October 2010 Archives


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Halloween 2010I heard a joke this weekend that suggested the scariest thing about Halloween is all the family get-togethers that soon follow. Funny as that may be, I think that's actually one of the best things about it(!) :)

From all of us here at JIG and Casual Gameplay, we wish you a very happy and safe (and scary!) Halloween 2010!

MU-HA-HAHAHA!


  • Currently 4.8/5
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Rating: 4.8/5 (66 votes)
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Neverwinter Nights: Diamond Edition

DoraAfter nearly a decade, Bioware's classic fantasy RPG reappears as a DRM-free download at Good Old Games. Neverwinter Nights: Diamond Edition is a single or multiplayer experience set primarily within the Forgotten Realms, a fantasy world created using Dungeons and Dragons. With massive replay value, a toolset to create your own adventures, and the ability to play alone or with a big group of friends, this is one game you can come back to time and time again despite its age.

Neverwinter Nights: Diamond Edition comes with three large campaigns to play, as well as three standalone adventures: Kingmaker, Shadowguard, and Witch's Wake. The first campaign sees you stuck in the great city of Neverwinter as a plague runs rampant through the streets, and might only be the start of something much more sinister. The second campaign, Shadows of Undrentide (meant to be played with a new, first-level character), begins with you as an apprentice in a remote mountain village who finds that ancient trouble comes looking for your master one day. And the third campaign, Hordes of the Underdark, is meant to continue the adventures of your hero from the previous campaign, and finds you answering the call for heroes in Waterdeep, the City of Splendors, where the dark elves who live in the nightmarish realm below the surface of the earth are plotting an attack.

Neverwinter Nights: Diamond EditionNever played tabletop Dungeons and Dragons before? That's okay, neither have I. What's great about Neverwinter Nights is how easy it makes the dauntingly complex source material. You don't have to worry about keeping track of statistics, rolling dice, forgetting to take skills into account or explaining to Barry why he can't be a half-elf Jedi priestess. The game does all that for you. All you have to do is keep track of your hit points, spells, and equipment. Everything is handled with either hotkeys, which you can set yourself, or with mouse clicks. Click on a spot to move there. Click on a dude to talk. Click on an angry dude to cast Bigby's Emasculating Buttocks. And then click on his corpse to loot it.

In Neverwinter Nights, you are always the hero, and you always get to create your own character. Want to play a halfling barbarian, or a boisterous dwarven bard? Go nuts. You can choose your gender, your race, your class (wizard, paladin, rogue, etc), and choose which skills to develop so you tailor the experience to your style. And if you're thinking "RPG" automatically means "static turn-based combat with random encounters", you're out of luck. Combat takes place in real-time; you control your characters and are responsible for everything from movement to healing to attacking. There isn't a tremendous demand for skill, of course, since the system is what decides whether your attacks hit or miss based on numbers, but it does make the game exceptionally easy to get into.

Neverwinter Nights: Diamond EditionAnd when you're done with the main campaigns, you can sample some of the excellent adventures out there called "modules". Modules are simply self-contained stories you can download and play for free, created by players like yourself through the use of the included Neverwinter Nights Toolset. Installing a module is as simple as downloading and extracting it to the proper directory. Creating one is a bit trickier, although Neverwinter boasts what is probably by far one of the most accessible toolsets out there. In fact, it might be a good idea for you to crack open the toolset and fiddle around with it a little bit. Whether or not you actually want to make something, it will give you some perspective on how much time and effort it takes to make something good even with a toolset.

Just, y'know. Something to keep in mind the next time you feel the urge to start complaining about how long it's taking your favourite developer to finish a project.

Analysis: Bioware makes good games. Bioware makes great games. While perhaps a little rigid, all three main story campaigns are well-written, long, and tremendous fun played alone or with a buddy. It's almost enough to forgive them for creating Deekin, who, despite his inexplicable fan popularity, really needs to be dropped down a well somewhere. Of course, these days the game is going to look a little dated visually. It's not ugly, but you have to remember this comes from another time... a time when characters had blocks for hands and pointy polygonal faces. (And particle effects were when we paid someone to stand behind us blowing glitter at our monitor.) You also might want to save yourself the heartache and ignore the included Witch's Wake module, since all it does is provide the tantalizing first taste of a promising series that was never actually finished. You broke my heart, Bioware! Why, baby? Why?!

Neverwinter Nights: Diamond EditionFortunately, what's also great about the game is that while it's fun to play alone, it's even better with friends. Neverwinter Nights allows you to easily set up a server to play privately with a group of pals, or jump right in to someone else's. Some of my best times with this game involved running through a short, one or two hour adventure with a few friends, only half taking things seriously as we sassed short-tempered dragons, stole ale from clueless barbarian hilltribes, and argued over who should get the magical glowing green dwarven battleaxe that dripped corrosive poison. (So what if my wizard can't lift it?! That's mageism.) Of course, to play with someone else, they need their own copy of Neverwinter Nights, and they also need to download any user content and modules you want to use.

There is a ridiculous amount of high quality community created content out there available for play, ranging from short hack-and-slash adventures, to lengthy story-centric tales designed to take hours or days to complete. Adam Miller's epic Shadowlords, Dreamcatcher, and Demon campaigns combine to form a massive tale that will take you upwards of thirty hours to experience, alone or with a friend. Stefan Gagne's Penultima and Penultima Re-Rolled series offers a complex fantasy narrative in a unique setting that parodies and pays tribute to beloved stories and icons. Heck, there are even servers out there functioning as persistent worlds, which lets you log in with other players and adventure whenever you want like an MMORPG. If you want a comprehensive list, you should check out IGN's Neverwinter Vault, which is a great place to download as well as upload the best user created content.

There's a reason Bioware's classic endured as long as it did, and regardless of whether this re-release sees a revival, you'll still find a ton of longevity in not only the main campaigns, which offer a lot of replay value based on everything from your character type to the decisions you make, but also in the plethora of user-created modules available for free. If you have any interest in fantasy gaming at all, or if you've always wanted to try Dungeons and Dragons but have been intimated by the source material, or even if you just want something you and a group of friends can play for a few hours at a time, for its new ten dollar price tag Neverwinter Nights: Diamond Edition is an absolute steal.

WindowsWindows:
Get the full version

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


  • Currently 4.7/5
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Rating: 4.7/5 (22 votes)
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BrainSplode

JohnBOh, brains. You are as delicious (to zombies) as you are useful (to anyone running from zombies). You're also apparently quite explodable, as evidenced in this colorful cartoon-like physics game BrainSplode!. Created by Rust Red Games, all you've got is a cannon, some highly-useful missiles, and a few mid-air power-ups that help you control things. Oh, and an inexplicable hatred of squishy pink brains.

BrainSplodeSomewhere on each level in BrainSplode!, you've got a cannon. That cannon can be turned up or down by moving the target in the red box at the bottom of the screen. You can control the velocity with the same box, giving you an easy one-stop area for almost all things explosion-making related. Take aim, choose your shot's power, and fire! Brains are stuck to the walls around each stage, each of which is shown on the mini-map at the top of the screen. To take them out, you're going to need to experiment, to fine-tune your shots, Best of Casual Gameplay 2010and a little help from some power-ups.

After the first level, you're introduced to new abilities that change the way missiles work. First you'll get the speed boost, a fun power that causes missiles to dash forward in a crazy way. After that, it's a parachute and a direction changer. Integrating these abilities into your strategy is necessary to win, and it takes a bit of practice to pull off these mid-air maneuvers successfully. Fortunately, you aren't limited, timed, or otherwise penalized for playing around and wasting ammo.

BrainSplodeAnalysis: Never thought exploding brains would be entertaining, but that's probably just my brain not wanting me to get all skilled at destroying brains, lest it become next on the list. BrainSplode! isn't a brain-killing trainer, of course. It's cute, it's colorful, it's wild and arcadey at times. And wow is it entertaining! BrainSplode! also looks great, and there are lots of fun little visual touches that lend it a quirky, weekend at the lake with every Saturday morning cartoon character you loved as a child kind of feeling. Yes, that can be quantified.

The physics in BrainSplode! are spot-on. You'll never question the outcome of a shot, and visualizing where your bullets will go is limited only by your brain's ability to analyze and predict. This is especially important when the power-ups are introduced, as they require some serious thinking and planning in order to get the missiles where you want them to be. Don't worry, though, as BrainSplode! isn't about exact precision. More like, squishy precision.

There are only seven levels in this release, but the good news is the creator has said more levels are possible if interest is shown in the game. So, you know, show interest! A level editor could also see a release, which can only be met with the following response: YES, PLEASE!!

BrainSplode! is just plain awesome, there you have it. Grabbing this somewhat short release is a no-brainer, and I hope you appreciate the pun. Go crazy, explode some brains!

WindowsWindows:
Download the free full version

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


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Letters from Nowhere

JohnBIt's dark and raining outside, and Audrey's husband, Patrick, hasn't shown up yet. Running home in the terrible weather, she gets the feeling someone is following her. She waits up all night for her husband to return, but he never appears. Fearing the worst, Audrey goes to the police and files a report. They aren't too helpful, though, and when she finds a strange letter whose author knows more than they should, she begins to investigate the happenings herself. So begins Letters from Nowhere, a somber, challenging hidden object game that ditches the gimmicks in favor of pure item hunting and atmosphere.

Letters from NowhereLetters from Nowhere is divided into easy-to-digest chapters, each sectioned into episodes filled with items to find. Click on a photo to enter the scene and use the item lists at the bottom to locate what you need in each area. Hints are available through a quickly-recharging timer, and if you click too many times without finding something, you'll get a hefty score penalty. Oopsie!

Some items in Letters from Nowhere must be "assembled" before you can collect them. This usually involves finding a missing piece and inserting it into the named object. So, for example, if you want to get the gun, you'll need to put a few bullets in the chamber first. You'll also encounter items that initiate instant mini-games, though these are rare. And, finally, keep an eye out for hidden stamps in each area. Find them all to unlock the Unlimited Mode at the end of the game!

While it doesn't attempt to fiddle with the hidden object formula too much, Letters from Nowhere features a bonus system that really is a marvelous addition. For every chapter of the game, you'll earn points that go towards unlocking these bonuses. The first prize, for example, is a thermometer. Use it and a thermometer will stash itself in every episode of a chapter. Find it in each scene and your cursor immediately becomes a hot/cold detector, alerting you when you're near an item you need to click. The unlockables don't last forever, unfortunately, but they shake things up and push the game along at just the right time.

Letters from NowhereAnalysis: Most hidden object titles try to attach gameplay tricks, storyline twists, and mini-games onto the core of the game like some sort of mad scientist. Really, all you need is good artwork, an interesting storyline, and unapologetically straightforward gameplay to capture an audience, something Letters from Nowhere is keenly aware of. From the title screen to the design of the loading screens, you can see how much care was put into the atmosphere of this release.

Letters from Nowhere is designed to tug at your emotions as well as provide some actual hidden object challenge. From the color palette to the soft music, you won't expect jumping clowns or flying confetti to hop out of any corner. If you're sitting inside on a rainy day with a Slanket, a cup of hot cocoa, and a slow Tchaikovsky violin concerto playing in the background, you've set the mood for this game. And as for finding the objects, Letters from Nowhere employs a smart stashing system that hides items without making them unfairly impossible to locate.

It's also worth noting that Letters from Nowhere features a strong achievements system in the form of trophies. There are over 35 trophies to unlock, each obtained by accomplishing a different feat you may not even realize you're working towards! Always a good excuse to find hidden objects with finesse.

A hidden object game at its heart with nothing more attached to the sides, Letters from Nowhere delivers just what the genre promises with a smart presentation and no-flaws gameplay.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
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Mac OS XMac OS X:
Download the demo
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Weekend Download

JohnBHey, you, weekend gamer. You want I should share games with you? You want they should be uh, fun? Good. Because I have games that are fun. RPG fun. Puzzle fun. Lasers fun. Lantern fun. What? You think lanterns are no fun? You think "flashlight.app" is more fun? Hmm. You need to play with lanterns more often, I think...

dungeoncrawlstonesoup.gifDungeon Crawl Stone Soup (Mac/Win/Linux, >8MB, free) - Dungeon crawling for the masses! Stone Soup puts a friendly face on one of the most daunting genres for non-fans: the dungeon crawler RPG. For starters, a graphical (a.k.a. non-ASCII) interface is readily available, and instead of keyboard commands, you can use the mouse to interact with the game. Even though it's newbie friendly, Stone Soup is filled with all the nuances any respectable dungeon crawler would have, such as an avalanche of items, plenty of floors to explore, and character customization possibilities that border on the endless. You can even play online and compare your stats to the rest of the community as well as participate in tournaments!

spai.jpgSp.A.I. (Windows, 214MB, free) - It's a well-established fact that in the future, computers will rule the high-tech world, and the coolest people will wear black leather outfits and hack said computer systems to fight against "the man". Sp.A.I. is a third person puzzle platform game that takes place in the near future where that kind of thing has happened. You play as Aiva, a hacking program trying to break through the information superhighway to shut down the enemy's mainframe. Float along the gorgeously futuristic corridors and solve puzzles involving lasers and blocks to make it through each firewall. You'll also need to decrypt certain files in order to proceed, a task that requires dexterity as well as cerebral processing. Each puzzle is blended into the next seamlessly, creating a world that's equal parts platforming and equal parts puzzle solving. Created by a group of five students at the Queensland University of Technology, who win my personal award for "Bestest Futuristic Computer World Art Design".

dearagent.gifDear Agent (Windows, 1.79MB, free) - A new release from Cactus, creator of a bunch of cool indie games, Dear Agent is a short, minimalist platformer where you play an agent trying to destroy terrorists and their equipment. Your laser can cut through any block on the screen, but because it's limited, you can't go blasting everything in sight. Instead, use it and your bombs strategically to unleash the pools of lava onto unsuspecting foes. Much more creative than just shooting everyone, and way more entertaining and challenging.

eternaldusk.jpgEternal Dusk (Windows, 206MB, demo) - A curious, somewhat experimental design that puts you in the role of Ashlynn, a girl who controls the reality of the world around her with a lantern. Anything that isn't illuminated becomes filled with darkness and, thus, doesn't exist as a solid object. Her evil brother is darkening lamp posts around the world and scattering the fireflies about to keep dreamers from having good dreams. Rescue the fireflies and restore light to save the Dream World. A nice concept for a game, and well-implemented in the 3D environment. Some of the physics and controls feel a bit too unnatural, creating impreciseness in the gameplay. It shows some promise, though!

Note: All games have been confirmed to run under Windows 7 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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Twisted Lands: Shadow Town

DoraAfter falling overboard while out at sea with his fiancée, Angel, amateur treasure hunter Mark finds himself washed ashore a dreary island shrouded in fog. Angel is missing and so are the townspeople, but that doesn't mean Mark's alone... Twisted Lands: Shadow Town is a hidden-object adventure title from Alawar Games that represents the start of a new series and a foray into the horror genre. While it might not actually be very scary, it still offers up a solid evening's entertainment. As Mark, you'll explore the strange town you find yourself stranded in searching for Angel. You won't find answers to all of your questions, but you will find a very dark place with a lot of very big secrets to explore.

Twisted Lands: Shadow TownGameplay is simple and easy to pick up. Areas you can interact with will sparkle, and hidden-object scenes will sparkle even more. While you'll pick up a lot of items just wandering around, most important things will need to be grabbed from hidden-object scenes. Fortunately, Mark's journal keeps track of all the clues and points of interest you come across. Even more helpful, if you click the hint button during normal gameplay, it will actually point you in the direction you need to go to advance the story; immensely helpful for when you're stuck, but don't want more than a nudge.

Analysis: Although it's trying to be, Twisted Lands: Shadow Town actually isn't that scary. It has an interesting story, but the overall vibe winds up a bit less "The Turning of the Screw" and a bit more "Tales From the Darkside". That's not necessarily a bad thing; there's a certain pleasure you can get from exploring strange places with heavily weird and dramatic storylines that Shadow Town delivers. I was genuinely interested in finding out what was going on, and all the little clues and journals only served to entice me more. The thing is, the writing is just a bit too awkward and stiff to really carry the eerie vibe and make the whole experience complete.

Twisted Lands: Shadow TownFortunately, the game looks great. While the character models have a little bit of that thousand yard stare going on, the environments are beautiful, richly detailed, and full of atmosphere. There are a lot of objects you can fiddle with, even though they don't do anything, and Mark has something to say about most objects you'll click on. It's a lot of small detail work that manages to make the experience more immersive and the town feel like a real place.

Shadow Town's biggest problem for some players may actually be the lack of direction. You never really want to feel like a game is patronizing you, but at the same time you shouldn't ever feel like you're stumbling around blind either. To be fair, there are generally a lot of clues as to where you should go next, but it also feels like there is far too much running around so that the experience isn't as tight as it should be, especially since the game enjoys making you run all the way across town and back just to pick up one item you suddenly need to proceed. Fortunately, thanks to the game's wonderful hint system it's impossible to get stymied, and if you feel like puzzling things out on your own, the journal will probably provide the clues you need if you look hard enough.

The game is a little on the short side, and will probably run you between three and four hours to play. Twisted Lands: Shadow Town tried to swing for the fences with a tale of horror, and ultimately falls short of really achieving greatness. But what's there is still a solid and thoroughly enjoyable title that shows a lot of promise for the continuance of the series. If what you want is something fun and interesting, Shadow Town provides a weird and involving mystery that will keep you hooked until the end. Hopefully, more questions will be answered in subsequent titles. Until then, I'm just going to assume a wizard did it. A fishy one.

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


  • Currently 4.7/5
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Rating: 4.7/5 (476 votes)
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ChiktionaryHauntTheHouseHallowe'en, that time of year when we can be categorized as one of three types of people; those who like to be scared, those who like to scare, and those who like a little bit of both. When it comes to online Flash games, we at JayIsGames revel in offering some Hallowe'en game fun and in Haunt The House, this is your chance to be the spook, and we don't mean the sort that stare at goats. This simply vibrant and unusual action puzzler by the Super Flash Bros puts you in the role of a ghost who seeks to haunt a house in peace and quiet, but your house has been overrun by a bunch of noisy party guests and it's up to you to scare the living daylights out of all thirty, yes thirty, of them.

Using the [arrow] keys to maneuver your ghost around the house and hover near furnishings. When an item glows hit your [spacebar] and your spirit will possess the object. Hitting your [arrow] keys during possession will cause a variety of actions, and the more you scare the party-goers, the higher your spooky atmosphere will climb meaning more powerful your hauntings will become. Of course, it's great fun to make a stuffed bear growl and claw at the air, but if no-one's around to see it you're only amusing yourself, so it's best to show off your spooky talents when there are people around to witness it, and scream their little cartoony hearts out. It's even better when you get them alone... mwahahaha!

But scare tactics don't affect party people equally. It seems the young and the young-at-heart are up for a good scare at Hallowe'en parties and are seemingly unaffected by your spooky behaviour, so it will take some effort on your part to get them out of your haunt, and that can be downright frustrating. If only ghosts had the power to possess doors and lock them once a room is free of the annoying living. You will be given a game plan of sorts upon starting the game; start at the top and work your way down. The top left of the screen indicates how many people are left in your house to scare, and you've got your spook-o-meter at the bottom of the screen indicating how much haunting power you have.

Haunt The House takes a wee while to warm up, and the fun only grows the more you scare the wits out of your unwanted house guests. And so it should be fun, because it's actually an exhausting and lonely job being a ghost. Whether you like to scare or be scared, you might just find yourself enjoying being the cause of trembling knees and hearty screaming this Hallowe'en by playing Haunt The House. Who knew being a ghost could be this much fun...

Play Haunt The House


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Link Dump Fridays

DoraGreetings, ladies and germs! With Halloween right around the corner, it's our pleasure to bring to you this super-sized Link Dump Friday packed full of seasonal goodness. But just because it's the time of year where you're 66% more likely to find a stringy-haired ghost with enormous teeth under your bed waiting to steal your eyeballs while you sleep doesn't mean things all have to be "Grrrrr" and "Aieeeeeee!" That's why we bring to you an assortment of games for not only those of you who like to scream, but also people who think "It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!" is the scariest thing they ever want to watch. So sit down and play a little before you suit up this Sunday. And then make sure you bring me back all of your Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. It's part of our new Candy Fee. (The Pony Fee didn't quite work out as we'd hoped.)

  • VoragoVorago - [Parental Warning: Not suitable for children.] When they find themselves stranded at a gas station outside a remote town, a young couple is about to find out car repairs are the least of their worries in this point-and-click adventure from Godlimations. While a bit heavy on the symbolism and obscure, illogical puzzles (not to mention certain story similarities), Vorago still offers up a creepy, creative experience with polished animation and voice acting. You probably should stick to more traditional means of sneaking past gas station security mirrors if you ever need to in real life. Like... well, anything but the solution used in this game, really. Anything else at all.
  • Graveyard ManiacsGraveyard Maniacs - 'Cause they're maaaaaniacs, maaaaaaaaaaaniacs fo-sho! And you need to squish 'em with pumpkins before they chomp on yooooou!... well, I never said I was hired for my vocal talents. (Or my people skills. Or my math skills. Or my... this is depressing, let's move on.) This little puzzler from Neutronized may be too simple for some gamers, but if you just want some cute, squishable zombies and some nice light gaming, this is the perfect thing for the season. Just use pumpkins to squash the zombies that thirst for your tender, pixelated flesh while grabbing candy along the way.
  • Undead HighwayUndead Highway - [Parental Warning: Not suitable for children.] It's the zombie apocalypse! Whatcha gonna do? It better involve something with a shotgun and a bag of marbles. This traditional but enjoyable top-down shooter takes fast-paced action and mixes it with a little bit of Dead Rising 2-ish item combination to let you mow down the oncoming horde in creative ways. The downside is that all combinations happen automatically, so you don't get the pleasure of figuring out how to make new weapons yourself, but it's still a solid chunk of zombie action.
  • Pumpkin Remover 2Pumpkin Remover 2 - If you were with us last year, then this physics puzzle is going to look awfully familiar. Use any means necessary (as long as that means is "clicking") to figure out how to remove all pumpkins from the screen in as few moves as possible. The addition of various types of pumpkins jazzes things up a bit, but overall this remains light, simple fun. Although it does kind of make me wonder what you have against pumpkins. What, did one forget to return your mixed tapes in college or something?
  • WerewolfWerewolf - Surprise! It just wouldn't be Halloween without Minoto!... well... okay, so it would, but we would argue that Minoto's trademark brand of silly, cute point-and-click puzzles make everything extra special. While it contains all the giggle-worthy zaniness and strange item descriptions you've come to expect, this installment also has a story, of sorts. And, lucky you, there are four installments to play! So check out parts one, two, three, and four. Trust me, this is loads better than that terrible Jack Nicholson werewolf movie. You know the one I mean.

  • Currently 4.7/5
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Rating: 4.8/5 (117 votes)
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Babylon Sticks: Tips from the Grave comic

Congratulations to The Logical Ghost for the winning caption in our first Babylon Sticks Caption Contest! An email has been sent to you with a list of prizes to choose from.

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


  • Currently 3.7/5
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Rating: 3.7/5 (64 votes)
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Joshcoasterracer.jpgYour car begins to climb up the rickety wooden track, clicking ominously as you rise higher and higher above the ground. Fearlessly you raise your hands up in anticipation of the long, precarious drop that awaits you. Then the clacking slows and stops. You hover for a second, barely moving over the edge... and then... you quickly bring your hands back to the steering wheel as you hit the nitro button, zipping down the track at 170kph, barely missing the other cars as you zip past them, veering into the turn while trying to avoid hitting the sides. Uh oh, there's a gap coming up! Will you hit the jump in time? Whooooaaaaahhhhhhh...

Feeling pumped yet? These two slightly different experiences best describe LongAnimals newest game, Coaster Racer. In this first-person racing game, you compete against 16 other off-road race cars across eight elevated, rollercoaster-like tracks. Classic gaming fans may notice that Coaster Racer has a look and feel similar to the old Amiga title Stunt Car Racer. Like that title, you control your car with the arrow keys, accelerating, turning and braking to avoid hitting the sides or falling off the edge of the elevated track. To add some variety, there's also a rechargeable nitro feature, giving your racer more zip to pass your opponents, and a "freestyle" button that lets you dangerously raise your hands to earn more points. The goal is to complete each track as close to first as possible, or at least qualify to unlock the next track, something that may require several replays on the later levels. Along the way, you can pick up cash on the course and finish races to earn money for upgrades and repairs to your racer.

Coaster Racer is quite a fun casual arcade racing game, and its smooth controls and fluid-looking visuals are excellent examples of Flash technology being pushed to its limits. You really get a sense of speed as you traverse the courses, and the game's nifty blur effects when using nitro helps augment that sense even further. Some of the tracks are really tricky (if you fall off or hit the sides it's almost impossible to catch up to qualify), but practicing the courses helps you anticipate when you need to brake or let go of the acceleration key to get through stretches unscathed. While the damage to your car during play seems a bit arbitrary, and the variety of tracks seems a little thin, overall Coaster Racer is an entertaining break game. If you feel the need for speed, see if you can coast your way to victory in this nifty racer.

Play Coaster Racer


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Rating: 4.1/5 (131 votes)
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TrickyGravity DuckDucks. Who doesn't love ducks? We love them when they wear sailor suits and antagonize chipmunks. We love them when they guide speech-impaired hunters to the homes of smart-alecky rabbits. And we love them when their Maoi Duck God grants them the power over gravity so that they may gather golden eggs for tribute. Such is the case with WoblyWare's new pixelated physics puzzle platformer, Gravity Duck.

You'll be guiding your duck through forty levels of egg-gathering action. The [arrow] keys move your duck left and right (or up and down depending on the gravity). Hitting [X] when on a solid surface flip-turns the gravity upside-down, sending you careening from platform to platform, with the ultimate goal of making way to the golden egg on each screen (and it is required that you be rotated the same way as said egg to pick it up, something that creates a minor but palpable increase in challenge). If you hurtle yourself into a spinning yellow gravity well, the gravity shifts 90 degrees based on which way the well is rotating. Spikes, smashing blocks, caterpillars, spitting flowers and shooting fire flies later make appearances, attempting to poof you into non-existence, as well as the prerequisite bottomless-pits/ceilings/walls. Restarting a level is just a click away however, and progress is saved as you go on, but your progress is erased if you return to an earlier level.

Gravity DuckAnalysis: Gravity Duck is cute and has charm to spare, even if the gravity flipping mechanic is a trend that has been done before and better in more complex games like VVVVVV, the Shift Series or even Metal Storm on the NES (though, to be fair, none of those starred ducks). I did find some of the design elements a little random: the lack of a jump button was odd, especially considering how you control something that has wings. The fact that you could not change gravity in midair made things a little frustrating (though admittedly that might be because I have gotten use to that ability in some of the aforementioned games). I also found it strange that this duck seems to have no defense against creatures typically found lower on the food chain. The levels are consistently breezy and fun, though some of the later ones rely a bit too much on having too perfect timing to complete. But the music is bouncy, the graphics are retro, and triumphing over a level that had given you trouble is as satisfying as always.

What I found most refreshing about Gravity Duck, though, is how it breaks away from some of the pretensions of the niche gravity game genre. In the past, if a platformer was to play with gravity, it seemed that it also had to try to play with your mind, or at least was required to have a severely bleak aesthetic. By contrast, Gravity Duck is colorful, playful and kid-friendly (provided said kid is looking for a challenge), and while it's not particularly unique or varied, it's an all-around enjoyable world to take a waddle through. For what it's worth, the ending sequence cracked me up. I would have said "quacked" me up, but the bounty the word-play police has taken out on me is large enough already.

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ChiktionaryWallace's WorkshopI love it when a flash game presents you with a tried and true formula and still has the ability to get you thinking. Wallace and Gromit are back with another game, Wallace's Workshop; a physics puzzler that will well and truly test your noggin. Necessity is the mother of invention and apparently it's a necessity to get Crash-Test-Wallace from one end of a workshop into a waiting chute by inventing contraptions to help him get there. You'll use a variety of apparatus and mechanisms in your creations including balloons, motors, wheels and rockets. There's even dynamite!

Using your mouse you can select, rotate, place and glue items to the peg-board background, and items can be easily connected together by a simple snap mechanism. Very little time is needed to familiarize yourself with the screen and game elements, and there are helpful tips if required. The inventory is on the right of the screen and can be opened by moving your mouse over it. There's also an action bar, and a menu at the top of the screen which includes home, save, discard and test buttons. Once you've created a contraption hit the test button and watch what happens. You can also use the test button to preview any existing items and figure out what needs to be added to make the contraption work.

If you want more information, you can click on the question-mark next to the item in the inventory and a brief explanation of the item and what it does will open. Another nice little feature is the ability to scroll around the screen; you can do this by simply clicking, holding and dragging.

Before starting the game you can choose to create a BBC Online iD, or play without. Creating an iD gives you access to The Practice Shed where you can experiment and create any kind of contraption you like with no goal other than to have fun. Completing game levels unlocks more items for you to use. The game will automatically save your progress, allowing you to take a break and come back to the game later. Every good inventor needs time to eat, sleep and... other things.

Wallace's WorkshopAnalysis: Essentially, Wallace's Workshop has all that is great about physics games, with some sandbox fun thrown in as well. Throughout the game, Wallace will coach you with encouragement or question your logic, which actually gets a little annoying at times, especially when you're testing and re-testing your inventions. There is a mute button, but it will take all the sound-effects out as well as Wallace's voice.

Patience is a prerequisite for this puzzler; the time between launching Crash-Test-Wallace and his eventual nose-dive into the chute can be a little too prolonged, and there's no fast-forward button. Still, there's something beautiful about watching the dummy wobble elegantly on his motorized perch, or his gangly limbs flailing about as he flies across the workshop.

Some of the puzzles are really challenging and will test your powers of logic. The great thing about Wallace's Workshop though is that, apart from the first few levels, there's more than one solution. This gives all potential inventors that space to tinker away and experiment on different ways to propel Crash-Test-Wallace towards his destination. There's definite replay value with such freedom to create.

So, if you're in the mood for some puzzle solving and experimentation you'll certainly have your curiosity satisfied with a whopping 33 levels to solve. There are also bonus levels to be unlocked in early November, and with The Practice Shed, this is a super-sized game of invention that will test and amuse inventors of all ages and ability.

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DoraGhost HackerYou may be disappointed to learn that Ghost Hacker by CoreSector is not a game where you hack ghosts. But you should cheer up, because it is a great tower defense game where you are a ghost (sorta) who hacks things (sorta, again). You are Alpha... not that you can remember much about yourself, but the woman who serves as your contact informs you that you were a human who volunteered to undergo a process she calls "digitizing". It seems cyberspace is under attack by rogue AI, and the only thing fast enough to deal with them is a human AI. But is everything as it seems? Can you really trust the shadowy, unlikable lady doctor with the supervillain eyewear who barks orders at you between stages? Sounds like a great idea to us!

In each level, your goal is to defend your data cores against the waves of incoming enemies. You start off with only a few tower types, and each can only be placed in certain locations; once placed, you can add coloured upgrades to them that will affect things like splash damage, ricochet, or even slow the bad guys temporarily. If you're looking for a bit of hands-on destruction you also have scripts at your disposal, which not only have various useful effects, but return all your investment after being activated. All of this costs memory, the cyberspace equivalent of the almighty dollar, which is gained by defeating enemies.

You have ten data cores, and if all of them are carried off, it's game over. If you kill an enemy carrying a core, the core will slowly begin to slide back towards the cluster. As you progress, you'll gain additional towers, scripts, and upgrades to use, as well as more slots to put them in. Since different enemies have different powers and weaknesses, you'll want to give some thought as to what you bring to the table if you don't want the enemy forces to hold you down and take all your lunch money within five seconds of clicking "start".

Ghost HackerAnalysis: If you liked the upgrades concept behind Gemcraft, and the varied enemies of Cursed Treasure, then Ghost Hacker is probably going to be the porridge that was juuuuuuust right for you. Although it isn't as complex as either title, Ghost Hacker still wins a lot of points for managing to add just enough strategic elements so things don't get repetitive, and not overcomplicating itself so you feel like you need a flowchart and a business degree to find it entertaining. I have also been informed that the story is rather "Ghost in the Shell"-sy, although I cannot confirm or deny this as I remain woefully ignorant of the source material. What I can tell you is that, while probably a little predictable, the story is still a welcome addition to the game, and provides some nice incentive to keep playing beyond the simple thrill of getting new upgrades and towers to play with.

Although some of the levels can be challenging, Ghost Hacker is not what you might call particularly difficult. It's just so forgiving and easy to pick up and play that even a defeat is a minor setback. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. You'll probably know very early on within a stage if you've made a critical error in choosing your arsenal, so being able to hop out and start all over with the right tools for the job makes things a lot less frustrating. Especially since the various speeds you can swap between at a click means zipping through stages is a breeze with proper artillery. You can even drag towers you've already placed and upgraded anywhere on the map to reposition them at no cost. It's a bit like being visiting a friend who keeps fussing over you. "Everything okay? You comfortable? You can change the channel if you like, it's cool, I wasn't watching that. Do you want some cookies or a new virus to riddle your foes with debilitating disease?"

While not as brain-devouringly addictive as some defense games can potentially be, Ghost Hacker is still an extremely solid and enjoyable title. A little more fleshing out with a skill tree or something similar would have added an element of choice and feeling of freedom that might have provided that immovable hook, but what's there is still a great example of the genre.

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DoraLilith - A Friend at Hallows EveJust because Halloween is around the corner doesn't mean you have to submerge yourself in guts and grossness. Lilith: A Friend at Hallows Eve and its sister title Emma: A Friend at Hallows Eve are two spot-the-difference titles from Difference Games that inject a little sugary sweetness into an otherwise spooky season. Emma and Lilith are just two little girls who want to have fun on Halloween. Emma is an ordinary kid with an awesome hat. Lilith is... a bit different. Both games are played simply by finding and clicking the differences that appear between the two pictures you're shown for each scene. When you find them all, you move on. If you get stuck, you can click on "shake" or "reveal" at the bottom of the screen when available for a hint.

Emma: A Friend at Hallows EveWhile not the deepest experience out there, A Friend at Hallows Eve is the sort of light and simple snack that seems designed solely to put a smile on your face. It's definitely not targeted at older gamers specifically, or people whose sole goal in games is an experience that ends with them firing a gun off into the air while going "arrr!". Instead, it's just a well made, silly, and absurdly cute little experience that will teach children a valuable lesson; mummies are not to be trusted, but vampires are okay, as long as they're not quoting tortured metaphors and poetry at you. The two art styles are vastly different, one being more heavily stylized and the other more reminiscent of a children's book, but are both perfectly suited to the games.

The only real issue, aside from the length, is the fact that past a certain point the stories are identical. Yes, okay, so you're basically just telling the same story from different perspectives, but it makes playing the last half of one game a little dull when you've already played the other. A few extra pages detailing some sort of different ending for each girl would have fleshed both out nicely. Still, both games are well drawn, sweet, and about as adorable as you can get with some sort of permit. So grab your favourite little monster, pull them on your lap, and have them play along. If you don't have kids, of course, feel free to put your nose in the air and sneer that you don't play baby games, and then click both links when you think our backs are turned. It's okay. We won't tell anyone.

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Weekday Escape

GrinnypThis week's escape is a previous work from one of the talented new designers recently featured on Weekday Escape. Remember Rosetta Escape, with its cool and fresh new take on escape the room puzzles? Well, Otousan designed a game before that, a lovely little gem titled Enigma. Buckle up folks, It's Weekday Escape time!

EnigmaAt first glance Enigma is pretty bare bones. A room, 4 walls, a door, a few pieces of furniture, all in a very flat cartoony style is basically all you see in this fun little point-and-click escape. However, the depth reveals itself as you explore the small space. Once again we have the basic conventions of a standard room escape: keys, screwdrivers, and lots of doors and drawers to open. Then you stumble across the unique puzzles, centered around a cool, retro orange rotary dial phone.

You can see here the germ of what would later become the amazingly complex tile puzzles of Rosetta Escape, this time contained within the aforementioned phone. Each puzzle becomes a little more difficult than the last, requiring some lateral thinking. The combination of the expected elements with the keys and screwdrivers and the original puzzles dealing with the phone are what make Enigma so fun, and are definitely the blueprint for the later game with its even more convoluted puzzles.

Move around by using the arrows at the side and bottom of the screens and click on items for a close up or to manipulate them, all pretty basic navigation. A changing cursor would have been nice, but frankly the space is so uncluttered that it's pretty easy to see what you can click on for a close up. Although a Japanese game, Enigma requires absolutely no knowledge of the language to complete it. All of the puzzles are use of found objects, logic, or math. The only puzzle that features letters uses basic English alphabet, so no worries there. Some of the puzzles are color based, though, so the game might be difficult for the color-blind crowd.

Is this the perfect escape game? Well, no, but it's nice to go back and see the progression from Enigma to Rosetta Escape, and realize that we have here a very talented designer who is not afraid to create unique and fun puzzles rarely seen in standard room escapes. Enigma is not that difficult, but it might take more than a few minutes to find your way out of this charming game. However, taking your time is half the fun. Sit back, relax, and see if you can solve...Enigma (cue appropriately dramatic music here)!

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ChiktionaryHeist: A Thief's NightmareGet your Halloween treat bags ready all you fans of the point-and-click horror genres for a double dose of Oz Mafioso. Heist: A Thief's Nightmare and Heist 2: Greed is Hell are two creepy treats that will have you playing the role of a thief to avoid death traps in a creepy, abandoned house while seeking out some loot. And you might not get out alive. Cat burglars might have nine lives, but common thieves only get three.
Using your mouse navigate through creepy, old houses to find keys, unlock doors, search rooms, and use objects to assist you in your thieving quest. There are certain unexpected twists along the way, which Oz Mafioso refers to as "random death sequences".

Heist: A Thief's NightmareIn the first game, you've just broken a window to gain entry into an empty house. In this old place you've got to find and use implements to gain access to rooms and closets. To do this, click the "Use" button and then on the item you wish to use. There's also a "Map" button which gives you a basic floor-plan of the house. Clickable areas are indicated by a changing cursor, although there will be a little bit of hunting around for out of the way areas of interest. You'll need to have your reflexes ready for the random death traps, which will involve you having to click or use the [arrow] keys. There are 'easter-eggs' in the form of an in-game surprise if you combine the right objects, and 'unlocks' which can be accessed from the main menu once the game has been successfully completed once. Oz Mafioso has creatively combined high-pitched tense music, creepy sound effects, great visuals and cartoon horror which, with the element of surprise, makes for truly an on-edge experience.

Heist 2: Greed Is HellIn the sequel, after a long, but not so leisurely drive through the country on a dark and stormy night, you once again find yourself in an old house, but this time you're smart; this time you're actually wearing a balaclava. As in the first Heist episode, you need to locate keys to unlock doors and find various items hidden in corners. The navigation is a little more awkward in this episode with [arrows] glowing momentarily to point the way, but your cursor will change on clickable hotspots such as entryways or points of interest, which does help. Again you've got three chances to survive the random death sequences, and again you won't know whether to use your keyboard or mouse until virtually the last second. Like the first Heist, you'll experience the tension and frustration of having to avoid and survive death traps, but with more great graphics and sound effects Heist 2 is another freaky Halloween treat to be enjoyed.

Both episodes are relatively short games, but there can be had quite a bit of creepiness, some on-edge moments and not just a small dose of frustration. The random death sequences can throw the game, particularly as you won't know whether to use your mouse or keyboard until virtually the last second. You may experience some frustration at these moments, but I'm sure you'll agree these points in the game contribute to an atmosphere of tension and unease, which is just what we like at Halloween. Right?

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BoondogJohnBBoondog is an action/puzzle platformer similar to classic titles such as Another World and the original Prince of Persia. The main character is quite the acrobat, able to jump, climb, and leap all over the place at will. The action is parceled out in simple moves, though, forcing you to perform your physical feats one step at a time, and only after careful thought and execution. Add to that a bit of Sokoban-style barrel pushing and you've got an excellent diversion that tests both mental and physical reflexes.

Boondog actually began as a downloadable game but managed to make a smooth transition to the browser world. Use the [arrow] keys to run left and right, and tap [X] to jump forward. The [up] arrow key allows you to leap straight in the air, grabbing any ledges your nimble fingers come in contact with. You can only reach blocks just above your head, and if you fall more than a few spaces, you'll go splat. To combat this, you're able to crouch down and lower yourself from block edges, shortening your fall. You also have the extra-useful cat grab that positions you at the ready hanging off the edge of a block. From here you can leap further than a standing jump, allowing you to cross greater distances.

Maneuvering around ledges is the key to mastering Boondog, and before long you'll be climbing, hanging, cat grabbing and dropping around each level like a pro. Each stage has an exit teleporter you're trying to reach, and making it there will involve a lot of careful climbing. You'll also need to flip the odd switch or two, often weighing them down with barrels you can push using the [X] key, to turn on platforms or switch off dangerous things.

The first dozen or so levels of Boondog ease you slowly into the game, and after that, you're on your own. Puzzles get more complex, requiring more planning and a lot better timing. Unfortunately, one mistake is all it takes to end the level, so take it slow and easy to avoid frustration. Otherwise, settle in and enjoy a great 2D puzzle platformer!

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BradApocalyxApokalyx is a turn-based RPG recently released by Xplored. It's set 600 years after a cataclysmic event that brought the world to its knees. No one is sure what exactly the event was, but nonetheless it has radically changed the world; it caused mutations, gave rise to slavery and ushered the way for history's favorite blood sport: gladiatorial combat.

In Apokalyx you'll create a character by first choosing one of the three races: Mutant, Stark One or Wildcat. The biggest difference between each race is the powers they have. Each race has 30 different powers that can be earned using skill points. After that you can select a pre-made build that best describes your playing style such as "tank" or "aggressive." If you want to get your hands dirty and distribute your starting stat points yourself there's also an option for that. After that you can customize your character's appearance, and then it's time to go to town to prepare for battle.

The town area is where you'll go between battles and it consists of three locations. The store is where you'll be buying and selling, naturally. The barracks is where you go to distribute the skill points you earn after every battle. Finally, in the tavern you can hire allies who will stay with you for one fight, or get some info on your opponents.

Last but certainly not least is the arena, where the bulk of the game is. Combat is turn based and you'll control all actions with your mouse. Click on an enemy to attack and choose whether you want to use on of your powers or perform a physical strike. If you're doing a physical strike you can attack multiple times, but your accuracy will decrease with each successive attack, which also goes for dual-wielding weapons. Click on yourself and you can choose to heal or use a power. If you're bringing allies into the fray with you they'll be AI controlled. After you mop the floor with your enemies, you'll get to loot one piece of equipment from the body or bodies of the fallen.

ApokalyxAnalysis: If you like RPGs for stat management and combat, then you and Apokalyx are going to get along very well. This game is all about combat and it gives you hours of it, which is a bit of a double-edge sword. On one hand, the combat is fun, fast and polished and it will appeal to players who find more traditional RPGs kind of slow. On the other, if you don't like such a combat focused game, or you get bored with all the battling, well, there's nothing else to do. However, even without sidequests or much in the way of story, if you like turnbased combat there's still a lot to like about Apokalyx... you just might want to play it in short sittings.

The combat system is simple and well done. If you manage your stats right none of the fights will be particularly difficult, but that works for the game because it keeps things rolling.There are a total of 60 battles in the game and if the difficulty made major spikes then the game would lose the important one-more-level quality that will keep you going forward. There are some other smart features that keep the game from getting tedious, such as the repeat button. If you're playing as a really strong bruiser-type character, then you'll find yourself endlessly selecting enemies, selecting how many times you want to attack them and then going through the process again on the next turn. The repeat button saves you from that by just repeating your last actions. This keeps battles nice and quick. Another handy feature is that the game auto-saves your progress after every level, so you'll never have to worry about getting killed and being set a long way back because you forgot to save. The ally AI is usually pretty good, but sometimes it would be nice to be able to direct their attacks.

Apokalyx looks pretty good, even if there's not a whole lot to look at. The characters are well modeled, though it'd be nice if there was more variety. The artwork style used in the intro videos is very striking and it's a shame we don't get more of it because not only does it look good, but it's really visually interesting. The voice acting during the intro scenes isn't bad, but in-game at the beginning of each round as the combatants are trading taunts it can get a little old. Thankfully they go by pretty quick and you can skip over them easily enough. Otherwise, the sound is pretty good, with hit sounds and audience reaction during combat as nice touches.

If you're a fan of games like Swords and Sandals, or you tried them but wished there was more to them, then Apokalyx is just the game for you. While it'd be nice if Xplored had included more than just combat, they've still made a fun game. The repetition and limited scope might turn off some players, but Apokalyx works just as well in small doses as it does for long sessions of play. If you want a turn-based combat heavy RPG then Apokalyx will keep you busy for a very long time.

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The Vault

joye"Will you step into my vault?" said the joye to the JayIsGames readers. And there she stopped, because the idea of attempting to parody the entire poem was the scariest thing she'd heard of this Halloween season. Nothing else could compare. Certainly not these three games. Nope. No disturbing underbelly to any of THESE games. Just pure, innocent Tuesday goodness.

  • The TelephoneThe Telephone - This game is a wonderful point-and-click... no, I guess it's more of a webtoy... although it does seem to be a puzzle... and it's interactive and artsy... Hmm. Maybe this will become clearer after I snarfle a few more Reesy Cup milkshakes. Anyway, there's very definitely no sinister significance to the numbers I'm deducing and then dialing into the keypad. The game advances the player through various eye-catching locations, with art styles varying from harsh photo-realism to imaginative cutouts. Considering that it was created back in 2004, the fact that it continues to be visually impressive is a serious achievement.
  • The HouseThe House - Oh sure, this point-and-click game about a house in which the entire family committed suicide might SEEM scary. But can it really compare to the soul-sucking monstrosity of the sub-prime mortgage crisis? Creepy underbelly: absent. I categorically deny that, despite this game's brief length, it took me several times to complete it because I kept screaming and closing the window. And for your information, my bedroom light got stuck in the on position, okay? Besides, that was 2005, and even if I were scared by it then, which I totally wasn't, I am now all about grown-up fears. I am only scared by games about houses that are abandoned because of robo-signer foreclosures.
  • SafeplacesSafeplaces - See, there can't be anything creepy in this 2004 webtoy. Why, it has safe places right as its name, with a space removed for extra safety. Go ahead, chase away the toadstool with your mouse. Pull clouds around individually, or rotate them all. Chill to the relaxing electronic beats. Awww, the little frog sounds like it's burping! There's definitely no hidden puzzle here or anything like that. Yes, this webtoy surely deserves inclusion here solely for what's on the surface, because the surface is all there is. Why are you looking at me like that? You don't believe me? There's a word for people like you: suspicious. I bet you're not even going to go with me to get candy from that nice man in the trench coat. Well, that just means more for me.

Feel free to talk about this weekly feature in the comments, or make suggestions on where to score some more sweets from unmarked vans with tinted windows, but if you need help with a particular game, please write your question on the game's review page, not here.


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MikeSky SerpentsAh, the majestic sky serpent. Such a splendorous mystery! No one can fathom why these aloof, graceful creatures patrol the skies in their enigmatic, serpentine way. But what of it? What does a young hotshot sky-serpent-slayer like yourself care for the peculiarities of mythological ecology? You've got a couple of swords, a swashbuckling, garishly magenta cape and cowl, and the need to prove yourself the aerial master of slaying these beautiful creatures. Sky Serpents, from popular developer Nitrome, casts you as a quasi-Norse hero on a sky-borne, gravity-defying quest to kill as many sky-serpents as you can to beat all records.

Control the little sky-Viking upstart with the [arrow] keys. Slash your sword with the [spacebar]. Key to successful sky-serpent-slaying is latching onto vulnerable spots and other areas, using the [arrow] keys in the direction you need to stab. That way you can hold on while your prey bucks and weaves and slithers about. You don't need to continue holding the [arrow] key to stay latched on, and you can detach yourself by using the [arrow] keys in the opposite direction. By sufficiently crushing every vulnerable spot, you defeat your snaky quarry and move onto the next level.

Because it's all about fighting and killing one gigantic magical creature per level, some players may recognize similarities between Sky Serpents and the PlayStation title Shadow of the Colossus. Indeed, Sky Serpents even manages to present some of the same majesty and tragic pathos in killing such creatures, even if the hero of Sky Serpents comes across as more of a twerp. The big difference is that Sky Serpents is airborne, and while the sticky de-latching controls can often frustrate, in general the game evokes the feeling of thrill-seeking recklessness that one must experience when one wrestles giant flying beasts with nothing but a pair of blades and a bold sense of derring-do. It's a rare game that makes playing such an amoral rake quite as fun. Play Sky Serpents, not to save the kingdom or fulfill the prophecy, but to prove that you are the best.

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JoshBlosics 2 Level PackTell me, what's more satisfying than building an intricate structure of carefully-placed, precariously-balanced green blocks? Watching it crumble, that's what. Seeing each individual piece delightfully spin and bounce off each other with cold, hard physics goodness, heading towards sweet, off-screen oblivion. Then again, I guess some people just like building stuff. Well now you can do BOTH. Jacek Perzanowski's Igrek Productions has opened up his popular Blosics 2 to the masses and presents the Blosics 2 Level Pack, which lets you build new levels and challenge yourself to 30 new stages created by many different level designers.

For those unacquainted with the Blosics series, the object is to use projectile physics to knock down structures, earning enough points to move on to the next level. Your arsenal consists of various-sized balls, some with unlockable properties. Starting in a special shooting zone, you click and pull back your shots, rubber-band style, before letting them fly. Bigger and heavier balls cost more points to fire, so ball selection and careful aim is crucial. Green blocks earn you points, while red blocks take points away. Adding to the challenge are various surfaces (stone, rubber, and ice), exploding blocks, and floating balloon blocks. For added replayability, each level also has a special challenge, such as reaching the point goal with only one shot. Overcoming challenges give you credits towards new unlockable projectiles.

Play all the Blosics games:
BlosicsBlosics 2Blosics 2 Level PackBlosics 3

The highlight of the Blosics 2 Level Pack is its 30 new levels, and they are an interesting mix of fun, challenge, and silliness. Some levels require perfect accuracy, while others (such as the "Ready... Aim..." level) are exercises in pure awesome. Since this is a level pack made by different designers, there isn't really the same type of ramp up in difficulty like in Blosics 2, and some levels (especially the challenges) seem extremely hard by the middle of the game. A few stages practically require the use of the unlockable projectiles, especially to complete some of the tricky challenges. In addition to the new levels, fans will be happy to notice the game's easy-to-use, robust level editor, which allows you to import and export levels as lines of text. The editor even saves images of your level design for easy posting.

While not a true sequel, Blosics 2 Level Pack provides fans with a new batch of challenges they've been sorely waiting for. Aside from the editor and levels, there's not much new here, but with its solid physics system and nice graphical quality (I still love those blur effects), the Blosics 2 engine doesn't really need many changes. So raise a toast to physics as you either enjoy this latest round of block smashing fun or create your own falling structures, feeling that sense of true satisfaction you so richly deserve.

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SpreadPath screen 1ArtbegottiWhat is growth? Is it the flourishing through upward motion, or is it the expansion through outward excursions? In SpreadPath, a unique new puzzle game by Andrey Shponko (Siglu-Ishlu), we focus our attention on the latter theory. Mysterious creatures thrive not by motion, but by spreading and passing on the task to their descendants. Can you discover the philosophies of this mysterious breed and spread your way to bliss?

In order to achieve enlightenment by spreading, you must cover each target square with a creature of the matching color. Each active eyeball-like creature (indicated by leaves around it) will spread in all four directions (or whichever directions are available) when you click on it or press the [spacebar]. After spreading, an eyeball turns inactive and can't be used again. By spreading through multiple generations, you can create a path to the target.

However, if two or more differently-colored eyeballs attempt to spread to the same square, they will blend and become instantly inactive, forcing a tricky roadblock. To work around this problem, you have several tactics you can use to guide the eyeballs in the direction you want. Some levels come with moveable stones that can block off paths, while others come with bombs that clear already-laid paths. You might need to shuffle bridges around in the water to manually build a path to the targets, or use a portal to get to another part of the level.

SpreadPath screen 2Analysis: SpreadPath is a short but clever take on the Point-A to Point-B with Restriction-C puzzle. The pseudo-ancient philosophical take on the eyeballs' existence makes for some interesting narrative to ponder while playing through the game. If there's one flaw in how the game presents itself, it's the world map which, like in the game, "spreads" to open multiple new levels to play as you complete them. This is a nifty idea, but since you have the power to tackle levels out of order, you might not get the proper tutorial for handling a certain game mechanic until after you've already plowed through it on another level, or the levels might feel like they're jumping around in terms of difficulty.

Order aside, it's hard to pin down the difficulty level of this game. Some levels can be solved with just a bit of foresight and planning, while others take some trial-and-error and exploration to figure out how to correctly guide the eyeballs in the right direction. With a bit of careful play, you can probably plow through a majority of the puzzles rather quickly, but then get hung up on a few toughies.

Wherever your path takes you, SpreadPath is an intriguing challenge to push your logic and puzzle-solving abilities into new territories. Try your hand at the enigmas presented to you, and find your way to enlightenment through spreading. Just be sure to pass on your newly-found knowledge to future generations!

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Mobile Monday

JohnBMore games, more diversity! This week's edition of Mobile Monday has you chasing UFOs, competing in popularity contests, and listening to bad poetry from pigs wearing armor. We dare you to claim you're bored!

manhole.jpgThe Manhole: Masterpiece Edition - Another release from Myst creator Cyan Worlds, The Manhole was first released back in 1988 on a set of floppy disks as a point-and-click adventure game for kids. Now, a quick iPhone download and anyone can enjoy the remade adventure game, complete with quirky voice acting and plenty of things to experience. Just like Myst, tap on things you want to interact with, and move from screen to screen by tapping passageways. Interestingly, The Manhole has no ending. The object is to simply walk around and explore, and you'll have an amazing time doing just that!

gonative.jpgGo Native! - A quiz game that's not about being right, it's about being popular! Played online with random people, Go Native! puts you in a race to meet Princess Mango. She only meets with the best of the best, so in order to be a winner, you need to choose the most popular answer for each round. Expect questions like "Which is most fun to watch someone playing: air guitar, air harmonica, air drums, air tambourine?" and "My favorite kind of bubbles are: thought bubbles, popped bubbles, economic bubbles, soap bubbles". The answers aren't always what you think, so making it to the end is sometimes as much luck as it is skill, but it's a great, unusual kind of quiz game that's fun to play now and again.

ufoontape.jpgUFO on Tape - This one wins points for being a crazy idea. UFO on Tape is a very simple game of reflexes. You're driving along when suddenly your pals spot a UFO in the distance. Naturally you whip out the camera and get it on tape, but between the vibrating car and the bumpy road, you're having a tough time getting a still picture. Move the iPhone and try to keep the UFO on camera as long as you can. Great practice for when this happens to you in real life!

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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Winter Voices: Avalanche

JohnBWinter Voices: Avalanche is a quiet, slow-paced, and very different kind of tactical role playing game. You play a young girl living in a snowy village whose father has just passed away. Dealing with the emotions that follow is difficult, and the mysteries surrounding her father's past makes it even more challenging. Avalanche is the first in a series of episodes telling the story of Winter Voices, and if you're looking for a game that's heavy on emotion, character, and storytelling, this one won't disappoint.

Winter Voices: AvalancheThe game begins as many role playing games do: choosing your character, including picking a portrait, profession, and adjusting your stats. You won't find the usual "strength, intelligence, wisdom, etc." in Winter Voices, though. Instead, traits such as Memory, Will Power, and Perspicacity are available, each representing a portion of the main character's emotional makeup while simultaneously serving as the mathematical basis for the role playing part of the game.

Winter Voices is very text-heavy, and you'll spend plenty of time walking back and forth talking to people and navigating conversation trees one choice at a time. The dialogue options available to you are based on different attitudes a grieving person might adopt at a time like this one, ranging from mournful to angry, teary-eyed and even sarcastic. You gain experience from talking to people, so even if you, yourself, aren't feeling chatty, you'll find a reason to begin conversations.

Winter Voices: AvalanchePerhaps the most interesting part of Winter Voices is the combat system. Most games give you a weapon to hit things with. In Winter Voices, though, your only weapons are "spells", and even those spells aren't spells in the conventional sense. Each time you enter a battle, you're facing off against your own inner emotions. Enemies are representations of different feelings or nagging thoughts inside your head (Shadow of Doubt, Insistent Memory, etc.), and doing battle with them is a symbolic way to move forward. You'll use skills like Betrayal, which causes you to deny your own personality in favor of a better one, thus preventing far away enemies from damaging you, or Courage, which increases your energy points for a few turns. The spell list goes on and on, as evidenced by a portion of the snowflake-shaped skill tree pictured below. All of this fits perfectly with the game's somber storyline, and it's the perfect way to tie in gameplay with plot.

Analysis: Winter Voices: Avalanche is a very unusual experience, and Beyond the Pillars is bravely trying something different with an established genre. The team was obviously going for story and atmosphere over gameplay, and the sense of lethargy that pervades the game is sometimes overbearing to the point that you feel a bit down yourself. Mix that in with slow battles, a grieving main character, and emotional reminders in every screen, and you've got a game you really can't take lightly.

Winter Voices: AvalancheThe game's music and visuals are beautiful, there's no other way to describe them. Everything feels calm and cold. Not a peaceful and happy calm and cold, but an anticipatory sort of feeling where mystery is abound. The atmosphere is expertly set to suit both the gameplay and the story, and you'll find the writing is equally poetic and mysterious.

Even though Winter Voices provides a great interactive experience, it's not quite perfect. You'll find the combat is painfully sluggish at times, and waiting for enemy animations to complete is a bit boring. In fact, the whole of the game seems to move a little slow, something that fits well with the story, but when you're out and about exploring the countryside, you don't want to wait 30 seconds while your character walks across the screen. The writing, while vivid and poetic in nature, can border on pretentious at times, but I never felt it was too over the top.

Winter Voices: Avalanche provides a unique role playing experience with a great presentation and storytelling that will really engage you. The gameplay shortcomings will hopefully be tended to in future episodes, but as it stands, Avalanche is a great experience for the right kind of player. It's not a cheery game, so if a bit of moody storytelling is what you're looking for, Winter Voices will do the trick.

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Time Mysteries: Inheritance

JoshWhether it's some kid driving 88 MPH in a modified DeLorean, two high schoolers having a most excellent journey in a special phone booth, or a quirky British guy in a scarf stepping out of a strange police box, popular culture has shown that people enjoy a good time-traveling tale. It comes as no surprise then that the developers at Artifex Mundi have tapped into this compelling chrono-concept in their latest hidden object adventure game, Time Mysteries: Inheritance.

Time Mysteries: InheritanceIn this new title, you play a pretty young English physicist named Vivien Ambrose who travels to her father's country house to celebrate a recent award. Upon arriving she notices something amiss — who's that mysterious figure in her father's abandoned attic, and what was that sudden flash of light up there? After investigating, she finds her father missing and a cryptic note about her inheritance, seven rings, and a crystal ball. What follows is a time-traveling adventure spanning over a millennium, filled with varied locales, interesting characters, and numerous puzzles.

As an adventure-puzzler, Time Mysteries: Inheritance relies on your powers of observation along with nimble point-and-click mouse skills. In the adventure game portion, you get to travel to different locations, examine areas, and pick up objects (made easier thanks to a context-sensitive cursor and visible "hotspots"). Certain contextual puzzles require you to use a number of items from your inventory while consulting your diary to accomplish various tasks. Along the way you will encounter different characters and have text dialogues with them over beautifully-rendered scenes.

The meat and potatoes of gameplay, however, is the game's distinctive puzzles. There are around 18 assorted types of puzzles to be solved over the course of the game, each of them nicely themed around the storyline as Vivien traverses time and space to find her father. The vast majority of the puzzles are densely-populated hidden object scenes with a unique list of objects to find. No time limits get in the way of solving any of these puzzles, and hints are generously offered thanks to a recharging hint and skip system. In addition, many traditional puzzles make their appearance, including spot-the-difference, Towers of Hanoi, tangrams, and Mastermind.

Time Mysteries: InheritanceAnalysis: I was happily surprised at the quality and level of engagement in Time Mysteries: Inheritance. This was one of my first exposures to downloadable games in a while, and in it I found an offering worthy of software found on store shelves. The graphics are lush and impressive, with a hand-painted look to them. The stationary scenes make good use of different lighting and animated effects to make them more dynamic. Further heightening the game's immersive quality is its excellent music soundtrack, which effectively places you in the time period Vivien happens to be visiting.

The adventure aspect of Time Mysteries: Inheritance is entertaining and geared towards the more casual gamer. I never encountered a situation where I didn't know what to do or where to go, but at the same time didn't feel that things were being made too easy for me. Each object has a fairly clear use, and talking to characters or referring to your diary makes things pretty clear. The storyline is a little far-fetched at times (Vivien can converse in perfect modern English with her 7th Century ancestor!), but interesting nonetheless, and makes you want to learn a bit more about the Ambrose lineage as you play.

As far as the puzzles go, they are challenging without being too difficult, and the high quality of the graphics makes playing through them quite fun. There isn't too much ramp-up in difficulty — most of the hidden object screens are similar in their number of objects and their deviousness in object placement. A few puzzles, such as the chess-knight level and the puzzle involving filling a board with toggled runes, will likely require much plugging away and experimentation before they are vanquished. Having the hint button readily available without serious consequence (except for having to play a match-3 mini-game to recharge your hints) means that you shouldn't have much difficulty getting through the game. For more seasoned gamers, an "expert" mode is available if you want fewer opportunities for hints and less visible hotspots.

Time Mysteries: Inheritance is a fun puzzler and adventure offering that should appeal to most casual gamers looking for an enjoyable experience across various settings. It uses the time-traveling concept to good advantage, giving players a nice assortment of puzzles and locations you might not normally find together in a single game. While some hard core adventure fans and puzzle solvers might feel this 3-5 hour offering leaves them wanting more, this game delivers an entertaining experience overall. It even leaves the door open at the end for a sequel, so perhaps we may see more time-bending titles with the Ambrose clan in the future... or perhaps the past? So think about putting aside some time yourself for this time bending game and see if you can tackle the challenge and help rescue Vivien's lost father.

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Campfire Legends: The Babysitter

DoraReady for a creepy new adventure game? Then maybe you should point-and-click the lights out (ba-dum-tsh!) and give this a try. Campfire Legends: The Babysitter, a point-and-click horror adventure, is a new spin on the classic urban legend every teenage girl has probably heard at least once. Looking to pick up a bit of extra cash, as well as a recommendation from her Dean for medical school, Lisa agrees to babysit his twin daughters one night. Naturally the Laws of Scary Stories dictate this particular family must live in a suitably spooky old house frequently backlit by lightning flashes, but Lisa isn't afraid. Probably thinks her enormous purple plastic bracelets and high-tech portable cassette player will protect her. Ah, the 80's!

Campfire Legends: The BabysitterThe twins don't seem to want her around. At least, Libby doesn't, whose rare skin condition has left her sullen and unfriendly. When strange things happening, Lisa starts to get impatient with the girls... even though Maggie insists everything is the work of Libby's imaginary friend, Nate, who lives in the closet. Kids today, amirite? As Lisa, you'll explore the old house, tracking down objects needed to complete puzzles, and doing important babysitter duties, like making hot chocolate for the twins, assuming the deep, angry male voice on the phone ordering you out of the house is a six-year-old girl playing a prank, and not informing the lady of the house about the figure you saw in the upstairs window before she leaves. Atta girl, Lisa. It's always important to provide a good role model for young girls who might someday want to be knocked unconscious by a madman.

Unlike most hidden-object games, the only items you'll ever be required to look for are items you actually need. The game will tell you what items you need for a specific task, and you'll have to track them down.The hint system comes in the form of fireflies that can be found scattered everywhere; each one is worth one hint, and since you need three of them to skip a puzzle, you'll want to keep your eyes peeled for them. (Up to five can be carried.) Their location in each room is random, so don't assume that just because one isn't in the last place you saw it doesn't mean it's missing.

Analysis: Having been an enormous fan of The Hookman, the first game in the Campfire Legends series, I can't tell you how happy I was to discover that not only was the series being continued, it was being held to the same high standards. The game is visually impressive and generally very well acted, if it tends to rely a bit too much on excessively dramatic music. Playing The Babysitter is a lot like playing a 1980's B horror movie, minus a montage of the heroine trying on silly hats. It's fun, it's campy, and even scary. Of course, the potential problem with that is that there are quite a lot of jump scares in this game, particularly towards the end, so you might want to think twice about playing this one if you hate things being thrown at your face while the music goes REEEEEEE!

Campfire Legends: The BabysitterThe Babysitter doesn't just take a few steps to the left of its source material; it catches a plane to another part of the country and puts on a goofy disguise. The original story is probably a lot scarier, with its simple premise and ambiguity, but the game's plot is a lot more complex, and thus a lot more interesting. Things get weird very quickly, and finding out just what is going on is a great incentive to keep at it. Of course, the question remains whether you can forgive being forced to play a character who does all the stupid things you yell at people not to do in a movie. Don't go down the stairs, don't go down the stairs... "I think I'll go down the stairs!" YOU FOOL!

It's just unfortunate, then, that the latter half of the game winds up dragging its feet due to some tedious item collecting. You spend far too much time scouring the environment for tiny items, and more often than not, as soon as you finish with that one list, you're presented with another. Since items can be very small and very carefully hidden in dark areas, chances are you will wind up using hints. This wouldn't be that big of a deal, except the hint system isn't very helpful in tracking down those little items unless there's one in the room. Click on a firefly, and unless there's an object you need in your immediate vicinity, you'll probably waste a hint because the game will just vaguely point you towards another room, or just tell you that you should solve the puzzle.

While it lacks the tight gameplay design of its predecessor, The Hookman, Campfire Legends: The Babysitter, is still a beautifully made and highly enjoyable title that is well worth your time if you're looking for something fun and even a little scary as everyone's favourite BOOGA BOOGA holiday approaches. Which leaves us with only one thing left to say... THIS REVIEW IS COMING FROM INSIDE THE HOUSE!

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Still Life

DoraEverybody says you shouldn't let your past control you, but what if you don't have a choice? In present-day Chicago, Victoria "Vic" McPherson is an FBI agent on the trail of a serial killer who has been growing more and more violent with each discovered victim. In 1920's Prague, her grandfather, Gustav, is a P.I. investigating the death and disappearances of a growing number of prostitutes. When she finds her grandfather's journal in the attic, Vic begins to notice some disturbing similarities between the case she's working now, and the string of murders her grandfather was working on nearly eighty years ago. But any similarities must be coincidence, or else the work of a copy-cat. After all, there's no possible way the killer could still be around all these decades later... is there? Still Life is a murder mystery in the form of an adventure game that, for all its ups and downs, is a lot of fun to play and has a great story at its core.

Still LifeYou play with the mouse, clicking to interact when the cursor changes, and clicking on the ground to move there. (You can actually double-click to run, although the boost of speed you get from it is negligible.) During conversation you can press the [spacebar] to skip through a block of text, or the left and right mouse buttons to ask questions. Right-clicking or pressing [ESC] will open the menu where you can use and view your inventory, journal, or save and load your game almost any time you want. Since you're rarely given specific directions, it's important to listen to what the characters tell you, or look around your environment for clues.

Be warned that since this game was made in olden times you cannot skip puzzles, and at least one lockpicking minigame may drive you absolutely insane, even with a guide. Ah, 2005. When puzzles were overcomplicated and gamers wept. In fact, while most of the puzzle-solving in Still Life revolves around standard adventure game use-this-item-here shenanigans, there are still quite a few surprisingly difficult ones.

As both Vic and her grandfather Gus, you'll explore two different locations and two different time periods. The gameplay shifts between them in chapters. Playing as Vic, you'll use high-tech forensic equipment to gather and analyze evidence, or chase down suspects in a 4x4. When Vic stops to read her grandfather's journal when she has the time, the perspective shifts to Gustav, who may have to resort to more "old fashioned" methods of investigation, but has a rather unusual ability that may come in handy as well. While technically the sequel to a game called Post Mortem that focuses on one of Gustav's earlier cases, the game is an independent story that doesn't need any background to be enjoyed.

Still LifeAnalysis: One thing you can never accuse Still Life of is rushing anything. Even when you wish they would, in fact, since you'll do a lot of moving slowly from place to place talking to people at great length. Fortunately, when the story does start rolling along, what emerges is actually a really good mystery story with a lot of tension and genuinely creepy moments. Of course, you should probably suspect some cheesiness too, and plot points aren't always handled as smoothly as you might hope. The story also seems to assume you're reading Vic and Gustav's notes as they get updated; there's a lot of background information in there on various people that gives some much-needed perspective and insight into the relationships they share with the protagonists.

The thing is, the gameplay is far from bad, but most of the time you're lead around by the nose. If you can't figure out a puzzle, you just can't proceed until you do. There's no way to really mess anything up since you don't have any choice, and it's disappointing that your sole interaction in conversation is simply to click the mouse and prompt the next line of dialogue. If you can't choose what you say, why even bother involving us at all? And this might seem a small nitpick, but why does everyone in Prague speak flawless English with no accent at all? People with the least Anglo-American names you can come up with start commenting on Gus's non-existent American accent, and one woman speaks flawless French at one point for no reason despite never having only spoken English prior.

Still LifeThe tone kind of strikes an odd balance between an episode of whatever your favourite cop television drama is, and a vaguely Broken Sword-ish sense of humour. Actually, it's a bit like what you'd get if you kidnapped Dan Brown and forced him to write an episode of NCIS. Vic makes a great protagonist, despite a tendency to crack some legendarily corny jokes at inappropriate times. It's great to see a female lead that's well rounded instead of leaning towards either extreme; soft and shy, or unpleasantly sarcastic and aggressive. Plus, how can you not like an FBI agent who owns a pair of bunny slippers when she's not kicking in doors or chasing bad guys on rooftops?

One of the best things I can say about Still Life is that the more I played it, the more engrossed I became, until I was genuinely sorry to see it end. Despite some issues with pacing, some cheesy moments, and relatively unoriginal gameplay, it's bolstered by a wonderful cast, absolutely gorgeous environments, a satisfyingly creepy mystery, and top notch production values for its time. Sadly, there's not really any replay value to be had; after all, once you've uncovered a mystery, what's the point in following the same trail of clues to the same ending again? But while it lasts, Still Life is definitely worth a look for fans of old-school-ish adventure gaming with a taste for a good story.

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Weekend Download

JohnBWhat's the most entertaining household object you can think of? Did you say "wooden crate"? Or, perhaps, "magnet"? "Broom"? You probably did, and since you did, you are rewarded with games that use said entertaining objects to provide even more entertainment in a digital, computerized form.

supercratebox.gifSuper Crate Box (Windows/Mac, 20MB, free) - Remember the days of standing in sticky-floored arcades pumping quarters into a machine that would allow you to keep playing a game so you could enter your initials on the high score board? Super Crate Box aims to recreate that feeling (the high score bit, not the sticky floors) with its own brand of high-action 2D arena... action! Your goal is to pick up enough crates to continue to the next level. Each crate gives you a different weapon, a weapon you need to use to keep the constantly-spawning enemies at bay. It's a simple mechanic that's masterfully done, as you can't hold on to better weapons because you need more crates to continue. Play it once, die, play it again, live a little longer, then keep doing it because it's so darn fun.

magnesian.jpgMagnesian (Windows, 350MB, free) - A heavy-hitting release from PineApple Fish Studios, Magnesian plays on the wiliest of the non-contact forces, magnetism! (Take THAT, gravity!) A 2D physics puzzle platform game with a 3D look, you are equipped with a gun that can fire both positive and negative beams of magnetic energy as well as a "switch" weapon that can reverse polarity of objects around you. Using the forces of repelling and attracting, work your way through some daunting puzzles that require both serious thinking and some quick reflexes. It's a rather quiet game on the surface, with very little to distract you from the pushing, pulling, and arrangement of magnetically-charged objects, but once you dig into the handful of levels, you'll appreciate being left alone to focus on the gameplay. You'll also appreciate box surfing. Seriously, why can't we do that in real life?!

dustforce.gifDustforce! (Windows, 29MB, demo) - A demo for a work-in-progress game by Hitbox Team that shows a ton of promise. Dustforce is a puzzle platformer that places strong emphasis on smooth, flowing acrobatics. Your broom-toting character sweeps up litter as he/she runs by. You can jump, dash, double jump, wall run, wall dash, and everything in-between, giving you a surprising amount of freedom and agility as you navigate the game's crowded levels. Sweeping things gives you points, but some blocks vanish after being swept, while still others give you a bonus jump. The controls take some time to get used to, but once you're in the groove, the game flows smoothly and you can pull off some great stunts. A very fluid game that will hopefully see a successful full release soon!

megaman8bit.gifMega Man 8-bit Deathmatch (Windows, 55MB, free) - Exactly as the name implies, MM8BD takes classic Mega Man characters, levels and music, places them all in an arena, and lets you duke it out in style. What the name doesn't imply is that the game is in 3D, very much like the early first person shooters out there. Gather weapons as icons on each stage, and pick up energy and weapon capsules to keep everything charged up. Then, well, shoot everything that you can see! Classic death match action, with plenty of nostalgic 8-bit visuals and music. Multiplayer and single player modes are both available.

Note: All games have been confirmed to run under Windows 7 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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Mystery Legends: The Phantom of the Opera

DoraWhat would you do for the person you loved? What if you found out they didn't love you back? As the saying goes, there's a fine line between love and hate. Mystery Legends: The Phantom of the Opera is a hidden-object adventure that is a grim, creepy, adaptation of the classic story, and is an absolute blast. With top-notch production values and a heavy emphasis on story, this is the game every other title in the genre wishes it could be.

Mystery Legends: The Phantom of the OperaChristine was once a celebrated opera diva, but she hasn't performed in years. Her daughter Evelina is fascinated by her mother's stories of the stage... but she doesn't suspect that the past doesn't always stay in the past. When Evelina receives a letter from a stranger, she awakens to find herself in the crumbling remains of the very same Parisian Opera House from her mother's early career. How did she get there? Who is the mysterious voice that hisses at her from the shadows? And why does he seem so convinced that she betrayed him?

As Evelina, you'll search through the Opera House, looking for clues and trying to find a way out. In most cases, points of interest will sparkle to grab your attention, and the cursor will change if you move it over something that can be interacted with. Like most hidden-object titles, you'll search through scenes for items you need to solve puzzles. Move your cursor over an item on your list to see what the silhouette looks like, or click on the hint mirror when it's fully charged to reveal a random object. If you can't progress, try going back to places you've already visited; sometimes getting a new objective will unlock new hidden-object scenes, or draw your attention to a specific item that could now be of use. Although the puzzles do offer you the ability to skip them if you wait long enough, Evelina's journal keeps track of valuable clues you might be able to use to solve them.

Mystery Legends: The Phantom of the OperaAnalysis: While we tend to see a lot of games with horror themes, most casual releases seem to shy away from making them serious about it. They try to lighten things up with corny dialogue or other humour. But while it's not what you would call outright scary, Phantom of the Opera takes the whole experience seriously, and sets out to engross you in the story and raise the hairs on the back of your neck. At its core, this is a story about what happens when love turns into obsession, and the desire to posses something no matter who you destroy in the process. The narrative is revealed in the notes Evelina finds laying around, and the flashbacks that are presented when the Phantom appears.

Phantom of the Opera is no slouch in its presentation, either. The environments are incredibly well designed, the art work is absolutely gorgeous, moody and full of dark, bruised purples and frosty blues that help complete the atmosphere. As you play, the Phantom rages at you unseen, alternately cursing you and insisting he can force you to love him. Not only is it unsettling, but combined with Evelina's comments as she explores, it makes the whole place feel much more alive and involving by keeping the protagonist and antagonist from becoming faceless, mute entities. The Opera House itself is a great setting, so fallen into decay that it almost seems like another world.

Mystery Legends: Phantom of the OperaOne of the only real downsides to the game is that you'll be doing a lot of footwork. The Opera House and the surrounding area is big, and while the map the game provides probably won't be necessary to find your way around, it can still be frustrating to slog your way back and forth just to use one item, or to resort to poking your head in all the rooms to see if anything's changed. The rest of the game is also so moody that the cluttering of random, unrelated items in the hidden-objects scene, while admittedly a staple of the genre, feels out of place. Aiiieeeee, the Phantom! I must search this graveyard for a hamster, a bulldog, and a parasol, post-haste!

Fortunately, on a technical scale the hidden-object scenes are generally quite well done, and aren't just challenging because the hint button takes so long to recharge. Some of the objects are a bit more obscure than what you might be used to, ranging from specific Egyptian deities to uncommon plants to pieces of musical instruments... and prepared Absinthe. (Trust me, all the sugar in the world won't fix that stuff.) The puzzles you'll encounter are likewise solid, requiring you to both fire up the old gray matter as well as be observant. It's always nice when a game treats you like you're capable of knowing more than which way to put your pants on in the morning.

Visually stunning and engrossing, Mystery Legends: Phantom of the Opera, is one of the best games I've played in a long time, regardless of genre. The ending is a little unsatisfying considering all the build up, and definitely leaves the doors wide open for a sequel. For most players, the game will probably clock in at around four to five hours, more if you take your time; it's a respectable length, but you'll probably wind up wishing there was more to it, if only because it's so well done. At the very least you should check out the demo. You'll be glad you did.

A Collector's Edition is also available. It contains a built-in strategy guide, a soundtrack, a bonus chapter, and a digital version of the original Phantom of the Opera book. 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


  • Currently 4.3/5
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Rating: 4.3/5 (97 votes)
| Comments (87) | Views (6,786)

The Island: Castaway

JohnBThe Island: Castaway is a new sim-meets-RPG game from Sahmon Games. The game combines a Virtual Villagers kind of atmosphere with gameplay reminiscent of Wandering Willows, putting you in the role of a castaway on a lonely tropical island. Gather tons of items you'll use to hunt, fish, build, cook and more, all while fulfilling the needs of your friends and uncovering mystery after mystery on the fog-shrouded land.

The Island: CastawayYou only control one character in The Island: a poor chap named Tom who spends his time running back and forth fulfilling the requests of everyone else on the island. The game progresses through a series of small missions that start off very simple and gradually become more involved. Using just the mouse, click on items to pick them up and store them in your massive inventory. When someone needs something from you, he or she will light up with an exclamation mark over their head. Simply click and your new task will be added to the checklist at the bottom of the screen.

At first, missions are straightforward and must be completed one after another. Soon, though, you'll have more objectives than you can complete, allowing a bit of wiggle room as to which order you complete them. You can push the story along, or you can run around picking up twigs and making fruit salad all day, it's up to you!

Speaking of fruit salad, The Island: Castaway is packed with diversions that play a strong role in the game. Recipes are one facet of this, allowing you to use fruits and meats to create meals that restore large chunks of your health. As you jog around doing your thing, your health gradually decreases, so it's always nice keeping a few meals stashed in your inventory. New recipes are gained through side missions, and they come in handy in a pinch. You'll also learn to fish, hunt, chop trees, plant things and more, all unveiled via new tools as the game progresses.

The Island: CastawayAnalysis: While the visual set-up may remind you of most simulation games on the market, don't let the looks fool you. The Island: Castaway is far from your usual village sim, as it focuses on mini-missions and expanding gameplay as opposed to building a collective, central town. Unlocking trophies is also a big part of the game, and there are 15 to find in all, each with bronze, silver and gold levels.

The story plays a large role in The Island, and while it's not the most original piece of writing this side of To Kill a Mockingbird, you'll feel drawn in by the ever-expanding level of intrigue introduced by island natives, strange languages drawn in the sand, and statues hidden in bushes. Exploration and discovery are strong parts of this game, and you'll always feel like there's something new waiting around the corner.

Sahmon went to great lengths to make the interface friendly, and everything responds to your needs without a hitch. Feeding Tom to keep him healthy is easy, working with recipes and your other tools is simple, and the mini-map (along with the task list) makes it easy to see where characters are located and who wants your attention at the moment. Unfortunately, you can't manually scroll the screen, which is a bit of a letdown, but after a few minutes you won't really mind.

If The Island: Castaway has any faults, it's with the voice acting. The first lines you'll hear spoken will probably make you shudder. Later, the readings improve, but you still get the impression the actors were only allowed one take for the script, so everything sounds stilted and contrived. Casual gamers don't expect perfection from voice acting in our games, but sometimes it's just better to leave it out.

The Island: Castaway will absolutely steal your afternoon away. The combination of quick missions, exploration, discovery, and a seemingly endless supply of items to find, makes you constantly curious as to what awaits you around each corner. Play it casually, but be prepared to sink a lot of time into this excellent 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 4.7/5
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Rating: 4.7/5 (4407 votes)
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JoshFireBoy and WaterGirl 2Everybody knows that fire and water don't mix. But sometimes they can work together, grabbing gems, flipping switches, pushing blocks, and adjusting mirrors. When does this happen, you say? Why, in Oslo Albet's follow up to last year's FireBoy and WaterGirl, of course. Now his cute, anthropomorphic elementals leave the Forest Temple and take their incessant diamond collecting to the fabled Light Temple. Here they discover new challenges across 40 new stages of brain-bending, keyboard-taxing action.

Like its predecessor, FireBoy and WaterGirl 2: The Light Temple is a platformer that has you controlling not one, but two characters at once. Both FireBoy and WaterGirl have their own controls (the [arrow] and [WAD] keys on the keyboard) and can be moved independently of each other. Your goal is to use both characters to grab as many gems as possible while leading them to their respective exits. In your way are various traps and switches, as well as pits filled with fire, water, and well, deadly black stuff. FireBoy and WaterGirl can walk in pits made of their own elements, but will vaporize if they touch their opposite element or fall into a black pit. As before, stages include a series of time-based runs, an assortment of levels designed for simultaneous character movement, and more crafty and devious stages requiring the duo to grab a single diamond before exiting.

Most levels involve some elements of teamwork between FireBoy and WaterGirl. Usually one character has to stand on a pressure-sensitive button that raises a wall to allow the other character to pass. Other levels require both characters to push a heavy block, or operate a see-saw to reach higher areas. There are even a few tricky stages that require you to move both characters simultaneously, with FireBoy and WaterGirl jumping on the same platforms or running to areas that are otherwise inaccessible.

FireBoy-WaterGirl-2.jpgWhile much of this sounds familiar to Forest Temple fans, the Light Temple has a few new surprises for unsuspecting visitors. Some levels are pitch black, illuminated only by a glow around the main characters and nearby platforms. Other stages require careful manipulation of light beams to trigger photosensitive switches. There are even special movable blocks with mirrors on them that reflect the light 90 degrees. These mirror-blocks require precise placement to allow a light beam to reach its intended target.

Analysis: FireBoy and WaterGirl 2: The Light Temple is a tricky title, but it's also quite fun once you get the hang of it. The game's dual-character control is one of its most challenging aspects, but once you understand how it works, there's satisfaction in busting through a level with both characters blazing. I especially like the levels that were made for simultaneous two-character play, some of which have a mirrored design to help our addled brains cope with the game's unique challenge. If done right, beating one of these levels not just feels satisfying, but it might even look pretty impressive to someone watching over your shoulder. The mechanic aside, I'm impressed with the number of levels and their variety. The light-manipulation and darkness stages are some of the game's more entertaining ones, though also a bit trickier.

Play all the Fireboy and Watergirl games:
Fireboy and Watergirl: The Forest TempleFireboy and Watergirl 2: The Light TempleFireboy and Watergirl 3: The Ice TempleFireboy and Watergirl 4: The Crystal Temple

While the level design is clever, the game also has a few issues that make things a little difficult at times. Your characters are pushers, not pullers, so on levels requiring block and mirror movement, an accidental shove can wedge an unfortunate block against a wall or another block, forcing you to restart the level. It can also be a little maddening to go through a whole elaborate sequence of movements, switch hits and button pushes, only to find that you're trapped, or discover that a block you need to move is suddenly inaccessible. The keyboard controls themselves (which still only works for QWERTY layouts) also occasionally like to respond a little too late when you're trying to make critical jumps over deadly pits. Thankfully, most levels take between 30 seconds and 3 minutes, so even if a restart is necessary, it's not the end of the world. Usually the second or third time around, you can go through a sequence much faster, and before you know it, the level's complete.

While FireBoy and WaterGirl 2: The Light Temple has its share of challenges, ultimately the game's clever level design, fun control mechanic and effective use of two characters makes getting through the levels feel like an accomplishment. Fire and water may not mix, but you and this game might be a match if you are looking for a platformer puzzler with novelty and plenty of variety to satisfy.

Play FireBoy and WaterGirl 2: The Light Temple


  • Currently 3.9/5
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Rating: 3.9/5 (134 votes)
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TrickyGlorgGlorg, Grapefrukt's new one button hack-n-slash RPG tribute, has some great hilariously misleading faux-box-art, and an interesting premise. Glorg is the story of a warrior whose unibrow is small but whose heart and courage are large. Glorg finds himself in a dark, deep dungeon. At first, Glorg is scared, for Glorg was surrounded by monsters, Glorg's least favorite thing. But then our hero sees that also surrounding him are treasure and weapons; Glorg's favorite things! Striking out with his mighty stick of bashing and shield of blocking, Glorg heads out to explore. Will Glorg ever see the light of the surface again? That's up to you! You control Glorg just by clicking the left mouse button. The green circle next to Glorg will tell you what will happen when you click; it's used to explore areas, loot treasure, walk, and, most importantly, fight.

Battle is real-time, so you'll need to pay attention to the prompts that appear on your green circle. Click when it says "Block" or you'll take damage. You can click fast to attack rapidly, or you can hold down the button to charge up a powerful attack, which has a chance of stunning an enemy if it hits. If you defeat your enemy, you'll not only earn EXP, but you'll also occasionally get treasure that you can use to purchase portals. Portals let you skip levels if you die, so you'll learn to love them fast. As you explore, you'll uncover new areas in the dungeon; you can't choose the direction Glorg moves when presented with multiple paths, unfortunately, but if he runs into a dead end he'll simply head back the way he came.

Analysis: Since the release of One Button Bob earlier this year, platform developers have tended towards increasing innovation with ultra-streamlined control schemes, but Glorg is the first time I've seen this kind of simplified structure applied to an RPG framework. Reducing any genre to minimalism is going to come off as perhaps overly artistic, but fortunately, Glorg, with its adorable aesthetic, humorous asides, and sense of dreaminess, is as entertaining as it is experimental.

GlorgNaturally, streamlining a genre can mean sacrificing quite a bit: in this case, story, customization, and any sense of non-linearity. And I don't mean it's "linear in the sense of "it only has one ending." I mean linear. Lin-E-Ar. Super-Linear. Ultra-Linear. The kind of linearity that would cause a straight line to say "Boy howdy, that's linear!". It turns out removing most aspects of the control scheme really limits player-freedom. If you've ever wondered whether Nethack could be reduced to a series of quick-time events, wonder no more.

Of course, ultra-linear quick-time-event-based games can be quite entertaining, if often repetitive (...I'm looking at you, Dragon's Lair), and by removing the illusion of choice, Glorg allows for a subtle parody of most RPG player behavior. For instance, at first I found it frustrating that Glorg always took the most circuitous path through the dungeon, never finding a staircase until he had explored all the rooms. Then I realized: when crawling through an RPG dungeon, and having barely explored it before finding the staircase to the next level, does any self-respecting gamer immediately take it? Of course not! The designer wouldn't have included the other rooms if they didn't contain some awesome loot! So every room ends up explored anyways. Likewise, I thought it a little strange that you had no say over what weapon Glorg used. Then I remembered that 95% of the time the only thing you ask about a found weapon in an RPG is "Is it stronger than the one I already have?", even if that means replacing your broadsword with a sharpened umbrella. Grapefrukt clearly understands the tropes and player behaviors of the RPG enough to poke fun by making them automatic.

Glorg is a unique experience. At first I was drawn in by its charming style and music. After playing a while, I thought it more than a little monotonous. Yet I kept coming back to it, using the check-points to get further and further, five minutes or so at a time. Glorg sometimes feels like a mini-game (if a high-quality one) expanded a little further than its mechanics could handle. Still, Glorg is an interesting twist on the RPG formula and quite worthy of your time.

Play Glorg


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Link Dump Fridays

DoraWhether they're shedding on your carpet, peering at you distrustfully from beneath a warming rock, or vomiting on your shoe in the middle of the night so you don't discover it until you put your foot in it the following morning, there's no denying animals are rad. That's why it's a creature feature on this week's Link Dump Friday, which features all manner of animals, up to and including two birds, a fish, and two cats. Variety! Featuring avian dexterity, exploding marine life, lost kittens, and more, this week is dedicated to all the animal lovers out there.

  • Temple GliderTemple Glider - Apparently, this bird's definition of "walk like an Egyptian" (waoooh, waooooh!) is different than ours. Press and hold the [arrow] keys in either direction to take off, and you'll gain height as long as you're flying that way. The goal is to make your way to the sarcophagus at the end of each stage, flying through glittery rings to increase your score, and not destroyed by any number of pitfalls that await. If it helps, you can pretend you're Star Fox.
  • SquawkSquawk - Real parrots are absolutely terrifying, what with their beaks that can cut through bone and whatnot, but you'd be hard-pressed to be intimidated by the roly-poly bird in this little game of avoidance and reflexes from Nitrome. Using the pegs that pop up around the screen, help your little ball of beak and feathers roll around the screen, staying away from obstacles and collecting coins. Gosh that's cute. Almost looks as though he wouldn't rather bite of your earlobe as soon as he would look at you, doesn't he?
  • w00t Fishw00t Fish - The touching, Oprah's Book List story of some chat speak, a fish, and the pink goo he wants to bathe in. Although he looks rather rubbery, the fish himself is actually fairly explosive, and bumping him against any surface results in disaster. The goal is to carefully use his rockets to propel him into the pit of pink stuff. Requiring a light touch and a lot of patience, it's an exceptionally good looking little avoider, but potentially a very frustrating one.
  • Stray CatStray Cat - Minoto has a history of making weird, silly, and even downright baffling games, but this one tackles a very important issue; lost kittens, which is always serious business. It also involves a devil under a rain cloud, a suspicious individual, and a... uh... mole (I think) in a hard hat. Which is actually one of the most sensible things to come out of a Minoto title. Featuring the trademark charm and obscure (read: barely there) logic we all know and love, it's another short, abstract puzzle apparently designed solely to bring a grin to your face.
  • Yura&Myu Escape 1Yura&Myu Escape 1 - Continuing our all-of-a-sudden tradition of offering escape games whenever possible with your Link Dump Friday brew, we bring you this short little gem about a pink cat who's been locked in a room because... uh... well, I don't honestly know. Although it's not translated into English, you don't actually need to read anything to be able to complete it. We're just going to go ahead and assume that the cat is actually a super secret spy cat, and was locked inside by his arch nemesis Colonel Fluffbottom. (Pink Cat to be voiced by Sean Connery, Colonel Fluffbottom to be played by Steve Buscemi.)

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Rating: 4.3/5 (107 votes)
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corygalliherCorporate ClimberIt's a dog-eat-dog world out there, kid! The corporate world takes no prisoners and even you won't escape in Corporate Climber, a new platformer from PixelJAM and Adult Swim. You begin as a lowly poop-shoveler and eventually work your way up to becoming CEO of your company... meaning you're shoveling an entirely different kind of poop but making more money while doing it.

Move around with the [arrow] keys, press [X] to jump and press [Down + X] to hop down through platforms. This is a frustration platformer, so one hit will kill you and there's plenty of stuff out to do just that. The object of each floor is to get to the elevator on the opposite side of the screen, though sometimes you'll have to fulfill special conditions like firing employees to open the door.

This game features a unique layout where you climb up your company's office building floor by floor. As a result you can see the next level you'll be facing, plus certain levels will include dangers coming at you from lower floors. Even being able to see what's coming isn't much help, though; prepare to die quite a bit as you try to reach the top.

A word of warning: there's a bit of objectionable content near the end of the game, but it's nothing you wouldn't expect to see on Adult Swim. This also isn't a very long game; you can expect to be done in about fifteen to twenty minutes on your first time through. All in all, though, Corporate Climber is a solid game for anyone who enjoys frustration platformers, and the online leaderboards definitely give you incentive to keep improving your time and score.

Play Corporate Climber


  • Currently 3.8/5
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Rating: 3.8/5 (59 votes)
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DoraIn3structoTank!Hey there, Tanky boy, flyin' in the sky so fancy free... If you're been sitting there, thinking to yourself, "This day isn't explodey enough. It could be explodier." then you might want to pay attention because this is serious business. In3structoTank! is bringing you a whole lot of arcade action as you fight to save the world from the Evil General and his legions of deadly, determined, and (might we add) highly explosive baddies. You didn't really think this one through, did you, Mister Evil General?

You (as Dirk Danger) pilot an indestructible tank. You might think that means you automatically win the game, but since the tank has no weapons of its own, you have to get creative if you want to fight back against the hordes of determined enemies. Move the tank with the [arrow] keys and steer it into enemies or bombs; explosions hurl your tank into the air, where you can guide it into enemies to make them blow up. For each enemy you destroy as you bounce through the air, your combo increases, and when you hit the ground, you'll gain EXP based on how many enemies you destroyed.

Leveling up usually causes the enemies to appear even faster, which is fairly important. Since you can't be destroyed, most levels will only end in failure if you don't complete an objective within a time limit, or if enemies succeed in theirs. Of course, even an indestructible tank needs fuel, and if that runs out, you'll blow up. And you thought gas prices were the worst thing you had to deal with! Fuel depletes slower when you make things explode, and refills completely when you level up. As you destroy enemies you fill up your BOOM bar, which can be activated when full by tapping [up] to trigger a small explosion to help you jump. You also have a nuke at your disposal, which you can activate with the [spacebar] when ready to clear the screen.

In3structoTank! isn't that different from its predecessors. Even the new leveling system and nuke don't make many changes to what is essentially the same game as before, just shinier and tweaked a bit. The standard action is still as fun and bouncy as you've come to expect, and the bosses you'll encounter in adventure mode add a welcome challenge that keeps the game from becoming too repetitive. (Yes, I just called repeated and multiple explosions "repetitive". I have officially become jaded.) While not exactly what you might call deep, In3structoTank! is fun, silly, and just what you need to relieve tension in a cruel world that doesn't actually allow you to blow people up. Life is so unfair.

Play In3structoTank!

You Are Games

KyleYou can tell by the banner above that, after almost a year's hiatus, you are, once again, games! You Are Games is our way of inviting you to become a more active part of the Jay is Games community, join our little family, be a part of the team. Okay, given the nature of this edition, maybe "team" isn't as accurate as, say, "viciously competitive mob of chaos." But who cares? It'll be fun anyway.

We're offering up a caption contest, but you wouldn't expect us to do a caption contest like any other web site, would you? Of course you wouldn't. You can go anywhere to see adorable baby animals or politicians in uncomfortable situations. When you do a caption contest here at JIG, you're going to do it for an original comic drawn by our very own James Francis, creator of the excellent Babylon Sticks.

 bs-caption-vampire.jpg

Simply submit your funny bone tickling, game related captions to this Halloween themed comic in the comments section below using a Casual Gameplay account (we'll contact the winner via the email address you have in it, so make sure it's up to date). You'll have until 11:59PM (GMT-5:00) on Monday the 25th to submit the best one-liners you can come up with, the more the merrier. And remember to keep your entries game related! We'll choose one winner to become the official caption for the finished Babylon Sticks comic next Thursday!

Just a few things to keep in mind before you stun us all with your comedic genius. Don't forget that this is a family friendly site, so please refrain from profanity and do your best to keep it clean. Also, the boys in legal tell me I have to inform you that:

  • All entries submitted to this contest become the property of Casual Gameplay.
  • You must be at least 13 years of age to enter.
  • Void where prohibited.
Finally, we'll contact the winner via email once the final decision has been made. With all the boring fineprinty stuff out of the way, you can now turn on the funny switch and open the laugh sluices. Immortality awaits!

Update: We have a winner!


  • Currently 4.1/5
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Rating: 4.1/5 (88 votes)
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MikeRADiancEIt's Snake! It's Breakout! It's a gleeful amalgam of both! It's RADiancE, a new classic-style arcade game from developer Miguel Angel Perez Martinez, and along with some color matching and clever soundtrack work, it's also more than the sum of its parts.

You control the snake, using the [arrow keys] to point it in the direction you want it to go. Like in classic Snake, the goal is to eat food pellets, which make you longer, while avoiding walls and your ever-growing body. Like in classic Breakout, there is also a ball, which you should use to clear each level of obtrusive colored blocks. The snaky body is used to bounce the ball into blocks, the catch being that the ball can only destroy blocks the same color as itself. When you eat a colored food pellet, you add a new segment of the same color to the snake, and the ball also changes color when it bounces off that segment. So color transfers from the pellet, to the snaky body segment, to the ball, to the correspondingly colored block which it destroys. Clear the playing field of blocks without crashing into yourself or other obstacles, and live to see another level.

Analysis: The synthesis of these two classic games works fairly well, and after a few trial runs it's pretty easy to get in the groove of knocking down colored blocks, using colored balls with the slithering paddle that is also a snake. There is, however, a high degree of randomness, which may or may not be to your liking. The colored pellets appear randomly, and only a few appear at a time before you eat some, so there isn't much you can do to control the color of the snake. It's also difficult to control what color the ball becomes, and you are much better off guiding the snake towards the ball and leaving its color to fate. There is still a certain amount of strategy in corralling balls toward blocks and in judging when to eat and when to stop eating.

There are a number of different power-ups, such as classic multi-ball, or the "Supercharged" snake which can destroy blocks directly; and while these power-ups add variety to the game, they also tend to add to its randomness. Among the block-destroying levels are also a number of geometric boss fights (Behold the dread fury of the Meta-Square!), and while they have little to do with the core mechanic, they also add a different twist, as you puzzle out how to destroy these Euclidean menaces with your limited repertoire of maneuvers.

I'm a big fan of the randomly generated soundtrack in RADiancE. The ball produces random pitches whenever it strikes a surface, and the music changes key every time a block is destroyed (actually, I think it changes mode, but that only matters if you're a music theory nerd like me). The music gets more intense, adding percussion and ambient harmony as you destroy more blocks. While it sounds a little abrupt in earlier levels with fewer blocks, it's very effective when there are many blocks to destroy and the music has a chance to build gradually. I imagine, though, that the code and resources needed to execute the music is what accounts for the unusually long loading time, so there is a price.

RADiancE is much more than a slapdash chimera of two different classic games. The colorful neon graphics and inventive use of music and sound make for a bold, flashy presentation. And while there is more than a little bit of randomness in the gameplay, there is also enough skill required to make it interesting to arcade fans. RADiancE goes beyond simply combining two games and expands the concept into something original.

Play RADiancE


  • Currently 4.5/5
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Rating: 4.5/5 (66 votes)
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BradBlack MarketWelcome to Black Market, a resource trading simulation from Big Block Media, where you'll be put in the space shoes of Vincent Wake, a greenhorn to the whole inter-planetary trading thing. Luckily, you'll both have the dubious guidance of Hardgrove, a man who lives inside Vincent's eye-patch (or rather I-Patch). He's like a tutorial that haunts your accessories. Black Market's gameplay is at its most basic a resource trading simulation. You buy your commodities for a low price then do some space truckin' to a planet where you can sell them at a higher price. You can smuggle illegal items if you want, but there's always a chance your cargo might get searched as you're docking. That's the least of your worries, though. A far bigger threat are the pirates that roam the trade routes.

And eventually those pirates are going to catch up to you, so you better be ready. Luckily, there's quite a few weapons at your disposal. There's your speedy beam cannons and missile launchers, then you've got your fighter drone swarms and EMP bursts. There's also a whole host of automatic defensive and offensive lasers and special gadgets that can give damage boosts or repair your ship. Combat itself is pretty simple. Use either your mouse of the keyboard hotkeys to select the weapon you want to use on an enemy ship and BLAMMO! it gets unleashed. The weapon will then enter a cooldown period and you'll have to wait a short amount of time before you can use it again. As you hit your enemy, they'll jettison a crate every so often and when you destroy their ship they'll leave behind a lot of crates. Use your tractor beam to pull in crates and you'll get extra money and, if you're lucky, some commodities or equipment.

Every time you make a trade or win a battle, you'll get experience points that contribute to you gaining a level. Every level nets you five skill points that you can invest in one of the four skills: weapons, navigation, trading and piloting. The higher your skill level in a category the more resources, ship parts or better ship you can buy in the case of weapons, trading and piloting or the more places you can go in regard to navigation. Most items have a minimum skill level requirement so if you're going to dominate the spaceways you better beef yourself up.

Black MarketAnalysis: It's important that you know that Black Market is planned as a three part series, the part currently available being Episode I. Big Block Media's current plan is to have the next two episodes be pay-to-play. While that might be a turn-off for some of you, don't let that stop you from enjoying Episode I which offers a lot of content and more importantly is a great game.

If you like games like Frontier or Caravaneer then you'll absolutely love Black Market. Hold on, though, even if you don't care for trading sims, there's a lot more to enjoy in this game. In fact, if you want commodity trading can take a back seat to engaging in space combat or completing the story missions. Likewise, if you only care about making a lot of money you can concentrate on trading. Since you're awarded experience for selling resources you can skill gain levels and open up new items. It's a well designed system that only has one problem. When you visit a planet, you can go to the local bar and buy people drinks in the hopes of getting info from them. The most important info will help you make choices about what to buy and where to sell. But, even if you get a tip like "burn battery prices are through the roof on Dante" you might very well have no idea where Dante is. This wouldn't be too much of a problem but you don't seem to be able to see the whole map of the planets. Your scope is limited and it will make you hesitate to go exploring, especially if you don't know if you even have the skill level to get where you're going. Still, there's a lot of trading opportunities on the planets you're familiar with.

The combat system is a big part of what really separates Black Market from other games in this genre. It actively engages you, battles are often quick so they don't get tedious and there's a lot of different weapon set-ups you can try. Most battles are a little bit on the easy side if your ship is fully repaired, but if you're careless you can find yourself running away in an escape pod. Having your ship destroyed is kind of annoying, especially when you were hauling a lot of cargo and lose it all or if you have to repurchase a piece of equipment in order to complete a story mission. Thankfully, the bottom of the barrel ship isn't too expensive and it's pretty good for hauling and fighting. If you want more of a challenge you can turn on the experimental beta combat mode where you'll find yourself fighting off several enemy ships in each battle.

For those who like story with your space combat, you'll find a lot here. It's not the greatest plot in the world, but the writing is well done. All the characters are distinct and the Black Market world is thought out and interesting. What Black Market does better than most games is humor. Not every joke will hit for every player, but I never groaned while reading any of them. In fact it's one of the few games where I welcomed the creators trying to be funny.

Black Market is a lot of fun with very few drawbacks. With a lot of ways to play there's bound to be something that will appeal to a player. It's updated frequently with bug fixes brought up by the community. It's highly addictive and thankfully there's a lot of content to gorge yourself on. Even if you're not a fan of resource trading games don't let that stop you from trying out a game this good.

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Rating: 4.8/5 (316 votes)
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Weekday Escape

GrinnypRoom escape designers work at their own pace, don't they? For some, like Neutral, you're lucky if you get one game a year. Others, like Tesshi-e, seem to design a game or two each month. Minoto seems to come out with one every week. However, sometimes the wait can be a good thing. Especially if the designer uses that time to ramp up everything about the game: backgrounds, puzzles, controls, and everything in-between. It's been a good seven months since we last heard from 58 Works. Now they've come roaring back with Kalaquli, their latest escape-the-room game. Was it worth the wait? Oh, heck yeah!

KalaquliYou begin Kalaquli with a simple directive. "This is a simple point-and-click game. Let's escape from the Ninja house." Wait, what? A simple game? A Ninja house? That should be the first clue right there that (a) this isn't going to be that simple, and (b) you might end up wounded or dead. But perhaps we're overreacting. After all, Ninjas are people too. It's not like they'll pepper their house with secret passages, hidden rooms, and try to assassinate you just for being there, is it? Uh, well...

Search this lovely Japanese style house and you will encounter lots of fun puzzles, sliding screens, and maybe the above-mentioned Ninjas. Navigate around using arrows (and bars) at the edges of the screen, click on things for close ups, solve the mysteries and see if you can escape with your life. Finding your way around is made tons easier by the fact that 58 Works has incorporated the holy grail of room escape games, the changing cursor. No more pixel hunting! Now if they'd just incorporate a save button.

Analysis: It's been a while, but it's definitely been worth the wait. 58 Works has gone all out on Kalaquli, incorporating fantastic background visuals, strong puzzles, amusing situations, and some lovely animations to boot. Once you escape you can even enjoy the fun animation of your character hot-footing it away with a Ninja hard on his/her heels. This is what good game designing is all about.

And although the game is quite beautiful, especially with the incorporation of the animations, this is not a case of style over substance. There are a variety of logical puzzles to solve, as well as items that can be taken, items that can be moved, raised, or slid around. There are also items in your inventory that can be examined, manipulated, combined, deconstructed, or otherwise be used (sometimes more than once). It is the sheer variety of things you can do that make Kalaquli entertaining casual gameplay.

Are there flaws? Well, yes, a few. Some background music would be nice, and the ability to save and come back later is one that 58 Works should definitely be adding to their escapes. The puzzles, while not terribly easy, are not terribly difficult either, so you shouldn't take too long to find your way out before the Ninjas get you.

Is Kalaquli fantastic mid-week escaping fun? Most definitely! A lively combination of scenery, puzzle design, manipulative ability make Kalaquli an entertaining break for the middle of the week. Not too easy, not too difficult, easy on the eyes, and the added bonus of charming animations make Kalaquli a must-play for any escape the room fanatic. Or anyone who just likes point-and-click adventures. Or anyone who just likes Ninjas. Okay, so it's fun for everyone!

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Rating: 4.1/5 (49 votes)
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TrickyThe OutbreakNight has fallen, and your little group of survivors has managed to fight through to the uncertain sanctity of a small suburban house, an oasis in the midst of the hordes of living dead that surround it. There's a problem though: Dave's been shot, or worse yet, bitten. It's hard to tell. Kelly thinks she can save him, but Seth already has his gun out and doesn't want to take any chances, even if it means putting a bullet in the head of someone not even infected. You're the deciding vote. And so starts The Outbreak, SilkTricky's foray into the world of interactive live-action horror.

Attempts to add interactivity to scary movies range back to 1961's Mr. Sardonicus and its (likely rigged) "Punishment Poll." It's not hard to see why: of all genres of film, horror is the one where the viewer could probably give the characters the most helpful advice. Even if members of the audience aren't actually yelling out "Don't open that door!" or "The monster's not dead yet!", they're probably thinking it pretty hard. That said, while the techniques of horror games have advanced by leaps and bound, ones involving full-motion video with live actors pretty well stalled after the release of the infamous Night Trap and the slightly better Phantasmagoria, as the genre got a reputation for cheesy production values and limited gameplay.

The OutbreakIt is true that many of the usual criticisms of the full-motion-video genre apply to The Outbreak. You basically watch the film until prompted to make a choice, the acting is questionable (or at least very loud and sweary), and it sometimes feels that your successful choices are frustratingly based on dumb luck rather than logic (as is, admittedly, the case with many "Choose Your Own Adventure" type stories). On the other hand, the fast-paced direction and well-done special effects are quite effective in creating a constant sense of menace, and the chapter select options allow you to easily return to an earlier decision, limiting frustration. There are 21 scenes in total, with 10 decision points. There are 6 options that lead to death, and 2 that lead to your survival, though the "death" endings are often just as entertaining as the "survival" ones. There's something to be said for the visceral emotion of live-action scares that's hard to capture in drawn form.

The Outbreak is a fast, dumb, violent, profane, zombie movie in interactive form. Some will find that sentence to be a compelling reason to check it out, and others a compelling reason to stay far away. But if you are a fan of George Romero or games like the Dead Frontier: Outbreak series, and are willing to overlook a few plot holes in pursuit of a good bloody time, this is a game worth watching and a movie worth playing.

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Rating: 4.3/5 (110 votes)
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DoraThousand Dollar SoulIt's just an ordinary day for Todd until he gets a visit from the future... namely, himself. How does he know this isn't some scam, and this person is really himself from the future? Well, I mean, geez. The guy's got two ties. That is some serious future stuff right there. And in addition to some questionable style, he's also got a proposition for Todd, and some advice that may drastically change the course of his life... for better or worse. Thousand Dollar Soul is a text "Choose Your Own Adventure" style game about love and obsession... maybe. Your interaction in the story is limited to choosing from the options that appear on the bottom of the screen, which direct the course of events. Some of them may take the narrative in an unpredictable direction, while others may cut your tale short. Fortunately, if you don't like the outcome of a choice, you can just press "back" as often as you like to return to the previous page.

Analysis: Thousand Dollar Soul's biggest fault is that it just takes too long to get the ball rolling. The writing is far from bad, if a little stiff, but the characters aren't nearly as fleshed out as they really need to be to snag your attention (and your empathy) from the get-go. It doesn't help matters that the first decision you get to make is about the fate of your zit. The impression the story gives early on is unfortunately a rather shallow one, and, as they say, first impressions are everything. If a story doesn't hook you, you aren't going to be motivated to push past walls of text on the promise that it gets better eventually.

On the other hand, if you do stick it out, you'll find a surprisingly complex tale behind the deceptively mundane trappings. I started out initially unimpressed with the story and long scrolls of text, but was surprised at how drastically simple decisions changed the events within the narrative. And I do mean drastically. The problem most players will face is that so many of Thousand Dollar Soul's endings are abrupt and more than a little unsatisfying. There are thirty-five different endings in Thousand Dollar Soul, and if you want to have even the slightest clue as to what is really going on you'll have to try to unlock a good chunk of them. Seemingly happy endings can have a much sadder (or sinister) context when you've uncovered others.

While its pacing and wall-o-text presentation might unfortunately deter some people from checking it out, Thousand Dollar Soul is an impressive bit of work, if a little difficult to keep track of. (Flow chart, anyone?) Ultimately, my opinion isn't important; I'm just the word monkey here to point you towards it. Whether it means something to you is entirely between you and about thirty-five different possibilities.

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Rating: 3.6/5 (74 votes)
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joyePirates Vs NinjasPirates Vs Ninjas? Why can't pirates and ninjas get along? Why can't you crazy kids just join hands, or hooks, and sing a little Kumbaya? Why must you alternate through sixty levels of smashing, launching, physics puzzle madness? Your creators LongAnimals and Astute Game ought to be ashamed of you.

I mean, you start out every level with a ship that fires blustery pirate cannonballs or sneaky ninja grenades. You click to launch at different angles and power levels, with your goal the senseless massacre of all piratical or ninjatical... ninjaish... ninjatastic... ninjariffic life. You can use as much ammunition as you want, but the fewer your shots, the higher your score. And you persist in doing this, even when the opposing side has a hostage and your shots could put him in danger, even when the shots can ricochet off of objects and sink your own ship! HAVE YOU NO SHAME SIRS.

This violence has got to stop! Oh sure, you say, this is a cute, lighthearted romp with the kind of gameplay that made the Crush the Castle series such a success, with the enemy hostage twist of Sieger. And apparently the kids all think your rivalry is "cool" and a "meme" or some such nonsense. But what kind of message does this game send to all the impressionable pirate and ninja children out there? Think about that one. Think about it really hard.

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The Vault

ChiktionarySince first opening The Vault, there has been a flurry of activity at JIG review headquarters—we're all covered in cobwebs, rummaging through the Vault's shelves and blowing the dust off our favorites with excited squeals of "Oh Man! Do you remember this one?!" "Yeah! And what about this one?" "Ooooh! I wish I'd found that one!". Yep, grown men can and do squeal.

So here's the fourth edition of The Vault, and this week I'm in charge and excited to be accompanying you on the sentimental journey of rediscovering games you thought you'd forgotten. What d'you mean you can hear muffled screams? No. It's not Dora. No. We haven't locked her in The Vault. One of my first computer game experiences was Olympic Decathlon played on an Apple II, 8-bit home computer, so it's amazing to see how gaming has developed over the last few decades. Flash and online games have truly emerged as an art-form unto themselves, and it's a pleasure to be able to share some of my favorites that embody the creativity, heart and soul of developers who create browser-based casual gameplay.

  • Wake Up CallsWake Up Calls - Ah, 2004...it seems like only six years ago when Jay introduced readers of his blog to Orisinal games. Ferry Halim shows true artistry with the many mini-masterpieces he has generously shared online, including this little vertical scroller gem. Characteristic of Ferry's style, Wake Up Calls incorporates gorgeous graphics with beautiful music in a deceptively simple Flash game. Experience the hidden life of hamsters, who really, really do air-board on leaves through trees, firing dew-drops at chrysalids to release butterflies, and enjoy the sweet and simple pleasure of playing a beautifully crafted game, again.
  • The MuseumThe Museum - There's something shadowy yet appealing about Anode & Cathode's games, with their captivating graphics and unusual storylines. The Museum is the fourth chapter in the Spieler Tetralogy, a series of point-and-click games, and is set in a dark and mysterious museum where artworks and exhibits come to life. As a stand alone game it may not make a whole lot of sense, but you'll enjoy an intriguing quest that will have you working out which bit goes where or with what, perhaps without really knowing why. Well, that's how I felt the first time I played this game, but revisiting this one was quite a pleasurable exercise, especially in the "Ooohh, I remember now..." moments.
  • iSketchiSketch - This Shockwave multiplayer, Pictionary-style game has been around since the turn of the century (wow, that's old!). It's a family favorite here, and it was such a joy to recently learn that it's still up and running. With a multitude of rooms in a variety of languages, you can compete with players from around the world by guessing what others are drawing and by showing off your own artistic abilities. Actually, you don't need to be an artist for this game, because often the simpler drawings are the best. It's amazing to see that iSketch has barely changed over the years, and the game's dedicated administrators have managed to keep the game clean and free from 'trolls'. Still highly addictive and so much fun to play, it's definitely worth paying at least a nostalgic visit to iSketch.
  • LeversLevers - Lovers of physics puzzles will undoubtedly remember this one, from Patrick Smith (aka Vector Park), creator of Windosill, but I think even haters of physics puzzles can appreciate it, too. The challenge lies in the art of balance, through taking objects, like bowling balls and birdhouses that randomly fall into a body of water, and suspending them from a growing number of coat-hangers. It's an extremely useful skill to have. The trick is to have your coat-hanger sculpture balanced before more objects can be added. The beauty of this game lies in the extraordinary attention to detail, and the whole experimental feel of trial and error which leaves no room for frustration because it's all just so beautifully arty and clever.

We hope that you enjoyed this week's edition and welcome any comments about it here. Remember that if you need any help with the individual games, please post your questions on that game's review page.


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Rating: 4.6/5 (133 votes)
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BradBook of Mages: The Dark TimesBook of Mages: The Dark Times is the sequel to Nob Studio's RPG Book of Mages: The Chaotic Times. In The Dark Times your main goal is to guide your young mage to the top ranking in the titular Book of Mages. The book is a listing of the top 100 mage sin the world, and you won't make it to number one by just gobbing around. You're going to have to do some real magic, you're going to have to go to arenas and defeat other mages in turn-based combat to raise your rank.

When it comes to combat, you have four basic moves: high attack, low attack and high and low defensive moves. On top of that you'll be able to get higher level magics which can give you additional hits for your attacks or shields for when you defend. Finally, each clan has its own special moves. The most basic is usually a status effect causing attack which will help give you an edge over your opponents if you get locked in a stalemate.

The game isn't all battling and climbing the social-magical ladder. As you go along and particularly when you explore the parts of a city you'll encounter different events. How you respond to these events will effect how people feel toward you, can yield items or skill points and in some cases effect the direction of the story.

Book of Mages: The Dark TimesAnalysis: The Dark Times starts out very slowly. The first time I played it, I was confused about what I was supposed to be doing. When I figured out that I was supposed to repeatedly click on the Mana Cave to get skill points until the story events were triggered I was about ready to give up on it. I'm glad I didn't because once it gets going it becomes a whole lot of fun.

The combat system is well done. There's a decent balance between the clans, each having a nice variety of skills that will give them some kind of advantage in any battle. A few of the clans, such as Chaos Desert or Poison Water can seem like they're kind of overpowered. Players should be warned that if they just try to hammer their opponents with offensive attacks then battles can become a cross between a stalemate and a war of attrition. You and your opponent will fire the same amount of bolts at each other until one of you runs out of mana. This is bad for those who want to take a simple path through the game, but it does keep things from getting stale.

The most fun part of The Dark Times are the story events. The story isn't the greatest and the seemingly-ESL nature of the writing can frustrate those who need perfect writing, but that shouldn't stand in the way of all the fun exploring brings. Most of the events are simple, boiling down to a good vs. bad kind of karma choice, but it's still cool when you find a new one. The choice system also invites at least one more play through, so you can see what results the opposite choice will yield. The White Robe vs. Black Robe conflict does the same. The missions are essentially the same. For instance, the first major mission for each side involves recruiting other mages, but the storyline around them is different.

Book of Mages: The Dark Times has a lot to offer: a solid combat system, a lot of replay value, and variety. It can be a little on the easy side if you're a stat managing super star and the reverse is true if you mismanage your stats. There's not a whole lot to look at and every town looks the same, but you'll be too busy to really notice. All I can say is that if you get into this game, you'll get into it hard. This is one of those games that can ravenously feed on your time and you're powerless to stop it. Not that you'd want to.

Play Book of Mages: The Dark Times


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Rating: 4.5/5 (196 votes)
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DoraRoad of the DeadWhat's that? The undead have started to walk and the army has locked down the city?! Rooooaaaaad trip! In Road of the Dead, an action game from EvilDog and SickDeathFiend, you play a mechanic who decides to ignore the radio's warning to stay indoors when a zombie outbreak happens and make for the city limits, rightfully assuming help isn't coming. Of course, the army also isn't keen on you escaping the quarantine, so you'll have to be prepared to deal with armed resistance along the way in addition to the zombies and destroyed vehicles littering the highway. Just like The Man, always tryin' to keep you down! Zombies and irresponsible driving for everyone!

Default control is using [WASD] to steer and accelerate, with the [spacebar] to brake, [E] to toot your own horn, and [R] to turn on the wipers. All controls are fully customizable in the options menu. You can upgrade your car using Road Points (RP), which you gain for things like making progress or hitting zombies, but are penalized for hitting civilians. If you get blown up or otherwise incapacitated, you can continue from the last checkpoint you reached, and you'll get to keep any RP you earned before you went kaboom.

Accidentally running down civilians that sprint in front of you, shrieking for you to stop and help them, is always funny in a dark, I'm-a-terrible-person sort of way, but the first time you hear Our Hero say in a dead serious tone, "I'm going to need mad skillz to get out of this," you'll have to giggle. The downside is that the scenery (and even the gameplay) is repetitive, and for all the obstacles in your way, there's no disguising that the track really is just a straight stretch of road; no turns, no hills, no variation.

If remembering Outlander doesn't make your left eye twitch with rage, you'll probably enjoy this combination of fast cars and squishy bodies. Just tell me you agree they missed an opportunity by not including AC/DC's "Highway to Hell" over the radio, or the Scissor Sister's "I Can't Decide". Ah, the sounds of the apocalypse. What rockin' music they make.

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Rating: 4.1/5 (61 votes)
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corygalliherWings of Ge.Ne.SisWho hasn't wanted to fly? I'll tell you: penguins. They're perfectly okay with staying on land. You'll never see a penguin in an airplane, that's for sure. For all the rest of us who'd love to take to the skies, though, there's Wings of Ge.Ne.Sis, the new side-scrolling shooter from An Lieu. While the original Ge.Ne.Sis was a console-style RPG, this spinoff takes things in a whole new direction; namely, up and above!

Control your character with the mouse, pointing where you want to go. Fire with the left mouse button, or just tap [A] to turn on autofire and make your life much easier. [1] changes between your two weapons (generally a ranged attack and a melee attack), [2] uses your mount's high-powered special attack, and [3] through [6] use helpful items that you equip before each stage. As you shoot down enemies, you earn two types of currency to purchase items and feed your mount. You also earn experience points and can develop your character as you'd like.

You can choose between the three titular characters at the start of the game. Gelyan has high endurance, earns extra attribute points every so often and has a protective shell for reducing damage. Neraine has high agility and an increased dodge rate, often avoiding damage from what would otherwise be a direct hit and striking back with a powerful counterattack. Sisily has high empathy and her mounts are more powerful, plus she can fire a special beam attack. All the characters are fairly balanced, though Neraine is probably the best all-around choice thanks to her increased dodge rate and resultant longevity.

Wings of Ge.Ne.Sis is certainly an unusual spinoff. One might have expected another RPG, especially after how excellent the original game was, but Wings still manages to stand out amongst its shooter contemporaries.

Wings of Ge.Ne.SisAnalysis: There's an immense depth of gameplay here that's unusual for a side-scrolling shooter. You can upgrade your character in a variety of ways, including their attributes, equipment and mount. You can feed your mount either variety of currency and it will evolve based on its diet, but you might want to save some for the shop as well. While it's probably possible to get through the game without customizing or upgrading by using raw twitch shooter skills, you'd be missing out on a big part of the fun.

Wings of Ge.Ne.Sis uses the same art style as the original RPG. It's a surreal aesthetic, appropriate for a game that takes place in a dreamscape. Everything is beautifully animated and it's generally easy to see what's going on even when things get hectic.

The only real flaw in the game is the lack of keyboard control. Mouse control is highly imprecise, especially if you're using a touchpad, so expect some cheap hits. Thankfully the game is fairly forgiving and it's possible to build your character's agility or endurance if you're taking too much damage.

Likewise, while the game's various bosses can be tough, playing toward your character's strengths will usually see you through. The bosses do have a tendency to flood the screen with difficult-to-avoid projectiles, but since you generally won't die in a single hit it's not a massive problem. Practice, as always, makes perfect, plus you earn experience even after being killed.

All in all, Wings of Ge.Ne.Sis is a great choice for shooter fans. The depth and customization on display here make it unique amongst shooters. Even those who aren't necessarily shooter fans but loved the art style and writing of the original game will find something to enjoy here.

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Mobile Monday

JohnBOne day, I will release an iPhone game. It will be a game about writing articles about iPhone games. You'll have to play a ton of games, try to manage your rage when yet another burp/bikini/fart app appears, and cry tears of joy when something original appears. After selecting your games, you'll sit down and compose an article complete with gorgeous screenshots and flowery prose as an introduction paragraph. When you're finished, you can make a game about writing iPhone game articles in the game and start the process anew. It will be the greatest, most infinite iPhone game ever!

gamedevstory.jpgGame Dev Story - Oh, now this is meta! Game Dev Story is a casual simulation game that puts you in charge of a fledgling game development company. Manage artists, designers, coders and more as you try to create and release successful video games over the course of two decades. Advertising, conventions, and your fans are also a part of the picture, making this a realistic (and hilarious) look at creating and releasing a video game. Warning: there are so many "in" references in this game, you'll feel like a geek after playing.

stoneship.jpgStoneship: The Curse of a Thousand Islands - From the studio behind Myst comes a grand 2D exploration game featuring pirates, sea monsters, treasure, and more of the above! Stoneship is a tile-based casual strategy game much like the PC game Oasis (or a greatly-simplified Civilization). Tap on map squares to uncover their contents. As you slowly work your way across the map, you'll find a lot of empty sea, some shorelines, treasures, port cities, and a few surprises or two. You have 50 turns to do everything you can on each map, then the pirates attack. Move your troops into the right cities to strengthen them, then prepare to take on the baddies! A great casual strategy-like game with a lovely visual presentation.

cuttherope.jpgCut the Rope - Well, cut it, why don't you? A piece of candy hangs from a rope (or several ropes!) somewhere on the screen. Swipe your finger and slice it, allowing the candy to drop (hopefully into the waiting mouth of the frog below). Make strategic movements to gather all the stars on the screen, and watch for crazy contraptions like bubbles, air vents, and rope spawners that will drastically change how you play the game. A vividly animated environment makes this game an absolute treat to play, and the physics-based gameplay couldn't be more well-tuned. The free Cut the Rope Lite is also available.

shibuya.jpgshibuya - A stylish puzzle game that's deceptively simple. Wide, rectangular blocks slowly fall from the top of the screen. To the left a row of colored blocks sits, the bottommost highlighted for easy viewing. Tap a rectangle to turn it the color of the indicated square, then watch it fall to the bottom of the screen. Line up two or more like-colored rectangles and you can tap them to clear them away, earning points based on the number of blocks in a match. The description sounds simple and maybe even a bit dull, but the minute you play the game you see how strategic decisions quickly come into play, making this one of the most basic but most challenging puzzle games we've seen in some time.

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


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Rating: 4.8/5 (49 votes)
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Tasty Planet: Back for Seconds

JohnBFor some reason, everyone loves collecting things that are smaller than they are. We're not so much interesting in gathering buildings as we are looking at them, but if buildings were pint-sized, you can bet they'd fill our pockets like lint-covered jellybeans. Tasty Planet: Back for Seconds from Dingo Games plays on this compulsion and puts you in control of a blob of gray goo that can eat anything smaller than it is. As you can guess, this is a dangerous thing to let loose on the Earth, but give it a time machine and all of the past and future could be in quite a pickle.

Tasty Planet 2Like some human babies you might know, the protagonist in Tasty Planet will eat anything smaller than it is, gobbling up objects without pausing to chew. With each item nommed, the goo grows larger, allowing it to pick up even bigger items in its never-ending quest to keep eating. This all happens with a simple interface that uses either the mouse or [arrow] keys for movement. No jumping, no climbing, just moving and devouring.

Your size is constantly monitored at the top left corner of the screen. Once you reach a certain diameter, the camera bobs upward and gives you a wider view. A handy arrow points to the closest, largest object you can collect, and whenever an item is small enough to be eaten, you'll see a set of small icons surrounding it. It's extremely satisfying to fight with obstacles and run from enemies only to turn around and gobble them up a few moments later.

The time traveling mechanism allows for a nice variety of settings in Tasty Planet 2. There are six time periods to work through, each with its own unique things to eat, from the smallest piece of candy or scarab beetle to the largest dinosaur or satellite orbiting the Earth. You'll also find special stages that task you with escaping mazes or collecting a number of one kind of item. All of this takes place across 50 or so levels, some of which are unlocked as you play, and four different gameplay modes.

Tasty Planet 2Analysis: It wouldn't be possible to discuss Tasty Planet: Back for Seconds without mentioning Katamari Damacy or The Wonderful End of the World. The game shares a similar "collect small things" design concept, but really its charm (and 2D point of view) are all its own. Comparing Back for Seconds to the original Tasty Planet, you'll find quicker, more dynamic gameplay with plenty of new things to call it a sequel. One great new feature of Tasty Planet: Back for Seconds is the inclusion of a two player cooperative mode. If you've got a friend nearby, sit down and collect things together.

The gameplay isn't very challenging, but to be honest, it's not supposed to be. You can select timed mode to give yourself a bit of incentive to move fast, but apart from that, your only real dangers are creatures larger than you that might give chase, knocking your size down a bit with each hit. Certain stages are more danger-filled than others, but for the most part, the only thing you have to worry about are finding more small objects so you can grow and eat bigger things.

Casual and extremely entertaining, Tasty Planet: Back for Seconds is filled with a lot of straight-up fun. It doesn't have to rely on crazy gimmicks when it stars a time-traveling piece of gray goo that can eat anything it comes in contact with!

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Brunhilda and the Dark Crystal

joyeWith a name like Brunhilda, you really have no one to blame but your parents when a wise-cracking demon shanghais you into entering a parallel dimension to fulfill an ancient prophecy. That's right up there with Samantha Swift in the "names that are just asking for epic adventures" category. Sure enough, in Brunhilda and the Dark Crystal, your fate-temptingly named heroine traverses a magical continent via teleportation, broom, dragon, flying ship, and more, collecting shards of the crystal. This team effort between Polish developers Codeminion and Twin Bottles features Mortimer Beckett-like hidden object game play and an outstanding fully voice-acted plot.

Brunhilda and the Dark CrystalUnlike your typical hidden object game where you zoom into an area and find a list of items within that area, all the items you'll find in Brunhilda are right on the regular screen. As you progress through the game, you receive quests from various creatures that you meet, and these quests will be stored at the bottom of your screen.

For example, you may need to collect five mushrooms and eight eggs for a chef's omelet. Simply click on the items as you find them and Brunhilda will wave her wand to collect them. You can hover your mouse over your quest to see what progress you've made and how many of each object can be found in your current area, since sometimes you need to move to another area to find all the objects. In addition to object finding, there are also a few mini-games used to brew potions, cast spells, and communicate via crystal ball.

Analysis: Even fully-voiced cutscenes are no longer a guarantee in casual games, so to play a game where every bit of dialogue is spoken is a treat. You can tell the voice actors were having fun coming up with outrageous accents for the creatures Brunhilda meets on her journey, and the dialogue is witty and fun in itself. Plot and aesthetics are definitely Brunhilda's stand-out feature. Objects and backgrounds are lovingly detailed and frequently whimsical.

Brunhilda and the Dark CrystalWhile the game deserves credit for trying to stand out from the hidden object crowd, by breaking the object finding into a bunch of smaller chunks, it risks becoming repetitious. In order to get what you want from people, they give you a quest for a small number of objects. When you deliver them, you're given another quest for a similar amount of different objects. And another. And then another. While the logic of this gameplay mechanic is obvious, emotionally it can be a bit irritating, even more so because the writing encourages you to identify so much with Brunhilda.

The worst instance is one scene where, in every quest you are given, you must back out of the room and climb a tower to find the objects, then descend and enter the room to complete the quest, whereupon the quest-giver gives you yet another quest that requires climbing back up the tower. It really makes you wonder sometimes why Brunhilda doesn't just knock people out with her wand and take what she wants, or failing that, at least ask "Hey, while I'm doing that, is there anything else we're going to need?"

That said, Brunhilda does so much right (no penalty for misclicks, hurrah!) and has such a great story that it's definitely worth trying. Not to mention that its length of four to five hours is very good for a contemporary hidden object game. Although Brunhilda wasn't a smash hit when it first came out, it's been building up quite a following through word of mouth, which inspired me to try it. I loved it, so why not see what you think?

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  • Currently 4.3/5
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Rating: 4.3/5 (29 votes)
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Mystery Trackers: The Void

DoraWith his last batch of books being spectacular flops, horror writer Kevin Sting seeks out an old house with a bad reputation, looking for some inspiration, but vanishes without a trace. An illusionist who's made a career on defrauding his fellow magicians insists he can locate the missing writer, but promptly goes missing as well. And when a broadway starlet completes the odd list of characters that vanish into the mansion, well... it's time to call in the big guns. Mystery Trackers: The Void is a hidden object adventure game from developers Elephant Games (Lost in the City) that will take you beyond even mysterious Void house to an unlikely world. Exceptionally good looking with a creative story, The Void is a lot of fun despite some relatively easy gameplay, and absolutely worth a look if you're a fan of the genre.

Mystery Trackers: The VoidYou, of course, are a detective in the employ of the Mystery Trackers, which, as goofy as it may sound, is actually the modern day offshoot of an ancient order of knights whose duty was to track down mysteries and horrors before hysteria took over the populace. The mansion you arrive at is called The Void after its owner, Malleus Void, whose reputation as a mad scientist who conducted strange experiments garnered the place a lot of attention before his death. But just because Malleus is gone doesn't mean the mansion has given up all its secrets, and together with your tiny, trained frog in a monocle and Victorian clothing, you'll uncover them all! You heard me.

You'll search the mansion for clues, paying attention to your environment to find suspicious places that may hold clues or other secrets. Just click to interact, and click on your little frog for a hint, if you need one. Hidden object scenes yield the items you'll need to progress, but you can also find a lot hidden everywhere in the areas you travel. Be sure to refer to your journal frequently, not only to keep abreast of the plot, but to refer to the clues you'll write down when you find them. You'll need them to solve the various puzzles you'll come across, but if you get stuck, you can simply skip them.

It should also be mentioned that the full install of the Collector's Edition weighs in at a meaty 722 MB. So, you know, forewarning and all. Maybe this is the excuse you've been looking for to finally kick the habit and delete all those Britney Spears MP3s you think nobody knows about?

Mystery Trackers: The VoidAnalysis: Games are best when they surprise you. Going into Mystery Trackers: The Void I didn't have high expectations; I was expecting a cut'n'paste haunted house story. What I got was... well, imagine if someone put "The Island of Doctor Moreau" and "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" and the complete works of Agatha Christie in a blender and hit puree and you'll get a sense of what The Void is like. The initial hour or so of the game is extremely straight-forward, but the farther you go, the stranger and more interesting things become. Don't get me wrong, we're not talking Bram Stoker Award stuff here. But after so many casual adventure games with boring, no-frills plots, the twists and weird reveals The Void offers up are a breath of fresh air. The game is absolutely beautiful as well, with incredibly detailed, atmospheric environments and a great soundtrack.

The game is also chock full of references (subtle or not) to classic horror movies and culture. It's got a few creepy moments, but the overall strangeness keeps it from ever becoming actually scary. There is an imaginary scene in my head I have grown quite fond of, having played the game, and it goes thusly; the developing team for The Void, all wearing power suits, are sitting around a massive table, backlit by lightning crashes. A man wearing no less than twelve crazy hats slams a fist down into his palm. "Not good enough," he says, a mad glint in his eye, "make it crazier." The designers begin to sweat.

Mystery Trackers: The VoidThe Void's only shortcoming might actually be that it takes a while to really start showcasing how good it is, and never gets particularly difficult. The puzzles range from logic to math to other odd challenges, and manage to be more creative and engaging the farther you go. You also never repeat a hidden-object scene, and you're always moving forward through a series of unique environments with little to no backtracking. When you do return to an area you've already explored later in the game, you'll usually find it significantly transformed.

Mystery Trackers: The Void is one of the few games that managed to keep me interested and engaged in both plot and gameplay until the very end. Which, incidentally, was for quite a while; around six hours, not including the bonus episode available in the Collector's Edition. If you're hoping for something serious and dark, The Void's slightly goofy tone and increasingly elaborate plot reveals might not be for you. But if what you've been craving is a hidden-object casual adventure title with tons of polish and originality, you should definitely check this one out. The Void gives fantastic value, and the Mystery Trackers series has earned a permanent place on my radar.

A Collector's Edition is also available. It contains a built-in strategy guide, as well as a bonus chapter to play, and other bonus materials. 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

JohnBFooling around with the titles of this week's selection of games, I discovered something unusual. If you rearrange the letters, you can create the phrase "a decarbonised djinn met musing". Now, that may seem a bit random on the surface, but if you think about it (especially if you're a djinn who has had his carbon removed), you'll either go mad or realize it's kind of a funny thing. But, whatever... GAMES!

remaddening.gifRemaddening (Windows, 8.7MB, free) - A perfectly-suited name for a game, Remaddening is a platformer that takes place around a constantly-changing circular playing field. Run from the red beam while hopping over inclines and working your way in one direction. As you move, the environment scrolls on and off your field of vision around the circle, leaving you mostly blind to what's next in the procedurally-generated world. Then, the red light suddenly appears, and you've got to book it! A simple change to a familiar concept sometimes produces great results, and this one is certainly an interesting one to experience!

sanctum.jpgSanctum (Windows, 402MB, free) - A single level demo of a work-in-progress game, Sanctum pulls the tower defense genre into first person shooter territory and doesn't lose a drop of strategy in the process. You play a soldier who must defend her home from hordes of hostile alien creatures. Move to the battle corridor and purchase various offensive and defensive turrets, traps and obstacles to deal with the enemies. When you're ready, unleash the aliens and stand ready to attack. Not only will your buildings attack your foes, but you'll use your upgradeable weapons to attack as well. The sci-fi world is drawn with careful detail, and the game is equal parts strategy and action. Keep an eye on this one for its full release!

insidejob.gifInside Job (Mac/Win, 18-23MB, free) - Freelance operative Ryuhei is ready for his first mission. But what should have been a simple smash and grab turns out to be wildly more complex, as someone is watching through the security cameras. Use your special ability to take control of people on each floor, moving them throughout the area to accomplish tasks or just getting them out of the way so you can make it to the exit. Very nice premise that catches you right away with its high level of mystery and intrigue, and as the story progresses, you begin to realize this game has a deeper meaning to convey...

Note: All games have been confirmed to run under Windows 7 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 4.7/5
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Rating: 4.7/5 (22 votes)
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Dark Tales: Edgar Allan Poe's The Black Cat

DoraSara Davies's husband has reported her missing. The problem is that several people have reported seeing her wandering the estate in the company of a black cat... although she appears to vanish whenever anyone approaches her. Together with Inspector Dupin, you'll have to explore the estate and attempt to unravel the mystery surrounding Sara's disappearance, which only deepens with the appearance of a strange cat that seems to be following you... or is it the other way around? Dark Tales: Edgar Allan Poe's The Black Cat is a hidden-object adventure game from the creators of PuppetShow and Redemption Cemetery that should be just the thing for the holiday season.

Dark Tales: Edgar Allan Poe's The Black CatInstead of traveling all over the city, this time you're confined to the Davies's manor and grounds in your investigation. Mr. Davies is less than helpful, so you'll need to track down clues yourself. Which would be a lot easier if the who place wasn't in such a state of disrepair. Everyone's favourite attention grabber and all-around-no-help Inspector Dupin is back, so you can rest assured that if you ever need anyone to state the obvious or to never left a freaking finger to help you do anything, he's got your back. (BROS FOR LIFE, MAN.)

Much of your progress is going to be barred by locked doors, and most of those locks are going to have missing pieces to them. Why, it's almost as if someone doesn't want us to find out what happened to Sara! Unfortunately for them, we're hidden-object and puzzle pros, and we'll scour every sparkling nook and cranny until we get to the bottom of things. Though the hidden-object scenes can be tricky, you've got a hint button on a timer to use if your eyes fail you, and the puzzles can also likewise be skipped if you ever find yourself stymied.

Dark Tales: Edgar Allan Poe's The Black CatAnalysis: As classy as it may be to imagine Poe only wrote stories about gentlemen detectives in cravats and tight pantaloons, I can promise you that he was a pretty rad dude and the original version of The Black Cat was kind of insane. This retelling is comparatively tame, but is still a lot darker and more mysterious than its predecessor. Even if a few good twists would have kept it from becoming predictable, the whole thing is gloomy and dark and wonderfully creepy. There are a few surprises to be had, and although you'll probably have figured things out whodunwhat long before the halfway point, you'll definitely enjoy the journey.

But while it's good, it still feels like it could have been better. You don't feel like you're solving a mystery, you're just repairing things around the house, and there's rarely much brain power involved in it since the game often tells you what you should be doing. It's all perfectly serviceable and may even offer you a bit of challenge, but it's hard to shake the feeling that you've played it all before. There's even an instance where you have to use a newspaper to retrieve a key on the other side of a locked door. Yes, again. But what it lacks in originality, it makes up for in presentation. Although the music will probably be familiar to you if you've played any recent ERS Game Studio title, it fits things perfectly, and the design is absolutely beautiful.

The Black Cat should take you four hours or longer to complete, depending on your play style, and there are plenty of places to explore. It's a solid, meaty night (or nights) of gaming. Dark Tales is really shaping up to be a great series with quality to look forward to, and something every hidden-object fan should keep an eye out for. And maybe if we're lucky, the next cat-themed horror game will be based on Stephen King's "The Cat From Hell". Now that's entertainment.

A Collector's Edition is also available. It contains a bonus chapter to play, wallpapers, soundtrack, 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
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Also available: Collector's Edition

Mac OS XMac OS X:
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Also available: Collector's Edition


  • Currently 3.5/5
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Rating: 3.5/5 (85 votes)
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joyeFor The TwinOne of these things is just like the other. One of these things, oh it belongs. Can you tell me which thing is just like the other, before I finish this song? If you just had a flashback to a kinder, gentler time of your childhood spent in hypnotic rapture before a television, take For the Twin for a spin. In this simple yet addictive fast-paced matching puzzle game from Hybrid Mind, find your example's identical twin from among a panoply of dancing aliens. The colorful whimsy and offbeat electronica just might get your own toes tapping.

Just take a look at the gyrating creature in the upper right corner of your game screen. Somewhere among the creatures, all similar yet each different in its own way, is your twin target. Click on it as quick as you can, but beware. If you click on the wrong creature, you get a five second penalty added to your time. After doing all ten levels in a challenge, you'll receive a star based on how fast you finished. Can you get a gold star in all six challenges? Because I can't. I'm just saying.

If you're thinking that the similarity to Sesame Street's famous game means that this one is going to be easy or "just for kids", you're in for a surprise. Depending on the challenge, the creatures do all kinds of blatantly unfair things, like jumping around, not facing the right direction, even occasionally standing partially in front of the target twin, rendering it impossible to tell it's your target until one of them moves. In order to get a gold star, you must average a mere 3 seconds per creature, which means that even one misclick renders a gold star basically impossible. In the later challenges, even getting a bronze star can take a few tries. That's right: a game about matching squishy rabbity creatures legitimately earned the high difficulty tag. Imagine that.

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Link Dump Fridays

DoraPre-weekend doldrums got you down? Look no further than this edition of Link Dump Friday, which will first strain your brain with puzzles one fellow reviewer calls "ridiculous", and then soothe it with lovely images. Spot-the-difference in an ethereally beautiful book, get home before the music stops, or do battle atop a sufficiently epic castle roof, complete with rain and lightning and everything.

  • Professor SpleunkingtonProfessor Spelunkington - The touching tale of an older man desperate to buy a younger woman's affections with copious amounts of cold, hard gems stolen from undefiled caverns and beaten out of monster faces, this retro platformer isn't actually as similar to its namesake as you might initially think... or hope. The controls are a little stiff, but it's still fun to bounce around the monster-ridden caves as an extremely dapper geriatric. We should all hope to be so spry!
  • The Search for WondLaThe Search for WondLa - What it lacks in any sort of narrative, this spot-the-difference game makes up for in sheer purdy-ness. There are twenty-eight scenes to explore, and while they're all phenomenally well illustrated, the absence of any sort of story integrated into the gameplay makes it little more than a virtual sideshow. The good news, at least, is if you want to know the reason behind the loveliness, you can check out the book of the same name it's based on by Tony DiTerlizzi, whose work you might recall from the (rad) "Spiderwick Chronicles" or his work on the "Planescape" products for Dungeons and Dragons. (radder)
  • Ragdoll SpreeThe Roomz: Eclipse - After three years, the Roomz are finally back to confound us with a series of remarkably difficult puzzles and riddles, making it part (sort of) escape, and part "GAAAAAH WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM MEEEEEEEEE?" One reviewer describes it as being for "people who hate themselves"... well, what better pit of self loathing to look into than the internets?
  • Battle ShiftBattle Shift - Battle a boss through eighteen stages of transformations in this surprisingly tricky retro action platformer. It's a straight-forward concept presented in a neat package, but too many of the boss forms are too similar to one another, and it isn't until halfway through when the terrain changes that things get challenging. Anyone else think this is basically just the last boss battle from Link's Awakening?... anyone?... *sigh* Man, I'm old.
  • Get HomeGet Home - Make your way home before the music runs out in this short advergame platformer designed to promote the band Team Me. Although the gameplay is exceedingly straightforward and unvaried, the game features a breezy, likable aesthetic, great soundtrack, two endings, and a clear though unobtrusive message. It may be an "art" game, but it's a decidedly well intentioned and clear one. While it might have benefited from some more creative gameplay, I can find no ill in a game that introduced me to some new fantastic bouncy music.

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Rating: 4/5 (54 votes)
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Bradoliverandthebasilisks_title.gifHello, sir or madam, do you have a moment to spare? I would like to tell you about a new movement that is quickly gaining influence in social, political and economic circles. We are called the Society for the Advancement of Under Represented Mythological Creatures or SAUR MC (pronounced: Saur M.C.). We feel that vampires, werewolves, goblins, trolls, unicorns and other creatures get too much press. What about the cockatrice, the Jack-in-Irons, the forest bull or the basilisk?

Well, brothers and sisters, the basilisk is finally getting some attention in the new game Oliver & The Basilisks. It's a turn-based strategy board game in which you'll take control of the wizard Oliver in his quest to destroy the basilisks. It's not the most pro-basilisk game, but there's no such thing as bad publicity.

There are three game modes: simple, normal and deluxe. The rules for simple still apply for the other modes, but with each mode additional rules are put into effect. Here's the basics: the basilisks are trying to kill Oliver and vice-versa. Each turn Oliver can move one space in any direction (buy either hitting the numerical keys or using the mouse to press the directional buttons in the top right corner), the basilisks also only move one space and will always move straight for Oliver. You can kill a basilisk by making two basilisk run into each other, making a basilisk run into a stone or by using one of your spells. Kill all the basilisks to beat a stage.

Normal and deluxe add a few things, most notably golems. When playing these two modes you'll notice little pink orbs moving around the board, these are magic spirits. If Oliver grabs one of these it'll recharge his spells, but if one of them hits a stone they transform it into a golem. Golem can destroy stones and kill basilisks, but the only way to kill a golem is with your disintegration spell or by getting two golems to run into each other. Don't worry though, you don't need to clear the golems to get to the next level.

Analysis:oliverandthebasilisks_screen2.gif The first level of any mode in Oliver & The Basilisks is kind of slow and doesn't really show the challenges of the game and the strategy needed to beat a level. But it doesn't take long for the difficulty to ramp up and the fun to begin. The rules are very simple, which makes the game accessible, but you'll need to put on your thinking cap and your strategic planning pant suit. There is one annoying downside to the difficulty. The biggest one is that there's not way to select what level you want to start out on. It's a bummer to get to a level with a ton of basilisks, make a misstep, get killed and go back to a level with just four. However, in some modes this is necessary because there's an experience system for your spells and if you're having too much trouble you can always switch to an easier mode.

The three modes give the game a lot of variety and not just in terms of difficulty. In simple mode you only get three spells, but in normal there's seven available and in deluxe you get a whopping 14 spells. In normal mode, you'll be able to change spells in between levels and it's a lot of fun to test out the different kinds of spells. In deluxe, your starting spells are randomized. Not only does this give you the fun of exploring spells, but it also creates a bunch of different game scenarios of different difficulty. You might end up with spells that just move you or the enemies around and you'll only have your wits to rely on.

There are some annoyances, the most noticeable being that after awhile my game started being interrupted by in-game pop-up ads. It'd also be nice if you could just click on a space to have Oliver move there. These small problems aside Oliver & The Basilisks is a great choice for folks who like their games with a nice helping of strategy. Even if you're not up for a big challenge you're sure to find a mode that you'll find comfortable. Once you get into this game, you'll be into it. You'll find your time being gobbled up as you try to out-maneuver your foes and find the right set of spells that will serve you best.

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Rating: 4.8/5 (145 votes)
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Babylon Sticks: Robot Wants... 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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JohnBSuper Mind DungeonSuper Mind Dungeon is a retro-styled arcade game that isn't afraid to make you walk the slow, trial-and-error-stocked walk from luck to skill. You play a chunky pixel character who happens to have a nifty psi-power that allows you to fling him through the air. This ability can only be used once, though, until you recharge it by bouncing off a non-metallic surface. Luckily this dungeon is filled with things to bump into. Unluckily, many of those things are sharp and spiky in nature.

The idea is naturally quite simple: avoid the things that would kill you, try to make it to the goal. Click the mouse to fire off your psi-power and bounce off in one of four diagonal directions determined by the location of the cursor relative to the main character. You don't have precise control over speed or movement, but you'll soon realize that harnessing your motion is the core concept that Super Mind Dungeon is built around.

When you use your psi-power, you are unable to use it again until bumping into a non-metallic surface. This leaves you vulnerable to pesky gravity and momentum, so moving through each level requires some forethought. You need to bounce off just the right part of the wall to make it through some corridors, and oftentimes you'll stay airborne as you psi-fling, recharge, and fling again several times in a row, all to avoid a pit of spikes below. Exhilarating!

Super Mind Dungeon deserves a tiny slap on the wrist for its unpredictable difficulty. One minute you're coasting through levels, maybe dying once or twice here and there, but nothing too extreme. The next minute you can't seem to stay alive for more than three seconds as you respawn dozens of times just because you can't make it past one bed of spikes. Eventually you make it (if you don't ragequit), and after that, it's back to simpler levels. You never know what's next, and throughout the game's 30 levels, you'll get stuck at really odd places, unable to continue because you have to complete each stage in order. Smoothing the difficulty and adding a group level unlock system would make it a much more player friendly experience.

All in all, Super Mind Dungeon wins huge points for its originality, loses a few points for its varied difficulty, and gets a few retro brownie points for its pixel-loving presentation and old-school sound sensibilities. A great way to spend a few minutes of your afternoon.

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Bradbrad_mobydick_chomp.jpgI'm going to tell you a secret. I've always wanted to be one of the scourges of the sea. I've longed to glide gracefully and silently beneath the waves, devouring anything that comes near my deadly maw. I would reign over the seas and oceans as suzerain and all who doth sail or swim in my kingdom would do so with fear and respect. The foolish ape called man would try to kill me, of course, but I would rend his flesh with teeth like razors and smash his ships to pulp. As they died, some drowning, some half-eaten, the water turning red with their blood, they'd scream and curse my names: Leviathan! Jörmungandr! Cirein cròin! Yeah... it'd be pretty great... and that's why I'm so excited about Moby Dick: The Video Game, a new release from Mostro Games and La Ventanita Studio.

Now, I've never read Moby Dick, I'm not a fan of Melville. Well, I really enjoyed "Bartleby, the Scrivener," which I think would make a great game. Anyway, I'm pretty sure this adaptation, while abridged, is very faithful to the source material. The main character is the titular Moby Dick, a very hungry white whale who longs to jump up to the stars and snack on yummy, tasty aliens. Just like in the book, you control the whale with your mouse and he dutifully follows it wherever it goes. When your purple BOOST meter is full you can left click with the mouse to get a momentary boost to your speed and power. This will come in handy when you want to reach those little green men.

It's not all about eating, though, you'll need to keep an eye on your three meters: health, air and hunger. Most of the meters are self-explanatory, but there are some things you'll need to know. You can increase your health by eating, and different foods will give you different growth bursts. Fish increase your health a little and sailors increase it by more. If you run out of air you'll start to lose health, the same goes for hunger. Thankfully, you'll be able to take advantage of the ocean's greatest natural resource: power-ups. There's power-ups to restore health and air and plenty of fish to ease your hunger. There's also power-ups that boost your growth, both in health and size.

brad_mobydick_flop.jpgYou see, you'll start off as more of a Baby Beluga than a Moby Dick. You'll barely be able to jump out of the water and most fish can outswim you. So, you'll have to bulk up by eating some humans. There's a couple ways to separate man from his ship. You can come up from the deep and nudge the bottom of the boat and when you get bigger you can slap them with your tail or land on them after a jump. You can grow up to 100 tons (or 2,000 health points). Of course, the bigger you get the hungrier you'll be. For awhile all you have to do is worry about surviving the spears and cannonballs of sailors, but eventually you get a new enemy: your metabolism.

Analysis: Even if you don't have disturbing fantasies of being a sea monster you'll find Moby Dick: The Video Game a lot of fun. It's a survival game, so the only goal is to, you know, survive, but I found myself continuing to play it on and on. There's achievements you can earn, but the real fun is just in getting big and wreaking havoc. It's understandable that there's a size limit on your whale, but it's also kind of a shame. It's be great to keep growing and growing to a ridiculous size to keep having something to work towards. Even after you hit the size limit the game continues to be fun, though. I kept playing way after I had enough for this review... and kept playing even while I was trying to write the review.

The controls are simple and smooth. In the beginning it's a little confusing because the instructions will tell you that you can jump out of the water, but it seems you can barely break the surface. That changes as you get bigger, so don't worry. The only minor snag in the control is that sometimes you'll be trying to gobble up a power-up or sinking sailor and because of your angle you'll just end up circling it. This is easily fixed by making another approach at your target, but if you desperately need some health it can be annoying. Other than that the controls are great and their simplicity is part of what makes the game so easy to pick up and so fun to play and play and play.

The art is simple and charming, especially the way your whale seems to always be smiling. The difficulty is decently balanced, but it is challenging and if you're not careful you can die very fast. All in all, Moby Dick: The Video Game is a ridiculous amount of fun and a very well made game. Even if you don't care for survival-type games you should give this one a try.

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Rating: 4.4/5 (307 votes)
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joyeReachin' PichinWhy are scientists so heartless? They manage to genetically engineer a marvel of blobular cuteness, and then they get all huffy because it can't fly. Poor little Pichin can barely manage a jump, and apparently this fills its creator with disgust. In Reachin' Pichin, the debut from Malaysian game makers Kurechii, a sympathetic lab assistant helps Pichin launch up into the sky, grab all the money and gems conveniently floating around up there, and use them to evolve into something that will make its creator proud. Pichin won't give up. A good little creation would never give up. A good creation like he wanted. *sniffs*

What? Oh, I just have a cold. And something in my eye. It's nothing.

Leap right into the game by pressing that big red FLY button. As Pichin launches into the air, it follows your mouse from left to right. Guide Pichin into collecting coins, gems, treasure chests, and other goodies, and bounce on red and gold cushions to go even higher. There are no enemies per se, only some obstacles which slow Pichin down, and can actually sometimes be a good thing if you're falling. You can keep going until Pichin falls to the ground naturally, or if you want to end the flight early, you can click the "Skip" button at the very bottom of the screen. When your launch is over, you'll get a report on how much you picked up, and open any chests. As you progress, you'll unlock four other buttons beside FLY: a achievements monitor, for keeping track of your progress; a stats and skills for boosting stats and equipping skills; a research lab, for further increase of Pichin's speed, strength, luck and bounciness; and an evolution lab, for evolving Pichin into a champion!

Pichin starts out as neutral, but evolves into one of three kinds of Pichin: plant, beast, or metal. With each stage of evolution, Pichin has a different look and different abilities. Be forewarned that if you evolve baby Pichin into, say, Chickachin, the tween beast form, but later evolve into Gadgetin, the mature metal form, you will lose access to any beast skills you didn't have equipped. While you keep the skills you had equipped, you can only add new ones that are open to your Pichin's current type. Passive skills apply automatically, while active skills require clicking, holding with the mouse to charge, and then releasing to cast. Different active skills have different casting times and cooldown times, which you can monitor in the lower right corner of the screen.

Reachin' PichinAnalysis: A word of warning: the music of Reachin' Pichin is as cheerily addictive as that of Katamari Damacy. You may find yourself breaking into "ba da das" and squealing "Reachin' Pichin!" at inopportune moments. Aesthetically, this game is brilliant all around, with the soundtrack perfectly matching the colorful game world. Pichin looks as if it might bounce right out of your monitor altogether.

The game does such a good job making you identify with Pichin's desire to prove its worth that it's really a shame that the ending sequence doesn't give any plot resolution on that end. Instead, it's apparently meant to be a cliffhanger twist, bringing up something that was never foreshadowed in the slightest in the rest of the game, perhaps setting up a Reachin' Pichin 2. However, the best way to make people come back for Reachin' Pichin 2 is to give them emotional pay-off first, then hook them with Pichin's new challenge.

Despite a plot misstep at the end, Reachin' Pichin offers great launch gameplay throughout, fully up there with such classics of the genre as Hedgehog Launch. In most launch games, you begin the game hardly able to get anywhere, but once you've unlocked all the best upgrades, you almost can't lose. Reachin' Pichin takes a different approach, in that early launches are easy, but actually winning the game will not only take a fully evolved Pichin, but also a careful use of skills towards the top, where platforms become scarce.

Please give Reachin' Pichin a chance. Otherwise I think it's going to start wibbling its lower lip again, and I don't think I can take it.

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Rating: 4.3/5 (94 votes)
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JoshBunny FlagsUpon first glance, seasoned gamers may have a tough time figuring out why Bunny Flags was arguably one of this month's most anticipated Flash releases. The notion of a cuddly, cartoon-looking, Rambo-esque bunny rabbit fending off hordes of macabre, disembodied thumbs doesn't convey the most sophisticated of premises… But as the developers at Game Launch Project proved with Bunny Charm last year—the studio's first attempt in the defense-shooter genre—you can't always judge a game by its creative style, despite how insanely ludicrous it appears. This is especially true of the newly released Bunny Flags, which effortlessly combines tower defense, fort survival and arena shooting—three of the most popular themes in the defense genre—into one hell of a slick, addicting little game.

You play the role of "White Rabbit," a long-eared, short-tempered combat bunny who—for whatever reason—is under constant siege by a variety of mean-tempered thumbs (and the occasional hand). The majority of levels are set up like a traditional tower defense playing field, with various obstacles scattered around to help the player construct walking paths and choke points. The basic gameplay and controls are familiar; use the [WASD] layout to move, [LMB] to shoot, hit [R] to activate "Rage" mode and smack [spacebar] to use your special ability (planting dynamite or swiping your knife, depending on your talent specialization). In addition to clicking the corresponding icons for towers and weapons at the bottom of the screen, number keys [1] to [5] can be used to select towers, while [6] to [0] will select weapons. Hold down [Shift] while placing towers to keep the current one selected.

Unlike most tower defense games, Bunny Flags features a unique, reversed "capture-the-flag" mechanic; instead of attacking a traditional "base," the enemy's goal is to grab your flag and return it to its spawn point. If an enemy manages to snag your flag, you'll only have a short time to shoot it down and recover the flag by touching it with your character. To make things a little more interesting, most levels feature several flags and multiple enemy spawn points, from opposite ends of the playing field. In addition, some levels feature an arena-shooter "survival" mode with no flags; it's just you against each enemy wave, armed with a few trusty weapons, your special abilities and an array of towers.

Bunny FlagsIt should be noted that your "array" of towers is relatively modest; you have cheap barricades to direct the flow of traffic, gun towers ("Pistol"), slowing towers ("Snow"), poison towers ("Venom") and an area-of-effect tower ("Rocket"). True, it's not the most impressive setup for such a critically-hyped defense game, but that's because the towers mechanic  is just one of several gameplay components that Bunny Flags provides. It's also a solid shooter, backed with an impressive talent upgrade system, featuring five different guns (Pistol, Uzi, Shotgun, Rocket Launcher and Riot Shield) that offers a deeper gameplay dimension than many of its peers in the defense genre.

The talent system is based on level progression; players earn experience points by defeating enemies, completing achievements and winning levels (including a few other factors like difficulty setting and how well you performed). Keep progressing and invest points in the "Talent Tree," which is the heart and soul of Bunny Flags' awesome customization system. Three paths are available; "Engineer," "Commando" and "Destroyer," with each path unlocking new abilities (both active and passive) along the way. You can only distribute points in multiple paths until you reach a special ability that defines your specialization, such as unlocking the "Knife" ability (a melee AoE weapon) in the Commando's path, or the "Dynamite" ability in the Destroyer's path. Once you've chosen your path, the other two will be locked. You can reset your talent points at any time though, so don't be worried about making the wrong choice.

Analysis: Even at the "Casual" setting, early levels might prove to be a challenge until you've accumulated at least seven or eight talent points… Beginner talents that improve your fire rate, tower range or running speed don't even the odds much. It's not until you unlock your special ability that you'll probably notice the extra power (especially when you get to the second- and third-tier talents). At around 15 to 20 talent points you'll have a much better chance at replaying earlier levels on "Hard" or "Challenge" modes, which in turn provides more experience. You'll also have access to new and better weapons, depending on your path. Other talents improve innate abilities, such as adding a "slowing" or "poisoning" effect to your ammo, or giving you the ability to regenerate health. The Engineer is the only path that doesn't provide an "activated" ability like Knife and Dynamite. It may seem like a watered-down path, but if you prefer the tower defense style of gameplay, the Engineer bonuses—like reduced tower cost, increased range and damage—can't be beat.

Bunny FlagsBunny Flags follows a semi-linear progression throughout three level areas, beginning with the "Study" area of the world map (yellow tiles). After completing the first couple of levels in the Study though, you'll have the opportunity to veer off into the "Kitchen" area (white tiles) and later, the "Garden" (green tiles). Both the Study and Garden areas feature the reversed capture-the-flag gameplay; the only difference being that Garden levels have a more traditional—or rather, more defined—landscape layout. The Study, on the other hand, relies more on the player to create obstacles and paths using barricades and towers to achieve the "maze" style of gameplay, à la Desktop Tower Defense.

The Kitchen levels are all about survival and depending on your play style, you can use an even combination of arena-shooting and tower defense, or rely more heavily on just one strategy. In fact, you have that same choice in every level; it's a refreshing twist in the tower defense genre. Conversely, hardcore shooter fans will appreciate the ability use mobile, character-oriented combat in the strategy-driven, tower defense setting. Unfortunately, there comes a time in Bunny Flags when seasoned players will find themselves walking all over it, even on harder gameplay modes. Venom towers, poisoned ammo and the rocket launcher—in addition to a few other setups—might be a little too powerful, for example.

Enemy "pathing" is a bit glitchy and unpredictable at times, but perhaps that's a challenge-in-disguise. There are also a few fundamental balance issues that might rub players the wrong way. Some talents and abilities are built upon the strategy of engaging enemies in close-combat, yet provide no incentive to the alternative; it's easier to rack up experience by playing it safe and from a distance, with longer-ranged weapons. That being said, the developers have addressed several bugs; the latest revision increased leveling speed and added a few hotly-requested features (there's already talk of a Sniper Rifle being designed into the next build).

Bunny Flags is one of those shiny gems that doesn't come along every week, so we're glad to see the team at Game Launch Project responding to its success with updates and community interaction. If they keep striking while the iron's hot, this could be the beginning of a beautiful defense franchise.

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Joshbustabrain.jpgHow's your brain doing today? Is it bright and refreshed, with all synapses firing, ready to tackle the demands of the day? Or is it in a thick foggy haze punctuated by a few nervous twitches, screaming out to return to its slumber? Let's find out, shall we? Developer Ninjadoodle (known for their click-tracking, one button offerings) presents their latest challenge to your gray matter called Bustabrain, a short amusing title that should appeal to puzzle and minigame fans alike.

Bustabrain's gameplay takes Ninjadoodle's One Button Bob technology and merges it with a series of 39 Warioware-esque mini brain games. There are various puzzles inside, including rebuses, matchstick movers, memory games, pattern recognition sequences, and even a few action bits. Each game only requires mouse clicks or drag-and-drops, and shouldn't take you longer than a minute. There are a few levels, however, that are more involved, literally requiring you to think outside the box.

Overall, Ninjadoodle's latest game is a fun, limited offering. With its cute, simple mix of graphic styles and swinging soundtrack, the game is entertaining to play through. Its replay value only consists of beating your last total click score, however, which becomes much easier the second time around. Regardless, Bustabrain is a nice game to beat on your break, and might even help get that squishy stuff up there in your head moving again.

Update: Ninjadoodle has responded to the feedback about the bubble levels and made some changes. Those levels should be less frustrating now. :)

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Rating: 3.9/5 (68 votes)
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Weekday Escape

SonicLover"Do you want to try and escape from this room?" That sign is what lures the protagonist of Escape from the Same Room 2 into taking the bait. Apparently they're hosting public room escapes now. I wish they'd host them in my hometown... but I digress.

Escape from the Same Room 2It's not just one room, as it turns out. It's four interconnected rooms, all of which look alike at first glance: a little tea kettle on a round table, a green box on a square pedestal, a mysterious picture on the wall next to a button that doesn't do anything. They all have many subtle differences, though. Does that teakettle have a lightbulb in it? How come that one has a letter code box in it?

Obviously, you've got to solve puzzles that span all four rooms if you're to get out, with or without the usual Happy Coin.

Analysis: Tesshi-e is one developer that we can always count on to make decent escape games, even more so now that they've found a reliable translator. Escape from the Same Room 2 contains everything we like about our Tesshikins: photorealistic graphics, catchy music, and logical puzzles.

The only real weakness the game has is its tediousness, particularly compared to Tesshi-E's other games like Escape from Mr. K's Room 2. None of the doors stay unlocked; you'll have to unlock them every time you pass through them, although this may be a necessary evil to help the player from losing their bearings in the identical rooms (each door requires a different key). Also, you'll most likely need a pencil and paper, and probably a calculator to boot, to get everything solved.

But we can't stay mad at Tesshi-e for one flaw when everything else is so well executed. What are you still lounging around here for? That room won't escape itself!

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Rating: 4.3/5 (185 votes)
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MikeMorbid 2: The CureHappy October! I can't be sure what October means to you, but in my part of the world, October means dressing up as monsters and pop culture icons, committing petty vandalism, and horror-themed casual games. It's nice to be able to don the mantle of horror during Halloween, because in most countries that celebrate it, we know that the masquerade will end and we can go back to our safe, ordinary lives. But what if the supernatural horror we associate with Halloween manifested during a truly horrific time, like, say, the Black Plague? That was the premise of Morbid, a point-and-click horror title from Pastel Games that we reviewed last year. Now comes the sequel, Morbid 2: The Cure, just in time for everyone's favorite spooky holiday.

Point-and-click fans should know how the game works: Click on scenery to navigate, items to collect, and people to converse. Combine items with people, scenery, or other items to solve puzzles and advance the story. For Morbid 1, we complained that the worst part of the game was the navigation, for it was never clear where you needed to click to move. While Morbid 2 is a little better in this regard, there are still paths that are too obscure to be easily found. Navigation remains the most frustrating part of the series.

Despite this one problem, there is a lot that Morbid 2 does well. The puzzles, when they are not obscured by navigation issues, are mostly intuitive and, except for one very silly puzzle involving a spider web, logical. While the story is intriguing, the end of the game might upset some. Depending on how you look at it, it's either a knife in the gut, or one heck of a cliffhanger.

Play both games in the Morbid series:

The best part of the series remains the atmosphere. The black-and-white art and subtle ambient sounds are creepy and evocative. There are no jump scares or shocking gore, just a mood of well-crafted, eerie desolation. If you can get over the wonky navigation, Morbid 2 is a fine bit of quick, atmospheric spookiness, just in time for Halloween.

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Rating: 4.2/5 (188 votes)
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Flabby PhysicsJohnBFlabby Physics, by Every Day the Same Dream creator Paolo Pedercini, is a short and simple one button physics puzzle game. The goal is pretty obvious: move the ball to the star. The method for doing this is generally pretty obvious, too: use the [spacebar] to switch positions of the various on-screen blobs. Making the magic happen, though, will take some practice.

Gameplay is mostly trial-and-error, but it's a trial you won't mind undertaking, and errors you can't really avoid. Each level has a different arrangement of shapes, usually amorphous blobs occupying chunks of the screen, and holding/releasing the [spacebar] will shift them from one position to the next. Extending part of a blob while the ball is nearby will shove it around, hopefully sending it straight to your intended goal. If not, no worries, it's not like you're being timed or anything!

There are only a few levels to play in Flabby Physics, and each will take just a minute or two to complete. There's no big fanfare, tallying of points, or high fives at the end, you just start over at the beginning, lending credence to the fact that this is just a conceptual demo. But there's something to be said about the whimsical design of the game. The concept alone — moving blobs of color to propel a ball — is quirky, but add to that the bright colors and the kazoo music and you've got something your average circus clown could call "neat".

Flabby Physics isn't much more than a teaser, but its ten minutes of gameplay are crazy fun, and you probably won't be able to wipe that grin off your face the entire time.

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The Vault

DoraIf it's Tuesday, that means it's time for The Vault, where we pour a glut of premium nostalgia down your throat. Mmm, now that's good and good for you! This week features a selection of games that belong to my personal favourite genre; weird. You might not think weird is a genre. I might think you're just being contrary, bub. Here are several games that are weird, wonderful, and, most importantly, fun.

  • Kao Fu-SenKao Fu-Sen - Oh, Syongo Maruyama, you stole my heart with your touching tale of a girl, her balloon, and her... detachable head that... turns into a balloon because that usually happens and... uh... huh. You know what, I don't even know, but I don't care. It's a surreal point-and-click puzzle that fans of Samorost will find a lot to like about. You might wind up wishing the girl's body moved a bit faster, particularly since it's easy to get knocked back down to the bottom of the screen, but HEY. Lay off. You try taking off your head and see how quickly you can navigate ladders.
  • Peasant's QuestPeasant's Quest - If you've ever been royalty before (and who hasn't!) then you likely got sick very quickly of the piteous moans of your unwashed subjects. "Waaah, my family is starving!" "Waaah, your guardsmen are corrupt and stole all our gold!" "Waaaah, my house and all my belongings just got burninated!" Well, if you've ever been the slightest bit curious as to how the "other half" lives, then this classic text adventure from Videlectrix, the fictitious video game company of Homestar Runner, will give you some perspective. With retro visuals (like, really retro) and an absurd sense of humour, Peasant's Quest is a solid, silly adventure that will finally let you feel what it's like to be on fire like a real peasant.
  • TorkTork - How many languages can you speak? And I mean speak well, not just swear words, oaths upon your family, or directions to the nearest toilet. (I prefer elaborate pantomime, a la Donna Noble.) Following a fellow whose spacecraft winds up stranding him on an alien planet, Tork requires you to pay attention to the strange lifeforms and how they react when you speak to them, puzzling out their language from the sounds you pick up. Originally created way back in 2002, despite some clunky control issues as you fly around, Tork remains a great example of exploration-themed adventuring that is a perfect piece of weird fun.

While we welcome any comments about this weekly feature here, we do ask that if you need any help with the individual games, please post your questions on that game's review page. Well, what are you waiting for? Get out there and rediscover some awesome!


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Rating: 4.7/5 (1235 votes)
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DoraGretel and Hansel Part 2Looking for a bit of nightmare fuel wrapped up in a deceptively cute watercolour setting with some adorable moppet protagonists? Gretel and Hansel 2, from Mako Pudding, is finally here, and the strange saga continues. After the events of the first game, Gretel and Hansel find themselves stranded in the woods, and it isn't long before they're separated as well. Much longer than the first chapter, with more puzzles to solve and more areas to explore, this sequel should be a welcome treat for fans of the weird and morbid.

If you played the original, then you'll be familiar with the controls, which use either [WASD] or the [arrow] keys to move around, and the mouse to (usually) interact with things. Early on Gretel picks up a quaint Littlest Hobo-esque kerchief on a stick that she uses to carry the items she gathers, and you can open it by clicking on it and dragging items out to use them. Whenever you can interact with something, a cartoon bubble depicting an action appears above it when you get close enough. And, yes, there's even a mute button in the upper left corner if you get tired of the sound.

While your first objective is to reunite with Gretel's brother, it will quickly become apparent that you'll also want to find a way out of this forest which is filled with all manner of terrible waiting to happen to our intrepid heroine. Although you can die, and probably will at least once, death is a temporary setback and you'll resume playing from the last area you entered, and the auto-save means you can come back to the game whenever you like. Half the fun of the game lies in experimenting, so don't be afraid to make the obviously wrong choices now and again to see where they take you. Go ahead. Touch that bear with your soft, fleshy, chubby childlike hand. What could possibly go wrong. *flat stare*

Gretel and Hansel Part 2Analysis: If you're of a certain age, the macabre tones herein are going to seem less like sacrilege to you. What Gretel and Hansel does really, really well is actually to capture the sense of creepy, wonderful strangeness that pervaded a lot of older children's movies, like Labyrinth or The Dark Crystal by way of Gullermo del Toro. While it's chock full of black humour and gore, including a lot of moments designed to make you feel like a terrible person for laughing at, it has a great otherworldly feeling with the strange spirits and denizens of the forest to explore that makes uncovering the dark secrets a lot of fun.

Unfortunately, Gretel and Hansel's biggest problem is that there's a lot of trial and error happening. Its offbeat world means that it isn't always immediately clear what you should do in any given situation, leading to that age old strategy of using everything in your inventory on everything else, everywhere. It doesn't help that finding the correct position to trigger an action button can frequently be a bit finicky, so even if you are using the right item in the right place, the game might not register it because you're not positioned just so.

Play both games in the Gretel and Hansel series:

Ultimately, this is the best kind of sequel; something that keeps all the elements of what made the original good and expands upon it in all the right ways. The finale may be a long time away, but judging by the impressive quality put forth in this middle chapter, we're going to have a lot to look forward to in the meantime. See? I'm a "glass half full" kinda gal. Of course, if I were Gretel, the glass would probably be full of nails and rabid rats. And also on fire. That girl has the worst luck.

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joyeWarlords 2: Rise of DemonsThe right edge of the game window. So close. So tempting. It must fall beneath my mighty little fighting units. No matter how many units the other side sends, the right side of the screen WILL be mine! Also, demons. Warlords 2: Rise of Demons, to be exact, a sequel to the smash hit original warfare game from Ben Olding. With ten races and 54 possible units for your strategic assaults, those demons, and the right side of the screen, are totally going down.

Controls are simple. Between levels, use the mouse to upgrade and buy units, and to choose a territory to attack on the map. During levels, Use the [left] and [right] [arrow] keys to switch between potential units. Units are on timers, so the massive and lumbering giant troll unit takes 8 times as long to prepare as the quick and easy spearman. Once you decide on a unit and the timer counts down to ready, your arrow on the battlefield will turn yellow. Use the [up] and [down] [arrow] keys to decide what row you want and then hit [spacebar] to release your unit. There he goes, toddling off for the right side of the screen. Brave little chap.

Certain units can be upgraded so that they have a special form which requires waiting for their timer to fill up twice before launching them. In these cases, units can be launched as the normal version when the timer goes around in red, or you can wait until the timer goes around a second time in blue to launch the special version. As you kill enemies, you'll charge a meter which will allow you to unleash one unit of a given kind in every row at once by pressing [Q]. Once you've overrun your enemy, you'll be rewarded with gold depending on how fast you beat the level and how difficult it was, and sent back to the unit menu. Buy or upgrade something, hit the map and choose a new target, and wash, rinse, repeat!

[WASD] can be used as an alternative to arrow keys. In local multiplayer, the left hand player must be [WASD] and the right hand player must be arrow keys. If real life intrudes, don't forget [P] to pause.

Warlords 2: Rise of DemonsAnalysis: According to the game designer in the time leading up to the release of the game, he intended to weaken a certain mindless spamming technique that allowed a savvy/lazy player to coast through the first game with ease. However, the fundamental principle of the technique still works in Warlords 2. It's just tweaked to be more of a mindful spamming technique this round. Truth be told, I don't find this that much of a weakness. You can still play the game as it was "meant to be played" if you want, and fall back on the technique only when you get frustrated. Players like to find game breakers, anyway. Imagine if you were playing a perfectly balanced fighting game. Why, you'd feel as uneasy as if the calls were coming from inside the house.

The original was pretty much plot free other than the implied motivation of world conquest. Warlords 2 has some really lovely voice acting in its introductory and victory sequences, but the problem is that the scenario makes the gameplay seem like a series of spectacularly bad military decisions. What strategist's first reaction to the news that a hellish race of demons is preparing to rain down extradimensional summons is to preemptively attack every other innocent territory around, on multiple fronts at once to boot? I know that it's a bit of a cliche in the gaming world for gameplay not to return story's calls or read his emails, but it didn't have to be this way. A sweet little megalomaniacal fable where you, the player, are told you're going to march over and take everybody's else's right-side-of-the-screens because you don't like their face or the way they cut their cucumber sandwiches would have suited the gameplay down to the ground.

That said, what you have here is an already great game that has been further improved in basically every respect, and that's nothing to sneeze at. Sure to please fans of the original and lure in fresh meat, I mean new ones.

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corygalliherChromatronixIf there's one thing I've learned about life, it's that lasers owe allegiance to no man. Sure, lasers might be useful for blasting extraterrestrial invaders, but chances are those same aliens are also armed with human-frying laser weaponry. Lasers are dangerous! Chromatronix, a puzzler from Lyngo Games, is a great example of this: you'll need to practice proper laser safety as you match colored beam-emitting Chromas to their proper Power Cells.

Make sure to wear gloves as you click and drag the unhappy little colored Chromas into place. Chromas can have nozzles on any of their four sides, and if a Chroma's nozzle is aimed at a Power Cell of the same color, a beam of the appropriate color connects the two. The goal of each level is to power all of the Power Cells along with connecting all of each Chroma's nozzles. Each level has a "par" number of moves that represents an ideal solution.

It almost goes without saying that this is going to be more complicated than it sounds. Chromas can only be dragged in the four cardinal directions and you can't drag a Chroma through a beam or any other solid obstacles. There are also a variety of gadgets in each level, including Chroma-warping teleporters and glass blocks that allow beams, but not Chromas, to pass through.

ChromatronixAnalysis: Chromatronix was created by Heather Stancliffe, one of the co-founders of Nitrome, and it shows. The adorable graphics and accessible gameplay on display here are Nitrome staples. Chromas also can't be destroyed or killed, so players have as much time as they need to solve a level.

The difficulty of this game ramps up steadily, so while some of the later puzzles are head-scratchers players will be ready to take them on by the time they get there. New gizmos are introduced over time, but there's always a tutorial explaining their use. All in all things are very user-friendly which is vital for a puzzle game.

The only real complaint here is that the proceedings are all fairly slow. You can only move one Chroma at a time, so even if a solution is obvious it still might take some time to properly arrange the pieces. This can become a bit irritating, but it's not a game-ruiner by any means.

Chromatronix hits several of the most important marks for a Flash game. It's not overwhelmingly difficult, it's playable for small bursts at a time and it's just complex enough to keep one's brain working without becoming confusing. It's defintely worth a shot for anyone who likes puzzlers.

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Mobile Monday

JohnBSimple action and puzzle games have long been the staple of gamers, especially in the early days of computing. The Android platform is obviously getting stocked by coders who grew up in this era, as the marketplace is packed with simple, engaging games that strip excess content away in favor of pure, unfettered gaming.

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!

cubes.gifCubes - One simple objective, one captivating game. Cubes is a 3D avoidance title where you stay the heck away from the cubes. Don't touch them. Ever. Seriously. There are no power-ups, no checkpoints, no continues, no jumping, no dodging, no — well, you get the point. Tilt your phone back and forth to move clear of the oncoming cubes. The levels switch every once in a while, changing from cube avoidance to colorful path finding and more. This release comes with several unique level designs by the game's authors, and a pro version is coming soon. Plus, if you know a thing or two about XML, you can write your own levels! A very promising piece of software that's a perfect fit for Google Play Android Games.

buka.jpgBuka - Aww, poor widdle Buka is lost and alone and needs your protection! Searching for The Happy Place, Buka needs you to keep the baddies away by tapping the screen to cause small explosions that push evil orbs away. You can also charge a small explosion and unleash it to pop the bad guys. Destroy everything not nice in your path, and collect everything that rocks and you'll find The Happy Place no problem! Buks is available both in free and full versions, the former can be found using the QR code to the left, while the paid version is on the right.

glowpuzzle.gifGlow Puzzle - A puzzle game that's as simple as it is... filled with neon things! Each level has a shape composed of several lines that meet at nubs marked by small circles. Your job is to connect the dots using continuous lines. You can't cross lines or draw a line twice over the same place, meaning you have to trace the entire object using one smooth, unique motion. Much more difficult than it sounds, and while the levels start off easy enough, you won't complain about a lack of difficulty after a bit. Simple design lets you navigate levels with ease, and with over 250 puzzles to complete, you should be busy with this one for a while.

amtalee.jpgAmtalee - Time to book it to the exit! Looks like your two block-sized block isn't quite the right fit for this one block world. No worries. By swiping the touch screen you can roll or flip yourself in any direction, moving across the 3D grid as you please. Get just the right orientation so you can fit through the single-spaced exit hole. Around 60 levels to work with, ranging from the challenging to the ultra challenging, and the ability to manipulate your point of view is an excellent touch. Both full and free versions of Amtalee are available, the former QR code is on the left, with the paid version on the right.

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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What Makes You Tick: A Stitch in Time

MikeA troubled town seemingly locked in time, a prestigious institute of scientific research in diaspora and dissolution, a cryptic note from an estranged father, and a miraculous mechanical heart. They all have a part in the story of What Makes You Tick: A Stitch in Time, a handsome, evocative adventure game from Lassie Games. We reviewed the original What Makes You Tick when it was released years ago, and previewed the demo of A Stitch in Time last spring. Now you can get the full adventure and see for yourself the fate of Ravenhallow, the Smith Institute, and the mad Dr. Vincent.

whatmakesyoutick2.jpgWhile many of the characters from the original What Makes You Tick make important appearances, the main protagonist of A Stitch in Time is a new arrival. Nigel Trelawnty has just travelled to Ravenhallow, hoping to settle his late father's estate, when he is caught up in events proceeding from the plot of the original game. Like many adventure games, you control Nigel with the mouse, clicking to move, collect items, and interact with the environment. The controls for A Stitch in Time are a little unusual, but easy once you get the hang of them. When you find a person, place, or thing to interact with, click and hold the mouse button and a verb coin will appear, with which you can look at, speak with, or handle the object in question. Your inventory is accessible from the bottom of the screen; click on an item to select it, click on another item or on the screen to use it, and double-click to dismiss the item. Other than that, if you like adventure games, then you know the drill: explore, meet the locals, collect items, solve puzzles, and unpiece the mysteries of the Smith Institute.

Analysis: One thing we remarked on in our review of the demo was how difficult it is to make a "serious" adventure game with puzzles that respect a serious tone, and how the demo managed to achieve that. The complete version of A Stitch in Time does a fair job of living up to that promise. A few more puzzles than I would have liked breach the line into goofy territory, and many puzzles rely on favor-trading that seem very tangental to the main plot (though they serve well in fleshing out the characters of Ravenhollow), but many puzzles also stick to the story in a way that fits.

The puzzles themselves are solid, and while some are a bit silly, they are never illogical. Since the game uses hot spots for key locations, you'll never get stuck because you couldn't find an important item lying around. You might get stuck because you haven't explored everywhere, or interviewed every character as thoroughly as you can. It's important to be a comprehensive investigator in A Stitch in Time, both to fill out your inventory and to gather important clues. Pay attention, for many details are important.

whatmakesyoutick2.jpgBeing a good explorer will also give you a deeper appreciation of the game's storyline. I continue to be entranced by the world of Ravenhallow and vicinity. Maybe I just need to visit more European seaside villages, but there is something about Ravenhallow's timelessness, coupled with the lore of the nearby Smith Institute and Northwest Castle, that I find very intriguing. I feel like there are a billion nooks and crannies in Ravenhallow to investigate, and every new scene feels like a discovery. One novel feature of A Stitch in Time is the ability to play every scene in both day and night. The differences between Ravenhallow in the day and nighttime are not only crucial to solving certain puzzles, but give you nearly twice as much game to explore. Ravenhallow becomes an entirely different world at night.

The excellent presentation is what makes A Stitch in Time so immersive. The music is evocative and well-selected. The sound design is atmospheric and inviting. The backgrounds (some of which are by John Green) are absolutely gorgeous and possibly my favorite part of the game. The weakest part of the design is perhaps in the characters; some of the dialogue feels a bit forced, and the stiff movements and lack of voices take some of the animation out of the animation. But even here, the developers populated Ravenhallow with some excellent characters, like the enigmatic mask-maker Mandelbaum and his precocious daughter Eve; the despondent, Lorre-esque lawyer Lionstone; the stubborn, put-upon trader Captain Amayi; and the taciturn, plainly torment Baron Northwest.

I feel that What Makes You Tick: A Stitch in Time is a few clicks shy of a masterpiece, and as it stands it is very good. There are some small weakness in the gameplay, the writing, and the design, but other elements are impeccable, and the overall package is very strong. If anything else A Stitch in Time creates a small but immersive and fascinating world to explore, and for this alone it is a success.

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Weekend Download

JohnBTrinklit Supreme wouldn't catch your eye if it were in a crowded room. Actually, since it's sort of a matching puzzle game, it is in a crowded room, and there's still no reason it would draw your attention. But then you notice it's from Funkitron, the group responsible for most of those Slingo games you've seen around, and suddenly Trinklit's got a leg or two to stand on. With its flat presentation and somewhat dated interface, you'd never suspect that lurking just beneath this game's surface is a beast of an addiction machine waiting to grab you and pull you under.

Trinklit SupremeTrinklit Supreme is a "shape and maybe color" matching game that takes place on a grid. Before you is a massive 5x6 grid where each space is occupied by some sort of icon, usually a smaller 3x3 grid of colored blocks. Your goal is to fit these block pieces together so they form a completed whole, thus disappearing from the grid and allowing more things to fall. Matching shapes alone is fine, but get the colors together and you'll get a bonus. Do it quickly and you'll get even more points!

And that's how Trinklit starts off, but it's only the beginning of what the game has to offer. Front and center of the Trinklit experience are unlockable power-ups, special equippable abilities you earn through normal gameplay that subtly or drastically alter the core game. For example, if fitting simple shapes together sounds a bit drab, your very first power-up is called "Specials" and it produces unique picture icons like ice blocks, torches, keys, rainbows, stars, and so on. By themselves, these things merely get in the way. If you have a key and a treasure chest on the board at the same time, though, match them together for something nice.

After playing a few rounds of the main game, making some matches and hopefully pulling off a few stunning tricks, you'll get more abilities to equip along with more slots to equip them in. There are 16 power-ups in all, ranging from the simple to the complex, the crazy to the down right awesome. Some of them introduce mini-games and new game modes altogether! You can combine these new "rules" to craft a game vastly different than the block matching title you started off with. Whatever powers float your polyomino boat!

Trinklit SupremeAnalysis: Just as the Achievement Unlocked browser games capitalized on the secret bonuses games love to grant us these days, Trinklit Supreme is all about the little trophies you earn as you play. Really, the gameplay is nothing more than a simple grid where you swap things back and forth. But when you add the power-ups into the mix, you get something extraordinarily different. It's difficult to convey just how much this game evolves as you play, and how supremely satisfying it is to essentially create your own puzzle experience using the unlockable abilities.

Another focus of Trinklit Supreme is high scores. You can check out your own personal bests as well as the all-time top scores for each level right from the sidebar. Then there's the daily challenges which urge you to compete with the other invisible Trinklit players for the biggest numbers. It's an optional part of the game, but great if you love going for the high score, and it adds a bit of an incentive to keep coming back even after you've unlocked every power, star, and award in the game.

Now for the bad news: Trinklit Supreme takes some time to reach its full potential. Unlocking new abilities doesn't happen immediately, you've got to work for them, and this will take a few hours to achieve. The rate at which game-changing abilities are given to you is perfect, though, feeding you just enough newness at each moment to keep you motivated for more. But with a game of this nature, there's no getting around the fact that you'll have to do some moderate grinding.

It doesn't look special, it may not seem special, but Trinklit Supreme really does something great for puzzle fans. If getting achievements and crafting your own game one power-up at a time sounds even remotely interesting, give this little gem a whirl. It's a wonderful pick-up-and-play title!

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Columbus: Ghost of the Mystery Stone

GrimmrookWe all know that, "In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue," after which he discovered, or more accurately rediscovered, the Americas. In fact, some folks in the United States are enjoying a three day weekend commemorating this event right now. But did you know that Columbus' most amazing escapade never actually made it into the history books? That's right, but thanks to Vogat Interactive's new hidden object game, Columbus: Ghost of the Mystery Stone, centuries of historical omission have finally come to an end.

Columbus: Ghost of the Mystery StoneBefore the famed explorer ever reached the shores of the New World, his search for new trade routes for the Queen thrust him into the midst of a devilish maelstrom. The wind and sea battered his beloved Pinta before crashing it against the rocks of some unknown land and pitching Columbus headlong into the deep. There he would've no doubt perished had he not been saved by a mysterious phantom of the sea. Though his new lease on life was undoubtedly welcome, Columbus soon found that his resurrection came with a price. Now wrapped up in the same curse that had trapped his spectral savior, Columbus must somehow find his way off this mysterious island, resurrect the cursed phantom, and ultimately save himself from sharing her fate.

Assisting Columbus escape his curse will be no small task. Ahead of you lie tons of hidden object scenes to put your observational skills to the test. Most of these will be the standard list style item hunt, but frequently enough you'll be treated to scenes where you will search for parts of larger items as seen in games like Flux Family Secrets. There's a little bit of an adventure influence at work as well as each hidden object scene will yield an item that can then be used to elsewhere to progress. Meanwhile the action is broken up here and there with a broad range of mini-games and puzzles. Succeed, and Columbus may survive to discover a new continent. Fail, and, well, I'm sure someone will eventually get around to stumbling across the Americas sooner or later.

Columbus: Ghost of the Mystery StoneAnalysis: Beyond enjoying an extra day off, I don't often actually celebrate Columbus Day, but it's kind of nice to know I can commemorate the discovery of my half of the globe by Europeans with this juicy little object finder. While lacking in some areas, Ghost of the Mystery Stone does a fine job with delivering on the meat and potatoes aspect of gaming that twitches the fun nerve of hidden object fans everywhere.

The clearest strength this Columbus adventure boasts is in fact its item searching gameplay. There are tons of hidden object scenes to scrutinize here, and they're all actually quite challenging. Even better, this game manages to be challenging without resorting too often to common cheats such as the overuse of long thin objects, or burying really small objects in crowded backgrounds. The relatively high challenge is also pleasantly mitigated by a generous hint system, no punishments for excessive clicking, and some absolutely gorgeous illustrations. Some of the scenes you come across might be on the bland side, but most are clean, eye-catching, and beautiful.

Unfortunately, once you leave the realm of object finding, this Columbus adventure starts to fall off. There are one or two truly clever and original mini-games, but a vast majority of them are rehashes of mini-games we have seen time and again in hidden object games. Also, the adventure aspect here isn't terrible, but it's far from challenging and can feel maybe a bit tacked on. All of this is encased in story telling that is disappointingly mediocre. As lovely as the individual scenes are, the character art is rather plain, and they are forced to tell a less than inspired story with drab lines. In the end everything outside the object finding feels like nothing more than filler to keep you marginally occupied from one scene to the next.

But if you love straight hidden object action, Ghost of the Mystery Stone delivers. This one boasts a nice challenge, beautiful scenery, and the Leif Ericson prequel practically writes itself.

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Weekend Download

JohnBVideo games have existed for so long, game parodies have begun to take hold. Those parodies have been around for so long, they're morphing into full, respectable games. Those full, respectable games are aging quite nicely, producing subtle bits of gaming candy like Space Funeral below!

spacefuneral.gifSpace Funeral (Windows, 46MB, free) - RPGs are a thing of the past. RPGs wrapped around a parody are the new thing. Space Funeral takes itself slightly less than serious with its setting, design, and overall... well... everything. It's best not to ruin too much of the experience with details, but suffice to say, old-school RPG fans will appreciate many of the design elements, while everyone else will get hooked on the remarkably fast and non-verbose gameplay. Do yourself a favor and attend this space funeral, even if you're not an RPG fan.

cellprotect.gifCell.Protect (Windows, 12MB, free) - A simple little shooter game with an aesthetic that will remind you a bit of flOw. Protect the cell in the center of the screen by swimming around and shooting the incoming spores. Proteins are generated after each kill and will increase your health, but everything else is up to your own vigilance. Nice, simple atmosphere makes the game remarkably pleasing, and the simple gameplay is a great hook. Note that Cell.Protect is still under development, as this isn't the final version.

streemerz2.jpgSTREEMERZ 2: Godspeed Towards Oblivion (Mac/Win, 14MB, free) - Remember the grappling game from earlier this year called STREEMERZ? Well, if you're clever, you'll note that this is a sequel to said game, only now it's grown up quite a bit. Mr. Podunkian's action game continues the gameplay set up in the original, taking away your ability to jump but giving you a useful grappling hook (I mean, STREEMER) that can attach to most walls and pull you around. It's a bit short, but the action is solid, and the crude humor is so over the top, you'll roll your eyes on more than one occasion. Oh, and because of the crude-like humor, keep this one in reserve for the adults.

Note: All games have been confirmed to run under Windows 7 and are virus-free. Mac users should try Boot Camp, Parallels, or CrossOver Games to play Windows titles, Linux users can use Wine. If you know of a great game we should feature, use the Submit link above to send it in!


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The Fall Trilogy Chapter 2: Reconstruction

ChiktionaryWhen we last left our nameless, amnesiac hero in The Fall Trilogy Chapter 1: Separation, he was plummeting down through a metal chute after having been indeterminably shot with an anaesthetic dart. Now, in The Fall Trilogy Chapter 2: Reconstruction we find our hero regaining consciousness in the basement of a 22-storey office block in an unknown city, and not unlike his adventure in the temple he has to find hidden objects and solve puzzles to regain his memory and find his family.

falltrilshot7-b.jpgThe environs in this latest chapter are in strong contrast to the ancient feel of a temple set in a jungle. Here there are offices, computer rooms, storage and security rooms and a laboratory to be explored. You navigate through the game with your mouse as your main tool for pointing and clicking, both on arrows that show the way and on objects to be collected and implemented in puzzles. For a more spectacular experience you can select the 360 degree navigation in the options menu, which allows for much smoother navigation and a chance to take in all the sumptuous detail. As the game progresses, more tantalizing glimpses of a missing past emerge, including our hero's name.

The hidden object games will have you seeking digital devices, keys, tools, office supplies and laboratory equipment. And, as in the previous chapter, usable objects are indicated by a cog mechanism while collectible objects are made evident when your cursor becomes a hand.

The puzzles and mini-games are quite similar to the ones found in the temple, including sliding puzzles and jigsaws. It seems our hero still has a terminal case of clumsiness. There are some quite original puzzles to be solved that may have you stumped for a while, but they are generally all logical in nature. And there is the comforting presence of a clue meter and a hint system that refills. You also have the option of resetting a mini-game and selecting your choice of difficulty level.

falltrilshot1-b.jpgAnalysis: Without a doubt, the creators at Kheops Studio have mastered the art of visual immersion; the graphics in both chapters of The Fall Trilogy are stunning with superb attention to detail, only this time the lush green foliage of the temple is replaced with warm oranges, reds and yellows of a sumptuously designed and furnished office block. Additionally, the accompanying music contributes to the atmosphere of intrigue and mystery. It's very easy to become absorbed in the game, particularly if you choose to navigate using the 360 degree view option.

In casual mode, the presence of sparkles to indicate the next course of action lend an almost spoon-fed feel to the gameplay, but this is nicely balanced out with some of the more challenging puzzles. The whole experience is marvelously smooth; even if you feel a little stuck you can refer to the tasks function, hit the skip button, or reset your difficulty level. And using the in-game assistance barely detracts from the overall rewarding experience of playing.

One of the minor frustrations I experienced playing the first chapter of The Fall Trilogy was the dialogue that at times was superfluous to the game and could not be clicked through using the mouse. In this chapter however, you can click through the dialogue with ease, although at times the voice acting actually gives clues to where you should be headed next.

The nice balance of hidden objects and puzzles infused into stunning images and music will definitely draw you in to a wonderfully immersive game, and may even have you returning just to take in the glorious details. Although our hero does not yet overcome his amnesia, The Fall Trilogy Chapter 2: Reconstruction reveals even more about him, and will provide tantalizing glimpses of what is yet to come.

WindowsWindows:
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Mac OS XMac OS X:
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BradMonster Slayers title screenListen up. No cute, stylized warrior ever cleared the land of monsters by dying for the spirit of their dead king. They did it by making other cute, stylized warriors die! Monster Slayers is the newest game from Nerdook, author of Vertical Drop Heroes! and others. This time around we're treated to a light and casual strategy/RPG game that puts you in charge of a highly customizable team of five slayers. Nerdook's last game was decidedly "vertical" in nature, this one is all about moving your heroes horizontally across the map. You have four commands you can issue: Fall Back for retreats, Defend for when you need to make a stand, Attack for when you're feeling bold, and Quick March when you just need to cover some ground.

The goal of most stages is to get from one end of the map to another, killing anything in your path. On others you'll just need to take down a boss. You can do story missions, but you'll always have a few levels to choose from if you're not strong enough to progress or if you just feel like taking down a tiger crab. There's not a whole lot of story to speak of, but as you progress you'll unlock more upgrades for your units, so no complaints there!

There are four basic units, each which you can spend coins to upgrade into one of two advanced units and then upgraded again. Upgrading won't always change your unit though, sometimes it just beefs them up a little. Sometimes enemies will drop hats which you can equip on your units to give them stat boosts. Enemies will also drop ingredients. Combine two ingredients and you'll get a summon, each one having a different ability that you can call on in battle.

Monster Slayers screen 2Analysis: Strategy games appeal to that part of me that wants to be a great commander, but I'm not very good at making decisions packed with strategic savvy. Monster Slayer is a great pep talk for the tactically-challenged gamer like myself. With simple commands and even simpler goals, you'll run down your enemies with ease. This simplicity will likely turn some serious strategy fans away, but as far as casual strategy games go, this one's a definite winner.

There's quite a bit you can do with soldiers by way of upgrades and hats. The game gains a little bit of complexity in this area as you'll have to make choices like... should I sacrifice some attack power by turning this unit into a healer? There are some problems with this system, though. The biggest one is that if you decide to switch your unit from, say, an archer to a soldier, all the levels and upgrades that archer gained will be lost if you try to switch back. This puts a big damper on any grand plans of experimentation, but it does help from the perspective of balance. Plus, if your units aren't suited for one battle, try another one. There's very little to stand in your way.

In addition to the simplicity and the customization, another of the game's strong points is the quickness of each level. You probably won't spend more than five minutes on any given stage. While this doesn't allow for much depth it does keep the game rolling, allows you to get money and experience quickly, and it provides that "just one more level" factor. The levels don't have much variety, even though they'll have labels like Assist Mission or Revenge Mission, there's not much discernible difference. They do help keep the game from getting stale, though.

With other features like the summon system and multiplayer options that let you share your army and battle other players, there's a lot to like about Monster Slayers. That's without even mentioning the charming Nerdook art style. Overall, Monster Slayers is a very light and breezy kind of game. It's a lot of fun as long as you don't expect it to be challenging or deep. That's not to say you won't have to do any thinking, but you don't need to be a five-star general to make it through.

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Babylon Sticks: Stuck 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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Link Dump Fridays

DoraHellllooooooooo Friday! Are we glad to see you! It's been a long week, full of days that are not Friday, and it's high time we kicked up our heels with a little bundle of gaming joy. This week we bring you demakes and haiku, dwarves and ragdolls, and even a little bit of old-school PC maintenance. It may seem like a lot, but we think you can handle it.

... what? No, the other guy. Not you.

  • SummitSummit - Made in 48 hours, this little platformer tells the story of a dwarf who has no choice but to climb a mountain in search of a cure for his dying father, even though the odds are against him. The controls are simple enough, and it even manages to be a little touching, but the slippery terrain combined with the time limit later on may cause you to rip out your hair. Or your beard, if you're actually a dwarf. In which case, we feel compelled to ask; in all your centuries of great craftsmen and nobility, nobody ever thought to invent grappling hooks? Or ladders? Or stairs?
  • PC.DEfensePC.DEfense - In this stylish looking defense game, you're in charge of placing down proper antivirus measures to fend off the various spybots, trojans, viruses, and other baddies coming towards your precious Amiga 64. If you're a defense fan (like I am), then this will probably entertain you for a while; the visuals are great, and it's exceedingly simple to play. Unfortunately, there's not a lot of variety to be had, and some extra maps and different enemy behaviour would have gone a long way towards making this one more addicting. What's an "Amiga" anyway? Is that another old person thing, like manners or disco?
  • Ragdoll SpreeRagdoll Spree - This physics game features adorable ragdoll graphics, but overly simplistic gameplay. The goal is to simply pop all the balloons on screen by firing helpless ragdolls at them. With no real restrictions, there's nothing to prevent you from using the brute force approach and flooding the screen with bodies until you reach your goal. Still, it's cheerful and peppy, and if you don't care about challenge, there's something to be said for eye candy. Usually, "Wheeeeeee!"
  • Halo 2600Halo 2600 - Apparently there is this thing called Halo that is pretty popular. I don't know, I haven't heard of any "Halo", but maybe you have. What I do know that ET for the Atari 2600 was one of the first games I ever played, and if you're in the same boat, then this demake of the popular flashy shooter to old-as-it-gets-school retro action will likely bring back some fond memories. Or maybe ragequits. Fond ragequits? If it sounds impossible, then clearly you are not from my generation, when games hurt so good. (Or at least, that's what we told ourselves to make up for how bad they were.)
  • Haiku HeroHaiku Hero - How are your creative juices flowing today? How about your zen? This clever game challenges you to come up with a haiku that matches a certain criteria, whether that be restricting your syllables or forcing you to use a particular word. The word "hero" might sound odd attached to "haiku", but trust me when I say there is nothing we ladies like more than a gentleman who can get his poetry on. All the cool kids are doin' it.

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MikeThe Humans Are DeadRobots are jerks. Soulless, automatonical misanthropes to the travesty of a man. Sure, they start out as our loyal servants, building cars and vacuuming the floors of early-adopter technophiles and whatnot; but as soon as they gain sentience, you can bet that if they don't actually beget the extinction of mankind, they will be lording it over our fallen civilizations as the dust settles, with their efficient, logical lifestyles and their superior application of grid-based tactical warfare. And yet, if there is one thing we can learn from
The Humans Are Dead, an online strategy board game from Lethe Games, it's that robots are just as prone to the factionalism and petty tribal strife that they haughtily assume is the weakness of inferior humanity.

Such a hypocritical embrace of the kill-or-be-killed ethos is the heart of The Humans Are Dead. I recommend playing the "Learn As You Play" tutorial to familiarize yourself with the rules, but here is the gist. You control one of four "robot lineages." You start on the game board to the left side of the screen, which is randomly populated with resources and impassable walls. Your opponent controls a similar board to the right. You start with the option to build a few walls and robots and claim a few resources of your choice, but you will want to claim more to establish your dominance over robotkind. Blue Electricity lets you build robots, purple Ooze lets you build walls, and green "Chernobylum," along with some ooze, lets you build "Resource Activators," which are needed to claim more resources. Lastly, yellow Research lets you upgrade your robots, and also purchase "Evolution Cards," which can do anything from upgrading your bots, to letting you collect more resources per turn, to doing nothing at all in some cases. You can buy all these things, but you also roll dice each turn to scavenge for additional resources and items, so you have access to more than just your resources and purchasable items.

You win the game in one of two ways: either by activating all the resources on your board, or, more likely, by sending your robots to your opponent's board and deactivating all of their resources. Robots can also either attack each other or defend, which gives them a bonus when other robots attack them but takes away their ability to move or attack. Build robots, claim resources, and vie with lesser robots for post-human global supremacy.

The Humans Are DeadAnalysis: A good strategy game, someone once said, should be about interesting choices, and in The Humans Are Dead there are lots of interesting choices to make. You can never claim all resources at the start of the game, so you have to decide which resource to focus on, which in turn affects what you can build. Want to build lots of weak robots and rush the enemy early on? Claim Electricity. Want to develop stronger robots for later in the game? Claim Research. Want to claim more resources later so you can do it all? Claim Chernobylum and Ooze to build Resource Activators. The careful positioning of walls, defending robots, and your home base will allow you to protect these resources and follow your strategy with minimum harassment from the enemy robot swarm.

You also have an important choice each turn when it is time to scavenge. While your available choices are randomly determined, you always have two or three options to choose from. Sometimes the best choice will be obvious, but at other times it is less clear, and a lot of the strategy comes in deciding whether you want, say, a free robot now, or more extra resources so you can buy that Resource Activator later.

Perhaps the most important choice comes before the game begins, when you select your "robot lineage." Each lineage has its own special abilities, which will affect what strategies work best. The War Machines, for example, are the best combatants, while the Keepers are best at claiming resources. While I like how these robot powers tie together with each lineage's theme, it also seems like the lineages are not balanced. The Scibots in particular, who get extra Research and can buy Evolution Cards at half price, seem particularly overpowered. It's not a gamebreaker, but a little tweaking could have made for a more fun, interesting, and tightly balanced game.

Even though it could be better balanced, The Humans Are Dead is an interesting, quick, rewarding strategy title. It presents a variety of cool tactical choices without being so complex as to put off more casual players. It's fun, and it teaches us that despite their cold reasoning and efficient mechanical motor complexes, robots are just as prone to conflict and antagonism as us warm squishy humans. Play it the next time a robot implies you are an emotional, illogical basketcase, and get the last laugh.

Play The Humans Are Dead

The game can also be played at the sponsor's site, Gameshed.


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Rating: 4.3/5 (134 votes)
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Joshwake-up-the-box2.jpgWhat? Still sleeping? C'mon, it's time to work. I don't care if you're just a box. You're wearing a tie, for crying out loud. Those TPS reports aren't going to file themselves, you know. Hey! Are you listening to me? (Shove)

That's better... now pay attention. Wake Up The Box 2: Office Edition is Eugene Karataev's follow up to his original Wake Up The Box physics puzzle, which spawned two royal cousins (Wake the Royalty and its Level Pack). This offering has 30 levels of contraption-manipulating goodness, the most of his releases so far. Instead of taking place in a sedate puppet theater-type landscape, this time the corporate Mr. Box exists in an urban-like setting, with brick walls, graffiti and windows.

The gameplay is the same as before — attach a set of non-rotatable wooden objects to other wooden objects and let physics work to knock or jostle Mr. Box awake. This iteration introduces three new elements: stone-like objects that are "aggressive" to wood (wooden objects disappear when they touch it), "staples" (links of paperclips that flex and swing), and trampolines (objects that act as bouncy surfaces). These additions add a deeper level of gameplay to the levels and allow for some amusing results.

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

Wake Up The Box 2 is a solid, casual game that fans of the series and physics-aficionados should enjoy. The title feels more refined and smoother than its predecessor, adorning the interface with office notes and doodles, while showing thumbnails of each level's layout on the level select screen. My only real issues are in the game's exact pixel-placement nature on some of the later levels, and the game's unclear scoring mechanism. Otherwise, the levels are fun, with some clever and amusing Mousetrap-like contraptions you get to trigger. So on your next coffee break, do your duty to keep the corporate world honest and once again Wake Up That Box!

Play Wake Up The Box 2: Office Edition


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Rating: 4.5/5 (60 votes)
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tricky_stickyblocks_screen1.gifTrickyThe more puzzle-obsessed and/or bilingual gamers amongst us already know that sokoban (Japanese for "warehouse keeper") is the kind of sliding puzzle game where the avatar needs to push crates to marked locations around a grid-like room, presumably wondering why the boss was too much of a cheapskate to spring for a forklift. Sticky Blocks, Aaron Maupin's new variation on the concept, features that familiar design and introduces blocks that stick to other blocks as well as your avatar. One could imagine being annoyed if that happened in a real-life warehouse, but when it's a game, it's a lot of fun!

You use the [arrow] keys to move your purple sticky block around the puzzle grid. When you bump up against a colorful block, it immediately sticks to you. The block won't leave until you deposit it in the proper location. Once it's attached, it also sticks to other colored blocks, creating an increasingly large and unwieldy formation you must lug around everywhere you go. As you can imagine, finding the correct order and location to stick these blocks is the key to solving each level, and one mis-step could ruin everything.

As the levels progress from easy to hard, new wrinkles in the plan are introduced. Never fear, though, as a click of the mouse or the press of the [R] key restarts the puzzle. For an extra challenge, if you finish the level with a designated set of blocks still attached, you get a star rating, and gaining enough of those opens up the even more mind-bending bonus level, and the out-right devious secret levels. There's 64 puzzles in total, so start pushing!

Analysis: There's something refreshing in the honesty of the clear, simplistic design of Sticky Blocks. It's something that screams "Hey! This is a game about moving crates around, and we're not going to pretend anything else!" No hiding behind a facade of title screen art designed to mislead people into playing, or a story that bends itself backwards trying to justify why exactly moving blocks into place will allow you to defeat Cthulhu or whatever. Even the frankness of the title is something I can appreciate: This game is about blocks. Said blocks are sticky. You can figure it out from there.

The level set-ups are consistently clever with a reasonable difficulty curve, and the added challenge of the star ratings is certainly welcome. The graphics are sparse but playful, and the music is dream-lke, if a little unmemorable. I particularly liked the level titles which, in addition to be impishly humorous, serve to push you in the right direction. I wish the controls were a little less sticky (no pun intended... okay, it was intended a little), and the inclusion of an "undo" button would have been nice, but Sticky Blocks has polish and the framework is solid.

Most people intuitively know what kinds of games are their "thing". Some break into a cold sweat when, for example, confronted with Klotski or Rush Hour, and some can't get enough for them. If sokoban happens to be your craving, Sticky Blocks will surely satisfy!

Update: I believe that it's worth mentioning that the pre-release version I played lacked the facebook overlay which seemed to be affecting the overall smoothness of the game in its official release. In the comments below, the developer has assured that the issues some are having are being fixed. Since the facebook script was moved above the gameplay window, movement flow is much improved.

Play Sticky Blocks


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Rating: 4.5/5 (207 votes)
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joyeWarlightSeeing some numbers attack some other numbers may not seem the height of amusement. But there's just something so satisfying when those numbers are labeling a world map. Mwahahaha! My ten units in British Columbia have just wiped out Alberta! Take that, oil and cows! Warlight, a strategy game with both single player and play-by-email multiplayer modes, provides the satisfying experience of conquering Europe, the world, Middle Earth, or even Mr. T, all in the comfort of your browser. Fans of Risk, Galcon, or Dice Wars will feel right at home here!

You'll want to learn the ropes in the single player levels first. There are hotkeys you can use, but the game recommends learning how to play with the cursor first, so once you think you have the game down, check out the "help" tab at the top of the screen to learn the shortcuts. You can play the single player mode without registering, but registration is free and allows you to associate your best scores with your profile. The single player mode contains an excellent tutorial, but I'll go over the basics here as well.

You'll start out every level with at least one territory under your control and gain at least five armies at the start of every turn. The first phase is deployment where you can place new armies on any territory you control by clicking on it. One click increases the number of armies in the territory by one. The second step is attack and transfer. In this phase, you can order the armies in a territory to attack an enemy or uncontrolled territory, or to transfer between two territories that you control. Click on the territory you wish to send armies from and then click on the one you wish to attack. Confirm all your actions, then either commit to or clear your moves and watch what happens!

Analysis: The game introduces many features as you progress through the single player to keep things interesting. Bonus areas are probably the most important strategy-wise. Certain groupings of territories, such as Europe and Asia on the first map, Britain and Bulgaria on the "Europe Challenge" map, and the so-called "Fist of Power" on the "Mr. T" map, give a bonus to the number of armies you gain per turn when you control all the territories in the area. Some areas are more valuable than others, and some are easier to defend than others. Britain in the Europe Challenge map is both valuable and easy to defend. Bulgaria, on the other hand, is both almost worthless and difficult to defend. Obviously, getting and keeping control of Britain will be a high priority, whereas capturing or keeping Bulgaria will be low.

WarlightThe other two aspects worth mentioning are cards and the fog. In later single player levels you'll be introduced to cards, and in the multiplayer there are nine different possible cards as options when setting up a game. You gain pieces of cards every turn that you capture a territory, and once you have a complete card you can play it at the start of the turn. The reinforcement card, as an example, gives you a one time bonus of extra armies. Fog, as you might have guessed, covers territories for a completely new level of strategy.

The first screenshot was taken from a multiplayer game between myself and everyone's favorite neighborhood Chiktionary. Although we look fairly evenly matched in the picture, because I had been careful to take and control bonus areas and she hadn't, I was earning 55 armies a turn at this point and she was earning 10. I don't need to tell you who ended up winning. (Thanks for being a good sport, Chiktionary!)

ChiktionaryIf there's one thing I've learned from playing joye, and being sorely trounced in a multiplayer game of Warlight, it's that strategy counts as soon as you begin. For a good game, players have to be strong right from the start, weakness becomes evident very quickly. Thankfully there's no messing around with dice or quibbling with your opponent in this Risk-style game. You simply make your moves, submit them and then watch the ensuing carnage. I think I became over-confident by playing the single player games, because I blitzed the games against an AI opponent.

It seems that time is a major factor in multiplayer games, simply in terms of waiting for your team-mates and/or opponents to take their turns. The game between Joye and myself took a few days to play, and averaged about two to three turns per day. Fortunately, you don't have to sit staring at the screen for hours waiting for your turn, as you'll be notified by e-mail when other players have completed theirs.

The only reservations I have about Warlight include the lack of ease in exiting a multiplayer game when you wish to quit; you can surrender but you need the approval of other players to do so. Also, there is a chat feature in multiplayer games which apparently can't be disabled, so there is the potential for unpleasant encounters online. But so far in the games I've played and am currently playing, people seem less interested in chatting and more interested in world domination.

What I really like about Warlight is the swift introduction of challenge, the interesting playing fields, the variety of maps, and the ability to create your own boards. Overall, Warlight is a fabulous gaming experience for fans of the traditional game of Risk and for those who are yet to experience strategic gameplay and the thrill of world domination.

Play Warlight (single player)

NOTE: For multiplayer and play-by-email modes, you must play at Warlight.net


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joyeIF Comp 2010 logoThe 2010 Interactive Fiction Competition is here! Yes, the competition that brought us such interactive fiction classics as Violet, Lost Pig, Floatpoint, and Slouching Towards Bedlam is back with 26 new games, 21 of which can be played in the comfort of your browser. Voting will end November 15, 2010, so get your votes in now if you want to help choose the next winner!

Not every entry in the competition is ready for prime time, though, so don't get discouraged if you encounter a game-breaking bug or a game that just isn't fun. Leave off that one and try another. There are likely to be several excellent entries this year, as usual. Here are five games you might want to start with, showing the competition's wide spectrum of moods, lengths, and styles:

Death Off the Cuff, by Simon Christiansen, is a cheeky parody of Hercule Poirot, Agatha Christie's self-assured detective. You're about to reveal the murderer, but you have no clue who it is. Can you bluff out a confession?

Gris et Jaune, by Steve van Graal, has so many twists and turns in its supernatural mystery that even mentioning the setting would be a spoiler. The very easily disgusted might wish to avoid it, but everyone else shouldn't miss it.

Aotearoa, by Matt Wigdahl, is set in an alternative universe where New Zealand is known by its Maori name of Aotearoa. The other minor difference is that it's full of dinosaurs. You are a twelve-year-old boy who's been accepted to some kind of dinosaur camp, which is at least one hundred times cooler than space camp.

The Warbler's Nest, by Jason McIntosh, is a brief horror game which examines a once widely believed legend and follows it through to its harrowing conclusion. Experience the truly creepy and realistic dark side of a story you may have idly passed over in your Brothers Grimm collection.

In The People's Glorious Revolutionary Text Adventure Game, by Taylor Vaughn, the game plays you! Refusing to take part in the workers' game is counterrevolutionary! Multiple puzzle solutions encourage proletariat to invent their own solutions. Avoid using capitalism lest you bring shame to Karl Marx!

We'll cover the winners and best games with reviews once the competition has concluded. In the meantime, if you love interactive fiction, get on over to the IF Comp 2010 and play some games!


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Rating: 4.4/5 (89 votes)
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Weekday Escape

GrinnypIt's Wednesday again, and you know what that means. No, not the longest, most boring day at work, school, or whatever, it means it's time for Weekday Escape! Escape from Mr. K's Room 2 is this week's delightful room escape and it's from the twisted brain of Tesshi-e.

Escape from Mr. Ks Room 2There's not much of a scenario to the game. Mr. K has challenged you to escape his room (again), and you, being the escape fanatic that you are, are happy to give oblige. Oddly bereft of the usual strange setup hijinks, we are left with pure, one-room, four-walled, escape nosh wrapped in a pretty bow.

Navigation is, as per usual, with bars at the sides and bottom of the screen. Tesshi-e still hasn't discovered the joys of the changing cursor, but the space is so uncluttered that the pixel hunting is kept to a minimum. As always the controls are top notch, with easy inventory control, mute buttons, and a save button just in case you need to stop halfway through (or wish to play again to find the happy coin). The music is dreadfully familiar, but that's what the handy mute button is for. As for the space, well, Tesshi-e's rooms are getting more and more realistic with each game. As beautiful as these rooms are, I see a bright future in interior decorating for the game designer.

Let's pause a moment and reflect on the actual premise of room escapes. They've always seemed a bit...well, strange, haven't they? I mean, if you find yourself locked in a room accidentally somewhere, the last thing you'd do is go searching around and solving puzzles. You'd just call someone to let you out, right? Presuming, of course, you remembered your cell phone and you can get a signal, that is. However, the setup for Escape from Mr. K's Room 2 actually explains all the strangeness. Mr. K has prepared the room especially for you to solve your way out, overcoming the awkwardness usually associated with standard room escapes. I mean, seriously, how many places actually have puzzle locks on their doors that can be solved by looking around the room?

Escape from Mr. K's Room 2 might be called Tesshi-e: Greatest Hits. There are a lot of familiar puzzles here, especially the old 'wobbly picture' puzzle which is one of the oldest in the book. However, there are also some fresh new puzzles as well, along with the old standby of 'use of found objects' and Tesshi-e's favorite device, 'construction.' This time, though, the construction is more intuitive and makes a lot more sense than in some of the older puzzles (Escape from the Living Room, for example). And yes, it wouldn't be Tesshi-e without both a regular and a "happy coin" escape.

Now that Tesshi-e has found a competent translator, the escapes just keep getting better and better. This is a perfect break for the mid-week, a chance to stretch the neurons and take them out for a little walk, and enjoy pure room escaping fun. Stripped of all of the extraneous scenarios of how you got in there in the first place, Tesshi-e proves they are masters of the pure, unadulterated basic room escape. Test drive Escape from Mr. K's Room and find out for yourself how much fun escaping a locked room can be.

Play Escape from Mr. K's Room 2


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casual-bundle.jpgJohnBJust last week, we held a little contest challenging readers to come up with their own "bundles" of things. You know, mix a bunch of stuff together, justify its existence, and call it a day! The prizes include ten Mega-Love Bundles (each containing a dozen indie games) from the Indie Love Bundle. Who are the winners? Who gets loads of free indie gaming goodness? Well, we'll tell you who!

Mega-Love Bundle Winners!
Acidifiers
RandomGai
Khdo
mrsico
Zengief
monjebleu
Phoenix
Aegeus
bmorrison
Vienna

Congratulations to all the winners! There were some really creative collections of things out there, many of which had us scratching our heads wondering if we needed to drink more coffee or less. Either way, they were great, you people are great, and thank you to everyone who entered! We'll be in touch with the winners shortly to hand out prizes. Enjoy your games!

Check out the winners in the original Build Your Own Bundle entry!


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Rating: 3.9/5 (53 votes)
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corygalliherPlanetNoevo.jpgJust sit right back and you'll hear a tale, a tale of a survival game by Louissi, creator of Catapult Madness and Neon Rider. Planet Noevo is a combination arena shooter, base defense and survival game where you play as a stranded space colonist trying to survive on a hostile alien planet. Presumably you've already ate Gilligan, so you're on your own for ten days until a friendly ship comes to rescue you. You'll have to explore the planet's surface to gather resources, manage your hunger level and energy and deal with loads of alien monsters using an arsenal of high-tech weaponry.

Moving around using the [WASD] keys and aiming using the mouse, you'll wander across the surface of the planet fighting off aliens along the way. Your colonist is armed with a variety of weapons including pistols, rifles and rocket launchers, all of which do a great job of splattering aliens into goo. Standing still in an unexplored space will gradually dig it up, earning you resources that you can use to upgrade your base or build new items and equipment. There are several different resources, most of which are shared between upgrades, so you need to prioritize what you want and save up. Resources are also used to build rations and medical kits, which are necessary to keep your strength up as you explore.

Planet Noevo runs on a day and night cycle, and at night the aliens become much more prolific and aggressive so you need to hole up in your base until morning. You lose the game if your base is destroyed, but it's fairly good at defending itself with an automated turret so this isn't really an issue. Time passes quickly at night so this isn't as much of a pain as it could have been. Instead, it's a great time to upgrade your gear and level up.

Initially your character is fairly weak, but as you fight off aliens you gain experience points and level up. Each level earns you several stat points that you can use to upgrade various attributes, including speed, how much damage you deal with weapons and how quickly you dig up resources. You also gain experience for enemies killed by the automated turret on your base, which is a nice touch and helps keep night from feeling like a total waste of time.

There are two main gameplay modes in Planet Noevo. In Story Mode you're trying to survive for ten days, as mentioned earlier, while in Arcade Mode you're aiming to survive as long as you can. The former serves as a sort of tutorial for the latter, which is the real meat of the game.

Planet NoevoAnalysis: Planet Noevo has managed to nail the carrot-on-a-stick gameplay model. There's always another weapon upgrade or level just within reach, pushing the player to keep going for just another few minutes. The weapon types are varied enough to mix the game up, and resources come gradually enough that it feels like an accomplishment to build that new, shiny toy. All in all, this results in an addictive experience, but there's still a flaw or two.

First, and this is prominent enough that it bears mention before anything else, the final boss of Story Mode drastically ramps up the difficulty to such an extent that it casts a shadow on the rest of the game. Without the best available weapon and decent armor, this boss presents a nearly insurmountable challenge. It's possible to defeat on a second playthrough where the player knows which upgrades, gear and stats to aim for, but it's unlikely anyone will be ready to face it on their first time through the game. I'd recommend skipping the Story Mode entirely because of this and going straight to Arcade Mode, which is the same game without the 10-day time limit.

Also, the survival aspect of the game seems a bit tacked on. Ration resources used to make food are readily available and are only used for minor base upgrades otherwise, so the hunger meter serves as more of a "gotcha" if you forget to make food at night than anything else. It's not so much a source of anxiety as a source of annoyance. Likewise, the energy meter drains so slowly while exploring and is refilled so quickly in the base, even without upgrades, that it might as well not be there at all. Survival is an important part of the game's theme, so these gameplay elements are there for a reason, but it would've been nice if they had been better integrated into the experience.

These problems don't prevent Planet Noevo from being a solid casual experience. Despite the game's claims that it's complex and difficult to understand, it really boils down to a high quality arena shooter and defense game. Between combat, resource gathering and defense, there's plenty to enjoy here.

Play Planet Noevo


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The Vault

DoraWelcome to the second edition of The Vault, our weekly feature to highlight games from the past we think deserve a bit of love from you. This week we're featuring three sterling examples of three different genres, and each featuring a spacey-type theme. Why? Because we're out of this world! BWAHAHA... hahah.. heh.. ah... hmm. Battle swarms of alien bugs, solve the mysteries of the universe (once you figure out how to open the door), and pilot a robot digging up valuable minerals on a distant world.

Oh, and I wouldn't get any ideas about breaking into The Vault between now and next week, if I were you. We have all sorts of security measures in place!... well, okay, really it's just a picture of the Queen Mum looking disapproving taped to the door. We were hoping that would be enough. (Though we're still waiting for our pool of ill-tempered sea-bass, and the dogs with bees in their mouths so when they bark they shoot bees at you.)

  • Mystery of Time and SpaceMystery of Time and Space - If you like escape games, you haven't done yourself any favours if you've missed out on this classic from waaaaaay back in 2002. (Did they even have time to play games between fighting off dinosaurs back then?) MOTAS, as the cool kids call it, is a bit unusual, as you'll discover from the introduction. You volunteered for an experiment, of sorts, but you don't remember any of it. All you know is you're stuck in a series of rooms with increasingly elaborate puzzles you need to solve to escape each one. Expansive, clever, and even a little funny, MOTAS will keep escape aficionados busy for a nice chunk of time.
  • ReplicatorReplicator - For people of a certain age, the words retro arcade shooter trigger a rush of happy, nerdy endorphins in your brain. This deceptively simple little game made entirely in DHTML revolves around you using a spaceship to destroy every bug and egg onscreen to advance to the next level. It starts out simply enough, but don't get too cocky; the bugs are capable of multiplying and have a few tricks up their sleeves (assuming they have sleeves), so overestimate your abilities and it's game over, man, game over!
  • MotherloadMotherload - A great example of how addictive puzzles can be with just a bit of action and adventure thrown in, this game from 2004 by XGen Studios is about you. Well, you if you were sent off to pilot a robot on Mars and tasked with digging up valuable ore. Along the way, you'll buy upgrades for your machine, uncover secrets, deal with hazards, and more, all while keeping an eye on your hull and your fuel. Despite the occasionally frustrating controls, it's one of those games you sit down intending to play for five minutes, then look up to discover you should have been at work three hours ago.

While we welcome any comments about this weekly feature here, we do ask that if you need any help with the individual games, please post your questions on that game's review page. Well, what are you waiting for? Get out there and rediscover some awesome!


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Rating: 4.1/5 (69 votes)
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MikeWord BubblesWord games, like escape games or tower defense games, seem to be one of those genres that you either really like or just don't get. And that's okay. People are wired differently, and what tickles the brain of one gamer leaves another one cold. But here's a word game that may change how you think about word games.

Word Bubbles, from the brain-training gurus at Lumosity, purports to exercise your capacity for speedily processing vocabulary, meaning it might actually alter the very fabric of your mind, for the better enjoyment of word games from Scrabble to Jumble. Impossible? Possibly! But in any case, word nerds will still find Word Bubbles highly enjoyable, challenging, and highly, highly addictive.

The mechanics of Word Bubbles are straightforward, yet clever. Each round (or "day") gives you a set of three letters and a clock. Your job is to type and enter as many words that start with those three letters as you can, which naturally earns you points. To the right are a range of numbers from four to 13, one of which rises every time you enter a word with the corresponding number of letters. Each of these word bubbles (really number bubbles, I suppose) can only rise three times before it pops and transforms into a friendly star. The more stars you earn, the more points you get, but you can't enter words of a given number of letters more than three times. In this way, the game encourages you to enter words of many sizes, stretching your ability to come up with new words that fit your remaining bubbles in a limited amount of time.

I'm not sure how to evaluate the brain-training aspects of Word Bubbles. That's a question for psychologists, and I am but a humble game reviewer. I can only speak for my own brain, and that Word Bubbles has fiendishly warped it forever. While an individual game is fairly short, lasting but three rounds, I find myself compulsively playing game after game, like eating potato chips. Even when I am not playing, the game haunts me like a specter, and during bouts of insomnia I lie and wonder how many 5-letter words begin with "spl," or if there are words beginning with "rac" that don't have "race," "rack," or "racket" as their root. Word Bubbles encourages you to improve your score, and if Lumosity manages to break your will with its ceaseless registration prompts, you can even keep track of your best score from day to day. Even if it doesn't make you a word game fan, Word Bubbles is sure to be a tempting offering for preexisting word nerds everywhere.

Play Word Bubbles


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Rating: 3.4/5 (58 votes)
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JoshBigTree TopGunThe developers at Burstyx Studio took a wacky—yet inspired—direction with the usual defense fare in last spring's BigTree Defense, one of the most unique (and possibly unrecognized) games of early 2010. Last week Burstyx released BigTree TopGun, a new turret-based defense shooter that could be described as a "spiritual successor" to BigTree Defense; the gameplay is completely different than the studio's original foray into the defense genre, yet the premise and graphics are distinctly familiar. In BigTree TopGun, you're again charged with the task of defending your "holy fruit" from evil bugs by growing your tree into a multi-branched, turret-wielding, insect-killing machine.

Unlike its predecessor, BigTree TopGun is a top-down shooter that employs the familiar "rotating turret" mechanic; enemy bugs enter the playing field from all angles, while each level the amount of enemy waves increases. The onslaught consists of a diverse array of evil little buggers that fly in erratic, difficult-to-hit patterns and possess innate abilities that make them immune to certain types of attack. Thankfully, your "BigTree" has access to an equally diverse arsenal of weapons that can be attached to 14 different points along the base of your (oddly) heart-shaped turret, in addition to the main cannon. These attachment points can angle each weapon in one of two slightly different directions as well, for even more control.

Players begin with 500 gold, enough to buy a couple "Little Cannons" or one "Strong Cannon." The "Snail Cannon," a slowing weapon, is also available for less than 500 gold. More weapons become available in later levels, depending only on the amount of cash you have, which is earned by defeating bugs and advancing each level. Gold can also be used to upgrade the power of your main cannon, increase your turret's health points and buy a variety of special abilities. There are seven of these abilities in all; each has a one-use effect like restoring hit points, damaging all bugs on-screen, slowing them, freezing them or doubling the damage of your weapons for a few seconds. The only catch is that certain bugs have immunities to specific attack types—like slowing, freezing and confusing—which protect them from these abilities, as well as weapons that produce the same effect.

BigTree TopGunHence, the strategy in BigTree Topgun boils down to two main factors (besides your aim): the configuration of turret's weapons and the timing of special abilities. Unlike most other top-down, turret-based defense shooters, the enemies attack so relentlessly from every direction that there's no way to defend yourself by mowing them all down with your main cannon alone; there are just too many of them coming in all at once, especially in the final waves of each level. Instead, you have to rely on your secondary weapons; both their effect and directional placement on your turret. For example, the "Fire Gun" is a short-range, flamethrower-type weapon that's great for protecting your flanks and rear. Slowing, freezing and "confusing" ("Acid"-type) guns work well on your flanks to randomly keep incoming bugs at bay while you're focusing on other areas. Other guns, like the area-of-effect "Slasher" or the homing-missile "Seeker" are less discriminate, but still play an important role in the overall configuration of your turret.

Analysis: There's more than one way to skin a cat—er, bug—in BigTree TopGun, which is part of the game's appeal. While some weapon configurations will always work better than others, there is no single "golden setup" that every player must build to beat all 10 levels. A strategy based on slowing and confusing the enemy bugs can be just as effective as a brute-force approach, depending on your play style. Granted, halfway through the game a player's turret might be adorned with a seemingly-indiscriminate hodgepodge of weaponry shooting in all directions, but amongst the chaos there's a deceptively tough method to the bugs' madness. The "Normal" and "Hard" settings prove quite a challenge and won't be conquered easily by piling on random weapons in random configurations.

Despite its fun and quirky take on the defense genre, its polished graphics and solid upgrade system, BigTree TopGun has a few flaws that might turn some players off. In addition to being relatively challenging, later levels seem to drag on a bit too long, with too much repetition. The progression might have been better suited to 20 quicker levels, rather than 10 slower ones with more than a dozen waves each. On a related note, an "auto-fire" option would have been greatly appreciated, seeing as there's no real reason not to keep your finger on the trigger. If you can get past the tedious feeling of the game's later levels though, BigTree TopGun is a rewarding defense shooter that delivers a healthy dose of novelty to a genre that desperately needs it.

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Rating: 4/5 (126 votes)
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JoshFeed the KingHungry for some royal casual gameplay? This appetizing offering Feed the King from Dale and Peakot creator Juicy Beast relies on a simple yet addictive play mechanic. Each game starts with block-shaped cakes that hover back and forth in mid-air. Pressing the [down] arrow makes the pastries fall so they stack on top of each other to make an increasingly larger tower of cakes, unaffected by gravity. The catch? Each cake must land on the top-most layer of the last one — a tricky task for narrower cakes.

You earn points based on your cake placement. Stacking cakes near the edge of the last one, or narrowly avoiding floating bombs earns more points and starts a bonus multiplier. Depending on which of the three game modes you choose (based on lives, time, or cakes), eventually the cakes stop falling and it's time to launch the king out of his chair, om-nom-nomming as many pastries as possible while you steer him with the [left] and [right] arrow keys.

To enhance gameplay, Feed the King also has various add-ons and achievements. Power-ups are available in the store using coins earned as you play, or via microtransactions by purchasing MochiCoins. These power-ups include extra hearts, time, or cakes to extend gameplay, as well as the ability to slow down time or remove bombs from the screen. There are also about three-dozen achievements that trigger during gameplay, adding to the title's replay value.

Feed the King is a novel game with enough going for it to satisfy most casual game players' appetites. The scope and simple control scheme were clearly designed with the iPhone in mind, but it's just as entertaining to play on the PC. While it shares elements from previous block-stacking titles, Feed the King's fun launching portion mixed with its cute graphics, sound effects, and wacky theme makes it a fun play overall. So why not try a bite of this tasty morsel, and see if it fills you up with its sugary gaming goodness.

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Mobile Monday

JohnBOh happy day! It's tough to resist a classic arcade game making its way to a mobile phone. So, no resisting took place and Time Crisis was immediately obtained. Another excellent game makes the transition from non-mobile to mobile this week, and it's another one you should allow temptation to get the better of resistance and obtain!

bittripbeat.gifBit.Trip Beat - Fans of the WiiWare download service will recognize this stylish music-based retro game! Bit.Trip Beat is all about tilting the iPhone to move a paddle and reflecting the dots that fly towards you. That sounds way too simple in writing, but when you play the game, you'll realize how brilliant the musical interaction is with this game, and how challenging things get after just a few minutes of play. The mobile platform is a perfect fit for the game, and the port was handled flawlessly, bringing yet another superb game from the confines of console gaming to the palms of your hands.

timecrisis2nd.jpgTime Crisis 2nd Strike - If you're like many gamers who grew up playing games in brick and mortar arcades, seeing a title like Time Crisis 2nd Strike on the iPhone will probably cause a double take. Believe it or not, it's true! Time Crisis is an on-rails shooter that attracted players because it included a light gun and a pedal to control the action. You spend your time automatically moving between safe spots, taking cover behind crates, and shooting the bad guys who crawl out of every nook and cranny across the maps. For the mobile version, you can choose between several control sets to emulate the taking cover action as well as reloading, allowing you to tap icons on the screen or tilt the device as you desire. If you can look past the bad voice acting, the touch screen actually does a great job emulating the intense shooting experience of the original, and you'll have an excellent time with this robust and challenging game!

leapsheep.jpgLeap Sheep! - It's time to leap the fence! Sheep come sauntering in from the left side of the screen. Tap them once to jump, and at the apex of the jump, tap them again to perform a trick. If you miss a jump, the sheep gets stuck against the fence, making future leaps all the more difficult. Don't worry, though, as the tricks you perform fill the ram meter to the right, allowing you to summon a ram to clear the lazy sheep from the field. A great-looking game that plays like a dream!

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: 4.4/5 (27 votes)
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And Yet It Moves

JohnBAnd Yet It Moves, the simple but marvelous indie release from Broken Rules, will reignite your love for video games. That, or it will cause you to shake with anger as you replay the same part of the game for the tenth time. It might even do both! The physics-centric platform adventure employs the familiar "world tilting" mechanic that allows you to rotate the entire game environment in 90 degree increments. And Yet It Moves then proceeds to do crazy and wonderful things with this, allowing you to explore a universe as strange as it is satisfying.

And Yet It MovesYou play as an unnamed character who looks like a scribble on a piece of paper. You can walk, you can jump, and you can rotate the world clockwise or counterclockwise as you see fit. When the world flips, you get pulled in a new direction, allowing physics to turn you into its little plaything. While it may be your best friend when you pour a glass of milk and watch as it doesn't fly off the counter, physics ends up being your main foe in And Yet It Moves. But it's the kind of foe you can twist around and use for good.

Learning to use momentum is the key to mastering the game, and it's something that will take practice before you can get it just right. When rotating the world, any momentum you had going is continued in the new orientation. This becomes a problem when you realize how fragile the main character is and falling too far causes him to go "splat" (or, more accurately, "fall to pieces"). This becomes less of a problem when you learn how to mitigate the effect and coast to a smooth landing.

Much like the equally enchanting indie release VVVVVV, And Yet It Moves employs the "die often, respawn often" philosophy of game design. Checkpoints are graciously deployed at short intervals, allowing you to take a snapshot of your progress so when you die (and you will), you can restart without having to trek through half the level. Death and trial and error are at the heart of And Yet It moves, so get used to both and you'll be in for some great discoveries.

And Yet It MovesAnalysis: It won't be immediately apparent when playing And Yet It Moves, but this is one of the more creatively designed games you've seen in some time. Most releases would be content with tossing in the world rotation gimmick and calling it a day. Broken Rules decided to break that rule and play with the physics engine, stocking the levels with plenty of things to interact with that are also subject to the laws of gravity.

The puzzles are where And Yet It Moves really shine. Once you've got the mechanics down, you'll start seeing some crazy jumps that, at first, seem impossible. Get the right momentum going and flip the screen at the right time and you'll see the impossible happen before your eyes. Playing with things like rotating platforms, chain reactions of fire to destroy hornets, boulder blockages that can only be cleared by an impressive crash, and animals like gorillas, bats and lizards is very satisfying, and watching their behavior change depending on their orientation will make you fall in love with the game.

And Yet It Moves doesn't worry about tutorials, storylines, or lengthy explanations. Most of the basic rules are explained on small notes attached to the walls on the first few levels. After that, you're on your own, and that's just fine by me! The game creates this playground-like atmosphere that keeps you coming back time after time. And the speed runs and competitive ghost data give you an excuse to refine your level runs to be as efficient as possible.

And Yet It Moves has more than a few design choices that echo early video game conventions, but that's just one of the many things that makes it great. If you like honing your skills to perfection, learning the ins and outs of a game's physics engine, and exploring creative worlds stocked with interesting encounters, And Yet It Moves will have you hooked from the beginning.

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Rating: 4.2/5 (21 votes)
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Farm Frenzy: Gone Fishing

JohnBFarm Frenzy: Gone Fishing takes the Farm Frenzy series in a slightly new direction: to the water! Instead of messing about with chickens, cows, and sheep, your new friends are fish of all types (and maybe even a mammal). While the basic set-up remains the same, the new visual direction breathes a bit of life into the game, and as always, a Farm Frenzy title is bound to keep you busy for many afternoons on end.

Farm Frenzy: Gone FishingIf you've never played a Farm Frenzy game, you're missing out on one of the most beloved casual time management series of all time. The basic design goes something like this: you're running a farm, trying to make money and meet other goals within each level. You start with a basic animal that produces a simple product — in this case, salmon who drop baskets of red caviar. These ground-level goods can then be loaded on a truck (in this case, a boat) and sold in town for a little cash, allowing you to feed your animals and repeat the cycle.

Instead of straight-up selling your caviar, though, Farm Frenzy allows you to do much more. Buy a salting plant to turn refined caviar into something better. Sell that upgraded product or use it to create something even more complex that sells for a higher price. The list goes on until your simple product becomes something vastly different — and vastly more profitable! Manage your cash wisely, though, as you'll need it to purchase buildings in each level as well as to buy food for your salmon.

The same distractions and dangers are also abound in Farm Frenzy: Gone Fishing, including (quizzically), bears. Even in shallow waters bears will drop from the sky and terrorize your fish, knocking away your valuable egg-layers unless you click and cage them as soon as possible. The upgrade shop is still available between levels, allowing you to purchase refining stations or upgrade your warehouse, ship, helicopter, and bear cage to be more efficient. Patience, though, as you'll need to claw your way through a dozen or more levels before you can go on a purchasing spree.

Farm Frenzy: Gone FishingAnalysis: No matter how familiar we are with the Farm Frenzy series, there's always a bit of excitement when a new one hits the market. With the previous games, very little had changed from the third in the series, adding a new theme or a few new products to craft. With Gone Fishing, the story is about the same, though there are some subtle differences that are worth noting. Overall, expect quite a bit more challenge in this Farm Frenzy game, with stage goals tougher to hit, more bears terrorizing your pond, and gold medals a little further out of reach. Plus, there are almost 100 stages to work through and an unlockable endless mode.

The new visual style is just as bouncy and crisp as the other Farm Frenzy games. The new refining machines animate with happy, squishy animations that are hypnotic to watch. All of the animals have personality, even the seahorses, sturgeons and bears, so you'll never feel shortchanged in the graphics department.

If you've been following the Farm Frenzy series, you'll encounter the chief drawback of Gone Fishing: it's still the same old formula. Sure, we enjoy that formula quite a bit, but after half a dozen games, it's time for something new. It's the same old core of a game found in the other Farm Frenzy games, but Gone Fishing still comes off as an entertaining and well-made experience.

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Paradise Beach 2: Around the World

JohnBAs anyone who has ever worked in the customer service industry knows, pleasing the general populace is right near impossible. Fortunately for us casual gamers, Paradise Beach 2: Around the World not only makes it possible, it makes it entertaining! AstarGames' follow-up to the original time management/simulation game Paradise Beach puts you in the role of a vacation tycoon, pleasing beachgoers by building fruit stands, planting flowers, and by meeting the needs of the ever-needy consumer.

Paradise Beach 2: Around the WorldJust like the original Paradise Beach, your time will be spent checking in on customers while managing a few menus at the bottom of the screen. Each level begins with a blank piece of property just waiting for your magic touch. Place a few items such as lounge chairs to serve vacationers' basic needs, and as you earn cash, upgrade existing structures and build new ones to make customers happier (and more spendy!).

Each area continues for a number of levels, allowing you to build upon your work for a while before heading off to the next zone. Stages are passed by completing goals listed at the top of the screen, challenges like building a certain number of ice cream stands or making customers so happy they write positive reviews about your resort.

Paradise Beach 2 isn't just about complaining customers and upgrading beach-side showers. What makes this series different from the rest are the little side missions that take but a few moments to complete. Sometimes, for example, someone on the beach will freeze and a question mark will appear above his or her head. Click the customer and an item he lost will appear somewhere on the map. Scour the land, find the missing wallet/watch/cell phone, and return it for a little bonus money. There are several similar mini-games you'll encounter while playing Paradise Beach 2 (you even get to scare away minotaurs!), and they serve as great breaks from the main game.

Paradise Beach 2: Around the WorldAnalysis: When it comes down to it, Paradise Beach 2 is about listening to customer complaints and addressing their concerns. You have to keep tabs on the floating happy/angry faces in the crowd and click people who are upset to see what they desire. Most of the time they just visited an ice cream stand that wasn't upgraded to their liking, spurring you to do some clicking to set things right. These customers really are pros at complaining, but if you're on top of your game, you'll rarely see their stern faces staring at you from down below.

A "big win" for Paradise Beach 2 is how it divides levels into chunks, allowing you to develop certain properties for as long as you like before continuing the story. This is an excellent excuse to fine-tune the beach you mysteriously fell in love with, and if you just can't stand the minotaurs, dash right on to the next map to see what's there. The story isn't all that interesting, but there's enough gameplay to keep you distracted from the mermaids and princes.

Compared to its predecessor, you'll see a number of nice improvements over the original Paradise Beach. The visual presentation is a bit better, with a less grainy look and upgrades that actually change a building's appearance. Dealing with power also isn't as much of a worry, you wont' even encounter it until a dozen or more levels into the game. Subtle but welcomed changes that only veterans will truly appreciate.

A simulation game with a little bit more, Paradise Beach 2 does a great job jazzing up the familiar genre to feed you something fresh and fun.

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Weekend Download

JohnBWe've got three very special games for you this weekend! Special because they're all retro in style, but also special because they're really good and can be played over and over and over again and still provide loads of fun.

gobberassault.gifGobber Assault (Mac/Win/Linux, >5.5MB, free) - Is it a sidescrolling platformer? No, but it does scroll to the side. Is it an RPG? Yes, but there's no story, and you don't have to talk to people. But, there's items and weapons and enemies and swords and stuff, right? You bet! Gobber Assault is a two button game with a constantly moving hero who encounters both enemies and items at regular intervals. Tap [space] to attack, [shift] to jump, and use the same buttons to choose your stat bonus when you level up or to accept weapons you randomly find during your journey. Some pieces of armor and swords have interesting side effects, such as dealing damage to your character or reflecting enemy attacks, so there's a bit of strategy involved in choosing the right equipment. Otherwise, it's a constant stream of neat-o RPG goodness distilled in a casual 2D form!

zymo.gifZymo (Windows, 2MB, free) - An excellent mixture of platforming and keyboard command-controlled gaming, Zymo is a retro arcade-style game where you control a little guy who must make it to the flag at the end of each level. In order to make it there, you'll have to jump, leap, duck, and switch directions, all while the little guy moves forward on his own. The catch? Instead of tapping keys to command the game, you must actually type "jump", "leap", etc. to interact with the game. It's a surprising addition that adds both difficulty and a unique twist to a very familiar game setup. Best of all, there's an included level editor to craft your own puzzles!

pheon.gifPheon (Windows, 6.5MB, free) - A vector-styled boss rush shmup that's surprisingly intense for a bunch of wireframe characters and miniscule attack bullets. Move around with the [WASD] keys and aim your constantly-on gun with the mouse. Defeat bosses by, well, shooting them a lot, and stay alive by, you know, not getting shot! Ten bosses to tangle with across three modes of play, each more wickedly difficult than the last. There are a handful of other fun goodies to unlock as well, such as trophies, and online stats track every players' best (and not-so-best) playthroughs.

Note: All games have been confirmed to run under Windows 7 and are virus-free. Mac users should try Boot Camp, Parallels, or CrossOver Games to play Windows titles, Linux users can use Wine. If you know of a great game we should feature, use the Submit link above to send it in!


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Rating: 4.5/5 (24 votes)
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Women's Murder Club 4: Little Black Lies

DoraWhen best-selling true crime author Regina Blacklock turns up dead, the police think it's suicide or an accident. Her friend Claire Washburn, chief medical examiner for San Francisco, knows better, and not just because Regina apparently scrawled Claire's name at the scene of the crime before she died. Women's Murder Club 4: Little Black Lies is a hidden-object mystery adventure about a little town and a very big secret. Based on the best-selling books by James Patterson, the Women's Murder Club series is about four women who are frequently drawn together to use their varying skills to solve mysteries. Which is entirely different from the murder club I have with my friends... uh... forget I said that.

Women's Murder Club 4: Little Black LiesSwapping perspectives between the women, you'll solve puzzles and search for clues in a remote town that would like to pull in the tourists, but resents you prying around old wounds. See, Regina, it turns out, had intended to use a 35-year-old unsolved murder as the basis for her next book; a young girl who was rumoured to be involved with a cult, and was discovered dismembered decades ago. Although the police had their suspects, they couldn't prove anything... but Regina might have gotten a little too close to the truth in her investigations. Sounds like a good time for you to go sticking your nose in, too, eh?

Most of the game is played like a standard point-and-click, searching locales for items or points of interest and gathering inventory objects to be used later. Hidden-object scenes are marked with shimmering sparkles (ooooh) and playing one will net you a few items you'll need to use. Most of the puzzling is split equally between figuring out what item you need to use where, and good ol' fashioned brain twisters. If you get stuck, clicking on the recharging flashlight next to your character's portrait will give you a clue. The game also comes with a built-in strategy guide that can be accessed at any time by clicking on the folder icon in the bottom right corner.

Women's Murder Club 4: Little Black LiesAnalysis: I've never read any of James Patterson's books, but Little Black Lies reminds me of what I call "afternoon snacks"; short, pulpy novels you devour in a sitting. All the characters and plot points are about what you'd expect in your typical contemporary mystery story, up to and including the usual small town stereotypes. If you've read a suspense story written within the last twenty years, you've probably seen variations on all these characters before. And yet, it works. It's entertaining, has a few good twists, and most importantly, is told well. Things unfold at a natural pace, and the game is good at giving out just enough clues to keep you interested. The story isn't going to break any new ground, but it's got a likable cast, and is at least as interesting as most of your standard lineup of cop dramas. If you enjoy NCIS, CSI, L&O, or any other random grouping of letters, you'll probably enjoy this too. (Speaking of, isn't it about time Crossing Jordan got its own hidden-object game?)

The grim and gritty atmosphere the story calls for doesn't quite make it into the gameplay, which isn't that challenging, and is occasionally downright goofy. Characters tend to make large leaps of logic and do things that seem absolutely pointless just because the plot requires them to, or because it makes the game longer. It's also a little disappointing that the game involves so much backtracking and in such a limited range; you'll explore the same places repeatedly with different characters, usually with only minor changes, and solve the same hidden object scenes multiple times before you see any new locations. Even then, the game still sends you back to places you've been before, over and over, until you're ready to set that freaking library on fire just to change the scenery and... uh... sorry... went to a place there that was kinda... hm. Where was I?

But despite this, Little Black Lies is a solid title. It's incredibly well presented, with great artwork, sleek interfaces, and a nicely done soundtrack. It's great to see such a professional piece of work come out on the market, and while fans will be happy to see their favourite characters return true to form, newcomers (such as myself) will also find the game fun and accessible. It's not incredibly original, but it will provide a satisfying chunk of creepy mystery solving to keep you sniffing for clues 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.


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Rating: 4.7/5 (529 votes)
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Bradtraderofstories_title.jpgGather 'round me, children, and a story I will tell. Actually, it's a story about stories. Well, it's not so much a story as a review of a game about stories and storytellers. In this case, it's the latest from Pastel Games, a bit of short point-and-click fiction called The Trader of Stories: Bell's Heart. In Trader of Stories you take control of Myosotis, a barterer of tales, if you will, who's on her way to a place called The Cradle. Unfortunately, her wagon wheel breaks and she has to go into a small town to get it fixed. Of course, it won't be that easy. It turns out you don't have enough acorns, which are the local currency, to get your your wheel re-wrought. Looks like you're going to have to do some pointing and clicking.

Bell's Heart has all the usual makings of a point-and-click adventure. You'll use your mouse to interact with objects and people and also to help you navigate your way through the game. The most noticeable difference is your book of stories. As you make your way through the game you'll learn bits and pieces of the tragic tale of a local man named Derrida. Every time you hear more of the story, you'll get a note on one page of your book and a part of the picture on the opposite page. Along with fixing your wagon wheel, writing down the story of Derrida is your goal.

traderofstories_screen2.jpgAnalysis: If you're familiar with Pastel Games this won't come as any surprise to you because, as we've come to expect from them, this game looks and plays beautifully. Every area is lovingly drawn and detailed, the characters are just as well crafted with their unique looks and designs that ooze personality. This might be Pastel's best looking game to date, but since the style tends to change with each game that's an unfair call to make. On the audio front, the music wasn't really my thing, but I can't deny that it was very well done. Just a note, to fiddle with audio and quality options, you can right click on the game at any time to bring up those options.

"The narrative unfolds beautifully no matter what order you work out the clues. Add [this] to the tiny list of games that successfully play with narrative." -Shudog

The gameplay is pretty much standard point-and-click fare. The book of stories is a nice touch and while it doesn't add a whole lot of variety to the genre it is a lot of fun to watch the story come together. One element that might go unappreciated is the signpost tree. Sometimes in point-and-clicks navigation can be really big pain. It can be confusing as to which way you're going or, if the world is big enough, you can get lost. Trader of Stories simplifies all this while still having a nice amount of areas. To get to an area just click on the appropriate sign on the signpost. You'll still get to explore the areas, which aren't that big, but usually have some off-shoots to check out, and it cuts way down on back tracking.

Play all the Big Old Tree that Dreams games:
Trader of Stories: Bell's HeartTrader of Stories: A Grain of Truth

Trader of Stories: Bell Heart is the first game in the Rudowski brothers' Big Old Tree that Dreams series of games, and it's a great example of a strange, new and wonderful looking world that really draws you in. You want to know more about characters and spend long amounts of time in their world. Unfortunately, the game also tends to feel a bit too short, like getting woken up during the best part of a dream. Bell's Heart is also pretty easy, which doesn't help the length but does help the atmosphere. You'll breeze through it and get to soak in the sights without suffering from frustration induced myopia. In the end you'll want more. More stories to collect, more people to meet, more strange creatures and locations. We'll just have to hope for more.

Play The Trader of Stories: Bell's Heart


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Link Dump Fridays

DoraGreetings, Internet of the Future! I hope this missive finds you well, as it was written in the distant past of last week to prepare for the vacation I am currently on. Through the magic of the interwebs, it's like I've never left! (Though I totally have.) This week we bring you airships, whales, foxes playing soccer, and a panda bear on an island with a cave man! As you can see, coherency is very important to us around here.

  • Gearlock Episode 1Gearlock Episode 1 - Hyptosis, whose work you might be familiar with, created this little point-and-click adventure as an excuse to draw some airships a compulsion I completely understand. (Or at least I would if I were in any way artistically inclined.) In it, you are the Captain of one of the aforementioned spaceships, and awake to find you're being followed and fired upon by people who are apparently after a prisoner you hold. The game is fairly short, and a little confusing, but features some gorgeous production values. Goodness knows I love me some twangy musical scores.
  • EvolutionEvolution - You may remember that Doodle God was rather redonkulously popular, and if you enjoyed it, you'll probably enjoy this similar puzzler where you try to combine various elements to unlock new ones and create life. Although you get to see the effects your creations are having on your tiny island oasis (sort of), some of the combinations can be a bit odd. Thankfully, David Duchovny does not make an appearance, but they are missing the most important combination; JiG + Sunglasses = YEEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAAAH!
  • Romeo and JulietRomeo and Juliet - It's about time we checked in on Minoto again, and, uh. Don't really... remember Shakespeare's classic tale of star-crossed codependency involving a mouse riding an aerosol spray can. Or a penguin in a jet. Um. Well... if you come to Minoto expecting the puzzles to make any sort of sense or have anything other than the most tenuous of connections to the source material, you're the weird one. (I don't know about you guys, but my favourite is still Beard of Santa.)
  • Whale of NoiseWhale of Noise - In this artsy-farsty, open-to-interpretation-sy exploration-type game, you play a whale traversing the depths of the sea, alone, and relying on your ability to sing to navigate through a series of tunnels. The farther you go, the more you have to stretch yourself, singing higher notes as you try to reach a brighter place until... ! Well, I suppose that depends on what you take away from it.
  • Escape the Ladies RoomEscape the Ladies Room - Featuring what I believe to be the only singing/kazoo playing toilet in JiG history, this escape game is a little... odd. Fortunately, if you are among those of us who are just neurotic enough (guilty) to be squicked out by the notion of public restrooms, you will never have to worry about this danger. If you do brave the horror of the Stalls, however, you might want to play this to brush up what to do. It's bound to happen to you sometime.

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