July 2010 Archives


  • Currently 4.4/5
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Rating: 4.4/5 (30 votes)
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Nightfall Mysteries: Asylum Conspiracy

DoraOne of my favourite games so far this year has been Curse of the Opera; despite some awkward storytelling and minor gameplay issues, it was a stellar example of a hidden-object/point-and-click hybrid with outstanding production values. So if you were to ask me how excited I was to hear that the prequel had finally been released, the answer would be pretty darn excited, sir-or-madam. Nightfall Mysteries: Asylum Conspiracy is a fun, freaky romp that continues the high standard of design set by its predecessor, and also plays well as a standalone adventure.

Nightfall Mysteries: Asylum ConspiracyThis time around, you play Christine, a young woman all alone in the world trying to track down what remains of her family. All she has left is her grandfather, whose last letter came to her from a remote asylum years ago. She arrives to find the grounds in ruins and the asylum itself apparently abandoned... so, really, it's probably totally safe. You should definitely go there alone and unarmed without any way to call for help. Really. What? Maniacal laughter? Don't be silly, it's probably just the wind.

Asylum Conspiracy is played mostly like a point-and-click title, where you'll have to track down the items Claire needs to get past obstacles by finding them in hidden-object scenes. The genre's staple sparkles mark such scenes, and the cursor changes to a magnifying glass when you can zoom into a spot for a closer look. (Click the "Back" button next to your journal to zoom back out.) If you need a hint, the speedily recharging hint-timer is your friend, and you can likewise skip most puzzles if you find yourself hung up on them for too long. Even more helpful than that is the map, which is accessed through your notebook; areas with objects you need are highlighted in orange, so if you're ever not sure where to go next, make sure you peek at the map now and then.

Analysis: Christine doesn't seem concerned with why her Grandfather was in the asylum to begin with, or why she remains so convinced he's still there even though she hasn't heard from him in years and there's no other evidence of him being there. But hey, there'd be no game if she didn't soldier onwards, and at least it gives us an excuse to explore this beautifully designed locale. This game is gorgeous, with environments rich in detail and colour. The soundtrack is also top-notch, full of subtle ambient noise that adds to the atmosphere and lovely but slightly discordant tunes that fit the unsettling areas. Voice acting, by contrast is... well, it's not bad, but I will be glad of the day when hidden-object heroines move past the fake-sounding, airy, vaguely British accent fad.

Nightfall Mysteries: Asylum ConspiracyOn the whole, Asylum Conspiracy feels a lot more coherent than its predecessor; while Curse of the Opera settled for a nearly impenetrable plot and dropping a bunch of exposition via cutscene in your lap at the end, Asylum Conspiracy does a great job at telling its story naturally throughout the course of the game itself. Of course, it's still not particularly scary; the whole thing has a Midnight Society vibe to it that makes it campy despite featuring some rather morbid environments. Mind you, there's nothing wrong with a good cheesy horror movie, and Asylum Conspiracy is definitely enjoyable with its cornball "Hahaha, seriously?" plot that seems to think it's more serious than it actually is.

The difficulty also seems to have been tweaked a bit. Whereas the first Nightfall Mysteries had a gradual difficulty curve I really enjoyed, nothing about this one is particularly hard. You'll still be glad the hint button exists for some objects hidden in scenes, but the puzzles themselves are in general pretty straightforward and easy despite their typically elaborate designs. You'll rarely be stymied as to what to do with your inventory, especially since the map will always point you towards where you should be. This makes the gameplay fairly smooth but for a few hiccups, such as the game occasionally being slow to register rapid-fire clicks.

Unfortunately, this latest installment in the series is also the shortest so far. You can probably expect to spend between three and four hours on it, possibly more if you take your time or are relatively new to the genre. It's definitely an enjoyable time, and it complements Curse of the Opera nicely, but you'll probably want more when you're done. It does seem as though the developers are leaving the door open for yet another prequel... which would be a pre-prequel, I guess? Despite being fairly easy, Nightfall Mysteries: Asylum Conspiracy is still an improvement over the first in the series in almost every way, and is easily worth picking up if you want to unravel the ball of crazy at the end of Curse of the Opera, or just enjoy a well-made game for an evening.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


  • Currently 4.8/5
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Rating: 4.8/5 (71 votes)
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Weekend Download

JohnBOriginally released in Japan back in 2007, Recettear is the story of an item shop, a girl, and a fairy. Recette's father took out a loan and then skipped town, leaving her to pay off the debt. Soon, she meets Tear, a fairy who is as persistent as she is... well, persistent. She teaches Recette to run an item shop out of her house, purchasing stock for adventurers who head out into the world to slay monsters. Buy and sell swords, shields, food products and more, haggling with each customer and placing items in ideal locations to attract business.

recettear.jpgWorking with customers and managing your item shop would be enough to qualify Recettear as a complete (and awesome) game, but the simulation part isn't all it has to offer. To get more goods to sell, you can recruit an adventurer to head into a randomly-generated dungeon with you, working your way through traps, enemies, and the whole gamut of adventure-related fare. When you get back to town, there's a host of interesting characters to meet as well, adding a nice RPG slant to the whole experience.

Recettear is packed with charm, from the dialogue to the characters and their attitudes to the game design itself. We've all played role playing games and have bought items from the store, but this game dares to turn the tables and show you what goes on behind the scenes of the shop, allowing you to manage just about every aspect of selling. It's almost like a parody unto itself, though a very playable parody that's more enjoyable than many of the games it dares to poke fun at.

The full game is now available. Be sure to read our review: Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale.

This version Recettear is an English-localized demo, the full retail version is still being worked on. This teaser is so great, though, it's worth getting your hands on now. The demo is surprisingly long and will provide several hours of item haggling, complete with story cutscenes and all the humor Tear can provide. You can be sure that when the full version of this game hits, we'll be all over it. Until then, play and enjoy the demo (save games can be copied to the full version once released) and marvel at what fun an original game concept can be!

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo

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


  • Currently 4.5/5
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Rating: 4.5/5 (46 votes)
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Frogatto and Friends

JohnBThe platform adventure will never die. And that's a good thing! Frogatto & Friends injects a little more life into the classic genre, placing great-looking pixel art and a satisfying action/exploration game in front of your eyes for the low low price of free!

Frogatto and FriendsGood morning, everyone! Oh, wait, it's the afternoon. Looks like Frogatto slept late again. Breakfast (er, lunch) isn't ready yet, so Frogatto decides to head into town to see if he can find a job. Things go wonderfully awry from there as you embark upon quest after quest, all in the name of earning a bit of cash.

As with most platform games, you can walk, dash, swim, jump, and stomp throughout the delightfully-drawn 2D world. Enemies are usually harmless unless they're carrying something dangerous, so don't be afraid to bump into them (or stand on their head). Frogatto's main trick is his ability to nab enemies with his tongue and spit them out as projectiles. Your reach is laughably short at the beginning of the game, but collecting coins throughout the stages will allow you to buy upgrades at the store. You can also purchase other upgrades such as power-ups to grant temporary invincibility, extra life hearts, a longer spit reach, and more.

Frogatto's world is vast and filled with neat surprises, and oftentimes you'll have to find (or open up) new paths to get to where you want to go. Frogatto can carry an item in his belly, so lugging keys from one place to another often becomes a necessary task. You can't wall jump or swim while your belly is full, though, so your traveling plans will probably change while you're chubby.

Frogatto and FriendsAnalysis: Aah, old-school platforming. Few game genres seem as comforting as a good old run through a 2D world. Frogatto & Friends incorporates a lot of elements to flesh out its environments, including an open, Metroidvania-style level design, parallax backgrounds, and upgrades to find in the wild and purchase in the store. You feel a little more drawn into the world as you play, an important part of the experience that keeps you engrossed in the game.

Frogatto & Friends was designed for the casual player from beginning to end. You aren't penalized for dying, and oftentimes you respawn at the exact same area. The challenge level isn't too high, either, allowing you to sit and play without wanting to throw your keyboard/joypad across the room. The length is also about right, ranging from 4-6 hours depending on how thorough you are with exploration.

One thing worth mentioning: wall jumping is unreliable, as if our amphibious protagonist will only stick to walls when he's in the mood. When a wall jump should work, it sometimes doesn't, leaving the player scratching their head in confusion. This never turns into a game-breaking issue, though, and with a little practice you can wall jump with a fair amount of reliability.

Frogatto & Friends is a beautiful platform adventure that calls forth nostalgia with a healthy smattering of modern gaming sensibilities. The project code is open source, meaning you can contribute to the development if you so desire, and the team has plans to add a lot more to the game as time goes by.

Also be sure to grab the iPhone version of Frogatto & Friends if you want to take the game on the go.

WindowsWindows:
Download the free full version

Mac OS XMac OS X:
Download the free full version

LinuxLinux:
Download the free full version


  • Currently 4.6/5
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Rating: 4.6/5 (202 votes)
| Comments (147) | Views (8,970)

Governor of Poker 2

JohnBPoker. You're either hopelessly addicted to it, or you can't tell a flush from a straight. The word itself conjures up high-stakes games in Vegas, dusty saloon matches between cowboys, and crummy online games played with real money. Fortunately for us, Youda Games has brought back its casual poker-meets-simulation game in the delightfully accessible Governor of Poker 2. No matter if poker scares you or excites you, this game's got something great in store for you.

Governor of Poker 2More than just a simple card game, Governor of Poker 2 strings together a light storyline that gives you an excuse to leave the table and explore the land, spending your cash on buying buildings or at the general store. The governor of Texas has declared poker illegal because it's a game of chance. It's your job to show him it takes skill to win at this game, not luck, sending you on a romp through the state, visiting towns and flaunting your skills in a number of saloons.

The story doesn't matter all that much, though, as you'll be spending most of your time at the table staring at cards. Governor of Poker 2 presents a solid game of Texas Hold 'em against a table of computer-controlled opponents. For the uninitiated, Texas Hold 'em deals each player two cards with a set of community cards in the middle. Anyone and everyone can use these cards to complete hands, making the real strategy of the game watching the other players and trying to determine if they're bluffing or are holding a valuable pair of cards.

Before and after each game, you'll get a chance to wander around each town, talking to townsfolk, visiting stores, and purchasing real estate using your earnings. Each building you buy nets you a certain amount of income each day, allowing you to keep a little cash coming in even if you're unlucky in cards. The meat of the game is in poker tournaments, though, so be sure to enroll (and win!) at the saloon each day of gameplay.

Governor of Poker 2Analysis: Youda Games has a reputation for cranking out simple but well-implemented casual games that are just slightly to the side of the norm. Games such as Youda Safari, Youda Camper, and Youda Farmer utilize a different perspective on seasoned game styles. The result is an experience that's familiar enough to be attractive, but different enough to keep you reeled in.

The Governor of Poker series is no different than other Youda releases in this respect. Even if poker scares you with its intricate rules, this game manages to tear down part of that barrier to allow casual players to come inside and play. A lengthy (and optional) tutorial will introduce you to Texas Hold 'em basics, walking you through each step as many times as you like. You can even peek at a cheat sheet to see the highest value hand you can make, allowing you to learn which cards form which hands.

Of course, the most difficult part of translating Texas Hold 'em to the non-meatspace is getting opponent tells onto the screen. Even though you can't see the faces of people in Governor of Poker 2, players often give clues if they're bluffing, if they're frazzled, or if they're about to be in trouble. You can start to pick up on their personalities after some time, allowing you to call opponents out when you know they have a habit of bluffing. The subtle tells aren't a huge part of the game, but they're there, and poker fans will definitely appreciate it.

Adding the light simulation aspects was a good choice by Youda, taking the game out of the saloon and into the dusty streets of Texas. It breaks the action up at just the right times, creating that more casual atmosphere we love to experience. You can, of course, just play poker (even doing a quick round from the main menu), so don't worry about getting your fix!

Governor of Poker 2 is well-made, highly accessible, and surprisingly addictive for all kinds of players. It doesn't offer a world of difference when compared to the original game, but for poker fans and casual gamers alike, you'll find something to love in this game.

Play Governor of Poker 2

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version
Also available: Premium Edition

Mac OS XMac OS X:
Download the demo
Get the full version
Also available: Premium Edition


  • Currently 3.4/5
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Rating: 3.4/5 (68 votes)
| Comments (9) | Views (85)

JamesAqualuxHook up a few pipes and get that water flowing in this take on a very familiar, but equally popular puzzle genre. Aqualux is all about twisting and fitting pipes together, opening the tap and seeing all your work go the drain.If you played anything called Pipes, Plumber, Pipe Works, Pipe Dreams... you get the gist, you'll know how this works. You have a tap on one side and a drain somewhere else. By rotating and swapping pipes, depending on their type, you create a route to the drain, slap open the tap and watch your handiwork waste valuable aqua. The aim is to do it in as few moves and little time as possible, awarding you with different trophies. It is fun, very polished and pretty addictive.

Yet much it falls short as well, because this is just a demo of a download game. There are forty puzzles to beat, incorporating all the different obstacles and twists here and there. But it never reaches a certain crescendo and the game could certainly do with an additional twenty levels to really crank up the difficulty (fittingly the commercial game contains 100 levels). Even through the first play I mainly achieved gold trophies - as much as I would like to thank some unquestionable savant-like abilities towards plumbing, it's really just a matter of the puzzles not being very lateral. The ones where you rotate pieces, in particular, are so intuitive that you'll nail most them in the first go.

Even the two difficulty modes - casual and hardcore - just add time limitations before water slowly starts trickling into the pipes. It is slightly more nerve-wrecking and you need to compete on the hardcore level to get platinum trophies. But if you have run through the puzzles before it's not that much of a challenge, as the puzzles are still exactly the same. Finishing the game does unlock Match Mode, where you have to match a presented configuration of pipes against a running clock, but it's not quite the same as the main game's puzzle goodness. If Aqualux fails at one major thing, it's not informing you - after beating the game - that there is a download version available.

Aqualux has a lot of polish and it is fun to play. If it falls short, the download version is exactly the same but with more than twice as many levels.

Play Aqualux

If you enjoy the Flash version, you can download a version with features and complexity that go beyond the flash version. Plus there's an array of new pipe types and original elements in it. Get it directly from the developer.


  • Currently 3.3/5
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Rating: 3.3/5 (41 votes)
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joyeGalactic TakedownFriends! Aliens! Robot... thingies! Lend me your sensory unit of choice! Whether you're metallic, fleshy, or topped with antennae, you've got a place in Galactic Takedown, the action/defense game by Rob Scherer. Command an array of soldiers and turrets in pursuit of various planet-conquering objections, being careful to defend your battery, because your battery is kind of important to your spaceship. Everyone knows nothing puts a damper on a day of planetary destruction like having to root around the still burning wrecks of your enemies for some jumper cables.

Most of the game is played with the mouse; click on the ground to move your troops and turrets around. Aim and fire your troops en masse by pointing and clicking. Turrets fire automatically and seem to focus on whatever enemy is closest to your battery. Shoot down enemies to earn cash to purchase more troops and turrets to bolster your defenses and firepower. You also have abilities that come in handy during missions, and can be activated by pressing the corresponding number key or clicking on the icon. Just keep an eye on your battery's health, since if that's destroyed, you lose.

Galactic TakedownAnalysis: The best stage of the game is level two, Planet Denose, where you must strategically kill enemies so that their ships crash into ground targets. Most of the rest of the game calls for no strategy at all other than "Hold mouse button, kill dudes, don't die." In fact, in one planet your sole objective is to spew 10,000 bullets. There's disappointingly little reason to replay as a different race. Everyone has the same turrets, troops, and abilities available; the only thing that really changes is when they're unlocked. The fact that your money and purchased troops are persistent across each level is a welcome change from defense games that wipe the slate clean at the start of each level.

The game doesn't really feel like it's aimed towards veteran gamers, and is instead the sort of thing that's easy to pick up whenever you have a spare moment and feel the need to blow something up. I would love to see the gameplay of the Denose level expanded into a full game; it could be an action/defense/puzzle/physics/shooter, and if you set the game inside a locked room and also required the player to level up by hitting keys to the music then JayIsGames would have to close because our tag servers would overheat. So maybe it's a good thing Galactic Takedown isn't that game. As it is, it's a fun, fast-paced dose of arcade action that proves if we just put aside our differences, there's nothing we can't make explode. Awwwww.

Play Galactic Takedown


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Link Dump Fridays

DoraEvery Thursday evening when Jay lets me out of my kennel to give me my scoop of nourishing gruel while he checks to make sure the shock collar is still functioning, I take the time to pen you, our beloved audience, your Link Dump Friday with a trembling malnourished hand... hah! I'm totally kidding, it's the best here. We have a Hawaiian shaved ice maker in the break room, and every night Jay reads us a bedtime story and gives all the characters funny voices. This week we have broken down ponies, sun burns, alien junk mail, mountaineering, and the world's least safety compliant roller coaster. Enjoy!

  • Sheriff SamSheriff Sam - This arcade/defense shooter hybrid contains a horse with a broken leg and other stuff you probably shouldn't laugh at. When Sam's trusty steed puts a hoof wrong, you'll have to hold off buzzards, aliens, and more until help arrives. Just point and click to shoot, and upgrade your abilities between waves. But while the gameplay may be nothing to get that excited about, I have a special snug place reserved in my heart for the writing, which is both weird and funny in an effortless, breezy way that makes you laugh when you least expect it.
  • PostManPostMan - I'd always heard the post man rings twice, not "the post man has to retrieve your alien mail from elaborate point-and-click puzzle contraptions with little instruction as to how to go about doing so". Literature lied to me! Despite its relative shortness, this little puzzler is big on charm, and thankfully lacking in Kevin Costner.
  • Epic CoasterEpic Coaster - How do you ride roller coasters? Do you throw your arms up over the hills and loops? Or do you blubber until it stops and have to be escorted shakily off the ride so you can lay down for a while under the t-shirts in the gift-shop? Heavily inspired by Canabalt, this is a stylish game where you try to keep the coaster on the tracks for as long as possible while racking up a high score and various bonuses. There's a good chance you'll lose interest long before you actually fall off the tracks, and the jump button occasionally seems to decide it doesn't like the way you pressed it. Still, if you're looking for some flash in your day, you've come to the right place.
  • Holiday SimHoliday Sim - This snarky retro-looking point-and-clicker, choose-yer-own-adventure-ish game claims to be a simulation of a holiday, but I hope for your sake it isn't. Explore your surroundings, get achievements, and partake in such fine activities as gambling, sand castle building, baking yourself into a fine leathery crisp, and shark fleeing. Hooray! Forget Universal Studios, I know what I'm doing for my vacation this year! Painful peeling sunburns and expensive unpalatable tiki drinks all the way, yo!
  • Mt.Mt. - Have you ever wanted to be a mountaineer? Sure you have. The bracing winds. The terrifying drops. The chapped lips. The itchy woolen socks. The ... wait, being a mountaineer stinks! At least in this tricky little game you can experience all the thrill with none of the discomfort. (Unless you count wanting to break your monitor discomfort.) Just type in the name of anything (mountain or otherwise), hint [enter], and climb away! The controls are definitely an acquired taste, but there's something addictive about it anyway.

  • Currently 3.3/5
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Rating: 4.4/5 (78 votes)
| Comments (15) | Views (105)

Babylon Sticks: It's A Rampage comic

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


  • Currently 3.9/5
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Rating: 3.9/5 (88 votes)
| Comments (25) | Views (73)

Kyletowardsthelight.pngNo, Towards The Light is not some sort of pixelated existential crisis in game form. Nor is it some touching art house game where one gains inner peace through the manipulation of abstract objects that serve as a visual metaphor for people and God. Well, maybe that last one a tiny little bit if you squint and tilt your head just so, but what Towards The Light really is is a challenging but fun classic platform game with a twist.

In each level you have two goals. Reaching the white door in the level will save your progress from that level as well as unlock the next. Meanwhile, you are going to want to collect all of the light blue spirits in each room in order to power up the giant soul cannon and launch yourself to who knows where. To do these things, you'll use your [arrow] keys to run and jump using [X]. Oh, and you'll also want to hold down [C] to go into ghost mode. While in ghost mode you will pass right through most spikes and platforms and walls. Also, if you happen to connect with an enemy while in ghost mode, you will possess that enemy, and more importantly, you gain their abilities.

Borrowing heavily off of MoneySeize, Towards the Light is a skill testing, spike hopping, bullet dodging platform game. What sets this platform jumper apart from the rest is the nicely implemented ghost mode that, combined with nice level design, allows the player to explore conventional platforming in new and unique ways. Towards the Light might not appeal to a wide swath of gamers, but lovers of all things platform should find this a decently juicy morsel to snack upon.

Play Towards the Light


  • Currently 3.9/5
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Rating: 3.9/5 (84 votes)
| Comments (16) | Views (131)

DoraPipol SmasherHow often do you get to say Stephen King was right? The vehicles have gotten sick of their soft, squishy masters, and I'm going to go right ahead and blame you for this one, pal. Is it because of the time you let those guys who stank of Axe Body Spray drive it to their kegger? Is it revenge for that one thing you did in your parents' car you think nobody knows about? Pipol Smasher by Vogd is a physics puzzler where the goal is to incapacitate all the helpless ragdoll pipol to get to the next level and cause as much damage as you can. Click on a vehicle to start it moving, then click it again to make it stop. Since the pipol are strangely reluctant to be smashed and have tried to place themselves where you can't get to them, you'll have to utilize your environment full of precariously balanced objects and the power of vehicular teamwork to reach them. Just don't get too cocky; send a car flying offscreen and you'll fail the level. If you get stuck, just click "restart".

If you're noticing some similarities between Pipol Smasher and Vehicles, there's a good reason for that... namely, Vogd created them both. As such, Pipol Smasher's first handful of levels feel like a de-cutesified retread of familiar territory. The biggest problem is actually one you'll find in the lion's share of physics puzzles, and that's a frustrating tendency to have to hope for the best as the physics engine takes over certain finicky events. There's also very little instruction given, so for the most part you're left to experiment with your surroundings and find out how creation objects react to a judicious application of homicidal car.

As mildly gruesome as it may be in concept, Pipol Smasher is actually bloodless, and there's something incredibly entertaining about dropping a bus on unwary pipol, or sending a helpless ragdoll flying towards his buddy to knock them both into a gout of flames. When the physics work the way they're supposed to and you nail the timing, certain levels are wickedly fun to watch play out the way they're supposed to. Only a few of the game's thirty levels are actually that tricky, requiring you to be quick with your clicks to win, and I might actually have preferred a bit more of a challenge. All of this combines to make Pipol Smasher a flawed but fun little coffee break of a game to enjoy. Then again, I am admittedly a little twisted. How about you?

Play Pipol Smasher

Thanks to Roomescaper for sending this one in!


  • Currently 3.9/5
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Rating: 4.6/5 (171 votes)
| Comments (14) | Views (683)

DoraPulsateWhoa there, cowboy. You can put away your trigger finger for today. Come to think of it, while you're at it, why don't you let the gears between your ears cool down a bit? Pulsate by André Michelle is a relaxing little musical webtoy where you just click to create. Click anywhere within the black play area to create an orange circle that will expand until it touches another. When the two collide, they emit a tone and then shrink back down before expanding again. You can create as many circles as you want, including circles within circles, and the result is a simple but calming melody that sounds a bit like rain and a bit like a sedate toddler on a xylophone. Hit the [spacebar] to clear the screen.

It's lovely, it's relaxing, and it's just a shame that there's no way to share your musical explorations with people you can't physically pull into the room your computer is in. The ability to also just delete a single shape instead of the whole lot would have made it easier to experiment. Still, Pulsate is one of those simple little things that can put a smile on your face, and that's always a good thing. Despite a distinct lack of space aliens to blow up or princesses to rescue, it's a great way to spend some time. So go ahead and create a little; we promise you the universe will be safe for one afternoon without you.

Play Pulsate


  • Currently 4.1/5
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Rating: 4.1/5 (120 votes)
| Comments (33) | Views (442)

Dungeon Escape!ArtbegottiOnce upon a time (about seven years ago), there was a brave man who got locked up inside a dungeon. As he fought to escape the many rooms of the dungeon, he found that many more rooms were added over the course of the next few years. Originally featured here back in 2006, Studiohunty is proud to present the completed version of the point-and-click puzzle game, Dungeon Escape!

In the style of old laserdisc arcade games such as Dragon's Lair and Space Ace, the goal of Dungeon Escape! is to quickly click the flashing ovals to let your hero (named "Guy") react to his surroundings. Clicking too slowly or clicking in the wrong area means an unfortunate (yet oddly humorous) death. Some rooms might take a single click to escape from, while others require a complex chain of ten or more clicks to conquer. You're allowed to die three times, but after that, it's game over.

While the graphics are much simpler than the original Don Bluth animations, Dungeon Escape! still packs a lot of quirk and pizzazz into each scene. In fact, this is one of the few games where I've found myself to be laughing when I die (which happens a lot). To make it through the game, it might take a bit of memorization to recall where the hotspots are in each scene, but more importantly, fast reflexes and an agile clicker-finger (touchpad users might have difficulty with this game). So if you're ready to take a trip back to the 80's (or a few years ago, which ever is more comfortable for you), lead on, brave stick figure! Your destiny awaits!

Play Dungeon Escape!


  • Currently 4.7/5
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Rating: 4.7/5 (243 votes)
| Comments (47) | Views (1,051)

Weekday Escape

GrinnypOkay, so a friend phones you up and says, "Hey, I have this great new place, you should see it! Big, beautiful windows that let in a lot of natural light, high ceilings, everything you'd want in a residence." So you go over and yes, cool place, but then your friend locks you in. In the real world, you would probably just pick up the nearest expensive object and send it sailing through one of those stunning floor-to-ceiling windows and wander out, probably punching your former friend along the way, permanently destroying the friendship. However, this is the world of Tesshi-e, so instead of wanton destruction it is time to Escape from the Big Windows Room.

Escape from the Big Windows RoomTesshi-e room escape games are getting better and better with each iteration. Like Escape from the Rest House before it, Escape from the Big Windows Room is mostly in English, so at least you know what's going on. And at least this time you've not just wandered into somebody's house blindly. No, this time you are lured there. With friends like that, who needs enemies?

Once again Tesshi-e brings us a delightful little confection, a classic room escape. Simpler than some of the games previous, Escape from the Big Windows Room still has just about everything you'd want in an escape game. Easy navigation bars on the side of the screen, a simple, uncluttered space, accessible inventory, a mute and save button, almost everything. Now all we need is someone who can write Japanese to e-mail Tesshi-e about changing cursors, and we'd be all set.

Tesshi-e has really gone all out on the backgrounds this time. The space is frankly so stunningly gorgeous your first thought might not be escaping so much as trying to figure out how to steal the lease/mortgage out from under your so-called friend. You know, the one who likes locking you into confined spaces. It would have been nice, however, if a little more attention had been paid to the puzzles. Not that this is a bad escape, and the puzzles are all logical and flow from one to another, but this is an example of "Tesshi-e light". Pretty basic, and easily gotten out of, even with the usual alternate "happy coin" escape.

Despite a bit of pixel hunting and the lack of a changing cursor, though, Escape from the Big Windows Room is definitely a great break for the mid-week, a fun pick-me-up to get you out of the doldrums. And perhaps even dream of maybe someday being able to afford to live in such a fantastic space. Hey, even in this economy, a person can dream.

Play Escape from the Big Windows Room


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Rating: 3.8/5 (55 votes)
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DoraSanctuary 17This is it; the last door. Despite the efforts of the Elders, you've made it this far, and you don't intend to stop. Your followers will set up a camp for anyone who wants to come and join your cause, but it's up to you to brave the darkness. Why are you here? What exists beyond the long, dark tunnels full of strange machinery and menace? This is Sanctuary 17, the new retro, action, exploration game with roguelike influences from Twofold Secret.

Initially, you can see very little; all you have is a weak flashlight that severely limits your vision. Use the [arrow] keys to move around the randomly generated map, [X] to charge your shield (if available), and [Z] to interact with certain terminals and fire your weapon. But you might not want to do that unless you absolutely have to, since you have a limited amount of battery power and each shot uses it up. Most enemies are minor annoyances. Robots, however, are another story; you can spot them at a distance because of the glow they give off, and you'll probably want to steer clear whenever possible. A single hit from a robot laser means instant death, and with narrow corridors like these, maneuvering can be difficult.

Keep an eye out for terminals; each one you boot up provides a save point. They also allow you to communicate with Rusty, someone who stayed behind (wherever "behind" is), but is still pulling for you and can be of great help. Unfortunately, most of the terminals you'll find need to be jump-started with some of your battery power... a significant chunk, in fact. Looks like you'll have to hunt down some robots after all, since they drop valuable batteries when destroyed.

Sanctuary 17If you die, well... stop it! Your group has a limited number of followers, and as long as somebody is still alive, you can continue the journey as a new person. More people join your group the longer you last and the farther you go, so learning how to keep your eyes and ears open for danger becomes important if you want to last. Of course, the farther you go, the more dangerous the robots you'll face become.

Analysis: If pressed by a pressing sort of person, I might describe Sanctuary 17 as a "kinda roguelike". It's got the randomly generated levels and items, but is realtime rather than turn-based. Strategy will get you far; trick robots into firing on each other, and learn to be an opportunist... whoever said shooting someone in the back is cowardly probably wasn't talking about deadly robots. While the tools at your disposal are initially pretty meager, if you're lucky you can find better items within boxes in certain rooms; from more powerful weaponry to lanterns to night vision goggles. With the simple, pick-up-and-play style and intriguing story, Sanctuary 17 is pretty addictive. Unfortunately, it can be pretty frustrating sometimes, too.

Sanctuary 17The problem is that since the map is randomly generated, you tend to see a lot of long, meandering corridors, and the game doesn't really offer much in the way of scenery to liven them up other than "Robots!", "Oh God, other robots!" and occasionally, "STUPID, STUPID SPIDER CREATURES." It really makes you wish the layouts tended to be more involved than just hallway after hallway. As such, you can go a long time without anything happening, and it's easy to get discouraged, particularly when your heroes are so inclined to burst into squishy redness at the slightest provocation. The end result is a somewhat uneven experience, swinging between periods of atmospheric exploration that have you going "Oooo" and keyboard-snappingly frustrating instant death that has you going "ARGH".

Fortunately, the game's randomly generating layout comes to the rescue when you least expect it to. After several playthroughs (okay, attempted playthroughs), I was still finding new rooms and bits of plot that fascinated me, and it was enough to keep me coming back for more, at least until I finished it. There are apparently three endings to discover, but if you've played Sanctuary 17 all the way to the end at least once, you've probably seen most of the little events and rooms it has to offer, and trying to complete it two more times might be asking a bit much. Still, if you've been looking for that elusive "something different", Sanctuary 17 will provide, and despite its limited appeal, is still worth a look.

Play Sanctuary 17


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Rating: 4/5 (101 votes)
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joyeAsteriskTwinkle, twinkle, little star. How I wonder how I can get you without overlapping any shapes I've already made? Not much of a song, but it does make Asterisk a soothing puzzler from Vivern Games.

In each level, you're presented with a field of different shapes such as pentagons, circles, and triangles, and a whole bunch of red stars. By clicking and holding on the other shapes, you expand their edges to capture stars. So clicking and holding on a circle makes an ever-increasing circle, and the same with the other shapes. The goal is to clear all the stars on the level. The catch is that you can't have any shapes overlapping each other, and you can only use each shape once. To maximize your score, try to capture the shooting stars that randomly float through the level, and complete the board as quickly as possible for a time bonus.

With its tinkling music box soundtrack and simple design, Asterisk is easy on the eyes and ears. Since there are only 20 levels, this is more of a Zen, stress-relieving coffee break game than something meaty to really get your puzzling hooks into, but sometimes that's exactly what you're looking for.

Play Asterisk


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Rating: 3.4/5 (58 votes)
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Mikemike-honeyhunter-screen1.jpgBees. We fear them. Ever since our teachers warned us against tampering with beehives, we've imagined horrid droning swarms armed with venomous harpoons and a zeal for stinging manflesh. But perhaps we should see the world through their tiny eyes, a world of hostile arthropods, artillery-grade raindrops, and really, really spiky plants. Honey Hunter, an outwardly cute mouse-controlled side-scrolling game by Denys Moysin (SBTeam), gives us a dark glimpse at the fragile lives of these misunderstood creatures.

You are a lone soldier drone, tasked by your queen with various missions to further the glory of your hive. Control is with the mouse, the clicking of which will make with the stinging of hostile insects, spiders, and larger foes. Each mission involves a group of levels, and you can only complete a level by collecting all the hexagonal drops of golden honey to be found, some of which are guarded or dangerously positioned. Missions also end with boss fights, in which your combat skills are put to the test. Hopefully before boss battles you have taken the time to upgrading your speed, attack and health at the hive, spending experience points gained from gathering honey and killing mean animals. Collect honey, avoid obstacles, and serve your hive.

Honey Hunter is very cute. Graphics are bright and colorful, the soundtrack is usually bouncy and sunny, and the animation slick and cartoon-like. The cuteness is deceptive, because it's not a light or easy game. Attacking takes some finesse and timing, and you are often better off avoiding larger foes instead of taking them on directly. Careful avoidance is a big part of the game, because apart from the baddies, everything from water to spiderwebs to unusually thorny flora can consume your meager (though expandable) health reserves. Some drops of honey are also positioned so that only a careful, surgeon-like hand can collect them without touching a hazard. The game is surprisingly tricky.

It's also surprisingly dark. I mean, it's kid-friendly enough. This isn't Edward Gorey we're talking about. But the extreme fragility of the protagonist is enhanced by certain elements of the story, such as it is. Even though it stays colorful and cheerful, I am very much left with the impression that a bee's world is a dangerous one.

The juxtaposition between cute and dangerous is strange, but it shouldn't detract from a solid, if tricky, arcade side-scroller. It's not the most original title, but it's well-designed, and it's take on apian life is intriguing. Remember the advice of your teachers: the bees are as scared as you are.

Play Honey Hunter


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Rating: 4.5/5 (137 votes)
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BinaryArtbegottiEvery tech worker has his list of pet peeve gripes. The copier is out of paper, my computer won't start, we're out of Post-It notes. Someday in the future, we'll be able to add to that list "Our supercomputers orbiting each other in space are down, could you head out there and fix them? Oh, and grab a box of donuts on the way back." (*Sigh.) It wouldn't be so much of a hassle if they didn't ask for donuts every trip I make out there. But in Binary, a sliding puzzle game by Ansel, the donuts are the least of your concerns.

After your ship lands, use the [arrow] keys to move around and jump. When you come upon a puzzle to solve, press the [Z] key to enter it (and again to leave it). All puzzles are solved by clicking buttons with the mouse. Most of the puzzles are of the sliding-puzzle sort, where you have to rearrange tiles to match a specific pattern, but being aware that your moves often affect more than one tile at a time. Pay attention to how each puzzle works, and try to develop a plan for solving each puzzle before jumping right in.

Though the entire game is only a few puzzles long, if you're not familiar with how each puzzle works, Binary can be quite a challenge to get through. With a bit of patience and careful planning, each puzzle is entirely solvable. Ansel does an impressive job of setting up the puzzles in an atmosphere of astronomical mystique. What do the supercomputers do? What sort of corporation runs a plant of this sort in the middle of space? Where is that dang tech guy with those donuts already? Depending on your puzzle prowess, Binary could be a walk in the park or a struggle to break from orbit, but either way, it's a puzzle challenge that's worth tackling.

Play Binary

Thanks to repairmanman for sending this one in!


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Rating: 3.5/5 (73 votes)
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joyeka-BloomAt first they only ate a few chains at a time. One galaxy fell. Then another. The Florets were always growing, always hungry, never satisfied. And I... I was held in their thrall, a slave to my desire to increase my score. Ka-Bloom is not a colorful, cheery chain-building puzzle game from Strongman Games. It is a nightmare wrapped in an enigma, a test of just how much one will neglect the repercussions of one's actions in pursuit of a meaningless ranking.

Nah, just kidding, it's the first thing.

The goal of the game is to eat the galaxy! Well, sort of. You control a slumbering creature called a Floret, who needs to be awoken in order to consume everything she can to... Ka-Bloom! Feed your Floret by chaining together icons on screen for her eat in one long line when she awakes. Give her enough food, and you'll be rewarded with an adorable explosion, and proceed to the next level.

The game's first tutorial explains the basics of the game; use your mouse to draw links between gems by clicking and dragging; slash with the mouse to disconnect links you don't want; double-click on the Floret to wake her; use the mouse to control the Floret's arm and click to grab gems to drag into her gaping maw; blue gems grow, silver gems give XP; grow the outer boundary of the Floret to a fill line to beat the level. However, other techniques and more subtle details are left for tutorials in later galaxies or go unexplained altogether. The player has to figure out what exactly makes a high score, how the combo meter fills, and a number of other details.

Some of the aspects of the game that are available from the first level of the first galaxy (like hotlinking, where you click on gems that are on fire and drag to link the gem to another chain) are not explained until tutorials in later galaxies. It is definitely worth your while to play the tutorials in the later galaxies. Not only do they reveal new information, such as the functions of new gem colors (green temporarily expands the fill line, for example), but you also earn XP from silver gems eaten while playing them.

ka-BloomAnalysis: The game offers no tips on strategy, so it's up to the player to figure it out by trial and error. On some levels it is possible to eat every single gem but do it in such a way that you leave yourself too small to conquer the level. On the other hand, if you greedily link and eat too many expanding gems too quickly, you may find the level is won way too fast, sometimes after the very first chain, and thus you've robbed yourself of possible XP. The XP is used to upgrade the combo meter, the number of chains you can have at a time, the radius of linking, and the time that the Floret spends asleep at the beginning of a level. Upgrading the Floret enables you to get a higher score for sure, but as far as I can tell every level is beatable with the basic Floret model, even in the highest levels, so you don't need to worry about having to grind.

This is a game that actually has a lot of strategy to it and it can be frustrating to feel that despite the bright colors and cheery synthesized soundtrack, you're completely in the dark as to the correct method. On the other hand, if you love puzzle games that you have to figure out yourself, and consider figuring out the rules to be part of the challenge, Ka-Bloom will certainly reward the effort, because once you do figure out all the minutiae it's a lot of fun. The upgrade system also gives the game great replay value, since you can return to earlier galaxies with your souped-up Floret and really clean up.

In any event, playing Ka-Bloom will ensure that when the floral monstrosities awaken from their millennial slumber, they will be pleased with you and eat you first. Viva les collaborateurs!

Play Ka-Bloom

Update: The issue that some people have been reporting in the comments causing their browsers to crash has been fixed. If you experienced issues before playing Ka-Bloom, you might want to give this little gem another try!


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Rating: 3.6/5 (51 votes)
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DoraThe TerminalWelcome, employee! It's another wonderful day here at the labs. Here's your labcoat, your complimentary coffee mug (not to be removed from the premises), and your instructions for avoiding the daily fiery demise. See, it seems that B.O.B, the FailSafe Terminal A.I., has, um, gone a bit wonky, and our very own factory bots have now turned against our beloved HQ. At any other time, I would advise you to crawl under your desk, make peace with whatever deities you have, and call that person from high school and tell them how cute you thought they really were but never had the nerve to say. But this is not any other time! This is The Terminal, the new action/shooter/defense/explodey hybrid, and you're going to take reins and stamp out B.O.B's invading army or die trying! Don't worry, we're right behind you!... well, not, like, right behind you... it's dangerous out there! What do you expect me to do? I'm just management! It's not like I have any real skills!

Like all the best war machines, even a child could operate the mech you find yourself stomping around in. Move with the [WASD] or [arrow] keys, and aim and shoot with the mouse. You can see incoming enemies on the map at the bottom of the screen as little beige blips. Destroying enemies not only means cash that you can use to upgrade your mech at any time (just hit [P] or click the gears icon), it also occasionally nets you valuable powerups if you're lucky. And you'd better be quick and smart as well as lucky, since our beloved HQ makes just as tasty a target to your foes as you do; leave home base unprotected for long, and you could find yourself coming back to a smoking crater. (And a failed game.)

Of course, all defense is no good either; B.O.B's not going to get tired, so unless the idea of riding out the mechanical assault for the rest of eternity sounds good to you, you'll want to trek across town whenever possible and lay down some siege of your own on B.O.B itself. Enemies spawn in waves, and if you're quick and strong, you can net yourself some valuable "down time" where you can hammer away at B.O.B's defenses before a new set of bots rolls out to rain on your parade.

The TerminalAnalysis: Easily the game's strongest point is its presentation, which is some of the best of its kind I've seen represented in a flash game before. The aesthetic design is appealingly shabby, giving the whole thing a retro-verging-on-apocalyptic feel. There's a lot to see (and explode) as you stroll around town (and explode it), and chock full of subtle (and unsubtle) nods to popular culture. The town itself is beautifully made and a lot of fun to tour, but it does feel disappointingly empty; I realise the game is supposed to be a simulation, but c'mon... don't you want a bunch of screaming civilians running around your metal feet?

Not that you would have much time to stop and smell the roses, admittedly. Still, it would have been nice to see more variety in the game; you never really feel as though you're getting better at it, just able to soak and deal more damage to the hordes of mostly identical enemies. Most of the time the only real strategy is clearing the field of foes long enough for you to sprint across town and deal a few choice hits to B.O.B before running back to HQ in time for the next wave.

Ultimately, that winds up feeling like what's holding The Terminal back; it has the design, the gameplay, but it's just a bit too repetitive. A little more variance would have gone a long way to making this the type of thing you go to over and over again to get your action fix. As it stands, however, The Terminal is still an absolutely stellar example of its genre; beautiful to look at, and smooth to play, it's easy to throw yourself into the action. If only there were a bigger variety of it.

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8th Casual Gameplay Design Competition

Just a quick reminder that there is just 1 week left to polish up your design for a browser game that incorporates the theme "SANDBOX". You may use any browser-based platform (Flash, Shockwave, Java, Unity, etc) as long as we can embed the entire game on our competition page. See the official competition announcement for details.

We are expecting entries to be on the light side this time, so your chances of taking top prize are better than ever. So finish up and get those entries in!

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.

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

Note: Comments are disabled for this entry. Please continue to use the official competition announcement page for posting questions and comments. Cheers!


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Mobile Monday

JohnBA proper Victorian gentleman never swears or loses his temper. He should never fail to raise his hat to an acquaintance, and if he should bump into someone or step upon a lady's dress, a sincere "Beg your pardon" should be uttered. Also, fist bumps are appropriate only when in the company of other similarly-bodacious gentlemen.

helsingsfire.jpgHelsing's Fire - Ooh, hello puzzle game with an attitude! Play as Helsing and Raffton as they set out to rid London of the stinky menace that is evil. Nasty enemies inhabit every corner of the city, but you're armed with torches and tonics! Place the torch to light up as many enemies as you can, then drop a tonic to send them packing. Enemies can be different colors, requiring a different kind of tonic, and some come with shields or the ability to mess with your torch. A wonderfully crafted puzzle game that's full of personality and wit. The various victory fist pounds/high fives the duo gives each other after each round makes the game worth grabbing!

rebounce.jpgReBounce - What happens when Breakout decides to take up extreme sports? ReBounce, a rather insane physics game of bouncing pucks and ever-rising columns of orbs. The goal is simple: bump against all of the marbles to make them disappear. Each group of like-colored orbs vanishes after a few hits, all you have to do is tap and drag to aim the puck and release to fire away. Practice mode lets you try a more traditional Breakout-style mode, but the intense Rush mode that pits you against constantly rising columns is where the real entertainment is at. ReBounce Free is also available!

purehidden-i.jpgPure Hidden - Do you like to find things that are hidden? Such as... objects? Pure Hidden dispenses with all that story business and throws you in the ring with a pile of items and a ticking timer on the side of the screen. Find items until the pile thins down to nothing (if you're quick enough), then head back to the main menu to experience a handful of other levels and modes. It's a smart miniaturization of the Mac/PC release. Similar to Doodle Find in some ways, though with less emphasis on quick rounds of play. Pure Hidden Free is also available.

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


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Atmosphir

JohnBAfter an extensive beta period where the game moved from a download to a browser-based Unity experience, the 3D platform adventure game Atmosphir is open and ready for everyone! Fueled by user-created content, Atmosphir allows anyone to craft custom levels using a simple, thorough, and surprisingly fun editor.

AtmosphirThe goal of Atmosphir? Run around and have fun! Each level has its own set of objectives, story (if it has a story at all), enemies, landscape features, and so on. Maybe all you need to do is run to the other side of a platform before time runs out. Maybe you need to find a certain item, defeat some enemies, or reach the checkpoint flag. Maybe you'll take part in an epic journey that spans several chapters. The objectives are entirely up to the level designer, all you have to do is hop in and have a good time.

Items, enemies and equipment add a "game" feeling to Atmosphir, and if used correctly, they can make exploration all the more entertaining. Some common items include speed and jump boosters which increase your movement speed and jump height respectively or health items to keep you alive and kickin'. You'll also find more intriguing power-ups like the comet that allows you to fly for a short period of time. Combat is also a part of the experience, so be prepared to take some swings at enemies from time to time.

Creating your own content is just as much a part of Atmosphir as playing the game is. Using a simple point and click interface, you can place, move, color and shape your stage using everything you would normally see in the game. Raise and lower your build level to craft vertical stages, hollow out caves to create secret passageways, set level goals, music, time limits, power-ups, and so on. It's your canvas, and the more you play around with level design, the better your creations will become and the more the community will appreciate your work.

And there's multiplayer! Many levels feature either cooperative or competitive multiplayer modes, allowing you to hop in and play with random Atmosphir folks or some of your friends. You can either join existing sessions or create your own, the choice is yours.

AtmosphirAnalysis: The strength of Atmosphir is in its community, and even throughout the game's beta phases users weren't afraid to flex their imaginations. At the time of writing there are over 50,000 custom levels created by the players, ranging from simple one-trick stages to serious adventures to just-for-fun stages. There's no shortage of cool stuff to find, and you can filter levels by rating and difficulty to find something suitable for your mood.

Behind the scenes, Atmosphir is run on Atmos, an in-game currency used for purchasing clothes, weapons, masks, hairstyles, facial features, and other items to customize your avatar. Most of these are purely cosmetic, but several will alter your character's attack power/speed or allow you to defend yourself. Spending money is entirely optional for the game, and even if you never drop an atmo you still have access to all the levels, the editor, and character customization tools the game has to offer.

Update: Unfortunately, Atmosphir is no longer available to play.

The down side? There really isn't one. Aside from the occasional stink bomb of a level (the map designer's fault, not Atmosphir's), you'll find very few problems with the game. The occasional camera hiccup or a minor hit detection snafu are the only things you'll run into while playing, and that says a lot for a game that lets anyone create levels. Some days the servers are slower than others, creating awkward lag when you switch menu screens or try to change levels. Otherwise, your only limitation is your imagination.

Atmosphir is doing great things for community driven games and 3D browser-based platformers. It's come a long way since its initial inception, adding lots of nice features and upgrading itself with each iteration. With a strong player community and a creative, active development team, the experience is getting nothing but better as time passes!

Update: This game is no longer available. Previously tagged as: 3d, browser, community, creativity, free, game, leveleditor, mac, multiplayer, platform, rating-g, unity, windows


  • Currently 4.3/5
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Rating: 4.3/5 (22 votes)
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Weekend Download

JohnBNow here's something you don't see every day: an adventure/hidden object game that tries to tell a story. A real story. And succeeds. Not only does Elixir of Immortality know how to weave an intriguing plot, it knows how to do it with pictures, setting, and presentation instead of loads of words. You won't find blocks of text or terrible voice acting in this game. All that's to be had is a delicious tale of intrigue, a lot of fantastic mini-games, and scenery so packed with so much mystery you'll want to wade in and start messing around with things yourself.

Elixir of ImmortalityIt all starts with a cloaked figure, a "hired hand", and a cliff. Forced to drink the elixir of immortality, the poor lad downs it and is immediately shot, proving his potion to be a failure. Now, you, the detective, are the new hired hand, and as the game begins, you're thrown in a dripping cellar with no light as the doors are sealed shut. Will you be the next to meet your fate on the cliff?

So, let's get out of here, shall we? You think you saw a lantern in the boat, so move the cursor to the sparkling location and click it to enter a hidden object scene. Elixir of Immortality makes great use of sub-zones within scenes, allowing you to peer deeper into portions of the environment, filling out the world and providing lots of additional puzzles to complete. The game comes with what could possibly the best feature of any hidden object game: a magnifying glass that will show you all the clickable hotspots on the screen. Calling that "useful" is like calling pizza "kinda tasty".

You'll spend most of your time moving back and forth between areas looking for puzzles to solve and hidden object scenes to search through. These sections are more adventure-centric and encourage you to experiment with inventory items (found during the hidden object portions) to open doors, crank gears, move blocks of stone, and more. Elixir of Immortality is very creative with inventory item usage, and this part comes forward as the central mechanic in the game, leaving the object finding and mini-games as secondary bonuses.

Elixir of ImmortalityAnalysis: Elixir of Immortality is a story-driven adventure at heart, not a hidden object game. The meat of the experience comes from soaking in the thick layers of intrigue, rolling around in mystery like it's your job. And it kinda is, seeing as how you're a detective and all. Not only are you curious as to what's going on in this strange castle, you're pretty darn motivated to uncover the truth, because if you don't, you'll find out how un-immortal you are.

As far as the gameplay goes, I was immensely pleased to see the focus shifted away from object finding to inventory and mini-game puzzles. Sure, finding a pair of pliers in a messy scene is fun, but doing something purposeful with said pliers is even cooler. And when you do put them to use and an awesome mini-game about shifting bits of a key to match the tumblers in a lock appears, it's a little slice of sunshine and lollipops in the dim world that is Elixir of Immortality.

What is possibly the game's only downside is length. Four hours is an average completion time, give or take a bit. While the game doesn't seem short by any means (the length feels about right), I'd rather have a four hour game of well-integrated awesome than a seven hour game of "meh". Vogat Interactive, the same folks who created Reincarnations: Awakening, knows how to avoid the latter.

Elixir of Immortality puts on a fantastic show. From the wonderful scenery art to the suspenseful tale of mad science and cloaked figures, it's one of those rare games that takes hold of your curiosity and pulls you along until you're staring at the end credits.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


(9 votes) *Average rating will show after 20 votes
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Hidden Mysteries: Vampire Secrets

DoraClaire's been having a rough time of it lately. She's been having strange episodes that are making her question her sanity and leaving her unable to focus on her job. A visit to her aunt in Savannah should net her some much needed rest... and TERROR! *70s horror movie keyboard soundtrack* ... okay, so maybe Hidden Mysteries: Vampire Secrets isn't all that scary. At all. But what it is, is an extremely well made point-and-click/hidden-object hybrid that will take you from a quiet little house in the suburbs all the way to a dungeon in a remote castle. Sounds like my kind of night!

Hidden Mysteries: Vampire SecretsSparkles indicated a hidden-object scene, and the cursor will change to show you places you can interact with, or items you can pick up. If you get stuck, during normal exploration clicking on "tips" in the lower right corner will briefly mark every place on screen you can interact with. In each hidden-object scene, Claire finds items she needs to use to proceed, but occasionally, she finds books as well. Stored in their own page of your inventory, books may appear to be unrelated to your quest, but actually contain clues you'll need to use to solve certain puzzles.

Analysis: Considering the word "vampire" is right there in the title, it feels a little silly for Hidden Mysteries: Vampire Secrets to spent three-quarters of the game being coy about what's really going on in Savannah. Of course, the word "mystery" is in the title as well, so Claire has to travel around gathering clues, and at least in this respect the game is very good at making you feel like you really are unraveling something. (Even if it should be immediately obvious that the answer to everything is "VAMPIRES, duh.") While the character models tend to be a little bland, featuring a disconcerting thousand-yard-stare that seems to come with that sort of design, the environments themselves are beautiful, and made all the more atmospheric by a soundtrack that relies on ambient noise as well as music to bring you in.

Hidden Mysteries: Vampire SecretsBut what's really remarkable about the game, at least for one of its genre, is that none of the hidden-object scenes are ever repeated. The game moves from location to location fairly quickly, and not once does it ever force you to backtrack to a hidden-object scene you've already solved; each one you'll encounter is unique, and only seen once. It's an extremely tightly designed little game in that regard, and it's nice to feel like not only is it not wasting your time, but the developers put a lot of work into it.

The puzzles, unfortunately, are a bit of a mixed bag, where the contents are either "tricky but uninspired" or "meh". If you're paying any attention to your surroundings, chances are you'll spot clues to puzzle solutions every where you look. You'll probably spend between three and four hours of the game, but it could have been longer if the puzzles themselves were more involved, or just more challenging. You'll find yourself sprinting through the game fairly quickly, and while this helps the narrative move along, it also means you won't get that feeling of slow dread the game is trying so hard in places to convey.

In the end, what holds the game back from being really great is just an unfortunate lack of originality. Heck, it even feels the need to squeeze some awkward undead flirtation in the last half hour or so. It also ends rather abruptly, leaving a lot of plot points unanswered, or even mentioned; The result is a very atmospheric and solid little title that could have been a lot better than it is, but is still pretty good despite everything. Although it doesn't pull out any new surprises, Hidden Mysteries: Vampire Secrets is well made, and offers up a nice evening's worth of object hunting and puzzle solving through a wide variety of locations.

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Weekend Download

JohnBOne of the games featured on this Weekend Download is a product of the GameJolt Indie Game Demake Contest, a recently-completed competition that tasked game creators to strip their favorite indie game of anything more complex than a few elements and scale it down to a retro size. The results were excellent, and you can find dozens more to play on the contest page, including some browser games!

evereternalwinterworld2.gifEverEternal WinterWorld 2 (mirror) (Windows, 20MB, free) - Inspired by games such as Cave Story and The Underside, EverEternal WinterWorld 2 is a platform adventure with crisp pixel artwork and a lovely set of ability upgrades stashed throughout the game. You're about to build a Winter Machine when suddenly your plan is foiled by former pal Companion Pot. Yes, a piece of ceramics is your nemesis. Expect about a three to five hour adventure with this game, with an average level of challenge and an above-average level of humor.

nationofreincars.gifNation of Reincars (Windows, 4MB, free) - A game about death, reincarnation, and probably a lot more death afterwards. You start off as an apparently lowly human walking along a stark yellow landscape. A pit of spikes is in your way. You can't jump across. What do you do? Kill yourself and reincarnate as something that CAN. Come back as a turtle, rabbit, worm, monkey, or bird, each with its own unique abilities that will help you make it through the stage. You can only incarnate as each animal once, so a lot of trial and error will be in order. A very thoughtful and challenging game.

sulkeis.gifSulkeis (Windows, 9.8Mb, free) - A demake of Seiklus by Legendary Creations (author of A Picture is Worth a Thousand Orbs) that took second place in the GameJolt Indie Game Demake Contest. If you've played the already minimalist Seiklus, you'll probably wonder what a demake of the game could accomplish. Well, surprisingly a lot! The goals and basic set-up are the same in both games, but you'll find the puzzles and layout different this time around. Simply wander around the landscape, climbing vines and hopping around to gather anything worth gathering.

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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Golden Trails

JohnBGolden Trails: The New Western Rush is a new hidden object game from Awem Studio. Set in the frontiers of the old American west, you fill the boots of Jack, a sheriff on a forced vacation to the "quiet" town of Sunnyvale. Trouble finds him as soon as he arrives, however, as the bank has just been robbed and everyone else seems to be in a predicament of one kind or another. Good thing Jack wasn't interested in relaxing, anyway!

goldentrails.jpgThe gameplay in Golden Trails is, for the most part, a straight-up hidden object game. As you investigate each scene, pictures of items will appear at the bottom of the screen. Find and click the item to clear it from your list, opening a spot for something new. Some items will land in your inventory and can be used to access hidden parts of the stage, such as keys that unlock doors, a rake to move a pile of hay, or a crowbar to pry open a box. If something needs an inventory item to be found, the game lets you know, so you'll never feel lost or have to fumble around to find your next task.

The story is a huge part of the experience in Golden Trails, and you'll find more than just a few cowboys and bank robbers as you move through the towns. Each new character is introduced with a brief bio that brings with him/her a new level of intrigue. Did this four-flusher do something serious or is he just the town drunkard? You find new clues in every scene, thickening the plot like a good mystery novel.

A few neat events take place during the hidden object portions of the game, such as gangsters popping their heads in at strange moments. "Shoot" them with your cursor and you'll earn a hint, possibly the neatest hint system in any hidden object game. You'll also encounter sparkling stolen items that are worth a ton of points, useful for unlocking the game's Secret Mission. Ooh, capitalization!

goldentrails2.jpgAnalysis: Golden Trails: The New Western Rush will immediately impress you with its broad strokes of gameplay. Mini-games, bonus items, trophies, unlockable extras, secret missions, key items, hidden portions of the scenery, the list goes on and on. Discovering these little bonuses brings that same sense of achievement as, well, earning an achievement! Developer Awem Studio wasn't afraid to cloak a hidden object game in a few bonuses, and the end result feels fresh and interesting at every moment.

Golden Trails offers way more than just a good story, a well-presented game, and a balanced hidden object experience. Available from the top left corner of the main menu is something you rarely see in a casual game: extras. Several wallpapers are available, as well as the game's original (and superb) soundrack. You can even check out a comprehensive game guide and get some info about the making of the game! A shooting gallery is also available, pitting your cursor against a handful of pop-up bad guys to see how many you can take down before time runs out.

Once you beat the game, you'll get access to bonus challenges and, if you find the hidden sheriff badges, a brand new unlimited mode. Unlimited lets you play any stage against the timer, racing to see how many items you can find before the clock strikes nil.

Although it doesn't stretch the genre out in any new directions, Golden Trails: The New Western Rush packs several servings of extras in a casual game that's straight-up fun.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


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Rating: 4.5/5 (190 votes)
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GrinnypDismantlement: BurgerThe Kaitai Dismantlement series is one of the most popular point-and-click series of games ever featured on the site. We've taken apart a radio, a tea canister, a mouse, an alarm clock, a fan, and a hard drive, and found and disabled the bombs in each one. Perhaps it's time to take a break? Fetch a tasty and non-nutritious lunch filled with two all beef patties (well, one all beef), special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed...bomb? You're kidding me, right? No joke, welcome to dismantlement chapter 7, Dismantlement: Burger. Now this is just getting silly!

As with all of the dismantlement games designed by gam.ebb.jp, you only have a screwdriver and your wits to take apart your unhealthy meal before the bomb goes off. Clues are scattered around the tray which also includes a highly sugared drink and twice-fried potatoes, along with some interesting nutrition information. Is gam.ebb.jp making a jab about how consumption of too much of this stuff is a ticking health time bomb? Or are they just running out of ideas of things to dismantle?

Those who have played in the Dismantlement sandbox before will find Dismantlement: Burger a tad on the easy side. Compared to the quality and ingenuity of some of the others in the series this is... well, a bit of a letdown. Still fun to rip in and reduce something to its basic components, but if this is the best that they can come up with then perhaps they might want to go back to the drawing board and stick with what makes these games great: taking apart something you might actually do in real life, like an electronic appliance. Like Tea Canister, Dismantlement: Burger is strangely surreal, but at least this time around no music puzzles or reflex puzzles to drive you nuts.

Not the best in the series, then, but it's always nice to see a sequel to the Dismantlement Series, and Dismantlement: Burger is still a fun way to waste 5 minutes and hey, maybe it'll make you think twice about reaching for a calorie, sugar, fat laden lunch. How about something a bit healthier and less bomb-filled, like a salad? Unless they've got that planned for later down the line. Remember, junk food bad!

Play Dismantlement: Burger


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Link Dump Fridays

DoraWelcome back to another succulent Friday, where this week's games are ripe for the picking! We gotcher snakes, we gotcher toes, we gotcher metaphorical flights of fancy. We got it all! All we need... is you! So warm up your gaming fingers, buff your nails, jump on that unicycle and aim for the floating brain of misery! (I promise, it'll all make sense. Eventually. Probably. Maybe?)

  • Darkness 2Darkness 2 - Hurricane season is almost upon us, and I'll take it upon myself to inform you that, as far as emergency supplies go, flashlights are so last year. No, what you do, see, is you get a paint gun loaded with glowing white paint, and you fire it randomly all around you until ... okay, you probably don't want to rely on magic glowy paint in an emergency, but it does make for an intriguing puzzle platformer. Use paint to find your way to the exit in each level without running out. The problem is that you can basically brute force your way through most of the levels by sheer determined dumb luck without even using any paint.
  • Toe Nail WheelToe Nail Wheel - This is a game where you play a toe. On a wheel. And you're trying to shoot the Brain of Mystery. Seriously. Um. I don't know what else to tell you, other than it's a shooter, with upgrades, where your goal is to dodge or destroy enemies and collect the cash they drop, using it between waves to upgrade your arsenal, all the while pecking away at the health of the Brain of Misery. Which, um. Just sort of sits there, really. It's seriously weird, is what it is, and that's coming from a woman who refuses to drink chocolate milk without a spoon.
  • Shadow SnakeShadow Snake - Shadow Snake is fifty percent shadowy-er than those other shadow snakes! In this stylish upgrade of the iconic arcade game, munch down orbs and avoid enemies until you open the portal to the next level. There's some seriously lovely design going on here, and once you've figured out each enemy's pattern it can get pretty relaxing, but unfortunately not quite varied enough to support your interest once you're past all the romance the "ooooh, ahhhhh" visuals have to offer.
  • Speed Escape 4Speed Escape 4 - It's the time again! You've got three rooms, and five minutes for each one to try to escape. You know, stuff like this makes me glad I haven't been kidnapped by some crazy psychopath and forced to escape his house of clever traps. If my lack of success with escape games is any indication, I'd spend approximately five minutes trying to figure things out, half an hour sulking in pity, and would probably still be trying to find a walkthrough on my awful cellphone connection when the killer returned. I make a very bad victim.
  • Inside a Dead SkyscraperInside a Dead Skyscraper - Created to promote an up-and-coming band, and based on personal experience, this experimental little bit of interactive art from the creator of Every Day the Same Dream is... odd. Armed with a device that lets you read the thoughts of nearby people (or does it?!) you take flight and explore your limited surroundings (or do you?!). Unfortunately for fans hoping lightning will strike twice, this lacks the emotional punch of Every Day the Same Dream and instead just comes off as... odd. Then again, there's nothing wrong with being... odd. I'm told I'm pretty... odd... myself.

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Rating: 4.1/5 (175 votes)
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GrinnypA Bonte EscapeWhat is it with Bart Bonte and cute animals, anyway? They feature prominently in his games, from Full Moon (second place in our CDGC 6 if you recall) all the way back to his first escape the room game, The Bonte Room. Well, Bart is back with another escape featuring a cute animal, go figure. Hot off the presses and just released, welcome to A Bonte Escape!

What you're looking at with A Bonte Escape is, well, your basic room escape. Four walls, a few puzzles, and a cute animal are what you will find in this sparse room. Navigate around using the handy arrows. Revel in the joy of a changing cursor (no pixel hunting!), bop along with the cool music, and you can probably figure your way out in a few minutes. But what a fun few minutes it will be.

The puzzles are based both on logic and your ability to find and use (and combine) objects in the room. Be warned, though, color based puzzles ahead! A Bonte Escape is everything you would expect from Bart Bonte, great production values, easy controls, fun puzzles, easy on the ears music, and logical solutions. This is a man who understands casual gameplay and produces some of the best examples out there.

What are you waiting for, dive in! And be nice to the cute birdy, okay?

Play A Bonte Escape


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Rating: 4.9/5 (164 votes)
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Babylon Sticks: Online Training 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: 4.4/5 (84 votes)
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lceninexp lceninexp-bungluwa-screen1.pngBungluwa, a word of obscure origins, can be loosely translated as meaning: "to make a robot jump rapidly towards the exit point while collecting light bulbs and avoiding things that make it blow up". Coincidentally enough, this also happens to be the basic premise of the game with the same name. Bungluwa, a new retro vertical platform game by Dirk Bunk, tasks the player with controlling a robot, called BGW 10k, with various mechanics hindering the robot's main goal of reaching the exit.

All levels have a time limit to complete. Some levels require you to reach the exit at the top and others at the bottom. Sometimes the level will scroll vertically adding another dimension of pressure. Oh, and there's all these saw blades and spikes that should probably be avoided.

The robot is controlled with the [arrow] keys or [WAD] with [spacebar] also being used for jumping. Jumping is primarily what this robot does and there is an interesting mechanic involving the use of a jumping power meter and multi-jumping. If there is power in the power meter the robot can continue jumping similar to a double-jump in other platform games. With no power in your power meter, no more jumps for you! Fortunately, either not jumping or grabbing one of the plentiful light bulbs found in each level will refill the power meter allowing BGW 10k to continue his quest.

Even when the robot is mangled on spikes or shredded by saw blades the cheerful pixel- rich graphics and thick 8bit analog music and sound effects inspire the player to jump higher and faster the next go round. Certain design decisions like the random background color of each level show an impressive attention to detail.

The 18 regular levels and 6 bonus levels are quite short and the time limits are reasonable so there's very little frustration or rage-quitting for any player with moderate platform skills. Players more experienced with platformers can decide to try grabbing all the light bulbs before reaching the exit for an added challenge. Let's go grab some light bulbs!

Play Bungluwa


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Rating: 4.6/5 (248 votes)
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JoshEpic War 4Got a hankering for tactical warfare? How about commanding an army of diverse, magical creatures and using an array of powerful spells to wreak havoc on the battlefield? That's what Epic War 4 is all about; an exciting mishmash of strategic defense and action-packed combat on—as the name implies—an epic scale. Developed by Rudy Sudarto, Epic War 4 is the latest addition to the Epic War series, which began in 2008 as a defense-oriented homage to the Bowmaster Prelude style of gameplay. It wasn't until last year's installment in the series that Sudarto revamped the format, ditching the "arrow turret" mechanic in favor more spells, units and customized "hero" progression. In Epic War 4, Sudarto continues the trend by accentuating these hero paths, adding more units, spells and campaign content.

Epic War 4 features a side-scrolling battlefield, similar to some real-time strategy games like Shadez 2. The player's castle is always located on the left side of the map, opposite the enemy. From here, your objective is to push your army across the battlefield to destroy the enemy's castle. Your heroes and units spawn automatically, using a timer mechanic with diminishing returns (the more your heroes die, the longer it takes for them to respawn). Both heroes and units obey simple movement commands like "charge" and "retreat," as well as individual selection for specific unit placement. You can control just about everything via the point-and-click method, or use a series of hotkeys for more efficient commands. Scroll the camera across the battlefield with the [arrow] keys, use [A] to select all, [S] to select only heroes and [D] to select only units. Specific units can be selected using [Q] through [O] on the keyboard, and [1] to [6] allows quick access to your spells. To confirm all hero, unit and spell commands, just hit the [spacebar].

Epic War 4Each hero is able to "equip" two units, allowing them to fight in battle. Players begin with one hero and one unit, although each "unit" actually consists of up to a dozen creatures, depending on the unit and its upgrade status. (A unit can be anything from a pack of Goblin Warriors to a single Siege Tank.) Spend gold in the "Upgrade" menu to unlock new heroes, units and spells using the familiar RPG-style progression trees. In addition, each hero, unit and spell can be upgraded up to five times to increase its power (health points, attack power, unit population size and spell power). A defining feature of Epic War 4 is the diversity of heroes and units; they all have varying strengths and weaknesses, as well as special abilities. For example, the Succubus unit is quite fragile, but unleashes a devastating ranged AoE attack. Other units, like Pixies, have defensive abilities that can heal fellow units. Because of this "rock-paper-scissors" combat mechanic, players will benefit from equipping different units between battles, depending on the enemy's army and strategy.

Players also have an assortment of spells that play an important role in influencing the tide of battle; offensive spells like "Thunderbolt" and "Ice Blast" inflict damage and scatter enemy units, while defensive abilities like "Healing" and "Shield" offer precious reprieves from overwhelming attack. There's no "cooldown" period for spells, which are cast using a finite pool of regenerating mana. Remember that similar to heroes and units, spells need to be equipped in the "Arrange" menu after they're purchased. Once equipped, each spell icon is displayed at the top of the screen, below the mana bar. Finally, spells are also similar to units in the sense that you can only equip six of them; once you've unlocked more than that, you'll have to choose the right combination for the battle.

Epic War 4Analysis: Like its predecessor, Epic War 4 emphasizes large-scale, battlefield combat rather than turret/castle defense. You'll still have to protect your base from hordes of enemy soldiers, of course—but the real gameplay is all about massive ground clashes, as opposed to the clichéd defense mechanic of picking off targets from a distance. Epic War 4 features the heated action of real-time strategy without burdening the player with resource management or frivolous, tiered production rules. Automatic spawning means the only thing you need to worry about is when to attack, when to retreat and when to cast spells.

Initially, it might seem a little too easy, as if you can just send your entire army to the enemy's castle, sit back and wait for victory. Indeed, in early levels (set on regular difficulty), that might sometimes be possible. But after the first few stages—especially if you choose "Hard" or "Epic" mode—you'll be in for quite a challenge. To overcome the enemy's army, you'll have to learn when to pull your forces back, the optimal ranking order of your heroes and units, and when to fire off specific spells for maximum effect. One of the worst things that can happen is allowing your heroes to fall; the production of new units equipped to that hero will grind to a halt until it respawns, leaving you vulnerable to an overwhelming enemy rampage.

Epic War 4For all its merit as a fun and engaging strategic defense game, Epic War 4 isn't without its flaws. The controls—as simple as they are—feel "sticky" at times, especially when using the point-and-click method. Even if you play it safe by using [spacebar] to confirm all movement orders and actions, there are some areas of the map where heroes and units sometimes won't respond. The developer neglected to include a handful of simple features like quicker scrolling, auto-saving, the option to speed up gameplay and an indicator for spell duration. Graphically-speaking, Epic War 4 is somewhat demanding because of the sheer number of units and effects on-screen at once. As a result, the character and spell animations are rendered at what appears to be a shoddy, low frame rate—although it's probably the only thing keeping the game from slowing to a crawl on older systems.

Despite these issues, Epic War 4 is a blast to play if you're a fan of the strategy, tactical warfare or defense genres. The new-and-improved upgrade paths provide a satisfying layer of character progression, motivating the pursuit of better units and spells (and eventually, one of several massive "Titans" that demolish everything on the battlefield). The aforementioned "Hard" and "Epic" difficulty modes extend the 12 campaign levels, and four additional "Challenge" stages provide unique scenarios, like the comical "Goblin Madness," with dozens of the little buggers falling from the sky. If you're in the mood for a battlefield warfare game that doesn't involve the oh-so-popular "turret" mechanic, Epic War 4 offers a refreshing, sword-clashing, shield-bashing change of pace.

[Note: The "Blood and Gore" graphics setting can be turned off via the in-game options menu.]

Play Epic War 4

There is one additional playable hero available exclusively at Kongregate.


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Rating: 4.1/5 (70 votes)
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somebomb.gifJohnBPlace the bombs, turn the enemies into ash. That's your only goal in this simple puzzle game by Shinichi Yamasaki of Hojamaka Games (creator of Mamono Sweeper), Somebomb. The first few levels are no-brainers, but once you sample what the latter portion of the 30 stages offers, you'll wonder how you're supposed to clear the screen without a positronic brain. Or a truckload of dynamite.

Bombs explode across the screen either diagonally or both vertically and horizontally as indicated by the mark on their face. Simply drag and drop them from the inventory bar at the top onto the grid below. Lots of happy explosion things will occur, and enemies will turn into dust!

Each enemy has a hit point counter on the lower right side. Your job is to bring that counter down to zero. Bomb blasts that hit enemies reduce their health by one, and if you want to get a perfect score for each level, you'll need to hold back on bombing foes with no health.

The grid is small, the enemies are small, the number of bombs is small, but the challenge is anything but. You're constantly second-guessing your moves and trying to decide if a series of bombs' explosions will overlap in a good way or a bad one. Getting the gold star is another matter entirely, forcing you to consider not only each bomb but the state of the entire grid after each explosion. It's no tiny task, and thanks to the open puzzle selection menu, you can hop back and forth and try any stage you please. No pressure, just ouch-my-brain-inducing bomb placement.

Play Somebomb


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Rating: 4.8/5 (163 votes)
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DoraThe Dream Machine: Chapter OneWhat do dreams have to do with anything, anyway? Ask anybody and they'll tell you; the human brain is weird, and you can probably just ignore what it gets up to while you're asleep. But what if you couldn't? What if there was something, or someone, behind even the strangest dream you ever had? Victor and his wife Alicia have just moved into their new apartment in the city and are getting settled in, but there may be something strange about the old building... and even stranger about its tenants. The Dream Machine: Chapter One is the first installment of a new point-and-click series by Anders Gustafsson and Erik Zaring. You do have to register an account to play, but it only requires an e-mail address and a password.

Interaction is simple; you control Victor, you point, and you click on objects and people to interact. Move your cursor to the top of the screen to open your inventory, and click on the small icon in the upper right corner of the screen to open a menu to allow you to fiddle with settings or save your game. Other than that? Explore. Poke around Victor and Alicia's small apartment and, when you're able, what areas of the building you can access. If you don't know where to go next, speaking to Alicia will usually give you a clue.

While this first chapter is free for everyone, future installments will need to be purchased when they become available.

Analysis: Originally released as a demo, waaaaay back in February 2009, it's easy to see what's taken so long; claymation is freaking tedious to make. Fortunately, it was worth it, since The Dream Machine is absolutely gorgeous and a real joy to play. The clay presentation also adds to the surreal feel of the whole thing; the vaguely inhuman looking human characters help give the whole thing an appropriately dreamlike atmosphere. The developers have actually gone out of their way to make the whole thing accessible too, with options for players who may be hard of hearing or colourblind under the settings menu.

The Dream Machine: Chapter OneThe problem is that The Dream Machine really only just begins to feel like all its gears are turning at high speed when it abruptly throws the brakes on you and the chapter ends. It probably says something good about the game that it knew precisely the most intense moment to end at, and that I had a lot of choice expletives for it when it did. But on the other hand, while interesting and certainly integral to setting the mood for things to come, there's not much action in this chapter. The puzzles are clever enough, although one or two of them can be a little frustrating and require a visit from your frienemies and mine, the trial-and-error twins.

So it's a good thing that, for the most part, The Dream Machine leans more heavily on the narrative side of things. As Victor, you can have some fairly long and involved conversations with various people, with a nice variety of responses to choose from. How you treat people in dialogue doesn't really have any effect on the game (... so far... ), but it does give you a little bit of freedom and helps you connect with the experience. Which, might I say, is fairly creepy at times. There's nothing here that's going to jump out and frighten you, but there's at least one plot point that is fairly unnerving when you stop to think about it.

I don't end many games railing in fury against a "To Be Continued" screen, but The Dream Machine is excellent about getting its hooks into you within a relatively short time frame. It probably won't run you more than an hour at most, and while there is some small amount of replayability if you want to go back to certain scenes and try different dialogue options, for the most part when it's done, it's done, leaving you with little else to do but to petulantly await the release of the next chapter crouched in the bushes outside the developer's house. IMEAN, patiently in your own home. While it lasts, Chapter One of The Dream Machine is fun, intriguing, and extremely well made.

Play The Dream Machine: Chapter One


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Rating: 4.5/5 (106 votes)
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Weekday Escape

Grinnyp"When you fall off a horse, you have to get right back on." "Every cloud has a silver lining." "It's always darkest before the dawn." The English language has tons of sayings and clichés to serve as reminders that perseverance in any task is the way to accomplish a goal. This is something that we — as escape gamers — must internalize if we are to succeed in getting out of whatever room, building, or other tight spot we find ourselves in week after week. In Japanese culture, however, the concept is embodied in a strange, red, roly-poly figure known as a Daruma Doll, or Dharma Doll. Keep at it, keep trying, eventually you'll get there. Dharma DollWhat a coincidence that this week's game is also called Dharma Doll. Go figure. Perhaps not so coincidental as you might notice that the aforementioned figure sits front and center in one of the scenes of Petithima's lovely new escape the room game. Is the Dharma Doll there to encourage you to keep trying, or is it just a common object in a Japanese household? Why can't it be both?

Dharma Doll is not a long or complex game, although it is certainly meatier than Petithima's usual fare. Two spare scenes in a room, and a third space if you can figure out the secret to finding it, are all that is contained in this delightful little exercise in escaping. Yet so much is packed into this pint-sized game that it feels much bigger. Pick up objects, manipulate things, and reason your way out the door in yet another winner from a very talented game designer. Navigation couldn't be simpler, as you can only move back and forth, no turning involved. Hard to get lost or turned around with such an easy way of moving about.

What is it about Petithima's little escapes that make them so good, in fact, better than some larger escapes? Is it the cute graphics? The bouncy music? Although they add to the atmosphere, they are not what make a good escape game. There are two basic things that make a great game: logical puzzles that flow together well; and the basic controls to make the game enjoyable, like changing cursors to indicate hot-spots, an easy to handle inventory, and a save feature if you have to stop in the middle of the game. Puzzles and controls can make or break an otherwise distinguished game, and Petithima's are top notch. Larger, more complex games with more complex puzzles can be fun, but illogical puzzles (why would I use that on that?), pixel hunting, difficulty figuring out which way is which, or not being able to control what is in your inventory can sour the experience so much that you don't even want to finish the game. These are not flaws you will find in Petithima's games.

There are a few minor things that keep Dharma Doll from being a perfect game. Color based puzzles are fun, but difficult for some folks. And the cultural significance of the Dharma Doll makes the solution of one puzzle a little obscure. However, even without knowing the culture or the dolls, most folks can figure it out pretty quickly.

Dharma Doll is a highlight of Petithima's rapidly growing oeuvre. More complex than the last one featured on Weekday Escape (Choc-Mint), showing a progression of more puzzles and more difficult puzzles without losing the charm and design that make the games so great. Sort of an appetizer, where Choc-Mint was an amuse-bouche. Frankly, I can't wait until Petithima starts making a main course! In the meantime, what are you waiting for? Dig in!

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DoraScene of the Crime: Golden DollWaaaaaay back in 2009, dinosaurs roamed the earth and the fine folks at Pastel Games let you be a detective for a short, shining time. Now it's time to dust off the old fedora and practice your cynical cop sneer once again with The Scene of the Crime: Golden Doll, a new noir point-and-click mystery that asks you to solve a murder on some quiet beachfront property.

Click to interact with people and objects, and click on items in your inventory to use them. Dust for prints, Remember to check your reports tray on your desk back at the office frequently; as evidence is analysed, reports will come in that can unlock new clues and locations. The office is also where you'll be able to dust evidence you find for fingerprints and track your progress on the leads board; click and drag items pinned to it to attempt to combine clues. Click on your map to travel to new locations as they become available.

The first title in this atmospheric little mystery series had a lot going for it. Unfortunately, it was also very short. By contrast, Golden Doll is somewhat longer, and requires you to do a bit more detective work this time around. (Although you still don't get to ask anyone if they're a wise guy; this is a critical oversight.) The game is no slouch in regards to its presentation either; the artwork is gorgeous, and the soundtrack is so mellow and appropriate you'll probably find yourself spontaneously sprouting a trench coat just by listening to it.

Navigation is, unfortunately, a little awkward initially; navigational arrows can pop up in odd places, and you'll find yourself wagging the cursor around the screen, watching for it to change. The hot spots are a decent size, but it's still easy to miss a new perspective point or scene shift. Combine that with the constant backtracking to and from your office whenever you get stuck, hoping to trigger a new report to advance the gameplay, and it's more frustrating than it needed to be.

The only other downside is that so much of the story and exposition is left to a cut-scene at the very end of the game you can't interact with. I assure you, game, our brave and stoic readers are very adept at apprehending perps! While it isn't quite perfect, while it lasts, The Scene of the Crime: Golden Doll is a fun and stylish experience, and a welcome addition to what's shaping up to be a very clever series.

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Rating: 3.5/5 (93 votes)
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joyeThe Ninja Quick, hug the wall! Now appear across the room, crouched down! Now fling yourself on top of the filing cabinet... somehow! If you can't do it, that's because you're not the Ninja, the hero of a new point-and-click adventure from Japanese developer Dassyutu. You start the game outside of a building being guarded. Obviously, you must get in. The rest is for you to discover.

Since it's a point-and-click game, you point your cursor at things and... wait for it... click on them. I know, what a concept, huh? If you're familiar with the conventions of the genre of Japanese escape games, you'll settle into the Ninja fairly quickly. If you're not, here's the skinny. This particular point-and-clicker doesn't highlight the cursor when you move over a hotspot, but click areas are fairly large, so it doesn't become a game of pixel hunting. In general you click on obvious objects, hoping that they will leap obligingly into your inventory, but there are a few times when you must click at the side or under an object to switch the camera view and snag an object hidden from the main view. Once you've got a few items in the inventory, look around for places to use them. Don't forget to take notes if you see anything that looks like a clue.

The utterly charming animation of the Ninja cannot be captured in a screengrab. The impression his quick, dramatic poses give is less "deadly assassin of the night" and more "seven-year-old who's discovered that a balaclava and black pajamas look totally cool POW POW!" Puzzle solutions make sense. I wouldn't say that it's a logical game, exactly, because I figured things out more by flash of intuition than deductive reasoning, but once you get it, you see all the links of the chain. And for those of you wary of another untranslated or badly translated Japanese game, I'm happy to report that the Ninja's English translation is easy to understand, with the slight irregularities only adding to the quirky feel.

The titular Ninja, with his "Gaaaaaaa..." response to any sign of danger, and his total lack of preparation for his mission (seriously, Mr. Ninja, you're just lucky people leave keys and buckets of paint around), may seem a sorry excuse for his profession. Clearly it must all be a feint. While you're chuckling at his merry squid dance, that's when you get the shuriken to the jugular. Desensitize yourself to his shenanigans by playing the game.

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Rating: 4.3/5 (160 votes)
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JamesDale And PeakotIf you are going to nab all the fowls off the roost, make sure you leave no man and his chicken behind. Because once said farmer is armed with his shotgun and magic feather, he will team with the unlikely sidekick of a chicken sporting a few head-smacking powers of its own. Lock and load - it's time to take care of the Coyote Clan once and for all in Juicy Beast's action platformer Dale and Peakot.

If you are getting a strange sense of deja vu here, it's not because your synapses grabbing at straws. JIG has looked at this game before, back in December, and found it to be terrific. But I have to disagree, because back then the game was still in its beta phase. Now it's complete and it is terrific. Which means back then it was less than terrific. Or it was terrific and now it's perfect. But it can't be perfect, because that would just unleash a hoard of comments about its imperfections. I need to lie down...

Dale is a farmer, armed with buckshot, a hat and a determination to recover his stolen chickens. Peakot, controlled by a magic feather Dale finds, is a chicken that can stun enemies, make platforms appear, freeze into shields of blocky ice and more. Together they traverse through woodlands, snowscapes, caverns and more to rescue the stolen chickens, fighting coyotes, giant insects and what one assumes to be demented groundhogs. Dale is controlled with the keyboard, while Peakot is directed using the mouse, creating an odd challenge of dexterity... especially when the screen floods with enemies while you have to solve a puzzle.

Dale And PeakotAnalysis: I could wax lyrical, but Dora's review of the beta covers most of the ground. Still, the final game has a lot of changes, and quite possibly more stuff I have missed. Stunned enemies now can't hurt you, infinite spawn zones (sections where enemies keep spawning until you solve a puzzle) are clearly marked, several levels have been overhauled or are brand new; the overall game experience is a lot smoother and perhaps a bit less frustrating. I won't call it easier, but I spent less time shouting at the whole of the final game than I did at the few beta levels I tried.

Dale and Peakot is the kind of game I'd show to people when they want to poo-poo web games or sniff at the idea of Flash as a platform. It looks exceptional, it is well-designed and it clearly has seen a lot of blood, sweat, trial and error. I could nitpick on some things; the combat feels a bit clumsy and one boss fight is just devoid of any pattern recognition when it comes to his raining bombs. But these things are quickly put aside with excellent platforming, fun level design, nice animations and the kind of game that Juicy Beast could sell if it wanted to.

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DoraZombies Took My DaughterSick of zombie shooters? Me too. Luckily, Nerdook is here to breathe new life into a genre that's been done to (un)death with Zombies Took My Daughter, a side-scrolling action title with some clever changes. You play a nameless, grizzled fellow whose daughter, Anna, happened to be in the city when the zombie epidemic du jour began. You have 36 hours to find her before transportation leaves without you; no small task given how big the city is, and how dangerous it's become. Rescue survivors, track down criminals, and use clues to figure out where Anna is before time runs out. The best part? Each time you play everything is randomly generated, from items to monsters to the layout of the city itself, so you have a new challenge each time you play.

Use the left and right [arrows] to move, [up] to interact with things or climb in either direction, and the [spacebar] to attack. If you don't want to risk a confrontation, you can use [down] to sneak past zombies who are unaware of your presence. As you explore, you'll find clues that will help you track Anna down; the city is big, and travelling through the subway takes a lot of time, so the more you can narrow your search the better. If all else fails and you find yourself backed into a corner, don't worry; death isn't permanent, but you'll lose two hours of game time and half your cash each time you respawn at the nearest subway station. Keep an eye on the bars at the top of your screen that show your location in each city block; unless each one is green, you still have places to search within them. Time only passes when you're travelling or incapacitated, so you can take your time and explore each area.

Along the way, you'll not only discover "weapon" is a broad term (death by baguette, anyone?), but you'll also encounter other survivors if you're fortunate. (And hostile escaped criminals you'll need to deal with if you're unfortunate.) As long as they're alive, they'll follow you to the next subway station and help you fight. And speaking of fighting, You can only carry four weapons at a time, and you cycle through them with the [C] button; you need ammunition to use guns, obviously, and melee weapons gradually decay. So, you know, as much as I respect your dedication to that priceless ming vase, you might want to drop it in favour of a fireaxe or something, cowboy.

Zombies Took My DaughterAnalysis: Although it might remind me a bit in spirit of the best zombie game of all time, Zombies Took My Daughter is a remarkably generic and cheesy title. I passed by it several times before I noticed that then developer was also responsible for the puzzle/murder mystery surprise hit ClueSweeper and decided to give this one a chance. I'm very glad I did. While the action is pretty standard, if only somewhat enlivened by a fairly large arsenal (the teddy bear is a personal favourite), Zombies Took My Daughter wins a lot of points for trying something new. Instead of most similar titles, with objectives such as "kill some zombies" and "kill some more zombies", the search for Anna gives you a solid goal, not to mention you can also track down supplies and wrangle escaped criminals if you're a completionist. The random generator doesn't hurt either, keeping subsequent playthroughs from feeling too predictable, and the time limit adds just enough challenge to keep things interesting.

All of this would be so much better, however, if the gameplay were tighter. Ranged weapons aren't any more accurate than melee ones, but you'll want to use them anyway because they'll at least put some distance between you and an enemy when you miss (which you will, and often). Fellow survivors also tend to be painfully stupid, frequently wandering into the path of your bullets, and will almost always get cut down by attacks from behind since they're so slow to react. A bit more narrative would have been nice, even if it was just your typical B-Movie exposition, but the story doesn't take a backseat to the gameplay; it's dozing in another train car after one too many complimentary beverages.

Since the game is random, it took me four tries to actually find Anna, and when I finally did, I had stumbled across her within five minutes of play in the first neighbourhood. Once you've got her, you'll have to make it back to the ferry without getting killed; succeed, and your reward is... not particularly satisfying, consisting of a congratulatory message and some statistics about your gameplay after the credits roll. It still feels like it needs a bit of fleshing out to make it something you'd come back to over and over. While not perfect, it's several giant steps in the right direction, and is exactly the sort of clever innovation that can turn something old and tired into something new and fun.

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Rating: 3.3/5 (99 votes)
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GrinnypRibbitConsider the nature of rabbits and frogs. One is cute and fuzzy, one is slimy and usually green. One is an herbiforous mammal, the other a carnivorous amphibian. One loves to live on dry, grassy land, the other in wet, swampy conditions. They don't have much in common, do they, other than the ability to jump really high, which makes them ideal characters for jumping-style platform games. But when you are designing such a game, do you go for the cuteness of the bunny and risk over-the-top sweetness, or do you go for the frog and eschew pretty for functional? Well, if you are Dr. Siamese (who apparently works for Nitrome), you instead create a merge-o-matic machine which allows you to take a pretty bunny and a slimy frog and create a freak of nature which will immediately hunt you down for revenge. You also create a game like Ribbit.

Designed by Jay Smith and Aaron Steed of Nitrome Ribbit is the saga of the aforementioned abomination, frantically trying to track down the evil scientist while navigating an increasingly difficult series of platforms populated by some difficult and nasty bad guys. Movement of your odd little hero is accomplished with the left and right [arrow] keys. You see, since the natural born hoppers have been merged at the head, this affront to all that is holy bounces everywhere. Controlling him is a matter of tilting the character to the right or the left, causing it to hop in that direction. Sounds simple, doesn't it? Well it is, at first. However, you will soon encounter areas that require you to master the art of twirling your character 180 degrees in mid-air, creating a super jump to get to higher platforms. And then you will soon need to master the double super jump, which causes the frobbit (my own term) to jump even higher, and gain the ability to destroy most of the enemies he will encounter.

RibbitAnalysis: What this odd and unique movement dynamic will do is divide casual gamers into two camps: those who can master it will have a fun and enjoyable time frantically moving through the various levels in order to extract revenge from a scientist who just doesn't know when not to mess with mother nature; and those who cannot quite master the dynamic and who face an uphill battle with a lot of frustration. Much of the frustration comes from the fact that with only 20 levels, Ribbit has a steep learning curve. Seriously steep. Precipitously steep. Sooooo steep...seriously, one minute you've mastered the basics of movement, the next you will have to have figured out not only how to rotate the character to create the super jumps, but how to stop the rotation at just the correct angle to move him forward rather than have him ricochet off of the obstructive scenery. Difficulty after difficulty piles on so rapidly that those with slightly slower reflexes might want to play the game in very short bursts, taking lots of breaks before damage is done to monitors, walls, or whatever else is within arms reach.

Ribbit is designed by Nitrome, so expect all the bells and whistles that that implies. Cute graphics, kicking music, high production values, it's all there to enjoy. It would have been nice, however, to have a reset button that allows you to replay a level if you get stuck. On most levels, this is not a worry as mistakes will kill you and send you back to the main menu. However, mistakes on some of the pure block breaking levels can leave you stranded at the bottom of the screen, with no way to reset other than quitting out of the game and going back in. And a slightly more gradual difficulty curve would have been nice. When you first encounter the Rhino Beetle — for instance — if you mess up on that very first move you can be killed, making it more worthy of a level near the end rather than in the middle of the game.

Gameplay flaws aside, Ribbit can still be a lot of fun. Even if you can't quite master the movement dynamic quickly, you can still enjoy watching a thing-that-should-never-have-been smash itself on the scenery with ever increasing speed. And for those who can manage to make the little abomination go where they want it to go, there's a lot of fun action to be had. Beautiful to look at and surprisingly addictive, Ribbit is a fun time waster for anyone with good reflexes and an off-kilter sense of humor. Just track down that nasty scientist who created Something That Should Never Have Been Born and give him a good talking to.

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Mobile Monday

JohnBSome things in life you take for granted. Some things are always there and you never even stop to realize how important they are to you. These things fill a gap that only exists when they aren't there, leaving you free to live your life without disturbance. That is, until the day your keyboard goes on the fritz and you have to use a funky backup from the closet. Oh, ergonomic bliss, how your comfortable shape has molded my soul! Also: games are below.

piyoblocks2.jpgPiyo Blocks 2 - The extremely colorful puzzle matching game is back with a sequel worthy of bearing the number "2". Slide your finger across the screen to swap blocks and make matches of three or more like colors. You can even string combos together for extra points, and the occasional power-up adds a nice destructive flair to the experience. Four single player modes are available, along with a brand new two player mode you'll have a great time toying around with. A lot of content for a match-3 game, and it looks and sounds great, too!

landformer.gifLandFormer - An interesting mutation of a familiar style of puzzle. LandFormer challenges you to use a set of pattern blocks to make every square on a grid flat. Some areas will be raised and mountainous, while others will be low valleys. To get them back to sea level, simply place pieces from the sides of the screen on the grid. Of course, the pieces never quite fit, so you have to come up with the best combination to make sure you don't end up with a single mountain sticking out of nowhere. The pixel art is lovely and makes an otherwise semi-standard puzzle game really pop from the crowd.

moxie2.jpgMoxie 2 - More Moxie for you! The thoughtful word game of strategy returns with more challenges and a daily puzzle feature. An empty grid sits in front of you and letter tiles appear one at a time on the right. Spell words using these letters, swapping them whenever possible to score points. New in the sequel are pre-set word challenges that fill the grid with tough words to see if you can get a global high score. It's tough, for sure, but an extremely satisfying word game.

jumpoclock.jpgJump O'Clock - One-button arcade games have found a receptive home on the iTunes App Store. Jump O'Clock is one of these simple action games. Work your way to the top of the block by tapping the screen to jump from gear to gear. Collect enough shinies and you can perform a super jump to get some real height. The higher you go, the more difficult things become, introducing spikes, electric gears, and tons more dangers. A great-looking game that plays smooth and has that pull that'll keep you coming back for more.

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


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Rating: 4.7/5 (88 votes)
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RE: Alistair++

DoraIf RE: Alistair++ was a food, it would probably be a sugar cookie. One decorated like a pink bunny. The first offering from newcomer developers Sake Visual is a visual novel centering around Merui, a young girl who gets a valuable item stolen from her in a popular online role-playing game. The thief, Alistair, promises he'll return it... if she can figure out who he is "in real life". In no time, Merui has her suspects... but you'll have to balance her school work and her social life to untangle the plot. With five different endings and three "bonus" endings that can appear if you spend enough time with certain people, RE: Alistair++ is a surprisingly fun and polished little adventure with a lot of replay value, and even some bonuses to unlock. Oh, and did we mention it's completely free? Yeah, thought you might like that.

RE: Alistair++Interaction is done simply by clicking on whatever option you want when it pops up. Each day, you're given three opportunities to decide Merui's schedule, and depending on what you pick, you'll run into different people, or affect her stats in various ways. Merui's intelligence, social and network reputations all play a role in how the game proceeds, so you'll need to pay attention to what bonuses you get when you perform an activity. If you really want to get the most out of your activities, you can simply take advantage of the game's ability to save anywhere and reload if something doesn't go your way. Of course, that would be cheating, and I would never recommend that, except when I do, such as right now.

Of course, the emphasis here is on finding out Alistair's identity, but that probably won't be a problem, since the plot is fairly easily figured out. You can only confront Alistair at the end of the month, so you might as well make the most of the time you've got. Make sure to spend time with everyone, but don't neglect your school project, or your after school job; earn enough money and you can buy different items at the mall that can have an effect on your stats, or on certain encounters.

Analysis: Basically, I am very hardcore and I don't play girly frilly sweet kawaii games. Except games like RE Alistair ++, which are super, super cute and fun. Of course, these days it isn't enough to just be adorable, and fortunately the up-and-comers at Sake Visual have put together a piece of work that looks astoundingly professional from its clean art down to its menus. After looking at the screenshots and then running the game, I had to double and triple check the word "demo" wasn't hidden anywhere. There's no voice acting, however; more's the pity, since the high, overly-dramatic, anxious voices made popular by many an anime series would have been the cherry on top of the presentation.

RE: Alistair++The plot is exceedingly simple, and you're probably familiar with the archetypes each character represents by now; there's Mature and Aloof Guy With Glasses, Flirty Sporty Guy With Ridiculous Hair, and Quiet Shy Guy Who Studies Alot. This is not the story of the century, but simple, enjoyable fluff designed to make you smile. Merui, despite having an oddball name for no apparent reason, is actually a fairly likable protagonist; spunky, but realistically so. The cast could dearly have used some fleshing out, since Merui and the three boys are the only characters you'll ever see; tossing in a few minor characters here and there would have gone a long way towards alleviating the "Ghost Town" vibe the game occasionally gives off.

The game's biggest flaw is actually the curse of repetition. Because of how small the cast is, you'll spend a lot of time just grinding on various stats, or trying to earn enough money to buy an item that might unlock an extra chunk of dialogue. Figuring out just what you can do to make the most of every encounter can take a bit of guesswork, especially since the various items at the mall may (or may not) have an impact. It can be frustrating to go long stretches of time where nothing happens, especially with a deadline looming.

Light but sweet, cheeky, and fun, RE Alistair ++ is a polished offering from a talented new group of indie developers you should be keeping an eye on if you're a fan of the genre. Alistair's identity is always the same, unfortunately, but depending on your choices throughout the game there are a surprising number of endings to uncover. If you plan on replaying the game to try for an alternate ending, enabling text skip in the options menu will blur you right through all the dialogue you've seen before (stopping for choices) and drop back to normal speed at new bits of text. While your first playthrough probably won't take you more than an hour, and subsequent playthroughs even less, it's a remarkably well put together game that promises great things from its developers.

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Secrets of the Dragon Wheel

joye In Empress of the Deep, Silverback took gamers to a gorgeous and mysterious undersea world. Now they're back with a new hidden object adventure, Secrets of the Dragon Wheel, featuring the plucky Epiphany O'Day in a quest which evokes the pulp fiction style of classic film serials. Can you keep the Dragon Wheel from falling into the clutches of the one who killed your mentor?

Secrets of the Dragon WheelAs you travel around trying to solve the mystery, you can click on some objects sitting around to add them to your inventory. Other objects are obtained through hidden object scenes, where you will be given a list of objects to find in a certain scene. When you complete the scene, you'll get at least one of the objects placed into your inventory. Through your investigations you'll get clues for how to use inventory items. Sometimes to move forward you must solve a puzzle, such as the reoccurring Persuasion mini-game where you must find a path that crosses over every square in the correct order.

Analysis: Let me make it perfectly clear: the story is a goofy romp, from its candy cane toting villain, to a shrunken winged man in a bird cage, to accents out of Hogan's Heroes and Hawaii 5-0, to "improvised blowtorches", to the hilarity of the heroine's saying out loud "Nothing that a little feminine persuasion can't fix." (Seriously, she says that MORE THAN ONCE.) However, the beautiful art is far from goofy. Every scene is full of intricate little details. You can practically smell the mustiness of an antique shop emanating from your screen. It makes the hidden object finding a joy. A pair of binoculars won't be the same old stock art; instead, while clearly identifiable as a pair of binoculars, it'll be done in a lovely vivid red cloisonné.

Since I actually speak Chinese, have lived in Taiwan, and take a keen interest in the culture and history of the Sinosphere, you might think the inaccuracies of this game would have me pulling my hair out. Shouldn't I be irritated that no one pronounces even a single Chinese word correctly in the entire game, not even the Chinese people? On the contrary, it didn't bother me at all, because it's just another way that this game is about as true to real life as Werewolf Women of the SS. The game breaks suspension of disbelief so gleefully that it crosses the line twice, back around to enjoyment.

Secrets of the Dragon WheelAlthough the voice acting is campy, it's well-written camp, if that makes sense, and practically everything is voiced. The sound effects also add to the game's immersion. For example, on a train, you don't get that kind of constantly repeating short "YOU'RE ON A TRAIN! YOU'RE ON A TRAIN!" rattling sound effect that can drive you nuts in some other games. Instead, the atmospheric sounds are subtle and effective. A low rumble gets louder, than softer, then a sudden clanking as if the train is turning a corner, then silence for a time, then perhaps a chime as if the train is going through a crossing. Add in the game's music, and it's a recipe for total absorption in the scene.

The game features frequent inventory puzzles, with a fantastic user interface which makes keeping clues, objects and ideas straight a breeze. The hints recharge fast and are useful not only in the hidden object scenes, but also in trying to solve mini-games and puzzles, and sometimes simply in hinting where you ought to look next. No hidden object scene is repeated more than twice.

Although the game definitely doesn't take itself seriously, it's clear that serious effort went in to making this game. It's another great game from Silverback, and one that fans of the HOG genre won't want to miss.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
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Download the demo
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(18 votes) *Average rating will show after 20 votes
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Burger Bustle

JohnBCaught somewhere between a time management game and a restaurant sim (but leaning heavily in the direction of the former), Burger Bustle puts you in charge of a busy cafe that somehow has the ability to exist in many locations throughout time and space. Flip burgers, create desserts, swap employee roles and collect tips as you work your mouse hand off keeping everything running as efficiently as possible!

Burger BustleIt's not just about the customers in this slightly different time management game. People still come in the shop and make orders, but fulfilling those orders requires more work on your part than just clicking the correct spots in the correct order. The cafe is divided into a few main sections: the burger grill, the sides carts, the toppings tables, and the packaging bar. Each section needs an employee in order for things to get done, and it's your job to drag and drop items between the stations to keep everything running.

Say, for example, a cheery old chap saunters in and orders a red drink, a piece of cake, and a fish burger with cheese and lettuce. You start by clicking the fish burger station on the grill, then drop the burger off to the toppings guy to add the cheese and lettuce. When that's complete, set it on the packaging area and the employee there will wrap it up and give it to the right customer. Get your drink/dessert/fries staff member to create the appropriate sides, drop them at the packing table, and you're good to go.

Employees can be hired for a small fee whenever you need them, and you can swap people in and out of stations as you please. These are some well-trained cafe workers, that's for sure. The customers make some pretty interesting demands, always seeming to need what you don't have prepared, so keep things mobile on your end of the counter and you won't have a problem serving people with speed.

The game takes place across eight different environments, ranging from the beach to the wild west, a winter-themed town, and... outer space. Yes, there are people in outer space, and they want burgers something fierce. Upgrades don't play much of a role in Burger Bustle, as each stage is a standalone quest with some stations out of order or unlockable for a fee. You do, however, earn awards like a coffee machine and candy tray that make your employees work faster and keep customers happy, respectively.

Burger BustleAnalysis: When something different comes along in the time management realm, it's always a good idea to pounce on it like a lion in the middle of a famine. Burger Bustle is that savory piece of meat you've been looking for, with a nice reversal of the time management convention, sending your cursor behind the counter to keep things running smoothly. Customers, while still interesting and kind of funny, seem almost like a second thought in the game, which is a great thing!

Levels play out a bit differently than other games of this genre, presenting you with a number of tasks to complete instead of seeing how many people you can serve in a given amount of time. Having objectives keeps you task-focused, so instead of trying to keep people happy, you're looking at your goals to see if you need to hire more employees or serve more cheese burgers. Some of the objectives seem a bit arbitrary, but otherwise they tend to complete themselves as you play.

Burger Bustle works hard to keep each level different than the last. Whereas most time management games simply up the complexity, this one simply jumbles the available work stations. Sometimes you'll be serving only desserts, drinks and fries, while other times you'll have only one kind of burger but all three topping stations open with no one to staff them. It's a great way to juggle the gameplay around to keep your interest in completing the game as high as possible.

With over 60 levels to play, each more varied and difficult than the last, Burger Bustle offers a lot of gameplay, even for seasoned time management fans. You'll even unlock survival and relaxed modes, adding even more challenge and fun to the experience. Sit down, swap some employees, flip some burgers, and have a great time.

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

JohnBIt's not often you find songs with lyrics in a video game. It's even less common that those lyrics explain how to play the game. Man Enough does both of those and somehow manages to squeeze in an image of a manly moustache between each round. Be impressed with catchy expositions!!!

illuminator.gifIlluminator (Windows, 7MB, free) - It's dark. It's scary. And you're in the house all alone. Fumble through the blackness to find things to light your way — Christmas lights, lamps, whatever — and use your rechargeable flashlight when that fails. But wait. Are those zombie-type things? A little shock from a fully-charged flashlight should take care of them. Vanquish enough of the foes and a rip in time-space will open, sending you to the next mysteriously unlit house. A marvelously well-crafted game that will surprise you with its depth and complexity.

robotzdx.gifRobotz DX (Windows, 20MB, free) - You've got a gun and a working pair of legs, it's time to shoot some mechanical things! Work through 30 arenas in this classically-styled arcade game, dispatching robot enemies by first eliminating the shield generators on the screen. Grab bonus items if you can manage to do so, but be careful, as you only have 60 seconds to clear each screen, and that's only an easy feat in the first few levels. Great challenge level and a superb mix of strategy and fast reflexes make this one a big winner.

manenough.gifMan Enough (Windows, 19.3MB, free) - You're playing four games at the same time: a horse collecting coins, a spaceship shooting at enemies, two guys having a conversation, and a little platform guy trying to climb ladders. Now, play them without going mad! Just like the song says, "Use your arrow keys to walk, Use spacebar to fire and talk, Use the arrow keys to fly, If you lose all lives it's true that you die". Just... just go and have fun with it, ok? Created by Iji and Hero Core creator Daniel Remar as part of the No More Sweden game jam with music by Erik Sjöstrand.

mirage.jpgMirage (Mac/Windows, 107MB, free) - As a loose collection of glass shards, life can be tough blowing through the forest. A strong gust of wind can send you packing, as can tree branches, leaves, sand, and just about anything else you can bump into. Break open crystals to gain more shards (your "health"), and continue exploring the autumnal world until you reach the boss. The controls are less than perfect and take some getting used to, but seeing as how this is a work-in-progress demo, we can probably let that slide.

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


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The Great Gatsby

DoraAlthough I consider myself a modern sort of gal, I am vehemently opposed to any sort of "eBook". Keep your Kindles and your Nooks, and deliver unto me the soft sound of pages turning in a quiet afternoon, and the weight of a sturdy cover and binding in my hands. As a result, I tend to regard any sort of electronic representation of literature with the sort of vaguely befuddled, vaguely irritable suspicion of an old lady yelling at the neighbourhood kids. So I was surprised when I discovered that The Great Gatsby makes the transition from classic literature to a point-and-click/hidden-object hybrid with the grace and charm of a dazzling young socialite... kinda.

The Great GatsbyGatsby is Jay Gatsby, a man who has spent years clawing his way to the top of society, intent on making a fortune. Why? Well, you'll see. But there's a reason for his lavish party, and his choice in neighbours. You are Nick, new to the neighbourhood and calling on your cousin, Daisy Buchanan, who insists she's "paralysed with happiness" in her marriage to wealthy, powerful Tom. The game plays out in chapters where the primary focus is hunting down objects from a list, and the characters converse and provide narrative as you go along. It's a welcome merging of story and gameplay that makes it feel almost more like an interactive novel than anything else. Even the cutscenes have extra hidden-objects for you to find to boost your score. While you can't impact the story directly, you do get to make martinis and clean up after some rowdy party-goers! WOOOOO!... wooooo....

In each scene, you'll also find letters that spell out a certain word; find all the letters (or just guess the word Wheel of Fortune style) and your hint button will receive a boost to how quickly it recharges. In an interesting addition, objects you find also give you points you can spend to decorate a virtual library which does... absolutely nothing. Maybe it's a complex metaphor for .... orrrrrrr maybe it's just a vestigial add-on in an attempt to bring in the collector crowd. (That would also explain the numerous trophies you unlock as you play.) Of course, most of us don't have the sort of money that Gatsby throws around, so maybe this will be sufficient comfort for the luxurious library we'll never have. Full of books, antiques, and... hamsters?... mmm-hmm.

The Great GatsbyAnalysis: So how well does the game tell the classic story? Decently. It's not a particularly cheerful story, despite the bawdy, energetic era it represents; people uncomfortable with scenes of adultery and domestic abuse might want to steer clear. It's frustrating that the game's narration is silent for fairly long periods of time occasionally, and certain scenes are completely devoid of narrative; a shame when you consider how much of the original story's characterization has been sacrificed. As far as the presentation goes, The Great Gatsby hits it out of the park with rich storybook illustrations, lush environments full of subtle movement and life, and an excellent soundtrack and set of voice actors.

Unfortunately, what it isn't is particularly exciting. This is partly due to some disappointingly bland attempts at puzzles that have little to do with the actual game, but the blame mostly comes to rest squarely on the shoulders of the pacing. Admittedly, Fitzgerald's classic isn't exactly a tempest of action, and, being fairly short, is a lazy afternoon sort of book. As a result, The Great Gatsby is unfortunately going to lose a chunk of its potential audience just because of how slowly things move. If the book is armchair reading, the game is armchair playing; something mellow to sink into for an afternoon.

If you're looking for something different and don't demand chainsaws, explosions, or car chases to have a good time, then you should absolutely check out the demo to this promising title. While not 100% successful, The Great Gatsby at least tries to be different, and in a market full of cookie-cutter identical hidden-object titles, any innovation at all should be celebrated. It probably won't get all the attention it deserves, and despite its flaws, is definitely worth a look. And then go read the book, because you can never read enough anyway. Kids today, I tells ya.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


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Rating: 3.9/5 (108 votes)
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Kylefishbane.gifSometimes you need a super hero that has it all, someone that flies, shoots lasers out of her eyes, and can take gunshots at point blank without batting an eye (although, mysteriously, must still duck if the gun in question is actually thrown at them). Sometimes you need the whole cape wearing, spandex wrapped package. And then there are times when all you need is a hero that is adept at catching goldfish and riding harpoons like a surfboard. Why you would need such a person I don't know, but when these times arrive, you need Fishbane, star of the platform adventure of the same name from Droqen.

As Fishbane your main task is to seek out the coveted golden harpoons that are tucked precariously away throughout the murky undersea terrain. Along the way you'll want to snatch up all the swimming goldfish you can while at the same time avoiding the other lethal denizens of the deep. Fortunately Fishbane is a fairly spry fellow and you can use the [arrow] keys to move about, or, if you prefer, you can also use [Z] or [C] to jump. Eventually in each stage you'll find your standard issue harpoon which is handy not only as a weapon, but also as your own personal moving platform. Throw and recall it with either [X] or [V].

You'll quickly learn that the obstacles you face are far more complex and tricky than merely a bunch of enemies and spikes waiting to cut short your adventure. Impassable force fields that can be deadly if switched on at the wrong time, seemingly unattainable platforms, and inopportune caging will put not just your reflexes to the test, but also the gray matter upstairs. Make no mistake, nabbing all of the golden harpoons won't be easy. It will take the fortitude and persistence of a hero, not necessarily the invincible flying kind, per se, but at the very least the other kind.

Analysis: I'm a sucker for a decently-built platform game, but what I really love is to play a game that manages to inject a subtle twist on a common mechanic to great effect, and this is exactly what we see at work here in Fishbane. The idea of using the harpoon as your own personal moving platform isn't exactly mind blowing, but it is executed so well that it elevates what is already a very solid platform game.

Fishbane2.gifTo be sure, all the staples are there. Clear retro graphics and smooth controls are present. There is a slightly sluggish feel that persists throughout the game, but this is far from being a deal breaker. But what really shines in Fishbane is the harpoon mechanic and level design that is often clever and sometimes brilliant. One of the great things about playing a game like this is being presented with a level that seems impossible at first, but with some effort and some failed attempts you finally get to watch it all come together seamlessly. And here in Fishbane, I kept getting that feeling over and over again.

Also of note is the way Fishbane treats spikes. You die should you land on them, which is totally expected, but you can walk through them unharmed, which is somewhat unusual for games of this type, and in the long run, this makes sense. Spikes, generally speaking, only hurt when you touch the pointy bits. Platforming convention would have us believe that touching any part of a spike at any speed from any direction equals instant death, but logic suggests otherwise. Fishbane's departure from convention not only seems to make a little more sense, but constantly tweaks the almost instinctual ingrained knowledge that spikes equal starting over.

Aside from feeling a little sluggish, Fishbane can be very difficult, both for the mind and the reflexes. Some of the level designs can be quite difficult to figure them out, and once you have figured them out, you still actually have to do it which can be a whole new and frustrating challenge to cope with. As a result, this is not exactly a game for anyone looking for an easy go of it.

But Fishbane ultimately dishes out a good balance between gaming brain and brawn on a foundation of solid platforming principles. The harpoon mechanic takes some getting used to, but once you have it down it really makes for what is a satisfyingly challenging game.

Play Fishbane


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Link Dump Fridays

DoraSTOP. Look at that other gaming website. Now back to me. Back at the other gaming website. Now back to me. Unfortunately, that other gaming website is NOT Jay is Games, and no matter what body wash they use, they will never smell like us. Look down. Back up! Where are you? You're at Link Dump Friday on the site those other gaming websites wish they smelled like. What's in your hand? Back at me! I have it; it's a walkthrough for that one level you won't admit you've been stuck on for three weeks. Look again; the walkthrough is now a review for that genre you love so you can spend a few more blissful moments ignoring the day's obligations while we flood your mighty brain with entertainment. Anything is possible when you visit Jay is Games.

We're on a horse.
We're on a horse.

  • PixEvo - The FountainPixEvo - The Fountain - Do you ever feel nostalgic for the old days? Not just the days of retro graphics, but the days when you were a tiny, featureless square and had to painstakingly hop your way around, devoring enough little pixels so you could evolve from stage to stage? Ah. Memories. Now you can relive the good ol' days in this puzzle-platformer from EvilDog, where you try to return to your full glory as a hero to restore a very important fountain. It's fairly slow paced, and movement early on can be frustratingly awkward, but fans of old-school beep-boop style visuals will find a lot to like here.
  • Moovlin PCMoovlin PC - [Parental Warning: Contains profanity.] This incredibly ambitious platformer from FlashPacked Studios was created over the course of two years and has a lot of levels where you play as a little red robot. There's a lot of love in it, with it's voice acting, soundtrack, and cutscenes, but unfortunately the gameplay itself is a little bland. It's worth checking out for the sheer scope, and hopefully the developer will have more projects in the future. Also because you can never go wrong with robots; that is totally my opinion and in no way an attempt to gain favour with any mechanical overlords there may or may not be in our future.
  • NogginsNoggins - [Please note that this game may be difficult for those with colour-blindness.] The idea behind this fast-paced puzzle game is that as you move your cursor, the lines on the screen cross and change colour; the goal is to match your colour with the face on screen and click before time runs out. You get extra points if the size of the box the lines make is close to the size of the face. It's one of those games that is so simple, yet so frustrating the more you play it, sort of like having to answer simple questions during the lightning round of a gameshow; you wind up fumbling more and more as time ticks away. It's cute and different, if a little repetitive.
  • Rat RangerRat Ranger - In a perfect world, Minoto and I are Best Friends Forever, and every morning I have a new crazy point-and-click to play. Is that coin actually a roach? Did that panda seriously just eat that rat-filled cake? Who knows! I've long since stopped trying to understand how Minoto's wonderful brain works, and have learned to just lie back and let it all wash over me like a fever dream.
  • Beat BotBeat Bot - Build a robot and watch it dance! It's one of life's little pleasures, but nobody really has time anymore to learn all the fancy skills required to make a robot lift its head, nevermind the trials required to teach one to get down. This simple little webtoy just offers you multiple ways to customise a robot and then watch it dance; not the most elaborate gadget out there, but I defy you to name me any one situation in life that would not be improved by funky music and robotic gyrations. Yes, for one shining moment, you too can do what Grant Imahara probably does on his days off.

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Rating: 4.8/5 (180 votes)
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Babylon Sticks: Good Investment 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: 4.4/5 (448 votes)
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DoraImagia Part 1 - The TowerImagia Part 1 - The Tower is a new point-and-click series by Kayzerfish (the combined talents of Ralf Hebecker and Nikita Tutubalin) about ducks. No, no, just kidding; it's about the restoration of a 1960's Ford Thunderbird and a touching relationship between father and son that...

... okay, I'm a liar. (Big surprise, right?) But it might be about those things! We'll have to wait to find out. In the beginning, you find yourself in the crumbling remains of a mostly empty tower that has clearly seen better days. To keep you company you've got the sound of crickets, and a distant owl. Other than that? Not much. So why are you here? What's happened? Well, you won't find the answers to all your questions in this first installment, but you will find a whole heaping helping of mystery. Just point and click to interact with the world, and click on items to pick them up. Also important is the fact that you can combine certain items in your inventory by using them on one another, so be sure to experiment.

As strange as it may seem for someone who whines so much about story, I'm actually a big fan of games with absent or sparse narration; by simply dropping you into an odd situation and not telling you what's going on, they can hook you by your curiosity and engage you even more than games that read you bedtime stories every step of the way. Imagia manages this nicely. In fact, most of the problems with Imagia come from the interface; the lack of a changing cursor means you have to hunt and click for interactive spots, and occasionally that hotspot is so small that it'll take you several clicks to take an item even if you know it's there. The lack of dialogue or really text of any kind isn't a huge hindrance, but it does make those instances where you're completely flummoxed all the more frustrating when you don't always know what, exactly, is in your inventory. There's also no save system, but you probably won't need one; once you know what you're doing, the game is fairly short.

What Imagia gets right is a great sense of atmosphere and intrigue; despite the relatively simple visuals, the game makes excellent use of sound to really immerse you in the environment, and the result is a place that feels hushed and full of mystery. Some people will like the added difficulty of a lack of changing cursor, and it does have the benefit of making you feel clever when you finally suss things out. (Let's see MacGuyver figure out how to use magic paint. Booyah!) Despite only being long enough to really fill in a coffee break (provided you really savour each sip), Imagia Part 1 - The Tower is a promising start to a strange new series that has the potential to take you to some very interesting places. Colour us intrigued, Kazyerfish; bring on Part 2!

Play Imagia Part 1 - The Tower


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Rating: 4/5 (106 votes)
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pOnd

I delight in the smalle things,
the shape of a leafe,
the curl of sunlight on the grasses.

I set out before dawne, one foot afore the other,
to see what wonders the day might holde.

Play pOnd


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Rating: 4.4/5 (176 votes)
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AdamCIQ BallIQ Ball is a physics puzzle game that can be summed up in one word: "cute." Use your mouse to extend a grappling hook and drag (or perhaps fling) your character across the screen. You can only attach to certain types of materials, though, and for some reason, metal isn't conducive to puzzle solving. Try to get your little purple head to the target—or bring the target to you—in as few clicks as possible. Doing so will raise your "IQ score" negligibly. But who cares? As with most puzzles, the real reward is in the "Ah-hah!" moment when you traverse the terrain and reach the goal.

What sets IQ ball apart from other games is the level design. While the central grapple mechanic draws heavily on other games like Feed Me or Sling, the ideas on display lend to a sense of genuine creativity. Each level must be solved in truly different ways using concepts unique to each level. One level has you finagle a seesaw; another requires you to stop a train; still another presents you with about 20 targets and requires you to sling yourself around trying to figure out which one is correct. I went into the game expecting another run-of-the-mill grappling game, but was surprised by its ingenuity in a genre that has produced games based around frustrating physics and mediocre ideas.

Just try not to get too overwhelmed by IQ Ball's cutesy graphics and upbeat soundtrack. It's all rather deliciously saccharine, like fried ice cream or Skittles dipped in sugar. The titular IQ score is goofy and superfluous and the whole experience only lasts for about 20 minutes, but the level variety combined with decent physics makes the whole experience enjoyable. IQ Ball is a fun little puzzler that will leave a smile on your face.

Play IQ Ball


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Rating: 3.7/5 (64 votes)
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loveletter.gifJohnBLove Letter is a new platform game created by Jonathan Whiting (author of Jed) for the unofficial TIGSource competition A Game By Its Cover. It doesn't get more simple than this: a blocky pixel main character, a jump button, some spikes, and some hearts to collect. It also doesn't get much more interesting than this, as the game itself is a contest. The first person who collects all 50 hearts without dying gets to change the opening text to show their commitment to anyone/thing, be that your BFF or your favorite pizza topping. If that's not motivation, we're not sure what is!

Use the [spacebar] to jump and the [arrow] keys to move around. Avoid the spikes, of course, and move to the edge of the screen to hop to a new area. Your goal is to collect hearts in this open, non-linear world, and each time you grab a heart you get a special one-time boost to your jump. Use this with some skill to reach the more remote hearts in the game.

The simple game with simple everything still manages to look good even though it's built with three-color chunky pixel artwork. The music is a great public domain song by Virginia Liston released in 1926. Well, it's great if you love old jazz, but if you don't, you can switch it off from the main menu. Your choice.

All in all, Love Letter is a stark yet enjoyable game with a great meta aspect that practically forces you to play it until your spacebar cracks in two. Or... something like that.

Update: Looks like someone has won the game! The opening text has changed, so no more rushing to be the first one to win. Just play and have fun.

Play Love Letter


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Rating: 3.6/5 (78 votes)
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Weekday Escape

GrinnypThis week we find ourselves in yet another space in which it seems a shame to have to escape from. After all, this is a lovely little garden, complete with trees, plants, shade, a nice bench to sit on, a fountain (albeit a broken one) and even some animal companions with which to pass the time. So why should you make the effort? Because escaping is what we do, and this is Weekday Escape, of course. Welcome to Escape from the Garden!

Escape from the GardenDesigned by Maruho, this charming little Japanese escape game is a delightful little romp through someone's back yard. How did we get locked in there? Well, it may say so in the opening, but I don't read Japanese, so it remains a mystery for now. What is obvious, however, are the items and clues scattered around the space that will eventually result in leaving what is really a pleasant little place to spend some time. Escape from the Garden is a nice balance of use of found objects, interacting with your surroundings, and lots of logic. For such a short, sweet game there's lots of puzzling packed into the experience.

The usual downside to a Japanese escape game, for those who do not speak Japanese, is all of the Japanese text. But escape aficionados should be able to reason their way through without being able to read any of the cues. Navigating the space can be a little strange at first as well, what with the multiple turns and angles available to be explored. Some color based puzzles and lack of a changing cursor round out the difficulties that can be encountered while relaxing in this quaint little garden.

So why feature a game in a foreign language that has all those flaws? Because despite the minor problems, Escape from the Garden is an amusing, delightful example of the room escape genre. Amusing gameplay that includes logical puzzles that flow easily from one to another, a charming area to explore, and the added bonus of needing to interact with the garden's animal inhabitants to complete your escape. Combined that makes an escape worth...well, escaping. So take a little time and enjoy the seasonal and adorable Escape from the Garden. And remember, kindness to animals is its own reward.

Play Escape from the Garden


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Rating: 4.3/5 (97 votes)
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PixelotlArtbegottiWhat happens when you throw a lizard into a children's ball pit? Likely absolutely nothing. Because your lizard isn't a Pixelotl, the legendary gravity-manipulating lizard with cool party hats! Pixelotl can jump around on a sea of colored balls to rescue his friends from the evil stork that captured them in a physics-puzzle-platformer! Can your lizard do that? I didn't think so. Pixelotl, 1; Your lizard, nil.

Pixelotl can be moved with the [arrow] keys or [WASD]. Some of the colored balls have just enough elasticity to let you squeeze through, and running into the side of a ball is all it takes to climb on top of it. However, crawling and jumping isn't enough, so you'll have to use the [spacebar] or [shift] keys to give yourself a little extra gravity. This extra gravity not only gives you more weight (for plowing through balls), but can also affect certain balls in a specific way. Your goal is to make it from one portal to another, collecting keys and saving your friends along the way, all while looking absolutely fantastic in the latest Pixelotl fashions.

There are fifty-one levels to tackle as you rescue your friends from the evil stork, which sadly pass by rather quickly. Still, Pixelotl is a fun, simple challenge that will delight you from your first step on a blue ball to the last scene in which you discover the harrowing truth about the stork. Besides, we really shouldn't be recommending that you put your lizard into a ball pit anyway.

Play Pixelotl


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Rating: 4.4/5 (425 votes)
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joyeDuck Life 2Sometimes a little duckling in the gutter has got dreams. Big dreams. Dreams of a training montage that ends with a big, shiny crown placed on its feathered cranium. Well, thanks to Sims5000, you can live out those dreams in the new training sim Duck Life 2. It's bigger, better, and duckier than ever.

The goal of the game is to take your little duck through four areas with three races each, and then compete in the championship semi-final and final in Japan, for which the reward is not only the shiny gold crown of your dreams, but a ton of gold, some fun cheats, and access to a level editor. But if you try to leap right into the races, you're going to fall on your little downy behind. You need to play four minigames to train up your stats in climbing, running, flying, and swimming.

All four minigames are controlled with the [arrow] keys and are primarily tests of your reflexes: if you see a ball coming in the running test, hit the [up] arrow to jump over it; hit the [up] arrow to jump over obstacles and the [down] arrow to dive under them in the swimming test; use the [left] and [right] arrows to dodge obstacles in the climbing test; and finally, use the [up] and [down] arrows to avoid obstacles in the flying test. The longer you last, the more levels you will go up at a time, but even if you really suck at a particular event, it's not a big deal, because even if you only last a few seconds, you'll go up at least one level, and then it's a matter of slow and steady winning the duck race. You also earn coins, which you can spend on increasing your level limit, and on building your energy, which is necessary for the races.

Once you've trained up your duck's stats, the actual races involve no player input at all. Instead, you get to sit back, relax, and enjoy some of the clever artwork (the Japanese levels are particularly cute, as is only right). Winning races also unlocks various customizations for your duck, such as hats and paint schemes. You can even deck your bird out in various national flags. Unfortunately, once you've beaten the game, there really isn't that much of a reason to stick around. You'll already have bought everything there is to buy, and the level editor just isn't that much fun. Yes, after getting your crown, you're nothing but a lame duck.

If you took to Gone to the Dogs like a duck to water, you'll want to get all your ducks in a row and try this game. Or else leave yourself a sitting duck to further puns. I've got an idiom dictionary and I'm not afraid to use it!

Play Duck Life 2


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Rating: 4.5/5 (106 votes)
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GrinnypBubble Tanks Tower Defense 1.5Creating an upgrade to a not-so-decent game is pretty easy. First, fix all the problems from the first time around. Then, add a few new things and call it done. Creating an upgrade to a really good game, however, is another story. That will require more design acumen, and a lot more thought. How about creating an upgrade to one of the most popular games of 2009? So popular and well-loved, in fact, that it placed first (tied) in the best of 2009? Tell us, Hero Interactive, how in the world do you do that? If the answer is Bubble Tanks Tower Defense 1.5, then it's a pretty good response.

Bubble Tanks Tower Defense 1.5 is an upgrade and reimagining of the fantastically popular Bubble Tanks Tower Defense, a, well (duh!), tower defense game (if you couldn't tell by the title). So, what can Hero Interactive do to make this upgrade worth playing? Add four new tower types? Check. Add four new enemies to be destroyed? Check. Add 15 new addictive maps to fight your way through? Check. Add a new dark mode that turns off the lights except for a small area around the cursor? Check and Check. Retcon the first 50 maps so that you can play them through with the new towers, enemies, and modes? Now you're cooking with gas!

For those who missed it the first time around, here's a quick recap: Bubble Tanks Tower Defense 1.5 is a free-form tower defense game. Enemies come in from one side of a "room" and try to exit another side of the "room". It is up to the intrepid gamer to place bubble towers in strategic places to wipe out the enemies before they reach the other side and take away lives. Each bubble tower begins life as a simple cannon-type tower, and can be upgraded into four types of towers: gunnery type towers (machine gun and cannon), pulse type towers (slow an enemy, weaken an enemy, or destroy an enemy), ghost towers that deal with the pesky ghost enemies (which will fly right past your carefully constructed paths), and boost towers which boost the performance of surrounding towers. Gain bubbles every time you kill an enemy and use the results to upgrade your towers. Fully upgraded towers in a 2 x 2 grid pattern can be merged into mega towers with even more firepower, and of course there are the mega-mega towers, consisting of four mega-towers in a 2 x 2 grid pattern.

Bubble Tanks Tower Defense 1.5Adding to the fun of the original are new towers, including those that can poison enemies, those that can confuse enemies, those that shoot beams, and a wicked fun "suicide" tower that blows itself up to wipe out the enemy. Of the four new enemies are ones that are invisible, ones that swarm, and a nasty one which when it dies will temporarily "kill" the towers around it. And for those that disdain the first go-round as easy, there is the Dark mode, which makes it difficult to see where you need to build to shore up your flagging defenses. And yes, the new tower types mean that new mega- and mega-mega-tower types can be created.

So whether you want to play the new maps or go back and play the old maps with the new defenses and enemies, Bubble Tanks Tower Defense 1.5 is a rollicking good time. Play with the restrictions of limited available bubbles or go all out in cheat mode and see what new kinds of mayhem you can wreak with mega-mega-towers. Or really challenge yourself and play in Dark mode, a nail-biting exercise in the upper levels. If you liked Bubble Tanks Tower Defense the first time around, then brace yourself for hours and hours of more entertainment and destruction, enough to keep you busy as you wait for a full-blown sequel (there is going to be a sequel, right Hero Interactive?).

Play Bubble Tanks Tower Defense 1.5

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Rating: 4/5 (70 votes)
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JamesWar Of CellsGlobal warming is going to be our undoing, but not because we will suddenly run out of polar bear pelts or ice for our afternoon drinks. Thanks to rising temperatures, more ice starts to melt, unleashing a virus that has remained frozen for millennia. But this is not any virus. It is alien in origin and it plans to evolve and destroy us. It is also intelligent, because it is who you are in the action/strategy game War Of Cells, the first online Flash offering from Lognetic.

Played from a top-down perspective, you navigate the cell using the [arrow] or [WASD] keys, while [Q] and [E] rotate the actual cell body to realign the weapons and the mouse aims any ranged attacks. Weapons come from the cell's three pods, which can be armed with various abilities based on DNA strings you unlock after each level. Some are for ramming, some shoot projectiles and others are dangerous to touch. Some use your energy, which you replenish by grabbing some nutrients out of the pool you find yourself in. Some spew trapping goo, inject viral DNA into cells or attract molecules to you. Others, like the interior of enemy cells left after you pulverise them, add to your health and also to your nutrients... more on that in a bit.

War Of CellsEnemy cells come in all forms and you discover different ones in different pools. As the virus you travel across the microbe-laden pools of the world, finishing different objectives. Sometimes you have to kill everything and sometimes you have to collect certain elements. Sometimes you need to find a hidden spot... sometimes you just have to avoid death. Sometimes pools are calm, sometimes they have currents that draw you in and hold you, or poisonous green globs you are best to avoid. Sometimes the pool itself is poison and you have to keep gobbling up nutrients and enemies to keep your health and energy up while you finish the task at hand. And, occasionally, you fight a boss...

Bosses are larger cells, usually armed with special enhancements... some which you can use for yourself. The main objective of the game is to defeat all twelve of these bosses. It starts off easy enough, but some fights are tough. To help you out is the ability to multiply - chew up enough nutrients from downed cells and you can split yourself, forming a new cell. This cell can be armed individually and then assigned a basic artificial intelligence to make it do stuff (basically: roam-and-kill or kill-kill-kill). This is not required (in fact, I only discovered it late into the game. Hint: you click on your arming triangle to cause a split), but it can turn the tide on some levels. On other levels it's a bad strategy. Mostly, though, it makes you feel like the mean viral MOFO you are supposed to be.

War Of CellsAnalysis: I am willing to wager that this game will bring out a lot of "it's boring" and "I don't like it" comments. Some will also complain that unlike games like Spore's early levels and the excellent game flOw, there is no real sense of evolution. I'd be inclined to agree — if you play War Of Cells along those lines it is a bit of a half-baked idea.

Likewise the levels are not terribly challenging (though you can try a higher difficulty if you feel overly dominant). They vary a little, while the increasing appearance of toxic conditions and sucking tides shake things up. The rival microbes also become more dangerous and aggressive. But you'd have to dig deep to hit any REAL challenge from this game.

So what's the hook? It comes in the variety of ways you can play War Of Cells. The sequences you unlock pave the way for many different strategies and combined with the cell-splitting makes for an interesting mix. It seems novel, but it gives a lot of replay value. Granted, this renders War Of Cells a bit limited in who it appeals to, but if you find the spark in its core, you'll appreciate what it does. It's a classic case of the journey versus the destination. If you are the type of person who always keeps the finishing line in mind, this game is not for you. But if you are just happy being a nasty alien virus hellbent on destroying the planet...

Play War of Cells


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Rating: 3.7/5 (111 votes)
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DoraEternal ElementsSo I sat down to play Eternal Elements, the new point-and-click puzzle from a collaboration between Rosiana D, of Tealy and Haunted Mirror Maze fame, and others. And then a few minutes later I had to stand back up. Was there a time warp? Alien attack?!... no, it's just very, very short, though well made. Use your mouse to interact; click on something to pick it up, and click-and-drag objects from your inventory to use them on screen. Whenever your journal starts flashing, make sure to click on and read it for clues, or just a little backstory. Despite the calm music, all is clearly not well in this strange place of Mysterious Cavesville. Who are you? Why are you here? What happened?... and did you do something to deserve it?

As far as developers go, Rosiana and her cadre of creative consorts are fairly prolific, and it seems like every time they release one of their bite-sized titles they get noticeably better at it. Eternal Elements is a perfect example; it's considerably more polished, it has an intriguing backstory (even if constantly opening the journal to read it can get tedious), and is appealingly dreamlike and mysterious. All it's really lacking is length; something to engage and challenge you. At the moment, Eternal Elements is a fun but extremely short little diversion; not even so much a "coffee break" game, but rather an "espresso shot". A little bird tells me we may yet see a bigger project from them down the road. In the meantime, give Eternal Elements a play for a quick, intriguing adventure. Just don't blink or you'll miss it.

Play Eternal Elements


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Rating: 4.5/5 (181 votes)
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DoraCellCraftIt turns out destruction is imminent for the homeworld of platypus biologists Spike and Syndey, and it's up to you to save them!... the part of "you" here being played by a cell in the first stages of its growth, barely able to defend itself against incoming threats or generate enough energy to move. Just like that one meteor movie with Bruce Willis! CellCraft is one part resource management, one part puzzle, one part strategy, and even one part funny. Oh, and did I mention? It's (*gasp!*)... educational!

The game, created by CellCraft Team (Anthony Pecorella, Lars Doucet, Chris Gianelloni, and Hibiki Harutois), is primarily controlled with the mouse, clicking and dragging on the outer area of your cell to move it, and clicking on the various buttons on screen to create new enzymes or perform other actions. Most of the game is actually given over to resource management; your cell needs both Nucleic Acid and Amino Acids to perform most actions, and initially you'll need to pick both acids up by moving over them, but eventually you'll be able to generate your own. Sort of. Not well versed in the respected field of "Making Cells Do Stuff What Is All Scientific Like"? Don't worry. Admittedly, I was a bit skeptical about the educational capabilities of a platypus, but it turns out Spike and Sydney do an excellent job detailing the controls and finer points of cell growth as you go along. Before long, you'll be generating and recycling enzymes with the best of 'em!

The game is broken up into levels, each of which introduces new elements to the gameplay, and has new challenges to overcome as the story progresses and you move to new environments with new threats. If you find your eyes glazing over during the short periods the game takes to describe the nitty-gritty of how cells actually work, don't worry; most of it is just there to provide you with extra information, should you so desire it, and can usually be skipped. As long as you're comfortable with the notion that, somewhere, you're making your fifth grade teacher cry.

Analysis: If you ask me, two of the greatest stealth educators of all time have to be Bill Nye and Alton Brown. It's sort of sad that in some cases have to be sneaky about imparting knowledge via entertainment, like telling your dog you're going to the park when you're really going to the V-E-T; it seems like calling something "educational" is a good way to get someone to skim right past it. Of course, as far as "stealth" goes, CellCraft ignores that bit, because after a few minutes of play you'll probably have learned or relearned at least the very basics of what you should have already picked up in junior high biology. The game mostly does a very good job at mixing the knowledge in with the actual gameplay, which is actually pretty captivating once you get the hang of it. The tutorial is very good at popping up just when you need it, so you rarely wind up feeling overwhelmed. Despite being an educational title, CellCraft also knows not to hold your hand too much, so the challenge level is fairly nice and constant.

CellCraftOf course, that said, there's a weird disassociation between the between chapters cinematics and the gameplay itself. While it is quirky, weird, and cute, it sort of feels like it's just there to lighten up the gameplay, as if the developers felt it wouldn't be received as well without the cartoonish aspect and tucked in your furry hosts. Make no mistake; Sydney and Spike are adorable in the way that only one of nature's most ridiculous creatures can be, but they still feel a little out of place here... especially during the gameplay itself when they just spew biology at you while staring straight ahead like furry robots.

A lot of people are unfortunately going to pass by this game because of its relatively dry and slow first few stages. CellCraft has its audience, and if you're a fan of strategy, or even platypus, this is probably the game for you. With its relatively slow gameplay, it isn't what you'd call action-packed, but it's not trying to be. It sets out to be a surprisingly complex and smart title to educate as much as it entertains, and for the most part, it succeeds. The amount of work put into it by its talented crew is more than a little impressive, and the end result is something that should keep you busy (and thoughtful) for quite some time.

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Mobile Monday

JohnBOhhhh that's right, more fun times with your neat-o Android devices! This batch of games will help fill your sweet Android phone with some much-needed entertainment. Click on the game name to check out the developer's website in your browser, and use a barcode scanning app to scan the QR codes and start downloading the games to your phone.

dot2.gifDot 2 - Smooth, simple, stylish, easy on system resources, Dot 2 (or .. to be perfectly accurate) is one of those games that will amaze you when it holds your interest for half an hour. Tilt your phone back and forth to pilot the white orb through the 3D landscape. You're constantly shrinking, which is bad, so you'll need to touch the blue orbs to keep your size constant. Hit a red pyramid and you shrink. Now, see how long you can last! The game plays much more precisely if you can sit your phone on a solid surface and lift the edges, but a bouncy bus ride isn't a bad place, either.

totemo.jpgTotemo - A quiet, thoughtful puzzle game with a great visual style, Totemo is all about matching sets of critters using the touch screen. If there are two idols stacked on the totem to the left, you'll need to eliminate pairs of puzzle pieces at a time. If there are three idols, three must be grouped to disappear. Pieces can only be grouped if they're in a single row or column and are facing each other. Work your way from the outside in, matching orbs as efficiently as you can, always keeping your eye five moves ahead so you don't match your way into a stalemate. Totemo Lite (QR code to the left) features ten levels to warm you up to the game, while the full version of Totemo is packed with 60.

locigpic.gifLogicPic - Picross doesn't have much of a showing on the Android marketplace, but that doesn't mean LogicPic is a slouch. This no-frills logic puzzle game is entirely touch screen operated, allowing you to both mark and cross out bits of the grid with a tap of the finger. You can even mark squares as "uncertain", something few picross games on any platform bother to include. Lots of puzzles in several difficulty categories give you plenty to do, and even though the interface doesn't scream "awesome", this is a solid picross game you'll have a hard time topping.

spacephysics.jpgSpace Physics - If Crayon Physics Deluxe took place in the inky void of space, it would be this game. Use your finger to draw ramps, platforms, or mass-filled geometric shapes to push a ball to the goal. Sometimes you'll need to create simple machines that swing around pivot points to get the job done. Nice neon-lit style, and the puzzles are interesting, if sometimes too simple. The installation is a bit of a nuisance, as the game download is only the engine and visuals, you must download a separate file from the marketplace to add the levels. Search for "Pack for Space Physics" from your phone. But once you're past that, it's an easy and fun way to pass the time. Scan the QR code on the left for Space Physics Lite.

NOTE: Games listed may not be available outside of North America. Prices are subject to change and are therefore unlisted. Please see the individual game pages for purchasing info. Games have been confirmed to run on Android 2.1 on an HTC Eris.


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Rating: 4.8/5 (24 votes)
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The Silver Lining

JamesThe Silver Lining is a fan-created King's Quest adventure game that got the unlikeliest support: the backing of publishing giant Activision (which owns the King's Quest rights after merging with Vivendi, which in turn held all of the Sierra copyrights). This ten-year old project has nearly been shut down twice by lawyers, but it has finally seen the light of day in the form of its first episode, What Is Decreed Must Be. But is it what fans of the series wanted? And what about people who never donned Graham's cap?

The Silver LiningSomeone really ruined Graham's day. Not only did a mysterious evil wizard-type send the retired king's two adult children into a trance, but he did it while Graham's daughter was getting married. Gatecrashing is not cool, especially if you are going to go and spoil the party for everyone else. Once again Graham dons his trusty traveller clothes and embarks into the world to discover the source of the curse and the means to break it. Once again, because Graham has done this before, apparently, in previous King's Quest games.

At first you wander the castle, picking up a few things and chatting to some characters loitering around, like the groom's parents. Then you hustle through town, get yourself on a boat and spend the remainder of the experience in cut-scenes. There's not a lot to do, but it looks like this first chapter is more about setting things up. I would complain, but all-in-all it cost me less than an hour of my time and not a single cent from my pocket. Not a bad deal at all when you consider all the effort that has gone into this.

Analysis: I'm not a fan of the series. I played one KQ game many years ago, the third one, as part of my dedicated consumption of graphic adventures. But I was always more readily seen with Space Quest or Leisure Suit Larry. So stepping into this new game I knew nothing. In fact, in King's Quest 3 you don't even play as one of the series' stalwart characters (well, you turn out to be one eventually, but I'll come clean: I never even finished the game). So apart from knowing it involves fantasy and you can't travel in space, I can't fake a conversation around King's Quest.

The Silver LiningTo start with, the game looks good. Not stunning, but definitely impressive. The cut-scenes and conversation camera angles are well-used, the voice-acting is very good (the developers have connections with New York's theatre scene and could tap the talents of a few stage thespians), while the animations, especially the facial expressions, were definitely crafted by highly-capable people. Apart from a few navigation glitches, leading to Graham not quite capable of walking to a door on his own without micro-management, the game plays exactly like the classic Sierra titles (once they got their point-n-click overhauls).

The first episode falls short when it comes to doing stuff, but it showed enough for me to look forward to the second chapter. This is definitely a silver lining for fan games, the King's Quest series and adventure games in general.

JerradFans of the series have been waiting a long time for this. Twelve years, to be exact. 16, if you don't count the last, nearly unrelated installment. King's Quest is a series that has been held in high regard since its debut in 1984 for a reason. Aside from gameplay and graphics that were once considered cutting-edge, the series has consistently given us clever puzzles and endearing characters. And it's the characters that have kept the players coming back in game after game; it's no coincidence that the series went on a long hiatus after branching off into a new storyline with unfamiliar characters.

The Silver LiningThose who are interested in the exploits of the royal family of Daventry aren't going to be disappointed with The Silver Lining. All of the central characters we've come to love over the past 25 years are here, as well as a few of their supporting friends. Add in a few familiar locations, and The Silver Lining has all of the elements that us fans have been looking forward to.

But it's this devotion to tradition that may make newcomers to the series turn away. The game borrows from several of its predecessors, mostly the sixth game in the series, to the extent that anybody who hasn't played them might have trouble fully understanding what's happening. Even the gameplay, while familiar to those who played some of the previous games, may seem clunky in the new 3D environment. But The Silver Lining wasn't made for newcomers. This is a game by the fans, for the fans. Nearly everything is going to be for the players who have been looking forward to this game for years, the fans (including myself) who will be squealing with delight when Graham dons his classic outfit, or when poor Edgar tries once again to be useful. And it's that same devoted fan base that's going to be clamoring for the next installment.

If the series just happens to get a few new followers who take an interest in going back to play the previous installments, that's just icing on the cake. But whether you're new to the series, or you've been waiting for this game for more than a decade, the intriguing story and gorgeous graphics are going to be enough to keep you coming back for more.

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Soccer Cup Solitaire

joye Ah, July 11, 2010 shall go down in history. Both teams had never won the cup before. But in the end, it was Canada who held it aloft, tears of maple syrup running down their cheeks. Yes, truly a day that will... what? What are you talking about, Spain and the Netherlands? Oh, you thought I was talking about the FIFA World Cup? No, dude, I was talking about something much more important: Soccer Cup Solitaire, the new card game with mahjong solitaire elements from Anawiki. What do you mean, that's not impressive? Did Spain or the Netherlands complete a 22 pairing streak that completely cleared the board? No, I am pretty sure they did not. Advantage: Canada. Des plus brilliants exploits indeed.

Soccer Cup SolitaireThe combination of sports theme and solitaire may have you thinking of Fairway Solitaire, the smash hit golf-themed game from a few years ago. Soccer Cup Solitaire isn't simply a reskin of this earlier game. The gameplay is completely different, akin to Heartwild Solitaire. The game deals out a field of cards and also provides you with a deck. Your immediate goal is to clear cards by matching them by rank. An ace, for example, will match with any other ace regardless of suit.

The purpose of all this card clearing is to earn points, because every 4500 points your team scores a goal. There are several ways to increase the points earned per matched pair, notably by creating chains of matches called sequences. To keep a sequence going, the next cards you match should be the same, one higher, or one lower in rank. So, if you matched two aces, you could match another two aces, two twos, or two kings to continue the sequence. Sequences increase the multiplier, up to a max of 3. You also can get bonus points by having the matched pairs be of the same color (heart ace with diamond ace, and spade ace with club ace) or even more points if they are exactly the same (ace of hearts with ace of hearts). Finally, you can gain and lose points and even goals through event cards, which are turned over in the deck. Event cards are the only way that the opposing team can score against you.

There are also bonus cards on the field which you can uncover to help you on your board clearing quest. These cards can give you restores (an extra flip of the deck), shuffles (all the cards remaining are gathered up and dealt back down), retries (if you have bad luck with the other team scoring a lot, you can start the whole level over), undos (exactly what you'd think) and wild cards, which sit in the lower right hand corner and can be used at any time to match cards on the board. Certain levels also have other helpful or hindering cards, such as locks (where you must find the key to open them) and the soccer-themed substitution cards (which you can swap with a card on the field). One complete clearing of the board is called a "level". In the group stage at the beginning of the game, there are six levels per "match" between your team (Canada, in my case) and the lesser teams trying to take the cup from you. In the later, elimination rounds, there are nine levels per match. This ends up being (if my math is correct) 42 levels per cup victory.

Soccer Cup SolitaireAnalysis: Played at the natural rate of a level or three per day or so, one full play through of Soccer Cup Solitaire can give you weeks of enjoyment, and the game is the definition of replay value. Although I personally liked Fairway Solitaire's system of being able to choose "holes" to replay, the Soccer Cup Solitaire approach does make things much more of a no-brainer — just load, click resume and play.

The game has separate controls for music, sound effects, and the commentator. While I quickly turned off the commentator (there's nothing more irritating than hearing "They're taking their time on this one" when you're trying to decide what to do next), the rock soundtrack was unexpectedly good. The main theme in particular was so good that I actually sought it out (so you don't have to retrace my steps, it's "Satisfied" by Saints of Silence).

The game definitely improves on the similar Heartwild Solitaire Book One by not making speed a bonus-getter. The levels aren't even timed. It's actually kind of funny, because that means that the punchy, cartoony and rock music filled Soccer Cup Solitaire actually ends up being the more relaxing game, especially if you switch out the game's soundtrack for some soothing music of your own.

If this sounds like something you might enjoy, but you'd like to try it out first, you're in luck. A free Flash demo is available, which gives you a perfect view of the basic gameplay, although the level does not contain any special cards and lacks music.

Play the Flash demo

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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Rating: 4/5 (20 votes)
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Sally's Studio

JohnBNeed to chill out? Stress being a little extra stressful today? You should stop by Sally's Studio, a new time management game that isn't all about pulling your hair out trying to get everything done. Sure, customers come in, they want things, and you need to deliver them, but in this world of yoga, exercise, and spa treatments, it's more about taking it easy than clicking faster than your mouse can handle.

sallysstudio.jpgSally knows how to stay healthy, but when her favorite gym closes down, she decides to make an investment and keep the business running. Soon, her chain of spas expands to cover the world, roaming across the continents to provide all sorts of healthy/happy-making exercises for every kind of person.

The set-up is the same as most time management games, so you won't find many surprises at the start. Customers walk in and take a seat. Drag them on to the warm-up area, or straight to the workout mat if that's their preference, then click on them and Sally will begin her instruction. Move each person to the next station when they're ready, then head over to the cash register to send them on their way, a big pile of money landing in your wallet in the process.

You can use the cash you earned to upgrade things in your spa between levels. Buy better mats that allow people to get their workouts completed faster (where's one of those for the real world?!), pick up magazines and comfortable chairs to keep customers patient, or even hire instructors to keep people busy so you don't have to do it all yourself. There's a good variety of choices that lets you customize the game to suit your playing style, and some items you get to keep when moving from city to city.

sallysstudio2.jpgAnalysis: A run-of-the-mill time management game by all appearances, Sally's Studio separates itself from the crowd by dialing back on the speed and frustration and by providing a lovely atmosphere to draw you in. The whole game is very soothing, from its presentation to the set-up, and even when customers are piling up in the waiting room, you never feel too pressured to serve them. Most have sturdy patience meters and can wait a few moments while you deal with everyone else!

The visual style of Sally's Studio is something special. Thick outlines, soft colors, smooth gradients, smiling customers — it's enough to make you happy and relaxed yourself. Complexity or challenge are both missing from Sally's Studio, a slight disappointment if you were looking for a sturdy time management experience. But the variety of settings and number of levels will keep you busy for a long time, so it's worth it in the end.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
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weekend_download.gif

JohnBWeekend Download contains 80% of your recommended weekly allowance of awesome. It is recommended you supplement your intake of downloadable games with a balanced diet selected from other sources, including Flash games, mobile games, and that game you play with a paddle where you hit the ball on the rubber band.

ultramission.gifUltra Mission (Windows, 1.3MB, free) - A moody action game created by prolific indie developer cactus. Ultra Mission gives you a gun and some explosives and challenges you to rescue hostages being held by armed kidnappers. Use the bombs to blow up sections of the wall, then make your way to the civilians while avoiding turrets and other smart stationary-type enemies. Surprisingly challenging, and with cactus' usual flair for the minimalist dramatic.

shootfirst.gifShoot First (Windows, 3MB, free) - Shoot First is sort of a combination of a shmup and a roguelike. So, can we call it a rogue-'em-up? Let's pretend you said yes, and then downloaded the game. Run around procedurally generated levels taking out enemies with your projectiles. Pick up new weapons from fallen foes, but you can only carry one at a time, so choose well. You also grab other pieces of equipment from your journey, and weapons are automatically upgraded after you use them for a while. Other than that, just keep heading downwards and rescue damsels whenever you have the chance. Bonus: a two player local co-op mode is also available.

uchuusen.gifUchuusen (Windows, 2.3MB, free) - A fun little 20-level arcade game by the creator of A Mini Falafel Adventure. Your cute craft has two burners you can fire, one facing down-left, the other facing down-right. That means you can really only move up and at an angle at the same time, forcing you to tap the keys to move straight up and maneuver yourself through tight passageways. Grab all of the coins in each stage to open the exit, then zip through to move on to the next level!

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!


(10 votes) *Average rating will show after 20 votes
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Kate Arrow: Deserted Wood

JohnBKate Arrow: Deserted Wood is a new hidden object adventure game created by relative newcomer to the casual gaming scene, Mariaglorum. Kate's grandfather, an explorer with all the trimmings, saved a native tribe decades ago, and now he's devoted his life to tracking down the sacred idols the tribe has lost. He finally accomplished his goal, but in his haste to return them, he left the final idol at home. Your first tasks in this gradually unfolding story are to find the idol, find grandpa's map, and locate your camera so you can set off to adventure.

katearrowdeserted.jpgKate Arrow is divided into chapters that play out within half a dozen or so rooms. You can travel back and forth between these rooms just like in any point-and-click game, and you'll need to do just that in order to complete the objectives for the area. Hunting down pieces of a key inventory item, for example, often requires you to move between scenes, completing hidden object puzzles and solving other riddles in the process. It's a very organic experience that feels quite natural, never bordering on the dangerous "Hey, you just made me do that just to take up more time" zone.

Most of the time you'll be poking around fairly empty rooms looking for a few stray items or special areas you can interact with. A locked cabinet looks awfully appealing, as does that dark staircase in the corner. Often, though, you can't reach these places without first locating another item. You do this by visiting rooms with hidden object scenes and finding a dozen or so items there. Key object in hand, you can return to the rest of the game, solve a puzzle, complete a mini-game, and continue on your journey.

Analysis: So much about Kate Arrow: Deserted Wood is straightforward, fuzzy around the edges, and easy to predict. The game isn't going for massive blockbuster status, it simply aims to be an understandable and enjoyable hidden object game you can play without pulling your hair out. It accomplishes just that, with a soft visual style, relaxing music, and a generous hint system that's always there if you get stuck.

In fact, Kate Arrow's strengths can also be its weaknesses. Don't expect too much challenge from this game, either from the puzzles, the mini-games, or the hidden objects themselves, as everything is pretty much right in front of your face. You'll have to hunt and poke around a few times, but your synapses will barely have to fire up to get things done. Also, the game is unfortunately another one of those short ones, clocking in around four hours, give or take.

Kate Arrow may be a fairly standard hidden object adventure game, but its emphasis on story and the serene presentation make it a pleasant experience to settle into. Everything is quiet, interesting, and completely casual on every level.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


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Rating: 3.5/5 (84 votes)
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Karlactionturnip.jpgThe "run right and jump" genre has been around about as long as gaming. Many people's first encounter with the concept was Super Mario 3 on the NES, or maybe Sonic the Hedgehog on Genesis. Since then there have been some advances, particularly in the case of Semi Secret's Canabalt. It wowed players with its minimalist retro style, and kept them nodding with the catchy score.

Raitendo's Action Turnip!!! definitely knows its roots. It has two modes: Run N' Gun mode, which is an interesting cross between Robot Unicorn Attack and shmups, and Turnabalt mode, which is like what you'd get if Canabalt and a movie's credit sequence had a baby. Except you can turn into a rainbow and fly around.

If that sounds fun, chances are you'll like Action Turnip!!!. A lot of this game's charm is in its presentation; in Run N' Gun mode, you use [WASD] or the [arrow] keys and [IJKL] or the mouse to move and shoot, respectively. You'll be blasting eyeball bats and armadillos while avoiding gaps and obstacles, all of which are rendered in a sketchy Doodle Jump/MS Paint Adventures style. It's a lot of fun to watch or play. It's possible to collect powerups which give you a double-jump, let you shoot Star Wars-esque rings, and other powers. In a neat twist, getting kill combos or other accomplishments results in the message literally changing the ground beneath your turnip feet: before long, you'll be hopping between the letters of NICE COMBO and RAITENDO like the best of them.

Turnabalt mode is simple, yet familiar. Like Canabalt, you run forward at a set rate, using one button to jump. Once in a while you'll hit a rainbow, which changes the background and lets you fly along on a wavy rainbow beam. This mode seems tacked on: although the ability to double-jump is nice, the obstacles which add dynamism to Canabalt are absent. Chasing better high scores is fun at first, but grows old quickly.

Overall, Action Turnip!!! is a produce-fresh take on the genre. Although it isn't revolutionary, it's still a lot of fun to play. Whether you're new to the world of side-scrolling runners or a jaded pro, Action Turnip!!! will give you a fun time.

Play Action Turnip!!!


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Rating: 4.6/5 (185 votes)
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JohnBsushicat2.gifIf there's one thing "the internet" likes, it's cats. If there are two things, it's cats and bacon. Extend the list to five or six and you'll eventually add sushi to the mix. Thus, Sushi Cat: The Honeymoon hits at least two out of the top ten things adored by internet folk, providing a charmingly simple casual game that's packed with humor, squishy cats, and smiling bits of sushi.

Sushi Cat: The Honeymoon is essentially a level pack for the original Sushi Cat game. Both titles play the same way, and all you have to do is drop our kitty companion from the top of the screen and try to nom as much sushi as you can on the way down. It plays sort of like a simplified Peggle or, more accurately, any other pachinko game. Physics are where it's at, and the fatter Sushi Cat gets, the heavier he'll be and the more difficult it will be to squeeze through narrow passages.

You have a limited number of drops per level, and in order to progress you must eat enough sushi to fill the cat's belly, as indicated by the looooooong cat stomach meter on the left. Timing and a little forethought are your best weapons. There's also a special piece of sushi that, when eaten, will let you spit out your tongue like some sort of frog creature, scooping up all the sushi in its path.

Just like most pachinko games, you won't do much in Sushi Cat. After you click the mouse button all you can do is wait for the cat to sink into the buckets below. That doesn't make the game any less charming or playable, though, and I guarantee you'll crack a smile or two when partaking in this pleasing little time waster!

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Link Dump Fridays

DoraWelcome back to your Friday, gentle reader, and I hope this week was kind to you. I present to you a smattering of games fresh from the slightly seedy brasserie that is the internet. We've got aliens, suns, zombies, and everything else you need for a well-rounded weekend except for food, shelter, sanitation devices, and social interaction. Go forth and conquer!

  • SunnyBoomSunnyBoom - Are you physics/puzzle'd out yet? T-O-O-B-A-D. The sun needs you to drop him into the abyss, and he needs it right now. Manipulate the environment to send the sun rolling off the screen so that night can fall, and I can get around to doing what I always do under the cool, sheltering cover of darkness. Speaking of which, I think it's very rude that you've been closing your blinds at night lately... some people have work to do!
  • MorpleeMorplee - Completing a random series of mildly mystifying minigames is all you need to save Morplee's planet from destruction. Just as long as you do it within sixty seconds. And keep an eye on your health. And cheat. You will experience the conflicting emotions of d'awwww and rrrrrrrrrrrage since it's definitely going to take a lot of trial-and-error to finish this one. Fellow wordsmith Mike informs me it is "Like WarioWare, except you also have to shoot aliens." However, never having played WarioWare, I'm just going to assume he's a dirty rotten liar, like always. Dem's da breaks, Mike.
  • Max Damage 2Max Damage 2 - There are two reasons why I don't plan on spawning children; one is that I don't like to share my toys, and the other is illustrated in physics puzzles like this one, where the goal is to cause the most damage possible to your environment. If you didn't get enough of Max the first time, well, here's another fifty levels and some special new weapons to fuel your destruction with.
  • ZOM-TV!ZOM-TV! - I would argue that these days almost all television could be dubbed zombie television (especially "reality" television), but sadly most shows these days are disappointingly bereft of giant cannons that you then man via the set itself to destroy incoming hordes. There's something very charming about the whole presentation here, to say nothing of my contractual obligation to love anything undead related, but after you've played it for about fifteen minutes, you've seen it all. Again... kind of like reality tv.
  • Madara-KinokoMadara-Kinoko - Every now and then I like to tempt her wrath and step on grinnyp's toes by stealing a leaf from Weekday Escape and letting you guys point-and-click your way to freedom. Thus we have this lovely escape title about finding your way out of a tranquil urban garden of some sort. Use your brain to make your getaway, and if you see grinnyp, you can tell her she doesn't scare me!... just... don't tell her where I am or anything. Okay?

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Rating: 3.9/5 (59 votes)
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DoraFragger Bonus BlastIf you were a fan of the original Fragger, you were sad when it ended. Well, now you don't have to be sad anymore!... um... for a bit, anyway. Fragger Bonus Blast is here, and it's got all of the physics-projectile-puzzle action the original did!... it's just shorter. Like, a lot shorter. Harold Brenes has apparently been patronizing a lot of snooty French restaurants lately, because the ten levels that make up this bonus pack are the gaming equivalent of an amuse bouche... although thankfully without the need to dress up and the enormous price tag such things typically arrive with.

The premise is still exactly the same; you want to blow up or otherwise do away with the cheerfully grinning masked baddies on screen, only this time, they're all frozen now because why the heck not. Just point and click to toss a grenade, moving the mouse toward or away from your character to adjust power and aim. You only have a limited amount of grenades for each level, so take your time and make 'em count. Fail, and you can simply restart the level without penalty.

More of a good thing is usually, well, a good thing, and Fragger offers up the same charming, simple challenge of the original. But it's so short that the lack of any real innovation, and the fact that the first four levels are essentially just training wheels, particularly rankles. If you don't really have a lot of time in your day between children, work, saving the environment, or engaging in fisticuffs with giant monsters attacking major metropolitan cities, then you'll probably just enjoy Fragger Bonus Blast for the well-made snack it is. The rest of us will still enjoy it, we'll just sulk a lot more when we're done.

Play Fragger Bonus Blast


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Rating: 4.4/5 (89 votes)
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Babylon Sticks: High Sea Hijinx 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: 4.8/5 (202 votes)
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joyeMardekIn 2007, Pseudolonewolf changed the very idea of what Flash RPGs could be with Mardek 2, a story-driven game that offered more than ten hours of turn-based combat and exploration in a pixel-art package inspired by RPG classics like the first Final Fantasy games. It's been nearly three years, but not only can fans of the series rejoice that Mardek 3 has finally been released, but there's also an unexpected bonus for fans and soon-to-be fans alike: a complete overhaul and rerelease of the first and second chapters as well. RPG addicts, don't make any plans for the next, oh, month or so, ok? The fantasy themed tale centers around Mardek, a hero who seemingly starts off the series with the modest hero-type ambition of rescuing a princess from a dragon, and winds up... well, you'll see.

Although you can start Mardek 3 without having played the other two, playing the other two first is recommended. The plot of Mardek 3 will make little sense to you if you haven't played them, and because the save files carry over to Mardek 3, you start out much buffer and with cooler stuff if you start from a Mardek 2 save file. As you progress through the games, you always have some immediate storyline quest whose completion will lead to another quest, such as saving some miners from a group of bandits. You can also find and complete sidequests, such as collecting metal for an inventor, and there are secret areas to unlock as well. Each game has an ultimate story arc which must be discovered, sought out and completed to end the game, and what's more, each game is only a chapter in the overarching story line of the entire series. Pseudolonewolf has said that he plans eight games in all.

MardekThe controls of the series have been changed for Mardek 3 and the rerelease of Mardek 1 and 2, but the basic concept of keyboard control remains the same, with a few minor exceptions in certain parts of the menu where you can use the mouse. Bear with me, it may seem difficult to remember all the options at first, but playing the game is the easiest way to learn, and you'll get used to it quickly. The [arrow] keys control movement: of your character on the map, selecting options and items within menu screens, selecting attacks within battle, etc. To choose or trigger most actions, the [x] key is used, and to cancel, skip or back out of things, the [z] key is used. (The game does have QWERTZ compatibility in the options for gamers with that keyboard layout; in that case, the [y] key takes on the functions of [z].) The [enter] key calls up the menu, with all the equipment, skills, and other fiddly min-maxing goodness.

Within battle, the combat is pure turn-based, with your party on the right and your enemies on the left. The enemies are listed by name at the top, along with a strip showing the current battle order so you know who's up next. When it's a character's turn, you can select from attacks, magical spells, and items, and then select a target. If you have a reaction equipped, a timing bar will show up and if you hit [x] within the highlighted area, you'll add a bonus of some kind. There are also defensive reactions that can be used while being attacked, and passive reactions which affect everything. All reactions and skills are learned from items and must be trained up in order to use them without that item equipped. Some of the really useful passive reactions can take up to a hundred battles to master.

MardekAnalysis: It's difficult to fully do justice to the storyline of this game without spoiling it all to hell for you, the player. Having had the good fortune to be in on the beta, I finished Mardek 3 before it was even released, and you can't believe how much I want to talk about [scene redacted] and how I screamed in real life when I found out that [plot twist redacted] and how I wanted to reach through my screen and beat the [censored] out of [name changed to protect the innocent]. Of course, if I just told you these spoilers, it wouldn't affect you like it did me, because with the sheer length of the gameplay in these stories (probably looking at more than 50 hours for all three, if you go for all the sidequests) you really get to know these characters. Telling you that [somebody important] is really [wouldn't you like to know?] can only hit you in the base of your spine if the game has suckered you into thinking [daisies and butterflies, tra la].

The game merrily dances across the fourth wall at times, especially to poke affectionate fun at conventions of the genre. The entire opening of Mardek 1 is a glorious send-up of over the top medieval fantasy. When you barge into someone's house to search for potions and stuff in typical heedless RPG fashion, don't be surprised if the people sitting in the house call you on it. NPCs frequently have snarky names such as "Sidequest Priest" and "Blatantly Evil Chancellor". However, this series isn't a parody. While it pokes fun at the absurdity of some genre conventions, it knows that these very conventions can be used to weave both a game that's fun to play and a story that can keep you on the edge of your seat. The world building is both wide and deep, especially in Mardek 3, which is much less linear. Like many games, Mardek features elemental rock-paper-scissors; here, air over earth over water over fire over air, light over dark over light, and aether. But in this world, there is an entire theory of personality that goes along with it. Don't neglect to check out bookshelves in homes and libraries to learn more about this and other aspects of the universe.

If you enjoy epic storytelling through pure turn-based combat, a game like Final Fantasy X where the fate of the world rests in your hands, and also where you can set the controller down mid-battle without pausing, go make yourself a sandwich, and come back to find everything just as you left it, you know that the number of games that can scratch that itch is rather low nowadays. The game genre does have some prominent critics, with Yahtzee Croshaw memorably comparing it to watching a DVD and stopping every few minutes to fiddle with the remote control. Haters go on and hate! I can't hear you through the layer of awesome. Now, excuse me, I've got to play through the entire series again for 100% completion. See you sometime in August.

Play Mardek 3


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Rating: 3.8/5 (80 votes)
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DoraRenegade's Sleeping BeautyThis is Renegade's Sleeping Beauty. Why is it important that you know this point-and-click parody is Renegade's version of the classic fairytale? Well... Once upon a time, there was this cheerleader. She wasn't invited to a friend's birthday party, but, whatever. She doesn't even care. She's not going to look like a complete spaz about being snubbed, though, so she just sends some junky old sewing machine she found in the attic as a present. Cue our heroes, Brad and his little brother John, who are asked to look in on a princess who was supposed to meet someone, only the gates of the castle are covered in thorns and the people in the nearby town are somewhat... less than helpful.

Renegade's Sleeping Beauty is very wordy; there's a lot of dialogue going on, and a fair chunk of it is there for comedic effect. Fortunately for those of you who would rather just play the game itself, when you first begin, you're given the option of selecting either the full experience, or just essential dialogue. The game is easy to play; just click on people or objects in the world to interact, and click on the tabs at the bottom to access your inventory or options. From time to time you're given a choice of dialogue options from either Brad or John; just click to select the one you want. The game uses cursor changing to show hotspots you can interact with, so just keep an eye out and explore. Please also note that this game lacks a save function, so you won't be able to leave and come back to where you left off.

Your goal is clear; get into the castle and find out what happened to the princess. Unfortunately, the path is blocked by rather militant secretaries, shopkeepers who will do anything to make a sale, and Brad's love/hate relationship with his little brother... mostly "hate". It's up to you to find the right tool for every job by exploring the environment and poking things with sticks, crowbars, and whatever else you find laying around.

Like you weren't going to do that anyway; I know you never pass up a chance to poke someone with a vegetable.

Renegade's Sleeping BeautyAnalysis: If you have a younger sibling, then I am sure I do not have to tell you that it is your solemn duty to confuse and misinform them about absolutely everything until they get old enough to question you. Which, of course, is why this strange little point-and-clicker bears a lot of resemblance to the sort of "improvised" fairytales I used to tell my baby sister, and why she now fact-checks everything I tell her. The writing occasionally feels like its trying too hard to be funny or sarcastic, and as such occasionally winds up a bit crude, but for the most part the whole thing is very silly. As long as you don't stop to question why certain things are happening, or why everyone is so exceptionally strange, it works more often than it doesn't, even if the humour tends to be of a very sarcastic sort that might not be everyone's cup of Earl Grey.

The downside is that there are definitely times when the game clearly feels like its coasting along on its oddball characters and dialogue rather than the gameplay. The puzzles here all mostly revolve around figuring out which item to bring to which person, and since the logic in the game is, um, weird, to put it mildly, this can be more than a little difficult. It's fairly easy to wind up wandering back and forth, trying to figure out what to do next, especially since the game offers very little hand-holding. You might also wish the presentation was a bit more "active"; the art is fine, but the static expressions and lack of animations, combined with the absence of a soundtrack, sort of let down the writing a bit by missing a chance to add even more colour to the world.

Frequently funny and definitely original, Renegade's Sleeping Beauty is a game with a lot of personality that gets tripped up by awkward logic and a slightly clunky interface. If you're looking for something different, and don't mind thinking outside the box (like, way outside), then Sleeping Beauty will provide.

Play Renegade's Sleeping Beauty


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Rating: 4.5/5 (363 votes)
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Kyleblackandwhite.pngSadly, the world is hardly ever simple. Things are never as clear cut as dark and light, good and evil, or positive and negative. Instead we must come to grips with the complexities of a world etched in shades of gray while at the same time yearning for a simpler existence, one defined by the stark contrasts of black and white. In Justin Jaffray's puzzle-platform game, Black and White, we find that such existences may only appear simple while offering up no end of complex challenges to overcome.

Using your [arrow] keys to run and [Z] to jump, you guide two different creatures at the same time. The black creature goes in the same direction you are pushing while the white creature does the exact opposite. Your ultimate goal in each level is to simply direct each creature into the doorway of their own color. Of course, if it were that easy, there wouldn't be much of a game to play and you'll soon be treated to a number of whirling blades o' death, one way blocks, and switch activated blocks along with other obstacles to keep you on your toes.

Elegantly simple in appearance, Black and White has plenty of substance to go along with its good looks. The level design is impressive and some of the puzzles you'll be up against are really quite clever. At the same time Black and White offers up some fairly nice controls and more traditional platform obstacles thus balancing nicely the challenges for the brain and for the fingers. Unfortunately collision in the game could still use some tweaks and going through some narrow gaps can be more trouble than it's worth. Also, this game is in dire need of a save function and/or a level select option so you can come back to it at a later time. Still, Black and White delivers plenty of fun with lots of well designed levels that should satisfy any looking for the kind of platformer that keeps the gray matter working.

Play Black and White


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Rating: 4.6/5 (248 votes)
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Weekday Escape

GrinnypSome escape games are dense, tangled narratives requiring a lot of exploration and thought. Others are harrowing experiences that can last hours, or even days. But an escape game doesn't have to be complex to be a good game. Length and difficulty do not necessarily a good game make, especially if the difficulty and length are derived from a lot of pixel hunting, or illogical puzzles that make no sense. Sometimes, simple is best and it doesn't get much simpler than Choc-Mint by Petithima. Call it escape light, if you will.

Choc-MintYou find yourself in a nicely furnished room, could be a hotel room, could be a condo or apartment. Flat, cartoony illustrations and bouncy music make this a fun, albeit short, experience. All you need to do is find your way out, and maybe something to snack on along the way. There's no story here, no set-up, just a room that you want to get out of. Navigation is pretty simple because there are literally only two views, the room and the balcony. That's it, that's all. Almost no moving around. Instead, you must solve the puzzles that are scattered about the two areas to find a rather...unique way out. Pick up a few objects, solve a few puzzles and voila!

Despite the simplicity, Choc-mint is an escape game done right. There is no text to confound the non-native speaker, the puzzles flow neatly from one to the other, and there is the blessed relief of a changing cursor to indicate hot-spots that can be clicked. A little logic, a little intuition, and an experienced gamer could be out in 10 minutes or less, refreshed and ready to face the day. All you escape game designers out there take notes, will you?

Choc-mint even has the trappings of a much more complex game. There's a breezy soundtrack, cute sound effects, an easy to learn and intuitive inventory control, and even a save feature. It's nice to play a game that has all the bells and whistles, even if it is the lightweight fare presented here by Petithima.

There are a few downsides, though (and I have yet to find that elusive, perfect escape game). The flaws: A color-based puzzle to make it difficult for some; a minor bug that only allows a certain action to take place after another has been performed; and a difficulty level that might be a little too easy for some folks.

Choc-Mint, though — like its namesake ice cream bar — is a cool refreshing treat on a hot summer day; a few minutes of puzzle solving bliss to take your mind off of the blazing heat. Light and easy on the palate, and a wonderful way to take a mid-week break. Slow down, take a few minutes and enjoy the escape from the every day.

Play Choc-Mint


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Rating: 4.1/5 (367 votes)
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KarlRicochet Kills 2The myth of the trick-shooting sharpshooter has been around since before the first Sergio Leone westerns, carried through to Robocop and even this year's Red Dead Redemption. Anyone who's seen Eastwood narrow his eyes before pulling off an impossible shot has dreamed of doing the same.

Happily, Mibix has made those starry-eyed dreamers' hopes come true with Ricochet Kills 2. A polished and refined version of the original, Ricochet Kills 2 keeps the same control scheme: you are a duster-wearing mysterious gunman standing in the corner of the screen and must pull off complicated trick shots by banking bullets off of girders and weak, pliable human flesh. Since you are cool as ice, you pull it all off without even moving. All you do is aim with your mouse and left-click to shoot, eliminating all the enemies on the screen before you run out of ammo.

It may seem simplistic, but bouncing bullets off of corners, walls, exploding barrels and people is satisfying and fun. Throughout the game's 50 levels, you'll have to pull off increasingly difficult shots to kill larger and larger amounts of enemies. After the first few levels, you'll even have to stave off death yourself; while you don't get hurt by your own bullets, it's possible for girders, crates and barrels to squish you and give you an instant fail. If you finish the entire thing and still want more, there's an included level editor to create your own maps and share them with your friends.

It's easy at first, but Ricochet Kills 2 will surprise you with how engaging and enjoyable it is. Before long, you'll be watching in awe as a bullet bounces in an unexpected direction and destroys everything on the screen, making you mutter, "I meant to do that."

Play Ricochet Kills 2


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Rating: 4.5/5 (200 votes)
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DoraLoomingGregory Weir's Looming is one of those things that make you go hmmmm. You play September, a traveler drawn to a mysterious place called (surprise!) Looming; a newly discovered land littered with strange monuments and artifacts. You pen letters to your beloved January whenever you start or end another foray into the world (basically, whenever you leave the realm and come back) that seem to describe a deepening obsession. What is this place? Who was here before you? What does it all mean? Is it artsy? Hohyes. And, in typical fashion for Mr Weir, there's hidden meaning in everything, and a surprisingly intriguing story behind it all... if you manage to find it.

Control is very simple, using the [arrow] keys to move around, [C] to display your collection of items, and [X] to interact with things. Portals, which look like fiery rings, lead back to the "real world", presumably, and mark an end to your travels... at least, until you start the game again. Progress is automatically saved for you, so you can stop and pick up at any point you wish.

The goal is essentially to unravel the mystery behind Looming which is easier said than done. The land is vast, but striking out in any direction will yield something worth investigating. Certain items or obelisks may give you explicit directions on where to go, or they might just provide hints and clues to the backstory of the game. Just keep your eyes peeled for winking points of light on the ground that could be bits of a civilization's remnants, or... something else.

Analysis: As a package, Looming is very striking, with its stark visual presentation and lonely landscape, punctuated by strange sounds and the sigh of the wind through the void. The choice of sound here was extremely well made, and makes Looming one of the more atmospheric and mildly unnerving games I've played in a while, despite the "primitive" visuals. There's also an appealingly morose yet otherworldly vibe to the mythos permeating whole thing that reminds me of some of the grimmer legends and tales that circulate Native American culture. There isn't much direction to speak of, so your time is spent wandering the area (I hesitate to call it an "environment") searching for clues to what this place is, and what happened there. In this sense, it gives you a lot of freedom to explore in whatever order you wish.

LoomingOf course, for some people, this is also the downside. With so little direction, it's easy to get frustrated wandering around the place, and if you don't figure out where to go or what you should be doing, the whole spooky feel of the thing quickly takes a left turn into "What is this I DON'T EVEN"-ville and loses any menace or mystery it might have for you. It can be maddening to get the sensation that there's a really interesting story going on just around the corner, but you don't know which way to go to get there. And there is a story here if you can figure out where to go, and in what order to go there, one that you cobble together from the various things you find lying around.

Looming may either be an atmospheric foray into another land that will leave you with a lot of fodder for your hungry imagination, or a too-directionless piece of interactive art that you'll spend five minutes on before losing patience. With an evocative setting and rich atmosphere, it either speaks to you or it doesn't. Whatever it is to you, it's certainly unique, and definitely worth a look.

Play Looming


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Rating: 3.7/5 (85 votes)
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Mikemike-timemu-screen1.pngTimemu! It's a game by John Cooney that's one part time-warping, replay-style game, and one part elephant game, without the elephant. And if all of that made sense to you, congratulations! You are now officially a JIG Super Fan! In 2-3 business days, you should receive by post your very own super-official JIG Super Fan kit, including trading cards of your favorite JIG reviewers, an official JIGSF decoder ring, and other cool, hip swag to add flair to your happening JIG lifestyle.

But enough of my empty promises: In Timemu, you control Timemu, an emu with control of time. Timemu (or "Tim" for short) is just trying to find a home, but must use his powers of temporal self-duplication and navigate several platforming levels to do so. Move through space with the familiar [WASD]. Move through time with the [spacebar], which lets you warp to the start of a level, creating a new temporal copy of Timeme to work with various past-emus. You can also use [<] and [>] to rewind and fastforward time, though I found this isn't strictly necessary. The idea is to create a series of gray-shaded, past incarnations of Timemu to aid one black-shaded, present incarnation in getting to the end of the level. Usually this involves one or more past-emus triggering a bypass switch for various colorful force barriers, or stacking emus in a human pyramid (of emus) so that the topmost emu can clear an otherwise insurmountable wall. There are also obstacles to dodge, such as unaccountable, mechanical stompy-blocks, and the wily echidna, foe to emus and timemus everywhere.

It's similar to many other games we've reviewed, though it does distinguish itself with a bold, limited-palette design and a groovy soundtrack. One unique feature is the possibility of what the game calls "ornithological paradoxes." Rather than create a frame-by-frame replay of past runs through a level, each incarnation can potentially interfere with the position of others, so a barrier that you successfully unlocked, for example, becomes deadly again, if something interferes with past-emu's previously successful jump. It's a bit of extra challenge, one that I find a little frustrating in its unpredictability.

Still, I dig the style, and I like the execution, even if the gameplay is not wholly original. At 25 levels, it's a breezy, quirky outing that's worth a look. And if you play it, it's another punch in your JIG Super Fan club card. 25 punches and you get a free JIG iron-on transfer, so you can wear JIG all day! (Must present JIG Super Fan card to redeem prize).

Play Timemu


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Rating: 3.5/5 (107 votes)
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joyeThingdomHave you ever wanted to breed yourself a colony of blobular lifeforms, only to be stymied by the terms of your lease or ridiculous laws against Thing importation? Well, now you can simulate the experience with Thingdom, a game and webtoy created for the London Science Museum by Preloaded, which manages to make learning about genetics fun. Move over, brown eyes and blue eyes; kids today are finding out how to breed for monostalks.

Proper Thing husbandry is easy to get the hang of. All controls are with the mouse only. First, you lovingly select your initial Thing. Then, you take your Thing into the world and use your cursor and several buttons at the bottom of the screen to interact with your Thing and its buddies. Feed them, brush them, play music for them, and fling them about in the air wildly (a very important Thing need, that). You begin the game in the somewhat boring grassy zone. In order to unlock other zones, you must complete challenges by breeding Things with certain traits, such as square shape or gigantic size. Click on the "mate now" button in the lower right corner, or simply wait for the timer to tick down, and your Thing will shout, "I want to MATE!"

Choose one of several potential mates for your Thing based on the probability that their offspring will have the traits you desire. Then you'll be taken into a mini-game to impress the mate you chose. You may have to keep your Thing balanced on a scale, pull your Thing around to dodge water balloons, jump rope with your Thing, or several other games. The mini-games are fun in themselves and sometimes easier with one type of Thing than another (tiny Things dodge well, but it's harder to hit targets with them). You have a limited amount of time to fill the mate's love meter with successes. If you succeed... the miracle of life occurs, with a fun animation showing the random swapping of genetic material. Hopefully among the new litter of baby Things is a Thing displaying the traits you want. If not, you can pick the baby that has it as a recessive trait and try again. The later challenges will take at least two tries to create a Thing with the desired trait.

Like an increasing number of games, Thingdom integrates with social media, which can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on your perspective. Although nothing is required to simply play the game, to save your progress you must give an email address. The game also encourages you to share and track your progress through Twitter and Facebook. Nothing drives up Twitter follower numbers faster than the news that you've successfully bred a gigantic Thing. Trust me.

Once you've completed all the challenges, the game becomes more of a webtoy. You can focus on the nurturing part of the game by trying to keep all the Things happy, or try to breed a Thing to look just the way you want it. The game has lots of fun touches, from the Boohbah-like bright colors and cute sound effects, to the whimsical accessories you can add in various zones (my favorite is the sombrero and mustache in the desert). Plus, unlike a real animal breeding program, you never have to clean up after your Things. Maybe your landlord had a point after all.

Play Thingdom


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Rating: 4.5/5 (437 votes)
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lceninexplceninexp-coma-screen1.png Sometimes atmosphere is everything. Coma, a delightful exploration and adventure game by Thomas Brush, brings such an abundance of atmosphere to the exploration game table you might just want to clean out your refrigerator to save the leftovers. Managing to set the scene, tell an intriguing story and wrap everything up very tidily in about 15 minutes, Coma makes for an excellent casual game experience. Cryptic graffiti scrawled on walls hint at a course of action but first there are things to be done.

Use the [arrow] keys to move your character around and the left mouse button to advance dialog. Within moments you'll be quite comfortable with the precise and tight controls which will come in useful with the very few platforming elements Coma introduces. The majority of the time the character will be running and jumping through non-hazardous environments and interacting with other characters to advance the story. Dialog options will always resolve themselves to move the adventure forward. Occasionally your character will need the help of his associate, Bird, to interact with elements just out of your character's reach.

Analysis: Mildly reminiscent of the Nevermore series, Coma is executed superbly well. The fluidity of the characters' movement and the soft yet exacting details of the scenery work together to create a rich and whimsical experience and it does so without being overwhelming or pretentious. The game does lack a mute button but a mute button in Coma would somehow be detrimental. The music (also by the developer) is as mellow and noninvasive as Coma's environment and is precisely complementary to the game's mood.

There is nothing very difficult involved with the game play; the few puzzles encountered are very straightforward and there's generally nothing stressful to be encountered. With no scoring mechanism and nothing that can kill you the motivation to continue is to resolve seemingly odd requests and questions introduced by other characters.

The ambience is somewhat melancholy in places but never gets too dark or depressing; there's always something the character is heading toward to give the needed momentum. The length of the game is approximately 15 minutes which might seem short but those 15 minutes bring forth a surprising amount of depth and quality. Hopefully future projects by Mr Brush will be longer because Coma is a thoroughly enjoyable adventure.

Play Coma


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Mobile Monday

JohnBPuzzle time! Three puzzle games that are guaranteed to keep you busy for a very long time, mostly because they're fiendishly difficult and have hundreds of puzzles to complete.

doodlegod-iphone.jpgDoodle God - The tantalizing Flash game is now on your iPhone! You start with just a few elements — air, water, fire, and earth — but must combine them to eventually form well over 100. Tap one category to open up its sub-types, tap another to bring it up on the other side of the screen, then tap two elements to see if they mix. If they do, you get a brand new element to play with. If they don't, you get nothing and must keep trying. It's a bit trial-and-error in nature, but superbly captivating all the same.

trainyard.gifTrainyard - A blue train wants to leave the station and make it to the blue goal. There's no track, unfortunately, so it's your job to draw it. Now, what if a red train and a green train leave separate stations and want to reach the same goal? That'll require a bit more track, a few track switches, and a little thought. What about combining trains and trains that need to change color? That will require a lot more thought, a lot more track, and probably a few tricks you've never thought of before. An excellent puzzle game with loads of levels and a wonderful level of challenge. You'll never get tired of this one. Seriously.

aqueduct.jpgAqueduct - Another area that's ripe for puzzle exploration is water running through pipes. Aqueduct takes this to a simple new level by combining pipe tiles with a sliding puzzle of sorts, challenging you to not only move the right pipe pieces in the right place to let the water flow, but to move them without blocking each other's path. If you hate sliding puzzles like me, you won't have anything against Aqueduct, as it's pure puzzle awesomeness, plain and simple. And you gotta love that visual style!

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


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Rating: 4.5/5 (31 votes)
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Jolly Rover

DoraSet sail for action! Adventure! Danger! Weiner dogs with poofy shirts and floppy arms! Jolly Rover, a point-and-click adventure from Brawsome, puts you into the paws of Gaius James Rover, tasked with delivering a shipment of rum for the governor, who suddenly finds himself and his cargo taken hostage by an unscrupulous lot of scurvy sea dogs... literally. Even when he escapes he finds out Lady Luck still isn't on his side, and he'll need to learn just what makes a pirate if he wants to get out of this with his reputation, and his hide, intact.

Jolly RoverTo play, just move your cursor around the screen; items or people you can interact with will have their names appear when you pass over them. A blue font means you haven't interacted with whatever it is yet (or there's more interaction if you click again), and grey font means you've already examined it. If you want to try an item, just move your mouse towards the bottom of the screen to make your inventory appear. From there, you can click an item to pick it up, and click again to put it down or use it on something else.

As with most point-and-click games, puzzle solving in Jolly Rover primarily involves amassing an inventory of apparently unrelated junk and figuring out where to use it. Luckily, before long you'll gain a fine feathered friend who can give you hints as to what you should be doing, and will flat-out tell you what to do if you have a precious cracker to hand over. Most puzzles can be solved by good ol' fashioned trial-and-error, however, and the environments are usually designed well enough so that shortly after finding an item, you'll find a place to use it.

Jolly RoverAnalysis: "But why are they dogs?" Well, why not? After a while, you'll start to forget the characters are dogs; at one point, I came across a mound in the sand and expected to have to find a shovel when Rover himself promptly dropped to all fours and started digging. It was just one of many moments when this weird, off-beat little title made me grin. The humour in Jolly Rover can occasionally get a little risqué, if never outright crass, and that can be hit-and-miss depending on your tastes. But you'll find you'll get the best experience out of Jolly Rover if you just take your time and explore; there are so many little side jokes and details that you can only find if you spend some time poking your nose around your location.

Point-and-click veterans will feel right at home, and the whole thing feels like an homage to old Sierra adventure games. It's not just about combining items or figuring out where to use your oily rag, but about learning how to make the pirate's favourite dish, or figuring out a secret knock. You can expect to occasionally find yourself wondering what, exactly, you are supposed to do with a bunch of peppercorns and a dead fish, but the hint system is a great help. Certain comparisons are probably inevitable, but while Jolly Rover offers a lot of nods and winks towards classic games, it never feels like it's flooding you with inside jokes.

There are a few annoyances, of course. The sound effect that plays whenever you find an item gets old fast, and your parrot friend tends to interrupt you regularly to ask if you need a hint unless you tell him you don't want any. On the other side of the game design coin, the parrot can actually be fairly handy if you're genuinely stuck, and the idea to allow you to tell at a glance which items you hadn't interacted with eliminates a ton of pointless clicking. You can even alter our hero's walking speed under the options if you find he moves too slowly for you.

Although perhaps not destined to become a classic, Jolly Rover is a solidly enjoyable adventure with a lot of charm that can easily suck up an afternoon or two. It's silly, it's quirky, and it's carried along by some great design and, on the whole, some very good voice acting. Fans of the genre will find a lot to like and little to quibble over, making Jolly Rover a fun addition to your library of games.

WindowsWindows:
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Mac OS XMac OS X:
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  • Currently 4.5/5
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Rating: 4.5/5 (23 votes)
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A Gypsy's Tale

JohnBA Gypsy's Tale: The Tower of Secrets is a fantasy-themed hidden object title from Amaranth Games, creator of Grimm's Hatchery and the Aveyond series of role playing games. You play the part of Reylin of Winderalth, a gypsy who has a strong sense of magic of both the good and wicked kinds. You are hired by a monk to locate a lost tower and rescue a girl within, but getting to that tower involves solving loads of puzzles and working your way through the maze-like landscape that surrounds the mysterious place.

agypsystale.jpgA Gypsy's Tale borrows a few gameplay ideas from The Mystery of the Crystal Portal and the Treasure Seekers series, namely the "objects as containers" element. Most puzzles require you to use an item or two on a specific object. Use the shears to chop down the vines, place the amulet on the pedestal, etc. Before you can grab these key items, however, the game opens up a circular menu around the object. Each menu pictures several other objects you must find and place in the appropriate slot before you can add the key item to your inventory.

You'll need to do a bit of wandering to complete your tasks in this game, and as you progress, your exploration area will gradually increase. Most of what you need is nearby, you just have to switch scenes by clicking on the glowing white parts of the screen. In addition to locating and picking up key inventory items, you'll also gather crystals, tiny pieces of shiny currency that help complete your map (which becomes important as you open up more areas to explore) and also function as currency in the store you eventually find.

agypsystale2.jpgAnalysis: Enchanting visuals are one of this game's strongest features, and you'll have to help yourself to a few staring sessions when you encounter animated characters in the game. The fantasy world feels surprisingly complete as you shuffle through its dark pieces of scenery, and Amaranth did a superb job weaving the story into the experience. This isn't a world created as an excuse to host a hidden object game, it's a hidden object game that takes place in this world.

A Gypsy's Tale: The Tower of Secrets features a lot of the famous "do this in this manner because I told you so" moments where you complete arbitrary objectives just because the game says you must. Strangely, though, you won't feel accosted, as somehow the storyline and setting make these seemingly pointless requirements feel right at home. Gather a bunch of birds so you can pick up a key? Why not?!

As with many hidden object games, you'll encounter your fair share of unfair items that are a little too well-disguised. Fortunately you aren't punished for misclicks, allowing you the freedom to run the cursor all over the screen, and the refilling hint timer is just as generous as it needs to be.

A Gypsy's Tale is a strong hidden object game filled with fantasy and wonder. It takes the genre one step closer to the role playing realm, putting an emphasis on exploration, story and content as opposed to adventure-style puzzles, and you'll appreciate the level of detail Amaranth Games went to to fill out this beautifully illustrated world.

WindowsWindows:
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Mac OS XMac OS X:
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  • Currently 4.5/5
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Rating: 4.5/5 (27 votes)
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Divine Divinity

DoraDivine Divinity by Larian Studios is an action/RPG title from 2002 that I keep telling people they should play. They, in turn, tell me Divine Divinity is a silly name, and, well, okay, it sort of is. The game itself is also a little silly, but also one of the most addicting and enjoyable titles of the genre I've ever played. You wake up after a brush with death to find yourself in a village with problems; it's under siege by orcs on all sides, the local healing shrine isn't working so well anymore, and the village leader has come down with a dangerous case of insane. Not that leaving the village is any safer, since apparently you're a "Marked One", and the demonic creatures hunting you down are rather rudely uncommunicative about what that entails, but it's probably not a good thing. The rest of the vast kingdom has troubles too, and it's up to you to put everything right or die trying. Which you probably will do. At least once. Or twice. Possible a dozen or more times. All hail the hero!

Divine DivinityCharacter creation, as you'll discover, is mostly cosmetic, and really only affects your starting skills. While mages might begin with a fire spell and start off weaker than warriors, for example, there is no limitation to what skills your character can learn. Upon leveling up, you gain five points to put into your attributes like strength and agility, and a point or two to spend on "talents"; the game's version of a skill tree. You can spend these points any way you like, regardless of your class, so it's easy to create a super-powered sword-swinging mage who can throw fireballs with one hand, and pick any lock with the other.

Of course, none of this is going to do you any good if you're dead, so you should probably familiarise yourself with the controls. There are a lot of hotkeys you can set, but for the most part all you need to know is that the mouse interacts with the world, [I] opens your inventory, [C] opens your character sheet, [spacebar] pauses the game, and [ESC] opens the main menu for you to save, load, or quit. Click and hold to walk in the direction of your cursor, and move your cursor farther away to run. As for fighting, well, simply clicking once on an enemy will cause your character to attack and keep attacking with their default weapon until the enemy dies (or you die) or you put a stop to it. Right click to use whatever skill you have assigned. And if your health gets low, your stamina runs out, or your magic fails you, just quaff the expensive potion of your choice.

No money? No problem. Find an abandoned house to hole up in, or bed down in someone's barn as long as you can find a pile of hay to lay your head on. There's a surprising amount of freedom to the game, and this is what makes up for the cornier story elements. Uncover the truth behind the dwindling beggar population in a nearby town, run errands for a prince against your will, or strike off into the wilderness and spend your time hunting for treasure and picking herbs to create your own potions. As you progress, you'll begin unlocking teleportation pads that make travel quicker, and you'll also get a pair of link teleport stones; just leave one whenever you want, and then carry its twin with you to return at a click. Just don't get cocky; the world is dangerous, and it's easier than you think to get overwhelmed, so save early, and save often.

Divine DivinityAnalysis: While Divine Divinity definitely borrows its combat from the Diablo series, the game as a whole places a much bigger emphasis on story and exploration than Blizzard's title ever did. In fact, to be more accurate, Divine Divinity was Oblivion before Oblivion was Oblivion. The world is absolutely massive, and uncovering the entire map and all its hidden treasures is going to take a lot of hours. In your travels, you might find yourself hunting down an orc's magical axe, discovering a sinister wishing well, or choosing sides in a war between the wasps and the bees. The main quest is of a decent length, but there are so many side quests scattered all throughout the world that it's easy to shrug off your divine duties for days at a time, if not longer. There's troubles to solve, treasure to find, herbs to mix... and, of course, monsters. Lots and lots of monsters.

In fact, enemies aren't limited to demonic beasties or evil henchmen, since even the local wildlife seems to have collectively decided your existence cannot be tolerated. Boars, snakes, and any variety of insects will drop whatever they're doing to descend on your panicked butt and trample/sting/bite you to death. Be prepared to stuff your pockets with a ridiculous amount of healing and mana potions or spells, because however many you have, I promise you it will never, ever be enough. Save frequently, especially early on, since combat happens in real time and the game loses no sleep at all in dumping entire platoons of enemies on you whenever it feels like it. While the combat and ridiculous variety of arms and armor is part of what makes the game enjoyable, it can easily become frustrating to have to beat a hasty retreat from swarms of enemies... especially since they can and will pursue you long distances before losing interest. A lot of the dungeon crawling sequences also feel like they drag on a bit too long, leaving you feeling like a particularly pasty (thankfully unsparkly) vampire when you finally see the sun again.

Divine Divinity is not for the "serious" RPG fan, and if you go into this expecting, or demanding, a heavy emphasis on solid storytelling you're probably going to be disappointed. Despite its age and corny elements, it still remains some of the most fun I've ever had in a hack-and-slash/RPG title.

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


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Weekend Download

JohnBWait, so you mean, these games were just sitting there? Waiting for someone to grab them? Nobody was watching, no one at all? What about cameras or electric shock thingies? Nothing? Hmm. So I guess it's ok you downloaded them, isn't it? K whatever, let's play.

cutit.gifCut It (Mac/Windows, 5MB, free) - From Petri Purho, creator of Crayon Physics Deluxe, comes a short experimental physics puzzle game made over the course of five days. Cut It is not unlike Nitrome's Ice Breaker games. Using a nifty pair of scissors, cut blocks on the screen to guide the yellow square down to the green platform. It's that simple. Hit [spacebar] to reset the level, and use the [n] and [m] keys to skip levels backwards and forwards respectively.

towerbombarde.jpgTower Bombarde (Windows, 17.6MB, free) - A futuristic cyberworld filled with turrets and you, lonely little glowing thing, armed with nothing but—oh, wait, you're not armed, are you? Ok then, no worries. Just trick the enemies into destroying each other and you should be fine! A limited reflect shield is good in a pinch, but otherwise it's all reflexes and planning. Surprisingly deep gameplay introduces combos and ability upgrades in later levels, and the design is extremely well-thought-out from beginning to end.

seaofstatic.gifRise: Sea of Static (Windows, 4.2MB, free) - Confusing. Annoying. Static. Blocks keep moving. Those triangle things kill me. The other blocks are kinda pretty. Hey, I thought I just stepped on that platform. Oh, so when I move there, the platform moves too. Wait, so I can't go there? Why not? It looks like I can. Where's that noise coming from? I don't like it. I don't like being lost. There's a shiny thing over there. If I can just... there we go. On to the next level. Stage. Place. Where everything is all mixed up.

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 4.4/5
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Rating: 4.4/5 (23 votes)
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Be a King 2

JohnBHey, you! Go Be a King! In fact, let's do one better. Be a King 2! The casual strategy/simulation series from developer 300AD has returned, boasting excellent visuals, lots of house upgrading and farm building, and tons of ruined villages to spruce up, all in the name of making the medieval world a better place to live. Awww!

Be a King 2You play as the young prince, son of the late king whose brother took over rule of the kingdom 18 years ago. The new king isn't exactly a nice guy, and he can run a kingdom about as efficiently as he can breakdance to polka music, so it's up to you to travel around the land, fixing up destitute villages so the citizens can, you know, eat and stay alive.

Much like the Build-a-lot series, Be a King 2 turns the focus away from gathering resources and allows you to concentrate on the bigger picture. In this case, your job is to increase the population of each village, ensure there's enough food to go around, and keep the town safe from attack (in addition to level-specific goals). You do this by building houses, farms, barracks, and more advanced versions of the above later in the game.

Your wallet isn't unlimited, though, so you have to do some mild resource management to facilitate repairs and new buildings. Gold, wood, stone, and workers are all you have to keep an eye on. Gold increases every few moments via tax collection. The more citizens you have, the more cash you'll nab. Other resources can be ordered through the menu at the bottom of the screen, and as you unlock new, more complex structures to build, you'll have more resources to take care of as well.

One unique feature of the Be a King series is the ability to hire heroes. Instead of just watching your villagers bumble back and forth with vegetables in their hands, you can hire heroes from the barracks and send them out on side quests. These optional missions can net you gold, bonus materials, and other goodies. Heroes aren't always successful in their adventures, though, so it's important to weigh the cost with the risks and rewards of the extra quest.

Be a King 2Analysis: Be a King 2 is an exquisitely constructed game with an excellent visual presentation that never fails to impress. Apart from the in-game artwork (landscapes, buildings, maps, etc.), you'll catch a lot of character portraits that look like they belong in a book of fantasy artwork.

The game's design falls somewhere between a casual building game and, thanks to the combat situations, a real-time strategy title. This mixture makes for an exciting experience that's much more engrossing than your typical simulation, and it's always cool to slay dragons and defend villagers from wolf attacks.

Unfortunately for fans of the series, Be a King 2 doesn't offer many new features beyond the first game. The levels, quests and objectives are entirely unique, of course, but if you've saved one village from poverty and starvation you've saved them all. The pacing of the game is still a bit slow for my taste, knocking the challenge factor down a notch and leading to several "come on, let's get to the game!" moments.

Apart from its minor difficulty issues, Be a King 2 is an excellent simulation title that's a worthy successor to the original. Great artwork, simple presentation, and enough content to keep you churning away for hours.

WindowsWindows:
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Mac OS XMac OS X:
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  • Currently 3.9/5
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Rating: 3.9/5 (99 votes)
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JamesRock Garden DeluxeAh, zen. In this crazy old world today it's something we all yearn for. Not that it is easy to explain what Zen actually is. Inner peace? Less stress? Shorter lines at Starbucks? Sure, we could all aspire to live on a tropical island for the rest of our lives, but we'd get bored. And all that sand? A nightmare! No, you are better off getting your peace of mind in small doses, pushing around little stones in the captivating and brainy puzzle game Rock Garden Deluxe from Flipline Studios.

Things could not be easier: you have to herd all of the identical stones into clusters, at which point they will flip over with the uniform efficiency of a Mexican Wave. The trick is getting them together. A stone is flicked into a direction and it will perpetually travel until it hits a boundary or obstacle. A board with one or two stone types is relatively easy to crack, but when the game starts to hit four it gets tricky. Every board is shaped differently, both on its boundaries and inside, making the shuffling a more deliberate endeavour. You have to maneuver a stone around bends, past other stones and into its own group. but once a set of stones has flipped, none of them can be moved. So you have to keep your end game in mind and not accidentally corner a stone beyond redemption. That just causes stress...

At first glance it seems the trick is to finish a puzzle with the least number of moves. Instead, Rock Garden measures you by speed. There is not limit on how long you can take, but the closer you get to the stage's best time, the more stars you get. Beat or equal it and you get the full five, plus from Level 15 onwards you can win a special stone from selected levels. These stones go towards your collection, which is a trophy room of sorts, plus they expand the collection of stones you can use in the very Zen 'Your Gardens': custom levels that seem to only be about placing and flicking around stones. If you prefer a slow game, but with an actual point, you can try out the random level generator. It still keeps time, but no high score.

Rock Garden Deluxe is a strange breed, because it is peaceful to play and yet turns into a thoroughly challenging puzzle game where you learn to think a few steps ahead. This is the full game with 100 levels and a commercial version is also available to buy. Whichever you choose, flicking around stones with little care in the world has never felt more rewarding.

Play Rock Garden Deluxe


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Link Dump Fridays

DoraSo you say to yourself, "Self," you say, "I don't think I've accomplished enough this week. Really earned my weekend, you know? Maybe if I were to rescue some royalty inside some sort of arbitrary time limit, feed hordes of starving sheep, rescue someone's girlfriend while risking bodily injury... and then told everyone how awesome Jay is Games is... and bought all of its writers decorative muffin baskets... maybe then I can have the weekend of rest I so richly deserve."

We can help you with the first bit of that. (PS; I like carrot spice or lemon poppyseed muffins!)

  • 60s to Save the Queen60s to Save the Queen - There's actually a lot to like about this appealingly retro little platformer with its frenetic midi-style soundtrack. Race to the top of your crumbling castle to save your queen during an invasion, all within sixty seconds. The simplistic design is quite nice, and it can be easy to get distracted by things going on in the background when you should just keep moving. Unfortunately, once you're done, you're done; there's no real reason to replay another sixty second session of the same thing unless you want to try to beat your own highscore. Me? I came to terms with my mediocrity long ago.
  • 8x8 Adventure8x8 Adventure - This sorta-roguelike is very teeny-tiny. Like, really. Click on the screen to get started, and use the [arrow] keys to navigate your way through a world filled with... something. The problem is that it's hard to figure out what's going on, and currently the whole thing is more of an experiment than a complete game. It's a concept with promise, however, and if the developer follows through with the "To-Do" list at the bottom of the screen, it could really evolve into something special, and I'll be first in line to play it. Well, probably not first. I really am exceptionally lazy.
  • The SplineThe Spline - In this dreamy little physics puzzle, the goal is to push and pull the glowing points along the line into position so that when you click the start arrow, the large golden orb rolls along the path and collects all the stars on screen. The whole this has a very soothing presentation, with soft visuals and a relaxing (though vaguely sinister sounding) soundtrack. The problem is that it's a little slow, and a bit of a one-trick pony, too. Hardcore "phuzzle phans" will probably chomp this one down in no time, but people just looking to dip their toes in the genre's pool will find it a simple, soothing experience.
  • Shaun's Big LunchShaun's Big Lunch - Everyone loves Shaun, and if you don't, then you're no friend of mine. Aardman generally brings us very clever and likable advergames from the Wallace and Gromit realm, but this fast-paced time-management/matchup puzzle is the first one that actually feels like "just" an advergame. Use the [arrow] keys to put food on everyone's plate, earning bonus points for making a complete plate with matching pieces. It's cute, but it's also very simple, and you'll probably get bored long before you lose. It's not baaaaaaaaaaaad, however, and if you just want to see Shaun's adorable sheepy mug again, you'll probably enjoy it while it lasts.
  • The Harry Stick JourneyThe Harry Stick Journey - [Parental Warning: Contains blood and violence.] So Harry finds himself dropped into a strange world when local ne'er-do-well Punky takes a shine to his girlfriend, and it's up to you to pick the right objects in the right places to help Harry find his way home. It's a weird a enjoyable little adventure, but enjoyment is hampered somewhat by the fact that there's only ever really one right solution (success or violent death) and also because the timer can't be stopped... even when you open the options menu. It's also mildly disconcerting since "Punky" was my nickname all through school. Weeeeeeeeeeird.

  • Currently 3.9/5
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Rating: 4.7/5 (107 votes)
| Comments (11) | Views (41)

Babylon Sticks: The Game Must Go On comic

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


  • Currently 3.7/5
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Rating: 3.7/5 (112 votes)
| Comments (15) | Views (44)

JamesInfernoFighting fires is a dangerous business, so the idea of sending in robots to do the work instead is definitely an appealing one. But for some reason someone thought one robot would be enough, which is where you find yourself in Inferno, a puzzle/platform game where keeping the fire at bay is a matter of speed, guile, planing... and coins.

Inferno controls quite easily: you use the [WASD] keys (or directional [arrows] if you are left-handed) to move the little robot and your mouse to aim his water spray. The objective is to stop all the fires on a level, with the secondary aim to grab the coins. Coins are important, because they let you upgrade your abilities: speed, health, tank capacity and jet power. You will need all of these, because fire is one nasty piece of work.

"It's a living thing, Brian. It breathes, it eats, and it hates. The only way to beat it is to think like it." So said Robert De Niro's character Donald Rimgale in the 1991 movie Backdraft. Honestly, it's as if he played this game too! The puzzle part of Inferno is keeping the fire under control, which is not easy given fire's habit of spreading. Each square that catches alight has three stages; one to three flames. The more flames, the more water you need. The fire also spreads to surrounding blocks and left long enough will damage the block completely. This can disable ladders, make areas inaccessible and even bring the roof down (spreading more flames to whatever it ands on).

Some blocks are more flammable than others. Books and hay will light up far more happily than wooden walls, but its the volatile substances that are the bane of our little robot's job. Oil drums will explode, spreading flames over a random radius. Fireworks boxes turn into flame-raining mortar positions. And nuclear waste... well, just keep the flames away from those (actually they are not much more volatile than oil; fireworks - now those are a nightmare).

InfernoAnalysis: The challenge in Inferno is figuring out how to contain a fire and eventually extinguish it. Keeping flames away from volatile substances is the obvious route, but some levels will expect you to focus more on containment than immediate avoidance. Your water can run out and an out-of-control blaze will soon become impossible to stop if you don't manage your water use or stage time refills. If that is not enough, you need those coins. There is no other way to upgrade and advancing your gear is vital if you intend to keep the house from burning down.

Inferno isn't perfect. The control system is a bit stiff, which doesn't blend well with such a high-pressure theme, and if you reload the game you can access the levels you have unlocked, but you lose all your upgrades. Also, you can't actually lose (unless you die). Letting a fire burn out on its own just costs you score, not the level. Yet despite these setbacks it's addictive and extremely satisfying when you beat back a wall of flames. As fun as it is frustrating, Inferno spreads itself over more than a dozen pyro-induced interesting levels. Give it a bash - you'll find the robotic firefighter in you yet. Who knows? There might even be a kitten rescue or two in your future.

Play Inferno

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