August 2010 Archives


  • Currently 4.3/5
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Rating: 4.3/5 (148 votes)
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seasons.gifJohnBFrom the creator of Windosill, Acrobots, and Levers comes a quiet, creative romp through an imaginary world. Seasons is a gorgeous piece of interactive art that lets you explore half a dozen scenes with Thomas and his unicycle. Pedal through the snow and see which animals pop their heads out. Shake the beehive and see where the bees go. Take a dip in the lake and watch your reflection in the water. Seasons is nothing short of beautiful, and its relaxing, webtoy-like presence will captivate your curiosity for longer than you might expect.

You control Thomas, the little egg guy riding his unicycle, by waving the mouse around the screen. He goes wherever your cursor goes, stopping when you stop and pedaling to the next scene when you pull beyond the sides of the window. Interact with parts of the environment by bumping in to them or by rolling nearby. It's that simple to move around in the world, but you'll uncover plenty of neat things in your journey.

The visuals in Seasons are detailed down to the slightest movement. Even Thomas' wiry little legs move with fluid ease. Objects feel like they have an actual presence in the world, making it all the more satisfying when you learn you can affect them. Leaves and flower petals even bend when you ride over them! Soaking in all the visual details is a key component in Seasons, and you won't run out of things to see any time soon.

We could sit and pick apart the game, question whether the unicycle is responsive enough, wonder if there's enough going on to keep you interested, but at the end of the day, Seasons is about beauty and about change. It's about exploring your world and discovering the wonders hidden in the grass, under the snow, or inside a blooming flower. Take a little unicycle ride across the seasons and see what you can see.

Play Seasons


  • Currently 3.8/5
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Rating: 3.8/5 (80 votes)
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BradHarmony KeeperAh, the cosmos. It contains the whole of everything that is, was and shall be. It is filled with the awe-inspiring beauty of the nebulae, the quasars and the familiar stars. Science cannot know how big the universe is, nor can it count the number of planets or star. Every time we get close to an exact figure, a giant space whale, dubbed Harmony Keeper, starts devouring celestial bodies to maintain the balance. Or at least, that's what this latest action/arcade title from MoFunZone teaches us.

In Harmony Keeper, you take control of this space whale using the [WASD] or [arrow] keys to move. When you put yourself near a star or planet the whale starts to eat it; how long this takes depends on the size of what you're trying to eat. The goal of each level is to eat the target planet. Each level also has option challenges that range from easy, like eat 25 stars, and to seemingly impossible, like killing a boss in one minute.

You won't be able to just swim, er...float, your way to your goals, because for some crazy reason people don't take kindly to whales devouring their homes. Now, despite its size, the Harmony Keeper doesn't have any defenses of its own. So, you'll have to hit the [spacebar] and use your mana to summon little creatures called guardians. Guardians automatically attack the enemies around them, but you can guide their fire by holding down the left mouse button. With five guardians to choose from and six available slots, you can pick which ones you can build your army based on what you need at the time. Guardians can be upgraded temporarily using mana during the levels and you can also set whether you want a guardian to attack the nearest, farthest, strongest or weakest enemy.

As you eat planets and stars, your Harmony Keeper gets more mana to summon and upgrade guardians, and it also gains experience. With enough experience, you level up and gain skill points. In between levels you spend those points to either beef up your whale or to increase the chances that your guardians will use their special attack.

harmonykeeper_skills.jpgAnalysis: Harmony Keeper scores some major points right out of the gate by having a unique premise. It might be the only game that combines elements of shoot-'em-ups with, well, eating. It is definitely the only one to feature a turquoise space whale. Complimenting the concept is fun gameplay. The first few levels may seem somewhat minimal, but soon you'll be dividing your attention between dodging enemy projectiles, eating stars and aiming your guardian's fire. The guardian system is neat and allows for quite a bit of customization.

As the cherry on top, the game looks good. It has a unique cartoony style that fits the game just right. The bosses are huge and change as they take damage, which shows you that you're making progress and gives you something new and cool to look at. Even small details have been included, such as your guardian changing appearance occasionally when you upgrade it during a level.

Harmony Keeper isn't perfect, however. The music isn't great, but even if it were it wouldn't matter because the sound mix is so uneven that gunfire quickly drowns out the music. The game is also short, only six levels, although you can keep playing after the end, with a new guardian added to your summon menu, to try for any challenges you didn't get. The difficulty curve is a little funky with the first three levels being almost too easy and the last three becoming noticeably more difficult. If you're having trouble, you might have to go back and grind earlier levels so you can beef up your health and guardians. Additional difficulty comes from the fact that your whale isn't exactly svelte. Sometimes you won't be able to dodge incoming projectiles, you'll just have to plow through and hope for the best.

Overall, the good far outweighs the bad in Harmony Keeper. The unique gameplay concepts and excellent art design should be more than enough to get you playing. Just remember what Carl Sagan said, "We are made of star stuff... and star stuff is whale food. Technically, we're all whale food." Really makes you think, huh?

Play Harmony Keeper


  • Currently 3.7/5
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Rating: 3.7/5 (64 votes)
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lightup2.jpgJohnBLight Up 2 is a physics/puzzle game from the creator of the original Light UP. This chill, relaxing game is all about moving circles around the screen to light up dark orbs, hence the name. You do this by turning neutral orbs into colored orbs that reflect certain types of orbs, creating a little bit of controlled chaos that will (hopefully) settle in to a fully-lit arrangement of circles!

There are initially four kinds of orbs: immovable gray orbs, white orbs you can click to remove, glowing orbs, and dark orbs. Your goal is to get the glowing orb to touch the dark orbs to light them up, a task usually accomplished by removing white orbs and letting gravity do its thing. Objects only have to touch to interact, not stick together, and once you light a darkened orb, it can be used to light other dark orbs, which comes in handy in later levels.

Soon, you gain access to new tools in the form of blue and green bulbs. Blue bulbs reflect glowing bulbs and are created by holding [ctrl] and clicking on white orbs. Green bulbs can be made by holding [shift] and clicking on any white orb. Dark orbs bounce off of green orbs, so use them to move what would usually be the target towards the light. The number of green/blue bulbs you can create is marked in the top left corner of the screen, along with the number of white orbs you can remove.

If it all sounds like a big mess of bulby/orby confusion, believe me when I say it is anything but. Light Up 2 is a relaxing, thoughtful experience filled with soothing sound effects and quiet puzzles. Clicking and creating orbs becomes second nature a few levels in, and determining the right time to change the color of or removing orbs is your key to success. It's never quite as easy as it seems.

There's just one drawback to the whole Light Up 2 experience: unreliable physics. Identical actions rarely produce similar results, so if you turn one orb green something different will happen each time you restart the level. This saps a great deal of the strategy and puzzle elements out of the game, leaving trial and error the only true course to victory. This isn't an unheard of problem in physics puzzle games, but it's a few degrees more severe in Light Up 2. Workaround? Try, try, and try again. Four leaf clovers won't hurt, either.

Despite its technical shortcoming, Light Up 2 is still a worthwhile experience. Its short, 30-level run will take you less than half an hour to complete, with the only real stumbling block being the unreliable physics engine. However, the smooth presentation and calming set-up crafts a lovely mood that's worth checking out.

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  • Currently 3.9/5
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Rating: 3.9/5 (105 votes)
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joyeTogether screen 1Ah, another perfect day. Sitting on a cliff. Letting the breeze blow through your bright pink hair. Then you hear the distant rumble of some kind of black hellspawn chasing your boyfriend. Well, just put out your hand and fly away with him in [Together], One Mr. Beans's entry in our 8th Casual Gameplay Design Competition that took third place overall. Explore up to the farthest reaches of space and down to the abyss in search of hearts. Gotta catch 'em all! And, y'know, not get eaten. That's important too.

To accomplish these two goals (get hearts, don't be food), you'll be using your trusty cursor. The boy and girl will chase the cursor. The closer the cursor is to the edge of the game window, the faster they fly. Obviously, when you sight the vapor trail of a heart, you're going to want to fly as fast as you can after it. There are many layers to the world, each with its own kind of heart. Hold the [spacebar] to check which hearts you've got and how many you have left to catch. Competition 3rd place award winnerBut don't get too relaxed, because there's that aforementioned smoke creature after you. When he's cramping your style, simply swirl your cursor in a circle around your couple, causing them to spin in a tight circle. Apparently terrors of shadow can't stand tight circles. Add that to your notes; that's the kind of thing that might come in handy someday.

Analysis: When it was first uploaded to the competition, many players complained that the hearts were too hard to catch and that the beast wasn't scared off long enough by spinning. Don't lose hope! If you're just patient, the hearts will slow down, so if you're getting frustrated by a heart, sail around for a while exploring and when you try again, the heart should be easier. This is the kind of game that's supposed to be about freedom, about exploring the heights and the depths with no limits, not about tossing your mouse across the room because once again a heart wiggled out of your reach. If you tried the game and quit because of the difficulty, please give it another chance with a more patient outlook.

Together screen 2So where's the sandbox theme in a game about the big blue sky and the deepest ocean? A totally non-linear experience, in [Together] you can gather any heart in any order. In addition, the entire "map", so to speak, is open to you at once. If you want to go from the lowest level to the highest, twirl it on up. The reverse? Get down with your blue and pink colored selves. Despite the ever-present threat of the ashen monstrosity, the mood of the game, with its pastels and soothing music, is thoroughly relaxing. If there were a few more things to see in the game world, this would be the kind of game you could bliss out to and lose track of time. As it is, the emptiness means that after only a few minutes, you'll have seen everything there is to see and your only goal will be collecting the hearts.

Some players will find the ending of the game unhappy or an anticlimax. Others will adore it. There's as many possible interpretations as will fit in infinity's midpoint. Several good ones have already been advanced on the competition page. Why not play through the game and amaze us with your definitive answer?

AdamCAdamC - [Together] is a moving little piece of art that combines a frantic chase with open-world exploration. The game smartly presents itself (at first) as an experience without a goal, encouraging you to soar through the heights of the stratosphere, plummet to the deepest depths, and even meet infinity halfway. Only a small set of instructions warn you of the relentless smoke monster, which pushes you to always keep moving. While others found some gameplay mechanics frustrating, with good reason, I felt the challenge was worth the experience. Any easier and the message of love, pursuit, and loss may have been cheapened. [Together]'s ending may leave some a bit cold, and its interpretation of the competition theme may have been a little loose, but the amount of care obviously put into its creation along with its crisp polish kept me hooked right on through. [Together] is a wonderfully sad little game that completely deserves its high ranking place in our latest competition.

Play [Together]


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JayCGDC8 Theme: SandboxI just want to take a moment out of our regular review schedule to thank a few sites who were gracious enough to review game entries from our Casual Gameplay Design Competition #8.

The developers who enter these competitions certainly deserve all the attention they get, and it would be really nice to see this list expanded upon for future competitions.

PC World reviews several notable entries. Thanks, Laura!
"A casual game can relax your nerves or stimulate your mind. These great games were winners and notables in Casual Gameplay Design Competition #8: Sandbox."

Play This Thing reviews [Together]. Thanks, Matt!
"To all the diehard indie snobs out there spooked by the "casual" label: Don't worry. [Together] is an art game masquerading as a casual game..."


  • Currently 3.9/5
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Rating: 3.9/5 (61 votes)
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5xman.gifJohnB5xMan is an action/puzzle game that plays on the now-familiar concept of controlling multiple characters one at a time. You play a team of five guys, each in a stunning single-color one-piece jumpsuit (is that a Louis Vuitton?!), and work your way through each stage. Make it as far as you can with one guy, then switch to the next to see what more you can do, opening new paths for subsequent team members as you go.

Passageways are often blocked by doors that are, naturally, operated by buttons and switches. Some are simple toggles that stay in operation after you touch them. Other buttons require you to tap them several times, while still more need constant pressure in order to work. This is where the multiple characters come into play. Need access to the blocked hallway up top? Have one guy stand on the switch for several seconds, and when you pass through the same area with another team member, slip through the crack while the shadow version of you is standing there. Simple!

While most games with this replay theme tend toward short, one-trick puzzle levels, 5xMan is more of a marathon in nature. Each team member has a time limit to explore the multi-screened level. When you switch to the next guy, you can't go back to the first, lending a sense of permanence to your actions. You actually have to strategize to make the most of your limited time and resources, as one mistake and you'll probably have to start all over again.

5xMan's strength is also its weakness. Because the game relies on strategy and luck for the challenge, you'll often have to use trial and error to complete levels. When you start a new stage, for example, you're never quite sure what to do, so you just run around and hope it all turns out right. Only after you've spent a turn or two do you see the trick for gathering all the coins, and by that time it's most likely too late.

A short, entertaining platform puzzle game that takes a familiar concept and slides it into a new light. A nice use of the replay theme and a respectable game on its own!

Play 5xMan


  • Currently 4.5/5
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Rating: 4.5/5 (169 votes)
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joyeReeelzC'mooooooon cheese! Mama needs a fondue party! C'moooooon... aww. A potted plant. Well, I'll just click this up arrow here, and bingo, another combo card is filled in Reeelz, an addictive blend of skill-based puzzle and luck-based slot machine from Game In a Bottle. No more mindlessly feeding coins into the one-armed bandit; if you prioritize and have a long term plan, you'll certainly come out on top. Take that, Las Vegas!

The controls may seem complicated when written, but they'll quickly become second nature when you're actually playing. Your overall goal is to complete all the combo cards with the most possible tokens left over. The cards list combinations, like Best of Casual Gameplay 2010"Lunar Outpost (one moon and three houses)", "Long Hedge (four plants in a row)" and "Strict Vegan (no cheese)". The cards that you can complete with your current spin will be at the top and highlighted yellow. You can click on a highlighted card to fill it and cause the slots to spin again-- but not so fast.

Here's where the strategy comes in. You only have so many tokens (15 at the beginning), and each spin costs one token. You can lock reeelz that you don't want to spin by clicking on them, making them yellow (this doesn't cost anything). You can also spend one token to "step" a slot up or down one position by clicking on the up or down arrows. In my introduction example, I needed a cheese, but when I clicked to spin, I got a plant instead. The cheese is above the plant, so I clicked on the up arrow to move up to the cheese and complete my card. For completing an ordinary card, you get one token back. If the card is a little bit harder, it will have a star on it and earn you two tokens. The hardest cards have two stars and earn three tokens.

ReeelzToken management is critical. If you run out of tokens, you lose the game, but you also have a limit to how many tokens you can have at once. You start out with 15 tokens and a limit of 20. If you have 20 tokens or more and complete another card, the tokens are wasted. Every ten cards, your limit increases and you receive a token bonus.

Once you clear every card, you've won, and you'll be told what your rank was. In the later games, you'll need to finish well over the token limit to get the highest rank.

Analysis: Game in a Bottle is probably best known for their tower defense series Gemcraft, so Reeelz may seem like something of a departure for them. The two may have more in common than you'd think. Both games are about looking forward and planning for the end game at the beginning. Both games require prioritizing. However, whereas Gemcraft is a time sink of the first caliber, the toughest level of Reeelz will take only 40 minutes or so to clear its 150 cards. In fact, in my opinion the game is most fun in its 60 and 90 card incarnations, because it becomes more of a coffee break challenge.

The game is a lot less luck-based than first appearance would indicate. Sure, the spinning is pure luck, but it's really a matter of judging based on the initial random spin which of the starred combos you can obtain quickly by locking, stepping and spinning. So you get all the casino excitement of chance without the frustration of losing due to factors outside your control. You can always win. So give it a spin. C'mon, c'mon, sandwich!

Play Reeelz


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Mobile Monday

JohnBSo many new Android games, so little time to play them all! Here's a protip for you: instead of social interaction, try an Android game! Cell phones are already wonderful tools for spurning your pals, so why not ditch the implied SMS communication and have some fun?!

Use a barcode scanning app to scan the QR codes and start downloading the games to your phone. We also recommend AppBrain, a wonderful program that integrates app browsing/installation across web browsers and your phone!

mypaperplane2.jpgMy Paper Plane 2 (3D) - If you've ever thrown a paper airplane, you know how tough it is to make the darn thing fly for more than a few feet. My Paper Plane 2 eliminates the letdown by putting you in the pilot's seat of a no-fall paper airplane that responds with silky smoothness to tilt controls. Avoid obstacles by moving your phone in different directions, and gather stars for some nice bonus points. New difficulty levels can be unlocked by earning medals, which are surprisingly challenging to grab. My Paper Plane 2 Lite (QR code on the left) features one stage and a tutorial level, while the full version (QR code on the right) has five complete worlds to explore.

galcon-android.jpgGalcon - Hey, you remember Galcon, right? The space-themed Risk-like game of strategy? Not only is the game on the iTunes App Store, Windows, Mac and Linux platforms, now it's on Google Play Android Games, too! Single player is entertaining enough, featuring the "send some units to take over other planets but not too many because you have to keep your territory defended" gameplay we're all familiar with. Multiplayer, on the other hand, is practically perfect, allowing you to connect with and battle thousands of real-life players who are also huddled over their Android phones.

choiceofromance-android.gifChoice of Romance - The Choice Of games continue to grow in number, and with each new browser-based release comes a matching (and free) Android release. Choice of Romance follows the same "choose your own adventure" set-up as previous Choice Of games, giving you a lot of freedom to interact with and affect the story you're reading on the screen. This time around, instead of playing the part of a dragon, you are the eldest child of a once-wealthy noble family whose fortune is disintegrating. You are about to come of age, however, and your life is ready to unfold in front of you. How do you live it? That's up to which options your fingers tap on the screen, of course.

andokusudoku.gifAndoku Sudoku - Heard of a little logic puzzle game called "sudoku"? 'Course you have! While there are as many sudoku games on Google Play Android Games as there are iTunes apps that determine whether or not you're a moron, a few stand well ahead of the pack. Andoku Sudoku is one such game, providing a rich puzzle experience with a clean, attractive interface and more puzzles than you can shake an Android-branded stick at (over 5,000) and includes popular sudoku variants such as Sudoku-X, Hyper Sudoku, Percent Sudoku, Color Sudoku and Squiggly Sudoku. Bonus: Andoku Sudoku is open source!

laserreflections.gifLaser Reflections - Who here hasn't played a game where you place/rotate mirrors to guide a laser to the target? The genre is practically ancient, owing its roots to some of the earliest visual puzzle video games around. In typical Google Play Android Games form, Laser Reflections brings the classic set-up to your mobile phone without bothering with slick niceties and other frilly things. Just lasers, mirrors, and an interface that's ruggedly useful. Place mirrors, refractors, double mirrors and splitters with the touch screen, or use the arrows to precisely place objects on the grid. Move the light around the screen and turn all of the bulbs red to progress to the next level.

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.


  • Currently 4.6/5
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Rating: 4.6/5 (27 votes)
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Alchemia

JohnBThe point-and-click adventure from Springtail Studio is all grown up! Alchemia was first released in 2009 as a free browser game with the promise of an extended version later on. Well, later is now, and the downloadable Alchemia comes with five more playable levels and nine new locations, providing even more photorealistic scenery and lateral-thinking puzzles than before!

AlchemiaThe story begins with our hero, Noses, snoozing by the fireside. A flying Lootpecker machine swoops by and gulps down his dinner, and Noses tosses a hammer at him in anger. The machine crashes in the forest, destroying Lootpecker's body and leaving its soul hovering nearby. Noses vows to help the poor ghost by building it a new body, all he has to do is make the journey to where it was created!

Playing Alchemia is as easy as clicking your mouse. In order to progress from area to area, you'll need to solve some very strange puzzles. The only way you know what to solve and how to solve it is by experimenting. Click everything, that's the number one rule, and watch how it all reacts when you hit the moue button. It's fun noticing the little artistic touches and just-for-fun creatures scattered throughout the game.

Puzzles in the new levels are more complex than the original set, requiring a bit more thought and a lot more clicking to solve. The text in the game, while sparse, offers a few hints here and there, but oftentimes you'll wish there was no dialogue at all, just you and the beautiful scenery to play with. Walkthrough paragraphs are available on each screen, holding your hand through every step of the way. Keep your cursor away from it, though, and you'll experience the thrill of discovery and the rush of victory all on your own, which is half of what this game is about!

Alchemia will remind point-and-click fans of two other well-known titles: Samorost and Haluz. The resemblances aren't unwelcome, of course, and the studio behind Haluz is the same studio that created Alchemia.

If you somehow missed it when it was first released, check out our Alchemia review for more information. Then, when you're ready for more, grab the extended version of the game below!

WindowsWindows:
Play the free browser demo
Get the extended version

Mac OS XMac OS X:
Play the free browser demo
Get the extended version

LinuxLinux:
Play the free browser demo
Get the extended version


(7 votes) *Average rating will show after 20 votes
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Country Harvest

JamesEver wanted to live in a house in the country? Well, unless you are a reclusive author or JayIsGames reviewer, you will need some way to sustain yourself there. So why not a spot of vegetable farming? And all the nearby towns are just dying for a bit of fruit and veg. It's time for rising at the rooster's crow and till the fields in the resource management game Country Harvest.

Country HarvestWith a square piece of land and a couple of seeds at your disposal, you have to meet the grocery demands of a local town. Fill the order and you move onto the next town. To meet the orders, you have to plow your field, plant the crop needed, harvest it before it goes bad and have it ready to be shipped by the time the delivery truck arrives. The better you do, the more money and experience you gain. As you level up, more crops and facilities are unlocked. The facilities let you manufacture different products (like tomato paste) or improve the speeds you and your hirelings work at. The workers, up to three people you can hire through the course of the game, help you tend larger and larger crops, as they can also plow, sow and harvest stuff.

Tomatoes, potatoes, pumpkins, strawberrries, sunflowers — there are over fifteen different types of fruits and vegetables you can grow. Some can also be converted to a new product, such as sunflower seeds, thread and sugar. For these you build special facilities, each of which can be upgraded two times. For extra storage you can build silos, while workshops and cabins improve the speeds of your workers. Your game type is spent juggling between directing the workers, converting goods in the facilities and shooting crows.

Country HarvestAnalysis: Country Harvest might seem a bit bland on paper, but it's fast-paced and very addictive. It's not a farming simulator, because all you need to do is maintain some kind of rhythm and structure with your harvest cycle. The better you do the quicker you gather experience and cash, but it's not particularly hard to keep the pace going and impress the locals with fresh produce. In order to plant, you have to plow. After sowing a crop takes a certain amount of time to grow and then you have a limited time to harvest them. If a crop goes bad you can't use the piece of land for a while. Once the harvesting is done, you plow again for the next round of sowing.

What makes the game challenging is that you have to micro-manage each process. Workers can be instructed to plow, seed or harvest vast tracts of land, but only once these patches are ready for it. You can queue actions as well, but once again only if the pieces of land you target are ready for that action. So it becomes a matter of constantly swooping over the map, instructing everyone what they need to do before the harvest goes off. But this is also the height of Country Harvest's difficulty. There are no time limits (apart from the delivery truck's continual appearance) and it is not hard to get money, so you are not likely to bankrupt yourself unless you really make a mess of things, like planting corn when they need potatoes. Beat a stage and the game awards you with more cash and some farm decorations, which I never used. Who has the time if you are constantly managing things? You can gain extra experience points shooting the crows overhead, creating a mild distraction while hovering over your agricultural empire.

One thing Country Harvest sorely needs are keyboard shortcuts. Switching between workers, managing crop cycles and converting goods would have been even pacier with some handy hotkeys. Especially in later levels when things get really frantic.

It doesn't push any sort of envelope with its design or challenge, but Country Harvest still provides an entertaining time management experience. Just be ready for some tense moments towards the end of the game.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


  • Currently 4.6/5
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Rating: 4.6/5 (26 votes)
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Robin's Quest: A Legend Born

JohnBBuilt like an adventure game from the ground up, Robin's Quest: A Legend Born is a cure for the common hidden object game. The gorgeous release from Gogii Games puts you in the now-feminine shoes of Robin Hood as she escapes prison and starts doing what the legend is famous for: taking money from the rich Prince John and giving it back to the people!

robinsquest.jpgRobin's Quest has a unique structure that differs from most casual games. For starters, you don't follow the hero from point A to point B. Instead, you have a great amount of freedom to explore areas on your own, solving puzzles and completing scenes in whatever order you like. You receive meta-quests that continue as you move around, things like finding pieces of Friar Tuck's pardon letter. The papers can be found in several of the scenes early on, you just have to keep it in mind to watch for them. You're also hunting for wanted posters of yourself, collecting them and ripping them to shreds so the guards can't recognize you.

Hidden object scenes make an appearance in this adventure, but they're more of an afterthought and sit alongside a host of other well-integrated mini-games. In each one you're presented with several columns of item "cards", the top ones being the only ones visible. Find the listed item and that card vanishes, turning the next card on its face. When the scene is complete, you'll often keep several of the items in your inventory to use for later.

When it comes down to it, Robin's Quest: A Legend Born is all about gathering inventory items to complete puzzles throughout the game. You'll do a lot of exploring and a lot of backtracking, but that's what gives the game such a grand scope. More than once you'll encounter a blocked doorway, sealed hatch, or secret area you need a specific item to access. When you do, it's back to previous areas to do some more exploration.

robinsquest2.jpgAnalysis: Robin's Quest: A Legend Born is a very organic experience. While many games feel like they could have been churned out of a factory, this one comes across as a natural extension of telling an interactive story. You need to make it to the fields beyond town, and the baker's shop has a back door. To get through the gate, though, you need to distract the guards. Fortunately you overhear one of them talking about pie, so naturally you find the ingredients and set one in a nearby windowsill. The entire process is fun to complete and a joy to experience, something a game stamped out of a genre mold couldn't accomplish.

Robin's Quest not only plays smooth, it looks luscious as well. The countryside of 15th century England is flush with warm light and soft featured, buildings and people colored with smooth lines and gentle tones. You just want to jump in and wrap yourself in it like a fuzzy blanket.

Another aspect of Robin's Quest that makes it unique are special abilities earned when members of the Merry Men join your quest. Friar Tuck, for example, is tops at negotiation and can talk otherwise uncooperative non-player characters into helping you out. When you can use a special ability, a small menu will appear on the screen, allowing you to choose which skill to unleash. And yes, Robin's bow and arrow prowess is a special ability!

A unique design produces an original game that stands far out in front of the pack of genre clones. Robin's Quest: A Legend Born is grand storytelling and creative gaming wrapped into one irresistible package.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


  • Currently 4.6/5
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Rating: 4.6/5 (161 votes)
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DoraChoice of the VampireIn Choice of the Vampire, the first Choice of Games title written by Jason Hill, you are (surprise!) a newly minted vampire struggling to make your mark in undead society. Or maybe you're an idealist who believes true love of the eternal kind is just around the corner. Or could you be a devout soul who sees your new unlife as a sort of curse you must seek redemption from? Or perhaps you're a warrior barely kept in check by your maker and growing ever more impatient with the political niceties of your kind? These decisions, and many others, are yours to make in this dark text-based RPG set against the backdrop of one of the most dangerous and tumultuous times in American history... and beyond.

When options are presented, simply pick the one you want. Don't spend too much time agonizing over what will get the best outcome; you'll enjoy yourself more if you role play a little and choose what you think your character would do based on his or her personality. Options that appear grayed out are ones you don't meet the requirement for; a character who isn't proficient in the arts, for example, isn't going to be able to offer to showcase a ballad for their peers. All of this is influenced by your stats, which you can view at any time by clicking "show stats" at the top of the screen; not only will things like your strength or cunning have an effect on the things you do, but so too will your compassion, adaptation, and other things like your superstition or rationalism. Personally, it seems a little odd that a vampire, a creature of myth, legend, and frilly shirt collars could find voodoo or other magic more unlikely than their own unnatural existence, but, well, that's between you and any black cats that cross your path.

Analysis: The setting here is a little bit Anne Rice stewed with something that feels a lot like classic World of Darkness Vampire: The Masquerade concepts. Only with a lot more playing cards, and an unfortunate lack of Malkavians. The narrative takes place over a long time, and I was surprised at the amount of differences I found in replaying the game with different choices; not only do things like your chosen background influence you, but the decisions you make and responses you give to fellow vampires significantly shape what happens to you down the road... sometimes in ways you don't expect. It could be as subtle as finding yourself unable to resolve a situation because of a language barrier, or as big as winding up in an entirely different plot path. Even with multiple playthroughs of different character types, I was constantly encountering new scenarios. The amount of work is extremely impressive, and enough to keep you busy for quite some time.

This helps make up for the fact that there just isn't as much interactivity as you might hope for. Your character makes decisions as the plot requires them, but entire pages of text can go by with minimal involvement from you. There will definitely be times when you'll feel like a passenger alongside the narrative rather than a participant. And speaking of the narrative, it does tend to be a bit heavy-handed with describing the historical events happening. This wouldn't be a big deal if vampire society or even just the various vampires you'll meet themselves were given the same treatment, but it doesn't quite feel like they were given all the world building they deserve by comparison.

That said, however, the emphasis here appears to be placed more on storytelling, and at that Choice of the Vampire does quite well. The writing is generally top notch, and the cast of characters is robust and distinct. As befits a fledgling creature in a society so heavily steeped in social standing and infighting, you'll spend a good portion of the game early on feeling like a bit player on the sidelines while the more powerful work over your head. Even if you try to distance yourself from other vampires, it's easy to get drawn into their squabbles. The world of mortals may also be beneath your concern, or so you tell yourself, but it'll be hard to ignore the world when it's trying to tear itself apart right outside your door.

Whether you rise from obscurity to become a terror in vampire Society, or find yourself unable to resist the comforts and emotions of mortals, Choice of the Vampire is an exceptionally ambitious and well made adventure that shouldn't be missed by any fan of text games.

Those of you with an iPhone/iPod Touch or an Android phone will be pleased to learn that Choice of the Vampire is available on both the iTunes App Store and the Google Play Android Games!

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Weekend Download

JohnBCUUUUTE games this week. So unabashedly cute. Sugar cubes and tiny block guys. Squeaking mushrooms and elevators that play elevator music. Ohhhh, I'm gonna burst with sugary sweetness.

sugarcube.jpgSugar Cube (Windows, 22.7MB, free) - A sugar cube doesn't want to end up in a cookie, so he runs off in search of freedom! As you move through the colorful areas in this platformer, individual background tiles rotate when you pass in front of them. Depending on which side is showing, different platforms, objects, enemies, etc. will be present. Holding [shift] keeps things as they are, but sometimes you'll want to shuffle things up in order to progress. It's an interesting concept pulled off with that sugary-cute sweetness cleverly alluded to above. Love the cutscenes, too!

alexadventure.gifAlex Adventure (Windows, 8MB, free) - A tiny, overlooked platform adventure game focused on exploration, puzzle solving, and a little bit of combat. Use the [c] key to fire your gun and interact with things in the environment, such as using keys to unlock gates. Pick your way across the varied landscape and see what you can uncover. The world design will remind you a lot of Knytt, as it's quite open and almost every path you take leads somewhere new.

mrblocko.gifMr. Blocko: Super Tournament Edition (Windows, 2MB, free) - Puzzle games are all over the place, especially of the Tetris variety. Swivel the block here, drop it there, make a line, repeat. In Mr. Blocko, however, you don't control the blocks. You control the little guy running around in the pit. Shove blocks left and right to turn them into your color. Make a line, get points. The single player mode gets old pretty fast, but the game supports up to four simultaneous players on one computer, and that's where things get really, really interesting. The ability to swap skins and game modes is also a huge plus!

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


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Rating: 4.3/5 (36 votes)
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My Kingdom for the Princess II

JohnBMy Kingdom for the Princess has returned in an aptly-titled sequel, My Kingdom for the Princess II! Nevosoft brings back its casual resource management/building game with a new story, new levels, new settings, and some other little twists to give players of the original something to look forward to. If you love games like Build-a-lot but can't stand keeping track of so many things at once, My Kingdom for the Princess will suit you just fine.

My Kingdom for the Princess IIAfter their wedding at the end of the first game (oops, spoiler alert), Princess Helen and Sir Arthur decide to go on their honeymoon. After carefully selecting which hat to wear, the couple hops in a hot air balloon and heads to the Azure Archipeligo, a land rumored to be inhabited by a wizard who sleeps in the trees and eats nothing but coconuts. Sounds lovely! After their balloon crashes, the couple strikes a deal with the local tribe, receiving their last boat in exchange for fixing up their villages. It's off to do some repairs!

Just like the original My Kingdom for the Princess, the sequel brings back the very simple worker-resource relationship that's a snap to use. Each map is filled with branching pathways dotted with obstacles, resources, and maybe a building or two. In order to clear a path to the goal, you must send out workers to chop trees, repair the road, and so on. In order to do those things, they need food and wood. You obtain both by picking up resources at spawn locations as well as from buildings and by working in the field. The challenge comes from managing which paths to forge, which resources to hoard, and how to spend your precious earnings.

Each level can be completed by satisfying a short set of goals listed at the top of the screen. This always involves clearing a path to the exit, which is normally blocked by rocks, but sometimes you'll have other tasks to complete as well, such as gathering a few flowers or building a hunting lodge to take care of pesky enemies.

The bonus meter from the original game returns, filling up as time progresses and allowing you to unleash temporary boosts to worker speed, resource numbers, time, and so on. These end up being quite helpful as the work day wanes and night threatens to fall, sapping your time bonus and postponing the completion of your mega castle.

My Kingdom for the Princess IIAnalysis: My Kingdom for the Princess II has that same "just one more level pleeeeease!!!" kind of addictiveness that its predecessor had. Each stage packs in more branching paths, more obstacles, and more challenges than the last, encouraging you to press onward to see what waits for you in the next zone. The variety of locations is a nice bonus, as tropical island scenery gets old after a few levels.

Mini-games are an unusual sight in simulation games, but Nevosoft wasn't afraid to include a few simple diversions to break the focus on resources and workers. I do have two questions, though: why are there giant bats in the water, and how can they hurt my ship so?!

My Kingdom for the Princess II suffers in two areas: originality and pacing. The game isn't all that different from the first, which is both comforting and a bit unnerving, as the series could use a touch of innovation. Within each level, you'll experience hectic periods where there's too much to do followed by lulls in the action where all you can do is wait. This can be alleviated by managing your tasks well, but the down time is often unavoidable, leaving you twiddling your thumbs while your chances of a bonus slowly drips away. Watching workers trundle about the map is also a bit tedious, but this gets better later in the game when there's more to do and more people in which to do it.

A great casual building/resource management game that scores big points for simplicity, ease of use, and addictiveness. Play it once to see what it's like, then keep playing because it's so darn good.

WindowsWindows:
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Mac OS XMac OS X:
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Rating: 3.6/5 (80 votes)
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Mikemike-wingmen-screen1.pngIt's war! Hideous, interplanetary war, and the suits and brass hats at Wing Men Corp know just what that means; beaucoup profits for those with the gumption and firepower to take advantage of an opportunity! Obviously the Wing Men execs have never heard of the broken window fallacy, or maybe they just want to be the glaziers, so to speak. Regardless! In this real-time strategy title of mercenary aerial combat, you play one of Wing Men Corp's bright new generals, set on wiping out the soulless, invading alien hosts to save mankind and make a pretty sum in the process.

You start each level with a base ship, a number of possible planes and powers to purchase, and a "fund" with which to purchase them. Planes pilot themselves, so the strategy comes in cranking out as many of the right sort of planes as possible, and in deploying powers like EMPs and airstrikes in a targeted and timely fashion. The alien armada has planes, powers, and a base ship of its own, and the goal of each level is to destroy the base before the enemy destroys yours. You earn a little bit of cash slowly as the game progresses, and a-sploded enemy ships drop little dollar signs that you collect with your mouse for further profits. Every plane and power has a recharge time, so you have to spend your money slowly and judiciously.

Analysis: I suppose that Wing Men could be a satire on the antics of for-profit companies involved in wartime activities, but I prefer to think of it as a play on the mercenary conventions of strategy and defense titles. Indeed, Wing Men's gameplay could hardly be more essentialist: Buy ships to kill ships to make money to buy more ships to kill more ships. You don't even have to worry about the tedious particulars of piloting and targeting for the most part. The joy is in deploying wave after wave to execute your destructive orders.

The presentation and design in Wing Men is pretty slick. The art is bold and arcade-like, the soundtrack appropriately martial. I especially like the WWII-style of the menu, briefing, and debriefing screens. The orders from your boss (who must have heard a lot of jokes about his name at the academy) are silly but sort of enjoyable. The quality of the written English instructions and narrations is a little clumsy, in an "All-Your-Base" sort of way. One of our reviewers wondered if this was deliberate, and if it is, bravo!

mike-wingmen-screen2.pngThe simplicity of Wing Men is its strength and its curse. On the one hand, the purity of the experience is not without its pleasures. On the other, it can get bogged down in grind pretty quickly. While many levels introduce new gambits and toys to play with, the layout and level design is always the same; send your ships to the right side of the screen to cleanse with fire and rocketry. Further, the AI sometimes frustrates. In one level my ships were getting demolished by the enemy's single turret, but they preferred to concentrate their fire on the base instead. I wanted to say, "Guys, the bullets aren't coming from the base!" but the game doesn't let you make these adjustments, and you have to be content with the bumbling savvy of your computer-controlled pilots.

Nevertheless, Wing Men is a bold stroke of simplicity for the casual strategy defense genre. While the gameplay is a little shallow and underdeveloped, that can at least partly be explained by its minimalist take on strategy gaming. It's simple and straightforward, like Wing Men Corp's take on warfare and business. "War is money?" Play to find out.

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Rating: 4.4/5 (114 votes)
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DoraReincarnation: Let the Evil Times RollAnd you thought your job was a pain? Reincarnation: Let the Evil Times Roll puts you in the shoes of a certain familiar little purple demon who's been tasked with chasing down some Reincarnies; souls who have managed to escape back to the human world without the say-so of your boss. To track them down you'll have to perfect your point-and-click skills in old New Orleans... and maybe even track down a plague of locusts while you're at it.

Click on the screen to interact with various objects, and pick up items; once you've picked something up, click on it in your inventory, then click on another item you're carrying to try combining it. Some items can be manipulated with levitation; you'll know them when you find them because when you click on them... well, uh, they'll levitate. Obviously. Much of your obstacles will be in the form of humans, who you'll have to find some way to sneak around unnoticed. Even when you find your Reincarnies, you won't be able to take them back right away; you'll have to trick them into doing something that would earn them a one-way ticket to you-know-where. And bringing them back involves something a bit more gruesome than public transit. (Although not by much. Have you been on a bus lately? Phew.)

Reincarnation: Let the Evil Times RollThe downside is that the logic to the game is... well, it's just barely there. Puzzle solving generally tends to be an "everything and the kitchen sink" affair that could leave some players frustrated. Similar to the Reemus titles, the universe within the Reincarnations games tends to follow its own set of rules that won't make much sense to outsiders at first. Oh, you'll figure things out with a little bit of experimentation, but when you do make a connection it rarely feels like you puzzled it out... you just stumbled across it because you were patiently clicking everything against everything else.

The progression feels a bit rushed, as if it was intended to be a lot longer, and maybe a little more involved. Where the game doesn't skimp is its quality, featuring great cartoonish artwork and top-notch voice acting. (Which makes up for how obnoxiously intrusive the soundtrack is in the first area you explore.) Despite being a little on the short side, and ending rather abruptly, it's still a quirky little adventure to serve as a nice evening's snack. You know what they say, right? Laissez les mal temps roulez!

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Link Dump Fridays

DoraWhen you think "game" do you also think "carnivorous dinosaur in a tophat"? No? How about "screaming marshmallow thing firing candy projectiles"?... no dice, huh? Well, what about "helicopter that transforms into a flying carpet that transforms into a spaceship that transforms into a horse that transforms into a giant bobble-head"? Still no? Well then I guess we don't have anything for you today, Pickypants.

  • Treadmillasaurus RexTreadmillasaurus Rex - You are a T-Rex on a treadmill, racing in front of the Wheel of Awesome because... some... one... has put you there for... some... reason. Look, it doesn't have to make a whole lot of sense. It just has to be weird and silly and full of confetti, strobe lights, high scores, and higher hats. Which it has. It sort of makes me feel like we need a new category for, "That was great... but what the heck was it?"
  • Love TrampolineLove Trampoline - As the Beatles once sang, "We all live on a Love Trampoline", (well that's how it should have gone) and now you can live the dream. In this cute and simple little java game, you use physics to propel your little heart around the screen, uniting couples and avoiding bombs. There's probably something symbolic in that. I don't know. I was too busy trying not to let the frustrated keening sound I was making while I was trying to aim my shots escape from behind my teeth and startle the cat.
  • The BirdinatorThe Birdinator - [Parental Warning: Not suitable for children.] Apparently, the word that bird has been going on about is "lasers". In this launch game, you play a lazy bird who has put off the seasonal migration a bit too long. Fortunately, you've got hot lasery death hidden in your flying cap to deal with all the other foul fowl that try to get in your way. Nab gems and other power ups to upgrade your abilities and eventually get where you're going.
  • Up Down ReadyUp Down Ready - There's a Kissma-like vibe to how ridiculous this little two-button action/arcade title gets very quickly. Initially you start out using the [up] or [down] directions to avoid obstacles as a helicopter for as long as you can, but after a certain amount of time, well... um. The downside is that as tricky as it initially seems, once you get the hang of it, you'll probably end up stopping long before your lives run out; it doesn't take long to see all the weirdness it has to offer, and it leaves you wanting more. Oh well. +1 internets for "Look at My Horse".
  • Sugar RushSugar Rush - In this run-and-gun little arcade game, leap across a candy world snagging sweets and keeping the evil tooth fairies at bay for as long as you can. Which sort of makes this Canabalt meets Gumby meets Candy Land. I'm not sure if I would describe the visuals as "cute" or "vaguely unsettling", so I'll settle for "unique". Spelgrim's talent for distinct aesthetic has already been proven, but the claymation style here is still remarkably well done.

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Rating: 3.3/5 (61 votes)
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TrickyWayWordsWayWords, TwistedSimple's new single-player word puzzle release, is one part Boggle, two parts Magic Square, and three parts playing around with alphabet blocks. It has the sort of aesthetic that wouldn't be out of place between the Crossword and the Sudoku in your daily newspaper, and gameplay that would fit right in between Scrabble and Upwords in the ol' game cabinet.

You are presented with a four-by-four grid and letter tiles in groups of four. You drag and drop the titles onto the grid and lock them into place. When you make a four letter word, up, down, left or right, it disappears, opening up space for new tiles. Extra points are rewarded for word combos (...presumably, that farmer Arepo would top the high-score table on this one.) Various special tiles and power-ups may help or hinder your progress, but bun out of time or fill and lock the board with no words, and it's game over. It's very much like Lock 'n' Roll's mix of luck and strategy, though with letters instead of dice. And believe me... it's harder than you'd think.

Don't get me wrong, the game dictionary is more than up to the task of recognizing any legitimate four-letter word you throw at it, but the learning curve goes past "daunting" and straight to "frustrating." You'll wish the grid was bigger, you'll wish you got more vowels, and you'll wish that the guitar player in the background would give it a rest. Perseverance brings rewards, however, or, at the very least, addiction. If you're not in love with word games, you might want to give this a pass. However, if you are, and are up for a challenge to boot, WayWords offers an exasperatingly good time.

Play WayWords


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Rating: 4.8/5 (103 votes)
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Babylon Sticks: Snake In The Garden comic

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


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Rating: 4.1/5 (149 votes)
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DoraVertical Drop Heroes!Vertical Drop Heroes! by Nerdook is platforming meets action meets Plinko. The goblins have captured the princesses and, in a remarkable bit of foresight, have also rounded up and locked away every single hero the land has to offer, leaving the king with no choice but to turn to you for help. The game is played on a vertical field where you start at the top and work your way downwards, collecting treasure, trouncing enemies, and rescuing your fellow heroes along the way. At the bottom of most levels you'll find a key that will let you access the temples where the princesses are being held... or you might find a super powered monster looking to eat your face.

Move with [WASD] or the [arrow] keys, and activate whatever special powers you might have with the [spacebar]. In the beginning, the only special ability you have as boring ol' you is "try not to die"; you can kill some enemies by jumping on them, but for stronger foes you'll need to bring out the big guns by rescuing heroes more qualified than you. To rescue a hero, stand on top of their cage and press [down]; doing so will actually transform you into the hero and grant you their abilities. Just be careful since a single hit will make you lose those sweet new skills and turn you back into Generic Guy Who Runs Away A Lot, and too many hits means death. (So be sure to keep an eye out for red health potions!)

You can unlock various abilities for each class that you can set before you start a new level. The Ranger, for instance, has a Hydra Arrow technique that allows three arrows to be shot at once, while the Mage has a Soul Rip spell that will destroy every enemy on screen. (And presumably makes you really unpopular at parties.) Although nifty, these abilities usually eat up a lot of your limited pool of mana, so use them wisely. When you're done with Story Mode, you can also check out Survival Mode, and even 2 Player Mode, which allows you to duke it out with a friend at the same keyboard, or with the computer AI.

Vertical Drop Heroes!Analysis: These days, developers are under more and more pressure to put out "original" game concepts and ideas. It doesn't matter how good looking or polished your platformer is; there will always be people waiting to point out that it's "just" a platformer. While you might not agree with that sentiment, everybody should agree that developer Nerdook have been busy establishing himself as someone who thinks outside the box by combining different genres, and being remarkably open to feedback from fans in an effort to tweak and polish his games. Vertical Drop Heroes! is an odd combination; Nerdook calls it an "RPG meets Tetris", but I would more compare it to certain levels of SNES-era Mario meets Zelda. It's bright, cheerful, and very different.

Vertical Drop Heroes! isn't particularly difficult unless you set out intending to unlock absolutely everything. Unless you're a completionist and absolutely must collect every coin you can to unlock Bigby's Swooning Mustache for your character, there's no real reason not to just grab your favourite character class and fall down either side of the screen to the bottom with minimal interruption along the way. The various stages also feel a bit too similar to each other to really seem distinct apart from aesthetics, and as such the gameplay winds up feeling a bit one-note. What's nice is that the different skills you unlock for each hero can completely change how they play. This gives you a reason to try out all of them, and keeps each hero from feeling identical to one another. Unfortunately, the Thief still winds up feeling like he controls the smoothest next to the comparatively slow and clunky other classes, and will probably be a favourite one you unlock an attack ability for just that reason.

But while I might liked to have seen a bit more variation in the gameplay beyond "fall down and try not to die", Vertical Drop Heroes! is still fun and charming and easily worth a play if you've been looking for something different. Plus, I think we can all agree we've harbored the secret desire to own both a monocle and a beanie at some point in our lives. Not only does Vertical Drop Heroes! indulge that fantasy, you get to rescue the princess at the same time. Suave.

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Rating: 4.4/5 (175 votes)
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DoraTile FactoryAlright, brainiacs, time to grease up the ol' grey matter and get to work! Tile Factory by Jonathon Duerig placed second in this year's Casual Gameplay Design Competition #8, and for good reason. It's a puzzler that has you programming a factory floor by laying down various treadmills and devices to get to their ultimate goal... which is probably being used as a backsplash in some obnoxious thirty-something's "Tuscan Inspired Kitchen". Sigh. Destiny is harsh.

Each level has a certain goal that needs to be met, and your job is to set down a track of all the machinery needed to meet it. Just click on a tile on the menu at the bottom of the screen, and click again on the factory floor to place it. Competition 2nd place award winnerOnce you have everything rigged up the way you want it, click the test tab and hit the play button. If everything works, gravy! If not, you can just click stop, and head back on over to your tiles to play around with the layout. Although things start out simply with conveyor tracks you can rotate, before long the game ups the ante by introducing new requirements. Suddenly you've got to paint tiles too, and moderate how many are created, and how quickly. You'll also find yourself learning how to use sensors, which can be wired to specific devices so that those devices only activate when the sensor is tripped.

Of course, once you're successfully juggling all that, the game starts demanding more of you. Colours too easy? How about stencils? Just make sure to remove them before the tile reaches the goal. One set of tiles not enough for ya, Mr-or-Mrs Smarty McTilepants? Well, how about managing two of them, each with their own requirements, simultaneously? And of course you'll need to install rotators if you want everything facing the way it should be... hey, are you starting to sweat? If you start to get overwhelmed, don't worry; you can place and remove tiles without penalty, and you can take as long as you want to solve a level.

Tile FactoryAnalysis: Instructions are for babies. Or at least, that's what I tell myself every time I toss aside the instructions that come with anything that requires assembly because I've convinced myself I'm smart enough to "wing it". With minimal instruction beyond what tiles do, Tile Factory just hands you the tools and lets you figure out how to get to your goal. There's something very satisfying about hearing that mental click of things falling into place as you figure out what you need to do. The difficulty curve is also more of a difficulty-gentle-slope, and the whole game is exceptionally easy to get into.

As challenging as the maps may initially appear to be, however, they lose a lot of their brain-crushing menace when you realise you can basically just flood the factory floor with as many tiles as possible until you find what works since there's no limit to how many tiles you can use. Past experience has shown that some people find trying to solve similar puzzles with as few pieces as possible for maximum efficiency part of the fun, but a good chunk of us (yours truly included) are more of the "throw everything at the wall and see what sticks" type. If you don't put in certain limitations on the tools at hand, you lose a portion of the challenge your gameplay might otherwise have posed.

joyejoye - I remember when I was a middle schooler and how unfair math tests were. I always got the right answer, but if I didn't show my work and do it exactly the way we had been taught in class, I would lose credit. What did it matter how I did it, I always griped, if I got the right answer? Too many puzzle games are like the humorless algebra teachers of those days. You will use the new tool we have given you for this level, comrade! Refusing to use the new tool is counterrevolutionary!

So it's fabulous to find a game that says, "Hey, new tool here, I think it'll be useful to you, but if you can figure out another way, knock yourself out." You'll never really finish the Tile Factory. Oh, sure, you can beat all the levels. But can you beat this one faster? Using less tiles? Using MORE tiles? Can you fill up the entire screen with tiles and make a hilarious Rube Goldberg machine? And in sandbox mode, you have no restrictions at all. Puzzle games don't have a reputation for being freewheeling, but Tile Factory proves that they can inspire creativity just as effectively as the loopiest webtoy.

JayJay - Tile Factory is precisely the kind of game I was hoping to see entered into this competition. In true sandbox fashion, the game includes a variety of elements and tools that allow for a broad range of solutions to each puzzle. The puzzles themselves are a cross between Manufactoid (which became The Codex of Alchemical Engineering) and Factory Balls, which Jonathon has indicated were both inspirations for his entry. Add to that a puzzle/level editor with which you are given a blank canvas to come up with your own puzzles (and even a way to share them, too!), and it's not surprising to see Tile Factory among the highest scoring games in our "SANDBOX" game design competition! Congratulations, Jonathon!

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Rating: 4.6/5 (220 votes)
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GrinnypBloons Tower Defense 4 ExpansionWell, by now you've probably played Bloons Tower Defense 4 to death, unlocked all the upgrades, defeated all the paths, and you've finally peeled yourself away from the computer long enough to have a life. Well, we can't have that, can we? At least, Ninjakiwi can't, which is probably why they've come out with Bloons Tower Defense 4 Expansion, containing enough upgrades to steal away all of your free time once again playing one of the most popular tower defense games out there. So popular, in fact, that it tied for 1st place in the JayisGames Best of 2009.

If you've never heard of it before, Bloons Tower Defense 4 is a tower defense game (duh!). There is a track, you see, and along that track will come balloons (Bloons). Silent. Stalking. Deadly. Your job, if you should chose to accept it, is to place towers manned by heroic monkeys along this path to stop the killer Bloons before they can wreak havoc in your neighborhood. Or, at least, the neighborhood of the current path. Each tower still has five iterations, from basic to extreme mode, as in the core game. The Bloon types are also the same. So what is new? Bloons Tower Defense 4 Expansion Pack adds exciting new levels to an already wildly popular game.

Bloons Tower Defense 4 Expansion Pack adds four new things to the realm of Bloons: 4 new tracks, from easy to difficult; a new mode known as Deflation; Tower Specialties, which is the ability (once you've satisfied certain requirements) to tinker with the costs of your defensive towers; and a super special secret surprise hidden in one of the aforementioned new tracks. But wait! Before you run off to play with the new toys, let's chat, shall we?

Bloons Tower Defense 4 ExpansionThe four new tracks range in difficulty from astonishingly easy to exceedingly difficult. Each one is lovely to look at, taking you from a sandy beach to an underground lair, from a sun god temple to what Ninjakiwi is amusingly calling a Triangle of Insanity. Seriously. You will go insane. Each offers new opportunities to explore new strategies using the familiar monkey defense towers to stop those ravenous, murderous Bloons. Deflation mode is something new and interesting: you start with $50,000 to spend, and you can't earn any more. Basically, this is a mode to try out your favorite placement strategies and see if they will work. The banana farms are disabled in this mode, and once the money is spent it is gone, you can't earn any more. Once you've conquered each of the new paths at a certain level you can unlock Tower Specialties, which allows you to tinker with the costs of each tower. However, be warned, reducing significantly the cost of one tower can cause the cost of other towers to skyrocket, so chose wisely young grasshopper. As for the super special secret surprise, well, that would be telling. Here's a hint: you can find it in the sun god temple track. Enough said.

Is it fun? If you enjoyed any of the Bloons Tower Defense games then the answer is heck yeah! The new tracks are pretty to look at and different enough from the ones in the original game that you will spend hours trying to master their intricacies. The Deflation Mode and the Tower Specialties add a lot of variation to the basic strategy, changing things up enough that the casual gamer can enjoy adopting entirely new strategies for each game.

Play all the Bloons games:
BloonsMore BloonsEven More BloonsBloons 2Bloons 2 Xmas ExpansionBloons 2: Spring Fling
Bloons Tower DefenseBloons Tower Defense 2Bloons Tower Defense 3Bloons Tower Defense 4Bloons Tower Defense 4 ExpansionBloons Tower Defense 5

Is there a downside? Unfortunately, yes. The new tracks are available immediately, but the Tower Specialties requires that you master each track to a certain level before you can use it. And as for the Deflation Mode? It's a fun and fantastic idea, but it won't kick in until you have attained level 32, which, as anyone who has played Bloons Tower Defense before knows can be a long time coming, unless you cheat and buy the level with Mochi coins. And once again you cannot save a game in the middle of a level unless you sign up for a Mochi coin account.

Despite the complaints, though, Ninjakiwi has come up with an expansion pack that is fun, challenging, intriguing, frustrating (in places), and guaranteed to suck you right back into the world of the Bloons (just when you thought you were out). Will this tide us over until Bloons Tower Defense 5 comes out? Maybe, maybe not. But it's definitely worth checking out, if only for the amusement of finding the super secret surprise. What are you waiting for? Show those evil Bloons who's the boss!

Play Bloons Tower Defense 4 Expansion


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Weekday Escape

GrinnypThis week's Weekday Escape is definitely on the light side. Considering how hot it has been this summer (for those of us in the northern hemisphere), perhaps heavier, meatier fare should wait until temperatures drop below 90 degrees. I know some of you out there are protesting, "but I like summer!" Well, heat = bad. More people die from heat in the US in any given year than all other natural disasters combined. And if you've ever suffered through a bad summer in a small apartment or condo with no air conditioning, you know how terrible it can be. It's especially tough on pets, because it is harder for them to cool down. What can pets do to cool off? Coincidentally, this week's room escape features two pets who try to figure it out. Yes, Wan and Nyan, the jumping dog and punching cat are back in Cogito Ergo Sum's Hot Escape.

Hot EscapeLast seen in A Cold Escape, poor Wan and Nyan just want to take a nap, but it's too darn hot. And unfortunately, turning on the AC (of course cats can turn on the AC) blows the main breaker, leaving the poor pets without electricity of any kind, even the shopping channel that they were sleeping to (what, it's the only way to watch a shopping channel). It's so hot in the apartment that they appear to have temporarily lost their jumping and punching powers, leaving the casual gamer to sort that out along with everything else. Navigate the small space, solve some puzzles, use some found objects, and soon Wan and Nyan will be their old cheerful selves again. They'll be even happier if you can find the second, happy ending to this adorable little point-and-click adventure.

Despite the lack of a changing cursor, objects in Hot Escape are easy to spot and easy to pick up. Inventory control is accomplished with one click (use an object) or two (look at an object in close up). Navigation is a breeze as there are handy arrows at the edges of the screen to let you know where you can turn. There's even a save button and a mute button to help, although most room escape fanatics should be out before they need to use them. And since there are two different escapes, it's nice that the game has a retry function, which allows the gamer to go back to the point of decision and try something different to get that different ending.

Okay, so Hot Escape is not the Einstein of room escapes. What it lacks in depth of puzzles it makes up for in sheer charm. The cutesy pastel cartoon backgrounds, the lovable pets, the amusing "Engrish" translation, all of it fuses together with some decent logic and puzzle solving to create a delightful little confection, perfect escaping happiness even if it is for a very short time. For those suffering from the heat, it is a light snack that doesn't weigh down. And if you're in the southern hemisphere where it's winter, well, there's still a lot of fun to be had with Wan and Nyan. Does it feel hot in here to you? Then get ready to escape the heat!

Play Hot Escape


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JerradElectric Box 2Way back in the long-forgotten year of 2009, we reviewed a tile-based puzzle game called Electric Box . Since then, the game has maintained a steady following, with user levels constantly being added. Today, the people at Twinkle Star Games have released Electric Box 2, a supercharged sequel that's sure to make people forget all about the original.

The basics of the game haven't changed; the goal is still to get electricity from point A to point B, using every sort of tool imaginable. The items you're given can be grabbed with the mouse and placed anywhere on the grid, but they'll only work if they meet certain requirements. Once everything is in place, turn your contraption on and hope everything unfolds the way you had planned. But with the vast amount tools and possibilities available, it's going to take a lot of tinkering before you can find that perfect set-up.

In addition to the pre-made levels, the level creator is back, giving players an option to flex their own creative muscles. Levels can be saved and returned to later, and the process for sharing your work has been considerably streamlined, with a user-level browser, as well as seamless Facebook and Twitter sharing. The levels can also be placed into certain categories, so you can always find new content to fit your mood, whether you want a challenge, or if you prefer something with more style than substance.

Electric Box 2Analysis: Nearly everything in Electric Box 2 is an improvement on the original. Despite similar gameplay, it's hardly recognizable as a sequel to the original, thanks to the major makeover that has been given to the graphics. The cartoony graphics of the original have been replaced with smaller, more professional images, making it look less like a Rube Goldberg machine and more like real-world engineering schematics. Well, as real-world as you can get when you're using a hamster to power a hoverbot, anyway.

But it's not just the graphics that see a marked improvement over the original. The game is nearly three times as long as its predecessor, and has almost twice as many tools available. The difficulty has been ramped up, too; whereas the first could be beaten over a lunch break, this one is going to take considerably longer to work through. Electric Box 2 feels like the game the first one should have been. All of the elements that made it great are still there, but they've been expanded on and polished into perfection.

I wouldn't have thought that the original game could be improved upon, but clearly I understimated the ability of Twinkle Star Games to take things to a whole new level of awesome. Now I'm just waiting to see what you guys can come up with!

Play Electric Box 2


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GrinnypRobot Wants FishyAh, there's nothing like the blush of first love, is there? Everything is fresh and new, and everything is perfect. But eventually, the bloom fades from the rose and you begin to notice the little irritating things that you overlooked before. Suddenly, your new partner is no longer happy about...well, a lot of things. So, being the good person you are, you try to make things right. Whatever they need, you try to provide. Thus is the life of that loving, action-packed protagonist of the classic retro platformer Robot Wants Kitty. Kitty is no longer happy, you see. Poor robot has tried everything he can think of. He found a puppy to be kitty's companion, but she's not happy about that either. Fortunately, Robot has a plan. Robot has found a companion that he thinks Kitty will really like. So off he goes to yet another dangerous planet, and this time Robot Wants Fishy.

Yes, it's time for another adventure in retro platforming from Hamumu (Mike Hommel). Robot Wants Fishy is the continuation of the saga begun with Robot Wants Kitty, wherein our metallic hero just wants some love and affection, even if it is from a picky pet who is rather finicky about the company she keeps. Robot sets off on his new adventure in an entirely new location, with new enemies and new powerups to be found. Thrill as our Robot hero dodges bats, swims rings around jellyfish and fights some tough bosses on his way to fetch what should be the perfect companion for his precious kitty.

Robot Wants FishyHow, you may ask, will Robot get Fishy? By navigating the topsy-turvy world with the left and right [arrow] keys, occasionally using the [X] key to throw bombs and other weapons at the multitude of nasties he will find along the way. Collect power ups, kill your enemies, and eventually Robot will get that precious Fishy. The object is to get fishy as quickly as possible. Easier said than done. Rather than being a series of screens getting progressively more difficult, Robot Wants Fishy is in fact one vast screen which you will have to explore from end to end in order to find a companion for your feline. Fortunately there are checkpoints to be found everywhere, allowing you to return to those rather than back to the beginning if you up and die. Which you probably will. Thankfully, the game now saves when you leave it, even if you rage quit, allowing you to pick up where you left off in the never ending search for a piscine companion.

What's not to love about this fantastic sequel? The kicking retro graphics, the astonishingly nostalgic music and sound effects, everything adds up to tons of fabulous casual gameplay. Enjoy the new challenge, the new enemies, and the same fantastic warm feeling as you help your lonely robot find yet another friend. And not to spoil the ending, but it turns out that Kitty really wants Fishy too. Maybe the honeymoon isn't over after all.

Play Robot Wants Fishy

Play the entire Robot Wants series...

Thanks to Raeden, Corey, Noah, Funlerz, Manveru, and Andrew for sending this one in!


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joyeSubmachine 32 ChambersLo, a great cry went up amidst teh intarwho on the day that JayIsGames unveiled their 8th Casual Gameplay Design Competition. "Is this a Submachine game we see before us?" And yea, it was, and forsooth, there was much rejoicing, for the renown of Mateusz Skutnik was great beyond measure. And the JIG readers did descend into Submachine: 32 Chambers, which was great with point-and-clickery, and much with puzzlement. Just as it was foretold, the JIG readers solved the sand filled labyrinth. And the comboxes did fill with Competition first place award winnerdiscussions of the ending, and Jay saw that it was good, and yea, it was very good. And the people did vote, and the first prize was given, and a prize from Armor Games, and the Audience Award also.

The word of the game. Thanks be to Flash.

This being a point-and-click game, you point with the mouse, looking for areas where your cursor changes to indicate a hotspot. Once you find one, you click to interact with the environment—pick up an object, go to another room, etc. Competition audience award winnerYou've got an inventory at the bottom of the screen, and you'll be using some of these inventory items on places in the environment. For example, you might need to use a fly swatter on a fly. Pretty simple, right? Well, if you're a veteran point-and-clicker, you may find that 32 Chambers messes with your genre expectations in one crucial puzzle, so just keep your mind open, that's all I'll say. If you weren't familiar with the genre, it probably wouldn't even be considered a puzzle, because it's what you would naturally try.

Submachine 32 ChambersAnalysis: In Submachine 4, there was a note mentioning thirty-two chambers filled with sand. Somehow, you've gotten teleported into this subterranean world. Do you need to escape? Or is there some higher purpose that's summoned you here? In addition to the obvious sand, Submachine: 32 Chambers evokes the exploration mood associated with sandbox games. There's no obvious goal at first; you need to figure that out yourself.

Like the other games in the Submachine series, there is a wealth of little details here which point to a greater creative world. You really get the feeling like you're peeking into something far larger than the confines of the game. Too many games have the fake and limited feeling of a grade school diorama made in a shoebox. The Submachine and Daymare Town series, by comparison, are shoebox-sized windows into a galaxy. Even this brief foray into the world of Submachine is enough to blow most other games out of the water. Submachine: 32 Chambers was fully worthy of its prizes, and you won't want to miss it.

JayJay - When the first Submachine surfaced back in late 2005 from a designer named Murtaugh (Mateusz Skutnik), it made huge waves in the small Flash gaming circles that were starting to pop up around the Web. The reason, of course, was that the game had all the right ingredients for a fantastic point-and-click escape: sharp, appealing graphics, creative, absorbing puzzles, and a moody, atmospheric soundtrack. It was more than just a game, it was an experience, and it was clear that the designer understood how to deliver on the immersion factor. Fast forward 5 years and Mateusz Skutnik is a well-known name and Submachine a well-known brand with a great following. The reason, of course, is the designer understands how to deliver on the immersion factor, time and time again. Submachine: 32 Chambers was a pleasant surprise to see entered into the competition, and its characteristic moody charm, inventive puzzles, and gorgeous, sand-filled chambers, won everyone over and swept the show. Although not a very surprising win, a well-deserved win just the same. Congratulations Murtaugh!

Play Submachine: 32 Chambers

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

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


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DoraGrow ValleyLadies and gentlemen, start the engines of your teeny-tiny civilizations. Grow Valley is the latest in the Grow series of puzzle games. You should be excited because not only is this an Eyezmaze game, but it's also the sequel to Grow Island, which came out roughly three years ago. That's almost forever! Have your puny pastel people puzzle proficiencies deteriorated since then? Only one way to find out!

In the beginning, there was a valley, and lo, it was pretty big and empty. Fortunately, you've got seven buttons that will each trigger the development of a different sort of system you'll need in place to succeed. Best of Casual Gameplay 2010Unfortunately, you can only use each button once, and since they all depend on each other, you'll have to figure out the correct order to use them to get the best results. Each time you click a button, the world will grow a little more complex, and if one system is linked to another that's already in place, they'll both evolve a little further. The goal is to have everything fully upgraded at the end, so presumably your little faceless subjects will have sustainable energy and high tech equipment. The better to worship you as their gracious overlord. Look, don't try and tell me you don't want your own tiny civilization of industrious workers! Think of the tiny statuary they'd build in honour of you!

Like all Eyezmaze games, Grow Valley can be a bit odd to suss out. There's logic to it, sort of, but there's also a lot of trial-and-error involved in figuring out when to use what, and that can be frustrating. Or, rather, it would be if the animations and visuals in this latest installment weren't so ridiculously elaborate and charming. There's a remarkable amount of detail and love in the design here that makes this a delight to watch. And, ultimately, isn't that half the fun of a Grow game? Seeing the tiny fruits of your labour trundle about their business? While not very long, Grow Valley is still incredibly charming and entertaining, and easily worth ten minutes of your time. After all, can't we all use another smile in our day?

Can you find two endings? There's a normal one and a secret (underground) one (maybe even a ufo ending, too?). If you get stuck or need a hint, we have a walkthrough available for each one. [With thanks to JIGuest and wonder64 for being the first to find them!]

Play Grow Valley

Still want more Grow? Play the entire Grow series of games (in order of release)...


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Reader ReviewLiferaft: Zerp[The following is a reader-submitted review written by Juxta.]
"Sort of." When used properly, these are two of the most doubt-inducing words in the English language. "That was a good game... sort of." "You look great today... sort of." "I love you... sort of." These are also the two words I think of when it comes to Liferaft: Zero from Mikengreg, just another one of those precision platforming games... sort of.

You begin as a very small, pixelated girl with a lot of sisters... a lot of sisters, maybe even twins, or perhaps worse... Carrying on in the Portal plotline tradition, you begin in a laboratory with a disembodied voice calling out to you and watching your every move as you proceed through various challenges. This voice actually seems to be helpful, though, in a "Oh, look at my precious experiment-girl!" sort of way. The goal of each level is simply to reach and ring the bell at the end of each level. Easy, right?

Liferaft: Zero is not quite as high a degree of difficulty as, say, Wrath of Anubis, or You Have to Burn the Rope. Still, it definitely prides itself on near pixel-perfect jumps and "ambidextrous keyboard dexterity". Move with the [arrow] keys and jump with your choice of [A], [S], or [X]. Sorry, no [spacebar]. The learning curve is sloped quite nicely as well, almost teasing you, saying, "See, it's not that bad... sort of." Like most other flash-based platformers, you have unlimited lives... sort of. Each time you die, one of your "sisters" takes over at the beginning of the level, so it's a good thing you have a lot of them. Each new "little sister" begins the level sporting a different color, because, how else would you be able to tell them apart?

Another important point is that, as with most platformers, you have unusual jumping abilities. You can hang onto and jump off walls, but you have no double-jump. "What?! No double-jump?!" you say? Not to worry, you do get a grappling hook... sort of. It's more like several strategically placed grappling boxes; they look like red dots on the wall. When you're close enough in midair, press [A]/[S]/[X], and a rope will shoot toward you. You, being you, will grab onto said rope and skillfully swing yourself over, up, down, wherever you need to be.

Liferaft: Zero is one of those frustrating games that you keep going back to. It ramps up the difficulty slowly enough to draw you in and keep you playing. It also has a good replay factor with the bonus "candy" that you can, or can't in my case, go for if you wish. It was enough of a challenge that it kept me interested, but not so difficult that I threw my keyboard through the drywall... again... sort of.

Play Liferaft: Zero


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JamesOne Button ArthurYou are King Arthur. Your goal; the sword in the stone. Your challenge; everything in between. Your means; one button on your mouse. Yes, from the creators of One Button Bob, Ninjadoodle, the world now has... One Button Arthur!

If you have played One Button Bob before, this requires no more explanation. It's the same, with just more challenges thrown in. Your single-finger-fu will be tested to the brink of your reflexes... and even if it isn't, the real goal is to complete the game in as few clicks as possible.

To the uninitiated, the 'One Button' games (as well as Nano Ninja) are broken into several screens, each with a different challenge. These may involve dodging falling rocks, avoiding flame throwers, hitting a sequence of switches, solving a slide puzzle and so on. But you only ever control the main character with a single click of your mouse. Sometimes you hold the button in to make Arthur stand still. Sometimes you hold it in to make him jump further. Sometimes it's to slash with his sword and sometimes it's simply to change direction. You'll need to experiment to figure out how to get by each unique screen, and be patient, since a single hit knocks Arthur right back to the start of the screen.

One Button Arthur is the kind of game that should take you around ten seconds to figure out. Ten seconds and a few dozen clicks in my case, but I was never a fast learner. There's not much else to say, except to note that the boss at the end is considerably less frustrating than either One Button Bob or Nano Ninja. So, let the click-score-bragging in the comments commence!

Play One Button Arthur

Thanks to Charlie for sending this one in!


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Game Design Competition #8

JayToday marks the end of another great Casual Gameplay Design Competition, one that asked browser game developers to design to a "SANDBOX" theme. A lofty challenge to be sure, and we got to play some outstanding games as a result. Our kind and sincere thanks go out to each and every one of the participants.

Submachine: 32 ChambersWe are here to honor all of the games that were entered, as well as award a few prizes, too. Thanks to our kind and generous sponsors: Armor Games for their awesome and constant support for our competitions (Thanks Dan!); and to everyone at Casual Gameplay for their support. It is due to the efforts of all these people that we have the following prizes to award, so please show them your kind support as well.

CGDC8 sponsorsArmor GamesCasual Gameplay

The judging for our competitions is now handled by the JIG community at large, and all the games were scored based on theme, appeal, fun, composition, and technical merit. We appreciate the effort everyone put into judging the entries fairly and objectively. The results of your efforts are presented below.

And now, to the people who have made this, our 8th, competition a success. We appreciate your efforts and your dedication to the art of game design and to the creation of casual gameplay.

For the Audience Award, Submachine: 32 Chambers received over 900 votes, ranking in at a commendable 4.8 out of 5, earning it a comfortable lead and the well-deserved prize.

Once again, congratulations to everyone who submitted an entry! Just being able to complete a game within a short development period is quite an achievement, in and of itself. Moreover, your continued participation in these competitions makes future competitions like this possible, and we can't thank you enough. We consider ourselves very fortunate, again, to have received such an excellent response to our call for entries, as the entire collection of entries are all quite deserving of our praise. Look for reviews of the top games here on Jayisgames.com in the coming days and weeks.

Following is a list of the top 10 games by score:

  1. Submachine: 32 Chambers
  2. Tile Factory
  3. [Together]
  4. A Llama, a World, and a Plan
  5. ZOO Director
  6. Cap'n GoldGrubber's Treasure Hunt
  7. Sand Trap
  8. Gold Machine
  9. Ebul
  10. Rare Breeds: Petunia

We have published the community scores in a spreadsheet showing the average scores in each category for each entry.


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Mobile Monday

JohnBWords cannot describe the unusual pairings of games in this week's Mobile Monday. Time-traveling cats? Happy hungry spiders? Vampires? Sentient balls of goop? What was wrong with us when we assembled these games?! *

arachnophilia-iphone.gifArachnophilia - Way back in the ancient halls of 2008, a browser game called Arachnophilia graced our pages. Rev your engine to 88 mph and you'll reach the present day where the same game now calls the iTunes App Store home! You're a hungry spider with a bare-bones web. Tap and drag to create new strands, and tap captured bugs to eat them and refill your health/webbing. Art Mode even made the transition to the iPhone, allowing you to spin webbing without worrying about all that "game" stuff!

meowmeowhappyfight.gifMeow Meow Happy Fight - In the future, everything is too happy. So, happy cat travels back in time to Tokyo to bring happiness.. and destruction. This arena-style dual stick shooter puts you in control of a warrior hashing things out with computer-controlled opponents in a series of timed battles. Great fun, and each round is packed with mayhem. Emerge as the victor and unlock new power-ups, characters, and more. Plus, would you just look at that art style? How cool is that?!

thescreetch.gifThe Screetch - The match-3 returns in a creative new release that plays like a cross between Puyo Puyo and Drop7. Orbs appear at the top of the screen, and it's your job to pick a column and drop them down. A sticky black goo is invading the land, and the only way to get rid of it is by making matches in adjacent spaces. Crack open the sealed orbs to see what color rests there, then match them up to clear the screen. More strategy than most games of its genre, and the excellent visuals make it a treat to play.

vampiresaga.gifVampire Saga: Pandora's Box - Everybody seems to like vampires these days (and here I thought they were to be avoided!), and the casual gaming scene is no different. Making its way from the downloadable scene comes Vampire Saga: Pandora's Box, a hidden object adventure game heavy on atmosphere and story. The game plays just like its PC big brother, sending you through several hours of object hunting in the dark. Because the visuals are so detailed, some items can be tough to find on the small screen, but otherwise it's a nice adaptation of a full-fledged downloadable title! The free Vampire Saga: Pandora's Box Lite is also available.

* Too much chocolate milk can cause weirdness.

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


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Puzzle Quest 2

DoraHas it really been almost six years since PC users got a taste of the original Puzzle Quest? Well, that won't do at all. Puzzle Quest 2 is here to slake your thirst for monsters, treasure, shiny gems and experience points in this return to the RPG/match-3 hybrid. This time the story takes you to a very Icewind Dale-ish frozen town suffering from a very Icewind Dale 2-ish siege of goblins. Of course, it turns out the pesky little goblinoids are the least of their problems... you, after all, are on the trail of a paladin who might have gone too far in her quests and awoken something slumbering deep beneath the ice near her hometown. Puzzle Quest 2 offers all the addictive gameplay of the original, plus significant additions and a visual upgrades. That's the good news. Of course, depending on how much you adored the simple presentation of its predecessor, the good news is also the bad news.

Puzzle Quest 2The core mechanics are still essentially the same; instead of engaging in emasculating slap-fights with enemies, battles are conducted by swapping coloured gems and skulls on a grid to match different colours for various abilities and effects. This time around there are also gauntlets to match, which give you points you can spend to activate the special abilities granted by weapons or items you're carrying. Some playing fields will also have immovable stone blocks that need to be destroyed. The game also offers a lot of mini-games, or rather, it offers a lot of minor variations on the match-3 battle mechanic to do different tasks. Swap a certain number of blue gems to put out a fire, create combos to bash down doors, loot treasure chests for more valuable items, or even search an area for hidden secrets.

Instead of taking place primarily on a world map as with the original, Puzzle Quest 2 goes with a top down isometric view that lets you explore your environment... sort of. You can still only interact with a very few things, but it at least showcases some beautiful environmental artwork. Silver symbols mean the object or person on the screen relates to a side quest, while gold indicates you're following the main storyline. You can see enemies or objects on the screen, and choose whether you want to engage them (although some enemies obviously can't be avoided). While walking back and forth over big distances can be frustrating, the game thankfully opens various portals as you progress that you can use to make short hops from place to place.

Puzzle Quest 2Analysis: Be honest; how much of the original's painfully generic fantasy story did you ever really pay attention to or care about? Puzzle Quest 2 isn't exactly going to give David Gaider a run for his money, but at the same time, it's a bit more interesting and involved than its predecessor. Perhaps a big part of this comes from the new look and feel of the game, and choosing to allow you to manually explore areas. Obviously the art style is a lot different this time around, and while it didn't necessarily need a change, about 80% of the graphical shift is actually really very lovely, particularly the environments and character portraits. The character sprites are a bit of a mixed bag, and in particular the female assassin sprite looks a lot like a giant barbarian man wearing a Hannibal Lecter face mask. Which... would actually be a pretty darned scary assassin.

The addition I'm most on the fence about is actually the presence of so many mini-games. The worst is actually the looting mini-game; it's entirely up to luck, and you'll either make out like a bandit or wind up with some bits of old wood and string nobody wants. At least if this were tabletop the Dungeon Master would be within throttling distance for granting the adventuring party a piece of leather in the ornate chest they found after slaying the orc king. None of these games really detract from the experience, but they don't really add much to it either. Some of the mini-games show up so infrequently that they give the impression that they were only added so you can point at them and go, "See? That's new."

Puzzle Quest 2Even with the changes made to how weaponry works and your shiny new top-down perspective, however, Puzzle Quest is still Puzzle Quest, and everything that was fun about the original is still fun here. The new assassin class is actually a lot of fun to play, and offers a lot of choice for the strategic player who prefers abilities that work best with planning. The upgrade system is also nice, and lets you turn all the random items you pick up into some seriously formidable equipment bonuses. In fact, compared to what you find or make on your own, the quest rewards will probably feel a little underpowered, but maybe I'm just greedy.

If what you liked about the original was the fast, relatively simplistic gameplay, then admittedly a lot of the changes and additions here are going to feel a little pointless to you, if not downright annoying. But while it didn't necessarily need all the extra bells and whistles that have been padded in here, Personally, I like Puzzle Quest 2. In fact, I really like it. After I'm done writing this, I'm going to go play it some more, and will probably spend a lot of time with it in the future. While some of the new additions aren't as well fleshed out as they could have been, the colourful, addictive gameplay you remember is still there under the hood, while still remaining friendly to newcomers.

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Shaolin Mystery: Tale of the Jade Dragon staff

JamesYu already has enough problems. Not only is she one of many citizens suffering under the rule of an oppressive emperor, but her place in the rebellion is to buy the food. Then her childhood friend Zihao is arrested and sentenced to be executed in two days. It turns out that he is the rightful heir to the throne, but the only way he can prove that is with the Jade Dragon Staff (genetic testing being such an inexact science in medieval China). So it falls upon our heroine to find this staff, restore it and help Zihao take his rightful place — before the executioner does his job.

Shaolin Mystery: Tale of the Jade Dragon staffShaolin Mystery: Tale of the Jade Dragon staff is another enticing hidden object game release. As you travel through various exotic locations, you have to find objects solve puzzles and unlock doors to new areas. The journey is pretty epic, starting in the streets of an ancient Chinese city, through a ruined town, along a spirit-filled forest and increasingly more exotic places, including a world in an entirely different realm (the flying snails were a clue...). In each of the seven chapters you encounter a variety of challenges. One type requires you to find objects scattered in the room to activate something. Every now and then you have to mix a potion, plus you encounter puzzles in fair regularity — both of the familiar type and some more unique challenges. And then there is the ever-present hidden object side, picking up a selection of random objects in a smorgasbord of junk, all towards recovering one vital tool you need to get past an obstacle in the game.

Along the way Yu meets a few interesting characters, though they only serve as one way to narrate puzzles. Like similar games you do a lot of traveling between scenes in a chapter, perhaps quite a bit more than usual, because most objects unveil themselves sequentially as you need them. To make sure things don't get too frustrating, there is the ubiquitous hint button, which never penalises you but does require a bit of time to charge after you use it.

Analysis: Shaolin Mystery doesn't push the genre envelope, so if you have played any of the recent games in this genre (Magic Encyclopedia: Illusions is incredibly similar) you know what to expect. But if you are a fan of these games, it will entertain with some great lateral puzzles and pretty gorgeous locations. The hidden object scenes do feel a bit cluttered at times and some objects look like they have been hastily placed there instead of integrated within the picture, but it's a nitpick. The stuff you need tends to be easy to spot, thanks to the crisp graphics. In fact, visually the game is very good; not much better than other top offerings on the market, but it holds its own.

Shaolin Mystery: Tale of the Jade Dragon staffOn the puzzle side it is less challenging. Some obstacles take a little bit of lateral thinking, but things are handled pretty sequentially, so you never really scratch your head. If you don't have the item you need, you'll have it pretty soon—most likely in the clutter of a reactivated hidden object screen. The mini-games are a spot harder and cover the gamut of familiar ones: following note sequences, sliding pictures, matching duplicate symbols and so forth. It also has a few new (or rarely-seen) puzzles — overall there are a lot of mini games to keep you stumped. These can also be skipped, but where is the fun in that?

One annoyance is the presentation of the story. The narrator sounds pretty unengaged and slightly bored, something that isn't helped with less than great audio (the exception being the nice soundtrack). And the finale seems a bit like a wasted opportunity - after recovering the full staff you don't rush back to save your friend. Yu does, but it's all represented as a slide show with the narrator's unenthusiastic drawl covering the events. That was a bit of an anticlimax to what is really a fun and rich puzzle/HOG game. Also, you meet one Shaolin guy and all he wants is medicine. There was certainly no mystery as far as he was concerned.

After Magic Encyclopedia this game feel adequate, but hardly remarkable. It was fun while it lasted and had all the standard boxes checked. But Shaolin Mystery lacks the shine and enthusiasm that the top games in the genre enjoy. It's still well worth the seven bucks asked for it, but don't expect it to knock your favourite puzzle/hidden object game off its perch.

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GrinnypDismantlement: ToasterIf there's one thing you can say about the Kaitai Dismantlement games, they tend to stick to one of two subjects: common household appliances or dangerous food. Nice to see that gam.ebb.jp can stick with a theme, isn't it? Last time we had fast food, this time something a little more nutritious, plus the appliance that creates it. Yes, it's dismantling time again, and this time it's Dismantlement: Toaster!

Well, sort of nutritious. Okay, not really, since Best of Casual Gameplay 2010the "toast" appears to be made of plastic, but it's the thought that counts. If you've ever played any of the numerous dismantlement games you know the drill, all you can use is a screwdriver (and your wits) and all you have is a screwdriver. Gam.ebb has taken something that you might find in a larger escape game or a point-and-click adventure and narrowed everything down into one simple task: take apart this toaster or die. Simple and straightforward.

Well, not really all that simple. Before you can remove screws, you have to solve a wide variety of puzzles. Who knew the interior of the lowly toaster had so many shapes. Or colors. Or bombs. Yes, it's not a dismantlement game without a bomb, is it? Click around the kitchen wonder (it makes toast! And bagels! And toaster pastries! Yum!) to find either screws to remove or puzzles to solve. Solving a puzzle will reward you with more screws to remove and so it goes until once again you have reduced yet another electrical appliance to its component parts. One of the nice things about the evolution of the series is that there is less pixel hunting in each game. Most areas in Toaster that you need to click are pretty obvious, negating the frustration of some of the earlier games in finding just the right spot to click to find another puzzle.

Dismantlement: Toaster steps up the difficulty a bit this time around. Easier than, say, Dismantlement: Fan, Toaster is still more difficult than the cakewalk that Dismantlement: Burger was. It's nice to see them get back to the bedrock of the series, a common electrical appliance that has a hidden bomb. That penchant for putting bombs in things is beginning to seem almost ...friendly-like. Comforting in a way. Or maybe I've played too many of these games and am developing Stockholm Syndrome.

So yet another amusing way to waste 5 minutes of your time has dropped in our laps like an early Christmas Present. Dismantlement: Toaster is not as complex as Dismantlement: Radio or Dismantlement: Alarm Clock, but is still casual gameplay done right. Intriguing, amusing, and with its own little hidden surprise (well, not that big a surprise if you've played any of the other games) hidden deep inside, Dismantlement Toaster is the perfect way to while away a lazy afternoon. Get dismantling, and enjoy some toasty goodness with every bite!

Play Dismantlement: Toaster


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Enlightenus II: The Timeless Tower

JohnBEnlightenus II: The Timeless Tower, a sequel to the original Enlightenus, is an utterly intriguing adventure game. Calling it a hidden object title is not only inaccurate, it doesn't do the game's style justice. Think of it as a modern-day casual Myst, complete with hidden worlds warped by magic, puzzles that require toting inventory items around, and mini-games worth their weight in pixels. Enlightenus II is exactly the kind of game any casual adventure (or even hidden object) fan is craving.

enlightenus2a.jpgAs a reporter, you relish in discovering new stories and bringing them to the world. One day, an aging clockmaker named Clarence Flatt contacts you with an interesting offer. He promises you the story of a lifetime if you'll help him finish his invention, the Ageless Clock. He's too old to complete the work himself, but with your investigation skills, you won't have any problems. Soon, you discover the clock has actually created pockets of warped time and space, allowing you to travel to medieval England, the ancient Mayan lands, and other places in history. Sounds like a good start to an adventure to me!

Enlightenus II is a "found object" game. Half of the time you'll be working with inventory items to open new areas to explore inside the tower. The other half is spent inside the clock worlds putting items back where they belong. You have something called "bird armor" in your inventory, for example. Click it, then move your cursor around the scene to see descriptions of things there. When you find something that looks like it could use some bird armor (a "warrior bird", perhaps?), click it and the item is put back where it belongs. Some of the puzzles here are a bit obtuse, requiring more than a small leap of logic, but the generous hint system more than makes up for that unintentional difficulty.

There's a surprising amount of exploration to be had in Enlightenus II. The still found-object scenes are only one part of the game. The rest of the time, you're free to roam the halls of the Timeless Tower, probing its mysterious halls for secrets. After completing a clock world, you'll uncover a token that can be placed in the clock. These provide a means to move on to the next level of the tower and help you complete Clarence's strange invention.

enlightenus2b.jpgAnd now for the mini-games. The glorious, glorious mini-games. In a brilliant stroke of casual gaming genius, Blue Tea Games has included several short, playful games that will remind you of the Grow or Hapland series of browser games. Each one has an objective listed at the bottom of the picture, "Don't get electrocuted", for example. There are several icons surrounding the sketch that, when clicked, will cause something to happen in the picture. Depending on the order you choose, the scene will play out in different ways. Experiment with the order and see if you can get things right. Simple, playful, and skippable if you happen to get frustrated (but you won't), they would almost steal the show if the rest of the game weren't so well-crafted!

Analysis: Once you start playing Enlightenus II: The Timeless Tower, you won't be able to stop. It's that good. The step away from traditional hidden object gaming would be enough to get my attention, but the level of intrigue painted by the story, the setting, the artwork and the music has this wonderful ability to draw you in. The puzzles are generally pretty simple, but there's just enough challenge there to make you motivated to win.

Most players will bump into the sometimes awkward solutions to the "found object" puzzles. Early on, for example, I thought a "snake eye gem" would be a perfect fit for the "eyeless shield". Makes some sense, right? Unfortunately the game didn't want it there, leaving me a bit clueless. After a little investigation, it turns out the tiny "eyeless snake statue" was where it belonged. It's nothing a bit of searching won't solve, and you've always got an ample amount of hints to nudge you along when you need it.

Enlightenus II: The Timeless Tower is great, that's all I have left to say. The structure of the game is superb, the puzzles are interesting, the mini-games are glorious, and the whole experience is something you won't want to miss.

A Collector's Edition is also available. It contains a bonus quest, achievements, an MP3 soundtrack, a sneak peak at Enlightenus III, and a free copy of Forgotten Riddles: Mayan Princess. Not bad at all! Remember that Big Fish Game Club Members pay only $13.99 for Collector's Editions (or 2 club credits), and collector's editions count 3 card punches of 6 total needed for a free game.

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Weekend Download

JohnBPop quiz! The fact that there is now a game about poking cats is: A) Awesome or B) AWEsome. Your answer will greatly influence your future. Think carefully.

momodora.gifMomodora (Windows, 3MB, free) - A game that draws obvious inspiration from Cave Story, Momodora is a sidescrolling platformer where you play an orphan girl searching for a rare item hidden deep within a labyrinth. You'll spend a fair amount of time trekking through winding cave passageways and gathering new items and weapons, but the focus is more on combat than exploration, and the challenge level is cranked up to above average.

nudo.gifNudo (Windows, 3.2MB, free) - A delicious little puzzle game with an official description that reads "...a platformer on top of a rubik's cube". How cool is that? The little protagonist guy can move around with the [WASD] keys, jumping and walking like you would expect. His other power, though, is the ability to shift blocks both vertically and horizontally from his position. Use the [arrow] keys to shift entire rows of blocks in any direction, positioning them so you can grab the little coin thingies and make it to the exit. Yes, it's about as difficult as a Rubik's cube in some places. And that's awesome!

8capsule.gif8:Capsule (Windows, 7MB, free) - It's a puzzle game. Don't pass the number eight, though. Really, don't. But, you know, if you do, just use the [WASD] keys to move and the mouse to click on objects. See what you can click on, and when things are selected, use the [right] mouse button to launch them. It's great when things bump into other things, isn't it? Now, see if you can figure out how to solve each level. Obtuse at times, but fun!

catpoke.gifCat Poke (Windows, 5MB, free) - Bored on a rainy day? Why not run around the house trying to poke the cats?! Move from side to side in this 2D game, entering doors with the [s] key and poking cats with the same. Most cast are hidden and need some coaxing to come out and play, which is where the items and inventory puzzles come in to play. A quirky, surprisingly interesting game with superb artwork and a premise that's too cute to ignore.

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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Weekend Download

JohnBSnark Busters: Welcome to the Club is a new hidden object game from Alawar. If you're tired of dime novel-quality storylines, cheesy settings that go from haunted mansion to haunted castle and back, and protagonists whose missing family members you couldn't care less about, this game is your savior. Snark Busters doesn't pretend to be anything new and original, but by doing that, it succeeds at both. It's a hidden object game with wide appeal, enticing fans of the genre and encouraging everyone else to hop in and give the genre a try!

snarkbusters.jpgKira, a young woman with a mischievous streak of curiosity, stole the inspector's hat on a dare from one of her friends. As a result, her father locked her in her room. Kira isn't one to take a locked window at face value, and soon she discovers not only a way out, but an entire universe hiding in her mirror. This gives way to a new quest of grand proportions: the hunt for the elusive Snark.

Instead of dumping lists of items in front of your face to find, Snark Busters is built around pieces of items. At the bottom of your screen is an inventory bar with a few slots. In some of the slots are silhouettes of items that have been sliced into sections. Your job is to find these pieces stashed amongst the scenery. As you would expect, the shards are rotated and scaled about and placed in devious locations, so you won't always be able to find them with ease. But it wouldn't be much of a game if it was all piled up and neatly labeled from the get-go, would it?

Once you assemble an item, it's time to use it! Certain objects in the level can be opened, moved, or otherwise interacted with. A vase, for example, would be a great thing to use with that hammer you just put together. Performing these little tasks reveal more item shards you need, open up new places to explore, or progress the story bit by bit.

snarkbusters2.jpgAnalysis: Hooray for something different! Snark Busters: Welcome to the Club takes little pieces from other hidden object games and puts them together in a fine new way. We're all familiar with finding pieces of items, using items to finish puzzles, and completing mini-games from time to time. The difference is Snark Busters never makes any of this a chore. It's one of those games that makes you want to put an exclamation mark after its title. It's pure whimsy, unapologetically light-hearted, and nothing but an extended spell of time-wasting relaxation. It doesn't try to wow you with a grand story, fantastic new gimmicks, or even ground-breaking visuals. It just tries to entertain you, and that it accomplishes very, very well.

One part adventure, one part hidden object game, Snark Busters tends to feel a little lopsided at the beginning of each area. A good 80% of the items you'll need to find are strangely obvious, almost as if they were put there so you could get that rush of clicking a dozen things in a row. After that, it's time to scour the scene for the remaining pieces, something that often feels a little too difficult.

The hint system, while generous in its use and quick to recharge, has the uncanny ability to always point out the object you need the least. Got one more slice of that lantern to find? Too bad, the hint system wants you to grab that rake handle. You'll never really get stuck, though, as it's always just a matter of time before a new hint is at your disposal.

Snark Busters: Welcome to the Club is pure entertainment. From its mild steampunk setting to the childlike tasks you complete, you'll be driven to keep playing the game from beginning to end.

WindowsWindows:
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DoraChoice of RomanceNobody said the life of an aristocrat has to be dull... in Choice of Romance, the latest text rpg from Choice of Games, how you live your life is entirely up to you. You are the eldest daughter (or son) of a once wealthy and respected noble family whose fortune has begun to decline. But right now that's the last thing on your mind; you're about to come of age, and you are sent off to court for a Season with your aunt and uncle, both of whom have their own ideas about how you should direct your attentions. Perhaps you'll catch the eye of an unconventional kindred spirit. Maybe you'll make your mark on the world. Or perhaps you have more... royal... aspirations?

As with previous titles, Choice of Romance is played as part choose-your-own-adventure and part RPG. Events happen, and you select from a list of choices how you want to respond and react. Just make sure you think carefully, since everything you do has an effect on not only the story but the various attributes. You'll be given a chance to create your character and specify where you want to focus your skills. Will you be a bookworm who speaks your own mind with little care to what pops out of your mouth? Will you be the darling of the social world, charming everyone you meet and getting what you want with little effort? Whatever you do, keep your friends close... and your enemies in your sights.

Analysis: Despite following a certain story, the narrative affords you a lot of freedom. You're still only choosing a response or action from a set list, but they're generally varied enough to give you a sense of character development as you choose. The game even gives you the option early on in setting your preference for men or women regardless of your gender, which makes the game accessible and more immersive for everyone. For a game with the word "romance" right there in the title, it's nice to see one that is open to all types of love.

It's just unfortunate that it can be hard to really connect with the characters. Some are more fleshed out than others, and depending on who you choose to pursue, this can mean the whirlwind romance your character is supposed to be having can ring a little hollow. And depending on how you balance your skills, you could find yourself unable to really participate in the plot beyond picking a betrothed; intelligent or sly characters will see a lot more development beyond the boudoir, while playing someone a bit bobble-headed but well intentioned could see a potentiality unsatisfying and early end to the story. Thankfully, this does open the door to a good amount of replay value, which means you can spend a solid evening exploring the ins and outs of high society.

There is no "right way" to play Choice of Romance, but you'll get better results if you remember to play to your character's strengths; someone with a poor reputation, for example, probably isn't going to have a public speech go over well, and likewise having a beauty-over-brains hero try to wrap their head around military movements might have disastrous outcomes. While not quite as exciting as previous titles, more given to political and social intriguing than firebreathing or the buckling of swashes, Choice of Romance is still a fun engagement full of twists and turns, and with enough endings to keep you busy for a while. And who knows? If you play your cards right, you might find your story doesn't end here...

Those of you with an iPhone/iPod Touch or an Android phone will be pleased to learn that Choice of Romance is available on both the iTunes App Store and the Google Play Android Games!

Play Choice of Romance


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Link Dump Fridays

DoraRise and shine, puddin'-pop! It's a whole new day, and we, your humble word monkeys, are here to caper for your amusement once again with Link Dump Friday! This week features kittens, soul reaping, trial-and-error, and a double-dose of art-house gaming. An unlikely potpourri, perhaps, but we think it works. And hey, it could be worse. You could be watching Avatar again. (Who here is on board for Sharktopus with me?! Don't be shy.)

  • Victorian BMXVictorian BMX - Even when he's not being voiced by Norm Macdonald, Death is still pretty rad. In this twitchy, tricky game from Adult Swim, you play as Death (rad) and reap souls while performing stunts on your bmx (radder) in what the title informs me is Victorian England. (Raddest.) Unfortunately, there's definitely a bit of a learning curve that may hamper your enjoyment if learning to have a delicate touch on the controls isn't your "thing"; it'll probably be a while before you learn anything other than "faceplant". Come on, you can't tell us it wouldn't take some of the sting out of dying if Death totally reaped your soul in midair while flipping over some old-ladies on his bike. You'd be all like, "Man, being dead stinks... but that was a totally sweet backflip."
  • Journey of BugzyJourney of Bugzy - [Parental Warning: May not be suitable for children who would be upset at the repeated squishy demise of a cartoon bug.] So after a big storm carries Bugzy away, he needs your help to point-and-click his way back to his presumably equally grotesque family. Figure out the correct order to click on things in each scene in order to help Bugzy proceed. The downside is that Bugzy moves very slowly, and this game is all about the trial-and-error. Mostly the error part. Whole lotta error. Remember the Bable fish puzzle? Because I'm getting flashbacks. What do you want from me, game?!
  • Pussycat FrenzyPussycat Frenzy - Featuring some of the most adorable pixelated kitty animations you've ever seen, this is a fast-paced time and resource management game where the goal is to get all the cats to sleep in each level by meeting all of their needs; namely, litter box, scratching, and eating. The farther you go, the more cats you have to deal with, and I just wish there was a bit more complexity to it than frantic clicking. Of course, it's not entirely realistic, since everyone knows a real cat's motives would look something like "sleep on fresh laundry" or "look down on everything" or "throw up somewhere where your bare feet will discover it first after it has gone cold." Ungrateful cat owners represent, yo.
  • The Climb: LightThe Climb: Light - In this simple little platformer, you are a living shadow chasing something up the side of a mountain. All you have is a grappling hook and a suitably moody rendition of Moonlight Sonata to make your way upward. It's oddly striking, and the art house presentation is definitely intriguing, but the gameplay is unfortunately a little bland.
  • InterludeInterlude - The latest in a long line of "Things that make you go 'huh' or 'huh?'" is this simple and easy little platformer with an abstract narrative from the creator of Hummingbird Mind. It won't take you very long to play, and I can't promise it'll make a whole lot of sense, and yet... I smiled when I finished it. It's not so much a "Eureka!" as it is an "Ah, I see," moment with a sage nod to make yourself feel particularly arty.

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savemyrobotos.gifJohnBThese robots are obviously in peril! Could you imagine using anything other than extreme logic (or Binary Laser Grenades) to save them? Save My Robotos is a turn-based programming game similar to The Codex of Alchemical Engineering or Light-Bot 2.0. The goal is to move all 'bots on the screen to the green "X" marks so they can be teleported out. Machines follow the code you've created at the bottom of the screen. All you have to do is program them to make it to their destination. Totally easy to do, right? Right?!

The bottom of the screen holds a series of slots that can be filled with three basic conditional commands: move forward, rotate left, and rotate right. Click a button to place it in the sequence, then hit "play" to unleash your program. All robots on the screen simultaneously follow the commands you've laid out for them. If a 'bot is told to move forward but is facing a wall, it simply does nothing, a vital point you'll use numerous times in the future to get everything synchronized.

Buttons and boxes also come in to play, creating new challenges to overcome with your limited set of commands. Sometimes you'll have to set robots/crates on buttons to open gates, then skirt other 'bots through before closing the door. In addition, robots can't occupy the same piece of ground, forcing you to create little robot swapping dances to get things done.

Analysis: Save My Robotos keeps things simple with its presentation, skimming everything off but the absolute basics. You've got robots. You've got commands. Now make them work together. The whole space pixel art theme suits the game very well, though you'll spend most of your time analyzing your program rather than checking out the scenery.

Adding multiple bots to the mix is something of a novelty for the logic puzzle genre. Normally, it's a difficult task to send Robot A to Point B. Now, though, you have several avatars working off of an identical string of commands, each trying to reach a different goal. It forces you to think a little differently about what you're doing, looking several moves into the future before placing that next piece of program.

The commands grid leaves something to be desired, as it doesn't exactly give you full control over editing the inputs you've placed in the circles. You want it to function like a text editor, allowing you to hop in, add, edit, and delete single commands or groups of commands with ease. Instead, you can only clear one command at a time or erase everything you've done, neither of which quite accomplish what you want when trying to perfect a sequence. I also encountered a few glitches when removing certain moves, forcing me to start the level over again.

One or two minor flaws aside, Save My Robotos is a superb programming game that will heat up your left brain. It's a bit simpler than most logic games, but because you control multiple characters with one set of commands, the challenge doesn't really suffer.

Play Save My Robotos


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Babylon Sticks: Click 'n Siege comic

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


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Rating: 3.7/5 (151 votes)
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DoraYou Have No LegsYou Have No Legs. Well, presumably you do, but Jack, the protagonist of this unusual little sorta-platformer inspired by Super Metroid, does not. Which means that when he finds himself trapped after a cave-in, the lone survivor of an expedition, finding his way out is going to be a lot harder than it might otherwise be. The game was created by Nagnazul in a month for Something Awful's Game Development Challenge 5 and took home first prize. The question is, is the game's creativity and challenge enough to make up for some potentially frustrating gameplay and physics issues?

Since Jack can only use his hands, you have to find other ways around obstacles; click and hold on something, then push or pull the mouse to move Jack around. Throughout the caverns, Jack will find artifacts that grant him special abilities to make his progress easier, such as bracers that increase his strength, or an enchanted necklace that removes the wearer's fear. As you play, keep an eye out for pools of water, since each one saves your game and is where you'll respawn if you die. While things like stone spikes or hot ground only damage Jack a little, other obstacles can be instantly fatal, so you'll want to rush into a watery embrace whenever you have the chance.

Analysis: You Have No Legs was an odd game to play, and one that had me genuinely surprised when I glanced at the clock to see how much time had passed. Although it doesn't quite recapture that sense of bigness that was a feature of Super Metroid and drove players to obsessively search every nook and cranny, exploring the caverns is still fun and interesting, and unlocking new areas by acquiring the various powerups is satisfying. The visuals actually have a weird appeal to them, due in part to the choice in setting, but you might end up wishing there was a bit more variation in scenery after you've hauled yourself through Generic Corridor #54. Of course, for a game created in a month, it's still remarkably well put together.

You Have No LegsThe problem is not all of the challenge comes from our hero's physical capabilities. The physics at work are, as we here at JiG scientifically call them, rather floaty. Maneuvering Jack into position to grab overhead ledges can be tedious, especially since Jack doesn't really move through the air like any normal being, unless the air happens to be made of heavy molasses, and this can be both blessing and curse. On the one hand, it makes climbing a bit easier when you have an extra second to grab on to something. On the other hand, it can be frustratingly difficult to figure out how the game is going to react when you're trying to throw yourself over gaps or hazards. It's hard to develop any sort of finesse with the controls when it feels like they're fighting you every step of the way. The game is pretty generous with its save points, but that doesn't necessarily take the sting out of that umpteenth spa bath in searing lava you just took.

Making a differently-abled hero is a challenge, to say the least; just because gameplay is accurate doesn't mean it'll necessarily be fun, and this one definitely has its trying moments. Still, just because it's hard doesn't mean it shouldn't be done, and just because You Have No Legs is occasionally frustrating enough to make you want to chew your fingers off doesn't mean you shouldn't give it a try. (They're only fingers... how many do you really need anyway?) With more time and polish outside the contest time constraints it might have been even better, but as it is it's still pretty good, and easily one of the more inventive platformers out there, and is practically begging for a more in-depth followup.

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Rating: 3.2/5 (104 votes)
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cling.gifgJohnBNext up for your action/physics fix: Cling, a new release from Ghostwriter. In Cling you control Edgar the electric spider. As everyone knows, electric spiders love nothing more than reaching a goal at the end of a level. Edgar's legs reach out and automatically grab pegs on the wall when he gets close enough to them. This "sticky" movement lets you slowly crawl across a stage, working both with and against your momentum to avoid obstacles and leap over pegless chasms.

Black pegs are perfectly harmless, but red pegs will kill Edgar if his body comes in contact with one. Green pegs push Edgar away, allowing you to sort of slingshot back and forth using them. You can bump into solid black blocks, but don't touch the skull tiles, as they kill Edgar on the spot. Electric spiders don't like to be killed.

Cling has a creative premise and is executed quite well. The controls, while appropriately slow and sticky, will take some time getting used to, but don't let that turn you away from the game. Once you hop over the short learning curve, you'll find some creative puzzles that make good use of the game's physics. Hopping from wall to wall, leaping across gaps, dashing through dangerous corridors, and pulling off hairpin turns where certain doom awaits you at the slightest mistake are just a few of the neat things you'll find in the game's 20 levels.

It's not perfect, but Cling offers a good, slow-ish physics puzzle experience with just the right amount of fast-twitch moments to keep you on your toes.

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Rating: 4.1/5 (148 votes)
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Weekday Escape

GrinnypAll right, let's get this out right now. If you suffer from triskaidekaphobia, proceed no further. Seriously. If you have serious problems with the number 13, then you might suffer consequences when you're kidnapped off of a street and dumped on...the 13th floor! Cue spooky soundtrack. Do buildings even have 13th floors? In Selfdefiant's latest escape game, Escape from the 13th Floor, you'll find one and be tasked with escaping from it. It's Weekday Escape time!

Escape from the 13th FloorEscape from the 13th Floor is a fun, involving little room escape. Or building escape, as it were. You wake up on the dreaded 13th floor and must find your way out of the building. Why? Maybe because you left dinner cooking? Who knows? Like many escape games, we're never really given a reason why we must escape, other than the obvious fact that it's not fun to sleep on the floor of a strange office building. Or the fact that you might be trapped in a Stephen King short story.

Navigation through this strange building is pretty easy. (Who puts a movie theater on the 5th floor? Seriously.) Arrows appear to let you know which way you can go. All you have to do is find a number of odd items and figure out how to use them to get out, preferably before Letterman comes on. Use some items, solve a few puzzles, and you'll soon be on your way.

You'll find the bright, flat, cartoony visuals nice, especially when you discover the lack of a changing cursor. Yes, there is some pixel hunting. Fortunately, there's not an egregious amount of hunting, almost everything you need to find is in plain sight. The inventory control could be a little more intuitive, but that's a minor quibble. A mute button is also nice when the ominous soundtrack gets to be just a little too much, and the game automatically saves if you leave it prematurely.

Perhaps the greatest criticism I can give is that I would have liked a few more of the floors to have been open, with even more stuff to find. The game is enjoyable, but it almost feels like you're just getting going when you find the way out. Nevertheless, Escape from the 13th floor is an amusing way to waste a few minutes, unless of course you suffer from triskaidekaphobia. Lots of fun to be had in a building made spookier by the soundtrack than by the actual inhabitants. Take a few minutes and enjoy Escape from the 13th Floor.

Play Escape from the 13th Floor


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Rating: 4.5/5 (194 votes)
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joyeHarry QuantumA job worth a hundred thousand dollars doesn't drop into a private detective's lap every day. Of course, this particular job does involve hitchhiking into space (and the alien's bargain is a real pain in the... well, you know), but it's nothing you can't handle when you're the star of Harry
Quantum Episode 1: TV Go Home.
It's another joint effort from robotJAM and LongAnimals under their collaboration alias TurboNUKE. Their newest game follows in the witty adventure style of robotJAM's point-and-click hits like The Dreamerz and Panda's Bigger Adventure. Here you play Harry Quantum, a private eye with a sweet fedora whose latest job is to track down some missing tapes belonging to a networks most popular TV shows.

Typical of the genre, your immediate aim is to find and click on some things in the scene to add them to your inventory, and then rub things onto other things until something happens. For example, you could find cheese and meat in a fridge and combine them with bread on the table to create a sandwich. Of course, that would be better known as "joye's lunch almost every day" and would be boring, so let's just say that you're going to have to figure out how to obtain things like a penguin costume, a milkshake, and a pair of roller skates, and then figure out what to do with them once you get them. There are also some more straight-up puzzles to solve, and the usual hunt for codes, which may require taking a few notes. You always have an immediate goal (such as get into space) and of course, your overall goal is to win that totally legit briefcase of unmarked bills, which is how all totally legitimate clients pay for their detective work.

The solutions are usually fairly logical. If you get stuck, feel free to click around with abandon or rub things on blatantly unrelated other things, because sometimes you can earn Private Investigator Points that way. Usually if the combination is particularly cruel. If you've played robotJAM's other point-and-click adventures (especially the Panda series), then you already know if you like this kind of sly humor. Fairly short and linear, the game can easily be defeated your first time in about fifteen minutes. A perfect coffee break game that will be done in a flash (ah ah).

Play Harry Quantum: TV Go Home

e7


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Rating: 4.3/5 (187 votes)
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AdamCe7Oh, sure, life is terrific with all your fancy RTS's and FPS's and MMORPG's and ROUS's and other acronym-able gaming genres. Developers spend years honing polygons, designing levels, and basically making the experience as complicated and creative as possible. And that's just great. But for now, let us forsake those years of planning and millions of dollars in budgeting and explore an exercise in minimalism. e7, a new sci-fi adventure game from Jgames, gives you a simple mission: save the Earth... on a planet that seems to be composed of a material that can only be described as "waterbed."

You are luke, a small probe dropped from a larger spaceship onto the surface of a strangely gelatinous hostile planet. Somewhere to the east is e7, a bomb pointed directly at the Earth (the physics of planetary motion notwithstanding. just... go with it). Of course, the global economy has left the "Strategic Offensive Weaponry in Dire Earth-Threatening Circumstances" budget of NASA completely underfunded, so you'll have to deal with the hostile robots—here co-starring with deadly lasers—in some other fashion. Fortunately for you and the rest of humanity, your probe is its own weapon, as pressing the [down] arrow will allow you to sink a bit into the surface of the squishy planet and propel yourself Juggernaut-style at your enemies. Your commander will provide hints and encouragement as you go along, but otherwise you're on your own. Proceed in this fashion through 20 levels of surprisingly varied gameplay and disarm that bomb—for Earth!

e7 is lovingly understated and beautiful, from the rush of wind and light piano track that convey a simultaneous sense of isolation and hope, to the silhouetted foreground scenery overlaying a distant and imaginative landscape. The gameplay is simple, to be sure, but the central mechanic is fun to learn, tricky to master, and wholly satisfying once you've reigned it in. You're likely to experience some aggravation at later enemies, especially at the one that locks in on you with a particularly potent laser, but it's the good kind of aggravation that can be subdued with a little patience. My only real complaint with the game is that it sometimes takes too long to destroy enemies. I mean, they all require multiple hits and all must be destroyed before the portal to the next level is opened. Of course, this is but a drop in an ocean of delicious Jello, which, incidentally, is also sort of how the planet's surface behaves. See what I did there?

Play e7

Thanks to Brian and Pe-ads for sending this one in!


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Rating: 3.8/5 (96 votes)
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leagueofevil.gifJohnBA bunch of evil scientists have joined forces and are building a weapon of mass destruction. Fortunately for the world, you're one of the good guys, and you're going to stop them! In League of Evil, you play a tough little soldier dude who can run, punch, and wall jump with surprising agility. Work your way through 40 stages as you avoid touching anything pointy or dangerous and die more than once per second!

League of Evil is all about speed, precision, and attempting to marry the two. Each stage is filled with spikes, electric zappy things, enemies, and moving platforms, all arranged to give you one narrow path to get through alive. You can jump, double jump, and wall jump to stay out of trouble, and the game gives you a lot of control over where you move while in the air. Attacks are simple dashing punches (or are they kicks?!) that obliterate NPC enemies with ease. Their bullets, on the other hand, should be avoided. Bullets + fist = dead hero.

You're given a star ranking at the end of each level based on how long it took you to reach the end. There's no timer and no penalty for dying, but it's usually best just to head out from the beginning, start jumping, and see what happens. Most levels last between 15 and 30 seconds, depending on if you decide to seek out the hidden briefcase or not.

League of Evil does its visual and audio presentation retro style. From the chunky pixel visuals to the chip music soundtrack, it's a little slice of 8-bit heaven. The difficulty is more trial-and-error-based, another pseudo-throwback to the classic gaming era, and you'll replay levels numerous times before you figure out the right timing to squeeze past the traps. Not so much frustrating, but less thinking and more button hitting.

A quick little diversion that looks great, sounds awesome, and plays like Forrest Gump in a football game: just keep running and hope everything works out for the best!

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Rating: 3.5/5 (133 votes)
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DoraCatapult MadnessCatapult Madness by Louissi is both an arcade launch game and the tale of a kingdom under siege by a seemingly unending army of trolls. With supplies dwindling, the only hope is to seek help from a neighbouring kingdom, and since the field is too thick with enemies to send a messenger through, the king comes up with a solution. Namely, to commission a massive catapult capable of hurling his helpless commoners through the air, and hopefully (eventually) to reach help. Who would volunteer for something like this, you ask? Turns out people will agree to a lot if you tell them they'll otherwise be fed to the royal cattle. Click to set your power, then again to set your angle, and a final time to fire. Flung peasants will soar through the air and can hit a variety of things that will either help or hinder their flight, from enemy bombs to birds to sleeping trolls. Between flights, you can purchase upgrades to your equipment, and even buy the help of a wizard to help enchant your human missiles to fly farther. And far is pretty important here since you'll have to fly 50,000 feet to win.

The problem is that the game offers very few upgrades with few tiers to boot, so before long, you're just playing to meet that 50,000 feet requirement. This actually tends to be a pitfall of the launch genre as a whole; so few of them feature enough incentive to keep playing, or to keep the game from feeling as though you're simply grinding towards a goal. For Catapult Madness, more varied upgrades with visibly different impacts would have gone a long way towards expanding the replayability, as well as perhaps adding greater variation to the landscape the farther you go. Seen one troll waiting to skewer your innards, seen 'em all, amirite?

But what exists is still very well done. The cartoonish artwork by Julie is clean and bright, and the whole thing has a very slick professional look that adds to the whole silly premise. Despite not bringing much innovation to the table, Catapult Madness is a fun and well made little coffee break of a game that will bring a grin to your face and may prove strangely addictive. It's also proof of that age old adage that it's not the size of your catapult that matters, it's ... wait, who am I kidding? It's totally the size that counts.

Play Catapult Madness


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Rating: 4.7/5 (318 votes)
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joyeDepict1Click nothing to begin. It's obvious from that very first screen of Depict1 that you can't do what you're told if you want to progress. But what or who are you disobeying, and what exactly should you be doing instead? You'll need puzzle-solving wits along with platforming fingers to complete this thought-provoking game by Miroslav Malesevic, porting the original downloadable game by Kyle Pulver to Flash.

Ordinarily, this is the part where I'd blah blah blee at you about the controls, but not this time. Just learning how to move is a puzzle in this game. The voice tells you to use the [arrow] keys, but I'll save you some time and tell you they don't do anything. What other common keyboard control scheme is used for platform gaming? Not very difficult to figure out, right? Okay, how about this helpful instruction from the voice: "Press space to Jump." From that, can you figure out what key it actually is? If so, great; if not, experimenting a little won't hurt you much, since if you die in this game, you're only ever sent back to the beginning of the current level, and levels are fairly brief.

Figuring out the controls is only the beginning of the trickery in this game, which is appropriate, since the original game was created for the "deception" themed 2010 Global Game Jam. The goals of the levels may also not be what they seem. Put on your backwards thinking cap, because more often than not, what would be a help in an ordinary platformer is a hindrance, and vice versa. However, you eventually get to levels where there's no obvious reverse of the "right" answer. What should you do if you only know what not to do? That's the key to this game.

Depict1Analysis: The smug disembodied voice with questionable or even deadly advice for the player started as a parody or subversion of game narrators and tutorials, but it's now a theme in its own right. From the meme-generating mega-hit Portal to the recent art game Loved, these "don't trust the game" games are popping up more and more.

Depict1 isn't content to copy the big boys of the genre. The endings of the game are open to interpretation, but my understanding of the ending involves a twist I haven't yet seen in such games. This isn't yet another completely predictable Portal-clone. (Although I still say that someone needs to make a game where the main character completes the experimental course with the bright and cheery help of ethical staff and receives delicious cookies and a check to pay off student loans at the end. It would mess with people's minds so much.)

The platforming is fun and sometimes challenging but rarely needs razor sharp precision or perfect timing and reflexes. Finely honed platforming instincts may actually work against you in some level until you twig on to the "dangerous = helpful, safe = deadly" level design. The one really difficult level of the original game was updated by dividing it into two levels, thus making progress lost with death quite small. The game as a whole should be within reach of most gamers. Puzzle solving in the game relies almost entirely on keen observation, both through careful reading of the text commentary by your "helpful" friend and of the game field itself.

The game's puzzling and platforming aspects are well balanced, avoiding becoming another hardcore platformer with a few puzzling aspects clumsily grafted on to attract a wider audience. Neither does the game fall into that frustrating trap where the puzzles are awesome but the developer forgot little things like "collision detection" and "controls that respond." Depict1 is among that elite group of puzzle/platform games that I would recommend to fans of one genre who are wary of the other. For people who love the hybrid, it's not to be missed.

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Mobile Monday

JohnBWhat's even more exciting than skiing on ever-generating platforms with a rainbow at your back? Climbing on top of random piles of pixel art junk that falls from the sky! Seriously, try it. In real life. Go ahead.

solipskier.gifSolipskier - Remember way back in the olden days (three days ago) when we featured a little Flash game that was part Canabalt part Line Rider? Well, Solipskier is now ready for you on the iPhone, complete with everything the browser version has. Draw snowy paths on the ground for the little skier to traverse, moving up and down to create momentum and initiate rad jumps. Pass through gates to earn points, and don't fall to, you know, stay alive and stuff. Do that for as long as you can and you'll be awesome!

theincident.gifThe Incident - Hmm. What's that shadow up there? Looks kinda taxi cab-shaped. Anyway, where's that taxi Best of Casual Gameplay 2010I'm trying to hail? Oh, wait, yeah. Ahem. Time to step out of the way. Wait, another shadow? A moai statue? A cactus? A refrigerator? Something strange is going on up there, and the only way you can find out what that is is to climb on top of the junk that keeps piling on the street. Seven different areas to play through in this deliciously retro game, complete with power-ups, collectibles, power-downs, and crazy objects. Loads of fun, and highly addictive.

osmos-iphone.jpgOsmos - The atmospheric game of squishy amoebas shuttling around primordial goo is now on the iPhone! Tap the screen to cause your cell to jet through the liquid, decreasing your size with every spurt. Absorb cells that are smaller than you to increase your size, and keep getting bigger to engulf even the largest of creatures. The portable version of the game retains the lovely setting and ambiance as the original. Definitely one to break out the headphones for.

gravityhookhd.gifGravity Hook HD - A mobile incarnation of the Flash game by Adam Atomic and Danny Baranowsky. You have a hook. Gravity affects you. Now, latch on to those peg things and work your way upwards! When you attach to anything, your weight pulls it down as the hook strains to contract and fling you upwards. The longer the hook's chain, the more likely you are to tumble below the screen and not live (a.k.a. die, game over). Just as great as the browser version of the game, but the touch controls add a nice layer of immersion.

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: 4.6/5 (20 votes)
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Toki Tori

JamesSurvival is a very different thing when you compare predators to prey. Predators prefer little competition, so they aren't as keen to have their siblings hanging around. Prey, on the other hand, like safety in numbers — if only to reduce the odds that the predator comes after you. This is perhaps one reason that motivates Toki Tori to shuffle across increasingly nasty environments to only save his egg-bound brothers and sisters. Or maybe he is just an altruist. In fact, how did all the eggs get this lost in the first place? As with all of society's social ails, we have to ask: "Where are the parents?" And do they know how to get past level 3-11?

Toki ToriOdds are that you have heard of Toki Tori before. This reviewer hasn't, partly affirming his status as a iconoclast and mostly revealing a decade deprived of a Game Boy Color, iPhone or Wii console (nor did I play Eggbert, the game Toki Tori was originally derived from). Toki Tori first appeared on the Game Boy Color. Two Tribes, its developer, clearly enjoy resting on their laurels, because they waited eight years before releasing a new version for Wii Ware, followed a year later for the iPhone version and now, finally, the PC incarnation.

How do you play Toki Tori? As established, the little chicklet has egg-bound siblings scattered over a level. He has to collect all of them in order to move onto the next stage. At his disposal are several tools: building platforms, teleportation, dropping blocks and floating in a bubble suit. He is also able to lift and put aside a certain block type. Completing his arsenal, literally, are a few weapons: a freeze ray, vacuum gun and ghost trap.

Yet this is not a platform game — its orange chick feet are firmly wedged into the puzzle genre. A given level will equip you with a limited selection of tools and limited amounts of uses for each. So the trick is to try and reach all the eggs with what you have at hand. Cross a gap using a platform, build a makeshift staircase with blocks, etc. Sometimes it involves careful timing: for example, the ghost trap, if triggered, will open a gap to a level below, but involves baiting a normally-lethal spectral enemy. Find the right combination of actions and paths to rescue all of your siblings.

Analysis: Toki Tori is a remake of the classic GBC game, but even a casual glance at some of those levels betrays a massive overhaul. It certainly looks much nicer. Since the game does not have a scoring mechanism or any kind of timer (unlike the GBC version), its virtues lie in how tough the puzzles are. And they do get challenging: quite a few solutions required some lateral thinking, especially when the obvious path turned out to be a red herring. Jump into the optional Hard levels and you really have your egg-rescuing cut out for you.

Toki ToriBut it's still a path-of-least-resistance experience. Toki Tori doesn't want you to suffer; it wants you to have fun. So Two Tribes added an unlimited rewind feature that lets you take a few steps back and avoid a mistake you had just made, or retrace your steps right back to the start. This both encourages experimentation and makes accidental (or stupid) deaths less frustrating. The main character will also indicate if you really screwed up by taking up a sad, sulking posture. No game is complete without its star and the titular hero is a charming little chap with a lot of personality. You come to enjoy his little waddling animations, the stuff he starts doing when he is idle, the loose swaying when you make him dizzy.

Adding to the ease of use are the controls. You can use the keyboard, but the game is entirely playable with your mouse.. In fact, this is by far the superior way to do things. Move the little bird, activate weapons and look around the level all while holding a cup of coffee in your other hand. It adds to the relaxed mood of the game. If Two Tribes aimed to turn a frustrating puzzle game into a surprisingly zen experience, they have nailed it.

On the one hand it's the same game from 2000, though with new levels and some refinement to the formula. On the other, all that refinement was like cutting and polishing a rough diamond. It's also nice to experience a puzzle game that does its own thing and sidesteps the legions of clones that seem to clog up the genre. Clones are nice — a good puzzle game is a good puzzle game - but something entirely fresh is even better. Especially when it combines the charm and polish that culminates into Toki Tori.

Grab your PC/Mac copy of Toki Tori below, it's inexpensive and is available from several digital download services. You can also find it on Wii Ware as well as Toki Tori and Toki Tori Lite on the iTunes App Store.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo (demo available only through Steam)
Get the full version (several purchasing options)

Mac OS XMac OS X:
Get the full version (several purchasing options)


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Rating: 4.5/5 (22 votes)
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Echoes of the Past: The Castle of Shadows

DoraBack in the olden days (2009, which is pretty darn olden) I reviewed a game called Royal House of Stone which was both very neat, and very, very short. In it, you found a very strange painting in an old museum that transported you to a silent land under the thrall of a wicked witch. (You didn't get any ruby slippers, unfortunately.) Echoes of the Past: The Castle of Shadows brings you back to that same museum... this time because a painting of a certain young woman has been coming to life and frightening guests. Rather than calling Guinness or the Mythbusters they call you, and you arrive to discover that the witch you thought you dealt with before is decidedly untrounced and causing havoc in another time period. It's up to you to save the day and step through the picture frame in this inventive new hidden-object, point-and-click adventure hybrid.

Echoes of the Past: The Castle of ShadowsYou explore the world by clicking on the environment and investigating places of interest. Your goal is ultimately to deal with the witch, but the inhabitants of the realm you've entered need your help too... apparently being a shadow person unable to move, speak, or see and dwelling endlessly in a state of unbeing is sucky or something. Whiners. Occasionally you'll find your progress blocked when an item you need to progress has been "cursed into shadow", and you'll need to first figure out what you need from the shadow left behind, and then track it down. You might find it just loitering about somewhere, or you might have to find the items in a hidden-object scene. Be careful; hints can be used immediately, but they're limited and can only be replenished by finding other mirrors scattered around.

However, what's interesting is that periodically throughout the game, you'll actually have to put back items that you found during a hidden-object scene. The magic mirror will tell you that the items you found were misplaced, and ask you to put them in their proper locations in a new area. It's just a clever little puzzle twist that keeps the game from feeling like a scavenger hunt. Not that there's anything wrong with scavenger hunts, of course, but I'm sure even you can admit your eyes start to glaze over round about the time you have to locate seven screws, an ace of hearts, and a parakeet for the umpteenth time.

Analysis: I'm rapidly growing to look forward to the Echoes of the Past titles, with their beautiful visuals and lovely environments. Yes, I know, "witch, peril, ancient curse, we're all doomed, bla-de-bla-de-bla," but just look at the detail here. Not only are areas and people beautifully rendered, but each scene is also full of subtle animated details that help make you feel more immersed in what's going on, and less like you're looking at a static page from a storybook. The writing, unfortunately, is more than a little stiff, and most of the plot is pretty predictable. The game has you make questionable decisions and fall for an obvious ploy or two simply because the game would end early if you didn't. So suck it up, Wile E., and step onto the big ACME target in the middle of the room.

Echoes of the Past: The Castle of ShadowsThe puzzles in the game are implemented fairly well, but none of them are very unique, and only a few of them pose any sort of challenge. We've been mixing recipes in hidden-object games for a long time now, for example, and everyone has some variation of the "light up all the adjacent buttons" puzzle. Some of the item locations and uses seem a bit like an excuse to pad the game too, particularly later on when items are usually in the same room as where you need them. Royal House of Stone was painfully short, but it was also very light on busywork. As good looking and enjoyable as Castle of Shadows is, you do get a bit of a sense that all these extra steps are just there to prolong the inevitable, rather than because they were important to the gameplay or plot.

But despite these slight bumps in the road, Echoes of the Past: The Castle of Shadows is a welcome improvement over its predecessor. Most players can probably expect to spend around or over four hours on their quest to defeat the witch (which unfortunately does not involve dropping a house on her), and they'll enjoy nearly every second of it. While I might hope future installments flex their creative wings a bit more in the puzzle department, as it stands the series is proving to be a big contender in quality, and has a lot to offer fans of the genre.

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

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

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


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Rating: 4.4/5 (34 votes)
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Gwen the Magic Nanny

JohnBBeing a good nanny is tough work. Gwen, though, seems to be a natural. In fact, taking care of the little ones is so second-nature to her, she gets invited to Fantasy Town to help care for all sorts of unique families. From robots to frogs, plants to undersea critters, Gwen uses her magical abilities to keep the young ones happy and fed through dozens of levels. Gwen the Magic Nanny pours on the creativity in a simple but alluring time management game from Namco.

gwenthemagicnanny.jpgYour basic goal is to tire the little ones out so each can be put to bed. Kids naturally lose energy as the day goes by, but dropping them off in the play area makes this happen more quickly. When a bubble appears over a child's head, meet its needs as quickly as you can or suffer the consequences of a cranky baby.

Each family has its own unique house layout and the children have different needs. The McKannics, for example, are robots who need food cubes, oil, and the occasional run through the cleaning machine. The frog family, on the other hand, needs flies and worms. The basic set-up for each family will be mostly the same, so you don't have to re-learn childcare every time the scenery changes.

Gwen has access to a shop that lets her upgrade abilities, allowing you to walk faster and perform certain tasks at a quicker pace. You can also unlock spells to cast, something of an unusual inclusion for a time management game. Kids all getting cranky? There's a spell for that. Can't collect all the floating magic points on the stage? There's a spell for that, too.

Here's a nice little bonus: extra objectives for each level. Your main goal is always to keep the children happy until they're tuckered out and ready for sleep. You'll also have objectives that send you on hidden object-style quests to locate certain items throughout the scene. Find three fish, hunt down all the robot parts, locate each dragonfly, etc. Just a little extra spice to shake up the gameplay a bit.

gwenthemagicnanny2.jpgAnalysis: Gwen the Magic Nanny will catch you by surprise. What appears an unassuming time management game on the surface quickly reveals a deep wellspring of creativity. The artwork for this game is phenomenal, presenting a pseudo-50s-style color scheme and line character with a touch of modern flair for good measure. The characters, while sometimes stiffly animated, are filled with personality and charm, and even the cutscenes will summon an amused smile to your face. Without this stellar visual and audio presentation (seriously, the music in the McKannics stage is crazy catchy), Gwen the Magic Nanny would only be half the game it currently is.

The controls for Gwen the Magic Nanny seem a bit obtuse at first. Many items need to be crafted before you can use them. In order to do that, you'll have to activate a machine, grab the resulting product to stash it in your inventory, click the inventory, and finally place the item where it needs to go. It's a bit of a run-around for a simple task, but you learn to cope after a few levels. The zooming and scrolling are also a bit awkward, as you can never really find the "right" point of view and must constantly switch back and forth, all without the help of keyboard shortcuts.

One thing time management games normally fail to do is provide any reason to continue playing after an hour or two. The later levels tend to be stale and repetitive, as the creativity ran out during the first third of the game. Gwen the Magic Nanny doesn't suffer from this at all, providing wonderful incentives to continue playing far into the game. Most of the time you can't wait to see what the next family is like!

A surprise hit on many levels, Gwen the Magic Nanny provides several hours of amazingly creative time management gaming. Soak in the interesting characters, scope that stylish artwork, and get a little babysitting done while you do so!

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


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Weekend Download

JohnBThe exclamation mark. It is thought to have originated from the Latin word for joy, lo, and made an appearance in printed English literature in the 1400s. Now, developers can append it to the end of their game titles to denote happiness, excitement or, indeed, to encourage you to exclaim the name outloud.

warlockbentspine.gifWarlock Bentspine (Windows, 8.2MB, free) - In the year 2024 AD, the world has kinda gotten pretty nasty. Stinker City is about to be destroyed by the Jihad Gang, and its only hope for salvation is you, Jacob Bentspine, guardian and... Warlock! Similar to games like Metroid and Mega Man, Warlock Bentspine is a sidescrolling adventure/platform game with randomized room order and weapons you can equip after defeating bosses. Work your way through all four stages as you deal with both enemies and environmental traps. A short but very satisfying game with a great style and thoughtful puzzles.

typomagia.gifTypomagia! (Windows, 3MB, free) - Ever wanted to turn your typing skills into a weapon? It's time to put your QWERTY (or your , QWERTZ, AZERTY, DVORAK) where your mouth is. (Wait, no, that's gross.) Typomagia is a 2D defense game where you type words to stock up on mana. When the bar reaches the right height, type the appropriate word to summon creatures or cast spells on your troops. Surprisingly fun, and there's a decent amount of strategy involved. Play through the story mode for an interesting journey, or jump right into quick play for a full-on you vs. computer match.

chawp.gifChawp! (Windows, 2.9MB, free) - An arcade game about precision, not reflexes. Pilot a ship that can change between three colors: red, blue, and green. Click the [left] mouse button to drop anchor and draw a line matching the ship's color. Your goal is to cross over each enemy boss' lines to eventually cut its pieces free. Chawping a line of the same color does double damage, and if you can snip the parent cord the smaller cords will be added to a combo. The description sounds unusual (and the game is unusual), but when you play you'll immediately get the concept and become absorbed in the experience.

liquisity2.jpgLiquisity 2 (Windows, 20.6MB, free) - From Vertigo Games, creator of The Oil Blue, comes a physics-based puzzle/arcade game that takes place in a nice, roomy aquarium. Use the [arrow] keys to aim the cannon, then tap and hold the [spacebar] to charge up a shot. Fire the bubble away, then navigate it through the currents to reach the red button at the end of the stage. Plenty of trial-and-error when you're trying to get the hang of the game, but once you sink into it, it's all skill. A full, commercial version of the game will be available later this year, so think of this as a teaser release.

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!


(14 votes) *Average rating will show after 20 votes
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World Riddles: Seven Wonders

JohnBJumping on the picross wagon with a new downloadable release is World Riddles: Seven Wonders from Funny Bear Studio. Similar to the World Mosaics series, World Riddles sends you on a journey as you fill in picross grids across the globe, learning about the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World as you go. One key difference here is the addition of mini-games, small diversions that break up the logic puzzles for a quick round of jigsaw, picture completion, missing objects, and more!

World Riddles: Seven WondersNew to picross? Never fear, World Riddles has a nice introduction to walk you through the basics (it's skippable if you know the drill). The general idea is to use the number clues above and to the left of the board to fill in and wipe clean squares on the grid. If a set of numbers reads "2 1 4", for example, you know that two adjacent blocks are filled in, followed by at least one non-filled space, a single block, and then four adjacent blocks. Using intersecting clues, you can eventually chisel out a picture from the grid.

World Riddles: Seven Wonders awards you a medal for each level based on how quickly and efficiently you completed the puzzles. You're allowed three mistakes per picross grid, and there's a hint system to give you a nudge when you need one. Outside of the box filling, you'll encounter a good variety of mini-games such as missing object puzzles, jigsaws, tile swapping riddles, and more. For the most part, the mini-games are a nice diversion from the main game, but you won't find anything ground-breaking in these diversions.

Completing stages also unlocks bonus levels from the main menu. These special challenges are focused on collecting as many points as possible by completing a series of picross puzzles without making a single mistake. This may not sound like much, but when the added of pressure of "no mis-clicks" is applied, you'll think twice before filling in a space on the grid.

World Riddles: Seven WondersAnalysis: The all-important interface is the key to success in any digital version of picross, as emulating the ease of a pencil and paper setup can be a tough challenge to complete. World Riddles keeps it simple with "fill" and "don't fill" icons at the bottom of the screen, allowing you to switch between cursor modes by [right] clicking the mouse. In the options menu you can change the right button's function to permanently stay as "don't fill", which was my preferred method for quick and easy picross completion.

Puzzle difficulty has a gradual and smart curve, starting out easy in the Library of Alexandria and adding bigger, more complex puzzles as soon as you move to the next wonder. Picross veterans will have to slog through the first dozen stages before anything interesting comes into play. When you get there, though, over 200 puzzles are awaiting your expert eye, a respectable challenge for any picross game to present.

World Riddles: Seven Wonders keeps everything simple. The interface is smart, the visuals are clear, and the game doesn't attempt to throw any gimmicks between you and a good experience. It's a wonderful addition to the expanding family of picross games and will provide hours of challenge and entertainment. And maybe a few neat facts about the statue of Zeus at Olympia.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


  • Currently 4.4/5
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Rating: 4.4/5 (169 votes)
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Mikemike-solipskier-screen1.pngI have a "joke" for you all, "joke" being in "scare quotes" for good reason. Excited? Here it goes: What do you call someone who believes that he is the only person in the world, and that the world is created slope by slope before him, so that he can tear up the landscape with rad tricks and daredevil speed skiing? Give up?

Solipskier! It's a punchline of sorts, and it's also a fast-paced game, from developers Mike Boxleiter and Greg Wohlwend (aka Mikengreg aka Intuition Games), in which you draw hills and dales for a fast-moving ski-sprite to slalom.

In the beginning there is nothing, until you click the mouse and begin to draw the landscape, which ski-dude immediately begins to traverse. Click and move the mouse to continue drawing. You can draw straight paths, steep climbs, speedy declines, and little ramps for jumping. If you stop drawing and can keep your skier airborne, he'll perform nifty tricks, which will add to your score. Guiding your skier through gates and tunnels will also increase your score, while certain obstacles will cause him to crash. Good thing that gates, obstacles, and other features are indicated ahead of time with helpful distance counters that appear on the right side of the screen.

Analysis: Solipskier is super-fast-paced, and also super-coy with instructions. The game insists on trial-and-error instruction, so don't be surprised if in the first few runs your skier crashes and falters before you understand what's happening. But the zippy pace, coupled with the speed-blur animation and headbanger soundtrack, creates an intensity such that you'll want to try again right away. After a few rounds you'll start to figure out how to create jumps and consistent speed, and get a better idea of how to avoid various obstacles. It's all about learning the tricks you need to get the highest score, before you crash and burn, and are prompted to try again. Even after some mastery is achieved, it's still a game that lends itself to rapid, ephemeral sessions, played one after another.

Solipskier is a curious formula, one part Canabalt, one part Line Rider. It works very well, though, particularly in intense, attention-deficit-sized portions. Play it to satisfy your yen for solipsistic ski-dudes and the fleeting ski-worlds you create for them.

Play Solipskier

Thanks to Max for sending this one in!


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Link Dump Fridays

DoraWelcome back to Link Dump Friday, where sackboys cavort for your amusement, you have to grow your own sushi, and getting out of bed is detrimental to your health. Where bad guys obligingly fly in easy-to-shoot formation, and we all join hands with the sky-squid for a brighter tomorrow. Where little orange men roll you off to be juiced and the snozzberries taste like snozzberries. No, I'm serious. It's weird around here on Fridays.

  • Ray QuestRay Quest - Blast down enemies and upgrade your ship in this good-looking vertical shooter featuring the ability to gain multiple LAZORZ. This genre isn't as prolific as it used to be. More's the pity, since I can't even remember the hours I lost to Gradius 3. Unfortunately Ray Quest kind of runs out of steam; the bosses are too easy and the enemies are too same-y, and the voila! just never happens. Still, it's impressive enough to play through to the end, and with more variety would easily have sucked in any fan of the genre for a good long while.
  • SophiphobiaSophiphobia - Sophi wakes up one morning to find herself with a strange predicament in this intriguing but slightly awkward point-and-click escape game. It's got a very interesting premise, but it'll take you longer than it should to puzzle your way off the bed to find it. With more intuitive navigation and a less obtrusive inventory, Sophiphobia could have been a real winner. As it stands, it's still a clever little escape game, and decidedly different compared to Escape The Generic Box of Conundrums. Do you think Jay would buy "I can't risk my life by getting out of bed!" as an excuse for not writing an article?
  • OzeeOzee - So here's a little physics-puzzle-platformer apparently inspired by Little Big Planet and brought to you by the creators of Cargo Bridge. Run, jump, collect stars, and race through the world because... well, because! Ozee's world needs a lot more personality than it has to really engage the player, unless you've secretly harboured a burning desire to see a Sackboy run the Ninja Warrior course.
  • WasabiWasabi - Sushi can be nasty, but this weird little game about managing a sushi bar isn't. It's part resource management, part time management, and part WEIRD. The gameplay unfortunately isn't that deep, but it's fun and adorable while it lasts. It's Just take it from me, kids; if you ever see a restaurant selling "all you can eat" sushi for a dollar (the word sushi should probably be in quotations there too), you probably shouldn't eat there.
  • flowESTflowEST - There's not much point to this weird little game about floating doo-dads and happy critters other than to make you smile. Just draw a path to make your little dude sail through the air, linking up with buddies and grabbing the coloured orbs you see. That's... about it, really. But it's so soothing and lovely and weird that it's easily worth the minute or three it'll take out of your day.

  • Currently 3.7/5
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Rating: 3.7/5 (42 votes)
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AdamCOperation BlackknifeJust admit it: we all want to go to space. That's what put Neil Armstrong on the moon; it's why the Star Wars universe has captivated audiences for years; it's why you must always remember to set your phasers to stun lest you stir up an intergalactic war... er, sorry, I nerded out there for a second. The point is, space is awesome, and fighting in space is even better. That's what Operation Blackknife, a new top-down sci-fi action game from LoneWolf Productions, is all about: spaceships and space battles. Beam me up, Scotty.

You pilot the experimental ship X-1 Delta, armed to the teeth with weapons, shields, and other goodies to blast away at the ships and base of a corporation that for some reason has gone evil (typically not a good business strategy). The story plops you down in the seat of the ship, just before your base is attacked by an unidentified vessel. Maneuver with the [arrow] keys while you aim and fire with the mouse. The game has a nice, if a bit lengthy, tutorial section, so you won't feel overwhelmed. Enemies will drop credits that you can use to buy even more weapons, expediting the destruction process. A key feature of the game, aside from augmenting your ship, is the ability to use auxiliary powers, which are accessed by holding the [C] button. You can throw on some armor, cloak your ship, or give it that extra boost of speed beyond the afterburners. All three are driven by auxiliary power, and the system is balanced so that they will only give you a slight edge in battle rather than morphing you into some unstoppable Deux Ex Machina.

Operation BlackknifeEverything controls well. Your ship is sluggish and unprepared at first, but a few upgrades later and you'll... well, you still won't feel like you're moving with frightening speed, but it's a noticeable improvement. The variety of weapons isn't as impressive as I thought it would be while there are too many upgrades and modules to keep track of. Still, seeing exactly what your ship can do after adding a second pulsar lance is a lot of fun, and there are sandbox and "Endless Wave" modes to play around with some of the things you might miss in the story mode.

I found Operation Blackknife surprisingly immersive. Rather than an endless stream of baddies and samey levels, the game switches things up from level to level. Sometimes you'll be defending a base, at other times, you'll be guiding a rescue ship through a field of radioactive wreckage. One level launches you into unguided hyperspace where you have to dodge friggin' black holes. Wait, why aren't you playing this game right now? Okay, to be fair, it's kind of short, which could mean that either it doesn't overstay its welcome or never really reaches its full potential. For me, it's the latter. By the end, which came quite abruptly, I wanted to experience more. Maybe we'll have a sequel in the future, but for now, enjoy a spacey romp through space. Space. The Final Frontier. Cue the Star Trek music.

Play Operation Blackknife


  • Currently 4.5/5
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Rating: 4.5/5 (67 votes)
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DoraNetshiftBetween the time when the LOLcats drank intelligent internet humour, and the rise of obnoxious memes, there was an age undreamed of. And onto this, Rob Allen, destined to wear the jeweled crown of really awesome puzzle games upon a troubled brow. It is I, his chronicler, who alone can tell thee of his saga. Let me tell you of the days of Hapland! Of the great plains of the Farcade! And perhaps most wondrous of all... awwwww, yeah, it's Netshift, yo! PARTY!

Originally featured way, way, way back in 2008 and consisting solely of community-generated content, Netshift is back with an updated look, new tricks and traps, and 30 official levels by your barbarian overlord and mine, Rob Allen himself. The premise of the game is simple; navigate your little ship through the dangers of each level to the checkered exit for victory. Use the [arrow] keys to move, and [enter] to pick up or drop items, while [spacebar] fires any missiles you're carrying. Why do you need missiles? Because there are a lot of obstacles in your way, from force fields to proximity bombs to switches and levers and more. Your job is to figure out what each object does, how they interact, and use that to your advantage so you can make your escape. If you get stuck, tapping [R] reloads the level. A single hit or explosion causes your ship to blow up, but you can restart without penalty, and the larger levels feature checkpoints that, once activated, will be where you respawn. Oh, and this time around, pressing [M] mutes the sound.

Netshift is one of those great "just one more level" type of puzzle games, and the 30 new levels constructed by its creator are very well done. They start off simple enough to ease you into the mechanics, but gradually ramp up the difficulty until you find yourself clutching the sides of your head, gazing feverishly into the monitor muttering, "What does it mean?!". The one-hit KO would be a killer without the presence of checkpoints, and it's still going to be frustrating for some players. But where the game absolutely shines is its bevy of clever items all laid out for you to experiment with, like a Rube Goldberg machine with explosions and spaceships.

It's great to see Rob Allen back in action, and the good news is not only Netshift's new 'do, but the revival of his site and all the games on it. Does he have anything new on the horizon? Mmmmmmaaaaaybe. But right now, Netshift is back and better than ever, and together with its community content, provides enough of a challenge for you to sink your teeth into for a good long while.

Play Netshift


  • Currently 4.5/5
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Rating: 4.6/5 (98 votes)
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Babylon Sticks: Trespassing Scumm 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 (109 votes)
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AdamCadamc_theotherside_screen1.jpgThere's nothing I like more than seeing a game followed up by a thoughtful sequel that takes the series in a new direction while still maintaining some of the original's integrity. Hollywood may have shied away from this trend these days (how many Jaws movies have been made at this point?) but that doesn't mean we don't get a good sequel in the indie gaming community every now and then.

The Other Side, a new puzzle platformer from developer CoolioNiato, is the next game in the series apparently started by the recently-reviewed One Step Back. This time, your goal is to collect golden sparks around each level. Collect all of them and the door will open to the next level. But you played One Step Back, and you know it's not that simple. After you gather your first spark, a golden aura appears around your character which reveals hidden platforms and walls within the bounds of the aura. Later on in the game, this aura can be turned on and off by pressing the down [arrow] or [S], depending on your control scheme. The Other Side doesn't present you with any enemies, but you can die by falling off the screen. Oh, and did I mention that the levels turn when you move onto slanted walls? Well, they do, so prepare to get a little dizzy.

The Other Side is packed with ideas, but manages to be a lot more brooding and relaxed than its predecessor. Once again, we have smooth platforming that has one evident flaw: it's pretty slippery. A few times, I would walk slowly off the edge of the platform and go sailing through the air with momentum that made it seem like I had run off the platform at full speed. Fortunately, this glitch isn't too difficult to overcome, and the rest of the game is well worth it. Though not all platforms and walls are visible, the game rarely feels like a scavenger hunt. The levels are laid out well enough that a few minutes spent hunting for the correct path often gives satisfying results. Much like One Step Back, the gameplay shifts towards the last few levels, which I will once again refrain from mentioning at the risk of spoilers. I will say that the impact of the shift is not so dramatic this time, but won't elaborate any further.

The atmosphere created by The Other Side is suitably melancholy; the levels are twisted, disjointed, and sometimes disorienting. The music is something straight out of a noir crime film, and the story, while perhaps a little heavy-handed, suits the game more than its predecessor. Once again, I have to point out the developer has created a real experience driven by all the elements of the game, not just one gimmick. Though it's not as innovative as One Step Back, it ties in well without feeling forced. Jaws producers would do well to take notes. Hopefully, The Other Side isn't the last game in this unique and creative series.

Play The Other Side


  • Currently 4.5/5
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Rating: 4.5/5 (99 votes)
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Weekday Escape

GrinnypSo the day starts out like any other. There you sit in your cramped cubicle under flickering fluorescents, typing desultorily while wondering if you can sneak into Facebook for a second and check what's going on. But what's this? A summons from the boss? Heart racing you leap from your squeaky, broken chair. Is this the opportunity you've been waiting for? A raise? A promotion? Or the opposite, are you getting canned for too much net surfing? Shakily you make your way to the big boss' big office, praying for the former and not the latter. You enter nervously, hoping the next words you hear are not "Perhaps it's time for you to pursue other opportunities". Wait, where's the boss? Why is the door locked? And what does this memo mean, "Escape this Room!" Perhaps it means you shouldn't be playing Weekday Escape at work? Welcome to Escape from Boss Room, the latest room escape from Tesshi-e.

Escape from Boss RoomTesshi-e games have always had amusing start scenarios, but this one takes the cake. Is this boss insane or just stupid? Seriously, would you lock an employee into such a luxurious office as this? I'd be afraid that they'd either trash the place or take anything that isn't nailed down. Or bolted down, as you will find in the game. Well, considering that this person has a nameplate on his desk that just says "Boss", maybe it would be fun to trash the office. Sorry, digressing. Nevertheless this wacky setup is the beginning of some seriously good casual gameplay.

Although Escape from Boss Room is a classic single room escape, this room is vast. This is the type of room that takes two or three clicks to reach a piece of furniture for a close up, creating some navigational oddities that can be confusing at first. Still, it is a single room, so eventually you, you lucky gamer you, will figure it out. With its huge space, fancy furniture, expensive trinkets, and big-screen TV this is the room of a boss you could love to hate.

The one thing you can always count on in a Tesshi-e escape is attention to detail. First of all are the backgrounds and objects. Serious attention to detail is placed in the colors, textures, shapes, lighting, reflections, etc., enough to make this feel like a real room. Fortunately, this same detail oriented approach has been used to create a wide array of fantastic puzzles as well, making this one of Tesshi-e's denser efforts, reminiscent of Escape from 5th Door, albeit with only two endings. Multiple locked doors and drawers, puzzles (one color based), logic problems, tools, and keys await those who dare enter the boss' lair. Even the music is not Tesshi-e's usual fare, making this an extremely enjoyable game. A mute button, a save function, easy inventory control, all of the usual bells and whistles are included, although we still have to deal with no changing cursor and a bit of pixel hunting.

Escape from Boss Room is mostly in English, although there are still a few instances where you will get incomprehensible Japanese (unless, of course, you can read Japanese). Hilarity still ensues with some of the "Engrish" translations; the best one is about a life-size dog statue (or is that a real, stuffed dog? Ewww!) that the game calls a "dog doll". The game inquires if the boss likes dogs, but I seriously want to know if he likes to play with dollies there in his overblown office. Normally the difference between the regular and "happy coin" escapes in a Tesshi-e game boil down to the difference between continuing a walk or getting a nice beverage, or the difference between getting a drink and getting a full meal. In Escape from Boss Room, however, the reward difference between the escapes is pretty huge, just like the boss' office.

Escape from Boss Room is perhaps not that elusive "perfect" escape, but it comes darn close in terms of design, puzzles, and just plain fun. Challenging, beautiful and entertaining, this is the perfect way to waste some time, at work or at home. Put your escaping caps on, guys, it's time to Escape from Boss Room!

Play Escape from Boss Room


  • Currently 3.6/5
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Rating: 3.6/5 (212 votes)
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DoraSatanoriumAfter her car breaks down one night outside an abandoned sanatorium, Catherine can't stop thinking (or dreaming) about it... or about the little girl who keeps pleading for her help. That's right, folks, it's time to make some bad decisions and do everything you're always screaming at horror movie heroines not to do with Satanorium, a point-and-click horror adventure from Belugerin to meet your flickering-lights-and-creepy-little-girls quota for the day.

Once Catherine gets into the asylum, you'll need to explore to find out what's going on in that special way as only a horror game heroine can; by fumbling around in the dark, solving puzzles, and squealing when things pop up and go YAH! Move your cursor around the screen and text will pop up to show places you can interact, while arrows mean you can click to move to a new place. You can click the icons at the top to open your inventory, or just press [I]; when you select an item you're carrying, you can choose to use it, examine it, or combine it with another item. "Cheaters" also might find unpleasant surprises waiting for them.

SatanoriumAnalysis: Heroine with a bared midriff? Check. Name that sounds like the place all the scowling Goths go to replenish their supplies of eyeliner and buckles? Check. Awwwwww yisssss, we are entering cheesy horror territory here, my friend. Visually, the game is actually very well done, with beautifully rendered environments overlaid with a subtle film grain effect that make everything feel gritty and real, as well as helping to get rid of the too-smooth look most rendered graphics tend to have. There's a wonderful atmosphere at work with the dark, dusty building you have to explore, full of flickering shadows and soft, indistinct sounds.

The problem isn't that the game is illogical, exactly, it's that the solution is rarely going to be your first choice. Even if it ultimately makes sense, in a roundabout way, it's still frustrating to be stuck because you're trying something that should obviously work and not have the game give you much of any indication of what you should be doing instead. Click detection also seems a little iffy at times, especially when the items are small, and navigating can be a pain when you first enter a new area and not all the hotspots highlight when you move over them.

Unlike, say, Silent Hill or 2008's Let the Right One In, it's not trying to tug at your heartstrings or make you meditate on what it means to be a flawed human being. No, Satanorium just hopes you'll be sitting close enough to your monitor that you'll squeal a little whenever something startling happens, and to show you a cheesy good time. It's not subtle or coy, it's just there to show you a good time. You know, as good a time as one can have while being bled all over while the music goes REEEEEEEEE. While not perfect, it's still enjoyable, and is just the right thing to curl up with at night, as long as you're the sort of person who enjoys both a challenge and a good BOOGAH-BOOGAH-BOOGAH now and again. And really, who doesn't?

Play Satanorium

Thanks to Bwilderbeast, Kita, and the enigmatically named "blank" for sending this one in! (Be sure to fill out the entire submission form, folks!)


  • Currently 4.3/5
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Rating: 4.3/5 (82 votes)
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FutoshikiArtbegottiWhen I was in elementary school, I had a teacher that taught me a good mnemonic device for remembering the symbols for greater than and less than. She said to imagine a crocodile (or a hungry bird or a Pac-Man or something) in between the two numbers. The crocobirdman would always open its mouth and eat the larger number. Little did I know back then that I would later find myself facing grids of over one hundred of these symbols in varying patterns. In Futoshiki, a Sudoku-like number puzzle, your goal is to fill in the grid using a slew of inequality symbols as your only hints.

Like in Sudoku puzzles, Futoshiki puzzles have one of each digit in every row and column. You will often come across puzzles that have no starting digits, so you must rely on the inequality clues to fill in the grid. For example, if you find a chain of boxes that are greater than the next box in line, you could assume the positions of higher and lower digits in that chain. To input a number, you can either click and hold a box then drag down to the number you want, or use the [arrow] keys to move the yellow outline to the box you want and press the number key on your keyboard.

FutoshikiAnalysis: For such an engaging puzzle, it's somewhat disappointing that the presentation for Futoshiki is a little bit lacking. As with Kakuro, another logic puzzle offering from the developer, ATK Solutions, the graphics are rather simple and the music is somewhat cheesy and might get grating after a bit (pun unintended). It would be easy to pass this game off as slightly amateurish if you didn't spend enough time with it.

But if you take the time to sit down and play a few puzzles, you'll realize one thing rather quickly: These puzzles can be deviously difficult. With so few clues to help you out, you'll most likely start to solve these puzzles by eliminating many possibilities before you can confidently fill in a single cell. Fortunately, you can use the pencil feature to write in potential answers, or even print out puzzles if you prefer to work them out on paper.

If you're willing to look past the less-than-appealing design, Futoshiki is still a clever puzzle that should please any heavy-duty logic puzzler. If you think you're ready for something that's perhaps a bit trickier than the standard Sudoku but still a smidge easier than crocobirdman wrangling, be sure to give Futoshiki a try. The challenge may be greater than you think!

Play Futoshiki


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Rating: 4.6/5 (164 votes)
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joyeHummingbird MindYou're in front of the computer. You should be working right now. But there's dishes in the sink, maybe you should wash them. Hmm, has the mail come yet? And you're so tired, even the desk is looking comfy... Sound familiar? I'm guessing a sizable portion of the JIG community (your humble reviewer included) will recognize an aspect of themselves in Hummingbird Mind, a brief visual novel by Cardboard Computer about distractions and daydreams. You'll have to make your way through the abstract narrative and find equally abstract solutions to the distractions that pop up if you want to succeed.

Hummingbird Mind plays a bit like an old-fashioned "Choose Your Own Adventure" novel. Each scene presents you with a piece of narrative, and usually several options to choose from to help you navigate or decide what to do next. Just click to make your choice. Lather, rinse, repeat... hey, speaking of which, do you maybe need a shower too? Add that to the list. Right after "find the list". There's no way to lose, and while reason will get you there faster, you could conceivably brute force your way through every dialogue choice and get to the ending that way. However, you'd be missing out on the real point of the game, which isn't to provide a challenge for you to beat, but rather to give you a new perspective.

Many of you probably found your way to this review because you are checking your RSS feed (or Facebook wall, or Twitter or ad nauseum) instead of working on that thing that you are supposed to be doing right now. Don't look so sheepish! I'm not here to judge, and more importantly, neither is Hummingbird Mind. The premise of "you are distracted and you must eliminate the distractions to get to work" is a plot that is very common in creative works such as games, probably because so many creators are freelancers. Write/program what you know, right? Many of these games treat distraction as "The Enemy". Hummingbird Mind doesn't. On the contrary, Hummingbird Mind seems to want you to cuddle up to your distractions and have a big ol' kumbayah circle with them. It's a refreshing and stress-relieving take, and since the game will only take you 15 minutes to play through to the end, this is a distraction that you can allow yourself even if the deadline is dire.

Whoa, meta.

Play Hummingbird Mind


  • Currently 3.7/5
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Rating: 3.7/5 (67 votes)
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DoraWrath of Anubis 2I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "Wrath of Anubis was great, but just not wrathy enough for me. I would have preferred it to be wrathier." JFlashGaming hears and obeys, foolish mortal! Anubis has risen again, and he hungers for your tender extra lives! Good thing you have an unlimited supply of them. Wrath of Anubis 2 is another dose of the tomb-crawling retro platforming you either love or hate, with all new levels to conquer, and all new levels to die repeatedly on. Collect treasure chests to unlock new levels, but don't get greedy. Mummies lie in wait for those who hunt down extra treasure. And bats. And spike traps. And saw blades. And... you know what? Just get used to death. Quickly.

Control is the same as before. Use the [arrow] keys to move, pressing [up] to go through doors, and [down] to crouch or interact. If you press the [spacebar], you'll jump, and if you press it again it midair, you'll double-jump. You can slide down or jump off a wall by pressing the [arrow] keys against it while you're in midair. There is no pause button, so presume that if the phone rings during a particularly finicky bit of jumping you're about to hate whoever's calling forever. There are, however, "safe" places throughout each level, which are merely spots where nothing will come after you. When you find one, take your time and shake out the tension; death in Wrath of Anubis is a single hit from an enemy or the environment and will send you all the way back to the last door you came through, undoing all your progress to that point.

Even the sort of person who enjoys it (as I did) is going to hate it a little (as I do). Wrath of Anubis 2 has the sort of ridiculously twitchy gameplay that is as addictive as it is difficult; although dying may be frustrating, each time you play you get a little farther, and a little better. (Yeah, I'll give you whoops!, death-text, just you wait.) It's a little bit Spelunky, and a little bit Lester the Unlikely and a lot bit absolutely ridiculous level design. Seeing how incredibly elaborate the levels get the farther you go is both fun and funny, and nailing the timing to sail through it all is that much more satisfying. If that sounds good to you, or if you're the sort of person who loves those deliberately soul-crushing Mario Rom Hacks, then have at 'er. Just don't expect a "Let's Play" video from me on this one. The language would be somewhat... less than poetic.

Play Wrath of Anubis 2


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Rating: 3.4/5 (182 votes)
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AdamBWorm FoodWorm Food is the latest game in the Nitrome library. It is full of the usual arcade fuelled goodness that we've come to expect from the team: snazzy music, pixelart and yes, it even includes using the [arrow] keys [up/down] for speed [left/right] for direction, to control a gigantic subterranean beast with an insatiable appetite whose only power is its ability to leap powerfully from the earth in order to devour several villages and even armies worth of unsuspecting tribesmen.

Wait, what? Yes folks, it does, but before we get too far into this: This game is a lot like indie darling Death Worm. Now that we've all made that observation, let's move on. The basic premise is as follows: You're a hungry worm, last of its species. You need to eat to survive, however the neighboring snacks... I mean, villagers, need to not be eaten in order to survive. Somewhere between these opposing points of view is where you come into things. As you devour the masses one at a time, they become more adept at warding you off. Such defenses they develop over the course of the games 20 levels are arrowmen, mines, concrete spikes, impassable walls (both buried and on terra firma) and some sort of flying eagle device which looks really cool when you eat one.

As with most of Nitrome's games, there are unlockable levels which can be accessed by chomping enough tribespeople in each of the prior levels during the time limits provided. Unfortunately, the standard formula doesn't seem to sit well with this game. Having the worm arbitrarily die after a time period seems like a cheat, especially when paired with some of the bizarre choices in terms of level design (level eight, I'm looking at you). Coupling this with the on-again off-again appearance of the enemies and the game just doesn't come off as having a natural flow to it from start to finish. Which is a shame, because there is a lot to like in this offering as well.

All in all, it's a Nitrome game. That kind of speaks for itself. The pixel art is seamless and vibrant and the music lends itself to the fun side of the gameplay. Whether you were a fan of the original Death Worm or are happening upon controlling a monstrous oligochaeta for the first time, rest assured that what you're about to play is pure Nitrome in its classic form.

Play Worm Food

Thanks to Bob, Nick, Meester, Repairmanman, Funlerz, Cathy, Waggles, Joey, Nautilus199, Spikey and Tobie for sending this one in!


  • Currently 3.7/5
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Rating: 3.7/5 (59 votes)
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AdamCnumz_title.pngAs soon as I saw the title and before I clicked the Play button, I predicted that Numz, a new puzzle game from Games Northwest, would be adorable. I predicted this because it has an unnecessary "z" in its title and kind of sounds like "nom," the familiar sound made by cartoon characters during meal time (see: omnomnom). Lo and behold, my powers of prognostication were vindicated once again. It's totally adorable, and it's a nice little distraction from an ordinary day.

Similar to Orbox and RoadBlocks in gameplay, Numz follows a little purple box-shaped cat (otherwise unnamed, here referred to as Numz) as she journeys through a world riddled with warp points, keys, and golden fish. Tap the desired [arrow] key once in the direction you want to move little purple Numz and watch her go.

Dangers abound, for fate has cursed the poor feline to move in only one direction at a time and infinitely in that direction until she collides with an object. The bees that populate this bi-planar world will cause instant death, restarting Numz at the beginning of the level and, worst of all, stripping her of any golden fish she might have collected on that level! Actually, that's not really THAT big of a deal, as the fish only provide points and are not necessary to open the doors to the next level. You probably will wind up collecting a lot of them, though, since they are typically along the path to the exit.

Numz's cute pixel graphics, retro soundtrack, and smooth feel are enough to win most puzzle fans over. You might appreciate the small amount of backtracking necessary in the game as it lends itself to exploration. Unlike Orbox B, it's a lot harder to lock yourself into an unsolvable position, particularly in later levels, so Numz has a more relaxed feel. Of course, it's quite short, and I would have appreciated a little more innovation. Still, Numz is tailored to satisfy your mid-morning puzzle jones. So...go ahead and nomz on some golden fish.

Play Numz


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Mobile Monday

JohnBHuman beings love puzzles. This was proven eons ago when man first drew grids in the sand and placed various arrangements of four stones together as he gradually moved them downwards and removed them from the dirt when they formed a horizontal line. What, did you think Tetris was a modern invention? This week's Mobile Monday is stacked with three puzzle games for the Android platform. Download 'em, play 'em, and love 'em for a very long time, as each one's got a ton of content to sap your brain for all it's worth.

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.

everlands.jpgEverlands - A beautiful puzzle game that should be familiar to anyone who has played the in-game card game found in Final Fantasy 8. The goal is to own more than half the animals on the screen at the end of the battle. Each animal hex has attack sides, health and attack values shown on the face. Place tiles to emphasize their strengths and tuck their weak points safely in the corner. At the end of the round, you want to own more tiles than your opponent. The description sounds awkward, but the game plays as smooth as butter, with great artwork and the touch screen operating all actions. Scan the QR code on the left for the full version, the one on the right for Everlands Lite.

puzzleattack.gifPuzzle Attack - Panel de Pon (a.k.a. Tetris Attack a.k.a. Puzzle League) is one of the darling subgenres in the puzzle gaming field. Puzzle Attack is a no-frills Android adaptation of that game. Tap and slide blocks left or right to form matching groups of three or more squares. Clear the screen without using all your moves by setting up chain reactions that clear themselves. Use your phone's [back] button to undo moves, allowing you to experiment without penalty. Three difficulty levels, each with over 200 puzzles, and an infinite mode should keep you scratching your head for a very long time. And using your phone for something other than phone calls.

simontathamandroid.gifSimon Tatham's Portable Puzzle Collection - One of the favorite logic puzzle collections of freeware gamers (we featured the Mac/Windows/Linux version a few years ago), this Android port by Chris Boyle features 32 different puzzles, each with its own simple interface and nearly-limitless set of levels. Everything from Minesweeper to samegame, picross, tents, towers, twiddle, and loads of other numbers games you might not even recognize but will probably love. It's hard to beat a collection like this, and it's also hard to beat the price of free.

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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Deadly Sin 2: Shining Faith

DoraDeadly Sin 2: Shining Faith is a role-playing game that begins by throwing you into the shoes of Carrion, a soldier in the Imperial Army who's currently busy trying to keep enemy forces at bay so that the civilians in a castle under siege can safely escape. How did he get there? How much do you have to hate your kid to name him "Carrion"? Who are the people helping him? Well, after a dramatic escape (maybe), you'll get a chance to find out, as the story jumps backwards in time and things begin the good ol' fashioned way; with a whole lot of monsters, treasure, and side-quests. And if you didn't play the original Deadly Sin, soothe your fretful brow, since the stories are completely separate.

Deadly Sin 2: Shining FaithBattle is (you guessed it) turn-based, albeit with a few additions. During battle, you can take as long as you want to decide what each character does, and a handy sidebar on the right of the screen shows you the order in which everyone (including enemies) will attack, letting you plan your method of attack somewhat. Which you'll want to do, since the game makes use of a "threat" system; simply put, if you keep attacking with one character over and over, and that character keeps killing enemies left and right, their "threat" rating goes up, and you'll find that they'll become the focus of most enemy attacks. Get sick of battling? Then track down the "monster nodes" in each area and just shut them off.

When your party members level up after gaining enough experience, stats like strength increase automatically, but you can manually assign skill points via the game's menu. Each character comes with a unique set of skills, and putting points in them not only unlocks them, but makes them more effective. Not enough customisation for you? Then give augmenting a try, which allows you to attach certain items to your weapons and armor for various benefits. If all this sounds confusing to you, don't worry; shortly after the game begins you'll gain access to a tutorial house that can explain everything in depth.

Analysis: Chances are you took one look at the screenshots and the genre and formed your own opinion; games made in the style of Japanese RPGs are a love-it-or-hate-it breed, and they're either your "thing", or they set your teeth on edge. Deadly Sin 2: Shining Faith is "just" a turn-based RPG, sure, but it's a very well made one, and if you enjoy the genre you'll find a lot to like here. You'll explore a large world with a wide cast of characters, solve problems big and small, and experience angst by the bucketload. (It isn't an RPG unless someone has daddy issues.) But it's all so well done, packaged in a beautiful design with a rich soundtrack.

Deadly Sin 2: Shining FaithYou can expect to find a few simple puzzles in the dungeons you'll traverse, but this ain't Brain Lord. Much more emphasis is placed on trouncing monsters and advancing the plot. Story-wise, the game is definitely enjoyable, as long as you don't expect or need it to blow your mind. Yes, of course there are going to be familiar character archetypes, and you can expect crosses and double-crosses and noble sacrifices. In general, the plot is well thought out and the writing is mostly good, despite a frustrating tendency early on for characters to woodenly deliver chunks of exposition for the player's benefit.

But despite all the extra accoutrements added to the battle system, the game isn't actually as complicated as it seems. Shining Faith is exceptionally generous with loot, chucking multiple treasure chests at you at a time, and it's ridiculously easy to both level up and equip yourself with all the best items as a result. Pick the right support skills and you'll probably only rarely need to purchase healing items too, since you trip over those every time you turn around. Look, I know it's important to make games accessible to everyone, but should you at least feel like you have to sing for your supper a tiny bit? As a result, what you wind up with is a queer sort of RPG that on the surface contains enough extra gameplay bells and whistles to mildly intimidate newcomers to the genre, but also might be a bit too easy for veterans.

Is it worth the price tag? Well, personally, I say yes. While it doesn't do much to shake up the genre, I've never believed that you have to reinvent the wheel to have a good time. Deadly Sin 2: Shining Faith is incredibly well-made and offers a lot of play time for your buck. The 30+ hour playtime promise might be a bit of an overestimate for most players unless you're the sort who feels the need to max out every skill and track down every treasure chest, but you can still expect to be involved for a good long while.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


(9 votes) *Average rating will show after 20 votes
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Samantha Swift and the Fountains of Fate

JohnBMarking the fourth game in the series, Samantha Swift and the Fountains of Fate starts off with our tenacious heroine out-surfing the bad guys over some serious waves. This girl never rests, not even between sequels! Still on the trail of Cortez, Samantha embarks upon a quest to recover the Emerald of Judgement, an artifact that may unlock the secrets of the Fountain of Youth!

samanthaswiftfountains.jpgIn another small step away from the series' original adventure/hidden object roots, Fountains of Fate focuses more on object finding than puzzle solving. Each scene is filled with items stashed in clever (and not-so-clever) locations, from camouflage knives attached to huts to coins hidden amongst other round things. Check the list at the bottom of the screen, find the items, and give them a click. Once you complete one set of items another one appears, continuing the hunt for another round on the same screen.

Samantha Swift and the Fountains of Fate introduces blue and green items that are a little more involved that just "find and click". Green items in your list can be found on the screen, but you have to interact with the environment first. Slide a stone to the side or tip the cannon over, your item is there, it just can't be seen. The cursor will change when you're over an area that can be interacted with. Once you nab a green item it stays in your inventory, ready to help you find the even more hidden blue objects.

When an item is marked in blue on your list, you'll have to solve a puzzle to find it. Some of these are pretty abstract, while others make complete logical sense. Either way, areas you can interact with will trigger a cursor change when you hover over them, so finding them is a matter of sweeping the mouse back and forth a bit.

You'll also be happy to know that hints are generous and useful, recharging at a fast rate and finding only the items you want it to find. Samantha's item scanner is also back, allowing you to view a silhouette of any item simply by clicking on it in the list. Frequent mis-clicks result in this scanner falling inactive for a few moments, so use your eyes to find, not your cursor!

samanthaswiftfountains2.jpgAnalysis: Whenever a new Samantha Swift game is released, hidden object/adventure fans rightfully get excited. The series made its debut back in 2008 with a grand art style and a tasty combination of genres with an almost perfect balance. Since then, the series has slowly shifted away from the adventure side of things, focusing more on hidden objects while keeping the same high level of detail and production values intact.

Mini-games are less frequent in Fountains of Fate, which isn't really a good or a bad thing. But replay value is better, as now there are special Swift birds to find in each level to unlock the unlimited play mode. They're generally easy to find, you'll probably nab them all your first time through, but it's worth it! You'll also uncover a few trophies while you play, little achievement-like bonuses for doing interesting and challenging things during the game.

Fans of the Samantha Swift series are in for both a good time and a bit of disappointment. You'll feel like one of the elite few when you can follow the story and recognize the characters right off the bat, as Fountains of Fate doesn't bother with introductions or lengthy explanations for series foals.

On the other hand, Fountains of Fate continues the sad tradition of moving away from what originally made the series so great. You won't find as many puzzles or as much adventure in this installment, which is why many of us fell in love with Samantha in the first place. There's still a great game to be had, one that's well-made and entertaining on many levels, so don't dismiss it until you've tried it.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


(12 votes) *Average rating will show after 20 votes
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Build-a-lot: The Elizabethan Era

JohnBBuild-a-lot is back with a newly-themed release that takes us all the way back to the time of Shakespeare. Build-a-lot: The Elizabethan Era is more of the same building/management sim we've grown to love, only this time there's a distinct 1500s England slant. Gone are fancy upgrades, modern conveniences, and indoor plumbing. In are pubs, apothecaries, outhouses, and wall sconces. That's right, sconces!

buildalotelizabethan.jpgThe basic idea is warmly the same as before: improve each town you visit by fixing up run-down buildings, buying up properties and placing new, upgraded houses and other structures in their stead. Each level comes with a set of objectives visible from the menu at the bottom. Travel through England and spruce up Norwich, Dover, London and more, each more challenging (and demanding) than the last.

Your only real concerns in Build-a-lot are materials, workers, cash, and time. Money is collected in the form of rent every game day, and you'll use it to order materials so you can create new buildings and upgrade existing ones. Workers limit how many tasks you can complete at once, so if you've got the cash, hiring a few extra hands helps speed things along. Everything needs to be completed before the timer at the top left corner of the screen empties, but this is rarely a problem until later on.

Once the game gets moving, you'll gain access to new things to build, such as farms, service buildings, theaters, workshops, quarries, and the like. These contribute to the town's overall happiness or help you out in the management department, bringing in more cash for you to throw around like a rich property owner.

buildalotelizabethan2.jpgAnalysis: The Build-a-lot series has been around for some time, and it's established itself as a reliable place to go for solid simulation entertainment. We never thought flipping property would be entertaining, but Build-a-lot proved us wrong and has done so across nearly half a dozen installments.

The Elizabethan Era offers more of the same, which is always nice, and adds a dollop of flavoring to the pot with its new visual style. Buildings, upgrades, mayors and the like still perform the same function, but seeing them set in period-specific locations is, admittedly, something of a treat.

If you're anything of a history buff and know your two shillings worth about the actual Elizabethan Era, try not to wince too much at the game, especially in the dialogue department. Hipsoft obviously wasn't going for accuracy, as the characters spit out text that reads like a child pretending to be Shakespeare. Take a deep breath and realize it's all just part of the show.

Apart from its small, stiff animations and hokey dialogue, Build-a-lot: The Elizabethan Era cranks out yet another superb building/simulation game. Thou shalt surely be the envy of the entire town with these new mouldings!

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


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Weekend Download

JohnBA lot of indie games have rolled off the presses in the past week, including several as entries in the TIGSource "A Game By Its Cover" competition (which ends today). We've featured one of these games below, but look for more in the weeks to come!

trickytruck.jpgTricky Truck (Windows, 19.2MB, free) - From the creator of Sumotori Dreams, the game about sumo wrestlers shoving each other, comes a game about parking a truck loaded with a bunch of stuff. Move the truck around each small arena, careful not to tip over, and make it to the marked goal safely. As anyone who has played Sumotori Dreams knows, this is an exercise in patience, precision, and timing, not beginner's luck. Those trucks are are tipsy.

mindjolt.gifMind Jolt (Windows, 5.8MB, free) - Built as a tribute to Mind Shock, Mind Jolt is an arena shmup that manages to be intense while staying accessible to a wide variety of players. Much less twitch-action reflex dodging than most shooters, much more intelligent moving, firing, and observing enemy patterns.

themoonkeeper.gifThe Moonkeeper (Windows, 1.4MB, free) - A very, very old-school exploration platformer that tries to make everything as retro as possible. But, you know, that's kinda awesome. Our moon base has been infested by aliens, so you must find and destroy their gestation pods. Work through a series of interconnected passageways as you hunt for keys, press switches, make perilous jumps, and nab new items to help take care of the strange enemies.

dotordertie.gifD.O.T.: Dot Order Tie (Windows, 24.5MB, free) - An entry in the TIGSource A Game By Its Cover Competition, DOT is a top-down maze-like game of exploration. It's one of the few games you'll actually need to read the instruction manual for, but the basic gist of things is you're trying to collect 999 dots, and in order to get them, you'll need to find hidden passageways and decipher codes for a number of doors. Very interesting puzzle mechanics, and the story is so great you have to read it to believe it.

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 (25 votes)
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Redemption Cemetery: Curse of the Raven

DoraAfter a car crash one night, you regain consciousness in a strange cemetery that doesn't seem to want to let you go. But the spirits are restless, and if you can help the disquiet souls that linger around the nearby graves, you just might find a way to escape Redemption Cemetery: Curse of the Raven, the new point-and-click, hidden-object hybrid from ERS Game Studios.

Redemption Cemetery: Curse of the RavenIf you're easily frightened, well... don't be. Ghosts, it turns out, are pretty whiny, and are less about haunting you and more about, "Waaaah, I'm dis corporeal," or "Waaaah you need to rescue my child who I could not save in life" or "Waaaaah I was murdered". Man, we've got problems too, okay?! I missed Gordon Ramsay on TV last night, how do you think I feel? But if you want to escape back to your normal fleshy life, you'll have to attend to their requests by delving into their pasts. There are three ghosts lingering within the cemetery that need your help, and you can bet their problems are a bit more complex than setting their DVR or walking their dog.

Gameplay is your standard pointy-clicky affair, using the mouse to interact. The cursor will change whenever you move over certain places; an arrow means you can navigate to a new area, a magnifying glass means you can zoom in, and a skeleton hand means the cruel inevitability of life has finally caught up with you and you've lost the game. No, just kidding; the hand means you can pick whatever it is up. Useable items appear in your inventory at the bottom of the screen, and you can click to pick them up and use them. Hidden-object scenes can be found by keeping your eyes peeled for cascades of sparkles, and certain interactive areas will gleam periodically to catch your attention.

Analysis: Clearly someone in the pantheon of hidden object games lately has our number. We've seen a veritable flood of comparatively morbid and spooky titles recently. If the game looks and sounds a bit familiar, it's probably because you've played the PuppetShow games, which were made by the same developer. Redemption Cemetery shares the same high production values, with beautifully drawn scenes and an appealing soundtrack, peppered with atmospheric bits of ambient noise. Actually, I was mildly impressed when at one point, a whispery voice seemed to be saying "faaaaan beeeeelt", which was in fact something I needed to use, but after a closer listen it's just saying "eeeee-vil". Same difference.

Redemption Cemetery: Curse of the RavenI enjoyed Curse of the Raven; the environments are interesting, the art is beautiful, and the premise of helping lost spirits is a solid one. But it just feels like it would have been so much better without all the frustrating and tedious back-tracking and scene repetitions it makes you go through. It's not a particularly difficult game, but you just really get the sense that certain scenarios and puzzles are strung out and made more complicated than they had to be just for the sake of stretching the gameplay. I know a big source of discontent has been the unfortunate rise of "ever-shrinking gameplay", but shouldn't a game be long because the strong is interesting and involved rather than because you had to collect a screw, a candle, an albino bumblebee and a five-legged puppy just to open a locked drawer?

As it stands, you can probably expect to spend upwards of four hours on the game, more or less depending on what the kids call skillz. If you've been wanting a game to keep you busy for a while, and tales of ghosts delight you, then Redemption Cemetery: Curse of the Raven will make for a satisfying evening or two of spiritual problem solving. It's like Quantum Leap, only with less Scott Bakula, and more rooting through messy bedrooms.

A Collector's Edition is also available. It contains a bonus story that takes place immediately after your escape that will probably add around another hour or so to your play time, and adds some context to the rest of the game. Also included are wallpapers, soundtrack, strategy guide, and more. Remember that Big Fish Game Club Members pay only $13.99 for Collector's Editions (or 2 club credits), and collector's editions count 3 card punches of 6 total needed for a free game.

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

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


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Rating: 3.4/5 (98 votes)
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JamesBig Pixel ZombiesMan, I hate dogs. Little dogs. Little zombie dogs. Little zombie dogs that come nipping at you while you are unleashing your fury upon much larger zombies. Oh, how these little zombie dogs have cost me. Because when the horde is upon you, you are left with little room for error. Thankfully you can increase your odds with a little help. Like Steak. And hand grenades. And dual shotguns. And a dog with a gun strapped to its back. That's a dog I love. This is Big Pixel Zombies.

You'll find no argument here that there are already plenty of games where you run around from a top-down perspective and mow down the walking dead. Box Head and Zombie Horde are two fine examples, not to mention the excellent iOs game Minigore. And I see no reason to argue that Big Pixel Zombies doesn't have a more-than-passing resemblance to the last game, nor that it is really any different to other games in the genre. Well, I would, but just for the sake of seeing you get red-faced with anger. Then I would ask: "Need to blow off some steam?"

Big Pixel ZombiesBig Pixel Zombies is a perfect way to do that. You are stuck in some town square and cube-shaped zombies are stumbling in for the kill. You have to hold them at bay with your firepower (either though a [WASD] and mouse control scheme or just the mouse; but the former is arguably the better method). To help even things out are three shops in the town: Guns, Kennels and a Butchery. The butchery supplies meat, which serves to distract the zombies. Gun, as you can deduce, carry weapons and armor. The Kennels supply different types of dogs that have guns on them. Think of the dogs as an invulnerable sidekick. Kills are currency, so the more you kill, the more you can buy. The square is also littered with vehicles, which can serve as shields, bottlenecks and, if destroyed, provide health.

Dying does not mean death. The game has a series of difficulty levels to mark your progress; die and you respawn at the start of the last notch, your kills and gear intact, but your score nullified. On the one hand this makes the game a tad easy and a little bit of a grind fest, as you can just keep dying and dying, racking up kills until you can afford adequate firepower. The alternative approach is to stay alive as long as possible and get a high score that you are proud to submit.

There's no pretending that this hasn't been done before or that Big Pixel Zombies won't get tired after an hour or so. The limited upgrades also makes this a pretty short experience. But if you have some late-afternoon steam that needs blowing off, a game with an armed dog as your buddy is the place to go.

Play Big Pixel Zombies


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Link Dump Fridays

DoraYou've probably been too busy this week playing the entries for CGDC 8 for anything else, but right now you BELONG TO ME.... I, uh. I don't actually have any plans for you. This is why I flunked out of Super Villain School. I even forgot to set up the tank with ill-tempered sea bass to lower you into. What I do have is an odd array of flash games from around the 'net, including platforming, escaping, brawling, and Castle Picklehands. Really, isn't that just as good as sea bass anyway?

  • The Legend of the CheetocornThe Legend of the Cheetocorn - [Parental Warning: May not be entirely safe for children due to some mildly suggestive dialogue.] This is one of those times where I suspect someone out there is just trying to out-weird me. You play as Michael, who decides to defeat boredom with Cheetos, and thus finds himself sucked into a wormhole and transported to the magical land of Delaware where he sprouts a glorious mane of hair and rides the wondrous Cheetocorn. The platforming is actually pretty standard, but the game stands out because of its sheer strangeness. I can't remember the last time I was rewarded with an awkward massage. Maybe if it happened more often, I'd use my powers for good rather than evil.
  • Dino StrikeDino Strike - Who doesn't love a side-scrolling brawler? Who wouldn't love it even more if it involved beating up robotically enhanced dinosaurs to rescue them and make them fight at your side? Why, I imagine such a person as the kind that didn't like a game involving a good ol' fashioned dinosaur punch-up must be a no-good, dirty rotten... kitten-hater! And you're not a kitten-hater... are you? The gameplay here is pretty arcade standard, lifted straight from the days of Sega Genesis, but you can't tell me you've never wanted to punch out a triceratops.
  • Deep DiverDeep Diver - Have you ever wanted to be Steve Zissou? Of course you have. We all have. But you can't. But you can put on your red beanie and play this underwater exploration game where you try to find all the collectibles on every map without running out of air. The ending is rather unsatisfying, and tracking down treasure chests may not be quite as thrilling as tracking down the jaguar shark, but it's definitely pretty enjoyable while it lasts.
  • Cloud Powered JetpackCloud Powered Jetpack! - Sometimes I don't love games because they're beautiful or deep or challenging. Sometimes I just love them because they make me smile, and something about this silly, cheerful little typing game does just that. You know, when I don't want to bite the keyboard in half and spew the keys machine-gun style at the monitor. The idea is you fly your jetpack with the [arrow] keys, land on clouds, and then type out the proper word to refuel. Then, you take off before the bottom of the screen catches up with you. Theoretically. It's frustrating and fairly repetitive, but that little rug-rat is just so darned adorable.
  • Escape From the Haunted HouseEscape From the Haunted House - Cats hate getting wet enough that they'll even take refuge in a haunted house! I mean, apparently. Usually when my cats get wet they just glare at me, their eyes glowing with a baleful light, but I'm sure if a haunted house were nearby they'd be all for it. This point-and-click escape game is weird and silly, but it's also pretty cute, too.

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Rating: 4.6/5 (90 votes)
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Babylon Sticks: Space Dimensions 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 (246 votes)
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DoraFog Fall 3What are your plans for the end of the world? Unless they include "tasting good when rations get scarce" or "crying in the corner because someone stole your manga collection", you might want to brush up on your scrounging skills and play the latest installment in the post-apocalyptic point-and-click adventure series from Pastel Games; The Fog Fall 3. Following the events of the first and second installments, your journey hits a rather baffling roadblock that leaves you stranded in the middle of nowhere. You might be able to finally reach your destination if you're willing to do some people a few favours... but who can you trust in the wasteland? Then again, do you really have a choice? Just click the screen to interact with people and items, and watch for the changing arrow to indicate a new place to move to. The game autosaves for you, so you can come back to your journey at any time.

Play the entire Fog Fall series:
The Fog Fall 1The Fog Fall 2The Fog Fall 3The Fog Fall 4

Navigation can still be mildly frustrating, since it can be so oddly roundabout at times that getting yourself properly oriented is a challenge. The artwork is appealingly sketchy and suits the atmosphere well, but it also rarely provides indication as to what part of the screen is interactive and what isn't, leaving you to run your cursor around looking for hotspots you might have missed. Since so much of the gameplay revolves around exploring your environment and scavenging what you can from the surrounding area, you'll really need to keep an eye out for suspicious places and useful bits and pieces.

But where the game absolutely excels its atmosphere. The world is a harsh, gloomy place, and the old buildings you explore feel ruined and desolate in a way that can make you tense even when there isn't any danger around. The game does allow you a little bit of freedom in how you complete it, but it also throws up a big, fat "to be continued" at the end, so don't expect to find the answers to all your questions. After all, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a bathtub full of irradiated deer meat. Or... something like that. Man I'm profound!

Play The Fog Fall 3


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Rating: 4.6/5 (245 votes)
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DoraMoonster SafeMoonster Safe, by the fine chaps at Pencilkids, is a point-and-click puzzle game involving moonsters. Which are monsters. Only, y'know. From the moon. Anyway, these strangely adorable little beastoids are currently locked away in safes, and it's up to you to figure out how to unlock them and set the moonsters free. Just point and click to interact with the environment, looking for clues and trying to figure out the method for opening each safe; the cursor will turn to a hand when you can manipulate something. Occasionally you'll have to use logic. Occasionally you'll have to use an axe. Hey, sometimes you've got to smash a few electrical panels to make an omelet. Or, um. Something.

As with most Pencilkids games, the difficulty isn't very high; each stage is only a one-room puzzle, and the answer is almost always staring you right in the face the entire time. The downside is that a good chunk of the levels require disappointingly little thought and can be solved with random clicking. Admittedly, this game doesn't exactly feel like it was aimed at someone my age in terms of challenge... which is to say, someone old enough to be allowed to cross the street without telling an adult.

But regardless of difficulty, Moonster Safe still continues the Pencilkids tradition of fun, silly games designed to keep you busy just long enough to put a smile on your face. The game has 21 stages, with four "bonus" stages that unlock as you play, but you'll probably still be done long before your boss leans over your stereotypical cubical and tells you to get back to work. Now get cracking!

Play Moonster Safe


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Rating: 4.6/5 (185 votes)
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Kyletowerofheaven.gif"Long is the way, and hard, that out of Hell leads up to Light," is not just a great movie quote from a modern classic thriller (and, okay, a perfectly serviceable line from some poet named Milton), but it's also a fairly apt description of Tower of Heaven, a very challenging platform game from Askiisoft. If you're suffering from deja vu, it might be because we originally featured Tower of Heaven last year as a download, but now it's been ported to flash so you can torture yourselves with it just about anywhere you can hop on the net.

You play "you"... granted a dark green version of you with an enormous head and a strange little antenna thing on top, but it's still you. And you have decided to ascend the Tower of Heaven, ostensibly to talk to some deity or another, but I suppose it's just as feasible you've opted to make the climb because you're bored, or procrastinating on folding that big pile of laundry. In any case, as soon as you enter the tower you are greeted by a disembodied voice that welcomes you whilst at the same time warning you of the dangers that lie in wait.

To make your climb you'll use either the [arrow] keys or the [WASD] keys to move about, jump, forward dialogue, and either [down] or [S] will let you walk through doorways. Also note that you can save your game by opening up a mid game menu screen with the [ESC] key. You do not want to walk away from this game without properly saving first. Trust me on this.

But wait, there's a twist. You see, our invisible host soon grows wary of how easily we traverse his tower. As though spikes popping out of the ground without warning and whirring saw blades of death weren't enough, the host will periodically impose laws to make the road ahead even more challenging. Laws like no walking left or no touching blocks from the sides are particularly fun. And by fun I do mean throw your laptop out the window frustrating. May you be blessed enough to ascend the tower before pummeling your keyboard into a fine powder.

TowerOfHeaven.gifAnalysis: From the spinach green color palette to the chiptune soundtrack to the big chunky pixels, Tower of Heaven is so reminiscent of the classic Nintendo Game Boy you can almost feel the eleven ounce plastic brick in your hands as you play. Indeed, it even feels like a Game Boy game which can be both a blessing and a curse.

Beyond the extremely nostalgic qualities of Tower of Heaven, the most striking aspect of this game is that it's hard, very hard, but in a unique and extremely interesting way. The laws that are periodically imposed upon you are creative and force you to look at levels in ways that you might otherwise overlook without the seemingly insane restrictions. Getting chased from the right by a saw blade becomes all the more challenging when you can't actually run left, just as a bunch of clustered blocks together looks outright perilous when you can no longer touch them from the sides. In this way, Tower of Heaven adds a puzzle aspect to the mix. One gets the impression that Tower would still be far from a cake walk without the laws, but trying to play with them will most definitely test both your platforming and thinking skills..

The controls are respectable. Perhaps they could be a little tighter in the jumping, and looser in the running; everyone has their own preferences, of course. There are plenty of concessions made to ease the blow of how hard Tower is; infinite lives, relatively short levels and a save option all are blessings to be counted especially once the difficulty ramps up. But the fact of the matter is that this is still a tough game that may turn off less nimble gamers. Also, it's actually not all that long. The high difficulty is what really gives this game its length so those who are really good at platform games shouldn't expect to get too much game play out of this title.

Regardless of whether Tower of Heaven is too hard and unbeatable, too easy and too short, or just right, it is most definitely worthy of praise. Askiisoft melds good production values, deep nostalgia, and a unique concept into a challenging yet rewarding platform game.

Play Tower of Heaven


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Rating: 4.3/5 (136 votes)
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Mikecolortheory.gifColor theory, sayeth Wikipedia, is "a body of practical guidance to color mixing and the visual impacts of specific color combinations." Color Theory, by Joseph Cox (Groovemastercox), is a puzzle platformer where you play a color-shifting pixel-man whose hue lets him pass through similarly colored obstacles. Both teach similar lessons: You know that red and green make yellow, green and blue make cyan, and blue and red make magenta, don't you? You should, if you want to master Color Theory.

All you need are the [arrow] keys to move and jump around. Touching a colored plus sign repaints your dude, allowing him to pass through platforms and spikes of the same color. Using your newfound knowledge of color theory, you will learn that certain colored signs make more than one color platform passable: a yellow sign makes red and green passable, for example. You can only pass through one color, or set of colors, at a time, so there will always be some colored block that is stable. Spikes, gravity-switching, and some Space Invaders-style bad guys round out the repertoire of tricks and obstacles to contend with. Jump, change colors, and try to make it to the magical, glowing white nimbus at the end of each level.

The quasi-retro design is perhaps a little plain, but along with the quirky electronic soundtrack, it gives Color Theory a style of its own. The puzzles are solid, clever, and at 30 levels, are a good showcase for a nifty mechanic. Some puzzlers may resent the twitchy, reflex-based platforming that certain levels require, but others will enjoy the blend of puzzles and arcade action. All in all, it's the best RGB-CYM puzzle platformer that this reviewer expects to play in some time.

Play Color Theory


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Rating: 3.7/5 (104 votes)
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joyePinball AdventureJourney into the darkest dungeons in search of monsters, bosses, treasure, and.. clinky tinkly sound effects? Yes, this is The Pinball Adventure, a pinball game with an RPG theme that wins today's prize for unlikeliest genre crossover. Made by Michael Gribbin (maker of Pyro) and David Robinson, the game pits your tiny white ball and flipper manipulation skills against the pixel monstrosities of Hades itself. Better bring some extra quarters.

Controls are pretty much what you'd expect for pinball: [left arrow] or [W] for the left flipper, [right arrow] or [D] for right flipper, [down arrow] or [S] to control the plunger. [Space] pauses. Your aim, of course, is to score as many points as possible. The board is on the left, containing clusters of enemies and other areas such as ball locks. As you kill clusters of enemies, different enemy groups may spawn, and once you have cleared a certain number of waves (counted in the center in the board) a mini-boss will appear. Keep going, and you may even get to fight a real boss. On the right side of the screen you can check on current bounties, which are random and include quests such as killing 20 skulls or finding a path to the treasure chest.

The Pinball Adventure's developers consider it to be more of a proof of concept than a full-blown game, and they are actively seeking ideas for improvements and a sequel. The most glaring issue is probably the lack of tilt. It would be great to see them expand the RPG elements into an all-out RPG/pinball hybrid, perhaps by gaining levels and abilities through enemy killing, giving enemies the ability to attack your ball, or even a storyline. I for one am eager to hear the legend of Ballie, the little Spheroid that could. In the meantime, The Pinball Adventure is a brief but fun coffee break game.

Play The Pinball Adventure

Thanks to Michele for sending this one in!


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Rating: 4.1/5 (128 votes)
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AdamCadamc_onestepback_mainscreen.pngEver felt like you were running away from your past? Do your actions, recent or distant, come back to haunt you? Have you recently been trapped in a room with ethereal visages of your immediate past tracking your heels like phantasmal clones threatening to drag you back from whence you came? Er... sorry, that last one probably isn't as common an experience, but it is the basic premise of One Step Back, the latest action platforming experience from CoolioNiato.

One Step Back slickly re-envisions the idea of "running from your past," putting it into a practical and fast-paced platforming context. Each level starts you at one point and tasks you with reaching the exit door by running, jumping, and (naturally) wall-jumping. (Use the [WASD] or [arrow] keys to move.) Two twists stand in your way. For one, the exit door is locked, and won't open until you've moved a certain distance through the level. As you progress, the door will progressively turn blue, finally glowing to indicate your ability to exit. Secondly, ghosts of yourself will appear intermittently from the entrance point and track your exact path. The more you move, the more ghosts will appear.

But they won't run at you all willy-nilly on their own. As long as your character is still, the ghosts will freeze in place, whether they are on a platform, in the middle of a sprint, or in midair (Matrix-style, oh yeah). A small dotted line extends from each one, indicating their projected paths a little ways in front of them. However, they are only long enough to give you a small idea of where they will be for the next few steps, it's up to you to keep track of where they are headed. What seems like a frantic avoidance game actually becomes something of a puzzler, allowing you to pause and plan out your next move if you are so inclined. And if you play long enough, the game shifts in tone and adds a second dimension of gameplay that, for the sake of spoilers, I will not delve into. The game deepens as you go along, and the shift in gameplay brings with it a new level of difficulty and challenge.

adamc_onestepback_screen2.pngAnalysis: One Step Back will probably remind you immediately of Exit Path in style, but the substance is, well, substantially different. Yeah, there's a little backstory about "running from your past" and "time being the enemy" and a lot of superfluous narrative that feels like it was lifted out of a Denzel Washington movie (and not one that earned him an Oscar), but you can pretty much inject your own story into it without much trouble. Like, pretend you're trying to escape a cloning machine that has gone haywire, spurting out clones every few seconds, but giving you the power to stop time. It doesn't matter. As is typical with many platformers, it's all about how it plays.

And it plays well. The characters run smoothly, jump nicely, and hit detection is decent save for an extremely touchy wall-jump system. Maybe I'm just used to playing as Mario, who can stick to a wall as if his overalls are coated in superglue, but it it's just a little too tricky to make your character respond to a command to wall-jump. In a game revolving around avoidance and accuracy in jumping and landing, this can be a hindrance. Don't let it discourage you too much, though, as the action is otherwise polished. My favorite part of this game is how cluttered it starts to feel once a few ghosts start tailing you. It's frantic in a smooth and well-executed way: the more claustrophobic the level, the bigger the challenge. Stylistically, the game is mostly on point, all grayscale and blues with a gentle piano soundtrack that admittedly fits the narrative rather than the action. The game is a complete experience, and honestly, it just works.

One Step Back probably won't take you more than twenty to thirty minutes to beat, particularly once you learn a few of the tricks. Figuring them out is part of the experience, as are some of the innovations that, as I said before, I will not discuss here. Give it a shot (and play it to the end). Hopefully, it won't be an experience you'll feel like you have to run away from! Ba-dum-psh. Thanks, folks, I'll be here all week.

Play One Step Back

Thanks to James for sending this one in!


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Rating: 4/5 (138 votes)
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Weekday Escape

GrinnypThe hot, muggy air is filled with the sounds of insects and rustling leaves. The dense underbrush closes in, filled with mysterious animal cries, creating a claustrophobic nightmare. Creeping along, deep in the humid jungles of Guatemala, you, an intrepid explorer, are looking for a lost Mayan city. Or, perhaps, just the nearest Starbucks. Who can tell, because Mayan Escape, this week's room escape puzzle begins after you fall into a mysterious Mayan tomb. How you got there is left to the imagination.

Mayan EscapeCreated by Tomaslav Podhraski, Mayan Escape is a fun little classic room escape. Whomever is buried here must not have been very important as this is an extremely small tomb. Yet a lot of puzzling fun is packed into the four walls of what might be more properly called a tombette. Along with the standard logic puzzles and use of found objects it is really nice to see puzzles usually reserved for larger download games, like slider puzzles and pipe puzzles.

The tombette itself is done up beautifully in 3D with colors and textures that make it feel like the real thing, perhaps minus the stinging insects and biting snakes that you would probably otherwise encounter. A spooky soundtrack only enhances the claustrophobic feel of being trapped underground, leaving the casual gamer wanting to get out.

What makes Mayan Escape so much fun is the amount of polish that has gone into such a basic game. Cursors that change to arrows for navigation or gears to indicate objects that can be manipulated, handy inventory control, kicking sound and graphics, this little gem resembles a chapter in an actual download game. In fact, the quality is such that it is perhaps better than a chapter in some recent download point-and-click adventures on the market.

The act of picking up an object is a little clumsy (click once to get some dialogue, click a second time to actually acquire the object); plus the difficulty of the final puzzle (hopefully you know a little about Mayan iconography) and the short length are only minor quibbles in an otherwise strong, atmospheric, and fun time waster. Mayan Escape is definitely worth the trip (sorry), and experienced room escapers should have a blast without losing too much time from work or sleep or whatever it is you guys do when Weekday Escape comes out. Come, immerse yourself in a game worth experiencing, deep in the jungles of Guatemala (or wherever)...

Play Mayan Escape


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Rating: 4.6/5 (428 votes)
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DoraAchievement Unlocked 2Fans of little blue pachyderms with dismal life expectancies... unite! Achievement Unlocked 2 is here. John Cooney has delivered up another heaping helping of elephant abuse in this sequel to 2008's Achievement Unlocked, which was, to put it mildly, rather a bit popular. Use the [WASD] or [arrow] keys to move and explore your baffling environment. Why? Because there are 250 achievements this time around waiting for your hot little hands to unlock them. Gather coins, avoid spikes (or not), visit the in-game marketplace to spend your coins on new, confusing levels to achieve on. And if you're lucky enough to have friends who share your taste in entertainment, the game also supports co-op multiplayer. Hooray!

To say Achievement Unlocked 2 can be a bit disorienting is an understatement. Upon loading the game up for the first time, I was instantly flooded with achievements, including one that was bestowed, apparently, because my system clock was divisible by three. (I knew that would pay off one day!) You can see all the achievements listed on the right side of the screen, but names alone probably won't do much to help you figure them out in most cases. But since when have you needed an excuse to explore rooms full of teleporters, giant keyboards, and lethal spikes?

Play all of John Cooney's Elephant games:
Run Elephant RunAchievement UnlockedThis is the Only LevelObey the GameThis is the Only Level TOOAchievement Unlocked 2Elephant QuestThis is the Only Level 3Achievement Unlocked 3

Achievement Unlocked 2 isn't going to be everybody's thing; it's silly, it's baffling, it's twitchy, and at times it's even a little frustrating. But if you don't need a whole lot of substance to your gaming experience beyond the sweet rush of collecting and just want to grin for a while, this will do. This will do quite well.

Play Achievement Unlocked 2

Thanks to Roomescaper55 for sending this one in!


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Rating: 3.9/5 (82 votes)
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Karlkarlparakenings_topsyturvy_title.jpgI've believed that the Earth revolves around me for a very long time. Topsy Turvy is the first game that has told me that I'm right.

Made by Mint and Codeheads, Topsy Turvy is a game in the proud, recent tradition of platformers with a twist. Like others in the genre, Topsy Turvy is focused around simple, familiar mechanics: use the [arrow] keys to move left, right, and jump, avoid enemies and spikes, and get to the goal at the end. We all know how to play that game, right? Well, Topsy Turvy says, now gravity is relative. Chew on that.

Whenever your cute, customizable avatar approaches a drop-off, instead of falling into a bottomless pit a la Mario, the entire topography of the level rotates 90 degrees. Suddenly the walls are the floor, the floor is the walls, and the ceiling... well, there isn't one anymore. Spikes that were formerly easy to avoid are suddenly obstacles in your path to the coveted flag, what used to be a safe walk has now turned into an ominous precipice, and so on. Topsy Turvy's 30 levels are all variations on the theme of variable gravity.

It's fun to play, and surprisingly varied as well. I've always liked games like this, where a new element is introduced into the traditional model of platforming. The best games always seem to encourage experimentation, sometimes even making you believe you've found a new way to accomplish an old level. Topsy Turvy is definitely one of these.

Unfortunately, it too has its problems. While its minimalist art style is readable and charming enough, I ran into a few problems with collision detection. During the course of the game your little avatar will fly about the landscape as the gravity shifts radically. Timing is very important in a lot of puzzles, as there are moving obstacles added into the mix in the late game. However, I kept running into problems where I'd do a running jump, but somehow catch the edge of the spikes' collision block. This happened while I was falling past them, while I was flying by them, and in one notable instance, when I ran into them from underneath. Even still, this wouldn't be much of a problem except that the game counts your deaths in big letters on the top screen. This was especially frustrating the few times that my right arrow key seemed to stick (as sometimes happens when you take focus away from Flash games) and I ran into the same spikes again and again, watching the death total count rise dramatically. You get used to it after a while.

Despite its problems, Topsy Turvy had me spellbound. Each level follows the previous one immediately, so it came to pass that I started at level 1 and didn't look up until level 26. If you liked Portal, Braid, or Gish, you'll like Topsy Turvy.

Play Topsy Turvy


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Rating: 4.5/5 (204 votes)
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Mikemike-agent079-screen1.jpgLet's consider the nameless supervillain whose supervillainous lair is the setting of Agent 079, a new spy-themed point-and-click adventure game from Atomic Cicada. This is a man committed to his work. While lesser evil geniuses would be content to tie their nemeses to an assembly line and take an early lunch, this guy knows how to persecute a superspy: Lure him into your funhouse of bizarre puzzles and gadgetry, compel them to collect items, crack codes, shunt entire rooms, and learn to smith keys; then, just as escape seems imminent... Well, you'll have to play to find out.

Agent 079 puts you in the stylish patent-leather shoes of the eponymous superspy protagonist. Use your mouse to point and click in this point-and-clicker; navigation, item collection, and interaction are entirely mouse-based. Your inventory bar is at the bottom of the screen. Click an item to use it in the environment, or to combine it with another item. If you want to dismiss the item, click the handy pointing-hand icon. When riding the elevator, you can click on the up-and-down arrows to the right to switch floors. Other tasks are explained by in-game instructions, so keep your eyes peeled.

Analysis: Agent 079 is about puzzles first, presentation second, which is not to say that the presentation is wanting. While the rough, watercolor-looking visuals and extremely-limited animation don't make for the slickest design, it looks fine, and even engenders a sort of comic-book vibe, like you are looking at separate panels on a page. The soundtrack is pleasantly understated, mostly confined to soft mechanical whirs and dings, like you might expect to hear in a supervillain's super-lab.

mike-agent079-screen2.jpgThe puzzles themselves are where Agent 079 shines. They are clever, logical, and strike a fine balance between straightforward fare and the occasional rewarding head-scratcher (there is at least one color-based puzzle, by the way). For the most part there aren't any obvious hotspots, but nothing is cruelly hidden away either, so pixel-hunting is not an issue. Some of the puzzles have at best a tenuous connection to the game's purported spy-theme, but they are all so well done that you will hardly notice.

The setting is no ordinary den of super-science, for this evil genius has installed rooms that can be moved and rearranged, so that any room can be adjacent to another. The puzzles that involve moving rooms around are by far the most clever and most rewarding Agent 079 has to offer. Sometimes you need to move rooms around for reasons of simple navigation. Other times you want to exploit resources that various rooms generate. There is a furnace room, a power room, and a few others; and if you want another room to use these resources, you have to arrange them so that such a transfer is possible. It can be a little tedious figuring out how to arrange and rearrange rooms to get where you want to go, but the puzzles are cool enough that it's worth it.

Agent 079 is a solid adventure game with clever puzzles that is well worth the hour or two it takes to complete. It's also a bold model for a particularly devious brand of dedicated supervillainry. Once you escape, make sure you don't burn yourself.

Play Agent 079


  • Currently 4.7/5
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Rating: 4.7/5 (243 votes)
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Mikemike-thedreamerz-screen1.gifThe Dreamerz is a point-and-click adventure game where you play a cute little astronaut who is tasked with collecting "dream spheres" filled with "dream ingredients" to fix a "dream machine" on a little planet oozing with wonderment. And if that sounds trite, treacly and unappealing, you are in for a very pleasant surprise.

Your friend the cursor, guided by his buddy the mouse, controls everything in the game. Click to move your astronaut, to select items, to use items, and to otherwise interact with the environment. You will soon find that the little planet you are on, while nice enough to visit, doesn't have everything you need to repair the dream machine, and you will need to activate the gray metal transports to hop to different worlds. Ad astra per aspera! Explore, collect, think, and try to repair the dream machine before bedtime. The fate of the world's Dreamerz depends on it!

Analysis: The Dreamerz is a game for people who don't think they would like a game called "The Dreamerz." Rather than indulge in saccharine, Robot-Unicorn style indulgence, The Dreamerz conjures a mood that's a small part mystery, a tiny bit whimsy. It's almost like Samorost, not so much in the design, which focuses more on clean lines and colors rather than rich textures; but in the quiet way it encourages you to explore. Apart from the intro and from a diary you find early in the game, there are few verbal cues to tell you what to do, and along with surreal set pieces and a cool ambient soundtrack, it's quite absorbing.

mike-thedreamerz-screen2.gifThe puzzles are just what I like: clever, logical, and varied in difficulty. The sort where you bask in the satisfaction of a puzzle well solved, not where you yell at the screen in frustration. I did fiddle around a bit trying to figure out how to get off the rock you start on, but after that, it was smooth planet-hopping. The game is fairly non-linear, so if you are stuck in one area, you can try working on a different puzzle to give your brain a chance to ruminate on something else.

The difficulty is not stupendous, though I did have to consult the The Dreamerz Walkthrough for a few puzzles, which turned out to involve simple oversights on my part. I say this not so you all can gawk at my puzzle-solving infirmities (though I suppose that's now assured), but to point out how excellent the developer's walkthrough is. It's like a big map, with rollover directions for all the elements in the game. It's very intuitive and quick to consult. I get why developers use video walkthroughs, since they are quick and easy to produce, but a little extra effort at something like this shows consideration for the player. I appreciate it!

The Dreamerz is a great little point-and-clicker with fine puzzles and sense of exploration. It is not a cotton-puff excess about the power of dreams. If you find yourself put off by that sort of syrupy exhibitionism, then The Dreamerz is the game for you.

Play The Dreamerz

Thanks to Chiktionary, Bscott, and Rob for sending this one in!


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Game Design Competition #8Armor GamesCasual Gameplay

All Casual Gameplay Design Competition #8 game entries are now available to play!!

All entries are available to play immediately on the competition page. There is a place to enter comments for each game, so please use each respective thread to leave your kind feedback and constructive criticisms for the game authors.

Although you can find all the games on the official CGDC8 competition page, following is a list of the entries and direct links to each one:

The competition period will span 3 weeks, and we will announce the winners of the competition at that time. If you wish to be a judge, please read the rules and sign up here.

Please help us spread word about the competition and all the creative entries we have once again to share with the world. Use Twitter, use Facebook, use any means at your disposal to share the competition games with your friends and family.

Thanks to everyone for your support, and especially to our sponsors for making this competition possible: ArmorGames.com and Casual Gameplay. Please visit them and show your support!

GO TO THE COMPETITION PAGE


  • Currently 3.7/5
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Rating: 3.7/5 (100 votes)
| Comments (38) | Views (278)

AdamCadamc_theillusionistsdream_screen1.png"Once Upon A Time, there was a great magical performer who entertained crowds with his tricks and illusions..."

All good stories start with that great introduction, don't they? It just whisks you away to lands of fantasy and magic. The Illusionist's Dream from Seething Swarm is a short puzzle platformer that puts you in the shoes and top hat of the titular Illusionist. The unnamed protagonist is lost in a dream after his one true love dies and he can't quite find his way out (what's a good fairy tale without love and loss?). Fortunately, the dream world makes his magic a little more potent. Press [A] to pick up a nearby animal and plop it into your hat, transforming the Illusionist into the animal's form. Use different forms to find the key in each level and reach the door. It's not all bunnies and butterflies, though, and you'll have to be careful to avoid foxes and frogs in certain forms. You never really die though, as falling into a pit or getting eaten by another animal will simply transport your human form back to an earlier point in the level. You can transform back to human form at any time by pressing [S], because who wants to be stuck as a frog for eternity?

The Illusionist's Dream is attractive and atmospheric, if a little short. The central mechanic certainly sparked my imagination. It's all about tranquility, and the art direction lifts the game above mediocre distraction into the realm of "serious potential." Each animal form feels different, and the much-appreciated diversity combines well with a mellow atmosphere. However, it falls short of being a great game due to its brevity and some issues with hit detection. The last couple of levels take the game in a strange (and rather unnecessary) direction, sacrificing what were some really good ideas for metaphorical representations of the tortured soul. One level involving fire comes to mind...but I'm a sucker for brooding little indie games, so I'm willing to look past the game's shortcomings and enjoy a short journey into one magician's dream.

Abra cadabra!

Play The Illusionist's Dream


  • Currently 4.3/5
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Rating: 4.3/5 (183 votes)
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Kyletakeawalk.pngEveryone who's ever been chained to a cubicle for a wage has experienced a kind of shared imprisonment. Yes, even here at JIG, where our cubicles are made from licorice ropes and gingerbread, where the boss never asks for TPS reports, and where we play video games without fear of reprisal because it's our job, even here in our ivory tour amid the pink fluffy cotton candy clouds we sometimes feel the oppression of our admittedly awesome cubicles. Every creature forced to toil away within the confines of those familiar and cheaply constructed (though in our case, mighty tasty) partitions has experienced that same monotonous, shoulder sagging boredom just as we've all experienced that same learned claustrophobia until it's all just too much to take. It's then, when the partitions start to collapse in on you, and the sounds of fingers clacking away at keyboards in a never ending drone (or, in our case, the thirtieth time in an hour you hear Art scream "ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED!") that you sometimes need to log off, put your headphones on, and go Take a Walk.

This beautifully musical platformer from Dachuan Lu (with music from Kevin MacLeod and art courtesy Min Lin) provides the very escape cubicle slaves crave directly through your computer screen. As the title might suggest, all you really need to do is walk, listen to the music, and occasionally jump over an obstacle here and there with either the [arrow] keys, or [Z]. If you miss a jump, no worries, simply go back (complete with Braid like special effects), and try again.

Your soul soothing stroll will take you across several lands each with its own soundtrack. As you take in the sights and sounds feel free to collect the hovering musical notes and while you're at it pay attention to the little birdies that begin to congregate around you. The longer you go without stopping or making an error, the more birds you accumulate, and the more notes and birds you collect help unlock special features such as bonus animation sequences. So what are you waiting for? Unshackle yourself from your particle board grindstone, break free from the constant torture of spreadsheet after spreadsheet, turn up that music and take yourself a little walk.

TakeaWalk.pngAnalysis: It's rare to come across a game like Take a Walk, one that grabs you by both ears and exclaims in dulcet tones, "I am something special!" Usually evaluating and reviewing a game takes a lot of play time and guess work and gut checking, following your instincts only to second guess and ultimately decide that your instincts aren't worth an already scratched losing lottery ticket. And then you come across a game like this and from almost the beginning you feel a smile spread across your face and something inside you tells you that this game is doing it right.

Take a Walk is one of those dreaded "art house" games. The action isn't particularly fast and furious, there's hardly any challenge, and you won't find even one single alien, machine gun, anthropomorphic fungi, fire breathing dragon, princess, or evil fetus in a formally dressed jar. But neither is Take a Walk pretentious. Just as you won't find a number of button masher video game tropes, you don't have to worry about overly obscure metaphors, sanctimonious preaching dressed up as gameplay, or poor design decisions righteously explained off as some metaphysical something or other. What Take a Walk offers is instead gorgeous pen and ink artwork lovingly wrapped in a pitch perfect soundtrack with just enough gameplay to suck you into the whole experience.

While it seems simple, the attention to detail at work here is amazing. Each level is choreographed wonderfully to its designated song, so much so that, if you do want something of a challenge, you can actually try playing the game with your eyes closed, letting the beat and stressed notes guide when you jump. In fact, everything is connected in this game, the music, the scenery, even your character's mood. As we begin we find our downcast hero plodding through a depressing urban setting with a melancholy piano plucking out its melody in the background. By the end, we're running free through windswept trees and the happy strumming of steel strings.

Not that everyone will love Take a Walk. It can be a little saccharine sweet which won't please the cynical and embittered, and if you're looking for something with enough challenge to make sweat bead up on your brow and your fingers tremble, this ain't it. But if you are looking for a well designed game that showcases good music strolling hand in hand with good art, the only real thing to complain about is that this ends far too soon. Simple, beautiful, and earnest, Take a Walk provides a peaceful, smile inducing escape from your every day plod, and you don't even have to leave the confines of your cubicle to enjoy it.

Play Take a Walk


| Comments (2) | Views (99)

Mobile Monday

JohnBThis just in! Three iPhone games have been spotted by top scientists approaching the Earth from space! Estimated time of arrival is: now! Be on alert!

justhalf.gifJust Half - Here's a game with an instruction manual embedded in its title. Just Half is a game about halving a rectangle. Use your finger to draw a line across the box, touching all orange points as you do. Make sure you keep the surface area on each side as equal as possible, as the game is remarkably picky about how accurate you are. Much, much more difficult than you would think, but also much more intriguing.

denkiblocks.jpgDenki Blocks! - A ten year old Game Boy Color puzzle game gets new life on the iTunes App Store! In Denki Blocks!, you slide patterns of "sticky blocks" around the board in an effort to join like colors together. Moving pieces of the massive block arrangement through tight spaces can be tricky, and getting through some of the most simple-looking puzzles can be quite a challenge. Denki Blocks! Free is also available.

earthdefender.jpgEarth Defender - We've seen this situation before: aliens are attacking Earth, and only you, intrepid gamer, can save us! This new take on Missile Command utilizes the touch screen instead of slow missile attacks, allowing you to tap to take out enemies as well as launch bombs and execute other maneuvers. The aliens are crafty, though, and have different strengths, vulnerabilities, and levels of intelligence. A great-looking take on a classic arcade experience.

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


  • Currently 4.7/5
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Rating: 4.7/5 (169 votes)
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Totem Tribe GOLD

JohnBTotem Tribe GOLD is a new and expanded follow-up to the original Totem Tribe, the series of simulation games sprinkled with real-time strategy and hidden object elements. Not a proper sequel and more than an expansion, expect to find new challenges, ten new levels, different puzzles, and almost twice as much gameplay as the original Totem Tribe. Translation: say goodbye to the rest of your day.

Totem Tribe GOLDThe storyline follows Aruku, the young chief of the Hawk tribe, who wants to create a better future for her people. Follow her from island to island as you explore the terrain, building structures that allow you to train workers, scouts, fighters, and other units to help defend and colonize the land. You don't have to worry about resources or anything like that, just make sure you have enough workers so new buildings are completed quickly.

Each island comes with its own set of objectives that can change as you play. You might start off looking for a particular item or talisman but soon discover a friendly tribe in need of your assistance. Maybe you have to attack a band of evil mushrooms, or just find a bunch of items scattered throughout the jungle. The variety of challenges is one thing that keeps Totem Tribe GOLD fresh and fun on every single level.

While you build things and scour the landscape, you'll notice some items littering the ground. Shells, stones, gems, treasure chests and much more can be found all over the place in Totem Tribe GOLD. Most of these can be collected with a simple click of the mouse, while others require a puzzle to be solved or a group of items to be found beforehand. This hidden object element is one of the things that makes the game such a draw for casual players. There's always something to discover!

Totem Tribe GOLDAnalysis: If you're like me, you probably clicked the "download" link right when you saw the letters T, O, T, E, and M. The original Totem Tribe game looked innocent enough, but once you started playing it you realized how difficult of a game it is to put down. The simplest elements from simulation and real-time strategy genres are gracefully incorporated into the game, giving you all the pleasure of building and managing a village without any of the hassle. Then, pour on top of that a bare-bones hidden object game and you've got a dangerously addictive formula on your hands. Go ahead, try to stop playing.

One great improvement in Totem Tribe GOLD is the ability to navigate visited islands from an attractive overworld map, peering in to see how many gems you have to collect in each area. This makes going back to perfect your game much easier. The addition of a guard tower building also makes it safer to send your warriors away. No more leaving your village unguarded while you wage war across the island!

Not everything was improved in this pseudo-sequel, as there are still a few rough spots in the gameplay that could use some smoothing out. The biggest area that could benefit is unit control. You can only direct your units by type, not by individuals or even user-defined groups. This is especially troublesome when you want to split warriors to tackle multiple enemies or have workers build several buildings at once. You can't really do this in Totem Tribe, forcing you to allocate your resources either all the way or not at all.

Totem Tribe GOLD isn't a reinvention of the Totem Tribe series, and it really doesn't need to be. Hours more gameplay, new things to discover, and a brand new round of RTS/sim/hidden object entertainment will keep you happily engrossed for days on end.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


(12 votes) *Average rating will show after 20 votes
| Comments (0) | Views (257)

Cake Mania: Lights, Camera, Action!

joyeJill may be eight months pregnant, but she's not going to let a little thing like that keep her from her famous mania for cake. She'll just have to do it sitting down. With a movie in town and a ton of hungry people clamoring for her delicious desserts, she'll need to rely on her husband Jack—and you—to make the crowds happy in Cake Mania: Lights, Camera, Action, another fun time management game from Sandlot Games.

Cake Mania: Lights, Camera, Action!The game follows in same path as Cake Mania: Main Street by having different styles of dash games, all of which are controlled with the mouse. In the main game, you control first Jill and then Jack in the cake shop. Clicking on various stations such as ovens and toppers, you set up chains of activity to supply your customers with their lovingly glucose-frosted creations. You'll also unlock two other shops. Risha's Boutique combines dash mechanics with an almost hidden object flair. The customers thought-bubble what items of clothing they want, and you must find them on the racks and deliver them as quickly as possible. The third shop is Gordo's pizza place, which is similar to the Burger Barn of the Main Street game. Click and drop ingredients into mini-ovens to create pizzas, lasagnas, eggplant dishes, and more. Between levels for all three games, you'll have the opportunity to spend your cash on new and improved machinery, more ingredients, new clothing lines, and more.

If all your customers just lined up patiently and waited their turn, it would be easy (and not much fun). Bakersville is home to some rather interesting characters, however, and they all have their own challenges to keep you on your toes. From the knight, who demands to be served first, to the ninja, who throws smoke bombs onto other customers, to the celebrity whose order causes everyone else to change their minds and order the same thing as her, you'll have to prioritize and strategize on the fly if you don't want to end up dumping your cakes into the waste bin. The most difficult character in my opinion is the "shopaholic", who will steal money left on the counter. In real life, you'd call the police. In this game, you have to grit your teeth and get her cake as if she didn't just cheat you out of $70.

Cake Mania: Lights, Camera, Action!Analysis: With 60 cake levels and 25 levels each of the boutique and restaurant, and with a 4 minute timer per timed level (you can also play in relaxed mode without a timer), that's over seven hours of gameplay if you beat every level the first time, which you probably won't. In a lesser game, a lot of those levels would be filler and game would feel repetitive, but Cake Mania: Lights, Camera, Action! doesn't suffer from that at all.

In the boutique and pizza levels, you're unlocking a new line of clothing or ingredient pretty much every level, and while progress is a little slower in the cake levels, you're almost always upgrading or unlocking something. Every level is also a different mix of customers and challenges. On one level, you'll be swamped with nothing but yetis, who freeze each other. On another, everyone wants star shaped cakes and nothing but star shaped cakes, so keep those ovens hopping. Having three different games to switch between also increases the freshness factor. If you're getting sick of plopping cherries into icing, go take a whirl at the boutique. If you can't stand to hunt for one more sweater-vest, toss some pizzas at the restaurant.

The writing is witty and the story is cute. The movie that is invading the town starts out as Pride and Prejudice, but it quickly becomes something far different, as one might expect by the mimes and axe-wielding dwarves who patronize your shop and the T-rex running around the main map. I particularly loved the running gag over Jack and Jill's inability to agree on a name for their baby. Jill, what's wrong with naming the baby after your grandmother? You don't like the name "Baby Grandma"? You're so picky.

Time management fans won't want to miss this one, and if you're new to the genre, this would be a great game to start with.

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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