis: Monday, 16:30 is one of the most ambitious games entered in JayIsGames's own Casual Gameplay Design Competition #7. The author, Mordred, is clearly as bursting with ideas as the player's avatar. In most IF games, the game designer is content to give you some evocative description, a compelling plot, and some clever puzzles. Easter eggs have a long tradition in IF, but Monday 16:30 takes it to the next level. You can find 6 cliches of the escape the room genre, 13 footnotes (including a footnote with its own footnote), and there are a number of hidden mime commands you can unlock as well. The final puzzle has three possible solutions, and on the way there you can try a surprising amount of avenues for such a limited and boring space. Most of them won't get you anywhere, but you'll almost always be rewarded with a witty comment.

However, this ambition and wideness in scope perhaps took up all the time and energy and made the parser suffer a little. You can "tear" a paper, but not "rip" it, for example. At one point when I was standing near someone else's cubicle, I was attempting to return to my own desk. "Go to desk" sent me to that person's desk. "Go to my desk" didn't work. "Go to intern desk" didn't work. I was stuck, helplessly typing commands. I finally managed to get out of it by going to an object near my desk and then typing "go to desk". Playing guess the verb is always frustrating in an IF title because if what you're doing isn't working, you don't know if it's because you don't understand the puzzle, or because you're not phrasing it in the right way.

If you type hint to use the game's hint system, the game mocks you and insists that you type gimmegimmeahintaftermidnight to get a hint, and every time you ask for a hint the game mocks you again. If you've been trying and failing to solve a puzzle, and after looking at the hint you realize you're doing the right thing but somehow you're not phrasing it correctly, the insults can be very frustrating since the game just repeats the same hint over and over until you advance. The use of mime may also be a source of frustration to many players. Trying to guess what someone is miming is difficult enough when you're actually looking at them in person. Trying to guess what a person is miming via a text description of the miming (especially when the text parser doesn't accept what turns out to be a synonym of the right answer) can make you want to go back in time and smack around Marcel Marceau.

The game could also have included a seventh cliche of the escape the room genre: coincidental instant motivation for escaping. At the beginning of the game, your character falls in love at first sight. Is it destiny? No, what a ridiculous superstition. Evolution did it. And something about neurons. Behold the man of science!

But the flaws of Monday, 16:30 come from an attempt to do too much, which is always the better error to make in IF than trying to do too little. The writing follows that kind of intellectual zaniness of Terry Pratchett and Lewis Carroll (both of whom get their names dropped in the game). The game finished a respectable 7th in the competitive field of 30 in the JayIsGames Casual Gameplay Design Competition #7, and it certainly deserves the recognition.

Play Monday, 16:30


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Rating: 4/5 (65 votes)
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Babylon Sticks: For Marketing's Sake 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: 3.7/5 (96 votes)
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Mikemike-dooboospidrix-screen1.pngSo we can all agree that butterflies are erratic, chitinous demon-pixies whose foul wormlike spawn devastates crops and brings ruination unto mankind, while spiders are effective agents of pest control and generally misunderstood benefactors of humanity? Right? Well, steel yourself for a twist, because DooBoo Spidrix, a physics-puzzler from Vivern Games Studio, asks you to rescue innocent butterflies, imprisoned by cruel, if cartoonish, arachnoid captors. It took me a while to wrap my head around such an inversion, but it turns out to be effective dressing for a very nice puzzle game.

As it happens, the whole "rescuing butterflies" theme is just fluff to justify beating up spiders. The actual goal of DooBoo Spidrix is to knock the spiders off the screen, using droplets of water to gently nudge spiders and other game elements to achieve this goal. There's something very Ferngully-ish about using dew-drops to effect the liberation of cute butterflies, though in later levels you also get fire and ice drops to respectively burn and explosively project certain obstacles. Which I guess is also sort of like Ferngully... Anyway, you only get a certain number of drops each level, and you have to use them in a certain order, so the challenge is in deploying your resources effectly and accurately to eliminate your spidery foes.

The game is a lot like other phuzzlers where you have to push certain objects off the screen in a set time, though the means of doing so is novel enough to be interesting. Puzzles range in difficulty from simple and basic, to not that difficult, but clever. DooBoo Spidrix is not supposed to be fiendish or taxing, and you could probably complete it in an hour or so. Whether you enjoy it will largely depend on how much you like cute music, colorful levels, and cartoony character design. I for one liked the bold look of the various arachnoid antagonists, even though they reminded me a bit of those "Free Smileys" banner ads that were ubiquitous a few years ago.

I was occasionally frustrated by a few puzzles, not because the solution was unclear, but because the game can be very finicky about where your droplets need to land. It also occasionally has the problem that other phuzzlers have, in that the physics don't always produce the results that they should. But in general, DooBoo Spidrix is a nice, light puzzle game with pretty good physics and cute design. It may also offer a window of sympathy and let you think kindly for a moment of the mistreated butterflies, before you come to your senses and recall them as the spastic madmen of the insect kingdom that they are.

Play DooBoo Spidrix


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Rating: 4.4/5 (5034 votes)
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DoraDoodle GodEarth! Air! Fire! Water!... heart! By your powers combined, I... am Doodle God!"... what, you didn't think I was talking about some lame educational cartoon from the early nineties, did you? Don't be ridiculous. This puzzle game released by Avalon Alliance gives you the reins to creation and tasks you with the creation of 115 total elements from a starting pool of just four. Click on an element to select it, then click on another to try to combine them; if they don't mesh, nothing will happen, but if your matchmaking works, you'll have a whole new element to play with.

And by "element" I mean that in the loosest manner possible, unless all this time I could have been a "Zombie/Plankton Mage" at D&D games, in which case I have totally been missing out. To keep things from getting too cluttered with sub-menus, certain elements themselves are whole new groups a la Earth, Air, etc. The game does lose some of its challenge once you realise the only thing standing between you and victory is essentially trial-and-error; rub enough elements against each other and you'll eventually get a reaction whether you planned it or not. I also wish there was a bit more to it than playing matchmaker, since the game's visual style is actually quite clean and appealing. Fingers crossed for a sequel that comes with a visual representation of the growing world you're supposed to be creating!

Like Doodle God? Then try:

The relatively low level of challenge makes this a lazy afternoon sort of game, complete with mellow music to help you unwind. It's an interesting take on the puzzle genre, and while not quite as complex as some people might like, it's a fun, relaxing little game that's easy on the eyes.

Play Doodle God

Play Doodle God 2


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Rating: 4.3/5 (138 votes)
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NorapolyArtbegottiWhat if Monopoly were turned into an RPG? That's right, you build houses, pass Go, and strategically attack your opponents... Not that you don't do that whenever you play the real game by angrily throwing the thimble whenever you land on someone else's hotel. (Or is that just me?) Norapoly, created recently for Mini Ludum Dare #19 by Nora Games' Nora Shishi, is a speedy miniaturization of Monopoly with some extra strategy and survival tactics thrown in for good measure.

Rather than making your opponents go bankrupt, the goal of Norapoly is to make your opponents lose all of their lives. Each board is randomly littered with special squares to purchase that give you attack power, defensive power, extra lives, extra steps, and what we're assuming is a boosted income when you pass go. If you pass over a square and you have enough money to purchase the square, it's automatically yours (no choices, sorry). All squares initially start out at a cost of $500, but an opponent can buy the square from its owner (and its power) for a price that increases $100 each time it is bought.

To raise more money, you've got to make your way around the board. You play as the blue player and start on the blue base (let's call it "Go"). Once you touch the other three bases (even if it's only a two-player round), you can return home to collect your salary. Be quick about it though, because once you've hit each base once, your base becomes a monopoly, and gets a bonus for every other player who stops by your base before you cash in. (At least, we think that's what happens. There are no in-game rules, so we're speculating here.) If you try to move a square already occupied by an opponent, you'll always get bounced back, but if your attack is higher than their defense, you can knock one life out of them. Conquer all of the enemies, and you win the round!

The random layout of each board means that rounds may take some time to finish off (such as one layout I had where there was only one attack powerup and many more defenses), but with a little strategy and planning, each round is conquerable. The clean 8-bit-esque graphics fit nicely with the speedy gameplay, and give the five levels of this game a comfy, old-school feel. So forget the dice, your sword is now your weapon. Go ahead and tackle Norapoly (and possibly win second prize in that beauty contest).

Play Norapoly


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Rating: 3.6/5 (88 votes)
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Weekday Escape

GrinnypMasonic MysteryAh, the Freemasons, where would conspiracy loons be without them? Whether you believe they were actually behind the Kennedy assassination, or believe that they control the world governments, or actually buy into the whole Illuminati/DaVinci Code thing, lots and lots of conspiracies would be all the poorer without them. That's an awful lot to heap onto a fraternal organization consisting of guys who do good works and exchange silly handshakes. Although, if you've ever been inside one of their lodges, their symbology does seem a bit...spooky, doesn't it? So why would you wander into one of those places only to find yourself locked in? Looking for the Holy Grail, perhaps? Or you just mistook it for the bar down the street? Regardless, you've gone and done it now, and you must solve this cute little room escape in Masonic Mystery. Who knows what really lurks in the depths of a Masonic Lodge? You're about to find out.

Designed by Abroy, Masonic Mystery is a fun little point-and-click escape. Nothing too taxing, although it might help if you could read Latin. And Music. Wander around the lushly appointed room searching for a way out before the members come back for the evening's festivities. I'm sure they only revolve around drinks and poker but perhaps its best to get out quickly, just in case.

There are a few clever puzzles in this quick little game, but as some are dependent on (a) color, and (b) some sort of working knowledge of music, this might be a little difficult for those who have problems with either. Otherwise you're looking at an enjoyable escape that is a nice mix of puzzle solving and use of found objects. On the downside, there is a lot of pixel hunting. Why do these game designers not use changing cursors? Why? It would make our lives so much easier. And when you finally get out of the room and breathe a sigh of relief, you will find an advertisement, but that hardly detracts from the fun of figuring your way out.

So if you're looking for a little mid-week excitement, or are one of those folks looking to prove the Freemasons were behind faking the moon landing, here's the game for you. You won't find any evidence, but you might find a little entertainment, and a pleasant way to pass the time as you try to get out. So get escaping! Just remember, if you're caught, I've never heard of you.

Play Masonic Mystery


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Rating: 4.4/5 (70 votes)
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TriplechainArtbegottiOkay, grab the dice and shaker cup, it's time for another dice game. Uh, hold up, we're going to need more dice than this... Go and empty out the Yahtzee and Monopoly boxes, because we've got to round up 45 dice to play this game. Perhaps you should grab the Risk and Trivial Pursuit as well? Triplechain is a dice game that stresses planning ahead and lucky rolls for making huge scores.

Each game consists of nine rounds of five dice. Your goal is to arrange the dice in the grid so that they create chains of numbers, joined horizontally, vertically, and diagonally. The larger your chain and the more quadrants you can touch with each chain, the more you can score. However, there are restrictions on where you can place dice on each turn. You can only place one die into each of the five quadrants (quintrants?) with each round, and the spaces in each quadrant open up in a certain order, starting with the sides (four rounds), corners (four rounds), and then the centers (one round).

In addition to placement rules, scoring each game has its own set of rules. Chains can only be made from 3s, 4s, 5s, and 6s. Each chain is scored by multiplying the number on the dice x how many times that number is in the chain x how many quadrants the chain is in squared. Thus, a key strategy is to spread the chains across the board and in all different directions to cover as much ground as possible. In addition, 1s and 2s can add to a bonus multiplier, but only if 2s are kept in chains of exactly two dice (+2x per pair) and 1s are in no chains at all (+1x each).

(Sigh.) Got all that? Your round of five dice appear at the bottom of the grid. Simply drag the dice to where you want them to go, and your score automatically updates with each move. Your three highest chains are marked with red, blue, and green, with 1s and 2s earning bonuses marked in aqua and yellow. If you can plan ahead and get some lucky rolls, the high score board awaits you!

TriplechainAnalysis: I promise you, the rules are much simpler than the brick of text above makes it seem. If you're still having trouble getting a hang of how the game works, there's a speedy basic explanation and full walkthrough available on the site. Once you get the basics of the game down, you'll keep trying to top your own scores and possibly the daily leaderboards as well.

While the game is somewhat lacking on sounds and fancy graphics, the simple interface is perfect for a game that stresses more mental gymnastics than fast fingers. Registration allows you to save your high-scoring games and play a multiplayer mode, where you race against a clock to try to score higher than your opponents with the same dice (note that it's still in beta, so expect bugs). Even if you don't register, you can still submit a nickname for a high score.

Once you get a hang of the rules, Triplechain is a quick diversion that has an odd way of luring you into playing again and again. "Surely I could beat my score from last game, couldn't I?" you ask yourself, and then you miss the 2:30 appointment because you've been trying for so long. It only takes a few minutes to play, then a few more to play again, and again, and again...

Play Triplechain


  • Currently 3.9/5
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Rating: 3.9/5 (58 votes)
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DoraThe LaCoGeSSta ResearchCan you walk with the animals? Talk with the animals? Grunt and squeak and squawk like the animals? Well, now's your chance to prove it by setting them upon each other in an all-consuming frenzy! The LaCoGeSSta Research would like you to run a few simple tests. Not on yourself, of course! That's what we have all these different species for. (I can hear your keys rattling off enraged letters on behalf of PETA right now.) In this puzzle game, your job is to solve each level by moving various critters around the screen with the [arrow] keys; when you bump into another critter, the one you're controlling is consumed, and control switches to the critter who ate it. Continue moving from critter to critter until you only have one left. Sound simple? Well, mostly. Each critter has its own set of movement restrictions, sort of like a chess piece, so you'll need to plan your course a bit more carefully. Press the [shift] key to see the entire puzzle at once, and press it again to get back to the game. If you get stuck, or if your critter goes soaring off into the void because you overshot a target, just tap [R] to restart the level. If you find the constant chatter of the background text distracting, you can deal with that in the options menu.

There are, of course, a few issues with the game. The game is, essentially, a one trick pony; ot would be nice to see the game test your brain a bit more by introducing new concepts and rules the farther you go beyond simply "here's a new thing, it moves like this". Your critters also tend to fall off the screen enough that it would be nice for the game to automatically restart the level for you when it happens (or just undo your last move) rather than requiring you to hit the button yourself. The themed menu, where you actually select options using the critters themselves, is a cute idea, but can be a little tedious in navigating when all you want is to change the options or turn off the sound. A simple click-to-pick menu might have been quicker, if not as cute. Fortunately, the team behind the game is already working on a sequel that addresses these problems and expands on the gameplay.

I'm a big fan of light brain puzzles, and The LaCoGeSSta Research fills that niche nicely, despite having a name that is officially the most tedious to type out repeatedly. (Developers, that was not a challenge.) If the gaming world is a newspaper, this would be the crossword puzzle you do over coffee each morning; simple and quick but satisfying. The randomly generated levels should keep you busy until the sequel comes out, but in the meantime, don't you have a bunch of beasties to force into mortal combat... for SCIENCE?!

Play The LaCoGeSSta Research

Thanks to RoomEscaper55 for suggesting this one!


  • Currently 4.9/5
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Rating: 4.9/5 (589 votes)
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joyeTransformiceCooperate, or backstab? Build, or destroy? All for one and one for all, or every mouse for himself? That's the tension driving Transformice, a multiplayer puzzle platformer where you are the mouse and the goal is the cheese.

Once you choose a guest name or register (just a name and password, no email), the game immediately throws you into a room. It can be very disorienting, since even if you click on the "help" button; it doesn't fully explain all the controls, strategies, and secrets of the game. There are over sixty maps, and on each map there is at least one hole and at least one piece of cheese. Your goal normally is to get cheese and get to a hole, and you do this with the [WASD] or [arrow] keys to move and jump.

One or two mice every round are chosen to be shaman. The shaman can summon objects near himself and use the "spirit" command to make mice jump farther. He does this by clicking on an object in the lower right, then summoning it within his range. But he must also consider whether he wants to rotate the object (mouse wheel, [Z] and [X], or [ctrl] and [shift]), whether he should anchor it ([C] is a free anchor to another object, [V] is a fixed anchor to another object, [B] is a fixed anchor to nothing, and [N] is a rotating anchor) and whether it should be invisible ([spacebar]). Then there's the sheer variety of things you can place on levels, from trampolines to cannonballs to anvils.

As even the instructions show, being a shaman is complicated, and your first try as shaman will probably consist of the other mice screaming at you via the chatbox at the bottom of the screen UR DOIN IT RONG, only probably less polite. So you'll probably want to change room to a room with no one in it and practice your skills. Type /room and then a number or word to change to that room, and if no one is in that room, you'll be the shaman every time.

Analysis: Transformice seems to be a game that is well aware of the various motivations for people to play. Some multiplayer games get utterly broken by trolling and vicious players because the gamemakers obviously didn't anticipate that playstyle. Transformice not only anticipates it, some levels seem to encourage it: in the quickly developing lingo of the game, duelling maps are where two shamans have two color coded holes, one for each shaman. Generally the first thing that happens on these maps is the shamans try to destroy each other or block each others holes. In fact, the game seems to take a lot of gamebreakers for granted. For example, some of the maps seem to be expecting you as the player to try for clipping errors.

TransformiceOn most of the levels, the best result for you, personally, is to be cooperative, and in many levels trying to sabotage others frequently results in your own death. While messing around occasionally is usually taken in good humor, true trolling as a shaman is very badly received in most rooms. You may be banned by the other players (/ban playername), other shamans may single you out for killing when the turn switches, or you may simply find that your audience simply scampers off to other rooms.

For me, I had the most fun playing when someone suggested in group chat going to a room composed just of people who want to earn cheese. A bunch of us did, and for a good hour we racked up cheese very quickly because we were all cooperating. Here's the funny thing, and it will help you understand why a game of adorable cartoon mice is rating-r: I can't tell you the name of the room we used because Jay would wash my mouth out with soap. Swearing and vulgarity are near constant in the chat boxes of Transformice. So are memes: when some epic fail necessitates becoming an hero, the most frequent shout is "SPARTAAAA!" (If you understood all the references in that sentence, you'll fit right in.) If someone is being particularly offensive (slurs are a deal breaker for me), you can click on their name and ignore them.

Never forget about the option to change rooms. Different rooms have different climates, which develop as people choose to stay or leave. In the total opposite of the room where I had the most fun, sometimes a room will develop in which every single person is using their term as shaman to try to kill everyone else, and every single person is having a lot of fun doing this. Ask yourself what kind of play style you like, and then try different rooms until you find one with people who like it too.

Take advantage of the ability to create rooms! (Be aware that no one owns a room, and anyone can enter.) Try out /room jig to hang out with out JayIsGamers. How about /room jignoobs for a more forgiving place where you're all learning, /room jigevil for a place where everyone tries to kill everyone, and /room jignice for people who want to be sweet and helpful? Do you have more ideas for themes for rooms? Suggest rooms and tell us your Transformice nickname in the comments! Really great Flash multiplayer games are not easy to come by, and the addictive and chaotic gameplay of Transformice ranks with the best. Plus, cheese. Oh yes.

Play Transformice

Thanks to SirNiko, B, Teasel, and Pil for sending this one in!


  • Currently 4.6/5
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Rating: 4.6/5 (63 votes)
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DoraRed Remover Player PackRED. How I hate it! How I long to send it soaring into the void through a series of cunningly planned physics puzzles! Apparently developer dynamo Gaz feels the same way, since he bestowed upon us the abominably adorable Red Remover last year. Now it is you who have fed my addiction by combining your creative might to come up with Red Remover Player Pack, a compilation of the 40 finest levels (minus some tutorials, of course) created by the community.

The idea behind the game is still the same; you want to remove all the red shapes from the screen, whether by clicking them into non-existence, or just making them fall off the screen. Green shapes must always remain on the screen, and blue shapes are neutral; not in the sense that they make good Druid characters, but rather that you can let them fall or stay and win either way. Gravity also plays a part, since shapes fall in the direction their faces are pointing. There's no time limit, so you can plot your red shapes' demise as you please, but your score (viewable from the level menu) depends on how few clicks it takes you to win a level. Obviously this click restriction will be unfair to our dolphin players.

I've always had a soft-spot for content created by the community, both because it's a fantastic way to showcase user talent, and it lets me see which of you are getting too creative for your own good and need to be weeded out. (I have to protect my job, you understand.) The Player Pack has a very ample selection of levels to challenge your brain (and occasionally your reflexes), and some of the designs people have come up with are very clever. And, of course, the most important aspect of the original game is still intact; I speak of course of the cuuuuuuute visuals. So go on; turn that red shape's frown upside down. Or, um. Right-side up, depending on the gravity... ? No, wait, because if it was... it's still a frown, so you turn it... oh, nevermind. Just play it already! And then make sure you fire up the level editor, because I can't wait to see you in the Players Pack Part Deux!

If you can't get enough of Red Remover, pick it up for iOS! It features a total of 80 levels, over half of which are exclusive to iOS!

Play Red Remover Player Pack


  • Currently 4.7/5
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Rating: 4.7/5 (191 votes)
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joyeCrush the Castle 2The King of Redvonia loves smashing things. "So what," you're probably thinking. "Who doesn't?" Well, my friend, the King of Redvonia has several advantages over you in the smashing department, such as an oppressed peasant class whose very life blood is being squeezed to provide the taxes for newer and greater projectile innovation. Not satisfied with the kingdom he conquered in the previous game, at this point the king has become a smash-aholic, invading another kingdom just because he's heard they've got great castles, and recruiting the best castle smashing talent that the stolen riches of his people can provide. A situation that can only end when one man stands up for the Best of Casual Gameplay 2010downtrodden, for the weak, for the defenseless... for FREEDOM.

Well, maybe that'll be the next game. Crush the Castle 2 is a physics game about smashing things. With a trebuchet! Woohoo!

The controls are as straightforward as the previous games. Click once to start the trebuchet, and click again to release its deadly cargo. Timing is everything. Release too early, and your missile might sail over the castle altogether; too late, and it will thud harmlessly into the ground at your feet. Once you get off a good shot, though, your payload will smash into the castle, causing it to topple to the ground while the hapless medieval folk inside burst like a bright red blob, leaving behind a tiny tombstone. Aww.

Crush the Castle 2Analysis: There are many kinds of sequels. There are glorified expansion packs and palette swaps. On the opposite extreme, there are the sequels you wouldn't even know were related except for the name. Crush the Castle 2 knows not to change the core mechanics that made the first game a success, but they've improved the art and added some great new features.

The difference that hits you first is that this game actually is trying to do a plot and characters. A somewhat absurd plot and characters, but hey, you're causing tiny jesters to hand jive on fire, so that's actually just what you'd want. As you progress through the different areas, you'll meet different characters who will give you more kinds of ammunition, from the trustworthy old log to parachute bombs to a jar of electric eels. The over all feel of the game has gotten more puzzly. Rare is the level where you just wail on the thing trying to get a lucky shot. Instead, it's critical to figure out just what to use and where to hit for maximum effect, and a little thought is all that's needed to figure it out.

The game also includes a level editor where you can play with all the new building materials in the game. You can even set the time of day and weather, and your control over the terrain is much more precise than in the first game's level editor. In addition to several presets, you can randomize the ground or make it the exact curve that you want. The builder also includes a great feature, "settle", where you can test the castle and save it once it settles into a more sturdy position. If you need some ideas for your castle, you can check out the "People's Empire". The game's only been out a few days and there's already over 26,000 castles to take a whack at, which promises that there'll always be new challenges to scratch your smashing itch.

There is one drawback: you must register with Armor Games in order to save, and if you're allergic to registrations, this might be bad. However, the site-specific save does have the plus that you can load your game from any computer just by logging in. It's a small hassle, but you'll have to put up with it, until the day when you set up your trebuchet outside Armor Games HQ. Then they'll see. They'll ALL see.

Play Crush the Castle 2


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Mobile Monday

JohnBTwo words for you at the start of this glorious new week: quickhook, and super. But, not in that order. You're smart, you can figure it out, no matter what day of the week it is.

superquickhook.gifSuper QuickHook - Oh heck yeah, it's more Hook Champ! A follow-up to Rocketcat Games original hook-swinging game, Super QuickHook is stuffed with loads more epic action. Tap the screen to fling your rope at the nearest ledge. Keep moving to stay ahead of the oncoming avalanche, and earn coins to buy neat things at the shop. Like hats. Levels are random and survival in nature, meaning you can go on for as long as you can, but there are a good selection of traditional stage-like levels to complete as well.

prozombiesoccer.jpgPro Zombie Soccer - Don't worry, it's not a sports game. Also, don't worry, there really are zombies. An arcade game at its core, Pro Zombie Soccer puts you in control of a recently-zombie-bitten human who is blazing a trail through hordes of undead trying to survive. Slide your finger up and down the left side of the screen to aim, and release to kick the ball. Build your special meter at the top of the screen and you can unleash one of three epic attacks that make quick work of the slobbering beasts. Inventive, well-built, and a whole lot of guilty fun.

pixnloverush.gifPix'n Love Rush - A too-cute arcade game that has finally made its way to the iPhone. The hungry main character wants some cake. All you need to do is hop around and gather coins, avoiding the non-coin things in the process. Each stage does something different, whether it be a new retro visual style, different scrolling direction, or crazy coin patterns to watch out for. Levels last just a few seconds long and your score is tallied at the end, making this great for short bursts of play.

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


  • Currently 4.5/5
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Rating: 4.5/5 (43 votes)
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Midnight Mysteries 2: Salem Witch Trials

DoraIt starts out with Nathaniel Hawthorne asking for your help; after what you did for Edgar Allen Poe, it seems you've gotten yourself a bit of a reputation, and the departed author thinks you might be able to help him unravel the strange circumstances surrounding his death. But before you can uncover the truth, you'll have to take a trip to one of the darker chapters in human history. Namely, a little place called Salem, Massachusetts, when it was a bad time to be a woman with an enemy. Midnight Mysteries 2: Salem Witch Trials is a gorgeous and clever hidden-object/point-and-click hybrid that asks you to use your brain more than most games. Who killed Nathaniel Hawthorne? Was it simple human jealousy, or a curse that did him in? Of course it could be witches! Some evil witches!... Which is ridiculous 'cause witches they were persecuted and Wicca good and love the Earth and women power and I'll be over here...

Midnight Mysteries 2: Salem Witch TrialsWhatever your stance on witchcraft, Developers MumboJumbo have crafted a surprisingly grim little game that deals with human pettiness, jealousy, and greed. Using top-notch visuals and sound, they've managed to make a game heavy with atmosphere, and even a scare or two.

For a hidden-object title, typical object hunting actually takes up a surprisingly small amount of the gameplay. Most of your time is spent tracking down clues and items to appease restless spirits, and solving puzzles that stand in your way, occasionally achieved by combining objects in your inventory. (Apparently by magical glue that comes out of nowhere.) Puzzles can be skipped if you're stuck on them for long enough, but what's nice is that you probably won't be; Midnight Mysteries 2 has a nice variety of puzzles, and while some are more creative than others, none of them will hang you up for too long. Also keep an eye out for ravens; the hint system is very limited, and each bird you click on only gives you one hint to use, so use them sparingly or you could find yourself staring at a hidden-object scene for a long time.

Analysis: It's an unfortunate trend in casual adventure games where most of them tend to assume their players need to be taken by the hand and lead from place to place with lots of reassuring cuddles and not-so-gentle hints. Midnight Mysteries 2, by contrast, thinks you are a big kid now, and are perfectly capable of putting two-and-two together. The game is very good at dumping the tools you need into your lap, and then letting you move at your own pace and try to sort things out on your own. The downside, of course, is that unless you're in a hidden-object scene the hint system is exceptionally useless in helping direct you where to go next. This is compounded by the fact that click-detection isn't very sharp, and the interface can be a bit cumbersome, in particular manipulating your inventory or tracking down navigation hotspots on screen.

Midnight Mysteries 2: Salem Witch TrialsBut where Midnight Mysteries 2 is strongest is actually its story. (Which feels like it takes more than a few cues from Robert R McCammon's book duo, "Speaks the Nightbird".) The game puts a lot of effort into making you feel like you're actually trying to solve a mystery; clues and portents are everywhere, including on your items list in hidden object scenes, which helps the entire game feel more cohesive. This front-and-center approach to storytelling is a welcome change from other titles in the genre, but Midnight Mysteries 2 is pretty close to the edge of becoming overcomplicated in its plot. Ultimately, however, I was surprised by how neatly the game manages to tie everything together. It isn't the stuff of legends, but it's a very satisfying mystery, and for once in a hidden-object title you get to feel as though you've solved it yourself.

Despite its flaws, Midnight Mysteries 2: Salem Witch Trials is an exceptional example of the genre, with just enough challenge to elevate itself above most other titles, and definitely the production values and atmosphere to be a serious contender. An average play time might look like three hours, more or less depending on your point-and-click prowess, making this latest installment in the Midnight Mysteries series just the right size to spend your time on rather than the newest Adam Sandler movie nobody really wanted to see anyway. It does sort of make you wonder which famous dearly-departed author they'll choose next... maybe you should be sending your requests for a Lovecraft installment now. In the meantime, give the demo a try. You'll be glad you did.

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 (32 votes)
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PuppetShow: Souls of the Innocent

DoraLadies and gentlemen, I submit to you that puppets be freaky. Never, ever trust anything with a tiny porcelain mouth and unblinking painted eyes. You should have already learned this, but just in case, here's PuppetShow: Souls of the Innocent to drive the point home. It's a direct follow-up to last year's Mystery of Joyville, and this is one point-and-click/hidden-object hybrid that manages to look good, and be just a bit creepy while at the same time being completely ludicrous. My favourite combination!

PuppetShow: Souls of the InnocentSouls of the Innocent takes place some time after the original, when your admirable detective skills get you summoned to a tiny village. It seems all the children have fallen into impenetrable slumber, and those adults who haven't also begun to fall under the sinister spell have fled the city. Suspicion has fallen on everyone from the toymaker to the fortune teller, but you suspect there might be a familiar face behind the mystery. No, not Angela Lansbury. Unfortunately.

You'll spend your time exploring strange locales, keeping your eyes peeled for the tell-tale wink of an item to grab, or the sparkle of a hidden-object scene, which will give you an inventory item upon completion. The "hint" and "skip" buttons take a while to recharge, but you probably won't need them much anyway. The game is good at giving you direction as to where you need to use items, so whenever you come across an obstacle, it's typically always clear what you need to get around it. Just try not to get sidetracked by all the mutilated, stitched dolls strung up all over the place, just waiting for you to look away so they can reach out their tiny, articulated fingers to the soft, unprotected back of your neck and ughughughughugh. Dolls. Why'd it have to be dolls?!

PuppetShow: Souls of the InnocentAnalysis: Souls of the Innocent is one of those games that you enjoy more if you don't let yourself think too much. The plot is fairly ludicrous and prominently features homicidal puppets and a duel with a robotic crab within the first half hour. Not to mention Felicia is a terrible name for anyone's "nemesis". But you can pick apart the more ludicrous plot points all you want, or you can throw your hands up in the air and go, "WOOO!" every time something new and bizarre appears. I know which one I prefer, and if you approach the whole thing with the same attitude you would reserve for any cheesy horror flick, you'll enjoy yourself a lot more. The game has an absolutely beautiful, creative sense of design in everything from its interface to its environments, and it's a real joy to explore. It's just a shame the writing isn't quite up to carrying along the creepy atmosphere the game is trying to convey. It's not bad writing, exactly, it's just... um... there. Stephen King it ain't. (You can tell because it's not trying to charge you twenty dollars for a story it already wrote fifteen years ago.)

In terms of difficulty, Souls of the Innocent strikes a nice, easy balance. Everything feels just challenging enough, with a nicely varied set of puzzles to solve, and the hidden-object scenes in particular are very well done. All the items suit their locations, and you'll rarely have to strain your eyes looking for tiny, skinny things. The only real complaint to be had in this aspect is actually that the art style tends to be deliberately shabby-looking in certain areas, and that can make some items appear washed out and more hard to find.

Unfortunately, Souls of the Innocent makes a common mistake for adventure games and subscribes to the "Just Because" school of item usage, requiring a specific item for tasks that could be solved by almost anything in your inventory. (And what kind of detective is put off by some measly spiderwebs? You're fired! Don't come back until you're Robert Downey Jr!) The game also enjoys a fair amount of back-tracking, which can get frustrating. The first portion of the game involves trekking around a handful of locations in a small town, but the latter half sees you stumbling around a very large castle, where having to go from one end to another just to pick up a single item can be annoying.

PuppetShow: Souls of the Innocent is fun, beautiful, and at around three to four hours depending on your speed, a fair chunk of adventure. I also never knew there were so many uses for unspeakably creepy doll mechanisms, so I suppose it's educational, too. It's not perfect, but with its rich design and memorable locations, it's far and away one of the more unique hybrid games you'll ever play and is certainly worth a look.

A Collector's Edition is also available. It contains a bonus gameplay, wallpapers, an animated screensaver, in-game strategy guide, and more. Remember that Big Fish Game Club Members pay only $13.99 for Collector's Editions (or 2 club credits), and collector's editions count 3 card punches of 6 total needed for a free game.

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

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


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Weekend Download

JohnBNothing like a tall, cool glass of game to wash the week out of your system and get you ready for the weekend. Dubloon could easily keep you busy until Monday morning rolls around, but Surphasm is unique enough to deserve your attention. Rein is a great diversion when you're ready for an adventure that won't take you a week to complete.

dubloon.gifDubloon (Windows, 29.7MB, free) - Pirates! Battles! Role playing! Dubloon's got all that. This classic-style RPG from Banov, creator of Assassin Blue, features an interesting storyline, battles that incorporate active elements, and fun dialogue and puzzles all wrapped in a surprisingly lengthy package. The game manages to avoid a few RPG banalities while playfully incorporating others, and the mixture of combat and loot gathering is quite well done.

surphasm.gifSurphasm (Windows, 4MB, free) - An extraordinary piece of exploration/puzzle gaming that will easily be overlooked for its painfully simple presentation and awkward control scheme. You play a freshly-hatched... thingie... that's trying to make it to the surface. Other eggs have been placed down here as well, and only the strongest and most intelligent can make it to the energy-rich land above. Swim around and solve some robust puzzles to follow the vine that climbs upwards. You'll even engage in a bit of combat along the way. There are 14 endings to find, and once you start playing the game, you'll want to see them all.

rein.gifRein (Windows, 14MB, free) - A short adventure game made in just a few weeks by Darius Poyer. Your secret bioengineering project is almost complete, but the lab seems to be collapsing all around you. Oops. Your research partner refuses to leave, though, and after an unfortunate incident, you'll be left to find a way out. Rein is unusual for an adventure game in that you can die (and die quickly), so don't dawdle and be prepared to replay small chunks of the game from time to time.

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


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World Mosaics 3

JohnBIt's picross time again! One of the few big-release downloadable picross games has returned with World Mosaics 3: Fairy Tales. Continuing the fine tradition set by World Mosaics and World Mosaics 2, the third installment introduces plenty of new puzzles, a new story, and keeps the same smooth interface that makes it one of the best picross games around.

World Mosaics 3If you're new to picross, the basics are really easy to pick up. Similar to sudoku in some ways, these logic puzzles combine clues with a grid of squares, each of which can be filled or marked out. The numbers at the top and left sides of the grid indicate the number of blocks that need to be filled. What they don't tell you is how many empty spaces there are. For example, if a row says "3 1 2", you know you'll fill a group of three blocks in a row, a single block, and two blocks. At least one space must go between each group, and by using logic you can gradually narrow down the possibilities until a picture emerges.

World Mosaics 3 weaves a story in with the picross puzzling, adding bits and pieces of it between each level you complete. This time around, you're doing research in the library when you come across an enchanted book of fairy tales. You're suddenly transported into the book and must find magical emblems by assembling mosaic tile pieces across a dozen fairy tale-themed levels. There will be some familiar faces, which is always a nice surprise, but the flavor text can be completely skipped if all you want is some quality time with your picross puzzles.

Analysis: When it comes down to it, any non-paper version of picross fails or succeeds based on its interface and control scheme. Nothing is as easy as marking a sheet of paper with a pencil, and when translating that to the computer, great care needs to be taken to make everything as intuitive as possible. With picross games you need to make both filling and x-ing squares easy to do. World Mosaics 3 presents you with two options: click to toggle, or click to mark. Both work very well (though I'm partial to the latter), and the game is smart enough to recognize click/dragging so that it doesn't override previous marks.

World Mosaics 3If World Mosaics 3 has any shortcomings it's that it doesn't even attempt to do anything different than its predecessors. The third game is basically the same as the first and second, only the puzzles are different and the storylines have been changed. Challenge is somewhat lacking in World Mosaics 3, and picross fans won't often find themselves getting stuck with these straightforward puzzles. In fact, just like previous installments, it's kind of a chore to work through the first few dozen levels just to get to the interesting puzzles. The tutorials can be skipped, thankfully, and the story (while disposable) is interesting enough to keep you motivated to push through the first sets.

World Mosaics 3 doesn't attempt mini-games or laughable gameplay gimmicks. Instead, it's straight-up picross puzzles. And for that we love it!

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


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Link Dump Fridays

DoraThere are things in life I love, such as fiddle music, comics by Kate Beaton, and pineapple pizza. And, also, more topically, doom, cats, gems, and dragondots! This week's Link Dump Friday has all three, and then some! What it doesn't have is the bon-bon baskets I wanted to hand out to you as a token of my fleeting affections. Those were Jay's responsibility this week and he totally dropped the ball. Way to go, Boss.

>:(

  • TowerofDoomTower of Doom - This defense title/evil overlord spell-casting simulator would be great if it weren't so easy to forget you were playing it. Hold off the understandably upset populace by building your defenses so that you can survive long enough to cast the "ultimate destruction spell". Unfortunately, there's no way to speed up gameplay, so you'll spend a lot of time just letting it run in the background, and the game basically plays itself. Also, the game immediately lost a million points with me for not actually letting you cast/showing you cast the destruction spell when the timer runs out. You're uninvited from my birthday party, Tower of Doom! And I want my Backstreet Boys CDs back, too!
  • EjectorEjector - Remember when we were kids and we used to play King of the Hill? This shooter/avoider is sort of like that, only without any teachers for you to run crying to when you get knocked down, Scotty White from second grade. Yeah, I remember you, you little tattle-tale. Avoid enemy fire while trying to knock your opponents off of the platform. Just try not to be a wuss about it when it happens to you. Scott.
  • Catnarok - Longcat RampageCatnarok - Longcat Rampage - As far as internet trends go, LOLcats may be fairly ridiculous, but nowhere near as frightening as what truly lies at the murky depths of the World Wide Web, and thus are comparatively harmless. (For the not so harmless, you need to speak to Chris Hardwick, I believe.) This shooter features one of the more notorious examples of that sordid subculture; Longcat. Click on enemies to make them explode, gain exp to upgrade, and see how long you can last before being destroyed/getting bored/the sound effects make your teeth grind down to a fine powder/your fingers fall off.
  • Gem GrabGem Grab - This is a puzzle game about grabbing gems. Also, rocks! Well, you grab the rocks, so you can fling the rocks, and grab the gems, to fling the gems through the space left by the flung rocks to get to the exit. Get it? Good! If the physics were a bit less zippy, this might be more entertaining. Or maybe less entertaining. I'm not sure. There are certainly times when I've wanted to send a massive, perfectly rectangular boulder zipping across the room, but people never stand still.
  • Dragondot's SkyDragondot's Sky - [Note: Please be patient, game may take a while to load.] Following the adventures of everyone's favourite Dragondot, this time in the sky! It's actually a bit more well-rounded than the first, which I loved a whole huggy bunch, but the controls feel as if they leave a bit to be desired. Soar around the sky to rockin' tunes (!), defeating all manner of distinct baddies to win the adulation of your kobold followers. Actually... it probably doesn't matter if they adore you or not. Just eat the renegades and the rest will follow out of fear. That's worked for me for years.

Rating: 4.5/5 (105 votes)
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Babylon Sticks: Back To The Arcade 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 (194 votes)
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joyeRagdoll TennisRagdolls may have soft, dopey bodies, but they have hidden talents. Apparently when they're not fighting off alien invasions, they like to organize tennis tournaments. Now you too can hammer desperately at your [arrow] keys while your ragdoll body floats nonchalantly towards the ball in Ragdoll Tennis

Ragdoll Tennis is one of those games that seems absolutely impossible when you first try it, so don't get discouraged at first. You control your floppy Pete Sampas with either [WASD] or the arrow keys. Your number one priority, of course, is to hit the ball with your square racket, but depending on your speed, spin, and other factors, you can make "super" or even "special" shots that are harder for the other side to block. Train up against a wall, and then enter tournaments. As you defeat opponents, you'll earn points to improve your character's stats and unlock customization of his colors. Word to the wise: max adrenaline first. It's by far the most important stat.

Although the game has a definite learning curve, if you stick with it, there's a lot of fun to be had with this one.

Play Ragdoll Tennis

Thanks to plasmasheep for suggesting this!


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Rating: 4.7/5 (324 votes)
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ArtbegottiFault LineRemember those old magazine ads where you could fold the page so that Arrow A met with Arrow B and a completely different picture resulted? What if you had the power to do that with the world around you? You could fold the earth so you could walk to Chicago in three steps, or reach the jar of cookies on the top of the cupboard... Well, Nitrome proudly invites you to start folding the world away in Fault Line, a new puzzle platformer. Plus, you get detachable arms! Sweet.

As in many platform games, your goal is to reach the exit, a purple teleportation pad located somewhere in the level. Best of Casual Gameplay 2010To move your robotic character, use the [arrow] keys or [WASD]. But jumping around isn't going to be enough, as walls, spikes, and other obstacles may impede your path. Throughout most levels, you'll find "join nodes", which can be used to fold parts of the level together. To do this, click on one node, and drag toward another node. You can see the area that will be lost in the fold outlined in white. To undo a fold, simply click on the joined nodes again (but remember that you can only undo the most recent fold).

Once you get the hang of folding the world, new obstacles will turn up for you to work around. Moving objects may disappear inside the space of a fold then come out on the other side. Lasers are deadly to you, but can be used to break through barriers if you can direct them there. Some levels begin with folds already in place that can't be removed. It takes some skillful maneuvering and some quick thinking to make it through each level.

Fault LineAnalysis: It's weird to think that a staple of Mad magazines since 1964 or a piece of origami could be the basis for a game, but Nitrome pulls it off in stunning fashion. Each fold becomes a calculation, as you try to predict where each move leaves you once the transformation is complete. Some levels even throw in extra nodes as red herrings, so experimentation is crucial to find the way out.

Moving the robot around is simple enough, but occasionally the folding mechanism can be a bit difficult with the mouse. Sometimes, it's hard to make the mouse "lock on" to a certain node, particularly if you're in the middle of moving or if more than one node are right next to each other. Also, it's somewhat irritating not being able to connect to a node just off-screen, but this was probably done to keep folds from being too dramatic, preventing you from just folding the start point right next to the finish.

Fault Line is a clever puzzle platformer that will have you creasing the fabric of the universe with every move. Each level brings a different challenge to the table, requiring you to push your mental folds in a new way. And if you find yourself stuck on a level, simply grab the nearest sheet of paper and experiment. (Just don't try to detach your arms.)

Play Fault Line


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Rating: 3.6/5 (65 votes)
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Weekday Escape

GrinnypFor most people, life is filled with constant questions. Why is the sky blue? Why do the birds sing? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why does Steve Jobs hate Flash? Why are so many good escape games in Japanese? To answer the last one we could try to draw a correlation between the average living space in Japan and the folks feeling constantly trapped, but that might be considered culturally insensitive. Escape from the Daily Room 3DSo how about we just guess that the Japanese really like locking people into small spaces. No? Still insensitive? Okay, then it's just one of those things we are not meant to know. Instead, let's busy ourselves with finding our way out of yet another Japanese room escape, Escape from the Daily Room 3D. And once we've escaped maybe we can figure out what exactly is a Daily Room, anyway? Yet another question for the ages...

Created by Strawberry Cafe (Lunar Rainbow Room Escape, Strawberry Cafe Escape), Escape from the Daily Room 3D is your basic room escape, done up nicely in pastel shades of pink, red, and white. A cutesy little three dimensional space, objects to find, puzzles to solve, and a strange creature are all hallmarks of Strawberry Cafe's work, and they are all present in the Daily Room. There's no music to distract from solving the simple puzzles, although there are sound effects galore to let you know if something has worked. Can you find the two (or two and one half, if you count finding the strange little creature) ways out of the room?

On the plus side: a nice save feature so you don't have to play all the way through again to get the second ending, no color-based puzzles to bedevil the colorblind, and easy navigation with the helpful red arrows at the edges of the screen. On the minus side: no changing cursor to let you find the hot-spots, and no English translation. The puzzles, while not difficult, are fun and universal, using numbers and English letters so no knowledge of Japanese is required.

Not the most difficult game, but Escape from the Daily Room 3D hangs together nicely with a blend of puzzle solving and found objects. If you're into that red/pink/white color palette (as Strawberry Cafe obviously is) and enjoy solving your way out of locked rooms, then this can be a delightful way to waste a few minutes. A light, frothy delight perfect to counterbalance the mid-week blahs and the increasing summer heat. The whipped cream with a cherry on top of room escapes, if you will. Enjoy the refreshing treat.

Play Escape from the Daily Room 3D


  • Currently 4/5
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Rating: 4/5 (101 votes)
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DoraThe BreachYou know what you need? Vomiting zombies and space moths. At least, we're going to assume that's what you need, because here is The Breach from Berzerk Studio, and it has quite a bit of both. It's a horror/action/platformer that puts you into the bulky space boots of a lone security officer, Sergei, exploring a prototype starship, the Hermes, that is suddenly not responding to communication. By the time Sergei discovers how bad things are, escape has gotten more complicated, forcing him to descend into the belly of the ship looking for the escape pods. And of course there are the visions that get increasingly more disturbing as he progresses, and the strange force that whispers everything would be so much simpler if he would just let it in...

The game plays fairly simply, using the [arrow] or [WASD] keys for movement, and the [spacebar] to fire or interact with certain objects. Your health is displayed as an orange bar in the upper-left corner, and your shields are the blue bar that overlaps it; shields regenerate, but health does not, so keep an eye out for rare medical drops from enemies. Of course, dying only respawns you back at the last door you went through, so it's mostly a temporary setback. Killing enemies nets you experience, which in turn eventually gains you levels, which in turn automatically applies upgrades to your abilities. Not that you'll notice much of a difference except where rate of fire is concerned. But that's okay, because scattered throughout the game are various weapons, armors, and other upgrades that are much more useful in monster busting.

The BreachAnalysis: If you've ever wondered what would happen if someone tried to combine Super Metroid with themes vaguely reminiscent of Event Horizon, well, here you go. It's got Metroid's runn-y/jump-y/shoot-y gameplay, and a story that manages to unnerve, even if it does get predictable towards the end. Everybody loves unexplained malevolent space entities, and The Breach has such a creepy one I wish it had put a bit more emphasis on the story than it does.

The Breach has the bones of a good scifi horror title, but the problem is that it has problems with pacing, and with a tendency to go for the gross-out factor rather than anything frightening. You fall into a rhythm; run down some corridors, shoot some monsters, Sergei has a vision, keycard, boss fight. You'll go a while before the game starts throwing new types of enemies at you; when it does, it starts introducing a lot, but too many of them seem like the developer was hoping you found bodily fluids icky. Man, a little less barfing on my shoes, and a little more fleshy phase beasts with an unsettling number of limbs, please. The game also isn't particularly challenging; most enemies behave like wind-up toys (admittedly somewhat appropriate in the story), and typically bosses can be dealt with just by finding a spot where they can't reach you and holding down the trigger.

The end result is something that feels a bit like it would have been served with more time in development so the creators could have spent a while fleshing out the gameplay to make it as creepy and interesting as the story. Everything is perfectly serviceable, just not as exceptional as you might hope for. The Breach has a tremendous amount of potential, and while it doesn't quite live up to all of it, what's there is still worth experiencing if you're a fan of the genre. The presentation is fantastic, with clean visuals, an eerie soundtrack, and more vomit, blood, pus, and ick than you can shake your grossly mutated and malformed fist at. Yaaaaaaaay!

Play The Breach


  • Currently 4.6/5
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Rating: 4.6/5 (475 votes)
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DoraLovedTrigger warning: transgendered individuals may find this game triggering. Loved by Alexander Ocias is a short platformer about... well, that's up to you. The game controls with the [arrow] keys, and from time to time you're given choices you can make simply by clicking on words on the screen. A voice follows you throughout the game, instructing you to do various things (or not), and whether you obey affects both your possible ending and the world around you.

So in essence the game boils down to deciding whether to question the directives you're given. Typically if you disobey, the game frowns on you for it. The whole thing has a very stark and unsettling presentation, and this was probably a smart choice; with its minimal design, Loved provides a blank canvas for you to project your own emotions and thoughts onto. Considering Ocias claims he wanted to make something "confrontational", letting players draw their own conclusions and experiences was the best decision to make. Of course, this does mean that people who aren't interested in introspection are going to look at it and wonder what all the fuss is about; Loved is extremely short, and not particularly difficult, and even a few playthroughs will take less than ten minutes.

Loved is also interesting in that I took two possible meanings from it, and one I really disliked. I've seen people "explaining" the game to other players, and I'm not sure I think that's the right thing to do; after all, if I feel one way about something designed to provoke a personal reaction and you feel another, does that mean one of us really needs to be right in our interpretations? Which in turn raises another interesting question. Is art only successful if it explains itself to everyone? If everyone "gets it" or loves it? Or is it still a success if just one person in the whole world looks at it and catches their breath? As a game, Loved is a relatively simple and straightforward platformer. Whether it's something else, something important, largely depends on how you look at it.

Play Loved


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Rating: 4.4/5 (88 votes)
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joyeProtector IVUndefined's Protector series has been wowing tower defense fans since 2008. The fourth entry in the series is finally here: Protector IV: Mercenary. It may not be imaginatively named, but Protector IV expands on the solid, medieval fantasy themed tower defense we've come to expect from the series with even greater customization and exploration, not to mention a huge variety of quests, levels and classes. Expect to sink a few hours into this one before really getting the hang of it.

Almost everything is done with the mouse, with mouse+[shift] to place multiples of the same unit, and [spacebar] to cancel out of a unit placement. The main part of the game is tower defense. Scouting reports about upcoming waves appear in the lower left, with important information such as the elemental strengths and weaknesses and other vulnerabilities. Based on this information, strategically place units on the board. Once you start a wave, killing enemies will increase your money and give your units experience. From there, you can choose to place more units and level up the units you have.

Between quests, you hire and equip heroes. "Heroes" are associated with two units and one element, and you can take three heroes into a quest. Depending on the quest, you might try to have all one element and six different units, or the same units but three different elements, or something different. In whatever case, you'll clearly want a full arsenal of heroes at your disposal. In addition to a main storyline of quests with linear progression, the game is full of side quests that pop up randomly depending on your skill level and your relationship with the eleven different factions. The side quests are offered by the different factions, and only by increasing your favor with different factions will you be able to hire the very strongest heroes. There's also an option to fund expeditions to discover rare artifacts, whose name, "Protectomon", suggests a certain "gotta catch 'em all" factor.

The inability to save during a quest will probably cause dinnertime and bedtime brawls between parents and children across the world. Parents: don't forget to tell your kid that there is no penalty for ending or losing a quest early. On the contrary, you get to keep any loot you've found up to that point, and you also get some experience and money based on your score.

The only real fault I can find with the game is that it's still using the same (terrible) sound effects. The shrieking bat in particular, when you're fighting a large, fast wave, is ear-bleedingly annoying. Thankfully, nothing in gameplay really depends on sound effects, so you can turn them off by clicking on the volume icon at the top of the screen and selecting the sound effects. If you hated the previous games, there's not going to be anything in Protector IV to make you change your mind. For the large number of established fans, it's what you loved, only bigger and fresher. Hit mute and have fun!

Play Protector IV


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Rating: 4.6/5 (172 votes)
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entanglement.gifJohnBEntanglement, from Gopherwood Studios, is a simple puzzle game that will remind you of a tonypa release both in terms of visual and conceptual design. Your job is to create an unbroken path that weaves around the hexagonal grid and touches as many pieces as it can. You do this by rotating hexagons one at a time, setting each one into place and extending the orange line with every click. If you bump into a wall, the game ends, so all you have to do is drag things on for as long as you can.

Controls are handled with either the [arrow] keys and [spacebar] to rotate and set pieces, or a combination of the mouse and scrollwheel. The keyboard is more accurate, but the mouse feels more natural. Points are scored for each hexagon you draw a path through. This means that even after you set a tile in place you can still earn points from it by connecting to a path that wanders its way.

Now available for iPad!

If you can beat the game with a score higher than 75, you'll unlock the Two Tile mode that allows you to work with a back-up hexagon you can swap with the current piece. There's also a local multiplayer option that lets you bring in as many as five friends. Now, not only do you have to avoid touching the walls, but you can't cross another player's line, either.

Entanglement isn't a new idea by any means, but its implementation is so smooth it will pull you in without hesitation.

Play Entanglement


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Rating: 4.4/5 (67 votes)
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DoraLarry and the GnomesI have been saying for years that gnomes are jerks, and nobody ever listened to me. Well, the jokes on you, suckers! Because now the gnomes are invading the kingdom and I totally called it. You're not going to get any help from me, but maybe if you're lucky, a dashing hero will come along to save you. Or, um. Larry. Larry and the Gnomes is a side-scrolling hack-and-slasher from Jazza Studios with a lot of weapons, a lot of production value, and a lot of severed body parts.

Larry is by default controlled with the [arrow] keys, using [S] to attack, and [spacebar] to jump. These and other actions, however, are completely customiseable via the options menu. Larry doesn't gain experience or level up, so how well he does is all down to you; keep an eye on his health (the red bar) because if it depletes entirely, you'll have to start your current stage from the beginning. Every time Larry does damage, he gains rage (the orange bar), and when he has enough of it he can unleash it with [W] to become temporarily invincible and dish out more damage. Enemies drop their weapons upon death, so it's important to keep an eye out to "trade up", since Larry can pick up and use any weapon he finds. Some are more useful (and varied) than others, and you can tell how powerful something is by the number that displays in the upper right whenever you pick a new weapon up. In typical fantasy fashion, bigger is better, so drop that stick and find yourself a scythe!

Larry and the GnomesMaking your progress even more difficult is the fact that the kingdom is what one might charitably call a "deathtrap"; the farther you go, the more you'll find the environments are littered with increasingly painful and deadly obstacles. So not only do you have to fight teleporting wizards, you have to do it while leaping forward and back over dense patches of painful cacti. Swell. Every several stages, Larry will have to fight a boss, and some of them require more strategy than others. Just keep moving, keep swinging, and keep bashing open crates to look for healing orbs and sweet, sweet treasure.

Analysis: Larry and the Gnomes is a game that received rather a lot of hype leading up to its release, complete with the advent of several bonus minigames to promote it. With that sort of chutzpah, a game is under a lot of pressure to deliver. And, fortunately, Larry does... mostly. The game is clearly a labor of love, and it was worth it, because Larry looks (and sounds) fantastic, with expressive little characters and a big, epic soundtrack that wouldn't be out of place in a commercial release. The humor can be a bit hit-and-miss, and there are times when Larry himself doesn't feel as responsive as you might like, but for the most part the whole package works very well. Every stage adds new challenges and gradually ramps up the action so that the whole difficulty progression feels very natural, and by the last few levels you'll be handling yourself like a pro. My biggest issue with the game is that navigating the terrain can be a bit of a challenge, since it can be difficult to judge distances and your point on the plane in relation to obstacles or enemies.

Larry and the GnomesThe problem is that for the first few stages, Larry and the Gnomes doesn't do much to disabuse you of the notion that you're standard sidescrolling hack-and-slasher with a few Newgrounds community in-jokes thrown in, and a few pages taken from Double Edged. It isn't until later stages that the game gets a bit more complex, introducing things like swinging vines, spinning blade traps, and so forth. While most enemies can simply be fought off by smashing the attack key and knowing when to back off, you'll have to incorporate some strategy before too long, since just standing in one spot and slashing like a maroon is a good way to get yourself dead.

Larry and the Gnomes is a mostly likable game, with a lot to recommend it to fans of the genre, and little to put them off. It also represents an enormous achievement for everyone who was involved in its creation. Aside from its considerable presentation, it probably won't do much to win you over if you're not already an action fan, but for those of us who enjoy a little simple carnage, Larry will soon feel like an old friend. Plus you'll be able to say you made it through the great Gnome War of 2010. There's something for you to tell your grandkids about over and over and over.

Play Larry and the Gnomes


  • Currently 4.2/5
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Rating: 4.2/5 (89 votes)
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ragdollcannon3.jpgJohnBThose crummy little ragdolls, always getting in the way, doing those things they always do, making us angry enough to fire them out of cannons. Really, you'd think they'd learn their lesson after three games. Ragdoll Cannon 3, Johnny_K's latest entry in the Ragdoll Cannon series, features more cannons and more of the floppy dolls you'll to use to solve dozens of physics-based puzzles.

The idea is as simple as the name: use the mouse to fire ragdolls out of the cannon. Each level is constructed with a number of obstacles (both moving, immovable, and movable) standing between you and the goal. To complete a stage, all you have to do is get a ragdoll to touch the rectangle marked "here". Just one touch will do, but as you probably guessed, that's never a simple matter.

Level design has always been one of the most entertaining aspects of the Ragdoll Cannon series, and the third game does not disappoint. Expect to use your raggy buddies to push boxes, ignite bombs, turn wheels, move boxes, tilt levers, and do dozens of other tricks as you cope with loads of crazy physics contraptions. The fewer ragdolls you fire the better your score, but sometimes it's hard not to let half a dozen of them fly just to see what happens.

The controls are responsive, the physics are great, the puzzles are an excellent mixture of challenge and trial-and-error, and there are 50 levels to blast through. You can even create your own puzzles using the level editor. Although the game hasn't evolved much from its predecessors, it's hard to argue with a concept so simple done so well.

Play Ragdoll Cannon 3


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Mobile Monday

JohnBWith power rumored to be as great as the Dreamcast, iPhone games are slowly beginning to stretch their legs and show what the platform can do. Grokion is a great example of this, piling detailed 3D rendered visuals into a 2D game that looks and plays great.

minerdisturbance.jpgMiner Disturbance - Adding itself to the growing array of treasure digging games on the iPhone, Miner Disturbance borrows a few ideas from the Motherload/I Dig It crowd and ventures out a bit on its own. Move your little mining buddy left and right using the virtual analog stick, and use the other buttons to dig in any direction and jump. Enter levels from the overworld map and complete the listed goals (mine an amount of silver, dig to a certain depth, etc.) to earn lots of cash that can be spent on upgrades in the store. Enemies, water physics, and the ability to create steps by pecking at overhanging dirt makes the game a unique entry in the digging crowd.

grokion.jpgGrokion - An ambitious platform adventure game that will remind you of Metroid in more ways than one. You are LDU-1, a lunar defense unit who happens to be the last of your kind. Your mission is to find your creator Dr. Savain and restore order to the biosphere before the exiled ones arrive. To do this, you'll explore twisty, interconnected passageways, upgrade weapons and equipment, and deal with a variety of foes. The visuals are strikingly detailed and add a lot of depth to this sidescroller.

warehouse51.jpgWarehouse 51 - Warehouse 51 starts off as a simple box pushing puzzle game, but things quickly evolve into something much more complex and interesting. You've been hired at a super-secret government facility to move crates of classified items to special containment areas. Your well-worn military surplus bulldozer can push crates but not pull them, and not all crates act as you think they should. The minute you see alien crates you know you're in for a good time.

thepackage.jpgThe Package - For an Incredible Machine-like physics game, The Package requires a lot of patience, trial and error, and precision. Your goal is to move the box to the exit in each stage. To do this, you'll place a variety of fans, conveyor belts, ramps and other contraptions to alter its speed and direction. You never have quite as much control over the box's movement as you like and levels are long and quite complex, which is where the challenge comes from.

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: 4.9/5 (40 votes)
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Blue LacunaKarlBlue Lacuna is one of those rare experiences that turns your set of assumptions about a medium on its head. Like Memento or The Usual Suspects or The Outsider, Aaron Reed's game transcends its medium to become more than the sum of its parts, an artwork that leaves a measurable change in the player. You might finish this game, but it may never leave you alone.

On the surface, Blue Lacuna looks like most other examples of contemporary interactive fiction: a screen full of text, a status bar, and a prompt. You interact with the world by responding to the prompt with a simple declaration: "EXAMINE STATUE", for example. Once you spend any time with it, however, you'll see that this is actually a unique interface. Taking a cue from hypertext authors, Blue Lacuna works on a keyword-based system. Blue words are objects to interact with, green words are places you can go, and bolded words are conversation topics. While the traditional way of playing IF is still viable, it's possible to simply type "statue" instead of the above example.

With that small amount of knowledge and the excellently done tutorial system, you're ready to go. Although I've been playing traditional interactive fiction for years, I almost never needed to use a verb to interact with an object, and when I did it was extremely clear what I needed to do.

If that weren't enough, at the end of the game's prologue it will assess the choices you made and give you the option to play a story-based game or the more traditional puzzle-based adventure. Rest assured, neither side is missing out; the story-weighted version has the same puzzles, but they're vastly streamlined in comparison to the more traditional fare. Personally, after finishing the game I had a peek at the walkthrough, and if you're not the kind of person who enjoys working out alien linguistics from a few clues, I can heartily recommend the story mode.

Blue LacunaTo those involved with the interactive fiction community, Blue Lacuna's elements have a fairly prestigious heritage: the adaptive hints and keyword-based conversation system evokes Emily Short's Alabaster, the surrealist nature of the story, Andrew Plotkin's Delightful Wallpaper, the deep world and puzzles, Graham Nelson's Curses. More importantly, though, are the things Reed does differently.

Analysis: Emergent or branching narratives have been seen as a red herring in game development for a while. Chris Crawford calls them a failure in First Person, the game theory reader. This is mostly because with every choice you implement that drastically affects the story, you essentially double your workload from that point on. In the world of AAA titles, this means exponentially greater costs: after all, with every new conversation comes new models, textures, voice actors, and animations, all of which have to be created by paid talent. However, with interactive fiction comes the freedom to try such unique approaches to game stories.

This is really where Reed excels. After the prologue, you find yourself on a nearly-abandoned island. Your only companion is a mad hermit, a man who talks in broken sentences and shouts at the ocean. Throughout the game, your interactions with him (or even actions in his presence) shape his opinion of you, his relationship with you, and how the eventual ending plays out. Depending on your actions and conversation with this man, the game could play in vastly different ways. He doesn't affect the puzzles themselves, but so much of the incidental dialogue and description of the game is influenced by his mood and relationship with you that it'll end up with an entirely different feel. More than anything else, Blue Lacuna is a game about emotion and memory, and it excels at manipulating both.

Blue Lacuna is something unique, as close to 'interactive literature' as I've ever seen in gaming. You owe it to yourself to try it out.

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Antique Road Trip USA

GrimmrookOkay, you bring the cheese puffs and the soda, I'll bring my best of the eighties and nineties CD collection, it's time for us to take a little road trip. Antique Road Trip USA is a standard hidden object game with lots of meat on its bones and more than a little Americana sprinkled on for seasoning. And don't worry, this road trip won't involve pit stops at convenience stores with overpriced drinks and lavatories of questionable hygienic value.

antiqueroadtripusa.jpgOur antiquing adventures across America's heartland center around young newlyweds James and Grace (and their adorably mischievous new puppy) who have decided to chase after their shared lifelong love of antiques. They've even gone so far as to opening their own antique store, only there's one little problem here. With no money, it's kind of hard to buy antiques to sell, let alone decorate the place with that appropriately old fashioned musty look that practically screams antique enthusiasts. As a result, Grace sends dear hubby James, and us vicariously, out and about to go rectify this situation.

Luckily we've built up a pretty broad network of friends and acquaintances all of whom are also antique loving maniacs. Thus we are able to pick up some change and the odd antique knick knack here and there by crisscrossing the country and coming to our friends' aid. This is where the bulk of the gameplay takes place. Each friend you'll meet will periodically ask you to do one of several chores, all of which ultimately boil down to one of three variants of object finding, or one of several other types of mini-games including jigsaw puzzles, and find the difference sequences.

After each chore, you'll get a chance to head on back home and use some of your hard earned cash to build up your own antiques shop. Just don't get too comfortable as it doesn't usually take long before the phone is ringing and Grace is kicking you out the door to help someone else with their junk, I mean antiques. Yeah, antiques.

Analysis: Okay, so I'm sure you're thinking that antiques are not the most exciting things in the world. I would have to disagree, though. I mean, I think that deep down we all kind of wish that the death trap of a crib our parents pass down to us for our first born might not be safe to put the baby in, but will end up paying for her college later on. There's something captivating about the idea that our attics might hold, unbeknownst to us, untold treasures worth a small fortune. Even if that doesn't do it for you, Antique Road Trip USA still provides a pretty fun experience for die hard hidden object fans.

antiqueroadtripusa3.jpgEschewing adventure game hybridization which has become pretty much the norm for object finders these days, this Road Trip goes back to its genre's roots. Indeed, it would seem that most hidden object games these days have adopted heavy adventure game elements, which is great, but sometimes you just get a hankering for some good old fashioned item hunts without all the extra frills. This is the happy niche that Antique Road Trip USA fills. Further, given the safe and almost non existent story, compared to the common ghost story/murder case plots that run rampant among hidden object games, this Road Trip does a pretty good job of focusing on the fun.

Surprisingly, despite the lack of complex gameplay and in depth story, Road Trip also exhibits some impressive production values as well. The visuals are engaging and animated beautifully, going so far as to inject a little polygon magic here and there. Meanwhile a pretty good selection of toe-tapping bluegrass plays in the background (if you like blue grass, that is. If you can't stand the stuff, you may want to go ahead and turn the music down in the options because there's a lot). Finally, there's just a lot of game here to play with somewhere in the neighborhood of ninety levels to keep you coming back for more.

Unfortunately variety is not one of Road Trip's strong points. While some of the object finding variants are pretty neat, the fact is that for each location you are playing essentially the same types of mini games over and over. They are well done mini-games, but that doesn't mean they don't still get repetitive. Also, if you don't like object finding, there's not a whole lot left in the game for you to enjoy. On top of there being little variety in the mini-games, the story line, for what it is, is far from compelling, edge of your seat drama.

What makes Antique Road Trip USA work is that it does what it does exceptionally well without attempting any pretense at being what it is not. This is clearly not a game seeking to bring new fans under the hidden object umbrella, nor does it attempt to break new ground. Instead it aspires to give fans of the genre a tasty morsel to chew upon, and here, much like soda and cheese puffs, it does a pretty good job.

WindowsWindows:
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  • Currently 4.4/5
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Rating: 4.4/5 (127 votes)
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GrinnypDismantlement: HDDTechnology is a wonderful thing, but as the years progress we become more and more divorced from the machines we use to make our lives better. Back in the good old days (more fondly remembered by those who never had to actually live through them) if something broke down (like a wagon, plow, etc.) the owner knew how to fix it or else they couldn't get anything done. Nowadays, though, could you repair your own car? Fix a TV? Replace a hard drive? Well, I'm going to presume you can at least do the latter. But what about dismantling the hard drive, could you do that? Yes, get your screwdrivers folks, it's dismantling time again, and this time, it's a hard drive! Welcome to Dismantlement: HDD, the revenge of the computer nerds! Or just Dismantlement: HDD, you know, whatever.

Dismantlement: HDD is the 6th and latest in the dismantlement series of point-and-click puzzlers by gam.ebb.jp wherein you, you lucky casual gamer you, dismantle a common electronic object using only a screwdriver and your wits. You begin with a hard drive and a screwdriver, and must solve puzzles and remove screws until the thing is nothing but a heap of spare parts. Fortunately it's not your hard drive and you don't have to put it back together again.

Hot on the heels of Dismantlement: Fan, Hard Disk Drive is smaller and less mechanical, relying more on sheer puzzle solving goodness to get to the heart of the hard drive, and — yes — the bomb concealed therein. Click around the drive using navigation buttons allowing you to move from front to back, or just click on suspicious areas for a close up. Remove screws (when you can see them) and solve lots of tricky little puzzles to get to the heart of the mystery which houses, as usual, a ticking time bomb. The people at Gam.ebb.jp really like to blow things up, don't they? This is the sixth time they've presented us with a common electronic object housing a nasty surprise. One would begin to wonder whether they actually want people to dismantle these things. Just a thought.

There's no changing cursor, so still a bit of pixel hunting is involved. The puzzles are all sheer logic, and there's no color puzzles this time around to bedevil those whose sight is lacking in certain elements. Although smaller than the previous installment, Dismantlement: HDD packs a lot of punch in a little package. Lots of logic and screws and no controls to fiddle with this time around. Jump in and have fun, this series just keeps getting better and better. Pick up a screwdriver, put on your thinking cap, and get dismantling!

Warning: Please do not rip apart a hard drive or try to put a bomb in one in real life, this will void your computer warranty and is, quite frankly, rude.

Play Dismantlement: HDD


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Strange Cases: The Lighthouse Mystery

DoraFBI Agent Claire Ellery has had quite enough of Tarot Cards. Unfortunately, it seems they won't leave her alone, and Claire is woken late one night with the news that her old partner is dead... which, strangely enough, coincides with the nightmare she was just having. The police think it was suicide, but Claire knows better, and so unwittingly sets out on a case that may require her to save the world. Awww, yeah! It's Strange Cases: The Lighthouse Mystery, a point-and-click/hidden-object adventure, and it's up to Claire to save the day by deciphering clues, tackling evil corporations, and visiting remote locations likely to house several generations of cannibal hillbillies without any backup or notification of her superiors whatsoever. FBI agents are hardcore.

Strange Cases: The Lighthouse MysteryBlending good ol' fashioned hidden-object huntin' like your grandpappy used to do and elements of standard point-and-click adventuring, The Lighthouse Mystery is definitely a solid and enjoyable title, though not without its flaws. Your time is spent travelling from one location to another, and solving puzzles in the multiple areas that make up each one in order to proceed. As you play, you'll go everywhere from a fallout shelter to an office building staffed by eerily complacent employees who insist catering to their employer's every whim is a "dream come true".

In certain areas, Claire has to find a Tarot Card, which in turn will have a list of items she needs to find in that screen. All the things you'll find generally look like they would reasonably be found in their locations, and there is usually a reason for why the places are so untidy. The hidden object scenes are actually done fairly well, although they do tend to feature a lot of small items. It'll probably make you wish the puzzles were as difficult; most of them aren't anything you haven't seen before, and probably won't hang you up nearly as long as hunting for a safety pin in a house you might charitably term "freakin' trashed, dude". Fortunately, the hint timer refills at a decent clip, and you've always got the option to skip puzzles if you like.

Analysis: I admit that every time someone makes a game about FBI Agents, I always hope for a story a little less "Dan Brown" and a little more "Thomas Harris". The Lighthouse Mystery features mind control, "anti"-artifacts, and would really like you to take it seriously when you're probably going to be giggling at a lot of it. The story actually manages to be pretty interesting, even if Claire does frequently make rather baffling leaps of logic. At one point, after finding an innocuous metal plate in a garage filled with junk, she suddenly decided that there must be a hidden message on it, if we could find a way to read it!... well, okay. Whatever you say, lady. I guess this is why I never became a plucky detective. (That and I'm not entirely sure what being plucky entails.)

Strange Cases: The Lighthouse MysteryThe game still makes some mistakes that can make it more frustrating than it should be in some places. Like the first, items are frequently small, and the finicky hot-spots that need to be precisely clicked on in order to proceed. It also occasionally feels like it's forcing you into busywork to pad the length; one instance has you traipsing all over a house through multiple hidden object sequences when literally all you need is a puzzle piece hanging on the wall in plain view in an area you gain access to almost right away. You know you need it, you even know exactly where it is, but the game won't let you pick it up because you haven't tracked down some gears and a fork in another location. Fortunately, the puzzles get more interesting the further you go; one actually involves attempting to sneak a specific item out of a distracted woman's purse without alerting her by making too many movements.

Best enjoyed with a sense of humour and a dose of patience, Strange Cases: The Lighthouse Mystery manages to take an outlandish tale and craft it into a genuinely enjoyable example of its genre. It lacks the atmosphere of the original, but makes up for it by letting you wear the worst blonde wig in the history of everything as a terrible disguise. The whole thing will probably take you about four hours to complete, more or less depending on how keen your eyes are, making it a nice chunk of gameplay. It's a fine addition to a series that's shaping up to be a contender, and I hope we see more from the developers in the future.

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Weekend Download

JohnBPiling on the clichés can be fun, and the heaviest-hitting release this weekend, GunGirl 2, does just that. So remember: big releases come in small packages. Also, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. And there's no time like the present.

gungirl2.gifGunGirl 2 (Windows, 118MB, free) - GunGirl was asleep in her giant bed dreaming about puppies when a zombie apocalypse wiped out every human on the planet. When she woke up, she grabbed her pistol and readied herself to take on the hordes. GunGirl 2 plays like Cave Story or Metroid with lots and lots of blood. You work your way through a non-linear world, shooting zombies left and right and gathering tons of items and equipment to play around with. The gameplay is extremely satisfying, and the music by Josh Whelchel is superb. A top-notch freeware exploration shooter zombie game!

lackadaisium.gifLackadaisium (Windows, 7.7MB, free) - A short, surreal puzzle project with imagery based partly on the creator's dreams and personal experiences. Use the [arrow] keys to fly around the screen, and you'll spend most of your time banging your head against objects. Seriously, that's how you interact with this freaky world, with your skull. It's an interesting and fairly short experience, but a great exercise in oneiric gaming.

baggage.gifBaggage (Windows, 3.4MB, free) - You know that feeling when you're running late for your flight and can't find your luggage? Baggage makes that a little more real. The slanted, static landscape filled with spikes feels just like a more-true representation of an airport, and the constant sense of urgency never leaves you. The platformer is short and you'll die dozens of times. But you gotta find your bags and make your flight, so, you know, perservere!

beepsandblips.gifBeeps and Blips (Windows, 1.8MB, free) - A game from the Action 52 remake project, Bleeps and Blips puts you in control of a flying purple ship trapped inside a bigger ship filled with enemies. Hover around blasting missiles with your own gun, upgrading it with orbs you'll find along the way. It's a classic shmup in many ways, including the high difficulty level, but if you can summon the vim you can charge through the game in a relatively short time.

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


  • Currently 4.6/5
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Rating: 4.6/5 (25 votes)
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Flux Family Secrets: The Rabbit Hole

DoraIn 2009 we first met the Flux family, and now the time has finally arrived to uncover even more of their secrets. Flux Family Secrets: The Rabbit Hole continues the story of Jesse, a young woman who discovers her real family may be stranger than anyone else's. (Yes, even your Aunt Marge who insists you set a plate for her poodle at the dinner table.) Following the events of the first game, Jesse is stuck in the past, and has no idea how to get home. Fortunately, with a little help from you (and, um... herself?), she can set history straight and return to her own time. And, if you have the computer capabilities, she'll do it all in glorious high definition. Yes, that's right; this hidden-object/point-and-click hybrid is the first true HD title from Big Fish Games. Please note that this game is currently only available as a Collector's Edition; the standard edition will be available in a few weeks.

Flux Family Secrets: The Rabbit HoleThe gameplay revolves around melding standard object hunting with old fashioned point-and-click concepts. Within each chapter, you're given a goal, and you can keep track of what you need to find at the bottom of the screen. (Or click on your current companion for a hint!) The hidden-object hunting is split into two categories; tracking down parts of an item in an area that you need to combine to progress, and standard hidden-object scenes. You'll also have to keep an eye out for objects in the environment that you can simply pick up to be used later. For your searching convenience, the game also offers the ability to skip puzzles, and a blink-and-you'll-miss-it hint option, but don't worry; both timers refill very quickly. You can also click on the magnifying glass in the tool bar so you can get a close-up view of areas... which, more than likely, you'll need to do to track down certain pieces.

As Jesse, you'll travel through time trying to make sure events happen the way they're supposed to; you'll find yourself, for example, ensuring Lincoln gets to give the famous Gettysburg Address, or that Henry Ford winds up making cars, not watches. This sort of means that you have to either be American or a history buff to really get the most out of certain sequences, but even if you're neither the game never stops being fun. In between fixing history, you'll get to explore more of the Flux mansion, and uncover the truth about Jesse's unusual childhood... and, maybe, her sister's bad attitude...

Flux Family Secrets: The Rabbit HoleAnalysis: It's been a little over a year since we first met the Flux family, and apparently the answer to "So what have you been up to?" is "Why, making ourselves fabulous, darling." Even if you don't possess the monitor or graphics card capable of rendering the game in high definition, The Rabbit Hole still looks pretty luxurious. Environments are detailed with period-appropriate items, and For me the biggest standout of the presentation is actually the music. Audio tends to get overlooked in most casual games, I think, and The Rabbit Hole features a lovely orchestral soundtrack made up of several pieces that are very easy on the ears.

Flux Family Secrets definitely has a Disney-esque vibe to it... specifically, it's a little bit Meet the Robinsons, at least in spirit. There are times when some of the notes you find left by members of the Flux family are surprisingly poignant, and I wish there were more of them. Frankly, the workings of Jesse's unique clan are more interesting than the edutainment the game likes to offer up in other chapters. And yet, despite that, you still manage to stay invested in the story, largely due to the interesting characters and setting... what? If all this happened to Jesse when she was a child, why doesn't she remember any of it? Well, listen, it's not that simple. There's all this... wibbly-wobbly... timey-wimey... stuff... Look, stop asking silly questions!

... and then can you pick out my clothes for tomorrow and tie my shoes for me?But while it's gorgeous and engaging and all that jazz, it's also not very long. Or at least, not as long as you might hope. The game encompasses twelve chapters (with six "bonus" chapters in the Collector's Edition), and you'll probably find yourself going through them quite quickly. A big reason for this is that the difficulty is very hit and miss. The puzzles tend to be fairly simple, but some items can be ridiculously hard to find in the rest of the gameplay; it's not uncommon to reach for a hint and find that what you're searching for was only visible by a corner poking out from behind something else, or simply just small, thin, and tucked away into a dark corner. The hidden-object scenes do seem to get a little lazy the farther you go; one asks you to find eight coffee cups, four Brussels sprouts, four liberty trees, and three mallets as part of its list. Really? These are bumps along an otherwise smooth road, but they're still worth mentioning.

While Flux Family Secrets: The Rabbit Hole isn't perfect, it is an extremely fine example of the genre. If you were a fan of the original, this return to the unique Flux clan and varied locations won't disappoint. Even if you haven't played the first, The Rabbit Hole will manage to hook you from the beginning. You can probably expect to spend around four to five hours on the game, and don't be surprised if you're left wanting more.

A Collector's Edition is also available. It contains six bonus chapters, the game's excellent soundtrack in MP3 format, and a built-in strategy guide along with some miscellaneous extras. Remember that Big Fish Game Club Members pay only $13.99 for Collector's Editions (or 2 club credits), and collector's editions count 3 card punches of 6 total needed for a free game.

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

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


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Rating: 4.3/5 (70 votes)
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DoraLight-Bot 2.0No time for love, Doctor Jones! We've got puzzles to solve! Light-Bot 2.0 is here to test your programming mettle. Using the icons in the top-right of the screen, program your little bot friend to move about his isometric environment and carry out tasks. Although it starts out simple, there's more to Light-Bot's seemingly straight-forward command set than meets the eye, and you'll have to engage your brain to proceed. Make Light-Bot jump? Can do! Make Light-Bot walk in a straight line? Got it! Make Light-Bot perform a series of actions using conditional statements?... wait, w-what?

If you were around in 2008 and not busy fighting off dinosaurs or the Inquisition, you may have played the original Light-Bot, which was fun, but short, and lacked any level editing capabilities. Enter the evolved form, which not only feels sleeker, but also allows you to create your own levels to stump your friends, or see what the community has to offer. While the game itself can be difficult at times, what's trickier if figuring out how to use Light-Bot as efficiently as possible. No, it's not what you might call "pulse-pounding", a "thrill-ride", or any other overused summer movie tagline phrases, but it's a satisfying little workout for your brain. And it's cute too!

To let you in on a little secret, every time you post a comment on an article, the reviewer who wrote it gets an e-mail notification with the contents of what you said. I was a bit hesitant to post another logic puzzle, because it would mean my e-mail would become flooded with further proof that you guys are way smarter than I will ever be. Ultimately, however, I realised I'd have to come to terms with it sooner or later. So go on. Get solving. Make me feel insignificant. I won't hold it against you. Much.

Play Light-Bot 2.0


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Link Dump Fridays

DoraOh no! Ooooohhh noooooo! Decree... draining personality! Urge to reorganise filing cabinets... rising! Must... fight... nnnnnngh!

... hello, viewer. Thank you for visiting us. Here are some games you might enjoy on this Friday, which is not special at all. Please remember to wipe your feet and use your indoor voice. Proceed in a calm and orderly manner. Have you seen my stapler? I believe I have misplaced it.

  • IheartPandaIheartPanda - I don't get the public infatuation with pandas. They're big and fat but they're still bears, and as such possess all the capabilities (and the desire) to render your face into a fine paste were you to try to rub their tummies. But, okay, assuming you "heart" pandas, would you still want one fired from a cannon at your face? In this little physics puzzle, you do just that; launch pink pandas at sad people, and the end result is hugs rather than maulings.
  • I Wish, I Wish - PrologueI Wish, I Wish - Prologue - I'm just old enough that I grew up with Joust (AKA the best game EVER) rather than Pong, but that doesn't mean I can't appreciate this fast-paced update of the classic. I'm not entirely sure what's going on, but it involves four paddles, a bunch of power ups, and the ability to make you seriously twitchy for a while. So basically it's just your average college hazing ritual, without the incriminating photos afterwards and the inability to look your friends in the eye.
  • Fantastic Contraption 2Fantastic Contraption 2 - As every craft teacher who ever had the misfortune to try to teach me something during my formative years will tell you, I am bad at making things. So while all the rest of you were off being creative flowers with the original Fantastic Contraption, I was avoiding it because I knew anything I tried to make would simply be a lurching, malformed and malfunctioning monstrosity that cursed me for bringing it into existence. Now, you can do it all again in Fantastic Contraption 2, only this time, you're going to have to pay for the whole package. You can play twenty levels for free, but to play the rest, as well as any other players have made, and create your own, you'll have to buy access for fifteen dollars.
  • Unnatural SelectionUnnatural Selection - [WARNING: Not safe for children.] I sort of wish I had recorded my initial reaction to this creepy-crawly simulation game when I found it in the submission box this morning. It was something like, "Oh, look, it's a game from those wonderful people who love the moon over at Rather Good! Let's see what this is... It's about... hmmm. And what's in the corner over th... oh. Oh, no. Oh no! Euuuuugh, gwaaaaah, what's... who does that?!" And now I'm sharing it with you! Place your worms in different locations and try to uncover all 16 possible evolutionary forms. Thanks guys, that was special to have before my coffee. I love you, Rather Good. Never change. <3
  • Ninja or Nun 2Ninja or Nun 2 - It is a well known fact that ninja and nuns are equally deadly, but it is somewhat lesser known that they enjoy congregating en masse and offer medals based on speed to those that can tell them apart. Once you've trained your eye to look for certain facial characteristics the game becomes pretty easy, but it's still cute as a button.

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Rating: 4.8/5 (121 votes)
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Babylon Sticks: Inspiration 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: 4.2/5 (200 votes)
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DoraHeirAntony Lavalle's visually striking platformer Heir is a bit strange. It tells the story of a "Pale Man" who arrives to save a kingdom from a plague of... uh... well, you'll see. That's one heck of a plague, though. Move with the [arrow] keys, jump with [X], and hold [Z] to make the camera zoom out and give you a better look at your surroundings. Which you'll need to do, because they're pretty big. You can't survive long falls unless it's into a body of water, and a single hit from . Fortunately, throughout the stages you'll find glowing orbs of white light that become checkpoints when you touch them, and hitting the [spacebar] will instantly warp you back to the last one you activated, even if you just died.

What the game is good at is impressing on you a sense of scope; the very first time you get a good look at your surroundings, it's a pretty striking surprise, and the way the screen trembles as you try to make your way up makes you feel appropriately small. The game frequently calls upon you (literally) to make leaps of faith, which can be annoying, but the [spacebar] offers instant resurrection, so you can usually point out where you should have been aiming for as you plummet to your doom. What it's not so good at is varying its gameplay. None of the game's chapters feel particularly distinct, even though the terrain changes slightly with each one, and the formula is always the same. You never really feel like you're in any sort of danger, and after a while you start wondering why nobody else could be battling this "plague" since you don't appear to have any special skills beyond occasionally making vague, mysterious text appear out of thin air. Someone get Mike Rowe on the phone, we've got a job for him!

Heir isn't a very long play, and ultimately I would like to see more of it. Just with a bit more variety. It feels a bit more like a proof of concept than a full game, and I feel like that concept has a lot of potential. At just three chapters, none of which are very long, Heir feels more like an "experience", and despite clearly taking a lot of inspiration from certain sources, is worth a look.

Play Heir


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Rating: 4.8/5 (176 votes)
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Mikemike-submachineexploration-screen1.pngI'm not sure if I'm being glib or hyperbolic when I say that Matuesz Skutnik's Submachine series is the Lost of online adventure gaming, but I'll say it anyway. I mean, I knew that both were excellent sci-fi tales about mysterious places, with imposing backstories and a knack for posing as many questions as they answer in every installment. But before I played the
Submachine Network Exploration Experience, I didn't know just how involved fans of the series were in discussing its mysteries and mythologies. Like the various alternate reality games involved in the marketing of Lost, the Exploration Experience gives fans of the series the chance to delve into the Submachine world like never before.

As the Exploration Experience declares from the outset, "This is not a game." There are no puzzles to solve (at least, I don't think there are), and no definite endpoint. Rather, it's your chance to explore the vast reaches of the Submachine network. Fans of the series will recognize the teleportation devices that whisk you from one area to the next, and once you find some location codes you can be on your way. Some locations will be familiar, while others are brand new, possibly foreshadowing areas in Submachine 7, coming out later this year (note the buried lead!).

In addition to finding location codes, you will also find notes describing theories about the Submachine. These have been gleaned from the Pastel Games forums and are written by fans of the series. Some of the locations even seem to be constructed to affirm certain theories. It's a great way to get fans involved in the series while providing more mysteries to ponder.

Throughout the Exporation Experience you will find all sorts of little clues and hints that possibly give some idea of what is going on. The design is such that more areas could easily be added, and Matuesz Skutnik has indicated that is his intention. If you are a fan of the series, the Submachine Network Exploration Experience offers all sorts of arcana to sate you until the next chapter is released.

Play the Submachine Network Exploration Experience

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

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

Ka


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Rating: 4.3/5 (33 votes)
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KarlKa.pngWhen we're kids, Egypt seems like the wondrous land of delights that it was in the eyes of Victorian England. Given the chance, we'd all gleefully use mummy spice on our fries, because it's not as if we'd ever get the chance to do it again. As we grow older, for many of us Egypt retains its splendour in our minds, retaining the glitter of gold funerary masks, exquisite organ jars, and baroque gods waiting for us to reach them after a Lord of the Rings-esque quest.

What we never expected is how claustrophobic the sarcophagus would be.

Dan Efran's title Ka, an entry in our interactive fiction and escape themed Casual Gameplay Design Competition #7, starts in decidedly close quarters, with your royal spirit crammed in next to your corpse. Most text adventures struggle to some degree with pacing, but in Ka, at least, your initial goal is clear: leave. After that? Well, you're dead. You have to come to terms with it sometime.

Like other text adventures, Ka is played through a command-line interface, where the player types simple sentences like >EXAMINE COFFIN and the game responds appropriately. On the user-friendliness scale, this one tips more towards classic fiction than Alabaster, which means that brand-new users might have a bit of difficulty with it. Although there is an "about" command for new users, it doesn't help with the restrictive first scene. Most puzzles are solved by singing ritualistic songs that you've brought to the afterlife, so a tutorial on that mechanic would have been welcome.

Ka is light on story and long on puzzles. If you're an aspiring Mensa member, or just someone who likes doing the crossword, this one will intrigue you. Some of the puzzles are quite ingenious; one, involving a mechanical beetle, was a lot of fun, although my head spins at the thought of trying to code it. Technically, Ka is impressive: considering that the main element of play involves a lot of custom vocabulary and verbs, the lack of bugs is commendable. The writing can be sparse at times, but on the whole the image of an Egyptian afterlife is well realized. One standout character is the game-playing automaton, who I found very vivid despite his lack of dialogue and constrained movement. The puzzles share a basic structure and ramp up in difficulty gradually. At first the songs you'll need to sing to proceed are clear, but eventually you'll need to use your ingenuity to make it all the way to the end. Although I was sometimes stuck, I was never frustrated.

All in all, Ka is a fun excursion into Egyptian myth, and well worth a try.

Play Ka


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Rating: 4.3/5 (98 votes)
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DoraTwisted Fairytales: Robin HoodRemember Robin Hood? Not like this you don't. Difference Games continues their series of oddball reimaginings of children's classics in Twisted Fairytales: Robin Hood. Use your mouse to click on differences between the two images in each scene; find at least five out of ten and you can proceed to the next page in the story. From time to time, you're also presented with choices that impact the direction of the story. Will you hunt down that strange object you just saw fall from the sky? Or will you risk another pummeling and try your luck robbing that caravan... again? You decide! There are four endings to uncover in this tale.

Unlike Goldilocks, Robin Hood's twist isn't gruesome. It's weird and wonderfully silly. The artwork is almost unbearably cute, making it a joy to play, and the inclusion of multiple-choice scenarios adds a nice bit of replay value to this short little game. The downside is that when a choice you make brings the story to a premature end, you have to start all over; there's no way to save your game. The decision to let you proceed with only five differences, some more subtle than others, means you can usually sprint right back to where you were, but some sort of Chapter Select screen that unlocks as you go would make a huge difference. Both of the final endings are also a bit weird; one of them seems pretty darned inappropriate if you haven't seen the other for a bit of perdspective, and neither of them is overwhelmingly positive. I suppose you could make an Aesop-ish argument and say the moral of the story is that greedy people get what's coming to them, but I would further suppose you would be also justified in wanting your happy ending.

Even with these shortcomings, however, it's hard to stay mad at the latest in the Twisted Fairytales series. It's absolutely beautiful, and probably won't take you more than fifteen minutes to play all the way through several times. While still not meaty enough to provide substantial entertainment, it's an interesting step in the right direction in an effort to make such a simple genre more widely enjoyed. Now if you'll excuse me, I think I need to go buy some teal hair dye...

Play Twisted Fairytales: Robin Hood


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Rating: 4/5 (80 votes)
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Weekday Escape

GrinnypYes, long, complicated room escapes are fun to get lost in, but really good ones are few and far between. A large, multi-course meal is only good if it is edible, so sometimes you might want to settle for something slightly less filling, yet very tasty. Today's mid-week escape snack comes to us from the ever expanding smorgasbord of Mild Escapes by Tesshi-e. Can you find the objects, solve the puzzles, and Escape from Piano Room? Hopefully you can, otherwise the music might drive you insane.

Escape from Piano RoomAnyone who has ever played any of Tesshi-e's escapes will be familiar with the set-up: locked room, puzzles to solve, objects to manipulate, and of course a happy coin to find for an alternate ending. The games are still in Japanese, although more English phrases are creeping in, and it is not necessary to read Japanese to solve your way out. The familiar navigation arrows and lack of a changing cursor will also be no surprise to Mild Escape veterans.

What is surprising, perhaps, is the design aesthetic of Escape from Piano Room. Gone are the soothing, lush rendered backgrounds. In their place are garish colors, wildly clashing designs, and some very harsh lighting. Combined with the piano/accordion music, well, let's say it's quite an incentive to get out of the space pronto.

Despite the headache-inducing scenery, though, the puzzles are top notch. Lots of logic, a small amount of combining of found objects, and no construction make for a tight, well designed puzzle. Perhaps the only complaint when it comes to the escape design is the presence of a color-based puzzle, but you will have to search pretty far for a room escape that doesn't include at least one.

So there is some pixel hunting, and you might need to wear sunglasses and earplugs while searching the room, but Escape from Piano Room is still a fun, logical, challenging escape guaranteed to brighten up the mid-week. Be sure keep the aspirin (or Tylenol) on standby though, just in case, although escaping out into the fresh air should clear that headache right up.

Play Escape from Piano Room


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Rating: 3.5/5 (110 votes)
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AdamCTake Something Literally 2Every now and then, I like to dust off the ol' grey cells with a more challenging mental contortion. You know—when slaughtering hoards of zombies or jumping from platform to floating platform becomes too monotonous (and young as I am, I can still appreciate just how ridiculous that statement sounds). Sometimes, I just have to give colorful characters and gripping storytelling a break and get down to some real problem solving. Few games can truly test the fortitude of my formidable problem-solving capabilities, which border on Einsteinian. Haha, I'm kidding, you'll probably beat this next game way faster than I did.

Following the original, Take Something Literally 2, by Benoit Freslon, continues in the footsteps of its predecessor, delivering 25 mind-churning, browser-busting puzzles. The setup is pretty straightforward; puzzles are arranged in rows of increasing difficulty. One star means the puzzle is a little annoying. Two stars will give you a headache. Three stars... well, you can extrapolate from there. Each puzzle presents you with a separate screen and a title which will be the key to figuring out how to solve the puzzle. And believe me, this can get pretty tricky, so you may be tempted to get some outside help. But hey, you're not a cheater, right? Walkthroughs are for wussies! (Note: Not actually for wussies!) In case you get stuck but don't want to get beaten up by your fellow gamers for being a dirty cheater, just look for the light bulbs hidden throughout the levels. One bulb will earn you one tip on a level, though sometimes these hints are almost as enigmatic as the puzzles themselves. Gee, thanks, Benoit! These little light bulbs are well-hidden, enough so that finding each one adds another level of satisfying challenge.

Analysis: What can I say? Take Something Literally 2 lives up to its title and often requires you to think a little harder than you might on your lunch break. I've touted the value of out-of-the-box thinking before, but it's particularly useful with the minimalistic presentation style and the various forms of solution inputs, like clicking, typing something in or reaching a destination. Some of the solutions become apparent after a minute or two, while others are (sometimes MUCH) more obtuse. In fact, one of the problems that plagues these kind of puzzle games is that you are often trying to do what the designer thought made sense at the time. The problem, of course, lies in the fact that you may not make the same mental connection between the title and the solution that the designer did during beta testing. Take Something Literally dodges this bullet narrowly because of its relatively high accessibility, but one or two puzzles require a certain amount of familiarity with the designer's work. If you played the original, though, you will be used to this sort of thing.

The whole appeal of the TSL series is the challenge. It is not found in the monochromatic presentation or the canned "reward" for each puzzle solved. You will, however, experience some "ah-HAH!" moments, particularly when... well, I hesitate to say too much, lest I be flayed for spoiling. So just go give it a shot, okay? The reward for each puzzle may be a little... 3 years ago, but we all know the REAL satisfaction that comes from this type of game is knowing you totally didn't use that walkthrough or ask anyone for help in the comments, right?

Right, guys?

Play Take Something Literally 2


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Rating: 4.1/5 (66 votes)
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KyleKing of ShapesBy dint of military coup (involving, among various forms of weaponry, a length of salami, a vat of silly putty, and one very evil pizza) I do hereby proclaim myself to be the undisputed king! I further declare that all games featured here shall now be of the misspelled quiz or mouse maze variety, Link Dump Fridays will forever be written in the most drab style possible, waffles will be banned, and I shall be served French toast every morning! The power! THE POWER! Hey, wait a minute! Where's my French toast? Why aren't any of you doing what I said? This being king thing isn't as fun as I thought. I wish my subjects did as I ordered. I wish I was like the King of Shapes; at least his multi-hued polygonal subjects obey him in his nifty new physics puzzle game from Andrey Kovalishin.

Granted, it's not hard to follow the decrees set forth by the King of Shapes. Usually he just wants you to place his subjects above some arbitrary line before dropping them into basins of matching colors (where they go off to follow more of the king's orders. Probably like fetching him French toast. I bet HE gets French toast). Why, you may ask, must you make sure the polygonal shapes are balanced above said arbitrary line? To which I answer, you dare question the orders of a king? How dare you! Off to the scorpion pits with... We don't have scorpion pits? Okay, scratch that, no scorpion pits.

In order to fulfill the king's wishes, you'll engage in gameplay that seamlessly combines the gameplay of stacking games like Perfect Balance, with destruction games like Red Remover. First you must lay down the supplies provided at the top of the screen in such a way that lets you place the subjects above the afore mentioned line. Once the king decides you've got everything nicely balanced (you have to keep the subject above the line for three seconds), you may now remove wooden blocks in a way that drops the subjects into their appropriate basin.

In this way, King of Shapes marries two common and well loved phuzzle types in a clean and admittedly cute package. The adorably cartoonish and infectiously safe soundtrack work well with a level design that consistently focuses on fun and ingenuity as opposed to high difficulty. The game even does a good job of avoiding the same trap many physics puzzles fall into wherein you can have the right "answer" but luck makes you try over and over again before the physics fall your way.

At only 25 levels, none of which are too terribly hard, King of Shapes may be over too soon, but it's definitely fun while it lasts. Oh, and we're not quite sure what is meant by the king liking to "banter" his subjects, but we're reasonably sure it's nothing untoward. Nope, nothing at all.

Play King Of Shapes


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Rating: 3.1/5 (56 votes)
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JoyeHold Your GroundWhat has royalty ever done that was so bad? Sure, there's been a few taxed-in-the-ground peasants and the trifling matter of some wars of conquest causing untold death and misery, but what's a little abuse of power between friends? Certainly it's nothing that deserves having one's castle knocked in on one's head, a la Crush the Castle. Hold Your Ground rectifies this situation by putting you in charge of building a defensive structure to guard the royal person. God save the adorable little bearded king!

Before each level, you receive important information about the incoming assault, such as the direction of the wind and how many guards you must save to pass. Then, you use the mouse to click on various shapes of blocks to construct a castle around the little floating figures, rotating the blocks with [Z] and [X]. Once you click "start", the figures will drop down to the hopefully steady ground you've placed beneath them, and various objects shall rain down from the heavens.

Analysis: Hold Your Ground is clearly a response to and influenced by Crush the Castle and its player pack sequel. Hold Your Ground makes effective use of sound and visual effects, and it's similarly no slouch in the physics department. However, Hold Your Ground does not appear to have learned lessons from the best games of its subgenre, which is the stacking puzzle.

The most critical feature standing between an amusing stacking puzzle and an exercise in mouse-hurling frustration is a good undo. Undo should truly mean undo, a return to what what on the screen before your cat jiggled your elbow and you released that mouse button a second too soon. Although Hold Your Ground does have a "bomb" icon which can destroy a piece on the field and return it to your inventory, if your mistake bumped another piece from its position, it can easily have already totally ruined the structural integrity of your castle, and there's no way to fix it. That leaves the only option as hitting reset. Making such a mistake just as you were putting in the thirtieth and last painstaking piece can cause rage quit in otherwise healthy adults. (Talk to your children about rage quit... before someone else does.)

To a certain extent, this is only so frustrating because of the appeal of the level designs, unique reversal of the destruction genre, and engaging art. I'm left whispering at the smoking remains of my mouse, "It didn't have to be this way, tiny beard king!" If you think you have the mouse fu not to make mistakes, or the patience to click reset when you do, you'll find a lot to enjoy in Hold Your Ground.

Play Hold Your Ground


  • Currently 3.8/5
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Rating: 3.8/5 (87 votes)
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KyleSoccer BallsIt's almost time for the World Cup and man I'm so excited! There's just something magical about the white lines on the fresh cut grass, the roar of the crowd, the, uh, the yellow cards and the, um, red? Yeah, red cards, and th... that announcer guy that screams "Goal!" for a really long time anytime anyone scores, and, okay, fine, I'm a big old faker. I don't really watch soccer, but I do appreciate that fans of the game around the world are poised in anticipation for the sport's biggest event. Just in time to celebrate the coming of the World Cup from Turbo Nuke, (the new brand for Long Animals and Robot Jam) comes Soccer Balls, a physics puzzler that can be enjoyed by hardcore soccer fans and laypersons alike.

Now if you, like many of us, can't score a goal to save your life but do have an uncanny knack for hitting random people in the face, there's nothing to worry about. You may never suit up with the pros, but you do have the perfect skill set to excel here. Unlike your standard soccer game, your goal here is to hit all of the referees with a soccer ball, thus making them lose their heads (in the cutest way possible and not at all like in the movie, Scanners. *shudder*). To do this, simply aim and adjust the power using the mouse, and click away. Of course it's not always that easy and you'll have to pass the ball to team mates, activate switches, break through wooden obstacles as well as pull off a host of other tricks in order to make it through each level.

Like Cyclomaniacs, also from Long Animals and Robot Jam, Soccer Balls is simple, accessible, and engaging. Not exactly heavy with eye candy, this phuzzle is nevertheless likeable and consistent, delivering up a fairly wide variety of puzzles that seem to do a good job of exploring the game's mechanic. Unfortunately, Soccer Balls suffers from being too easy. The overly generous trajectory lines and the ability to refresh balls in a single level result in a game that poses little to no challenge at all until the last handful of stages. Attempting to get a perfect score on each level can add some difficulty to the task at hand, but in most cases not a whole lot.

Just because a game is easy doesn't mean it isn't also fun, however. Besides, it can be quite refreshing to play a game of soccer without first standing against the fence next to the kid with the curiously persistent mothball smell and strange knee braces to see who gets picked last.

Play Soccer Balls


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Rating: 4.8/5 (324 votes)
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KyleMamono SweeperHey buddy. Watcha doin? Playing a little Minesweeper instead of doing those TPS reports like the boss asked? Hey, relax, I won't tell the boss, I swear. I just gotta ask, Minesweeper? Really? That's so nineties. I mean, come on, what's next? You're gonna start wearing your clothes backward (again)? Pump up basketball shoes? Look, before you try to bring back the slap bracelet and Limp Bizkit let me introduce you to the puzzle/strategy game, Mamono Sweeper from Homajaka Games. It's like Minesweeper for people who've heard of MP3 players.

Mamono Sweeper is very similar to its ancient ancestor with some key differences. The first is that instead of bombs concealed behind anonymous tiles, you're sweeping for monsters. And you can't just avoid them, eventually you're going to have to reveal and kill all of the monsters on the board if you want to win. This is where you run into another twist that Mamono throws into the mix. Each monster has its own level. If your experience level is equal or greater to a monster, than you can click that monster without fear of taking on damage. Be careful, though, because if you click on a monster that is a higher level than you, he'll take some of your precious few hit points, or if the monster's high enough in level, it will kill you outright. Thankfully, every time you kill a monster without dying, you earn experience points. Pick up enough of those, and you'll advance to the next level letting you kill more monsters safely.

Which brings me to the other biggest difference between Mamono Sweeper and Minesweeper; the numbering system. In the classic original, the numbers simply told you how many bombs were adjacent to any one given square. In Mamono, the numbers that you see are equal to the sum of all the levels of all the monsters adjacent to that square. Thus, if you reveal a block with a three that could mean that one of the adjacent blocks is one level three monster or three level one monsters. Don't forget that you can click on a monster you've already "killed" in order to get a number for that square as well.

What you get when you take all these variations on the original formula and put them together is a game that looks like Minesweeper, plays like Minesweeper, is as addictive as Minesweeper, but is ultimately deeper and more fleshed out than Minesweeper. The original eventually became a game of pattern recognition as you learned to interpret various number configurations into mine locations. Here a more complex level of math is involved making such connections trickier to make, and the ability to take damage without dying introduces the sacrificial choices, that is, do you take a level four monster now in order to level up quicker, or do you play it safe and spend the extra time looking for lower level enemies? Thus strategy plays a much larger role in Mamono Sweeper than it ever did in Minesweeper.

And it's customizable, offering easy and hard modes right below the playing window, so you don't have an excuse not to play. So if you missed this gem when we first featured it for Link Dump Friday, be sure to give this game a shot. And, oh, hey, is that a CD player? That's so... quaint.

Play Mamono Sweeper


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Rating: 4.2/5 (126 votes)
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DoraHeart of TotaHey, you! Where's your fedora? How can you expect to delve into ancient tombs without a hat? It's just not professional! Heart of Tota is the newest point-and-click adventure game from Pencil Kids, and your chance to prove you deserve to wield that adventurer's bullwhip you have hidden in the back of your closet underneath your Snuggie that you think we don't know about. You play an unnamed, faceless explorer who has landed on an island in search of the Heart of Tota, a legendary artifact inside a gloomy temple. Using your mouse to interact with the screen, solve the puzzles to get the items you need to progress. Pencil Kids continues their tradition of surprisingly sneaky puzzle solutions, so you'll have to explore everything and pay attention to your surroundings in order to proceed.

Pencil Kids has always been known for short, fun games, but in the past have made things a bit too easy with their tendency to point out every hot-spot on the screen. Heart of Tota feels like more of a challenge simply because the only help you get is when your cursor changes as it passes over areas you can interact with. You probably won't ever be stumped for long; if the solution to a puzzle isn't in the room with you, it's usually nearby, so keep your eyes peeled for unusual, um, embellishments. The one thing that feels like its missing, unfortunately, is a bit of character. While it's definitely refreshing to see Pencil Kids step away from the hand-holding area design, it's a bit disappointing to find a complete lack of the strange and interesting characters that usually live inside their games. Heart of Tota could definitely have done with a bit of story or context beyond "you are an adventurer, presumably, and thus enjoy shiny things" to flesh it out a bit.

Heart of Tota will probably take you about half an hour or less to run through, depending on the girth of your adventurer's glands, and earns its rating for a single scene that may make you jump if you're not expecting it. Even without a story, the game is just challenging enough to provide a nice snack to get all your cylinders firing, and comes packaged with a lovely aesthetic to boot. Just remember; real heroes never leave their hats behind.

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Mobile Monday

JohnBWe could go on and on about all the games featured below, but let's face it, you'll probably stop listening after you see the word Carcassonne. Yes, Carcassonne is out for the iPod Touch, iPhone and iPad, so you can play it in-between times that you'd probably be playing it anyway.

icarcassonne.jpgCarcassonne - The extraordinarily popular board game makes its way to the iTunes App Store, and all it lost in the Best of Casual Gameplay 2010transition was a bit of paper. Play against friends or against the computer AI (or complete solo games and challenge friends to beat your score) as you take turns placing tiles that form the walled medieval city of Carcassonne. After a tile has been placed, you can occupy one of its features (road, field, city, or cloister) with a person. There's a tutorial that walks you through all of this, so if you're a Carcassonne newbie, you'll be just fine. The game is remarkably faithful to the original, which fans will appreciate, and the interface is smooth and easy to use. A perfect adaptation!

sigmaiphone.jpgSigma - If you enjoyed Unify (and you really, really should have), Sigma will get your brain going in much the same way. Two cylinders of tiles face each other from either side of the screen. Use your fingers to rotate the shapes and tap the screen to send the middle block to the other side. Make matches of three or more and you'll chisel away at the cylinders and eventually progress to more difficult levels. Great design, smooth gameplay, and a colorblind mode makes things especially friendly for all players.

thinkiphone.jpgTHINK - Brain training games are still popular with mobile gamers, and THINK is a solid entry in that genre. Complete challenges in four categories (reckon, comprehend, memorize, think), each with its own set of games and puzzles to complete. Best your own scores in the daily test to see how good you are at each one. Simple design that does an excellent job showcasing the brain teasers!

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


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Rating: 4.7/5 (31 votes)
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Penumbra

DoraFrictional Games' indie survival horror series Penumbra encompasses three games (Overture, Black Plague, and Requiem) and a whole lotta shriekin'. The series follows a man named Philip who gets a letter one day from his father. Not unusual until you consider that Philip has never actually met his father, and the letter pleads with him to retrieve the contents of a safety deposit box and then burn it all. Curiosity gets the better of him, however, and Philip follows the coordinates on a map to Greenland, and a mine deep beneath the ice where the constant threat of a cave-in might be preferable to what else shares the darkness with him. Hope you brought your flashlight...

PenumbraWhile most of the keys can be configured to your taste, including the default [WASD] movement, the game is largely controlled with the mouse. Not only do you point and click, but you click and hold on objects to pick them up and toss them around, and some objects actually respond to mouse movement. To use levers, for example, you click and hold on them, then push the mouse towards or away from yourself. It works really well... except when it doesn't, and you have to spend a few frustrating moments fiddling with your orientation and waggling the mouse around experimentally to find out what you should be doing. (Valves or anything you need to spin can be fairly vexing if you're not facing them properly.) The rest of the time, it adds a nice touch to the atmosphere; pushing and shoving furniture into place to block a door, or flinging bottles of ketchup around a freezer to watch them shatter. What, come on, that's totally useful!

Philip is a lover. At least, we're going to assume he is, because he sure ain't a fighter. There is an enormous emphasis on stealth in the series, from throwing objects to distract or mislead enemies to quietly extinguishing lanterns so you can sneak around. You'll learn to utilise cover in your environment by peering around it or through cracks, and most areas are well designed enough as to allow the careful player to sneak through undetected. A relief, since the Pushme-Pullyou mouse movements that generally serve the immersion so well when exploring sadly fall more than a little short of presenting any decent combat capabilities in Overture. I assume you, sirs and madams, I can swing a pickaxe much more competently than this game would lead you to believe. Thankfully, only the first title features combat. The other two largely encourage you to run your butt off, or hide like the little rabbit you are.

PenumbraAs you go along, Phillip jots down notes in his journal to help keep you on track, as well as catalogue the various documents you'll find. While the game autosaves for you from time to time, the only way to manually save your game is by finding and using a Pier 1 Import Decorative Patio Lantern mystical artifact that glows with an eerie orange light. (... and looks like a decorative patio lantern.) They're not very common, and you can't take them with you, so make sure to use them whenever possible.

Analysis: From start to finish, the Penumbra series manages to improve quite a bit as it goes along. The story that evolves feels a bit like someone left the script for their Resident Evil/Silent Hill crossover fanfiction too close to a copy of Eternal Darkness, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Certain elements to the story will be familiar if you've followed the horror gaming scene at all, but Penumbra presents them with style. You never feel safe, and in a survival horror title, that's incredibly important to the experience. You find yourself second-guessing choices, or crouched in your hiding place wondering if it's safe to come out, and the game delights in messing with your perceptions.

The first in the series, Overture, has more than a few frightening moments. Hiding is always preferable to fighting, and as such you'll spend a lot of time crouched in dark corners hoping whatever you can hear snuffling nearby doesn't wander too close. Picking up directly where it leaves off, its sequel, Black Plague, features an extremely tense sequence right from the get-go and doesn't let up. I found myself dreading every corner and closed door, and was genuinely terrified when the cat chose an inopportune time to brush against my bare leg. Frictional Games has a wonderful gift for psychological horror, feeding you little glimpses and soft sounds so that your mind fills in the blanks with the worst you can dream up. What's making noise behind that door?! Clowns and squid? Clownsquid? NooOOOoOoo!

PenumbraThe puzzles are mostly fair, relying a bit more on logic than switch-flipping the further you go. More often than not, the physics engine plays a part in solving problems. At one point in Black Plague I was presented with a locked cabinet the game informed me I couldn't open with my bare hands, and I cannot tell you how thrilled I was when I discovered that, yes, I could bash the sucker open with any nearby heavy object if I swung it hard enough, rather than having to track down a particular item to jimmy it open. I was immensely impressed to find that more often than not my instinctual reaction to a puzzle would turn out to be correct; use debris to build ramps and pathways, sparks from malfunctioning equipment to light fires, and so forth.

Visually, the games are... well, functional. The looks certainly aren't bad, with some terrific use of lighting to cast shadows, but some of the textures are disappointingly muddy even at a medium distance. But hey, graphics? We don't need no steekeeng graphics, and you don't come to Penumbra to be woo'ed with fancy cell shading. The series is tremendously clever in its use of sound to enhance the experience, everything from whispers you aren't quite sure you heard, to something skittering through the walls, to something unpleasant happening to someone else close by.

Of course, once you're done with Penumbra, you're done. There isn't really much reason to replay, since most of the atmosphere will be lost once you've seen everything the game throws at you and know what to expect. But for me, at least, the lack of real replay value doesn't matter because Penumbra was a great experience; the sort of experience that makes you realise you've been holding your breath or sitting uncomfortably tense for the last five minutes... and, okay, maybe I screamed. Once or twice. While the narrative does feel like it loses steam midway through the series, it's a frequently scary, incredibly tense, and a wonderful treat for when you're home alone at night. Depending on your play style, the first two games will probably run about six to eight hours apiece, with the last maybe half that. Penumbra is a series you should definitely check out if you've been bored by the endless parade of shooty-growly action horror titles that have come down the river. At the very least, the next time someone says "Bring me a saw," it'll send a chill up your spine.

If Penumbra's fragrant blend of oppressive horror is up your proverbial alley, you may be interested in checking out Amnesia: The Dark Descent, which is available this August by the same developers.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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

LinuxLinux:
Download the demo
Get the full version


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Eternity

JohnBEternity is a unique sort of hidden object game in that there aren't so many objects to find. Instead, you pick up a few items and spend your time using them to solve inventory puzzles or complete tasks in each area. The set-up is different than usual, giving Eternity a different flavor than most hidden object games you come across, and the variety of locations and strength of puzzles make it an interesting experience.

eternity.jpgYou play as yourself in Eternity, and your crazy ole grandpa has just invented a time machine. Wouldn't you know it, though, he needs your help completing it, so your first set of tasks revolve around finding the missing pieces and assembling them in his workshop. Once you do, gramps takes a trip through time and gets lost, so it's up to you to visit different eras and find clues to learn where grandpa has ended up.

Eternity takes place in a series of historical locations (ancient Egypt, ancient Rome, etc.), each with a small handful of scenes. You can flip between scenes using the convenient tool at the bottom right corner of the screen. Within each area you'll have a few tasks to complete, each involving locating a few items, combining them with other items or objects on the screen, and moving on to the next task. Mission objectives are listed in small print just above your inventory, including a list of which items you'll need to find or what you need to do next.

Mini-games are scarce in Eternity, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, and while finding items isn't the central focus of the game, you will get to complete a hidden object-centric scene from time to time. The name of the game is key items and how to correctly use them, so you'll need to travel back and forth between locations to make sure you've gathered everything you need to complete an objective. When you've done all you can in a particular area, a small check mark appears over its icon.

eternity2.jpgAnalysis: Eternity has an ambitious design that wants to stray from traditional hidden object gaming and focus on inventory puzzles. Whether or not it succeeds is up to your taste in games. Eternity doesn't hold your hand and tell you exactly what you need to find and where it is. You'll spend a lot of time clicking, wandering, searching, and clicking some more. It's frustrating compared to modern hidden object games that like to shove answers in front of your face, but when compared to classic adventure games, Eternity offers little challenge. If you like your games vague, Eternity will deliver.

Despite its lofty design goals, Eternity does fall a bit short of its intended splendor. This is largely due to the strange fact that hints are almost required to complete some puzzles. Having obtuse solutions is one thing, but when the next step is so ambiguous you couldn't have guessed your way there, clicking the hint button is the only way through. You're not limited in how many times you can call for help, and the timer only takes a minute or two to refill, but I can't help but feel this reliance on "cheating" is a bit of a crutch the game would do well to lose.

Eternity is a little different than most games in the genre, which for many will be reason enough to give it a try. The variety of locations is great, the puzzles are interesting, and you'll have a good time moving between locations solving the riddles in each scene.

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Rating: 3.8/5 (21 votes)
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Buried in Time

DoraLegends tell of a king who gave to his only beloved a magnificent diamond as proof of his love. In that time, the land was rich and prosperous, but when the queen dies, the king falls into despair, and the beautiful land becomes a desert. People say that if you were to uncover the treasure hidden beneath the sand, you will finally have true love and never be lonely again. Hahaha, yeah, whatever, go back to the part about the huge diamond again? Buried in Time is a surprisingly fun and funny simulation game about a pair of archaeologists hoping for very different things from their floundering excavation. It's up to you to help them reach their goals by managing the dig, hiring new people, solving puzzles, and maybe even playing a little bit of matchmaker.

Buried in TimeThe bulk of the game revolves around hiring and directing your team to find artifacts and complete puzzles that open new locations in the valley. Each person has a set of skills that makes them good at jobs, like excavating artifacts, brushing them, or analysing them. Surveyors shouldn't be neglected either, since they help track down and flag spots where you're likely to find something buried. It's a simple matter of picking up a member of your team with the appropriate skill, and plonking them down at a station to get some work done. (The in-game tutorial will direct you where to go.) In addition to tending to artifacts, you also have to keep track of your team's hunger and energy levels, by sending them to the cots to get some shut-eye, or the food tent for some sammiches when necessary.

Artifacts are not only used to solve puzzles, but to complete collections. Why do that? Well, the more collections you complete, the more money you're given to improve your surroundings and hire new people. As new blood gets added to the team, you'll uncover more skills that can be used to your advantage, and get more hands to uncover new areas of the map. Each time you open a new area, you're treated to a cutscene that furthers the story and adds a new wrinkle into your team's lives. Will Bingham ever catch the eye of Emilia? Will they ever find the diamond? And what have they been using to brew coffee? Ewwww.

Analysis: If Buried in Time reminds you of 2009's Artist Colony, it's no surprise, considering they're from the same developer. While the character graphics have an odd, bobble-headed quality to their design that is vaguely disconcerting (how'd you like to see that peering out from your closet at midnight?), the game is cheerful and bright, with a big map to explore and a lot to do. The puzzles to open up new areas are a welcome addition, but I do with they were more frequent, and more challenging. Having the dog you'll get specifically hunt for puzzle-related artifacts was a smart choice, since it eliminates what would otherwise be a lot of frustrating searching to find all the keys you need. If you like, you can just sit back, listen for the tell-tale bark of discovery, and tend to the needs of your crew. Which you'll spend a lot of time doing.

Buried in TimeThe frustrating thing about Buried in Time is that the team rarely seems capable of managing themselves properly. Not only do they rarely work unless you tell them to do it, they don't do so well at taking care of basic needs either. No, Bingham, the research companies won't give you grants because you're too stupid to stop and eat at the tent you just walked by when you're starving. Fortunately, if you manage to get two people to fall in love, hunger and energy decreases much more slowly. Later in the game, characters start thinking about each other, and if you make someone pick a flower and give it to someone they're interested in, they're automatically considered "in love" and that's it. So, while useful, it isn't exactly what one might call "fleshed out", and it feels like the developers really missed a chance to give their little characters more personality.

Buried in Time is a game with a lot of promise and ambition that doesn't quite live up to all of it. It's not quite as well-executed as Virtual Villagers, and the story could have been more front-n-center, but don't let that stop you; it's still fun and engaging, and a clever attempt at genre-blending that I hope we see more of. As it stands, Buried in Time is a cute and funny little title that will probably keep you busy for quite some time. Just remember to pack some extra underpants. That sand gets everywhere.

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Weekend Download

JohnBMultiple endings HURRAH! Different outcomes to the stories you are playing are nothing new, but it isn't often that the games are short and entertaining enough to encourage you to gather them all. It's interesting to play through several times just to see how your actions affect the game world. Two of this week's games feature different endings, and you'll definitely want to experience some of these alternate conclusions!

lifeofapacifist.gifThe Life Of A Pacifist Is Often Fraught With Conflict (Mac/Windows/Linux, 4-7MB, free) - From Bento Smile, creator of Tanaka's Friendly Adventure, comes a short visual novel with multiple endings. You're a member of a game development team putting together the latest crime-centric shoot fest. You're not that in to all the blood and gore, however, and at certain points in the conversation, you have a few different choices to make. Depending on your decisions, you'll nab one of the endings. The game is short but charming, and it's cute enough to warrant a playthrough or two.

blind.gifBlind (Windows, 1.3MB, free) - A short, experimental game that tells a story using nothing but ASCII visuals. You are a blind woman who is meeting someone in the park. As you play, you learn why she's there as well as some background info. Then, you take part in the story and can uncover six endings. It's tough to discuss the game without spoiling the story, but you can play through in just five minutes, and it's worth playing a few times to get some of the other endings. The use of onomatopoeic words that form the objects that are making sounds is quite an interesting device.

hydorah.gifHydorah (Windows, 84MB, free) - Originally featured last year when it was little more than a demo, Hydorah is all grown up and ready to bring you a whole lot of old-school arcade shmup entertainment. Fight against hordes of aliens through a series of short, intense levels, using primary and secondary weapons you can unlock and select as you progress. The difficulty is still pretty high, but developer Locomalito (who also created 8-bit Killer) has incorporated feedback generated by the demo's release to make a number of improvements. When it comes to retro challenge, this game does not fool around, and the pixel art is simply stunning.

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


  • Currently 4.6/5
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Rating: 4.6/5 (46 votes)
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Farm Craft 2

JohnBOMG it's a vegetable crisis! Ginger, the young and successful head of the Tomato Corporation, used to be a farmer. Her grandparents invite her back to the country for a visit, and when she arrives, she meets a down-and-out businessman who couldn't run a farm if it were automated. Ginger offers to show him the ropes, but she quickly learns of a sinister plot involving giant cucumbers, genetic manipulation, and stereotypically evil flat characters! So begins Farm Craft 2: Global Vegetable Crisis, a time management game that is, believe it or not, story-centric and is perhaps one of the most inventive and engaging time management games on the market today.

Farm Craft 2Although Farm Craft 2 shares some very basic traits with its sim farm cousins, the similarities end just moments after you notice they're there. Instead of showing you the ropes and then gradually increasing the complexity as levels go by, Farm Craft 2 dares to introduce story-based locations with unique buildings and goals, hired help that can actually do your work for you, and — get this — a nighttime stealth level!

The first level will familiarize you with the basic controls. Use the [arrow] keys to scroll the screen around, but the mouse will accomplish everything else. You control Ginger and must manage the intricate workings of each farm you run. Double click an empty plot of land to till it, then buy some seeds from the menu at the bottom of the screen and sprinkle them on fresh soil. After a while, those seeds grow into plants, at which point you must grab a crate, harvest them, and take them to the barn to get paid. You can queue tons of tasks in a row, so don't hesitate to keep Ginger busy at all times.

Soon, you learn plants will call for fertilizer and water with respective heart and droplet icons. This is easy to take care of, as fertilizer is available from the shop menu, and a watering pump is right there on the screen. Before long you'll also raise animals, a task that requires you to gather food to feed them and build a refrigerated storage unit to hold their products. You can even harvest fruit that grows naturally on trees in the area, a nice touch that makes the game feel a bit more like a sim than a time management game.

After diversifying the types of seeds, equipment, and buildings you can buy, Farm Craft 2 introduces workers. These handy folk can be hired and paid a salary to perform basic tasks on the farm when things get too hectic for one gal to take care of. And yes, things will get pretty busy. You're not working against the clock, though (unless you want a trophy), so workers are there to fulfill level goals and to make your life easier. Hire workers from the shop menu, then click on them to send them about their duties. Watering hands, animal keepers, harvesters and fertilizers are some of the first workers you'll have access to, and they're a huge help by the time they come around.

Farm Craft 2Analysis: Whew. Farm Craft 2 is intense. The good kind of intense, too. When I first played the game, I burned over an hour before I even thought about taking a break. I was completely absorbed into this sim/time management world, and the promise of something new waiting in the next level had me eager to see more. Some of the levels are long, and the challenge is cranked up to a respectable level, but it's practically impossible to fail, so you won't have to worry about losing anything you worked for. It's that kind of gameplay that makes a casual game so rewarding.

There's a lot to Farm Craft 2, and that's exactly what makes the game so special. Beyond the full battery of seeds, crops, buildings and upgrades you'll have access to, the game also gives you the ability to set items anywhere on the screen, something that doesn't seem like a big deal until you actually get to do it. You can even move buildings and bulldoze bothersome landscape features, allowing you to shape and customize the world to your liking.

Also worth mentioning is the visual style of this game. You'll immediately notice the characters' animations are very fluid, each drawn with soft curves and a sensitive color palette. You know the artists did a great job when you're entranced by watching the watering animation. Seriously, sit and watch Ginger (or anyone) spread water on the ground. You'll be amazed.

Farm Craft 2 builds a crucial bridge between time management and sim genres and crosses it only when it's advantageous to do so. The game looks great, it plays well, and you'll have a difficult time putting it down at any point. This is one of those rare casual games that stand out of the pack for its phenomenal design. If you like it, you should also check out one of developer NevoSoft's other games, My Kingdom for the Princess.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


  • Currently 4.4/5
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Rating: 4.4/5 (279 votes)
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DoraEscape 5: The FreezerIt's gettin' cold in here... better solve some puzzles... it is, gettin' so cold, think I wanna escape now! Escape 5: The Freezer is here! Shawn Tanner is back with his escape series centered around finding your way out of an unlikely situation. Why are you in the freezer? Who cares! Just act fast; as the timer ticks up, your temperature drops down, and you don't need me to tell you that hypothermia is a bad thing right?

As with previous titles, point and click around the screen; search everywhere for suspicious places and items to use in your escape. Click on objects to pick them up, or zoom in for a closer look. Your worst enemy isn't even the slowly dropping temperature, it's yourself; the more flustered you become, the more likely you are to miss something obvious. So take your time, go slow, and just AAAAAAAAH OH MY GOSH GET OUT OF THERE YOU'RE GONNA FREEZE TICK TOCK TICK TOCK relax.

Just kidding. Remember the immortal words of Douglas Adams and DON'T PANIC. Escape 5: The Freezer not only wants you to use your brain, it wants you to pay attention to your surroundings. The game even contains a few red herrings you might spend a few precious minutes trying to figure out, so think about your surroundings and inventory, and try not to get distracted. Can you manage to MacGuyver your way out before you're toast?... uh, sicle. Toast-sicle?... hmm. You know what? Just get out before I torture you with anymore terrible writing!

Play Escape 5: The Freezer

Play the entire Escape Series...


  • Currently 4.8/5
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Rating: 4.8/5 (317 votes)
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Powder Game 7ArtbegottiWater? Check. Glass? Check. Gunpowder? Hm... check. Ants? Hm? Thunderbolts? Wait, what? Powder? Oh yeah, tons of it. If you're craving a little bit of sandbox action to put you in the mood for our latest competition, be sure to check out the most recent installment of Ha55ii's Powder Game.

As we've previously featured, constant tweaks and additional features to this sandy webtoy make building a world and demolishing it more enjoyable each time. With multiple new elements to sprinkle into your world, you can experiment with how each reacts with one another. Lightning shatters glass into a fine dust. Metal can hold in exploding gunpowder and fireworks, but rust away with water. All sorts of chain reactions are possible by setting up your pixeled world and watching the sparks fly.

So, what will you do with your new can of powder? Send birds flying in a cyclone of acid? Play catch with bouncy balls and lightning? Grow your own planet one tree at a time? Build a pool of boiling acidlava and send stick figures in for a swim? It's a webtoy, so play around all you like! You can even save your creations and check out saved levels from other players. Your feature-added Powder Game 7 awaits!

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Link Dump Fridays

DoraFancy seeing you here! This Link Dump Friday installment was actually written on a Wednesday, so I sort of just have to hope that between then and now the world hasn't been taken over by undead, machine-gun wielding cephalopod clowns, and you can actually read this, rather than spend the rest of your miserable life toiling in the Squeaky Rubber Nose Mines and punished with re-runs of Sex and the City. Fingers crossed! The good news is that if such an event does occur, it's entirely likely that I'll sell out your fledgling rebellions to ensure myself a cushy spot in the dystopian future while the rest of you suckers toil away. So yay for me!

  • Rescue a ChickenRescue a Chicken - Did you play Red Remover, but thought it wasn't quite relentlessly cheerful enough, or didn't feature the perquisite amount of barnyard sound effects for your tastes? If so, rejoice! (Weirdo.) This cute little physics puzzler has you removing objects from the screen to drop your chickens safely into their nest. It's not particularly original, but it's well made and fun, even if you do have to cross your fingers and hope for the best in several situations.
  • Hot Ninja Moon MoonHot Ninja Moon Moon - In all likelihood, if this game is "for" you, all I have to say is "retro platformer" and you're already on board. You play a skull-masked ninja (which is probably a reference to Newgrounds' labyrinthine user created culture) who has to make his way through screens of increasing difficulty to a really rockin' background tune. Because... well, um, just because, apparently. Also, you can unlock Meatboy as a playable character, but he plays exactly the same as the ninja does. It's a short but tightly controlled little platformer that makes a nice light snack if you really need some old-school gaming before your day is considered complete.
  • LARRY: Big DipperLARRY: Big Dipper - Ah, mine shafts. Who doesn't love to plummet down them, trying to avoid falling boulders and explosive rocks while we frantically grab at gems and birds for high scores? We used to do that all the time back in my day. (I think it was a Friday.) What, it was Canada! What else did we have to do when the wild Polar Bear herds were put up in the Ice Barn for the night? The goal here is obviously to avoid obstacles while snagging all the gems you can and try to keep yourself intact to reach the bottom. If avoidance games are your thing, then this simple, well-made little offering will deliver.
  • Mamono SweeperMamono Sweeper - Best described as "Minesweeper, with RPG elements". Because, um. That's what it is. Rather than mines, you've got monsters, and higher level monsters than you are will deal damage when you uncover them. (Refer to the bottom of the game screen to tell which monster is which level.) So the trick is uncovering (slaying) enough weak monsters so that you can level up and take on bigger, badder things. It's a surprisingly addictive little time waster, and definitely unique, even with its spartan presentation. Sound effects? We don't need no steekeeng sound effects!
  • The SlobThe Slob - Yessir, this dev certainly has its fingers on the pulse of the world! They know what people want is to play a sickly looking slug that has to carefully monitor its acidity and alkaline levels in a platformer! It's actually pretty neat, if not terribly exciting; different terrain affects you in different ways, and there are various plants to watch out for. It's probably a little bit educational, too. Actually, the best thing about this weird little game is the oddly hypnotic soundtrack and strange graphics that combine to make me feel like I'm in a fever dream of Jim Morrison's. Like, whoa, man.

  • Currently 4.8/5
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Rating: 4.5/5 (93 votes)
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Babylon Sticks: The Best Things In Life comic

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


  • Currently 3.3/5
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Rating: 3.3/5 (76 votes)
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Kyleblind.pngImagine, for just a moment, that you are blind. Pretend that this bright and colorful world that you have grown so accustomed to has been bathed in darkness and the familiarities of every day life have been transfigured into anonymous hulking shapes that lurk just beyond your realm of perception. Allow your mind to enter a world in which every time is two in the morning, and every corridor is the same unlit hallway that exists somewhere between the waking world and your nightmares and you will have effectively entered the world of Blind, an artistically minimalist platformer from Peter Maslencenko, and Omar Shehata.

The world you inhabit is one of little more than shadows, your ears providing the faintest hints of outlines for the objects that surround you. Then, out of the darkness, comes a cry for help, one you feel compelled to answer despite the perils that separate you from the calling voice. And believe me, there are plenty of perils that await you from spike filled pits to moving platforms you'll have your hands full just keeping yourself alive, let alone trying to save someone else. Your mission on each level is to reach the "help" calling after you, and in order to survive this daunting task, you'll need to use the [arrow] keys to walk and climb, the [spacebar] to jump, and the [shift] key to throw switches. If the constant sonar waves that emit from your body don't give you a clear enough picture of your surroundings, you can also throw a ball using the mouse in order to sound out where that next safe platform is.

Blind.pngAnalysis: In many ways, Blind is reminiscent of Closure, from the pixelated black and white graphics to the experimentation with light to the platforming gameplay. But Blind is its own animal, separating itself from Closure in ways both good and bad.

Blind sits almost exactly halfway between a skill intensive platformer, and a puzzler. You'll definitely come face to face with some tricky jumps and your reflexes may be put through their paces, but the fact that you have to do this without actually being able to see the level in its entirety is what can really get the neurons pumping. In all actuality, in many ways playing Blind is kind of like playing a maze or exploring a dungeon where you first must map the whole thing out, and then you can work on finding a solution to get out of there. All the while you are treated to dark yet simple graphics and a positively eerie backtrack that come together to set an unsettling mood, one that is as pregnant with danger as the pit at your feet that you think might be full of spikes.

But I do think that in many ways Blind doesn't go far enough. There are some puzzle elements at work here, however there could have been so much more exploration done with that. Keeping the game mostly a standard platformer with the twist of not being able to see most of the levels therefore leads not only to tediousness, but frustration as well. Further, there is virtually no narrative following the introduction which, in a game that is clearly meant to have some artistic expression, can allow the player to drift away from any substantive or emotional connection that is formed with the protagonist in the first place.

And yet, there's a part of me that thinks the frustration is intentional, and maybe even the alienation. Perhaps, these aren't flaws so much as further expressions of the hardships those not gifted with sight must face? Whether for artistic exploration, or just a good challenge, though, Blind does provide an interesting gaming experience with a thought provoking artistic shell.

Play Blind


  • Currently 3.9/5
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Rating: 3.9/5 (131 votes)
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castlewars2.jpgJohnBCastleWars 2 is an unassumingly captivating turn-based strategy game that pits castle against castle, wall against wall, and decks of randomly selected cards against decks of randomly selected cards. Take turns with a computer player or a real human being as you draw from your pool of resources to play action cards that build your tower to the sky or crumble your opponent's castle to the ground.

Following the original CastleWars, the sequel keeps the same basic principles but shifts the interface and gameplay around a bit to make things more digestible. At the top of the screen you'll see both you and your opponents resources and health. There are three resources to keep track of: bricks, weapons, and crystals. You'll need these to cast cards that are dealt at the bottom of the screen. You can increase each resource's regeneration rate by recruiting workers for each one. So, for example, if you have three mages, you'll gain three crystals at the beginning of each turn instead of one. Other cards also shift around resources, but the bottom line is you need them. And in great quantities.

Each turn you can either play a card or discard cards. Most of the time you'll be doing the former. Cards either attack your opponent, recover your health, or have unique special effects, such as siphoning off resources or letting you take a peek at the other player's hand. You can win by either building your structures beyond 100 or by reducing the other player's castle to rubble. Which strategy you employ is entirely up to you, and choosing which cards to spend your precious resources on is where the challenge of this game rests.

castlewars2b.jpgOnline multiplayer has returned in this CastleWars sequel, and as always, it's more fun to battle living opponents than computer AI. You can also head to the deck customization menu to choose which cards you want to carry into battle and how many. It's a great way to really refine your chosen strategy, but until you work your way through some of the campaign, it's best to stick with the default set.

Analysis: CastleWars 2 serves up the same balance of strategy and luck as CastleWars but with a new interface and much-improved visuals. The campaign mode offers a good challenge, but multiplayer is where you'll spend your time after chugging through the main part of the game. There's also the quick-round practice mode for when you just want to battle it out without all that progression stuff involved.

The interface, while easier on the eyes, does come off as more cluttered than its predecessor, and selecting menu items to discard, use, or get info on cards is a bit of a nuisance. Why not let us see what a card does via a mouseover bubble? A short "how to play" section available from the title screen is probably a good starting point for new players, as the game won't be immediately intuitive for everyone.

More CastleWars is a great thing, and the sequel provides just the right amount of turn-based strategy to keep casual gamers coming back for more.

Play CastleWars 2


  • Currently 4.3/5
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Rating: 4.3/5 (128 votes)
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DoraBubble Tanks ArenasBubble tanks, bubble tanks, oh bubble-bubble tanks, bubble-tanks! Ba-dum-bum-bum. Bubble Tanks Arenas, that is, by Hero Interactive. Bubble Tanks 3 is still on the horizon, but in the meantime you can test out the new concepts in this surprisingly in-depth arena shooter that lets you edit everything from your ship to the arenas to the enemies themselves as you unlock more and more options. I can't say if it's sweeter than an apple pie, and I haven't seen a shaky rockin' dance yet, but it is pretty darned neat.

So the concept is thus; arenas are stages consisting of various bubbles, each one containing enemies that you have to defeat before you can proceed to the next. The default movement is [WASD] with mouse to aim and shoot, but those of you with different keyboards or tastes will be happy to know the game's movement is fully configurable from the settings menu. Swim around inside bubbles, taking down enemies, and picking up the blue bubbles they drop upon destruction to heal yourself. Once you have cleared all the bubbles in an arena, you're scored and granted various points and parts, which you can use in the actual meat-and-potatoes of the game, the editing screen. Accessed between arenas, the various editing screens allow you to not only upgrade your tank with a surprising amount of customisation, but also make your own enemies and arenas to upload for other hapless victims worthy contenders to duke it out in.

For the most part, the combat itself is not terribly challenging; much like any shooter that relies on AI enemies, circle-strafing most opponents will get you pretty far. What you get is something that feels a bit more like 2008's Spore than previous titles in the series. Hero Interactive has promised that they will "constantly" be making new arenas for you to play, which I personally like to imagine as a bunch of feverish designers chained to their desks, toiling for your entertainment. The user created content has already expanded into a vast and fathomless ocean, so you and your tank can be happily swimming and shooting for quite some time. Or at least until Bubble Tanks 3 arrives to devour all your spare time.

Play Bubble Tanks Arenas

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  • Currently 3.7/5
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Rating: 3.7/5 (61 votes)
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Mikemike-chubbyninja-screen1.pngI think all young people today have vivid, poignant memories of their final ninja academy exams. Who could forget those bittersweet moments while scaling the infinite training caves, leaping over skeletons, inferno bats, and dart gargoyles; and realizing that this would be the last time you would ascend the consecrated caverns as a student? Or ever again, in some cases. Those ninja training caves could be brutal. Chubby Ninja lets you relive those nostalgic days when you ceased being a young student in a gray catsuit and truly became, for the first time, a ninja.

Skirt about the training cavern using the left and right [arrow] keys. Jump by tapping [up] or [A], and double-tap to double-jump. You can also use various ninja powers, including a speedy dash-attack with the [D] or [X] keys, and flight (!) with the [space] bar or [S] keys. These powers take up Spirit, which can be replenished with blue spirit-filled vials. You can also collect hearts to replenish life, ninja powder to be invisible, and various other power-ups to increase your score.

Your main task is to climb and climb and climb, making sure not to fall or get gobbled up by the forced upward scrolling. You also want to avoid getting beaten up by various training-cave-dwelling bad guys. Certain bad guys will appear only once per game, and their defeat constitutes a successful "challenge" (read: "achievement"). Other challenges include reaching a certain altitude, killing a certain number of bad guys, and collecting certain items. Victory seems to be a function of endurance and the completion of challenges, without any actual endpoint. The high score, not the finish line, is your goal.

Gameplay goes pretty quickly, and even though the platforming isn't too tricky, the forced scrolling keeps the pressure on, so you might find yourself dying before you expect it. But since the levels are randomly, infinitely generated, and since there are always challenges to complete, you will be glad to try playing again. The cute design also encourages replay: skeletons and other villains bop along in a not-so-villainous way, and the protagonist looks like a little baby ninja in a little gray onesie.

Chubby Ninja is great for little snack-sized bits of platforming without ever feeling stale or repetitive. Plus it may help you remember bygone days at the ninja dojo. Try not to get too misty-eyed with nostalgia, or you'll miss that double-jump.

Play Chubby Ninja


  • Currently 3.8/5
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Rating: 3.8/5 (77 votes)
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Weekday Escape

GrinnypA decade ago, something shiny and new appeared on television sets across the country. That's right, the forensic procedural is that old. Not hard to believe since nowadays the formula is everywhere. Turn on a channel and you might find geeks picking up tiny pieces of evidence, the primal scream of Roger Daltry, or David Caruso douching it up all over the screen. With this kind of viral spread it was inevitable that the formula would eventually creep into every aspect of our lives, including the basic room escape. Anonymous is that type of escape, one that actually requires both the collection of evidence and some serious deductive reasoning to find your way out of yet another locked room. No sunglasses required.

AnonymousDesigned by HILG, Anonymous begins when you, the hero of our little story, enter a secure room in the police station where you work. Unfortunately, seconds later, you remember that the code has changed and you don't know what the new one is! Now you have to search the room for clues as to who your co-workers are, who changed the code, and what the new code is so that you can get out in time for dinner. Let's call that pulling a Caruso, shall we?

Navigation through the room can be a little clunky, involving both arrows at the sides and bottom of the screen as well as clicking on random items for close ups. The changing views, both angled and head on can be a little confusing at first, but it's not exactly a large room so eventually you'll get the hang of it. Pick up everything that you can, and be careful to examine everything you pick up for clues. Most items will not be used directly, but will enable you to solve the central mystery.

Unfortunately, there are a few flaws in the game. A changing cursor would have been nice to highlight the hotspots, so be prepared for some pixel hunting. Some of the puzzles are color based, making them difficult for the color blind. And although there is an English translation for the game, finding it can be a bit of... well, a mystery. After the introduction (in both Japanese and English), click on the left (yellow) button to bring up the system menu, which will enable you to turn on the English version, and even a hint feature. Feel free to also use it to mute the music, which frankly should die in a hail of gunfire on a Miami street corner. On the plus side, HILG gives the gamer a nice save feature, allowing you to walk away and come back later, refreshed and lightly tanned, to pick up where you left off.

Despite the flaws Anonymous is quite a fun challenge, involving not only the basics of room escaping fun; finding items, mysterious clues, headbanging puzzles, but with an interesting twist involving deductive reasoning and co-workers who discourteously leave food to rot in their lockers (ewww!). So put on some classic Who, slip on a pair of ray-bans, make a few disastrously bad puns, and get escaping!

Play Anonymous


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Rating: 3.9/5 (91 votes)
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DoraAge of War 2And so the wheel of time turns, and civilizations come to pass. (If not tedious fantasy series.) Here we have an example in Age of War 2, a hybrid defense/strategy game that takes place in real time and sees you trying to keep the walls of your fortress secure while at the same time crushing your opponent on the other side of the field. There's no story, but maybe developer Louissi is trying to make a statement; that no provocation is ever needed, for man is a great and warlike beast, forever snuffling in the mud and gore for the next challenger, never content with peace. Or, more likely, the message is simply "Calling down lightning strikes on your enemies is rad."

The game is not terribly complex; you spawn units by clicking on their portraits at the top of the screen and they march towards the enemy base in a straight line, while your opponent is doing the same. When your forces meet, they duke it out; fallen enemies grant gold and experience points, which you need to buy more turrets and troops and upgrade your abilities. Each time you upgrade, you advance forward in time, and your fortress and troops evolve accordingly. You can bet your sweet centaurs the enemy is going to upgrade, and if they manage to do so before you, you can find yourself quickly outclassed. Apparently, in a historical game of Rock-Paper-Scissors, "satyr" trumps "ancient avatar of Anubis called forth from beneath the shifting sands". Who knew?

The whole thing is considerably more polished than its link-dumped predecessor, though the core gameplay remains the same. While it's definitely neat to watch the way your troops evolve as you advance through the ages, your enemy's base health increases as you both upgrade, so it's actually better to take 'em out sooner, if you can. It still probably isn't the sort of thing you'll find yourself coming back to again and again, but while it lasts, the end result is a fun, fast game that proves a point I've been trying to make for years; there is no problem that cannot be solved by a judicious application of carnivorous dinosaurs.

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  • Currently 4.7/5
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Rating: 4.7/5 (220 votes)
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DoraHello Worlds!If you're like me, you're what people might call "unpleasant" in the morning when they were feeling charitable, and "My face, my face, you bit my face" when... not. People like you and I need to take a lesson from the weird little mechanical spider protagonist fella of this puzzle-platformer and instead spring out of bed with a cheery "Hello Worlds!" Yessir, then we'd be ready for a good, honest day's work of standing on ledges in parallel dimensions, combining worlds, and collecting coins to open floating crayon doors, just like your grandpappy used to do!... no?... well, not mine, but someone's grandpappy, surely?

Each stage consists of several screens placed next to each other, each containing a copy of your protagonist that moves in unison with the others. The goal is simply to reach the exit of each level; move with [WASD] or the [arrow] keys, and open doors with the [spacebar]. Easy-peasy? The problem is that an obstacle in one screen will affect all of them; you won't be able to proceed, for instance, if a wall is in your way in one screen even if the others are clear. You can, however, use this to your advantage; standing on a ledge in one screen will let you reach places that might have previously been too high in others. You can press [C] to overlap all the screens so you can see how to proceed (although you can't move while you're doing this), and holding [V] will rewind a chunk of your time, while [R] will reset the whole level. And of course, you'll get a higher score (and more stars to unlock new levels) if you finish a level as quickly as possible and collect all the coins on screen. And just when you think you've got the hang of things, Hello Worlds! adds new wrinkles as you progress, such as doors that open or close existing screens.

Hello Worlds!Analysis: Similar to 2009's Continuity, Hello Worlds! was made by a group of computer science students (from University of Washington this time), and represents a new gameplay concept implemented very well, and turns what would otherwise be a mediocre platformer into something interesting and different. Often, simply pressing [C] to get the lay of the land is enough to help you figure out how to tackle the screens. The trick lies in getting your brain and your eyes to cooperate, and that's easier said than done, especially when you start throwing timing and reflexes into the mix. The levels can be challenging, but rarely mind-numbing, and you get that nice warm, fuzzy "Ah-ha!" sensation when you figure out how to proceed and finish one flawlessly.

Which sort of helps make up for how little personality the game has. It's a clever concept, it's implemented well, and you feel satisfied with yourself when you're done, but you're left with a sense of "Well, now what?" I can't help but feel a bigger, bolder design would have made the whole thing much more memorable and "fantastic" instead of just "cool". It wouldn't take much; a protagonist with a personality, or environments that were a bit less bland.

Hello Worlds! is a clever take on the platforming genre, and one I'd love to see taken in new, interesting directions. It offers a satisfying chunk of gameplay that uses just enough mental might to make you relieved you haven't rotted all your brain power away yet with reality programming or most of HBO's summer lineup. The devs have also promised that more updates and levels are forthcoming. So fling wide your front door and loudly proclaim your intentions to take on the world. Just... remember to put on some pants first. You don't want a repeat of last week, do you?

Play Hello Worlds!

Game Design Competition #8Armor GamesCasual Gameplay

Announcing Casual Gameplay Design Competition #8!!

We have teamed up with Armor Games once again to bring you the next casual gameplay design competition!

Mission
Design a game that incorporates the theme (see below). It doesn't have to be complex nor large in scope. Since you will have just 2 months to complete your design, simple ideas are probably the best way to go. You may use any browser-based technology platform you are comfortable with (Flash, Unity, Shockwave, Javascript/HTML5, etc.). If we can embed your finished game file on our competition page, you may use that platform to design and develop your game.

CGDC8 Theme: SandboxFor the 8th Casual Gameplay Design Competition, we are calling for entries designed around this theme: SANDBOX. You are free to interpret that any way you choose; however, judging will include an evaluation of how well the theme is represented in your game, so we ask that you submit an explanation of how the theme inspired you to create your game when you submit your entry. Use your imagination and be creative. We will select the best entries submitted to represent the competition just like we have done before. Impress us with your game design and production skills.

The Prizes

  • 1st place:
    • $1,000
  • Armor Games Awards:
    • $500 - to each of the top 3 Flash games for a non-exclusive license to appear at Armor Games.
  • Audience award:
    • $500 - determined by JIG community popular vote.

Deadline
The deadline for entries is
Sunday, August 1, 2010 at 11:59PM (GMT-5:00).

So, start the brainstorming and get ready to wow us!

Sponsors
We thank our sponsors for their kind support:
CGDC8 sponsorsArmor GamesCasual Gameplay

Casual Gameplay Design Competition #8Friends of Jayisgames: Please help spread word of this competition by Tweeting this announcement, sharing on Facebook, or by posting a note along with a link to this entry on your blog or website. Feel free to use this banner to link back to us. We need your support!! Thank you.


A list of rules and requirements for entry and for judging follow...

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