November 2010 Archives

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DoraAlter EgoLife... don't talk to me about life. Instead, let me talk to you about life... yours, as a matter of fact. Not the life you have right now, but the one you could have had. Have you ever really stopped to think about the choices you've made, and why you made them? Well, you just might after giving this a try. Alter Ego is a text-based rpg-like life simulation, originally published way back in 1986 for some very old computers, and now available to play online for free. Please note that to save your progress, you need to sign in with a Google account.

Play is simple. The game takes you through seven stages of life, beginning with infancy, and progressing to the next once you've had a certain number of experiences. Rather than detailing every single thing that happens to you (nobody wants to know how many hours you really spent updating the Transformers Wikipedia), you're presented with a branching tree of icons, each representing a different experience; social, physical, emotional, family, and, later, vocational. Clicking on one presents you with an opportunity; opportunities detail formative events in your life, and could be anything from your first kiss to time spent with a family member. You're given a choice of how you feel about what's happening, and how you'll react to it; simply choose a feeling and an action, and click "next". You'll be presented with a bit of text that details what the outcome was, and that will effect your statistics... everything from aspects of your personality, to your life, to your intellect, and so forth.

There's an entire page given over to your various statistics (accessed by clicking the graph icon), but trying to micro-manage them can be incredibly frustrating. For the best, most "realistic" experience, only spare your statistics a glance every once in a while and instead just concentrate on experiencing the game. After all, most of us don't come with a set of numbers that tells us when we're low on gentleness. (My numbers are always in the gutter. Er... pretend I'm talking about the game.) It's important to realise that there is no real "right" choice to make in any given situation. Just beware of dangerous risks; it is possible for you to die or become seriously injured.

Alter EgoAnalysis: Although it was originally featured in a 2007 Link Dump Friday article, Alter Ego came to my attention recently after some fine folks (i.e, you dudes) plopped it into our submission box again. Despite having been written originally in 1986, Alter Ego is vague enough in its setting that it still manages to feel relevant. The narrative focuses mostly on human elements and examining our actions; why we do the things we do, and what impact those things have on us. (Whether we realise it or not.) It can make for some surprisingly introspective moments. The biggest problem for some players is that the game's age means it isn't necessarily going to be particularly "modern" in its thinking; you will not, for example, find any option to engage in a same-sex relationship, which is probably going to be disappointing for some players.

There's also an issue with the quality of writing, in that it can feel a little erratic. Sometimes it's extremely funny (particularly in early infancy). Others? Not so much. It can also be difficult to really bring yourself to care about the supporting cast; admittedly the game seems to be trying to get you to project your own family and friends onto the blank slates in the narrative, which is doable, but it does make it hard to find yourself invested in your fake significant other, should you choose to have one. Oh, Fake Husband... I love so much about you. The way you never pop up in any scenarios unless I click on your icon. The way you have no personality at all. The way I immediately forgot your name... but not the time you tried to snooker me into paying for dinner all the time we were dating.

For those of you looking for something slow to sink into and play for a good long while, Alter Ego offers a massive amount of replayability. You can't experience everything in a single lifetime, and you'll find that taking different approaches and attitudes to events will yield drastically different results. While for me the gameplay was more entertaining than enlightening, what I can say is that the game made me think a little. Less about the sort of life I might have had were I to have gone right instead of left one morning, but instead about my own motivations, and why I do and say the things I do. And here I always thought it was just 'cause I was rad. Huh. There go all my precious self illusions.

Play Alter Ego

Thanks to Pakman5500, Jessica and Megaera for sending this one in!

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Joshflyde.jpgFaster. Must go faster. Change lanes. Jump to the ceiling. Pretty colors. Back to the floor. What were the instructions? "Don't touch black cells." Roger. Got it. Whoops, almost wiped out there. Must go faster. Gotta look ahead. 10,000 points. Not bad. Faster. Keep changing lanes. Always faster. Jump to the ceiling. Oooh, wavy track. 20,000 points. Back to the floor. 25,000. Still faster. Uh oh... tilting... faster...! Arrrggghhhh! Well, let's try it again...

The above pretty much describes Bobblebrook's newest arcade game, Flyde. It's a simple lane-changing avoidance game (feeling like a cross between G-Switch and SwfRoads) where you try to keep going as long as possible, earning a high score on the game's all time or weekly leaderboard. The arrow keys on the keyboard switch your triangle between 5 lanes. Running over solid cells warps you (upside-down!) to the upper or lower tracks, depending on your position, while blinking cells will alternately speed you up or slow you down. To make things challenging, as you accrue more points the camera angle begins to tilt more, and the track become more wavy and curvy. Various patterns require you to quickly change lanes to avoid any black cells, which immediately end your game. As you play, the usually blue and pink tracks shift to different pretty hues as you fly down the lanes, and later sections have neat-looking wobbling and tilting tracks taking advantage of blur effects. There's a rocking (though repetitive) soundtrack as you play, and Flyde even has personality in the form of an amusing robotic voice that comments on your progress, generally scoffing until you start earning significant points.

Despite Flyde's simple controls and concept, it's an addictive break game with a good measure of challenge to go with its slick visuals and sound. There's skill involved in keeping your eyes focused on two things at once in case you suddenly find yourself traveling upside-down on the upper track. All the while, the game requires you to remain nimble with the left and right controls, looking ahead to anticipate where to quickly move your triangle. While it would have been interesting to include some form of shooting element to the mix (and perhaps multiple lives to keep your game going longer), Flyde is an example of highly polished classic gameplay that should satisfy your need for speed on your next break.

Play Flyde

Robot Wants JIG theme

JayToday we launched a new banner game for the site, created by Mike Hommel of Hamumu Software. Mike is the author of the entire Robot Wants series of games, and this new game plays very similarly to those.

The objective is to light all the letters of the Casual Gameplay logo, as well as find all the JIGman bits scattered around the game. Use the [arrow] keys to move the robot, jump and duck. As you progress the robot will acquire additional abilities and power-ups to access areas previously unavailable. The game will save state only at Transmatter Computron checkpoints placed in strategic locations around the map.

Robot Wants JIGSign in with a Casual Gameplay account and collect all the letters and JIGman bits to get your name added to the Hall of Fame!

The game is playable right in your Flash-enabled browser in the banner across the top of every page. The banner game will allow only one instance of the game to be played at a time, so there should be no concern for having multiple pages open at once slowing things down.

We have also added a new Themes page off the Home menu option in the site navigation menu that will allow you to change the site theme any time you wish. From there you can revisit some of the older themes we've featured, including our first banner game that was created for us by Rob Allen back in 2007. Switch themes any time you'd like, including if you don't wish to have a Flash game load on the page.

Play Robot Wants JIG (with map)

Congratulations to repairmanman for being the first player to complete the game during our soft launch beta test late last night. Thanks for helping us test out the Hall of Fame! :)

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The Vault

StaceyGThe theme of The Vault this week is replay. There are so many games here at Jay is Games that we often get caught up in playing the latest, greatest, newest game. But some games get their own special place in our bookmarks or game folder and have us coming back to play again and again, year after year. Okay, well... maybe the theme should be obsession... ?

  • HanafudaHanafuda from Taro Ito's GameDesign, is an online version of the lovely Japanese card game. The deck consists of 12 suits representing the months of the year, with 4 cards in each suit. By capturing sets of cards and special combinations, you try for the highest score and strategize how to prevent your opponent from capturing their sets. Click on your cards on the bottom row to match with the cards in the center. If you win, you have the option to call "Koi Koi" to continue the game and try for more points. The game has been updated since we first reviewed it with an English version! Hanafuda is the ultimate replay game, a relaxing game with just enough strategy to keep you coming back over and over.
  • Flip Out!Flip Out! is a reflex game that's simple and addictive. The most impressive thing about this game is that it was made in just five days by Kyle Gray as part of Carnegie Mellon's Experimental Gameplay Project. Move your mouse over the white tiles to flip each one so it disappears within the time limit. On later levels the tiles not only get smaller, but some of them take multiple flips to disappear, and there are other obstacles to keep things interesting. Using your reflexes can be a little stressful, but in a get-your-mind-off-actual-stress kind of way. It's a great game to revisit every so often to see how your speedy eye-hand coordination is doing.
  • Puzzle PiratesPuzzle Pirates created by 3 Rings Design, is a massively multiplayer game where various piratey activities are represented by puzzles! It can be played online with Java or downloaded. The games revolve around Skills o' Piracy like sailing, Crafting puzzles like blacksmithing, and Carousing challenges like sword fighting. You can also play several card games including Spades and Poker. The mechanics range from the familiar match-3 type games, to some unique puzzles that have fantastic replay value. The more pirate booty you pillage, the more you can customize your avatar and living quarters, own ships, shops and maybe even an Island. You have flexibility in your involvement level or social interactions. You can join a crew or go it alone. Puzzle Pirates is great fun... and did we mention there's poker?

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!

JamesSerendipity in 2DSerendipity. An attitude for making desirable discoveries by accident. It also adds a little more mystique to Sri Lanka, which was once called Serendip. And it's a pretty apt name for this little game, providing that someone will have to die in the process. Serendipity in 2D by Justin McKeon is an arty game, maybe even an experimental one. You view a hospital from the side, the walls cut away. With your far-reaching cursor you have to orchestrate chains of events that will ultimately lead to three things: someone being saved, someone finding love and someone dying.

This is not quite the same as ImmorTall, that sad tale of a visiting space alien exposed to humanity's best and worst. In that game you could alter events and get different outcomes. Serendipity isn't as inclined towards any real arty commentary, even though you might think so at first. After all, realising you can make someone die must have some symbolic implication...

No? No. Serendipity is more of a clever puzzle game. As mentioned, you need to achieve three things in the game and you will only accomplish that with the exact sequence of events. The only way to uncover them; trial and error. Extensive trial and error. Precision pixel hunting trial and error. As you click around, you will discover small sequences. Some of these are intentionally misleading, such as causing a pivotal character to leave too early. Maybe a character needs to be distracted at just the right time. Perhaps you are doing something at just the wrong time. These factors all play a role while you try and crack the full sequence (which is hardly a minute long).

What's the point? Entertainment for pedantic minutia sniffers? Probably, but that means I am one of them, poking around the screen to find the golden way to life, death and love. Serendipity In 2D will cause frustration and howls of disbelief (especially on one bit where timing is almost more luck than skill), but it is well worth it when you figure it all out. Nope, no prize (apart from a romantic evening), but you get the satisfaction of knowing that you figured it out. If that won't do it for you, maybe sidestep this game. But then you won't find life, death and love for the little characters.

Play Serendipity in 2D

BradSneak Thief 2: Second StrikeLet's recap, real quick, shall we? In Pastel Games' Sneak Thief 1: Prime Catch, the mysterious Don Fabiano hired you to steal five inventions created by Prof. Bellamy. The eponymous Sneak Thief, which it turns out is an accurate description AND the name of the orange clad main character, manages to get a hold of a teleporty, diamond-type thing. The teleporty part kicks and, as Sneak Thief 2: Second Strike begins, ol' Sneak Thief is being swallowed by a giant mechanical fish.

Just like its predecessor, Sneak Thief 2: Second Strike is a point-and-click adventure game. You'll use your mouse to poke about a small room, collecting items and searching for the blueprint to one of Prof. Bellamy's inventions. Once you find it, you'll have to assemble your items in accordance with the prints so you can escape.

Where Prime Catch really shone was its graphic style and Second Strike looks just as great. With Second Strike, you'll get more colors, but less stylization. That's not to say the environment doesn't have character. It's just dingier, danker, dominated by pea green walls and random kitchen equipment... just how you'd expect the stomach of a giant mechanical fish to be. The great funky tune from the first game returns and while it'd be nice for something new, the music is enjoyable and its return is welcome.

Play the entire Sneak Thief series:
Sneak Thief: Prime CatchSneak Thief 2: Second StrikeSneak Thief 3: Triple TroubleSneak Thief 4: Fourth FindSneak Thief 5: Final Five

Just like first game, Second Strike is short and easy. In fact, Second Strike is even easier than the original. There's not much in the way of puzzles and most of your pointing-and-clicking will consist of finding and combining objects.Since there's only one room, finding everything won't take you very long. While the game isn't challenging, it's still fun and it goes by so fast that it's hard to begrudge it for any of its flaws. If you want a great looking game, but don't mind if your mind stays unboggled while you soak up the great aesthetics, animation and music, then definitely check out this fun series.

Play Sneak Thief 2: Second Strike

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ChiktionaryPrizma Puzzle 3Puzzle lovers will be happy to know that Vitaliy Sidorov, from Silen Games has just released his third game in the Prizma Puzzle series. The premise of Prizma Puzzle 3, a tile-based puzzle game, remains true to the series; use your mouse to travel from the starting point, activating switches, hurtling from light cannons, and enjoying the comforts of teleportation along the way. But you've got to take a uni-directional path with limited moves, and you can't backtrack.The only difference in this game is there are three stars to collect along each level's path, which you'll need the stars to unlock more levels.

Prizma Puzzle 3 starts out with some breezingly easy levels that may either have you feeling like the world's cleverest puzzle solver, or mildly bemused and wondering why you're bothering. But persevere, because guaranteed you will find yourself stumped in some of the later levels. The path ahead is made unclear by clusters of those lightbeam cannons, and a variety of coloured-switches to activate. The introduction of stars, however, does offer a little help in planning your path. You can click on individual tiles/nodes to progress, or, for a more sublime gameplay experience, click and drag to create your path.

Various items that you will interact with along the way, apart from the start and finish tiles, are teleporters, coloured switches and those lightbeam cannons that will zip you from one side of the screen to the next in a flash. And you know what's really cool? When you hit a cluster of light cannons, you'll get a big flash and a "woo-hoo!" ending to some levels. Additionally, apart from the stars that you collect on the way, you can also access energy hits which will increase your available number of moves.

The addition of a backtrack mechanism might have been helpful because there were the odd moments when I was sooo close to the finish when I realised I took a wrong turn. Fortunately, there is a restart button and your level achievements are automatically saved. It also would have been nice to see the introduction of something a little different, other than stars to collect, to lend a sense of novelty to the game. In some ways it does tend to feel just more of the same. However, the smooth gameplay, the combination of easy and challenging puzzles to solve, the fabulously 3D rendered structures, the amazing light display and excellent music all combine to give us some wonderfully satisfying good fun.

So get your mouse-skills in order, prepare yourself for some dazzle and puzzles, and...

Play Prizma Puzzle 3

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Mobile Monday

JohnBReady to get lost in a dungeon? We've got a casual dungeon crawler that's packed with things to do, allowing you to delve deeper and deeper into the labyrinths as you continue questing for loot until the cows come home. Or until your bus ride ends.

deepdeepdungeon.jpgDeep Deep Dungeon - Dungeon crawling-style role playing games have found a mini-resurgence on mobile devices. Along with that re-emergence has come a decidedly more casual slant, with Deep Deep Dungeon being one of the most casual so far. The game strips exploration and role playing down to its basics, allowing you to move in four directions through increasingly difficult floors of a dungeon. Battle enemies, unlock treasure chests, manage your equipment, and return to camp to spend your cash on new weapons, armor, and other goods. The battle/chest unlock system is perhaps the game's biggest strength. At the bottom of the screen is a moving weapon/key that slides across a bar. Tap the screen to stop it while it's over the orange part to score a hit. Stop it over the red for a critical hit. Different weapons have different length bars and unique placements for the crit spots, creating quite a bit of strategy in choosing how to arm your hero. A very captivating game that's ripe with that "just one more level" addictiveness!

deathworm2.jpgDeath Worm - One of the indie gaming communities' secret favorite games, Deathworm, is back, and it couldn't have been treated any better. While the original game was just about controlling your giant worm as you swam beneath the sand and emerged to gobble humans, vehicles, animals, etc., this one features better visuals and a whole host of game types, upgrades, and abilities. Start with campaign mode to cut your massive worm teeth, nomming humans to progress through the levels. Then, check out survival to get a taste of power-ups and the game's nice upgrade system that lets you power your worm up to be even more destructive than before. An excellent update to an indie gaming classic!

todayidieagain.jpgToday I Die Again - The artistic browser game by Daniel Benmergui, Today I Die, gets a wonderful iPhone upgrade. Floating in nothing, you control everything you can see on the screen, including the girl, the "enemies", friendly creatures, and words. By manipulating things on the screen you can create words that replace bits of sentences at the top of the screen. Change the sentence, change your setting, change the gameplay. The description pales in comparison to experiencing the real game, as it's a smooth and thought-provoking experience that's received a graphical facelift for its mobile debut. Easily one of the more unique games on the iTunes App Store.

winterbells-iphone.jpgWinterbells - It's about time! Ferry Halim, mastermind behind the beautiful browser games at, is bringing some of those experiences to the mobile platform! Winterbells should be familiar to anyone who's played a browser game in the last few years, and its simple gameplay is perfectly at home on the iPhone. The little snow bunny hops on his own, and as snowflakes float to the ground, slide your finger across the bottom of the screen to guide the rabbit to leap on the next snowflake. Hit birds for points bonuses, and if you fall, your game is over. Relaxing, beautiful, and simple!

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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Super Crate Box

ArtbegottiA shoot-em-up game without guns is like a library without books, or an office chair without wheels. Sure they might have some other purpose, but what fun are they without these essential little elements? Fortunately, Super Crate Box from indie developer Vlambeer is a free retro-styled platform shooter that has more guns than you can shake a stick at in the time it takes to play. (Or a katana.)

Super Crate BoxThe object of Super Crate Box is to jump, shoot, and scramble your way across the level to reach randomly-placed crates. Use the [arrow] keys to move, [Z] to jump, and [X] to shoot. Each crate contains a different gun, and picking up a crate automatically switches your weapon to whatever you pick up. You start out with a single pistol,but you might pick up a powerful revolver, a slow-loading bazooka, or a so-much-recoil-you're-pinned-to-the-wall minigun.

However, the trick to this game does not lie in the weapons themselves, but in the random crates. Your score is not determined by how long you can stay alive or by how many enemies you can kill, but rather, by how many crates you pick up. Or, how many weapon switches you make. So while enemies (big, small, and floating) scamper down the screen in lemming-like paths, you've got to dodge their movements and blast them off the screen as efficiently as possible before they fall into a fire pit. If not, doing so only becomes harder as they later respawn at the top of the screen, moving twice as quickly as before since "fire makes enemies angry".

Analysis: What Super Crate Box provides for us is an interesting dichotemy in terms of what one wants to do in a shoot-em-up game, and the clash it provides against the actual goal of the game. As one plays through this game, it might be easy to become attached to a certain weapon. Perhaps it's the ease with which one can eliminate all of the enemies on the screen that provides a sense of attraction, or perhaps it is the allure of setting up the perfect shot and waiting for the right moment to pull the trigger. In either case, the goal is not to cherish the weapons you discover, but to constantly swap them out in order to capture the elusive crates, increasing one's score. Thus, the game relies less on the ability to wield the weapons properly, but more on how to wield them effectively in the time that they are alloted to you.

Oh, who are we kidding, it's a game about rapid-fire bullet-slinging and general mayhem.

Super Crate BoxOne somewhat impressive thing about Super Crate Box is the wide range of weapons to receive, and how well-balanced the weapons are with themselves (though not necessarily with each other). For example, more powerful weapons like the bazooka and the grenade launcher can make large explosions that can clear out clusters of enemies in one shot, but they also take more time to reload. The machine gun and minigun have unlimited firing abilities, but also have a bit (or a ton) of recoil that could push you into danger if not used carefully. Undoubtedly you'll find that some weapons might be more useful than others, but that's part of the challenge. If you get a less-than-amazing gun, you've still got to figure out a way to get to the next crate so you can abandon it. Every move requires a split-second decision to get you to your prize and let you take out your opponents before they take you out.

There are only three levels in Super Crate Box, and it may feel like there isn't much variety to the gameplay (despite constant randomness), but you will hardly notice it at all. Each round can last as few as fifteen seconds and as long as five minutes, if you've really got the skills to manage it. Without even realizing it, you'll find yourself constantly replaying this game just to try to beat your high score from last time. With new weapons unlocked periodically and new characters unlocked with temptingly low (but still difficult) score targets, it's incredibly easy to get sucked into the action of this game. When JohnB first mentioned this game in our Weekend Download segment, he compared it to pumping in quarters at an arcade trying to get the high score. It's a slightly unsettling comparison, because when you finally stop playing half an hour later, you realize that you should have lost seven or eight bucks mindlessly buying more plays of the game. (Thank goodness it's free!)

While Super Crate Box lacks an amazing amount of variety, it more than makes up for it in its easy replayability and unique twist of forcing you to constantly change your plan of attack. Think you can beat your own high score? Sure, give it a shot. We'll check back in on you in an hour or two to see how you're doing.

Download the free full version

Mac OS XMac OS X:
Download the free full version

Forgotten Places: Lost Circus

DoraJoy's been feeling lost and out of place her whole life, as if she missed out on a destiny she was somehow meant for. It doesn't help that she's been dreaming about a place so wonderful it leaves her in tears to be forced to wake up from it. When she finds evidence that her dreamworld might not be just a fantasy after all, she heads out in search of it, desperate to find out if she's crazy, or if there really is something greater going on. Forgotten Places: Lost Circus is a hidden-object adventure game from Sun Gift Games that makes for a fun and involving tale, despite having a strict progression.

Forgotten Places: Lost CircusAs Joy, you'll explore both the dreamworld of her memories and the dilapidated ruin of a circus that she thinks is the place she's been visiting while she sleeps. If a portion of the screen glows faintly when you pass your cursor over it, it means you can click for a closer look. Certain hidden-object scenes will also have areas you'll have to search tucked away within them. If it seems like your clicks aren't registering properly, remember that because of the odd shape of the game's custom cursor, you want to make sure the tip-top of the cursor is directly on top of the item before you click. Remember that when the gold star in the upper-left corner is filled, you can click it for a hint, or to skip whatever puzzle you're on.

It is also important to note that the game does not save your progress unless you manually close it via the in-game menu. Yes, this is experience speaking for your own good. Furious, hair-pulling, "I can't believe I have to find all those things again" experience. Welcome to the wonderful world of gaming journalism, cherished reader. Don't mind the expletives; we're just your humble servants.

Forgotten Places: Lost CircusAnalysis: Forgotten Places: Lost Circus is kind of a creepy game, even if it isn't a horror title. It isn't just because of its setting... it's more that it manages to capture that sense of wonderment and vague unease that seems to pervade a lot of dreams. While the sketchy art style can occasionally make object hunting difficult, it creates a wonderful atmosphere aided by a moody soundtrack and a genuinely interesting (if a little childlike) story. As far as difficulty goes, Lost Circus actually represents a comfortable challenge; while the minigames and puzzles are admittedly pretty straightforward, most of the hidden-object scenes will require you to be fairly eagle-eyed in your search.

The downside to this is that it's all extremely rigid. It's a lot like going on a cruise with a strict agenda; you're taken to a bunch of different places and told to do a bunch of different things, and while you may enjoy it all, you don't really have any say in what happens. Personally, I have no real problem with linearity; Lost Circus has a story it wants to tell, and it tells it well. But some fans of adventure games may feel uncomfortable at the rails the game locks you onto, and admittedly it would have been nice to explore both worlds a little more at your own pace.

You might wind up wishing there were a few less hidden-object sequences and a bit more story, if only because it feels a little unbalanced, and it would have given the story more chance to shine. I wanted to know more about Joy, and to have her be more of a forceful personality I could identify with. Forgotten Places: Lost Circus is a sweet, well-intentioned game that is a welcome change from the hordes of "EPIC QUEST TO SAVE THE WORLD"-type stories that clog the market. You can expect to spend several hours on it, and while you might wish it were longer, you'll enjoy the time you spend in both the worlds Joy inhabits.

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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Family Restaurant

JamesWhat am I, a ninja? When the powers that be assigned this review, they must have thought so. And, hey, whipping up two sundaes and a salad in the ten seconds it took to bake a pizza and fry a steak is something a ninja can do, right? That, and a short-order cook. But short-order cooks rarely enter the realms of five-star restaurants, which is exactly where you are trying to go in Gamedino's time-management cooking simulation game, Family Restaurant.

Family RestaurantBased on a popular flash game, Family Restaurant is the very familiar "assembly line" type of puzzle experience. Create the ordered dish as closely to the desired specification and as fast as possible: grab ingredients from the side and arrange them over the dish as required. It might include some baking or frying. It will involve much shouting and gnashing of teeth. Not only do you have a time limit for each dish, but orders flood in and can quickly stack up. Since not every order takes the same amount of time to make, you are soon swooping through your different dishes, doing a bit here and there... a habit you quickly learn when juggling the ever-growing menu of your establishment. The aim is to beat the day's earning target: better meals mean tips, but failures cost you money.

Family RestaurantWhy are you subjugating yourself to this relentless vocation? Family Restaurant has a story mode, which explains that you are doing all of this for stars; the prime being five star, with a final level after that for a total of thirty five levels. It harkens a little to the insanity that is a Michelin Star; a coveted restaurant thumbs-up that means you get to charge more for all the rich gluttons you attract. Michelin Stars have to be earned every single time, so if you slip up you forfeit your star. Family Restaurant is not quite as mean, so failure doesn't send you back a step (cutely traced by a trial of eggs), but maybe that's why this game won't leave you in the leagues of Gordon Ramsay. For one, this is a family business, you know. We keep it clean.

Well, the restaurant keeps it clean, but I hardly did. Screw up just a little and orders quickly get out of hand, eventually resulting in an eruption of flaying hands and words that even Gordon would have cocked an eyebrow at. But instead of being a sane individual and finding something lower octane to do, you jump right back into it. After all, who is going to let a salad get in the way of another star? Speaking of which, why can we go up in stars, but we don't hire some more help around here? And tell that waiter to pace things a little. I'm not a robot octopus!

Family RestaurantAnalysis: There is something abut these pattern recognition and repetition games that seems to excite the synapses. It's not a given thing with assembly games; many of us have run into this type of task as a mini-game inside some adventure romp and often they were more annoying than exciting (though even the mundane ones manage to be endearing). But Family Restaurant cracks it well enough. It would be nice to actually see what an order is, instead of needing to click on one, because by the time you approach the second star (you start off as a single star establishment) things get notably harder. Once you transcend past the third star this game will make you work for your points and near the end you simply don't make mistakes. The crown on all of this is Endless Mode;already available from the start, but a true crucible if you want to test your assembly skills. A single mistake costs you the game and there are three difficulty settings to test your mettle on

In light of this, the art and theme of the game almost does Family Restaurant a disservice. It looks great, no doubt, but the cutesy graphics are deceptively hiding a game that makes some serious dexterity demands. Like I said: ninjas or short-order cooks. Most likely short-order ninjas. The learning curve isn't steep, but you will scoop together a Dame Blanche without even peeking long before you hit the four and five star circuit.

If the idea of assembling food on a plate at high speed and surgical precision doesn't have you salivating, skip this local eatery. Anyone else who likes a good challenge in this genre will find Family Restaurant a rare treat.

Download the demo
Get the full version

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

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Weekend Download

JohnBAnd we have returned! After this author experienced a little lumbar calamity, Weekend Download is back and more weekendey than ever! So, what are your plans for the weekend? A light hoverboard ride through the forest? A teensy jog through a cave? A plain and simple walk through the forest? Or, just maybe, if you're feeling wacky, all of the above?!

factorium.gifFactorium (Windows, 8MB, free) - This "shmup" release from Lazy Brain Games proves you don't necessarily have to overwhelm the player with things to shoot in order to provide a challenging experience. Riding on a hoverboard across the forest, your character's attacks slowly charge at the bottom of the screen. To unleash doom upon your foes, you must drag and drop commands as they become available. Each maneuver is unique and has its own special use in the game, so choose wisely, but don't dally, as you must avoid enemies at all times. Gems that fly out from defeated enemies increase your score, and you can compete for the most awesomeness on the online leaderboards after you've beaten the game. A short experience, but a unique one!

caveofnoreturn.gifCave of No Return (Windows, 3.2MB, free) - If Canabalt starred a young girl, took place in a cave, and were released on the original Game Boy, it would be Cave of No Return. This surprisingly beautiful game challenges you to run as far as you can while avoiding obstacles by jumping or sliding out of the way. Stay away from the cave-in and keep up your speed by tapping the [down] arrow key, and mind any gaps, stalagtites, and other obstacles you see along the way.

awalkintheforest.gifA Walk in the Forest (Windows, 2.2MB, free) - That's all there is to it! It's just a walk in the forest! Move around over 60 different screens, hopping on fans to get a lift and avoiding spikes along the ceiling, floor and walls. Then, keep walking through the forest, trying to find your way home! It's a very simple game that doesn't try to do anything especially game-like. It's just you, a character, and a few obstacles. No puzzles or riddles or characters to mess with. Just, you know, a calm little walk in the forest!

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!

Avenue Flo: Special Delivery

BradOh, Flo. After so many games, so many jobs and so much dashing, I almost wish they'd come out with a game where you get to just take a break. Vacation Sloth or Diner Stroll or Flo: Just Hangin' Out. At least in your newest game you won't be doing much time-management style dashing, which isn't to say you won't be busy...

Avenue Flo: Special Delivery, which is the sequel to Avenue Flo, is a point-and-click adventure game starring Flo, the never resting entrepreneur from the expansive Diner Dash series. When a gang of puppies ruins the baby shower being planned by Flo's friend Quinn, it's up to Flo to fix everything and make sure every goes off without a hitch. It better be perfect, because it seems all of Diner Town is getting ready for this shower. Oh, there's one more problem... the expecting mother, Vicky, is missing. You had better find her too.

Avenue Flo: Special DeliveryYou'll be using your mouse to save the day. Click on characters to talk to them or click on an item to pick it up. Click an item when it's in your inventory and then click on a person or object to give the item to that person or use it on that object. Walk around town by moving your mouse to the edge of the screen heading toward the direction you want to go to and clicking when your pointer becomes an arrow.

Now, you won't be able to get everything on your to-do list done by just finding items and handing them over. You're going to have to get your hands dirty. Along with all the pointing and clicking you'll also have to find some hidden objects. There's 99 balloons strewn about Diner Town that you'll need to grab, and some citizens have misplaced their belongings so you'll find yourself hunting down things like kiwis and socks. You'll also be playing some mini-games where you'll sort books, arrange cakes and dig through your messy, messy purse.

Analysis: What really surprised and impressed me about Avenue Flo: Special Delivery is all the variety in the game. While at its core it's a point and click game, there's also a lot of hidden object hunting and logic puzzles. You'll also find word games, matching games, memory games and much more. You won't be doing one thing for very long in Special Delivery, and while the mini-games usually come when you aren't expecting them, the way the game flows into them feels very natural. Some of the mini-games have some minor annoyances. One where you're trying to clear a board by making groups of different tiles could really use an undo button and another where you're throwing toys to dogs could use some better hit detection. That said, the games are well done and those minor annoyances are pretty minor.

Avenue Flo: Special DeliveryThe overall difficulty of the game is handled very well too. The hidden object portions of the game aren't very hard, but the logic puzzles and the point-and-click puzzle can range from obvious to brain teasing. This creates an experience that's relaxing and fun, but still requires you to think. The mini-games feature a skip button that becomes available after a little bit of time in case anything gets too frustrating. That shouldn't happen too often, because even when they're challenging the puzzles and games are very fun.

The production values in Avenue Flo: Special Delivery are great all around. The art style and animation are full of bright colors and are crisp and clean. The voice acting and theme song are very well done. The music isn't the greatest, but it's also not annoying or distracting. It provides a nice bed for most of the things you do. The only area the game could do better with is in the humor department. The jokes often fell flat for me. Luckily, humor is subjective, so you might get more out of than I did... and there were a few lines that made me crack a smile.

Avenue Flo: Special Delivery is such a strong and diverse game that it can easily be fun for everyone. So, even if you're a guy or gal who doesn't have much interest in baking or gussying up babies, but you do like well made, good looking point and click adventures with lots of mini-games you might want to check out Avenue Flo: Special Delivery

Download the demo
Get the full version

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

Dwarf Complete for iOS!

Dwarf Complete is now available for iOS devices! And best of all it's FREE!

For anyone who hasn't been around JIG for a few years, Dwarf Complete is an awesome dungeon escape adventure game from On of Eyezmaze. If you haven't already played the Flash version, or if you don't have an iOS device, you can also play the game right in your browser.

For those with an iOS device, this means you can now take the game with you on the go! What are you waiting for? Go grab it from iTunes now!

For those with an iPad, get Dwarf Complete HD, also FREE!

And if you need a Dwarf Complete Walkthrough, you can find one on our Dwarf Complete Walkthrough and review page.

Play Dwarf Complete (Flash version)

DoraAuroraYou're searching for your fortune in the dusty plains with only a few dollars and a bedraggled horse to your name... things are looking grim, and you're out of options. At least, until a strange tornado sweeps down upon you changes your fortune... but for better or worse? That's the situation you find yourself in in the new creepy adventure game from Pastel Games, Aurora. This moody, perplexing tale isn't your ordinary Western, and this isn't your ordinary town. Who is Aurora, and why is everyone so afraid of her? You probably don't want to be around to find out, even though it seems as though she's very interested in meeting you...

Your ultimate goal is to find your way out of town before something happens... easier said than done since there doesn't appear to be any trains coming any time soon, and the locals are at once both scared themselves and more than a little odd. You'll play with the mouse, clicking on people or places to interact when the cursor changes to indicate a hotspot. The bottom of the screen displays your inventory, where you can mouse over objects to get information on them, or click on one to pick it up to use. If you need to take a break, the game autosaves for you, so you can just select "continue" from the main menu when you come back to pick up where you left off.

Play the whole Aurora series:

AuroraAurora 2

Analysis: This goes against all logic; westerns are not creepy. They involve women in sixteen pounds of skirt material being smooched by much older men, colourful town drunkards falling into watering troughs, and men mounting their horses in dramatic fashion from the second story of the saloon. And yet, here we have a fantastically moody adventure set in a wild west that feels a lot less welcoming than any town the Duke ever set foot in. Part of this is because the story feels so much like those unsettling urban legends you hear in every culture the world over; whispered snippets of strangers, curses, things that you know couldn't possibly be true but send a shiver up your spine if you think about them late at night when you should be asleep. I spent the majority of the game wandering around with a sense of dread, and that was due in large part to the spot-on choice of music and art.

AuroraIt's sort of unfortunate, then, that there is one obstacle in the game that requires a solution that most people probably wouldn't come up with on their own... at least not given how most of us aren't 18th century cowboys with extensive knowledge on the many uses of gunpowder. This is due in part to the "adventure game logic" of only being able to use certain items in certain places, and it can be particularly frustrating in Aurora; you don't need all the items the stores sell, and indeed a good number of them are useless. Which, might I add, can really add to your frustration if you've fallen back on the old "click everywhere, on everything, with every item" school of plot advancement as a last resort.

The other issue is that the game just ends. You get an abrupt "to be continued"-sy sort of ending that answers none of the questions the game has raised. Aurora has a massive amount of potential, and if another installment can deliver on the groundwork laid by this one, then its creators will have something really great on their hands. While it lasts, Aurora is a wonderfully creepy little piece of work and is easily worth experiencing for everything it gets right. I want to know more about the mystery the fine craftsmen at Pastel Games have set up because it's a darn fine one. Hopefully we won't have to wait too long to start following the next trail of clues.

Play Aurora

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Link Dump Fridays

DoraPleasant tidings to you, beloved reader, and welcome once again to your Friday! If you should find yourself laden with an ungoodly amount of poultry or pastry this morning, well, allow me to give you the post-Thanksgiving fist-bump of solidarity. The rest of you, well... I'm afraid you'll have to put up with me being all sluggish and complacent. The good news is I've rolled from my den to pen you this article, which brings you another kind of feast; platformers, puzzles, launches, and quizzes. Enjoy!

  • Sleep WalkSleep Walk - Gamystar continues their tradition of strange animals stuck in stranger situations with this point-and-click puzzle game about a sleep walking penguin and all the obstacles between him and a good night's rest. While a bit more interactivity and brain power might have pushed this one into gold territory, it's still cute as the proverbial dickens. I'm... not entirely sure where that saying comes from, or why it exists. Have you read Dickens? Now that's some depressing stuff, but I guess if you're a terrible person, starving street urchins is sort of cute.
  • The Undead Survival TestThe Undead Survival Test - [Warning: Not suitable for children, or anyone who hates jump scares.] Good news! The Parasol Syndicate (oh-ho-ho!) would like to evaluate you. After the evaluate there will be a party with non-threatening ice-cream. This parody/homage to by-now familiar "How well would you do in this situation?" type quizzes combines minigames, surprisingly well-thought out questions, and polish with a bit of cheek. The minigames themselves aren't what you might call deep, but the whole thing is surprisingly more robust than most others of their ilk. I don't know about you guys, but I already know what I'm doing when the zombie apocalypse hits; frantically trying to cover up the fact that I was probably responsible for the virus spill to begin with.
  • Super Pixel KnightSuper Pixel Knight - Regular pixel knights are for suckas. You, my friend, need a super one. This Ghosts'n'Goblins-sy retro arcade platform game suffers from slightly awkward controls that don't respond as quickly as you might hope they do (not to mention jumping I'll technically call rather slow and drifty), those of you who come from a more hardcore generation will enjoy this return to a simpler, stabbier time. A time when knights wore giant helmets with cross-shaped visors and had an infinite supply of swords. (I bet the princesses all wear big cone-shaped hats, too. Those are awesome.)
  • Blow Things UpBlow Things Up - I don't know about you fellas, but I'm a literal person. I like people to say what they mean and mean what they say. Like this game. The title is exceedingly apt; you place dynamite to blow things up and send all the targets flying off screen. It's a simple concept that's cute and fun, except for the fact that the physics are... unreliable. Any situation wherein you can blow a spherical object into the air so it falls straight back down and balances perfectly on the tiniest edge of a platform without wobbling at all should probably be reevaluated. Or at least have more dynamite applied. Nothing you can't fix without the generous application of further explosives, I always say.
  • Polar PWND 2Polar PWND 2 - PENGUINS. Who needs 'em? Not I. (Forget what I said earlier about them being cute.) Smug little special-occasion-attired birds. That's why I'm perfectly willing to support the polar bears in this puzzle game. Build ramps and place bombs to launch your ursine followers at those stuck-up birds in this polished little title. If you played the original, you'll feel right at home here. You know, up until the bears turn on you and eat your face. (Come on; they're bears. What did you expect?)

TrickyKOLMThe protagonist of K.O.L.M., the new experimental platformer by Armor Games' Tony (Antony Lavelle), wakes up to find that his life is in pieces. He's disorganized, his mother is ashamed of him, and it seems like the whole world is out to get him. It doesn't help that, after the events of last night, his vision is blurred and he can barely walk. The fact that he is a robot and that the mother is a sardonic computer is almost besides the point. He needs to escape. And maybe, just maybe... you'll be able to help him out.

Players might be initially thrown by how K.O.L.M. drops you into a blurry world of uncertainty, but after a couple of minutes, things will become much clearer. Using the [arrow keys] to move around, you explore the ominous facility around you, fighting enemies, unlocking doors and finding your missing parts. Finding said parts grants you new moves, including springs that allow you to jump with the [z] key, a compacter that allows you to duck with the [down] key, a plasma gun fired with the [x] key that can be used to defeat enemies and open doors, and as well as others upgrades that allow you to broaden your range. Of particular note is the jet-pack which, with a double tap of the [z] allows you to reach new heights as well as aiding you in being launched from air vents, as well as a dash function which, with a double tap of the arrow [keys] allows you to speed around the complex making longer jumps than ever before. Good luck pulling yourself together, bot!

Analysis: The Japanese have a word, Utsuge: a portmanteau which literally translates as "Melancholy Game". I bring this up because it is probably the best description one can give of K.O.L.M. It is a game of melancholy; of inadequacy; of the feelings you get when you're trying to impress someone you love and admire, but aren't sure if you'll ever succeed. These are themes rarely explored in casual games, especially platformers that star jet-packing robots. That K.O.L.M. manages to do so so well, and with a proper dose of both humor and arcadey action, is to its credit.

KOLMGameplay-wise, K.O.L.M. falls squarely into the so-called Metroidvania genre, with all its attendant advantages and disadvantages. On the one hand, non-linear exploration is always welcome, but the freedom of movement it grants can leave you directionless. Likewise, while an ongoing stream of character upgrades gives you the joy of constant progress, it can come with the needling feeling that you've overlooked important objects that you just hadn't looked in the right place for. I did find K.O.L.M. innovative in connecting this type of gameplay to the larger story themes at play. As compared to standard power-up systems that motivate the player to find upgrades in order to become ever-more powerful, here the robotic protagonist is moved by a sense of fundamental incompleteness. He must upgrade as much as he can, otherwise he will be lacking. The motif of the security cameras build on this effect... it gives you the feeling that the lil' guy is always being watched and judged by things he's not quite able to comprehend. Perhaps this is a wry commentary on the Metroidvania genre, and how games within it often seem disparaging of players who don't seek out each and every hidden secret? (For the record, the greatest reward of 100% completion here is discovering what the titular acronym stands for. You'll probably kick yourself when you find out.)

One thing about K.O.L.M. that isn't particularly innovative is it's unabashed use of the "Slightly Deranged Computer Guiding You Through A Post-Apocalyptic Test Chamber". This is a trope I'm kind of surprised we don't have a catchy genre term for yet, considering how often we're seeing it. Yeah, Portal only came out three years ago and the internet (myself included), isn't yet entirely sick of keeping on trying till we run out of cake. Still, while K.O.L.M. itself distinguishes itself from the pack by playing its overseeing robotic "Mother" for melancholy, rather than humor or terror, I wonder if the concept is beginning to be a bit of a crutch for experimental game designers.

K.O.L.M. won't be for everyone. It starts off off slow, with a crippled protagonist that can barely crawl. The initial weirdness, slightly finicky controls, and creepy music will probably turn some people away. Those who persevere, however, will find a quiet gem of an experience with a surprising amount of depth in its simple design. I expect K.O.L.M. to be a strong contender for the Best of 2010 in the Platform game category.

Play K.O.L.M.!

Babylon Sticks: Flower Power comic

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

CassandraSnail BobThis is Snail Bob, and for some reason he's inside a construction site filled with radioactive goo, molten lava and really bad wiring. Being the single-minded gastropod that he is, Bob doesn't seem aware of how all these environmental hazards can be, well, hazardous to his health.

In this point-and-click puzzle game from Andrey Kovalishin, you're responsible for ensuring that Snail Bob doesn't die a hilarious death. Most likely intended to be a mid-afternoon diversion, the twenty levels of the game are unlikely to strain your mental faculties all too much. In some ways, the puzzles are relatively pedestrian; you'll have to pull levers to activate platforms, push buttons to move barriers and so forth. However, what makes Snail Bob so entertaining is not the complexity of the game but the sheer amount of quirky charm it contains. I actually caught myself laughing out loud in one of the earlier stages.

Short and sweet, there's actually a fair bit more that I could say about the game but part of the joy here is discovering the absurdity of each stage and that's something I wouldn't want to take away from our readers. I do have one issue with the game, though, and that's the fact that I found the music so irritatingly repetitive, I had to mute the volume before I even hit the third level. Of course, that's just a minor flaw in an otherwise pleasant way to spend your coffee break.

Play Snail Bob

You Are Games

ArtbegottiThis week, we're bringing you a contest unlike anything you've ever seen before! (Never mind this bit.) In this installment of You Are Games, we're calling upon you, our loyal readers, to scratch your funny bone where it itches and create the caption for another Babylon Sticks comic created by James Francis. And this time, the stakes are even higher. Why, you ask?

Pneumatic winch.

bs-contest-nuke.gifIn any case, the same rules apply as last time. Take a look at the bombshell of a comic to the right and see what sort of quirky captions you can come up. Submit your ideas as comments 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). All entries are due by Monday, November 29th at 11:59 PM (GMT-5:00). Feel free to submit as many ideas as you'd like, but remember to keep them game-related!

As a final note, keep in mind that this is an all-ages website, so please refrain from profanity and keep your entries clean. Also, some legal points we have to mention:

  • 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.
We'll be contacting the winner via email. So thinking caps on, class, it's time for you to wow us with your wacky, wild, and witty wespon—er..., responses!

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SonicLoverSuper TreadmillWhile cleaning out your closet, you discover your old Super Treadmill, a retro arcade game cartridge for the Nitrome Enjoyment System (absolutely no intentional relation to any other existing game system). It's been so long since you've played that game that you've forgotten what it's about, so you find the manual in your bookshelf and skim over it.

Our story opens with a somewhat overweight child by the name of Billy. He simply cannot stop eating, and he simply cannot lose weight. Thankfully, his Uncle Rico is there to save the day, and as a world-famous gym instructor he's the perfect go-to guy for the occasion. His solution: the Super Treadmill, the ultimate in exercise technology. It's the craziest workout in existence, with furniture and other obstacles constantly getting in the way that have to be dodged, but it's very effective... and Billy's willing to try it!

Use the [left] and [right] arrow keys to move Billy left and right on the treadmill, and press [up] to make him jump. Jump and run over all sorts of obstacles that fall onto the treadmill, from the tall to the short and from the slippery to the living! Power shakes will occasionally fall onto the treadmill as well; collect them for more points! Keep an eye on the sidelines; Uncle Rico will occasionally switch the treadmill's direction, or speed it up! Fall off the treadmill on either side and it's game over, but persist until the workout's done and you're done for the day!

Sadly, Billy is terrible at keeping weight off even after he's lost it, so he'll have to keep jumping on the treadmill day after day after day. And it seems that Uncle Rico's a little TOO serious about getting Billy in shape. Perhaps he has an ulterior motive...?

Super TreadmillYou can't for the life of you recall why you bought this weird game. Maybe a quick glance at its reviews will remind you. You boot up your computer, surf over to your favorite classic game reviews website, and see what the gaming wizard Analysis has to say about Super Treadmill.

Analysis: Super Treadmill is yet another prime example of interesting Nitrome fare. It takes a not-so-simple run-and-jump game and gives it an added twist: it's an allegedly old game emulated on modern technology, bad connection and all (don't you just hate when the screen blanks to "AV" in the middle of a hard jump?). The intention of this is to add a little extra challenge to the game, and it works quite well.

Like many Nitrome games, Super Treadmill has one significant flaw that can completely ruin the game for picky players, and in this case it's the pacing. (Pacing problems in a game about exercise... is that ironic or what?) The game takes a few levels to get interesting, and by then those of you with lesser patience will have thrown in the towel, which is a shame, because there's quite a bit they'll miss.

If you're not a patient person, you might be better off playing something else, but if you're willing to see the game through to the end, then go ahead and hop on the Super Treadmill!

Play Super Treadmill

Thanks to Tobie, Marie-Christine, Meester, Chris, and Repairmanman for sending this one in!

JamesBomboozle 2I'm not the person to drag to a ice cream parlour, lavished with the promise of 99 different flavours. Me, I'm a vanilla kinda guy, Not that I don't mind the other flavours, but some classics always stand the test of time. Vanilla, jeans, thunderbolts... there have been many variations and 'improvements', but nothing that beats the original. That also goes for many puzzle games and while people are less inclined to meet an old favourite during an adventure game, on their own they hit the sweet spot. That, more or less, summarises my opinion of pop-the-colour puzzle game Bomboozle 2 from Megadev.

It's the simplest of 'Bubble' games: tag three or more coloured balls to make them pop off the grid and drop down the stacks. The more you take out in a go, the better. Five or more will spawn a bomb (pretty self-explanatory), four just scores and three will spawn a skull that requires a bomb to remove. Rainbow balls step in to mimic the color you tag and treasure chests are little gifts of points... providing you can get them to the bottom bar. There are three game modes: no restriction, 3 minutes and 100 moves.

Things systemically get tougher; new levels add more colors and hardier skulls. To aid you in your quest of conquering the spheric rainbow, each colour has a special power represented as a jar. Each time you pop a specific colour, you fill its jar a little. A full jar can be tapped for a special move. Depending on the color, it can flip the screen, randomize the board, detonate all the bombs (and the hard-won Change All Skulls Into Bombs), to name a few. This is Bamboozle 2's only discernable twist on what is a classic puzzle game. But even though it has left the house, it is still in the yard and more of a classic than a new game. The powerups give an interesting twist to a familiar experience. And a bearded artisan will dance for you. So if you are not in the mood for a Death-By-Chocolate-And-Autopsy-By-Caramel game, give this a try.

Play Bomboozle 2

Mystery Case Files: 13th Skull

DoraAfter your last investigation, you might have been hoping for a warmer climate, though the humid, rainy swamps of the Louisiana bayous probably weren't what you had in mind. But when a beloved husband and father goes missing under bizarre circumstances and the police can't help, who better than you, master detective, to solve the case? Mystery Case Files: 13th Skull, the seventh in the popular series of hidden-object adventure games, is a beautifully done game about betrayal, treasure, curses, and backed-up toilets, just like Poe would have written about.

Mystery Case Files: 13th SkullThe missing man is Marcus Lawson, who had moved to the run-down estate after abruptly inheriting it not too long ago. His daughter, the last person to see him, claims he was taken by a ghost. Understandably, most people are skeptical... though with your track record, you're more willing to believe than others. After all, the dilapidated manor and overgrown grounds seem to hide more than their share of secrets, and not to mention the rumours going around of a vicious pirate who buried his treasure there centuries ago. Sound like a lot of mumbo-jumbo to you? Well, maybe you should be careful anyway. After all, you know what they say about dead men telling tales (hint: they don't), and not everyone seems to want your missing person found...

To find out what happened to Marcus, you'll have to use all your skills and prowess... and solve a lot of hidden-object scenes and complete tasks for the townsfolk. People who have something to tell you have an exclamation mark over their heads, but for the most part you'll want to rely on your own powers of observation. Explore the manor and the surrounding area for clues; when your cursor changes, click to interact with people and objects. Text at the bottom of the screen will remind you of your current objective, and you can click "hint" when the meter is full to get some more hands-on direction. Remember to refer to your journal frequently, since that's where you'll record all of your finding, especially any particularly cryptic clues that might be helpful later on.

Mystery Case Files: 13th SkullAnalysis: Unlike, say, Dire Grove, which was more than happy to start throwing ghostly apparitions at you within the first five minutes of play, 13th Skull has you spend a goodly amount of time poking at dirty windows and chasing down rats before you even run afoul of your first angry redneck. The 13th Skull is a lot less menacing than its predecessor, and a lot slower paced, with its focus on small town mystery and local legend. Of course it all looks beautiful, with crisp, clear video, rich colours, and fine attention to detail that brings the environments to life and lends them a great authenticity. In addition, you can also play Southern Stereotype Bingo; add a point every time someone says "Shug", "Chile", "Looky here", or "We don't take kindly to strangers", but subtract a point for every dirty tanktop because, well... ew?

As we've come to expect from the series, the 13th Skull offers up a satisfyingly meaty chunk of gameplay, striking a balance between good ol' fashioned adventure game logic and a variety of puzzles designed to get your brain matter churning. The difficulty level rides somewhere between middling and moderate, see-sawing back and forth; the puzzles aren't the complex examples of ingenuity in earlier titles, but they will require a bit of thought and attention to detail. Of course, getting stuck is out of the question since the hint button will always tell you what you need to do and takes approximately ten seconds to recharge.

Mystery Case Files: 13th SkullThe biggest change is obviously the inclusion of actual people playing the part of the characters you interact with. While none of the acting or dialogue is spectacular, the cast seems to be having a good time, and the odd-ball characters are fun to talk to in a hokey, "Sci-Fi channel original movie" sort of way (like my boy Cooter over there on the right). Of course, the downside is that if you don't like the character interaction you might be put off by how much of it there is. Considering your input is limited to clicking what essentially amounts to prompts to move the dialogue along, you'd be forgiven for thinking the whole thing feels a little gimmicky. Allowing you some choice in what you said so you actually felt as if you were interacting with them and influencing the story would have gone a long way towards making you feel more immersed.

Mystery Case Files: 13th Skull will probably have an average playtime of around five hours, more if you staunchly refuse the siren call of the hint/skip button for puzzles and clues. It's much more of a straight-up mystery than others in the series, eschewing frights for old-fashioned sleuthing and simple superstition. The ending is a little unsatisfying, but the whole thing is a quality experience from beginning to end that has a lot to offer. Where will the Mystery Case Files turn up next? Will you travel the land like the Scooby Gang in your mystery machine, solving supernatural crimes? Is the bathroom mirror a hint at a future installment? Only time (and Big Fish Games) will tell. In the meantime, grab your favourite detective hat and try out the demo; those clues aren't going to find themselves.

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

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

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

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Weekday Escape

SonicLoverI've always wondered, what exactly is the history of the room escape genre? Did it exist even before Flash software made it popular? How long ago did people lock one another in rooms filled with puzzles that had to be solved in order to get out? Did the ancient Egyptians have such rooms to escape? How about the folks of the Renaissance, did they—

Okay, okay, fine, I'll skip the history lesson. You just want the game, don't you. All right, you've got it. Sheesh, you people are complete one-track minds when it comes to JIG.

Modern MysteryModern Mystery is the escape game of the week this time around. It's another little starlet from Abroy, the creators of the similarly titled Masonic Mystery.

The game, naturally, begins with you trapped in a rather comfy lounge-like room. It's nicely furnished—a bit of abstract art on the walls, a potted plant, two leather chairs, a laptop computer—but you still want out by any means. Go around collecting objects, putting clues together, and solving puzzles in order to collect more objects, hopefully at some point getting one or both of those doors open and terminating your confinement.

Analysis: So it's another Abroy game. Is that good or bad? It depends a lot on your tastes. On the one hand, the graphics are very good, there's less pixel-hunting than in Masonic, and the puzzles make a fair amount of sense. On the other hand, there's no changing cursor, and a few areas can really trip you up. My advice: if it looks like something should work but it doesn't, try combining it with another clue from elsewhere.

Overall, if you don't mind a few flaws, Modern Mystery is a journey worth taking. So get in there and get out of there!

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ChiktionaryAnbotSo, you've had a bad day at work. The coffee machine has broken down again, the cafeteria is only serving yesterday's black pudding with hog fat vinaigrette and your boss has chewed you out because the company server is down and he hasn't been able to get his daily fix of JayIsGames. Well, spare a thought for Anbot, the protagonist in Pencil Kids' latest point-and-click adventure game.

Reliable and trustworthy Anbot has fronted up for work as usual and found himself injured because of someone else's negligence. In a split second he kisses goodbye to his dream holiday and knows he has to flee the factory floor, because robots don't get worker's compensation; damaged robots are swiftly annihilated to maintain efficiency and economics. Using your mouse, help Anbot to escape the factory and its destructive OH&S policies by clicking on objects and locations, solving puzzles and outsmarting giant robot-monsters.

It's always a good day when Robin Vencel, the creator of flash game gems we all love like A Dralien Day and many more, releases yet another appealing game to brighten our otherwise mundane working lives. He's made our day yet again with Anbot, an unfortunate robot who knows what a bad day at work is really like.

Anbot is a simple, short and sweet frolic that places you in the role of over-worked robot needing to escape, and along with its lovely diversionary qualities, may just serve to remind us that no matter how bad a day at work/school we might have, it could be worse.

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TrickyLiquid Measure 2 Liquid Measure 2, the second in the series of puzzle games by SmartCodeGames, is one of those unique presentations that can only be described with a cocktail recipe: Take one gallon of Pipe Mania, swirl it around with a quart of those brain teasers where you have to collect four gallons of water (but only have three and five gallon jugs on hand), and stir in a couple tablespoons of simple idea physics. You'll end up with a punch-bowl full of Liquid Measure 2. And altogether, it's quite a tasty drink.

The goal of the game is to direct flows of water into the proper receptacles without letting any go to waste. As you might expect, the water generally flows downwards unless directed by other implements. Using your mouse, you drag and drop the various items to set up the proper aquatic route. In addition to the standard pipes and pots, there are other pieces available for use, including Overflow Pots, which catch a certain amount of water before releasing the extra, and Water Splitters, which splits the stream into two equal streams starting with the direction the arrow upon it is facing. You click the pipe on the right side of the screen, or hit the [spacebar], to turn the water on and see if you've successfully gone with the flow, or have just ended up all wet.

The presentation of Liquid Measure 2 is quite professional, but while the new items should be of interest to those who've played the first game in the series, overall most puzzlers won't find it all that much of a challenge. It felt like a good third of the game's thirty levels was a tutorial, and only a handful of puzzles required significant thought, all clustered at the end. While the interface is easy to understand, the graphics lean to the sterile side: the water doesn't feel nearly splashy enough, and resembles more a streak of blue marker than a waterfall. I doubt that adding such effects would've been worth the trade-off in game processing speed, but it took me out of the experience a bit. While the dripping and draining sound-effects are quite a nice touch, after a while they create an effect akin to placing the player's hand in a bowl of warm water.

Despite these quibbles, Liquid Measure 2 is a game with clever puzzle mechanics and a solid aesthetic that will keep you occupied for a good half hour. If you don't mind an overly easy level of challenge, Liquid Measure 2 makes for a satisfying dip in the flash waterhole.

UPDATE: A new Level Pack has been released!

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MikeAah Little Atlantis"...In this island of Atlantis there was a great and wonderful empire which had rule over the whole island and several others, and over parts of the continent.... But afterwards there occurred violent earthquakes and floods; and in a single day and night of misfortune all your warlike men in a body sank into the earth, and the island of Atlantis in like manner disappeared in the depths of the sea."

But one god pitied the poor Atlanteans, despite their hubris; and though he was only permitted to smite Atlantis with floods and falling stars, he used these powers to shepherd them to safety, as best as he was able. This is your mission in Aah Little Atlantis, a pixelated turn-based strategy game where you try to save as much of the Atlantean populace as you can, using nothing but floods, meteors, and the populace's own panicked fleeing.

Your tools are floods and meteors, and you will deploy one of each on a single map tile, once every turn. Your charges are little Atlantean sprites, who will flee in terror from the ravaging deluge you let loose upon them, though they are oddly sanguine about meteors and will happily run toward them. There are kings, soldiers, merchants, and peasants, who after you unleash your floods and meteors on your turn will move away from your flood as best they can, in order of rank (Rescued kings are worth more than soldiers, soldiers more than merchants, and so on. The gods have very Platonic notions of aristocracy.). There are three ways for an Atlantean to be saved: He can hop on a boat, which holds four citizens and will move one space each turn unless something stops them; he can board a raft, which holds a single Atlantean and are created when palm trees are flooded; or he can head to the highest ground, which happens to be made of the meteors you keep shooting at the continent.

Of the many things the instruction pages leave woefully unclear, the most essential is the importance of terrain height in playing the game. Each terrain type has a different height, from light-blue shallows, through yellow sands, light-green grasses, dark-green forests, up to gray mountains; and Atlanteans will only move from one type to another if they are of adjacent heights. No jumping from sand to mountains for our little pixel-sprites. There is a gauge to the right of the screen that shows when each terrain type will flood, starting with the shallowest, so if you can't get Atlanteans into boats or rafts, you will need to herd them to higher ground. Since meteors are the highest, safest terrain, the only way to get Atlanteans onto safe ground is to coax them to the mountains first, then throw enough meteors near the mountains so that the surviving populace can stand secure and dry.

Aah Little AtlantisAnalysis: I'm belaboring the game's instructions in the hopes that I can make it clear how to play, because the instructions in-game just don't explain enough. The rules are really pretty simple (flood, meteor, repeat), but the gameplay is unusual enough that an in-game tutorial, or at least some clear, step-by-step instructions, would be very useful. Instead, we get a couple of pages of rudely splattered text and smallish diagrams that are bound to scare a number of potential players towards something less intimidating.

The unkind handling of the game's learning curve is a shame, because once you learn how to play, Aah Little Atlantis is a unique, rewarding, casual strategy game. You only have a couple of simple choices to make every turn—what to flood, what to smite with meteors—but the implications of each choice are complex. Can I flood one side of the island without scaring too many citizens on the other side away from safety? Should I sacrifice one king to ensure that everyone else is blocked from soon-to-be underwater territory? Should I risk herding citizens to boats on the lowlands, or should I take the longer route towards higher ground? Aah Little Atlantis is a surprisingly deep and variegated game, and while you could probably crunch the numbers to find the optimal solution for every level, it's also fun to simply wright catastrophe unto Atlantis and see how its citizens react.

Aah Little Atlantis has a unique concept, a funky lo-tech aesthetic, and some wonderful, casual, strategic gameplay. It is simply too bad that the muddy instructions make the learning curve steeper than it needs to be. Once you get past it, you can get along with the business of rescuing Atlanteans, and occasionally smiting them. For even a kindly Sinker of Continents cannot escape his nature.

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The Vault

joyeIt's almost Thanksgiving! Well, in the United States. Canada already had their Thanksgiving back in October, as by late November pretty much everything is dead in Canada and the people cling to survival by a combination of willpower and hockey, trufax. And most of the rest of the world doesn't have this holiday at all. But still! No matter where you are, you can be grateful for at least one thing: a trip down Nostalgia Lane in search of the greatest games of yesteryear. It's a Wonderful JIG!

  • Dolphin OlympicsDolphin Olympics - Okay, granted, the sequel to this dolphin-flipping, action stunt game more or less blew the first out of the water, pun totally intended. The basic premise of using the keyboard to shimmy and flip your dolphin to rack up points through tricks, like an underwater Tony Hawk, is the same, but the sequel had more detailed background, more things to see up high, more interaction from sea creatures. So why would anyone play the first game? Well, there's a pureness, a simplicity of the first Dolphin Olympics that appeals to me. Whereas Dolphin Olympics 2 inspired manic button-mashing marathons in my attempt to reach the Restaurant at the End of the Universe, the first game is much lower pressure. Somehow, I feel pretty good about myself just doing a flip or two in the first game. "I loved this game, I found it very easy to put down" isn't a common praise of games, but I think it's the charm of this one. In this hectic holiday season, I like something that relieves my stress and that I can close the window on to go rescue an oven-full of cookies without even a twinge of regret. It's just a sweet, friendly game, and sometimes that's just my speed.
  • GatewayGateway - It was difficult for me to believe that this point-and-click masterpiece did not win its Casual Gameplay Design Competition, but it did earn an honorable mention and the Audience Prize. The test of time has more than proven Gateway's worth. Some games are like a snowglobe: you look at the scene, and you know that that's all there is to see. (And then you pick the game up and shake it really hard.) Other games are like peeking into a window into another world. You know there's more at stake, more to the story, than the little glimpse you're allowed, and it really fires up your imagination. Gateway is in this coterie. It's all the more enthralling because of the way the plot sneaks up on you, when up to that point it's just seemed like a plotless series of puzzles. It's too good to spoil, so if you haven't played this game yet, please do, and also check out the sequel.
  • Ayiti: The Cost of LifeAyiti: The Cost of Life - This life sim game is just as relevant now as it was in 2006. However, since this game is about grinding poverty in Haiti, that's not necessarily a good thing. Reading news articles about the cholera outbreak, I couldn't help but think of playing game after game of Ayiti. One game, I'd manage to eke out a pretty nice existence for the family; the next game, I'd watch helplessly as family members succumbed one by one to cholera, tuberculosis, and overwork, then died either from the illness itself or because with no one working, there was no one to buy food. And yet, the game never succumbs to cynicism, clinging indomitably to hope. The message I came away with is to open your eyes and really take a look around you at all the opportunities you've taken for granted, and to think about how to help people who haven't had the same opportunities. I can't think of a better message for the Thanksgiving holiday.

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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BradDemons Took My DaughterNow, I don't know much about children. I don't have any, nor was I ever a child myself (I was hatched fully formed from an egg). However, I have learned a few things about children from television and video games. Children are, generally, sassy vessels containing life lessons and professionally written witticisms. They also routinely get kidnapped. Sometimes it's be menacing foreigners, but if it's a Nerdook game you know it's going to be some sort of monster. Like Nerdook's newest game Demons Took My Daughter, which combines action, defense, and even platforming (not to mention cool shades) for a unique and bizarre experience.

Your goal is to guard the pile of plush toys on the right side of the screen from the demons coming from the left. Build barriers by placing blocks with unique abilities to hold off the demons who swarm in through the portals on the left, trying to snatch your only hope of finding your daughter; her favourite stuffed toys. No, no... don't try to make too much sense of it. You'll only get a headache. Use the [arrow] keys to move around, tapping [up] to fly; you'll automatically attack enemies you're close to. Since you can't very well hold off the legions of H-E-Double-Hockey-Sticks all on your own, you'll have to build defenses using blocks, which have different effects. What do they cost? Oh, just YOUR SOUL... s. Enemy souls, to be precise, which must be grabbed when you slay a demon. You can use the number keys ([1], [2], [3], etc) to drop blocks where you stand, or press [down] while standing on a block to sell it. If the action gets too frantic, hit the [spacebar] to pause the game; while paused, you can still place and sell blocks.

There are a total of 18 different blocks each with different attributes concerning damage, firing speed and other abilities. One block stuns enemies, another deals damage based on how many demons are on screen and there's one that eats enemies. Each blocks costs a certain number of souls which you get from killing demons. You can only take six blocks with you on each stage, so choose carefully. There are six worlds consisting of four stages each, plus one final end stage. Most stages introduce new enemies and blocks. Just like blocks, enemies have different attributes. In the final stage of every world there's a boss demon. If you manage to beat a stage without losing any toys you'll get a golden soul. Collect five golden souls and you can trade them in at the shop for an upgrade.

Demons Took My DaughterAnalysis: As you would expect from a game by Nerdook, Demons Took my Daughter is inventive and looks great; if the by-now-signature hybridized gameplay didn't tip you off, then the developer's distinctive, cartoonish style should have been a dead giveaway. Nerdook's habit of taking one deceptively simple genre (in this case defense games) and combining it with others makes their games a real treat to play. Every enemy is distinct and well crafted and the blocks have a lot of variety.

Unfortunately, what doesn't have a lot of variety is the gameplay. After a while, you might find yourself wishing for more challenging terrain than your tiny window to build in. If you're careful in buying upgrades, the gameplay will probably become a snap, especially since being able to build while paused lets you tear down and reconstruct your defenses on the fly if it seems like too many creatures are getting past you.

But what's great about Demons Took My Daughter is how it takes a typically uninvolving genre like defense and combines it with action and platforming to give you a more hands-on feel. Instead of feeling like you can sit back and basically allow the game to run itself to sweet, sweet victory, you now have to stay on your toes and actually take part in the battle if you want to win. While it won't be for everyone, Demons Took My Daughter is another fine example of creativity from one of our favourite developers, and just goes to show that you can teach an old genre new tricks.

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TrickyIntoSpaceIf anything, IntoSpace!, Barbarian Games' latest entry into the launch action genre, shows that while the future of the NASA Space Shuttle program may be in question, at least the Casual Game Space Administration has reached a critical stage in its evolution. After years of launching penguins, hedgehogs, and the occasional Japanese Schoolboy into the stratosphere, Casual Game technology has finally advanced enough to attempt send a bona fide gray-haired science guy bang zoom straight to the moon. Godspeed, gray-haired science guy. Godspeed.

The gameplay of Into Space! will be quite recognizable to anyone who has experienced other flash game excursions ad astra. Using your mouse to control your direction, or the [left] and [right] arrow keys, you fly through the air ever higher picking up cash, extra gas, and repair kits, while avoiding lightning strikes, airplane, UFOs and other hazards. The occasional flying gate will give you an extra burst of speed, but watch out for going too fast: hitting too many objects at too quick a velocity will cause your rocket to destruct right there and then. You are awarded cash for meeting various checkpoints and objectives, which you can then use after each to upgrade various attributes of your rocket. These upgrades include boosters, which give you a short burst of extra speed with a click of the mouse or a tap of the [up] key. Get to an altitude of 300k feet and glory is yours!

Analysis: Overall, IntoSpace! feels like a bit of a clone of previous launches, but adds enough wrinkles to keep the game interesting. I particularly enjoyed the increased steering you have over your rocket, right from the initial blast. When I played other launch games that featured a slingshot launcher or some sort of power/direction meter, it often felt like much of the game was up to fate, and only after purchasing a number of upgrades was the action put back in my hands. Certainly in IntoSpace! the upgrades are important, and you won't beat the game without them, but it never felt like I was waiting around to stockpile enough cash to wrest control of the experience from random chance.

IntoSpaceAnother aspect I liked was the plethora of obstacles in the sky, though maybe not for the reasons you might expect. Avoiding the myriad of hot-air balloons and Sputniks is equal parts challenging and frustrating. There were a few times that curses were released under my breath when it looked like I was about to reach the cash a new checkpoint, but instead was zapped by a random lightning cloud. Compounding this was how even a fully upgraded rocket, in the words of Ford Prefect, "Looks like a fish, moves like a fish, steers like a cow." However, the glorious upside to this is how, when you finally run out of fuel, you are so likely to crash into something on the way back to earth, that is unlikely you'll have to wait through the entire trip all the way down. This has been a problem in similar games, when thirty seconds of helplessness is an eternity in a casual game. The pace of the game is much improved by it.

I have mixed feelings about the upgrade system. I really liked the aesthetics at play, especially how upgrading a part would impressively change the rocket's design. Seeing it evolve from a skinny bottle-rocket to an impressive spacecraft as I traveled higher and higher, really made it feel like I was making progress. The same is not quite as true for the mechanics of the system, however... some purchases really didn't seem to upgrade all that much, and some were clearly so much more useful than others. You'll want to purchase larger fuel tanks as quickly as possible, and grab every gas can that you see. The system gets the job done, certainly, but it was disappointing to spend a ton of in-game cash for what seemed to be limited improvement.

The biggest flaw of IntoSpace! is that while it changes quite a few aspects of other launch games, there was really little that felt all that new. This is not a fatal flaw: after all, once shouldn't fix that which isn't broken. The detailed colored-pencil tinged graphics and laid-back soundtrack make for a fine coat of gloss on a solid craft. Minor details like clouds changing from Cumulus to Cirrus as you head higher, and the camera zooming out from your rocket as it it were becoming a speck in the sky, clearly shows that quite a bit of care went into the creation of the game. I just kind of wish that care went into an experience that didn't feel so familiar. Still, IntoSpace! is a solid game that fans will find enjoyable from lift-off to moon-landing. The countdown awaits!

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DoraRobot Unicorn Attack Heavy MetalIf you enjoyed Adult Swim's tale of Erasure, unicorns, dolphins, and robotic versions thereof, you may be happy to learn that now you can do it all again, only angrier. Robot Unicorn Attack Heavy Metal is the sequel to the original arcade game, Robot Unicorn Attack, in which you pilot a robotic unicorn through a treacherous landscape. Although this time there's less fluffy purple clouds and more red and screaming. Jack Black would approve. Really, isn't that all that matters?

As before, your mighty steed does all the running, and all you have to do is tap [Z] to jump, hit it again to double-jump, and use [X] to perform a dash attack that can break through the stars that appear in your way. You have three lives (or "nightmares"), and one ends when you run into an obstacle, which means instant death. At the end of all three nightmares, your score is combined into a total and, uh... that's... it, really. Run for as long as you can, grabbing the little flying imps that appear for a small bonus, and try not to blow up.

Ultimately, whether you prefer this over its fluffier, cuddlier older sibling comes down to whether you like Erasure or headbanging. Despite an admittedly awesome reskin and, uh, louder soundtrack, it's still basically the same game. Just remember to throw up the horns with whatever hand you aren't using to play; it's always important to pay tribute to the Gods of Rock.

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Mystery Age: The Dark Priests

DoraSometimes I feel like I haven't done enough with my life. I mean, look at Amber; thirty years ago, with the help of a pair of shamans, she managed to defeat the Chaos God. Way more Gods than I have ever defeated. I kind of feel like I'm slacking here. Especially since, upon receiving a letter from her friend Sister Martha, Amber is hurrying back to Westwind Village to finally deal with the Chaos God's disciples once and for all. Mystery Age: The Dark Priests is a hefty hidden-object adventure game that brings some serious eye-candy to the table. After all, just because you're defeating ancient unspeakable evils doesn't mean you can't look good doing it.

Mystery Age: The Dark PriestsPart adventure game, part hidden-object, Mystery Age: The Dark Priests blends both genres and adds a shiny coat of polish. As Amber, you'll have to unlock the secrets and mysteries surrounding Westwind Village in order to save the villagers (and the world!) from the plan the Dark Priests are hatching. It's a little less pot-luck charity luncheon and a little more darkness overwhelming the land and turning you and all you love into cold, unfeeling stone. Which is a little unfair; the least they could do is give you a hot meal first.

Rather than rummaging through a list of unrelated items to find the single thing you really need, you'll be hunting down bits and pieces of contraptions you'll need to assemble to use within the scene. Hidden-object enthusiasts will be happy to hear that the game is actually fairly long, and with a plethora of scenes to hunt through and items to assemble. While some of the items you'll encounter during regular gameplay can be carried with you to use later, others are actually just interactive bits of scenery, so you'll have to experiment to make sure you leave no stone unturned, no snake un-poked, no bees nest un-prodded. Come on, it's for the villagers.

Mystery Age: The Dark PriestsAnalysis: If the whole casual download market were a prom, then Mystery Age would be the Prom Queen, or at least a strong contender. This game is pretty. No, wait, strike that... this game is gorgeous, and as much love has been put into everything from its art to its audio to its general gameplay design. The assembly aspect of the object hunting is actually a good excuse to be looking for all the items you are, and in most cases they're usually all things you'd expect to find within your location anyway. A pleasant change, then, from hunting down three pineapples, a tin soldier, and a bulldog in an apothecary. The gameplay is also, happily, quite varied; instead of collecting a slew of puzzles pieces to solve one problem and then repeating that ad nauseam, you'll find yourself performing a multitude of different tasks in every area, complete with tricky puzzles, that keeps the experience from getting stale.

The downside is that the items you're putting together rarely seem as if they'd actually be required; one scene has you scavenging bits of food you need to lure a mouse away from a magnet that's part of a group of items you need to lift a weight out of a jar. Not, you know, a Saw-style jaw with boobytraps and spinning blades. A jar you could easily tip over or reach inside. Because you wind up carrying so many items, you also have the potential to be more easily frustrated by adventure game logic; a window can be broken by a rock, for example, but not a hammer. You can't use a ladder to reach something on a high shelf, because you need it to reach something else that's high up. Apparently, in this world, ladders have a very strict one-time usage retirement plan.

But what it gets right is providing stunning, immersive environments that are a real joy to explore, and it's hard to stay mad at something that looks and plays this smoothly. While you might wind up wishing the story had been a bit more intertwined with the gameplay, Mystery Age: The Dark Priests is a beautiful adventure that will provide just the sort of meaty chunk of soothing gameplay we could all use once in a while. Fans of the genre should definitely check out the demo; whether the story and setting appeals to you or not, it's hard to deny that more developers of the genre should be putting at least half as much love into their creations as is present here.

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Doodle Devil Flash is here!

Doodle Devil is here and, as promised, we have it here first! The sequel to the amazingly popular Doodle God is now out in a Flash version for all those without a smartphone. More Doodle God is never a bad thing, and even though Doodle Devil doesn't reinvent the alchemical wheel, there's still plenty to love. The series distills a very basic element found at the core of all video games: exploration and discovery.

For our review, or if you need a walkthrough or have comments or questions, be sure to visit our Doodle Devil Walkthrough and review page.

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Tulula: Legend Of A Volcano

JamesIn the age old "does a super hero beget a super villain" debate, one has to ponder if the same counts for evil spirits and chosen ones. Let's take, for example, the opening scene in Tulula: Legend Of A Volcano, from Intenium. Here you are, standing in a cave, a shaman named Taboo telling you that everyone in the world has been frozen by an evil spirit's spell and clearly you, not being frozen, must be the chosen one. Thus you set upon a quest of restoring the tribe totem, inconveniently smashed to bits by the evil spirit and spread across several locations. It's up to you to visit each exotic spot and get those pieces together in this absolutely gorgeous hidden object adventure hybrid, with an assortment of hidden objects and puzzles standing in your way.

Tulula: Legend Of A VolcanoEvery area, or level, in Tulula comprises of two or three screens and two main quests: collect all the totem pieces and get the portal going. To do this you need to solve various situations in the areas: getting a lift to work, finding a boat or rigging a hot air balloon. If that sounds mundane, you also get to extinguish a volcano, harness the power of dark matter and give a chief happy dreams. Tulula is a surreal ensemble of fantasy, technology and eccentricity. Even in the world of hidden object games in particular, this title stands apart with its decadently fantastic locations.

Despite the name, "casual" is anything but, especially if you descend into the more demanding stuff Big Fish dishes up. Serious hidden object game fans and Holmesian puzzle addicts can get their fixes from quite a selection in its catalog. But these are not exactly the games you use to lure people into the whole scene. Enter Tulula, an experience that is perfect for newcomers or kids. With colorful art and an interesting mix of gameplay styles, it's a perfect primer to the world of 'casual' games.

Tulula: Legend Of A VolcanoCasual to its core, Tulula is not only beautiful to behold, it is also mostly a light and easy romp. It uses several familiar systems: finding pieces to construct something, solving puzzles to access items (and the reliable regulars at that: sliding puzzles, repeat-the-tune, etc.), using items for specific tasks, hidden object sequences, even a solid hint system – it's all there. As the story progresses, the difficulty rises noticeably, but more along the lines of strange things to find and some pedantic puzzle designs. Fortunately the hint system is extremely forgiving.

Things you don't often see in this genre hybrid are distinct levels with score summaries, achievements (in the form of medals) and statistics that level up your character. Every time you complete a section, you are scored accordingly (penalizing for skipping puzzles). This score hands you 'talents', currency you use to restore your village destroyed by the evil spirit. In another concession to newcomers, usable items and areas unlock only when you need use them, so there are no items confusing you or cluttering the inventory.

Tulula: Legend Of A VolcanoAnd that's why it's an ideal stepping stone – a great way to give someone a full run of the casual puzzle game ensemble of tricks. If you can get them hooked now, they might return the favor and buy you the new Mystery Case Files game for Christmas. Tulula may not be for seasoned pros, but it's great for the casual gamer, young or old. Veterans won't be very challenged, but sometimes a challenge isn't what you're looking for in the realm of casual gameplay. A gorgeous game that is fun to play from beginning to end, and one that is quite unique even if it does stick very close to a formula that works.

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BradThe Infinite OceanIt's possible you might be familiar with Jonas Kyratzes' philosophical point-and-click, The Infinite Ocean, as it was originally released back in 2003. Not entirely satisfied with the finished product, Kyratzes has revisited the game and re-released this new version with changes to the writing, programming and music.

You'll navigate The Infinite Ocean with the mouse. Click on an object to pick it up, click a door to open it, and move your mouse to the edges of the game window to reveal arrows that allow you to change the direction you face. In addition to (and a departure from) this familiar navigation system, a password control system exists through notes and journals that you find. Click 'scan' in the top right corner to scan the notes for passwords. If present, the scanner will pull it out, but then you must click on it. Sometimes it will be the entire password, other times it's just a fragment. To make password fragments whole, open up the password matching screen in your inventory and match up the fragments.

The Infinite Ocean contains an amazing story that's revealed slowly as you progress. All you know to begin with is that you're in a grey room. Even clicking on an object that does nothing still offers you a glimpse of where you are via masterfully composed descriptions that create more suspense, atmosphere and intrigue than other games in the genre. Being told that a drink is "still warm" while knowing nothing is unsettling, and this unsettling feeling grows even as you learn more and more. It would be wrong to tell you... well, anything about the plot. The mystery that surrounds you when you first start the game is incredible and even simple details such as where the game takes place should be found out on your own.

Analysis: While the particulars of the story, ideas and questions The Infinite Ocean puts forth aren't new territory, the journals you'll find throughout at least broach them in the best way possible. You will get different sides of the story, including one you don't usually hear from (at least not in such a candid way). What is especially nice about the journals is that while they provide the back story you need, you will still have questions that will motivate you to learn even more.

The Infinite Ocean is great as an interactive narrative, but is somewhat lacking as a game. The puzzles aren't very plentiful or difficult. In fact, you'll probably have more trouble finding some of the objects than using them to complete a puzzle. The greys of The Infinite Ocean complement the mood and the themes of the game, but they can make finding a few of the smaller objects more difficult. The biggest problem is the navigation. Although the doors can be told apart by what's on the walls around each one, you may still find yourself going through the wrong door frequently if you aren't careful. Also, passwords are not automatically saved unless you click on them. And while this is a minor annoyance, if you're not careful you can end up leaving it behind, which can cause some confusion.

Gameplay issues aside, the real stars in this game are the story elements. The real puzzles, the important ones, aren't the ones you'll be solving with collected items. The real puzzles are the ones concerning your situation and those that are enlightened within the journal entries. The navigation issues can break up the momentum the game builds, but the frustration comes from the momentary denial of more of the story. You'll get so wrapped up in finding answers that you'll barely notice how few and far between the puzzles are. This is an incredible feat when you consider that the bulk of the game is text.

If you don't enjoy reading or are looking for a more traditional point-and-click adventure, you might be tempted to pass on The Infinite Ocean. However, if you do you'll be doing yourself a disservice. The Infinite Ocean sets up a mystery that persists even after you get some answers. It has a thick layer of philosophy and it invites a lot of discussion regarding both the plot and the issues raised. As mentioned before, it's not new territory, but it is compellingly implemented into a game. Now, go. Explore The Infinite Ocean.

Play The Infinite Ocean

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A Magnetic Adventure

JohnBMagnets, levers, buttons, switches, gears, springs, rope, blocks of wood... They all exist for one purpose: to create puzzles for us to solve! Or, at least they do in A Magnetic Adventure, a physics-based puzzle solving game from Alawar Games. Tied together with a loose story you'll forget the minute you learn it, A Magnetic Adventure is all about moving totems to special marks on certain parts of the stage. Getting there requires some creative puzzle solving of the "drag stuff around" nature.

A Magnetic AdventureAs you probably guessed, the central mechanic of A Magnetic Adventure is magnetics. You can click and drag loose metal objects in each level and use them to solve puzzles. Keys and locks, for example, are prime targets to be dragged around, and you can even turn wheels, gears, and switch levers that are made of metal. Anything blocked by another object, anything secured to the ground, or anything not made of metal (cursed wood! *shakes fist*) you can only affect indirectly, usually by moving something metal nearby and giving it a push.

Levels are unlocked groups at a time, allowing you to hop between a set of stages in case you get stuck. At the end of each map you'll get to complete a special puzzle stage with a different gimmick, most of which are at interesting (and quirky) enough to break up the straight cerebral gameplay. Each contraption is fairly simple to figure out, though from time to time you'll need to use a trial and error to learn what to do. Solving puzzles is almost all brain power, so you won't need to worry about pulling off last-second maneuvers to get the totem to the goal.

Analysis: A Magnetic Adventure is one of those games that takes some time to get started. A lengthy tutorial probably wasn't the best thing to include in the beginning, as it really extinguishes the impact the game could have the first time you fire it up. When the game gets started, though, you'll find the puzzles are exactly what you were looking for, and the game plays smoothly and looks great, too.

Where A Magnetic Adventure falters is its uneven execution. Some of the puzzles are wickedly difficult, while the rest are mostly ho-hum easy. Solutions occasionally require you to think laterally, but not often enough so you expect to do so, leaving you stuck from time to time. And I feel compelled to mention the level that takes place in the dark. Note to game developers: it's never a good idea to force your players to solve puzzles with only a flashlight. Especially when moving said flashlight is a cumbersome and ugly process. K THX BAI.

Despite an uneven experience, you'll still get a kick out of A Magnetic Adventure from start to finish. There are enough levels to keep you busy for several hours, and the presentation and control are just right to let you hop in and have a good time.

Download the demo
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Link Dump Fridays

DoraBouncy, outgoing website full of great reviews and free content seeks amazingly talented reader to play games and be Best Friends Forever with. Qualified applicants must be willing to enjoy free games cherry-picked from around the web... and if you have your own ponies we could ride together along the beach at sunset it might sweeten the pot a little. Must smell nice and have awesome hair. (Or a very shiny bald head.) Apply below.

  • Puzzling WarPuzzling War - WAR. Huah! (Good gawd, y'all!) What is it good for? Absolutely nothin' except dispatching troops in fantasy warfare via a match-3 system not unlike Bejeweled! SAY IT AGAIN!... uh, maybe not. That's kind of a mouthful. Although not nearly as fleshed out as it really needs to be, there's something addictive about this Corpse Craft-ish take on the genre. If only the graphics weren't so small and fuzzy. Ah well. Once more, for old time's sake? WAAAAAARRRR! You can't beat the classics.
  • Tiny Massive GalaxyTiny Massive Galaxy - Here we have a simple, cute little platform game where you play a little jelly cube hopping around obstacles and exploring. While it has a polished design, however, the levels just don't have enough variation or excitement to get you really engaged. It's also potentially nightmarish, if you really think about it. I mean, here you are, the hero, hopping through a candy-cotton fluff of a world to twinkly music... and you're ripping the hearts out of your own kind with your tongue to survive. That has to be a Stephen King story.
  • MomentumMomentum - A little bit Portal and a little bit My First Quantum Translocator, this puzzle/platformer game puts you in the sprockets of a tiny little robot running experiments. Running and jumping is easy for you, but how about harnessing the power of your own momentum to make huge leaps? It's adorable and fun once you get the hang of it, but you might feel a bit as if the controls are fighting you the whole way there. It's kind of like assembling Ikea furniture, only without the shoddy bookcase as a reward for completion.
  • Three Little CatsThree Little Cats - So I hear you like mudkips escape games. From Choko-Chai comes this adorable little spin on the Three Little Pigs where you (as three cats, or Nyan as the game calls them) have to escape from three different houses to avoid the Big Bad Wolf. It's silly, sweet, and quite possibly one of the cutest things I've seen in a long time. You might find the navigation a little tricky in some places due to some unfortunate pixel hunting, but this should be a nice chunk of puzzling to keep you escape fiends busy... for now. (DUN DUN DUN.)
  • Radio ZedRadio Zed - The dead walk, and they crave braaaaaaaaaains, delicious bloated on free speech and educated by public radio braaaaaaaaains! In this defense shooter game you play a group of people trying to defend a radio station during a zombie invasion. It's got gorgeous retro-ish visuals and should be a lot of fun, but unfortunately is bogged down with slow gameplay and terrible marksmanship. It's kind of like that one movie with Ving Rhames and Mena Suvari and... my gosh I've seen a lot of awful zombie movies.

JamesCorporation IncListen, running a corporation is hard. It's a non-stop task that gobbles up all your waking hours and forces you to hang around in the wee hours of the morning. It's balancing the see-saw of inter-office promotion politics on a tightrope walk of multilateral department coordination towards the achievement of the company mission statement and high dividend returns for the shareholders through the implementation of an effective management to grassroots strategy.

Or: I keep making sure everyone in a given office all have the same shirt colour. Get ready to rule the corporate world in the new simulation time management game Corporation Inc from Armor Games and jmtb02. If you can dig back far enough to the years when the 'Sim' series of games had nothing to do with person setting light to furniture and everything with cities, earthquakes, ants and earths. And Towers. Sim Tower challenged you to build a vertical empire, finding the perfect balance between offices, apartments, facilities and garbage disposal. Imperfect, yes... but fun.

Corporation Inc. revives the gameplay of that classic, but keeps the concept very lean: you only deal with an office environment, and you solely aim to build higher and make more money. You start by laying down an office can getting some workers. The purpose of your company is to push buttons, so every time a worker taps you get money. But the computers they tap on break, so you hire an I.T. guy, and when the end of the work day dawns, you employ a janitor to clean stuff up during the night. Happy workers are productive workers, so you start to employ H.R. staff to comfort them and Supervisors to encourage them with extreme prejudice and a stick. And let us not forget about the R&D department: research guys unlock all the upgrades in the game.

To house such an army, you construct the office building and assign seating. Though there is some movement horizontally, the design is clearly going to move up. Offices can be upgraded to serve specific departments and its performance, while elevators make sure people can actually get to their desks. They also might leave their desks, so investing in facilities like a gym, cafeteria and restrooms will encourage the button pushers to not stray too far. To keep them happy, throw in a couple of plants, perhaps a watercooler and, if they really (really) play nice, a vending machine. Do you know how many executive offices I could upgrade for the cost of one of those? On second thought, they will need to revolt before I spend THAT kind of dough. But before that happens you can hand out promotions.

Corporation IncAnalysis: To be fair, I am not entirely sure how you go about 'beating' Corporation Inc. The game has a build limit of 131 floors, but it will take you a while to get there. If the balance of your enterprise isn't right, such as perhaps not enough janitors to remove the trash or your workforce wastes a lot of time waiting for elevators, you make less money. Upgrades and promotions increase productivity and performance, so you make more money. Cats... you will collect a lot of cats. Everything is reflected in a daily budget sheet, basically a big number that tells you if you made more or less than the previous day. More is obviously good.

While there definitely is a point to Corporation Inc (as reflected by the high score leaderboard), it's not a game where you need to worry about a purpose, other than creating your own ivory tower with a legion of willing slaves pushing buttons for your bottom line. Simply playing Corporation Inc is fun and it saves your tower, so you can pick up and take off as you feel like it. There were a few bugs and annoyances in one of the early versions I played, but there is far more right than wrong going on here. A smart interface, intuitive graphics and intuitive gameplay form the perfect illusion that makes you feel productive. One concern I should highlight: the game slows down when the screen gets busy, so users of lower-end machines could find it cumbersome after a while. But overall Corporation Inc is worth checking out at least once. Capitalism demands it.

Play Corporation Inc.

Thanks to Repairmanman, Victor and Joey for sending this one in!

Babylon Sticks: Must Be A Beta comic

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

DoraGilI'd like you to meet Gil, a new platform game by the fine folks at Animals Play Games (Alex Miller, Tyler Rigsby, and Owen Whitcomb). Gil is the little guy in charge of a lighthouse on his tiny planet the day a group of evil robots appear and steal his lightbulbs. Clearly, this insult will not stand, and thus we now have a tenuous reason to go out into the world and engage in a lot of really tricky platforming that more often than not results in Gil's piteous cries. Hooray! It's time to load up on the Three Ps; Platforming, Patience, and Persistence. Trust me; you'll need a lot of each.

Control Gil with the left and right [arrow] keys to move, and hit [X] to jump. If you walk off a ledge without jumping, you can actually jump once in midair by hitting [X]. At the end of each level is a lightbulb. You want it. Get Gil to the lightbulb by any means necessary, and avoid touching anything that might kill him along the way... like spikes, enemies, lasers, rockets, water... well, most things, really, and you'll find even more as you progress. A single hit is enough to send our hero back to the start of a level, so you need to be very careful. That's right, friends and neighbours; Gil works on the dreaded one-hit KO. Clearly, this little pink fellow is more hardcore than you or I.

GilAnalysis: This game is hard. That might be the entirety of an analysis right there, but you probably want some clarification. While not as apparently spitefully difficult as, say Wrath of Anubis or its wrathier sequel, Gil is probably going to still cause a few blue words. Since you can always see the entire level no matter where you are you won't find any unfair surprises sprung on you, but so many jumps and runs require near pixel-perfect actions. The spring platforms, for example, don't provide you with the big, bouncing boost you need unless you hit the [X] key at just the right moment when you touch down.

Later levels actually become more puzzle oriented in their construction. You'll still probably die a lot, but you'll go hmmm while you do it. Although there are no checkpoints, most stages are short enough that you probably won't need them anyway. Since you tend to unlock new areas before you complete the one you're working on, you can always skip ahead and come back to finish old levels later. The only level I personally felt compelled to pass on was the final stage of the mountains which had me... well, I won't go into detail, but if you want to imagine me twirling in the countryside singing to the mountains while butterflies lit on my outstretched arms, that'd probably be a better picture.

And yet despite everything, I still kept coming back. A greater variety of items to use might have spiced things up a bit, but that jetpack is still mighty adorable, and figuring out the proper order to do things (and then pulling it off) is incredibly satisfying. One thing's for sure; a lightbulb never felt like such a momentous accomplishment. Never fear, GIL! is here!... and the peasants rejoiced.

Play Gil

DoraMuseum of Science FictionIn Museum of Science Fiction, a new top-down horror shooter game from Keith Kong, something is rotten in the state of Denmark. Or, um, Washington, to be more precise. (Kinda.) You were just another tourist, visiting the popular museum, when the next thing you knew you were waking up in the dark, deep underground, and inexplicably armed to the teeth. Where are you? What's going on? Who keeps scribbling you cryptic messages on the floor?! You know that won't was off, right? I just know I'm getting blamed for this.

The goal in each level is to reactive the elevator so you can make your escape. Move your character with [WASD], and aim and shoot with the mouse. Cycle weapons with [E], and place mines with the [spacebar]. Your health is represented in the bottom left corner; when you're feelin' fine and dandy, it glows a healthy green, but take too many hits and it'll begin to turn red. If you avoid taking damage, your health gradually regenerates. You've got three lives per level; die, and you'll be instantly revived where you stand, but if those lives run out, you'll be forced to restart the level... or, uh. Not. If you don't care about your score, you can choose to continue anyway and the game will let you revive as much as you want, at the cost of being unable to gain any points for the rest of the level.

Museum of Science FictionAnalysis: Unlike similar titles in the genre, the Museum's strongest point comes from its atmosphere. Despite fairly simplistic visuals, the game does a great job of managing to creep you out with sound, and the scribbled clues can raise the hair on the back of your neck. As you play, you'll discover surviving means utilising your environment and your arsenal to your best advantage. The higher you go, the more the Museum throws at you, from robots who would like nothing better than to exteeerrrrrrminaaaate! you to swooping electric creatures that are invulnerable to traditional means of attack. You'll find creatures that burrow out of the walls, vicious parasites that spring from the remains of fallen enemies, and more. It would all be so wonderful, if not for that stupid elevator.

Repetition is probably the Museum's biggest problem. Trudging through levels to activate an elevator then trudging all the way back while trying not to get your face eaten quickly wears thin. Admittedly the levels do a nice job of providing some distraction, since most of them introduce something new to contend with. Still, the novelty of any stage quickly wears thin once you realise you're just going to have to backtrack to where you started, and it gets especially frustrating when later levels start to feel a bit too much like drawn-out shooter grind-fests in identical corridors. As a result, the last half of the game loses a lot of atmosphere of the first, and the ending feels abrupt and unsatisfying.

While not perfect, Museum of Science Fiction still manages to distinguish itself from the hordes of samey top-down shooters out there. (Although the overall goofy tone of the notes you find does give the impression it's parodying the genre at least to some degree.) Greater variety would have been nice, but the game still accomplishes an impressive amount with very little. Despite not reinventing the genre, it provides a fun, polished experience. Oh, and next time? Do yourself a favour and take the stairs.

Play Museum of Science Fiction

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Joshhostagecrisis.jpg[Cue dramatic music and movie trailer voice] In a world... where you have to fight to survive... a world with destructible environments and numerous pixilated enemies... there is a crisis like none other. But one man... had one mission... to save the scantily-clad hostages... no matter what the cost! No, it's not the next Van Damme or Schwarzenegger flick... it's... Hostage Crisis! [Cue massive explosion]

This new action title (which credits its inspiration to the downloadable game "Ultra Mission") has you controlling a Rambo-like commando (complete with tiny pixilated red bandana) as you storm an office complex in an attempt to rescue numerous blonde female hostages. The [WASD] keys move your character, while the mouse aims and clicking fires your machine gun. There are also secondary weapons such as grenades, timed charges, and radio-triggered explosives that can be thrown with the [spacebar]. The object is to collect all the hostages across 14 levels before getting killed or harming the defenseless ladies. If you fail (and it will probably happen quite a bit), you can thankfully keep retrying a level until you beat it.

A nice touch to this game is its dynamic environments, which can buckle or crumble when hit by an explosion. Want to avoid a hallway teeming with dangerous bad guys? Just blow up the nearby wall with a grenade and walk around them. Uncomfortable about a group of baddies clustering in the next room? Plant a satchel charge on the wall and wipe up the mess afterwards. The only problem is that the hostages are usually in the line of fire or within the blast radius of exploding walls, so careful shot and explosive placement is vital to your success.

Hostage Crisis is a fun title in the style of Smash TV and the classic PC game Cannon Fodder. The controls are fluid, gameplay is fast, and the small retro-looking characters with their tiny detachable limbs give the game a slick (albeit cutesy-gory) look. I was pleased with the AI in the game, which will at times cause the bad guys to huddle near a hostage, making things more challenging. There's also a somewhat random element to the action on each level, making you experiment with different strategies to get past tricky sections. While the gameplay is a bit short and a few in-game ads are a bit too blatant, overall Hostage Crisis is a fun shooting romp that should satisfy your need to play hero during your coffee break.

Play Hostage Crisis

Weekday Escape

GrinnypThis week's escape the room game is a look back at one of our favorite designers, Tesshi-e. Long before Tesshi-e discovered a save button, long before they found a competent translator, long before we first featured one of their games (Escape from the Living Room), Tesshi-e created a cute little puzzler that deserves a spot in the Weekday Escape spotlight. Welcome to Escape from the Dome Room!

Escape from the Dome RoomHow did we get to the Dome Room? Why are we there? How did we get locked in? As the prologue is entirely in Japanese, it is up to a faithful fellow escaper who can read the language to let us know. All we know is that there is a mysterious door, so of course we have to open it and get ourselves locked in. It's what we do, people, we're room escapers!

Yes, Tesshi-e's later efforts are fun and easier (due to the new translations), but in this case the way-back machine takes us to a simpler time, when the game designers were still finding their feet. Escape from the Dome Room has a lot of the problems that plagued early efforts, no English translation, pixel hunting galore, and very familiar music. But that doesn't mean that the game isn't worth a look-see. Au contraire.

Escape from the Dome Room is still a gem. There are some fun and innovative puzzles, the usual gorgeous scenery, and you frankly just have to love a game that requires that you drink wine to escape the space (ooops, spoiler alert!). Yes, there is pixel hunting, the navigation takes a bit of getting used to, and the clickable areas of some objects are odd, but despite the flaws this is quite a fun little game. Here we see the genesis of what would later become some fantastic games (Escape from Mr. K's Room 2, Escape from Restaurant Minshio). There's a lot to enjoy in this look way back when (all of a year and a half ago). Time sure flies when you're having fun.

So yes, pixel hunting. Yes, no English translation. That doesn't mean you shouldn't give Escape from the Dome Room a try and enjoy seeing this early and amusing effort. As we look forward to the next big thing, a little retrospective never hurts as we also look back to the past and have fun comparing it to the present. And despite the flaws, there is still a lot of entertaining room escaping to be had. And yes, even back then there was an alternate happy coin escape. What are you waiting for? Get drinking! Er, rather, get escaping.

Play Escape from the Dome Room

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Game Design Competition #9EA 2DCasual Gameplay

All Casual Gameplay Design Competition #9 game entries are now available to play!!

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

Although you can find all the games on the official CGDC9 competition page, following is a list of the entries and direct links to each one:

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

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

Thanks to everyone for your support, and especially to our sponsors for making this competition possible: EA2D and Casual Gameplay. Please visit them and show your support!


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BradToxersIn Toxers, a collaboration between Bad Viking and robotJAM, you'll find yourself doing turn-based battle with bugs who became mutated after an ice cream factory explodes. Your goal is to get out of town through the only bridge available. Unfortunately, it's blocked by one big mother of a bug the media has dubbed "Bugzilla." You're going to have to take it down, but you're not going to leave before you clean up the city by completing 15 missions in various areas around town.

The city map consists of 16 areas, not counting the bridge. Only two will be unlocked at the beginning. When you enter an area you'll be presented with a 6x6 grid that you'll have to explore. Each area has a mission, such as destroying bug nests. When you find a square containing something related to the mission, you'll make a little progress. As you move your character around the grid looking for the mission objectives, there's a lot of other things you'll encounter. Some squares don't have anything at all, others have hostile bugs, you can also find consumable items and survivors. There are some actions you can take to make searching a little easier. Shouting can help you locate survivors and once you purchase the scanner it will show you what's in surrounding squares when you use it. Keep in mind that everything you do takes up time and once you hit your time limit the day ends and you're sent back to the map screen.

As mentioned above, as you explore you'll come across survivors who will join up with you. On the map screen, you can click the roster tab to equip two survivors to bring with you into the fray. Each survivor has bonuses they give when you equip them. These bonuses can be boosts to damage and defense or may cut the time used up by certain actions. There's also the standard equippable weapons and defense items. You can equip one defense item and two offensive weapon, a gun which requires ammo and a melee item.

ToxersAnalysis: There's two ways to play through Toxers. There's the OCD way where you fully explore every area, get every character and basically just power through the whole game. Then, there's the tactical way where you'll use a mixture of survivors and equipment to help you pinpoint squares with important items. No matter how you play, Toxers is a long game. The length is good if you like games that last. It's bad because Toxers can get somewhat repetitive, especially given how your role in completing missions is mostly passive. You'll probably want to play it in bits and pieces instead of in one long sitting.

Despite the repetition Toxers is fun. It's always exciting to see what the next square holds. What really keeps Toxers enjoyable is the well done battle system. When in battle only one bug will attack you each turn, so you won't get overwhelmed. This makes the individual battles less dangerous, while still taking away enough health that you'll need to be careful for the rest of the day. This keep battles quick and makes the game challenging without it becoming frustrating. While the turn-based combat and the equipment make this RPG-ish, it is missing the big RPG factor of experience points. You won't be able to make your character stronger by battling, only through better equipment and your companions. This also keeps the game moving as you won't need to keep fighting and fighting in order to make progress.

Toxers is a simple game that can be played in many different ways. It would benefit from a little more depth, especially when it comes to the missions. Despite that, it's fun to play and it will keep you busy for awhile. Add in distinct visuals that will be familiar to anyone who's played a robotJAM game in the past and you have a quality game. It might get a bit old after awhile, but if you step away from it for awhile you'll find it very easy to come back. If you hate the mutated bugs and their humanity hating monkeyshines, you'll have a great time blasting and bludgeoning your way through Toxers.

Play Toxers

joyeEcho BazaarHello, delicious friend. London has been stolen. Well, that depends on who you talk to, actually; it's never very wise to talk about politics, and the status quo has a number of powerful supporters. It has something to do with the Traitor Empress... or perhaps Hell... or perhaps... No, too dangerous to even speculate. Anyway, however it happened, London is Fallen. You've left the Surface and now make your home there, in the Neath. Why did you do so? Write your own narrative in this fascinating multiplayer roleplaying browser game from Fail Better Games, Echo Bazaar. Please note that you must sign in with either Twitter or Facebook to play the game.

Although dramatically different in tone and setting, Echo Bazaar is perhaps best compared to perennial JIG favorite Kingdom of Loathing, so if you've ever tried that game you'll get the hang of things relatively quickly. You have a "candle" which is your bank of 10 actions, and you can spend them by playing cards, doing storylets, and using objects. This action bank will slowly recharge over the day back up to ten actions. Once per day, you can "echo" a usually creepy statement on Twitter or Facebook to refresh your action bank back to 10. Over the course of an entire 24-hour period, you have a hard limit of 70 actions, and once that's used up, you'll have to wait until the next day. If you spend real money in the form of "fate", you can buy more actions per day or upgrade your action bank to 20. You also occasionally get Fate free for completing certain missions.

Your character can be male, female, or undetermined, and your gender doesn't really affect anything other than the pronouns and similar things. What does affect your destiny is your stats: persuasive (charisma), dangerous (strength/constitution), shadowy (dexterity), and watchful (wisdom/intelligence). Playing cards and stories usually involves a challenge to one of these stats. The relationship between your level in that stat and the difficulty of the task has a wide range from "straightforward" to "almost impossible". When you succeed, you generally get some objects as a reward, an increase to the challenged stat, and maybe an increase in a storyline or trait. When you fail, sometimes there's no penalty at all, but in higher levels there is increasingly a negative penalty, generally an increase in one of the four menace categories: suspicion, wounded, scandal and nightmares. When these levels get too high, as the game puts it, "something bad may happen."

But you're not alone in this, at least hopefully not. You can call upon people who are Twitter and Facebook friends with you who also play the game. You can ask them for help with diminishing scandal, unburden yourself from your nightmares, have a friendly game of chess, and much more. While the game is certainly playable without many friends or even any at all (I only have two), the game is really best played within a social framework. That includes the PvP "Game of Knife and Candle".

Echo BazaarAnalysis: Often with these kind of games, there's not a lot of tech support even if you are spending real money, and if you're not spending money, well, forget it. I was pleasantly surprised that when I ran into a problem on Echo Bazaar, the bug report I sent (which I imagined would vanish into the ether) received a response that same day. The Echo Bazaar staff member helped me get everything fixed, which was wonderful, because otherwise a few days of game play would have been wasted. This kind of prompt and efficient tech support to even players who haven't spent money is the kind of thing that really makes loyal players.

The game also has a slow but steady flow of new content, and they're not simply adding content to the end game to please their longtime players. They have also been adding new storylines, cards, and ventures to the early and mid-game sections. In addition, they usually have special events on real world holidays which will be added to your profile, such as Halloween's "A Veteran of All-Hollow's Eve" ("You've seen things. RUBBERY things.")

A last word of recommendation: although you can play via Facebook, playing via Twitter is really what the game was designed for and it's where the "action" is, so to speak. All the NPCs have Twitter accounts, and the nature of what you echo (#ebz) is designed around Twitter hashtags. Plus, it just looks really out of place on a Facebook page. I had to field a worried call from my mother that my Facebook page had been hacked. Don't upset your mother: play on Twitter.

While prerequisite of signing in with either social network might be a turn off to some players, if you take the plunge you'll find a surprisingly robust role-playing experience full of dark fantasy, dark streets, dark humour, and... well, you get the idea. The game offers up some genuinely intriguing story full of tongue-in-cheek moments, mixing serious intrigue with surreal fantasy. With a lot of polish, a lot of content, and a lot of style all its own, Echo Bazaar is one of the most unique RPGs out there, and definitely worth a look.

Play Echo Bazaar

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The Vault

DoraIt's time! It's time! It's time to crack the Vault! There's a veritable Willy Wonka's worth of wonderful content in there, and this week we're bringing you puzzles of various shapes and sizes. For one person a puzzle can be something to twist their brain and leave them sweating but satisfied with a job well done. For others a puzzle can be a slow, thoughtful experience, as enlightening as it is entertaining. Here are three of our favourite puzzle(ish) games from over the years upon which you may sup. Bon appétit!

  • NetNet - Called "the game for the mind", Net is a simple-in-concept randomly generated puzzle where the goal is simply to provide power to all the red cells on the field, changing them to green, by rotating the pathways on the board. Pāvils Jurjān's devious time sink is sure to get all your neurons firing, and with different sizes and the ability to wrap borders, can be as difficult as you like. (Which, knowing you brainiacs, is probably going to be "very".) While not big on bells and whistles, Net's pick-up-and-play style combined with its vast replay value makes it the perfect casual gameplay equivalent of the morning crossword. Or, you know, something to keep you up at the monitor at night, reeking of madness and desperation. Whichever.
  • HaplandHapland - If you're not familiar with the works of internet frontiersman Rob Allen, that's something you should rectify right away, and there's no better place to start than his classic, surreal point-and-click puzzle series about terrible things happening to little stickmen whose only crime is apparently wandering into this bizarre realm. Just click around the environment, discovering what things you can interact with, and figuring on the proper method and timing to do so that doesn't result in stickman death and make you feel like a horrible, horrible person. Part interactive art, part exercise in exploration, and part Three Stooges-esque comedy, Hapland is a tricky but fun and weird bit of adventure that will make you grin from ear to ear. Unless you're a stickman yourself, in which case we suppose you can't grin because all you have is a featureless, smooth black orb for a face. Creepy.
  • ShiftShift - If there's one thing that sets my heart aflutter (aside from pineapple pizza and cats being forced to wear tiny outfits), it's soothing, exploratory pieces of interactive art. In this lovely game from White Kiwi, the only real goal is discovery and beauty. You play a tiny, fairy-like creature in a mysterious forest that is initially dark and foreboding. Click to interact with your environment, and solve simple puzzles to reveal the world around you. The lack of instructions might initially be a bit of a turn-off for some players, but Shift also doesn't come with any sort of penalties. If you've played one too many twitch shooters lately, or just find that life is getting you down, Shift's short but sweet experience is like a cup of warm, aromatic tea for the soul.

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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FragmentsArtbegottiAre you a shape-shifter? I'm not talking about becoming a contortionist or going on some game show where you try to squeeze your body through a styrofoam wall that knocks you into a pool, I'm talking about shifting fragments to make a fine design. Fragments is a tile-sliding puzzle by Ozzie Mercado that's as simple as getting in touch with your shape-shifting side, with a bit of planning and some geometric twists.

In each puzzle, you'll find a grid with some fragments of shapes. Your goal is to align these fragments with the darkened pattern in the background by sliding the fragments around the board until they fall into place. To move a fragment, click and drag a fragment in the direction you want it to move (or click the fragment then click the corresponding arrow). You'll notice two twists that may hinder (or help) your progress, the first being that any piece that you slide will continue to slide until it hits a wall or another piece. That's not a terribly new concept, but the second twist might throw you for a loop; the pieces you're sliding around can fit in the grid together. In other words, You can slide one triangle into the same square as another triangle (assuming they're oriented properly). Conversely, you can use triangles to stop squares and mis-oriented triangles.

There are fifty levels to tackle, and getting through them is made slightly easier by the fact that while clearing a level unlocks the next level, making the level par unlocks two levels, letting you skip ahead more quickly. One slight gripe you'll probably come across is that it's sometimes hard to tell where the target design is when it's partially covered by the pieces, but Ozzie was kind enough to throw in an undo button to make correcting mistakes easier. Mix in a mellow color scheme and a funky riff in the background, and you've got a fun puzzle to slide right into.

Play Fragments

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DoraAll We Need Is BrainLove may make the world go 'round, but All We Need is Brain! This new puzzle game from VladG takes away the typical tools for a zombie invasion like shotguns, pick-up trucks, and scantily-clad co-eds, and places them with just one; brains. A number in the top left corner displays how many brains you have available to use per level, and all you need to do is click on the screen to drop them. As long as zombies can smell it (the range is indicated by some fetching green stink lines) they'll move towards them. If you get stuck, just click the reset button in the bottom right corner to instantly reload. Although things start out simple with good old fashioned land mines and acid pools like Grandma used to make, All We Need is Brain gradually ramps up and includes things like physics contraptions and forcing you to react quickly in order to pull off the all-important dirt-nap.

It's just kind of disappointing that it feels like the game runs out of things to keep the gameplay fresh fairly early on. Instead of using a wide variety of environmental tools, you're stuck with a few elements that you just reuse in increasingly complicated fashion across bigger levels. The other problem is that although the physics are generally reliable, there will still be a few times when you have to cross your fingers and hope everything happens the way it should. This isn't a big deal on early levels, where resetting just sets you back a few seconds, but the farther you go and the more complicated stages become, the more it stings when you're forced to reload for any reason.

Zombies. You can't live with them because they want to crack open your skull like a Cadbury's Creme Egg, but you can't live without them because then what would the nerds do in our downtime? Zombie shooters are a dime a dozen, so it's always nice to see a new take on everyone's favourite shambling monstrosities. While the premise and basic gameplay of All We Need is Brain is simple, it's presented in such a silly, charming package that it's a lot of fun to play, and a welcome addition to the puzzle game stable. Just remember, kids, this is only a game. In real life you always double-tap.

Play All We Need Is Brain

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Game Design Competition #9EA 2DCasual Gameplay

CGDC #9 deadline is midnight tonight!!
Monday, November 15, 2010 at 11:59PM (GMT-5:00)

You have just under 24 hours left to get your games finished up and submitted in time for our 9th Casual Gameplay Design Competition. Remember that updates and bug fixes are permitted throughout the competition period, which begins on Tuesday and runs through December 6th. So get your games into a playable state and send them in. Don't forget to fill out the official CGDC9 Entry Form.

Please be sure to read all the rules and guidelines for this competition before submitting an entry.

Update: Time's Up! All entries are in! Check back later to play the competition games!

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doodledevil.jpgJohnBIn the beginning, there was nothing. Then, some things were created by an all-benevolent superbeing-type god. A not-so-benevolent deity also has a job to do, though, and once the world exists, his task is to cause a little mayhem. The original Doodle God, available in both an iPhone version and a Flash browser game, focused on creating the universe by mixing basic elements one after the other. Doodle Devil, on the other hand, is about crafting the darker side of life, blending rudimentary concepts together to create chaos.

The mechanics in Doodle Devil are identical to Doodle God, so if you know how to play the original, you've got a good start for this game. Simply tap one of the element groups to open it up, then tap a second group to open those elements on the facing side of the screen. Touch an element, then touch another to try combining them. Things start off rather symbolically with just a human and an apple to combine. Mix them and you get sin and knowledge, soon to become a dozen or so basic elements ripe for the mixing.

If you get stuck, and you will get stuck on many, many occasions, there are two types of hints available in Doodle Devil. The single lightbulb gives you a possible creation and lets you guess which elements combine to make it. The dual lightbulbs hint opens two element categories with the promise that at least one match can be made with the shown icons. Hints are on a recharge timer, so even if you're really stumped, it's just a matter of time before you'll find your way.

Like Doodle Devil? Then try:

Analysis: More Doodle God is never a bad thing, and even though Doodle Devil doesn't reinvent the alchemical wheel, there's still plenty to love. The series distills a very basic element found at the core of all video games: exploration and discovery. Who doesn't love turning over another stone to see if there's treasure? Doodle Devil does the same thing, only instead of finding coins inside of a ceramic pot, you roll the dice and try mixing fire with apples to see what will happen.

At first, many of the combinations you try will work, simply because you only have a handful of things to mix and an entire world of things to create. With each new match you make, Doodle Devil treats you to a quote related to your discovery, sometimes a poignant one, sometimes a funny one, sometimes a simple proverb. It's a nice bit of flavor text either way, and it adds to the element of discovery.

Just like its predecessor, Doodle Devil suffers the same trial-and-error pitfall late in the game. It's wildly entertaining when most things you try to combine produce something new. But later on, when you've got precious few things to create and dozens of elements you can combine, you realize it's just a matter of trying to mix everything with everything else. Not very challenging, but it doesn't ruin an otherwise entertaining game.

Doodle Devil only expands the series' number of elements by 80 or so, as many of the game's 107 elements are recycled from Doodle God. Still, with the great-looking artwork and simple but rewarding gameplay, it's tough to find a more engaging experience in a casual game.

Play Doodle Devil (Flash version)

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Mobile Monday

JohnBThere are three things in this universe you cannot ignore: a zombie apocalypse where the zombies are part ninja, part robot, and on fire, free bacon, and a game release with not one but multiple all-star developers working behind the scenes. And SteamBirds is the latter, so practice your non-ignoring skills today!

steambirds1.jpgSteamBirds - Recognize the name? You should, as SteamBirds is a mobile port of the browser game released earlier this year, created by Andy Moore (Fantastic Contraption), Daniel Cook (Bunni), and DannyB (Canabalt). In other words, it's fantastic. The turn-based aerial dogfighting game pits you against a series of increasingly difficult enemies with your small squadron of planes. Set and change your course each turn, unleashing special abilities to keep you ahead of the game. Stay close to keep the pressure on your foes, but be careful not to play too offensively, as you'll make yourself more vulnerable than necessary. Every bit as great as the browser incarnation, and worth trying if you've got the hardware!

smurfsvillage.jpgSmurf's Village - The freemium games continue to pour in to the iTunes App Store, delivering titles such as We Rule and GodFinger. Now, Capcom gets in on the action with Smurf's Village, a village building sim starring those tiny little blue characters from the cartoon! On the run from Gargamel, the Smurfs decide to set up a new village in a secret location. In order to survive, they must grow and harvest food, and in order to attract their smurf kin back to the village, they need to keep expanding. Just like other freemium games, it takes time to grow crops, build buildings, do research, etc. Time that progresses just like in real life, so when a shop needs two hours to function again, you have to wait two hours. To speed things up, you can purchase smurf berries that instantly complete any project, though these cost real money. Smurf's Village is a lot like We Rule in design, though the added bonus of the Smurfs' visual style might just win you over.

wordmicester.jpgWord Micester - A lovely little word game that is essentially a souped-up version of single player Scrabble with multiple game modes. Help Sydney the mouse create word chains by placing letter tiles on the grid. The more elaborate the chains, the higher your chances of uncovering new labs filled with cheese. Blueprints and Evade modes allow you to fill the grid, each with their own unique restrictions, while Decode Mode is all about unscrambling letters to find the hidden password. At the end of the day, though, it's all about getting cheese. And who among us wants much more than a few word games and good cheese? Also available on the Google Play Android Games.

sirlovalot.jpgSir Lovalot - A "no-button" climbing game where you play a knight looking to rescue princesses held aloft in a really tall tower. Tilt the iPhone left and right to change direction. The knight is constantly jumping, so time your moves to land on platforms the rotating tower presents. It plays a lot like Doodle Jump mixed with "that level from Super Ghouls and Ghosts" (you know which one I'm talking about), and the challenge is certainly there, though you have to climb a bit to find falling platforms, spikes, and other dangers/helpful power-ups. The best part is the collectible loot you get to hoard!

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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The Ball

Cory Indiana Jones had it easy, if you think about it. I mean, sure, he had to run from a boulder that was chasing him down a narrow hallway, but once he got away from the boulder their relationship was over. What if that's not how things ended, though? What if Indy and the boulder hit it off and decided to become partners? Well, that's the premise of The Ball, a new physics puzzler from Teotl Studios.

The BallIn The Ball, you play an unnamed archaeologist who accidentally falls into an ancient system of ruins during a dig. There, he discovers a bizarre ancient weapon which can control the titular ball. Move with the [WASD] keys, crouch with [C] and jump with the [spacebar]. To manipulate the ball, use the [left] mouse button to fire your hammer-gun to shove it away, or hold the [right] mouse button to pull it towards you. While rolling the ball in front of you, it becomes transparent, making it easy to push it along while keeping it close by.

Simply rolling the ball around isn't enough, though. There are puzzles to solve, and to do that you'll need help from the ball. The most basic kind of puzzle involves standing on a blue switch and using the ball to hit an orange switch at the same time. You'll also use the ball as a platform to protect you against dangerous terrain as well as work with levers and doors to move the ball through places it normally wouldn't fit. Your globular companion is quite large, you see, and it doesn't exactly fit in your pocket.

Then there's combat. Glorious, squish-filled combat. When the various evil denizens of the ruins come calling, the best way to handle them is obvious: hit them with the ball. They won't just stand there and allow themselves to be smashed, but you're clever enough and fast enough to get the job done without much trouble. Enemies larger than the ball, however, must be dealt with using parts of the level to deal damage. Which translates as more puzzle solving!

The BallAnalysis: Physics puzzle games have become more and more popular since the release of Portal, a game that shares a number of thematic similarities with The Ball. Unlike a lot of physics games, though, this game does full justice to its concept and builds an entire experience around one simple but versatile mechanic. And it does it in an entertaining, engaging way without sacrificing gameplay or overall quality.

The Ball is almost a character in itself, since it serves as your companion throughout the game. You'll learn the best ways to wield it to accomplish your goals as you play, which is important because the game consistently ramps up the difficulty. Early on the puzzles aren't too tough, but later levels are real stumpers, to say nothing of the huge and impressive bosses. One highlight of the game is the variety of levels available. While the basic mechanics of The Ball remain the same throughout, the way that they're used is constantly changed up and toyed with. The first time you'll see this will be the oil and rope puzzle, and you'll grin when you figure out how to solve that one!

The Ball runs on Unreal Engine 3, an advanced engine for games with intense graphics and physics, so you'll need a relatively powerful computer to run the game at a decent speed. On a computer that can handle it, though, the game is gorgeous. Screenshots hardly do it justice.

The Ball is a great example of a physics game done right. The puzzles make sense, the combat doesn't feel tacked, on and the presentation is amazing. On top of that, the game's plot is interesting; the mystery of the ruins and the ball's origin will keep players delving further. Just keep in mind not to touch the Ark of the Covenant if you come across it during your explorations. That thing's dangerous.

Download the demo
Get the full version

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

Cooking Dash 3

joyeGiven how many of us have hectic, high-pressure jobs in real life, it's an amazing paradox that we love simulating the experience in our time off through time management games. Yet we keeping dashing through dairy farms, hotels, even parking lots. However, none of that can compare to being in sole control of a restaurant and making it run like clockwork. In Cooking Dash 3: Thrills and Spills, you, as Flo, sweep through a series of food venues in an amusement park like a cuter and more clean-mouthed Gordon Ramsay, turning run-down establishments into money makers. It's a refreshing prequel that furthers tightens an already impressive series.

Cooking Dash 3The heart of the gameplay involves seating, serving, and cashing out a plethora of customers, from the patient old man to the high maintenance celebrity. Once a customer thought-bubbles an order, you click on various stations to assemble it, serve it, give them some time to eat it, and then take their money and clear their dishes. You'll have to keep a close eye on the happiness meter of hearts floating over their heads to make sure that you prioritize. You can increase your efficiency by chaining actions together and by using your profits to buy upgrades between levels. You'll also have opportunities between levels to earn prepared dishes through a variety of mini-games, such as hidden object scenes, speed collecting, and catching falling food items on a tray. If you're here for the dashing and nothing but the dashing, all the mini-games are skippable.

Don't be afraid to spend your money on all the upgrades you can, because when you finish an area and move to the next, you'll start completely over with no money and no upgrades. However, each area has its own kinds of cuisine, from fried fish at a pirate restaurant to spooky "eye balls" made from two big meatballs and two strategically placed olive slices at a haunted house restaurant. The different ways of making the food, and a steady introduction of new kinds of customers and upgrades, keeps it from being repetitive.

Cooking Dash 3Analysis: Even in "casual" mode, the difficulty level is high. Like most dash games, making a serious mistake can have cascading effects, leaving you scrambling as one customer after another leaves in a huff. When the mistake was due to your own poor planning, that's one thing. However, particularly on some levels with small clicking areas for different objects directly adjacent to each other, in the flurry of clicking it can be maddeningly easy to click the wrong thing, and there's no way to undo anything.

While the game's AI generally does a pretty good job at determining what you're trying to do in your chains based on what the people have ordered, the rare screw-ups are extremely irritating when they happen. For example, I had Flo carrying a burger on one plate and a ham sandwich on the other, and I wanted tomato on the burger and lettuce on the ham, so I set up a chain to do this. The game, however, put the tomato on the ham, because there was also a character who had ordered a ham and tomato sandwich. Because I had already chained the lettuce, I could only watch in horror as Flo cheerfully added lettuce to the burger. Not only had no one ordered a burger with lettuce, but the customer who ordered the burger with tomato was down to one heart and before I could get another burger on the grill, he stormed out of the restaurant taking my only chance of finishing the level at "expert" with him. "Command-Q" never felt so good, readers.

That said, it all goes back to what I mentioned in my first paragraph about the paradoxical charm of these time management games. They are maddening, stress-raising, ragequit-inducing, time-sucking vortices, and yet somehow that's what makes them so addictive. It really wasn't very long before, almost against my will, my cursor was creeping to the applications menu to give the game another go. I guess it's the adrenaline rush and the exhilaration when you finally do wrestle a level into submission. The game is an excellent length too, easily six hours even in the regular edition. Nitpicks aside, the only thing I'd like to see them change in the next game is maybe the star. I would totally pay for a Collector's Edition of Cooking Dash 4: Gordon Ramsay Edition.

A Collector's Edition is also available. It contains an in-game strategy guide, wallpaper, screen savers, and an extra area that will lengthen the game by another hour or two depending on your play speed. 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.

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

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Download the demo
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Also available: Collector's Edition

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The Machine

JohnBThe Machine is a simple-looking but intricate building puzzle game created by Bumpkin Brothers. Just like The Incredible Machine, The Codex of Alchemical Engineering, Armadillo Run and countless other "assembly line" titles, The Machine charges you with fulfilling certain orders using machinery, moving parts, and bits and bobs that change the size or color of the product being manufactured. Things start off simple enough, but as any great puzzle game, before long you'll have plenty to contend with.

The MachineThe Machine is 3D and takes place on a series of cubes floating free in space. Not outer space, just, you know, an empty space. Rotate your point of view using the [WASD] or [arrow] keys, and zoom in/out with [Q] and [E]. The bar at the top of the screen allows you access to your inventory as well as a few basic tools for editing your creation. To place pieces, just click the big plus sign, select a part, move your cursor over a cube, and click. You can rotate pieces using the [F] key or by clicking the right mouse button.

Now it's time to get something done! Dispensers churn out blank cubes when you switch the machine on. You need to get those cubes to the green bin located somewhere else on the level. At the bottom of the screen you'll see the goals for each stage, something like "three medium blue cubes". Use inventory parts to change the size and color of the blank cubes, and use conveyor belts to move them from point A to point B (a.k.a. point WIN!). Your options are restricted by the level's layout, but figuring out where pieces go and how to accomplish your goal with limited equipment gets challenging.

What's that? You want to play user-created levels and build your own puzzles using an editor? Hey, more power to you! The Machine comes with both features, and they're so easy to use, even a proto-caveman can use them (see what we did there?). Another excellent feature is Free Play that allows you to play around with the game's machinery without worrying about meeting level goals. How awesome is that?!

The MachineAnalysis: The Machine takes the rather colorless world of building puzzle games and adds some whimsy. All of the objects have a quirky look about them, almost as if they were rendered in a 3D drawing program released in 1993. Most of the time this would be disappointing, but here, it's charming. Colors are bright and basic and machines have a cute design to them (a telephone splits cubes?!), so you never get bogged down by the logical details that drive the gameplay.

Normally, building games like this feature dozens of parts with subtly nuanced uses. That's not the case with The Machine, though. In a big step towards the casual world, this puzzle game keeps things simple with fewer than a dozen inventory items to use, each with a specific purpose that's easy to figure out. Don't think that makes the game easy, though. Later on, you'll need to do some serious thinking to come up with the right size and color cubes.

The Machine is a brain-stirring puzzle game that provides challenge with left brained logic puzzles but still manages to encourage unbridled creativity both while playing and while designing levels. Your left brain and your right brain have never been so simultaneously pleased. It's a superb release from Bumpkin Brothers and will keep you busy solving and creating puzzles for weeks to come.

Play The Machine online demo

Download the demo
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Sherlock Holmes: The Hound of the Baskervilles

DoraI do not like Sherlock Holmes. While I acknowledge he has some pretty awesome adventures, there's just something about him that makes me want to slap that hat off his head every time he opens his mouth and girl-bully the heck out of him. Then again, that's par for the course when you're talking about a character who gets called "the greatest detective who ever lived"; with a title like that, you practically have to be campaigning for Most Insufferably Smug Genius of the Year. What I do like, however, is Sherlock Holmes: The Hound of the Baskervilles the new hidden-object adventure game from Frogwares. In fact, I like it quite a bit. Combining rich visuals, moody environment, and a mass of tricky puzzles to crack, it's an exceptionally well made game... if not exactly wholly accurate to the source material.

Sherlock Holmes: The Hound of the BaskervillesIf you were expecting or hoping the story would stay true to the original, well, uh, don't. The basic premise is still intact; Henry Baskerville returns home after his father's death, and seeks out the legendary Sherlock Holmes to find out the truth behind the curse that has taken the life of every member of his family. Holmes (and Watson, because they are Best Friends Forevar) follow Henry to the Baskerville estate, where you quickly find a whole lot of ominous lighting, strange shadows, and Dark Forces Are At Work™... or are they? It isn't long before Holmes and company begin to suspect they aren't dealing with any ordinary beast... and that's before the mystical powers show up.

As Holmes and his companions, you'll scour the spacious Baskerville estate, hunting for answers and solving puzzles. The game comes with two difficulty modes, and while "easy" marks interactive areas and offers more hints, "hard" comes with more difficult puzzles and hidden-object scenes. The only penalty for repeated misclicks is that the cursor will eventually go flying around the screen temporarily and Holmes will chastise you for being too hasty. Hey, shut up, Sherlock! I always liked Watson better anyway. Early on, you'll also gain access to the Book of the Baskervilles; while it might sound boring by title, this actually serves as a map you can use to instantly jump to any location you've already visited, and also marks places that still have clues with an exclamation mark.

Sherlock Holmes: The Hound of the BaskervillesAnalysis: Clearly, this is not canon Holmes material. How big of an issue this is for you largely depends on how much of a fan/purist you are, and if your answer to that is "a very big one", you probably hit the words "mystical powers" in this review and your monocle probably popped right out in shock. In fact, one of the reasons that compelled me to finish (you know, apart from the game being fun and well made) was because I wanted to see if there really was some logical explanation for it all, true to Holmes fashion. Granted, it would have to be massively complicated and convoluted on a Scooby-Doo-like scale, or at least involve a Batman supervillain or two, but it could still happen. Does it? Well, that'd be spoiling things, now, wouldn't it?

What I will tell you is that apart from a woefully overexcited soundtrack, most everything about Hound of the Baskervilles exudes high production values. The design, clearly, is gorgeous, with deep, vibrant colours in highly detailed environments, but the gameplay is sort of a mixed bag. None of it is bad; as you'd expect from a Sherlock game, much of it revolves around solving puzzles, and both the variety and the scale of difficulty is a wonderful treat. However (there's always a however) the game has a disappointing tendency to have puzzle pieces just "show up" when they're required by popping up in places they previously were not in, which means you have to revisit places just on the off chance something you need has "spawned". The gameplay also winds up being a little predictable; track down all the missing pieces of a puzzle or lock, move to the next location, and do it again.

Fortunately, Sherlock Holmes: The Hound of Baskervilles is still worth playing for everything else it gets right, from its beautiful design, to its crazy (but interesting!) spin on the classic tale, to the absolutely brilliant addition of that simple but wonderful instant travel map more games should make use of. It's rare to find a hidden-object game that really forces you to use your brain, and the puzzle difficulty on hard mode ranges from simple tile swapping to code deciphering. Depending on your chosen mode and whether you skip any puzzles, the game should take anywhere from three to five hours to complete. While die-hard Holmes fans might be disappointed by how many liberties it takes with the source material, those looking for just a quality adventure with some challenging gameplay will find a lot to like here, and should definitely check out the demo. One might say... it's elementary.

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

Download the demo
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Also available: Collector's Edition

Mac OS XMac OS X:
Not available.
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Weekend Download

JohnBConfession: every writer behind the scenes at JIG is secretly some kind of mollusc. We hide it quite well, wearing suits and blazers and little thingies in our hair. But when you watch us walk, you start to wonder if something's a bit off. When you see us dance, you're sure of it.

octodad.jpgOctodad (Windows, 336MB, free) - Fitting in is never easy. Especially when you're an octopus masquerading as a human dad! Created by students at DePaul University, the same university that housed the creators of Devil's Tuning Fork, Octodad is one of those games that mirrors itself in the control scheme. Moving Octodad in 3D is an exercise in imprecision and hilarity, as you must pick up and swing each leg individually, sliding the mouse around to gain ground. More often than not, you'll end up in a funky position. Gripping objects is handled in the same manner, and you'll probably knock over more things than you'd care to admit. But it's awesome to play around with, and the story keeps you driven to move forward and explore new rooms. Don't raise suspicion, try to blend in, and you, too, can be a successful Octodad!

mazeofspace.gifMaze of Space (Mac/Win, 9MB, free) - So, you remember that guy named Petri Purho? The one who made all those cool games, including Crayon Physics? Well, here's another experimental game crafted for the love of the art. Maze of Space is a roguelike RPG with visuals inspired by his other experimental game, Post I.T. Shooter. Crawl through the chunky pixel passageways, uncovering squares of territory as you move. Fire your weapon to take care of enemies, and pick up any loot they drop for your own personal use. You'll find equipment to increase your stats as well as gain levels, so most of the basic trappings of an RPG are here, minus the bloat. Note: Only the original version of the game is available for Mac. Version 1.1 for Windows features a few fixes.

snakesofavalon.gifSnakes of Avalon (Windows, 63MB, free) - A short adventure game with a whole lot of dark comedy, drinking, and possibly a guy who refuses to leave the loo. You start off more than a bit tipsy at the bar, unable to buy another drink, and believe it or not, things go south from there as you discover a murder plot. Four acts to play through, filled with hallucinations, surreal events, and a lot of mystery. This is one weird game. Also note: this isn't exactly the best sort of game for the younger crowd, in case the description above didn't quite convey that!

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!

Youda Farmer 2

JohnBYouda Games is back with a rare sequel to one of the its most interesting time management games, Youda Farmer. In Youda Farmer 2: Save the Village, you reprise the role of a male or female farmer trying to save a struggling town by farming as farmingly as you can. This time, though, the stakes are much higher, as a real estate tycoon is trying to buy up all of the property, so each delivery you make is an important step to help save the small businessman as well as the town!

Youda Farmer 2If you've played the original Youda Farmer, you'll immediately notice a number of fixes incorporated into the sequel that practically eliminates all of the shortcomings of the first game. The series revolves around producing goods and delivering them to the businesses in town that need them, amassing a tiny profit with each sale. The baker needs flour, for example, so you send your little truck to the flour mill to pick up some bags, then drive back down to fulfill the order. Combos are possible for picking up/delivering three or more of the same product, and later on, you can sell groups of products in the form of recipes that allow expensive items to be made.

Everything is handled with simple mouse clicks in Youda Farmer 2. No need to actually drive your rusty old rig around the country roads. Little tabs pop up at the base of the map, much like an old cash register, that show you when a product is ready to be harvested. Click on the tabs and the camera darts to that location. Simply drag the product into a crate and your truck automatically loads it in the back. When someone needs something from your farm, an icon appears in the top left corner of the screen. With product in tow, click their icon, select the items from your truck's inventory, and the delivery takes care of itself.

Purchasable buildings are available in many levels, expanding your available products and allowing you to earn more money. Cash plays an important role in Youda Farmer 2, as it allows you to buy up chunks of the map to keep the real estate tycoon at bay. It's fun unlocking new zones, and each one provides nice bonuses that really help push the gameplay along.

Youda Farmer 2Analysis: It's always nice to see a time management game that doesn't play like every other time management game on the market! Youda Farmer 2 preserves the unique setup of the original release, dividing your attention between farm and town but blending the two into a seamless dash of deliveries. It's more about being efficient than pleasing customers, though keeping people happy is part of the experience.

Youda Farmer 2 will receive no criticism for being too much like its predecessor. Although the gameplay and design are the same, the layout, goals, and level of complexity are completely different, allowing game number two to oust the original as Most Beloved Game in the Series. Expect a longer game with Youda Farmer 2 (70 levels in all), as well as plenty of bonus touches like hidden spare parts to find scattered around the farm, puzzle breaks, and frantic "party levels" that test your speed with making deliveries.

If there's anything to say about Youda Farmer 2 in the negative, it's that the game gets a bit too complicated towards the end. Dealing with new products ready for harvesting, vendors who have little patience when it comes to getting their goods, and recipes to memorize and utilize on-the-fly gets frantic fast, and it's a little frustrating until you wrap your head around it and approach it with a cool temper.

Another fine release from Youda Games, another great time management experience you'll have a great time mastering!

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Link Dump Fridays

DoraYou wake up one morning to find a package on your front step. Inside the package, there is a kitten. The softest, cuddliest, sweetest, hypoallergenic-est kitten in the world. Carrying your new, purring friend, you wander into the kitchen to find that the cupboards are full of all the breakfast food you like; your favourite cereal, your favourite jam and biscuits... whatever you want, it's there. Mystified but pleased, you head back to your computer, and, after checking the weather to find only flawless, comfortable temperatures where you live, turn to Jay is Games and find out that not only do you have a new Link Dump Friday, but it's also almost the weekend. You sigh in contentment.

Hopefully at least some of that is true for you.

  • 60 Second Life60 Second Life - Life is short, and so is this little arcade game where the goal is to move back and forth on the screen grabbing the icons that drop from the sky. Different icons represent different things (friends, love, money, and hobbies) and the amount of each that you get determines the ending text that wraps up how your little avatar spent his or her "life". Part art game, part frenetic click-fest, there's not a whole lot of depth to it, but replaying a few times to see how your epilogue changes based on what you choose to go after is interesting. I don't know how profound it is, but it does make me think I need more money dropping out of the sky in my life.
  • Giraffe Got GameGiraffe Got Game - Parody? Maybe, but if you can get past the slow build up and enjoy a bit of nonsense, then this insane little arcade game about a giraffe with various upgrades staving off attacking penguins, balloons, squares, and hang-gliding bombers will be right up your alley. While it's fun for a while, it does get repetitive fairly quickly. Of course, I'm not going to say that to a giraffe. With their freaky, long, grabby tongues, they're already intimidating enough without strapping Tony Stark's arc reactor to its chest and then letting it fire lasers.
  • Bird Pax 2Bird Pax 2 - It's Bird Pax!... 2! The sequel to the original popular avian card game offers the same colourful addictive gameplay of the first, with some new changes including smarter AI and the option to play online multiplayer. The catch with the multiplayer is that there actually has to be someone "in the room" (on the game page at the same time you are) or you can't play. Well, I mean, you can play. Just alone. Hopefully, you guys will find each other out there in the great big sea of the World Wide Web and join together to make sweet, multiplayer music.
  • Pig DetectivePig Detective - Who needs context? All you need to know is you're an adorable piggy detective, hot on the heels of some shadowy guy because... well, because shadowy guys are rarely good guys, I guess. It's a point-and-click puzzle game where you need to figure out what has to be done in each room in order to proceed. The obstacles tend to be a bit more abstract than you might expect, but come on; are you seriously complaining about logic in a game where you play a tiny, crime-solving pig?
  • Monkey and Secret ArmyMonkey and Secret Army - If you've been following Link Dump Friday at all recently, then you know of my not-so-secret schoolgirl crush on zany, point-and-click game superstar Minoto. This installment puts you in the shoes (figuratively) of a monkey who is trying to rescue his girlfriend from a rampaging giant crab in a playground. And that's not even the craziest part. I know I tease a lot about how weird Minoto's games are, but they truly do always succeed in making me smile... even if I don't quite understand what's going on at the time.

corygallihercoryg_rayardentscienceninja_screen2.gifBill Nye the Science Guy was certainly an impressive science superhero. So were Mr. Wizard and Beakman. However, there's a new science hero in town, and Ray Ardent: Science Ninja isn't about to be upstaged in this new platform adventure by Ninja Robot Dinosaur Entertainment. Well...unless another team of Science Ninja hear about his escapades, at least...

Move Ray with the [WASD] or the [arrow] keys, jump with the [spacebar] and activate your special ability with [X]. Ray's various ninja powers and abilities all cost Element X6, so grab tokens to restore it. The goal of each stage is to head toward an Element X6 portal as quickly as possible while avoiding dinosaurs, leaping over bottomless pits and racing the clock.

There are 15 levels available in Ray Ardent: Science Ninja. Many will reward you with upgrades such as double jumping and dashing. You've got a limited number of slots to equip upgrades, but some levels will award you with more slots. Many upgrades work automatically when equipped, but others are more powerful require you to press [X] to activate them.

Ray Ardent uses pixel art to depict its courageous scientific hero, the terrifying dinosaurs he battles and the badlands his adventures take place in. It's fairly minimalist but effective. There's never any problem with seeing what's going on or discerning collectibles from enemies. There's also an amusing storyline that loosely ties the levels together, though the objective is always to go from right to left as quickly as possible.

coryg_rayardentscienceninja_screen1.gifAnalysis: Ray Ardent: Science Ninja uses its hilarious concept to full effect which helps makes it a memorable game. Ray's got a variety of scientific voice clips that he shouts out at every opportunity, for example. Expect to die a few times at first because you can't stop laughing at his antics.

It's difficult to die otherwise, though, since this is a fairly easy game devoted to finishing levels quickly rather than challenging you with impossible situations and hordes of monsters. Replaying levels to find a quicker and more effective way through can be rewarding once you've found new upgrades.

All in all, Ray Ardent: Science Ninja is a solid platformer with a nice coat of polish that sets it apart from the rest. Platform fans should certainly give it a shot. Just remember: always respect the awe-inspiring power...of SCIENCE!

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Babylon Sticks: There's Gonna Be A Jailbreak comic

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

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Linkage by Neutral

DoraYou find yourself in the dark. But rather than being eaten by a Grue, you instead find yourself confronted by Linkage, the latest escape game by Mya of Neutral. Best of Casual Gameplay 2010There's a couch... and a big screen television... some, uh, fluid on the floor... and a photo of a puppy! Why... this isn't sinister at all! Why on Earth would anyone want to escape from here?... what?... bathroom? *sigh* If you must. But getting out isn't going to be easy.

Control, however, is easy; click on the screen to interact or pick up items, and use the arrows at the edges of the screen to change your orientation in the room. If an item is in your inventory, you can mouse over it and click the little magnifying glass icon that pops up for a closer look. And believe me, you're going to be contemplating that adorable little rag-tag assortment of items with furious intensity if you want to solve this one and escape. There's no real instruction so it's up to you to fire up your own grey matter and make like your ancestors, only instead of creating fire you're sobbing incoherently and trying to force answers out of a fuchsia teddy-bear by trying to combine it with a battery and a piece of paper. If it all gets too much for you and you need a break, there's even a save function built into the game. Awwww, shucks, Neutral. We love you too.

Analysis: If you're like me and only enjoy a casual flirtation with the genre, you'll probably spend a while wandering around bewildered, clutching random items and prodding at symbols and switches. What Neutral's games do best is actually encourage experimentation and discovery in a way that most other titles in the genre do not. With the lack of any real direction, the moments of EUREKA, when they happen, are that much more satisfying, and are rarely obscure. If you've played any of Neutral's games before, like fan-favourite Vision, then you've come to expect that sort of thing, but newcomers are going to find this a real treat. The game is cleanly designed, lovely to look at, and playful in its execution. Following the trail of clues is a lot of fun, and the difficulty is challenging, but not enough so that escape novices like myself will feel as though we're running headlong into a brick wall.

The downside, of course, is that there's no changing cursor for those of us who hope to rely on sweeping the cursor slowly from one side of the screen to another looking for a hotspot we might have missed. The game is rarely unfair, however, and if you keep your eyes peeled for things that look out of the ordinary you probably won't have to resort to pixel hunting; look around and you'll notice items peeping around around corners. There are so many places to investigate in the room that you'll want to forget what your mother always told you and be as nosy as possible, peering under chairs, behind furniture, and everywhere else you can think to look. There was one instance where I was prowling around, looking for what to do next, when a new perspective on an area I'd examined multiple times suddenly revealed a hidden key, and I was ridiculously delighted by this. Not only because it meant that I had another piece of the puzzle, but because it was actually hidden in such a logical location.

In the ancient language, Neutral probably means "creator of clever, engaging puzzles" or "bringer of rad-ness". Linkage is another stellar game coming from an already well established pedigree, and if you've been hankering for a meaty chunk of escape to sink your teeth into, it will definitely provide. With clever puzzles, smart design, and of course a puppy (that is the most important), Linkage is a wonderful way to spend your time.

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joyeMe and the Key 2A little more than a year ago, Bart Bonte's Me and the Key sent us all on a voyage of self-and-key-discovery. But the hunt for the self/key is an eternal quest, is it not? Luckily, the journey has been lengthened by another 25 levels in Me and the Key 2. As you progress through this series of abstract thinking puzzles and mini-games, maybe you'll discover that the key that you were searching for was around your penguin-thing's neck the whole time. Truly, a moral for the ages.

The goal of this game is always simple: find the key and click on it. It's the finding of it that's the hard part. Figuring out the controls in this game is often the entirety of a puzzle, but I can tell you that both keyboard and mouse will need to be used. In some levels, looking for clues is important. In other levels, trial and error will show you the light. If you're stuck, it never really hurts to click around the screen frantically or hammer on the keyboard until something happens.

Analysis: The weakest part of "Me and the Key 2" is the mini-games. It isn't really a spoiler to say that they are clones of the classic snake and breakout genres. You could pull someone who's been in a coma since 1987, plop them in front of the computer, and they would recognize what game it was within five seconds. They would then, perhaps, say, "You woke me up from my coma for this?" and they would have a point.

But it would only be fair of you to leap to the game's defense. "Ah, but check out the puzzle levels!" you would say. The puzzle levels are mostly fantastic, lovely little bite-sized brainteasers that play with your perceptions and require some definite out of the box thinking, and fortunately, puzzle levels outnumber mini-games greatly. In fact I would only count four levels as true mini-games. Unfortunately, the very last level is one of the mini-game levels and this ends up as a bit of an anticlimax. Still, the game overall more than delivers that Bonte charm we know and love.

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DoraGravitee WarsFunkyPear's gravity-warping gameplay is back, but unlike previous titles you're not just putting around in space. In Gravitee Wars you play a bunch of adorable little space marines who want to blow up all the other differently coloured adorable little space marines because... well, because golf is for sissies, I guess, and real men solve their problems by firing a rocket into someone's faceplate. It's turn-based action with physics and strategy stirred in.

A handy tutorial walks you through everything you need to know, but the basics are simple. Move your player around the planet with the [arrow] keys, and the camera with [WASD]. Shooting is as simple as clicking on your chosen unit and dragging the mouse in the direction you want to fire before releasing. Don't take too long aiming, since you're on a timer; once you've fired, you're also given a few precious seconds to try to scamper out of enemy range. (Fortunately, you can hit [P] to pause if you need a second's respite.) Sounds simple, right? The catch, of course, is that the gravitational pull of the larger planets littering the playing field will affect your shots.

That's not all. Perform well and you'll get a cash reward you can spend between levels on upgrading your units, and buying more teammates or weapons. And of course if you're the sort of person who covets intangible pixel accolades, you'll want to shoot for the various achievements the game awards, not only for completing levels in as few turns as possible, but for things like launching an enemy into space, or taking out two baddies at once. Interplanetary warfare was never so sweet... or adorable. D'awwwww lookit his widdle limbs flailing in agony! Just remember that only completed levels are saved; you can't quit in the middle of a battle and pick it up in the same place, if you close a level before you finish it you'll have to restart it next time. Space is a harsh mistress.

Gravitee WarsAnalysis: Changing an established formula is always risky business, especially when the original was so successful. If there's one thing people fear more than pop culture, it's change, and for some people this latest installment in FunkyPear's series might be too big of a change. For me, Gravitee Wars is silly, cute, and easy to pick up. The ability to replay earlier levels to earn more cash for upgrades means you won't get stuck on a level, but it also means you can just blast through the tutorial stages a hundred times in quick succession until you have a tiny death squadron at your fingertips before the fifth level. Decisions, decisions. I have to admit, I probably would have watched more Star Trek if conflicts had been settled a bit more like this and a bit less with sweaty, grunting Shatner wrestling. (I love you, Captain Kirk!)

Even enemies of different colours won't attack each other and instead concentrate all their firepower on you, which kind of makes you think that maybe you're just some jerk who hasn't learned to get along with everyone else. It can also make things annoying since some levels basically guarantee the enemy gets at least one cheap shot in the beginning at your team because of the way turns play out. While the gravity physics are fun and interesting to play with, they can also potentially be frustrating since it can be difficult to plan long shots with multipliers when you don't know how the field is going to affect your shot. Add to that the fact that gravity changes when a planet has a piece blown off, and you have a recipe for hair-pulling frustration if you want to achieve that coveted gold star.

But if you're not that concerned with pulling in a flawless track record, Gravitee Wars is a fun and clever game all on its own, with a nice bit of challenge to keep things interesting. From golf to guns, the Gravitee series has had some big changes, but still keeps the fun and clever mechanics behind it all intact. If you loved the gameplay just the way it was in Gravitee 2 (which is definitely worth a play) then the new concept and gameplay in this latest title might boggle your mind. Turns out gravity and strategy live together in harmony. Who knew?

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joyeJohnny Why Are You Late?Man, when I told my last boss that my late arrival was due to spider wrangling, improvised weaponry, and serious bathroom stench, I got fired. That's why I'm now pursuing a lucrative career as a Canadian housewife. (It's good work if you can get it.) But apparently the titular hero of keybol's Johnny Why Are You Late believes in total honesty with management. Of course, Johnny also seems to have a little bit of a weird memory. He needs you to point-and-click through his strangely puzzle-filled house to remember exactly why he was late to work.

In proud point-and-click tradition, you point your cursor at things and click on them. Simple, no? If it's an item you can pick up, it will stick to your cursor and you can try to use it elsewhere in the room. If you don't know where to use it right now, just put it into your inventory at the bottom of the screen. You can pick it up from there any time and use it. You can also sometimes use an item on another item in the inventory to combine them. In addition to using items to solve puzzles, you'll also need to deduce the combinations to a few safes by paying close attention to clues.

The sense of humor in Johnny Why Are You Late? is a bit sophomoric, and there's a little cartoonish violence, but it doesn't cross the line. It's definitely tamer than anything Zeebarf puts out, as a comparison. The art has a kind of blocky retro feel that reminds me of 1960s magazine cartoons, and to be frank the gender wars of the game are straight out of 1960s magazines as well. "My wife is a harpy and she makes my life a living hell! I'd like to chuck her out of the window! Ah, whimsy." His relationship with his son is even more twisted. It's all a bit Leave It To Bizarro-land Beaver, basically.

The game also features five secret achievements, usually for doing, or trying to do, something bad. The only thing you get for completing all the achievements is a feeling of satisfaction, but it can be a nice final puzzle for when you've completed all the others. Give it a play and see if you can figure out why Johnny was late... just make sure you aren't late yourself!

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Weekday Escape

GrinnypFor today's Weekday Escape we go back in time a bit to a year ago when HILG came out with a fun little room escape that got overlooked in the Halloween rush. Now, for your room escaping pleasure, we proudly present Fancy Maze (Case 01).

Fancy MazeFancy Maze (Case 01) is one of HILG's slighter efforts. Despite that, there are a lot of fun things to discover and puzzles to solve in what looks like a mini-movie theater, probably in an office or some rich person's house. Wander around, pick things up, see if you are up on the latest (and not so latest) technology, and see if you can find the two different endings in this amusing little game. Fortunately, for such an easy game, there is the usual save function so that finding the two ways out is much easier and doesn't require replaying the entire game.

The mini-theater has a screen at one end and a door at the other. Very comfy seating and some nice decorative touches round out this mysterious space, which you appear to be trapped in. It all looks very luxurious, pretty standard with HILG games. Navigation can be tricky, though, partly due to the odd turning angles and partly due to the lack of navigation bars at the edges of the screens. There are little balls instead which show up when you hover your mouse near the edge. However, the balls can sometimes be hard to see against the backgrounds so be prepared for a bit of confusion. And the lack of a changing cursor means that yes, pixel hunting ahead.

Fortunately, as with all of HILG's games, you can use the friendly yellow button at the bottom left of the screen to change to the English version, as well as turn on a hint feature. Unfortunately, Fancy Maze is a throwback to HILG's earlier games, so you can't get into the system to change the language until after you wander through an all Japanese introduction, presumably telling you how you got locked into the mini-theater in the first place.

Despite the flaws, though, Fancy Maze is a fun little time waster. A classic escape the room puzzle wrapped up in a pretty bow, the perfect mid-week break. Sit back, relax, and enjoy some classic simple room escaping.

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BradWizard's RunFor those of you thinking your prayers for a fantasy-themed game based on the classic novel and movie "Logan's Run" (a group whose massive numbers I can only assume swells somewhere between 0 and 1) have been answered, you'll have to keep waiting. Wizard's Run is, however, based on the concept of wizards combined with the concept of movement towards things and with an overall killing things theme.

It's a top-down retro shooter where you'll maneuver your wizard using the [arrow] keys. Some kind of evil is summoning a ton of evil bats, warlocks and goblins (or maybe they're orcs or possibly just green vikings), and you'll have to take them down if you're going to get anywhere. You can have three spells equipped at a time and they're bound to the [Z], [X] and [C] keys. As you mow down the baddies, you'll get experience points. When you level up you'll get skill points to invest in one of the three spell trees: fire, ice and divine. To switch which spells you have equipped or to spend your skill points hit [spacebar] and you'll bring up the spell menu.

Wizard's Run starts off very slow. The enemies are sparse and your wizard moves like molasses. After a couple levels and a couple new spells everything starts to pick up and it gets really fun. Keep in mind that Wizard's Run is a very simple game and is old-school in how pared down it is. There are no sidequests, nothing to explore and the story is limited to "something evil is afoot... KILL!" This isn't a bad thing, it keeps the game quick and focused, just don't expect an expansive gameplay experience. You also shouldn't expect pretty graphics, the visuals in Wizard's Run are mostly utilitarian. They won't wow you, but they're not sloppy and the enemies have a simple charm, even if there's not a lot of variety.

When you keep a game this simple you're almost guaranteed solid gameplay and that's just what Wizard's Run delivers. There is one problem; the lack of a skill reset button combined with a level cap. If you screw up distributing your skill points you can run into some problems. Aside from that, there's not much else wrong. The difficulty ramps up in a way that you might have to play some levels over again to beat them, but you won't have to go back to previous levels and grind to make progress. Also, despite your wizard's kind of bulky design I found myself being able to dodge enemy projectiles most of the time.

Simple, quick and fun are the best words to describe Wizard's Run. if you can get past the slow start and can appreciate a game with old-school values you'll have a blast with Wizard's Run. The solid gameplay more than makes up for lackluster visuals and while the lack of a skill reset can be frustrating if you spend your skill points wisely you'll find the difficulty to be just right.

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DoraEnemy 585If the princess is rescued, then the game must be over, right? Not if you're Enemy 585, the "hero" of Nitrome's latest arcade platformer with a twist. Enemy 585 is just a low level baddie like hundreds of others who happens to get passed over by a familiar looking hero who goes on to stomp on Enemy 585's boss. Seven years down the road and Enemy 585 is still hanging around; turns out that he's a fairly simple creature, and with nobody to tell him what to do, he... well, hasn't done anything.

Fortunately, you've come along to help, and you just happen to be a mobile platform that takes pity on him. After all, he may not be the brightest bulb around, but it's hard not to feel sorry for someone who's spent the better part of a decade walking back and forth in a space the size of a coffin. In each level, the goal is to protect Enemy 585, who keeps moving in a straight line until he meets and obstacle and turns around. That's where you come in, since being a platform means you can plug or bridge gaps, or provide a helpful step up. (Enemy 585 will only climb over one-block height obstacles.) You've also got Manuel on your side (a helpful signpost) who appears periodically to offer up information.

Control is pretty simple, since being a platform doesn't come with a whole lot of bells and whistles. Use the [arrow] or [WASD] keys to move around, and the [spacebar] to rotate. The only real catch is that you can't rotate without the space to do so, or move when Enemy 585 is standing on you. (He's not fat! He's... no, wait, he is kinda fat.) You have a different shape in each level, and you'll have to think fast in order to figure out how to best use yourself when danger appears since Enemy 585 has no sense of self preservation and blunder straight off cliffs or into spikes and other enemies, who will spell certain doom for your little purple pal. But try not to hold it against them. After all, they're only doing their job, just like Enemy 585. If he gets hit, he'll have to restart the level, but you can hold down [F] to make everything move faster if you get impatient. You can worry about the time and collecting all the coins if you like, but the only real impact they have is on your final score for each level.

Enemy 585Analysis: No prizes for guessing the influences at work here. But rather than make another standard platformer about a chubby plumber chasing after an air-headed princess, Nitrome has shaken things up again and added their trademark twist to the genre. The concept behind it is great, and it's hard not to feel bad for 585. The whole thing is bright, colourful, cheerful, and wonderfully silly. Although... if 585 is working his way back from the final boss lair... shouldn't the levels be getting easier rather than harder the further you go? Hmmm. Nerd logic!

Of course, Enemy 585 isn't without his faults. The one-hit K-O is a bit of a drag, and potentially extremely frustrating. Since you can't scroll through levels, you can't see what's coming up, and you'll often only have a few seconds to react. Being able to speed up 585's movements helps, but it's little consolation for the repetition. Some levels can be downright nerve-wracking, with enemies and all sorts of obstacles that have to be taken into consideration if you want your little buddy to reach the end unscathed. It's incredibly frustrating to bump into walls and other terrain trying to rush to 585's rescue and frantically orient yourself in time, especially since some levels have pretty tight quarters and might take you more than a few tries to figure out.

Like a lot of Nitrome games, Enemy 585 winds up being one of those games where you say, "It's great, but... " With quicker and more forgiving gameplay, Enemy 585 would be a real champion. Still, it has a great concept, a fantastic design, and even though some might find its gameplay too frustrating, it's still easily worth a look. The next time you play a platformer, maybe you'll spare a little thought for the hordes of enemies stuck in their ruts and put them out of the misery. Or at least give them a subscription to Netflix or something.

UPDATE: As of November 12th, 2010, Nitrome has taken your comments and feedback into consideration and added checkpoints to all levels!

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Joshdark-visions.jpgBack in the dawn of time (around the late 1980s to mid-90s), it seemed like most computer games worth playing had the title "Quest" attached to them. This was thanks in part to the designers at Sierra On-Line, who led the way with their classic "3-D Graphic Adventures." These innovative 16-color games took players to distant pixelated lands, where they could save princesses (or princes), arrest bad guys, or try their best to pick up girls with a few basic keyboard commands. Eventually these adventure games would grow up to become point-and-click affairs, with enhanced graphics, realistic animations, and more compelling stories. 20 years later, there are still designers out there who have been influenced by this classic style, as evidenced by TenthPlay's new Flash-based mystery adventure, Dark Visions.

In Dark Visions, the year is 1928 and you play the role of Emma Fischer, an inquisitive-minded young niece of Dr. Frank Mahler. The doctor runs a mental clinic at his mansion in New Hampshire, and he just sent a letter to his sister requesting Emma's help as an assistant. Upon arrival, however, something doesn't seem right. Where is the doctor? Why is his colleague, James Thaxton Smith, so evasive on the subject of the doctor's whereabouts? And why does the mansion seem deserted? Thus begins your adventure as you seek to find answers and understand just what's been going on at the mysterious Hill Crest Manor.

Like classic adventure games such as King's Quest V, Dark Visions uses a standard point-and-click interface. Three icons change your cursor so Emma can walk around, look at things, or use objects on screen. You also have an inventory at the bottom containing objects to use with your environment. A scoring system on the Main Menu similar to those found in Sierra games (with 112 points possible) helps you figure out your progress as you go along.

Dark-Visions.jpgThere are many elements to Dark Visions that go beyond what we've come to expect out of most Flash games. Unlike standard room escape titles, this game triggers dynamic events and actions based on how far along you progress. Certain characters will only show up to talk to you at certain times, and you may not be able to collect particular items until their purpose is made clear. In addition, previously inaccessible areas may yield new clues later in the game. While much of the game involves walking around and picking up objects to use elsewhere, there are a number of puzzles that need to be solved to advance through the story. Like Myst, much of the mystery unfolds through discovered diary entries, papers, and books. Reading these can be key to getting past the puzzles, which range from different types of code entries, to following various instructional sequences.

Analysis: I was very impressed with Dark Visions, which has the robustness of a downloadable point-and-click adventure contained within a free Flash game. The graphics are good, with high-quality rendered scenes and realistic character animation. I also found the storyline to be quite compelling; you really find yourself drawn in to the events as you uncover the game's backstory and see Emma's place in all of it. Gameplay can take about two hours, and you may need to save your progress and come back to it if you can't get through the whole thing in one marathon run.

Dark Visions has a lot going for it, but it's not without its few faults. Maybe I'm just used to adventure games where you can pick up anything not bolted down, but I felt a little frustration in having to return to an area to get an item that previously was deemed "too heavy" or "not needed." There's actually quite a bit of returning to areas you previously couldn't do anything in, though that seems to be a staple of classic adventure games where the designers tried to get maximum playability out of limited screens.

Other than that, though (and maybe the title's minimal use of in-game music) I couldn't find too many problems with this ambitious free title, which once again shows the robustness of making games in Flash. If you're feeling that classic adventure game itch and want to try something interesting that's both fun and free, Dark Visions is definitely worth playing.

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The Vault

CoryThey say that games are like cheese; they get better (and smellier) with age. I've got some excellent vintage games in my little corner of The Vault, and you're free to enjoy them... once you get past my nefarious gauntlet of traps! I've got pits, hungry tigers, mimes... my depravity knows no bounds. Once you reach your destination, though, you'll find a few fantastic games from yesteryear. I've got action, adventure, and shooter games on display, and they're all time-tested quality entertainment. If you're lucky, maybe you'll even have some limbs left to play them!

  • Combat HeavenCombat Heaven - This offering from 2006 stars you as a super-powered soldier armed with the latest in military gear. You'll stand against an entire army, including tanks, helicopters and missile trucks. Thankfully you've got powerful armor and boost jets to keep you safe along with some intense hardware to take out your enemies. Combat Heaven is reminiscent of the Genesis classic Gunstar Heroes and boasts a ton of customization. You can upgrade almost every aspect of your character and their gear which gives this game a ton of replay value. It's a true classic, and shooter fans are bound to love it.
  • Pod PanicPod Panic - Another shooter from 2006, Pod Panic is an arena shooter that features unusual enemies and a unique physics mechanic. Dodge your foes with the [WASD] keys while blasting away with the mouse. There are basic pod enemies that only take one shot to kill, but your most dangerous foes are polygonal strings that need to be hit perpendicular to their sides. You'll need to stay mobile to take these out. If things get too hectic, you can press the [spacebar] to repulse enemies and send them flying to the edges of the arena, but this takes time to recharge. Pod Panic really nails the fundamentals of the arena shooter and throws in some physics fun to boot.
  • PixelHugger in the Field of TypographyPixelHugger in the Field of Typography - This game uses an ancient technology known as Shockwave to bring you an adventure about... well, fonts. Auntie Alias has taken over the Typographic World with her accursed anti-aliased fonts and your job, as PixelHugger, is to save the pixels that went missing. Run around Zelda-style and grab the pixels; while you're at it, also grab any typographic characters you see so you can use them to defeat Auntie Alias. Watch out for her vicious minions, though, including sheep, gnats and... well, mostly sheep. Evil sheep. Anyone who loves exploration will dig this game, since you'll need to search every corner to find the goodies you need. Beware, though: it's tough!

And that's it for this week's edition of The Vault! Watch out for the tigers on your way out - they still haven't been fed. 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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TrickyDouble PandaRed and Giant's master has been kidnapped by ninjas! Are you a bad enough panda to rescue him? So is the enjoyable challenge of Double Panda, Neutronized's new puzzle platformer that utilizes the power of teamwork. And should you be a fan of adorable pixelated action or The Lost Vikings-style puzzles with an eastern flair, the game is sure to panda-er to your wildest panda-sies, without causing too much panda-monium

Use the [arrow] keys to individually direct Giant Panda and Red Panda. Hitting the [spacebar] alternates player control between the two, leaving the other to take a quick snooze. The goal is to get both pandas to the checkered spot at the end of each level, collecting desserts along the way. Standing in your way are numerous ninjas, platforms, lakes, locked doors and levers. Fortunately, each panda has a number of specialized abilities to make the voyage easier. Great Panda can bop ninjas by jumping on their head, swim through lakes (with Red resting on his head), push blocks around and break old blocks by stomping on them. Red Panda can climb bamboo stalks, pick up keys to unlock doors, operate levers and run along ropes stretched between platforms. Both can jump on and from the other's head for a boost, and indeed it is required to defeat some enemies. Your master is at the end of level twenty. Good luck!

I liked Double Panda quite a bit, and not just because it clued me into the existence of the Red Panda, a creature I was unaware of prior to playing. Overall, its cute aesthetic and soothing music make for a relaxing, almost zen experience. It has a slowness of pace that, while sometimes tipping over into the frustrating, make for a welcome break from some of the more frenetic iterations of the platform genre. In fact, I found it quite stress relieving; the kind of game one plays a couple level of before bed to set one's mind at ease.

Certainly I found some of Double Panda's mechanics frustrating, and not just from their pace. Particularly, I wish it were possible to have both pandas run in unison, as it often felt like I was spending much of the time playing catch-up one way or another. Likewise, switching control from one panda to the other is shown by the camera flying to the new character. This is fine when the two are close together, but the further away they are, the longer it takes, which can be maddening when one is racing the clock. The object detection was a little finicky as well: it was annoying how Red would refuse to climb a stalk he wasn't exactly aligned with and it seemed a little arbitrary as to when he would decide to stop climbing, considering how the stalks extend into the sky.

Most of these concerns are minor and don't detract from the overall experience. Just keep in mind that this is a game that expects and rewards patience. If you're looking for a platformer that's more akin to a walk through a garden than a war-zone, it's full-on Double Panda all the way!

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ChiktionaryArmed With Wings 3After nearly two years of waiting, Sun Studios have finally released Armed With Wings 3 and it's AWESOME! In this platform action adventure game, evil has no chance as you take the Blackmist form of a young hero named Leo and his Eagle, to puzzle and fight your way through various worlds, eliminating henchmen and completing boss battles to overcome the evil that threatens to annihilate your village.

Almost as soon as the game begins, it becomes clear why Sun Studios took time to release the latest installment. It seems the developers took on board the feedback received from Armed With Wings and Armed With Wings 2, as you soon realize that this game is not only a little simpler to play in terms of controls, but there is also so much more depth. In Story Mode, you'll be instantly struck by the phenomenal soundtrack and striking silhouette graphics which while similar to the previous games, now include the subtle use of color to differentiate between worlds. There's also a Survival Mode where you can fight endless battles and post your score to a leaderboard, and bonus content includes concept art, cinematics and access to music that's unlocked during the game.

The Eagle was absent from the sequel, but returns for this latest title, giving you two characters to control. As Leo, use your [arrow] keys to move and jump, and [WASD] keys to perform actions. The [A] key is your fighting with fists control while the [S] key will have you pulling some extraordinary sword fighting moves. [D] activates your special ability and [W] switches between characters. As Leo's Eagle, the [arrow] keys are also for navigation while the [A] key grasps items, such as keys and pulley handles, and the [S] key secures the Eagle in position to assist Leo in performing other actions while [W] calls the bird back after completing a task. By moving and interacting with each other, Leo and his Eagle will have to navigate through a variety of worlds, solve puzzles, collect orbs to replenish life status, find treasures, and of course undertake many battles along the way.

Armed With Wings 3Analysis: Armed With Wings 3 is comprised of a series of chapters, which are a number of worlds to be traversed, with a tutorial incorporated into the gameplay. The platforming varies in each, as difficulty increases gradually, and Leo learns to navigate in new ways through interacting with his Eagle and each environment. As the game progresses, more and more puzzles are introduced and must be solved before Leo can reach the portal that awaits at the end of each level. The beauty of having the Eagle is the ability to scout ahead and check out what's in store for Leo. The Eagle will also be required to go ahead and access tiny passages, grasp pulley-handles or find keys to aid Leo's journey. Initially, switching between the two characters can be a little disorienting, but it doesn't take long to adjust to.

The story in Armed With Wings is complex and involves interacting with other characters such as The Blacksmith and Leo's Mother. Between each level, Leo must consult with both the Blacksmith and his Mother to access upgrades in both abilities and weaponry. The game is stunning in so many ways and it's actually quite difficult to pinpoint any flaws. One would be the sluggishness of the controls, but that's likely due to the high level of animation in the characters. The other would be the unavoidable visits to the Blacksmith and Leo's Mother, as there is some unnecessary and repetitive navigating to undertake each time. But these flaws are almost entirely blitzed by the sheer brilliance of the game.

Armed With Wings 3The developers at Sun Studios have obviously invested so much time and work into this, their latest creation and it truly shows. They've taken the beauty of the last two games and if anything they've improved on it. They've also improved the controls, which while a little sluggish, are actually quite easy to learn and use. What also stands apart from the previous two games is the introduction of puzzles and the platform element of the game actually has a purpose. The first few levels indicate a deceptively simple game, which even Leo himself remarks upon early on. You may find yourself feeling as over-confident as he does. But the game quickly gets tricky, and you'll be needing to rely on your platforming skills as much as Leo relies on his bird. If you're a novice level platformer like me, you'll still progress quite easily through the game and there's so much about the gameplay experience that you'll want to persist.

There's still a lot that I feel has been left unsaid about this gorgeous game, but why spoil the fun? This is a game that holds a lot to be explored and discovered. And anyway I haven't quite made it to the finale yet. So if you're familiar with the Armed With Wings games, you'll definitely appreciate the extraordinary lengths Sun Studios have gone to in creating this game. If this is your first Armed With Wings experience, you're in for a real treat. I have to go now. I've got to get back to this game...!

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Andrewgamedevstory1a.gifMaking games is hard. But playing a game about making games is anything but. Game Dev Story is a lighthearted sim that's lets you run your very own game development studio, doing everything from negotiating licensing deals with console makers to choosing the genre and theme of the games you're going to make. It's the type of game that you pick up to play for a few minutes before realizing that a few hours have already passed. Fixing bugs in a game has never been so fun.

You start off with a tiny studio and just two people: you and your secretary. You can hire up to four additional employees to start with, but as you Best of Casual Gameplay 2010progress through the game your studio will slowly grow in size and, hopefully, popularity. Once you make your hires it's time to start actually making games. You'll have a small budget to start with, enough to make a modest PC project. You get to pick the genre of the game as well as the subject matter, and there's really no limits: so if you want to create a gold themed audio novel, go right ahead. You'll be able to open up more possibilities and game types by leveling up and training your workforce and the sheer variety is pretty impressive.

From there it becomes a continuous cycle. The money you make from your first game can be invested in your next project and, if everything goes right, things will continue to get bigger and better. New consoles and handhelds will come and go, you'll have to invest in advertising and trade shows to keep your name out there, and there are special power-ups that can be used to improve different areas of your game like graphics or sound. You can choose to do everything in-house, which is free, or you can outsource work to more expensive but more talented artists, writers, and musicians.

gamedevstory1b.gifAnalysis: It may seem like there's a lot to manage in Game Dev Story, but the game does an excellent job of making sure you never feel overwhelmed. A lot of this is due to the pacing: things move fast. Like, really fast. From conception to completion, developing a game takes a matter of minutes. This gives Game Dev Story an extremely addictive, "just one more turn" feel. When you finish a game you'll want to stick around for a bit to see how well it sells, and then maybe just get started on a new game. Before you know it a few years have gone by and several games have hit store shelves and your audience is aging.

Now also available for Android!

It's more than just its fast paced, addictive gameplay that makes Game Dev Story so fun though. It also has an incredible sense of humor and charm. Over the course of the game you'll see the release of numerous game consoles and handhelds, each of which is based on a real-world system. So after years of creating PC games you may just be successful enough to develop for the Senga Uranus or the Intendo Whoops. You can also advertise by marching bands or by writing on the moon and when one of your employees gets on a hot streak they'll literally catch on fire. It's these small touches, coupled with some adorable pixel art graphics, that make the game so endearing.

Even if you have no interest in game development, Game Dev Story is still an excellent way to whittle away the battery life on your phone. It manages to take the process and streamline it to make it both fun and interesting, and it does so with a wonderful sense of humor. And much of the fun comes from simply coming up with and naming the craziest games you can think of and then seeing how well they're received. It may not teach you much about how games are actually made, but Game Dev Story is a perfect example of what a great game looks like.

This game was previously featured in Mobile Monday.

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Mobile Monday

JohnBA little alchemy to go with your high-speed car drive out of town? Maybe you're more the brainy type. You know, the kind that goes to space with other cosmonauts, vacuums the shuttle while some all-powerful being guides you to the surface of alien planets. Either way, we've got you covered. Provided "covering" you means providing you with Android games. Which, well, that's how we meant it, so... there!

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!

flee.jpgFlee - Were you one of those lucky kids who had a cool handheld LCD game back in the day? Now we're all the lucky kids, thanks to the nostalgically-minded folks at Frugal Games. Flee is a deliciously old-school arcade style of game that emulates the look and feel of those classic gaming systems, recreating not only the design, but incorporating little touches like pressing on the screen to get a peek at the graphics underneath. Two modes of play allow you to be a car avoiding obstacles or obstacles avoiding the car, and over 30 levels of play give you plenty of challenge to deal with. A full 20 song soundtrack is extra special icing on the cake, and you can even view the full manual from the title screen, which should definitely bring back some memories! The QR code on the left is for the full version, the one on the right is for Flee Lite.

alchemyclassic.jpgAlchemy Classic - Similar to Doodle God, Alchemy Classic is (apparently) based on an old MS-DOS game. Alchemy works exactly like you would expect it to, with a simple drag-and-combine interface that makes it easy to experiment and try theories. Tap the icons at the top of the screen to clear the board, undo your last combination, see created elements along with elements you can create with your current outfit, and go to the element adding menu where you can choose icons to drop on the playing field. Double tap any element to clone it, and double tap an empty part of the screen to spawn fire, earth, air, and water. Simply drag elements onto each other to try combining them. If they can mix, they will, and your new element is born. It's all about experimenting, and it's every bit as captivating as you think it would be. Hundreds of combinations are possible!

gravitylander.jpgGravity Lander - Three cosmonauts are on a mission to clean up debris cluttering the Mars base. To help them land on the red block, you must remove girders and tilt your phone to shift gravity in the proper direction. It's never as easy as it sounds, and if the rocket doesn't land just right, the three astronauts won't be able to eat their tinned beans anymore. A browser version of the game is available if you want to get a taste of rocketship landing before firing up your phone. Note: Gravity Lander requires Adobe Air, available from Google Play Android Games, and is only compatible with Android 2.2.

memorytrainer.jpgMy Personal Memory Trainer - No one would be surprised to know that brain training games have become something of an item in the last several years. My Personal Memory Trainer is a great-looking brain game that features twenty different sessions with a mix of games that test your spatial and working memory, focus, chunking and concentration skills. In practice, this means you'll be playing simple memory games, working with numbers, and practicing recall skills. Memory Trainer doesn't break the bank when it comes to features or visual impact, but it has a smart interface that lets you choose workouts and even track your progress. While the actual science behind brain training is still up for debate, Memory Trainer is still a good game that will get the gray matter buzzing.

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 2.2 on an HTC Incredible.

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Antiques Roadshow

JohnBAntiques Roadshow, drawing inspiration from the television show of the same name, is the story of Julia, a young woman who is such a fan of the show it inspires her to apply for a job at a local antiques shop. Turns out Julia is in for more adventure than she thought, as the owner of the shop sends her across the United States searching for clues to unravel the mystery of an old decoder ring that's been in his family for years. It's a challenging hidden object game that's certain to please fans of the show and casual hidden object fans alike.

Antiques RoadshowAntiques Roadshow follows a simple format that will be familiar to anyone who's touched a hidden object game in the last few years. Mr. Hinton, Julia's boss, gets news of antiques that could have a connection to his family heirloom and sends Julia on her way. You get to stamp your plane ticket, which is a gratuitous but fun inclusion, and then you're staring at barns, crowded shop rooms, train stations, and other areas completely packed with, well, junk. Time to look for those valuables!

Pecking away at your list for each scene, you'll occasionally come across useful items that will give you access to other parts of the game. Finding these is inevitable, and you can't move on without them, so everything sort of takes care of itself, no puzzle solving required. You'll also find the odd valuable object that can be cleaned up via mini-game after the level ends. Once it's presentable, Julia will take the item to the show and it will be evaluated just like on TV, giving a bit of history and the current value of each object. The fan service doesn't hurt, either!

There's no timer to worry about in Antiques Roadshow, and you're not limited on how many hints you can use, either. Too many mis-clicks results in an unusual but fitting punishment: a cloud of dust invades the room. You have to wipe it away with your cloth before you can proceed, which is exactly what would happen if you kept nosing around a dusty storeroom.

Antiques RoadshowAnalysis: If you're a fan of the Antiques Roadshow program, you've probably already started your download. The game pays tribute to the show in several ways, and the crossover is sure to please a lot of people. In the gameplay department, Antiques Roadshow doesn't take any chances and provides a straightforward hidden object experience with very few diversions. No real puzzle solving to be had, just sifting through storerooms looking for antique items. You can almost smell the musty air!

Finding items on your list can be quite a challenge. Antiques Roadshow usually manages to avoid the "make it a ridiculous size and camouflage it in the foreground" trap many hidden object titles fall prey to, but it keeps the challenge level high by scooting items behind pieces of scenery, often making them extremely difficult to spot. Your hint meter is more than generous, though, and is eager to help you out of a tight spot. And you'll be in those spots several times per level.

The mini-games in Antiques Roadshow are "blah" at best. Sifting through buttons may be some folks' idea of fun in real life, but in a video game? No thanks. A "skip" button is mercifully provided for each game, and you'll be reaching for it on several occasions.

Antiques Roadshow provides a solid no-frills hidden object experience. It's a great looking game with items hidden in challenging places, and if you've got even the slightest interest in antiques or the television show, you'll have even more fun searching for valuables in this release!

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Mystery Valley

DoraA rash of murders plaguing a small town brings an FBI agent back home for the first time in years. Haunted by memories of vague, unsettling nightmares that plagued her as a child, she doesn't suspect that she has a deeper connection to these disturbing incidents than she could ever imagine. Mystery Valley is a hidden-object adventure game with one of the moodiest, creepiest atmospheres you'll ever come across... and jump scares. A whole bushel of 'em. While it has its flaws, it's still a lot of fun. It also proves what I've always said; never trust a bathtub.

Mystery ValleyAs Special Agent Yournamehere, you quickly discover the latest victim in these brutal slayings, a reclusive professor, had quite an interest in one place; Mystery Valley. As it happens, our Agent's hometown is none other than Mystery Valley, which is a bit less on charming tourist-trap bed-and-breakfasts, and a bit more on ancient, unspeakable evil. Much of the story plays out in cutscenes, so be sure not to skip them or you won't have any idea what's going on. Depending on your preferred level of difficulty, you'll have tutorials present throughout the game, and hint/skip buttons that recharge slower or faster. You'll still use your mouse to play, and the cursor changes to mark areas or items you can interact with. If you don't know where to go, click on the journal in the lower left corner; it keeps track of the things you find and usually points you in the right direction.

Analysis: I know I talk a lot about atmosphere. If I had to pay royalties every time I used the word, I'd probably be putting someone's kids through college. But friend, this is one creepy game. The areas are shabby and neglected, full of subtle ambient sound and environmental effects, and the soundtrack is lovely. It's actually because of this great moody pacing and quiet environments that the jump scares are all the more effective when they happen. Sure they're not the most elegant of methods, and not everyone enjoys them, but darned if they won't make you jump even when you see them coming.

Mystery ValleyThe hidden-object scenes fare worse. Not only are they dull, they're out of place. They feel like they've been tacked on just to make the game longer, or maybe to appeal to a broader audience. It doesn't really negatively impact the game, but it does sort of make you long for the days when an adventure game could just be a good ol' fashioned "use key on door" adventure game and not make you pick up a crab, a bowtie, and six canaries before you could get the key in the first place. Thankfully, most of the game relies on standard point-and-click play and is better for it. The pacing is quick, there is typically very little backtracking, and the solutions for item-based puzzles are always logical and clear.

For a game to put the word "mystery" right there in the title, it better darn well intrigue, and happily, the story is creepy and interesting from the get-go. Don't get me wrong, we're not talking Steinbeck here; it's definitely a little cheesy and the stiff, almost terse writing sort of feels like it might be due to translation issues. The game definitely would have been stronger overall if the writing had been beefed up a little. Still, the way the bits of story and weird happenings are revealed in such a way that you want to find out more, and the different locations keep you from feeling bored or stuck.

Think back to your childhood. Were you the sort of kid who, during a scary movie, had to sit with a blanket over your head (everyone knows monsters can't get you through blankets), but were still having the time of your life? Then Mystery Valley might be right up your proverbial alley. While it doesn't break any molds and won't cause any gameplay epiphanies, it's a thoroughly entertaining and enjoyable title that fans of BOOGEY-BOO scares and fanged doll heads will definitely find fun.

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Escape from the Underworld

JohnBEscape from the Underworld is a short exploration platformer that shares some design elements with some of the most successful indie games in recent history: Knytt, Iji, Seiklus, Cave Story, and, well, we could probably go on. In short, Escape from Underworld is a Metroidvania and it's really, really good.

escapefromtheunderworld.gifDescribing the opening scene would ruin your first "ZOMGNEAT" moment of the game, so suffice to say, you end up wandering the underworld caves, looking for a way to get out. You start off barely being able to jump, but a quick power-up allows you to do just thdat. Afterwards, it's all about exploring the passageways and finding item upgrades that help you explore even further. Most of the time you'll be nabbing health upgrades or extra lives, but sometimes you'll discover key items that really change the nature of the game.

When you first start wandering the underworld, you're weak and rather helpless. For this reason, you'll probably die a lot, as one hit sends you back to the last save point. Do yourself a favor, though, and persevere just a few more minutes, until you get a health upgrade or two. This instantly takes the frustration out of the game and opens up the fantastic experience that is Escape from the Underworld.

Apart from exploring dark passageways, you'll also take care of a few enemies, some of which are persistently annoying in their ways. You won't always have to run and hide from their attacks, though, and it's satisfying to meekly dodge everything only to come back later and vanquish all foes with a sword. The environment presents its share of dangers as well, with lava, spikes, rocks, and water getting in your way. Never fear, though, as there's always a way to deal with the problems of the world!

The gameplay is great, of course, and the whole of the experience that is Escape from the Underworld is breathtaking. But the game couldn't be half as epic without the amazing soundtrack by Prophecy. The music makes your time much more interesting, and there's a good variety of songs that change while you play, so you''ll never want for something good playing in your ear.

Escape from the Underworld was created by Banov (author of Dubloon) for Indie Kombat to go up against a submission by Andrew Brophy (A Weekend in Space, Takishawa is Dead, Angry Gorilla Machine Monsters author). Unfortunately, Brophy was forced to drop out, leaving Escape from the Underworld as the winner by default.

Do yourself a favor and play a great exploration platformer right this very second!

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The Clockwork Man 2

JohnBMiranda and her clockwork companion Sprocket are back in Total Eclipse's hidden object adventure game, The Clockwork Man 2: The Hidden World! Featuring elegant hand-drawn visuals, twice the content of the original game, and the series' standard scrolling and zoomable levels, it's exactly what you would expect from a follow-up and delivers a solid, well-balanced hidden object experience from beginning to end.

The Clockwork Man 2Miranda Calomy's parents went missing over eight years ago, and she's on a quest to find them. Exploring a cave in Ireland, their last known location, she stumbles into a plot much bigger than herself, discovering secrets her father had kept hidden for years. Strange cylinders, a distrustful professor, cloaked figures in the background, and an entire world hidden from view. Good thing she's the crafty daughter of an inventor.

Gameplay switches between hidden object scenes and puzzle-oriented adventure areas. Many parts of each scene can be interacted with, as indicated by the changing cursor. Often you'll need an item from nearby to proceed. To pull a lever, for example, you might have to remove a piece of metal blocking the way. What better way to do that than with a crowbar? To gain certain key items, you'll participate in a number of short hidden object scenes. Sometimes you'll need to move to another location to find the things you need, but since everything is readily accessible from the map, you'll never get lost or have to backtrack very much.

The Clockwork Man 2 takes an extra step to make hidden object scenes interesting. Instead of flat, still pictures to stare at, many of these environments can be manipulated with the mouse, keyboard, or on-screen controls. Zoomable stages are introduced right away, allowing you to roll the scroll wheel to zoom into the background and take a gander at what's down the way. Scrollable stages can be dragged left and right, moving several parallax background layers in the process, and uncovering some things you might not have noticed before.

The Clockwork Man 2Sprocket is more than a collection of gears and metal, as he functions as Miranda's companion as well as a hint buddy. You'll find several gadgets on Sprocket's icon at the bottom of the screen, each designed to help you find items in different ways. You can get a direct hint that shows you where one random item is, for example, or take a peek at several items at once, receive a picture of the item in question, or even read a text-based hint. Plenty of ways to make sure you don't get stuck in the game, and each ability recharges after a short time.

Analysis: Another gorgeous game from Total Eclipse. The Clockwork Man 2 is a stunning piece to look at, and the artwork will capture you in every scene. Even the character portraits are nicely done, with subtle animations that help convey emotion or just add an extra flourish to the picture. You'll find a lot of living things in the environments as well, like birds perched on reeds or squirrels nibbling on acorns. That, along with the interactive scrolling, help pull you in to the game's world an extra step.

Compared to its predecessor, The Clockwork Man 2 improves on just about everything, especially overall length. The original game was short and had a less-than-satisfying ending. The sequel, on the other hand, is twice the length and won't leave you scratching the head when the credits roll. The visuals are just as stunning as ever, though unfortunately the steampunk has been dialed back a bit, leaving more countryside scenes and indoor environments to sift through.

The Clockwork Man 2 never tells you exactly what to do next, but it's always easy to figure out what needs to be done. For this reason, the challenge is somewhat lacking, though not so much that you'll never get stuck. The story also falls somewhat short, especially when compared to the first game. You won't be quite as interested in what happens next, as it's a bit predictable, even if well-told.

Better than the original, and a solid hidden object/adventure game in its own right, The Clockwork Man 2: The Hidden World is one of those dependable games that deserves a space on your game shelf. You know, if you had a game shelf and the game came in a case and such...

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Weekend Download

JohnBTime for stuff! With the notable exception of Great Migrations, the games in this edition of Weekend Download seem to be dominated by white on black landscapes. Old school throwback or conscious atmospheric design choice? To that question I answer: yes!

houseincalifornia.gifA House in California (Mac/Win/Linux, 14MB, free) - A surreal sort of game with a mouse-driven interface that works like an old adventure game. The narrative follows four characters who bring a house to life, mainly through memories. Look, remember, play, forget, and other verbs help you interact with pieces of the world, traveling from area to area by visiting old memories and interacting with them. It's a very captivating and emotionally touching experience, and it's great to see a classic game style such as this live on.

lightarrow.gifLight Arrow (Windows, 8MB, free) - Halloween may be over, but that doesn't mean you can't scare yourself into a hysterical fit, does it? Light Arrow is a minimalist 3D game that manages to be disturbing even though there are only a few environmental obstacles and enemies are a few blocks of pixels. You've got a bow and arrow that shoots light (kind of), and you move around looking for the bright glowing red exit. Enemies, however, really want to give you a hard time, so you've got to take care of them with your arrows. Simple, well made, and with sound effects that beg to be listened to with headphones on.

greatmigrations.jpgGreat Migrations (Windows, 59MB, demo) - Created to promote the new National Geographic series of the same name, Great Migrations is all about leading animals to safety. Dangers present themselves in the form of predators as well as natural obstacles, and as wave after wave of your animals appear, you must choose a leader, mark out a path, and adjust everything as necessary. After a few levels, you can purchase items to use before each stage as well as utilize helpers that speed up your animals, slow down predators, and heal the wounded. Surprisingly challenging, surprisingly informative (thanks, NatGeo!), and it's always fun herding butterflies, salmon, zebras and red crabs and telling them where to go.

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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Heart's Medicine: Season One

JohnBFrom the developers of Delicious Emily's Holiday Season comes another gem of a time management game every casual gamer needs to experience. Heart's Medicine: Season One takes place in a hospital where the newly-arrived Allison Heart is just beginning her residency. Help sick patients by tending to their needs, shuffling them through the hospital as efficiently as you can, never forgetting to take good care of each person. The storyline is fantastic, the presentation is superb, and both the variety and the game's pacing are perfect. Heart's Medicine is simply one of the most well-balanced and entertaining time management games you can find!

Heart's Medicine: Season OneMost casual games start off by showing you the developer's logo, then dropping you into a title screen. Just like a good TV medical drama, Heart's Medicine begins in media res, pushing you into the game without a warning. Your first task is to follow a doctor's instructions to save a man's life. Click when the doc says click, find the items he needs, and you'll do just fine. This intro serves as the backstory, showing you how Allison was inspired to become a doctor.

Best of Casual Gameplay 2010Six years later, the real game begins. Initially, you've got four main stations to take care of, each operated by a simple click of the mouse. Patients come in and take a seat at the top of the screen. Most will need to change into super-comfortable hospital gowns first, so click them, then click the screens to let them change. Afterwards, seat them at the diagnostic chair or bed, depending on their preference, and tend to their complaints. Some patients will need a simple bandage or other treatment. Most, however, will need more care in the form of a short mini-game. The first you'll encounter has you moving a magnifying glass over part of their body looking for "sore spots". What's a sore spot, you ask? A piece of glass, a fish hook, or a bee stuck in their skin. You know, the usual.

After a patient is taken care of, send him or her to the computer to check out. Then it's back to tending the other patients, as the clinic never seems to slow down. Heart's Medicine takes place in several different departments, switching every five shifts, bringing an enormous variety to the game's two dozen levels, and letting you experience the pediatric ward, the lab, and the prenatal ward. Each features a different setup and different gameplay, most notably the new set of mini-games as you take care of each patient.

Heart's Medicine: Season OneAnalysis: Heart's Medicine: Season One is a bit like a playable medical drama. The characters are unique and interesting, making you want to learn more about them as opposed to clicking through dialogue as fast as you can. And that's just the warm caramel filling you find when you bite into the rich and varied gameplay that includes some puzzle solving and hidden object elements.

Just like its cousin Delicious Emily's Holiday Season, the art style in Heart's Medicine is amazing to watch in action. Characters are smoothly animated and drawn with soft, almost fuzzy lines that give them an inviting but somehow semi-realistic appearance. Everything in the game looks great, even the cuts and wounds you'll spy under your magnifying glass.

Best of all, Heart's Medicine takes care of breaking monotany before it begins (as if it would ever set in with a game this unique) with some very cool trophies and bonus objects you'll find in certain levels. And let's not forget our guinea pig friend that runs around and can be captured. So, if you think all you're going to be doing is picking bees out of patients' legs, think again.

Plenty to do, plenty to experience, and an expertly-crafted gameplay/presentation package you'll fall in love with, Heart's Medicine: Season One is an excellent start to what will be a must-play time management series.

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The Nokkians 2JohnBThe Nokkians 2 is a new vertical shooter by Awoker Games. Using the term "vertical" is a bit of a lie, as one of the key features of this casual shmup is its game-altering screen effects which twist, turn, rotate and scale the entire game world as you play, making dodging bullets only half of the challenge. Add in a load of achievements, a great soundtrack, and gameplay that won't frighten the casual gamer, and you've got a great shooter that can actually draw you back for multiple playthroughs.

The Nokkians 2 messes with your head like it's its job. Not only will the screen mirror itself and rotate around, it'll also blur out, twist at all angles, fly into the background, or disappear altogether. This happens right in the middle of play, without pausing the action for even a moment. Dodging bullets and enemies seems simple at first, but when left becomes right and up becomes a small point in the distant background, it's a different matter altogether.

The controls are kept simple, and you'll soon realize they're the only thing you can rely upon in this bullet-soaked red vector world. Use the [arrow] keys to move, [S] to shoot, and [D] to unleash your special attack. These controls are relative to the game environment, not your eyes, so even though your perspective will change, the controls do not. Tapping [left] while looking straight-on will move you left, and you'll fly in that same direction even though to your eyes you're going down and to the right. The fact that the controls don't change may make you kind of mad at first, but once you see the variety and frequency of visual effects the game throws at you, you'll be thanking the shmup gods in the sky that you've got something stable to rely upon.

Two modes are available right from the start: story and challenge. The former is an arcade mix of short level spurts filled with enemies and projectiles and ending with boss battles. The latter is a boss rush mode without the fancy screen distorting techniques, just straight-up you vs. those big ships with loads of guns. You also have a choice of ships from the beginning: the fast NightStar, or the powerful and well-armored OmniLaser. Each has different stats and weapons suited for different play styles, though the latter will likely be a good choice your first time through the game.

Achievements are another layer to experience in The Nokkians 2. They range from simple trophies that commemorate playing for several minutes to rewarding you for beating bosses and being generally awesome at the game. There are 42 in all, and as you earn them, you'll gain bonuses to ship stats during either game mode. A great reason to come back and replay the game!

The Nokkians 2Analysis: The first time The Nokkians 2 tips the game world around, you'll feel lost. Scrambling to find the right key to press, crashing into ships and bullets left and right, who would do this to a poor gamer like yourself?! But, after it happens a few times, you'll learn the best weapon in The Nokkians 2 is actually being calm. Focus on the game, not the controls, not the relationship between you and the game. If your point of view is from the ship, not from your eyes, things get much easier and you'll get much better at this interesting game.

The Nokkians 2 is very friendly to non-shmup fans, as it plays a little slow and has easy enemy patterns to pick up on. Actually, the patterns are so simple, veteran shooter fans might not feel the love, as some of the depth present in serious shooters is notably absent in this casual title. With all the achievements you can nab, though, replays and experimentation are still encouraged.

The Nokkians 2 is an excellent shmup that's friendly to non-twitch gamers and does some great things with the interactive medium. With the vector graphics and screen effects, you'll feel like you're in a mid-80s sci-fi music video. That you can control! It's not for everybody, though, as some of the visual effects can be disorienting, But after you play it for several minutes and finally die, your first reaction when you exit the Nokkian trance will be "wow".

Play The Nokkians 2

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Link Dump Fridays

DoraWhen someone's bored... and the week's too long... who ya gonna call?! LINK DUMP FRIDAY! This week's installment brings you an oddball assortment of games featuring all manner of strange creatures and dangerous situations, from a world-devouring purple beast kept at bay with puzzle blocks, to a fairy-tale gone wrong where the fluffy woodland critters think your kneecaps would taste mighty fine. Enjoy!

  • Tree FenderTree Fender - Gardening is hard work. Not only do you have to contend with fuzzy, cuddly, infuriating animals deciding they would like to sup on the fruits of your labour (literally), you also have to worry about irrigation, nematodes, soil quality... golems. In this action defense hybrid you control a warrior trying to protect a tree from hordes of golems. Click anywhere on the ground to move there, and your hero will automatically slice through whatever's in his way. The concept is interesting, but the execution is a bit clunky, as controls can be frustrating and the levels can get repetitive fairly quickly. Still, it's fun for a while. Golems?! Ahmed Hassan never has to deal with this!
  • SupermaxSupermax - There's something decidedly NES-ish about this stealth arcade game. You play a cue-ball prisoner who did... some... thing trying to escape from a prison some... where. But you don't do this by engaging in fisticuffs with the guards, or even a good old-fashioned shanking like Mom would've loved. Instead, you've got to sneak around each level gathering the keys you need and avoiding the guards who are thoughtful enough to march in predetermined patterns. While it's fairly simple, Supermax is still cute as a button. Presumably the fashion police threw you in there after they saw your orange spandex bodysuit. Zing!
  • TetravalancheTetravalanche - You'll never look at Tetris the same way again. In this arcade platformer, you control a tiny hero leaping and punching his way up through falling blocks, trying to stay one step ahead of the massive purple monster that wants to eat him. Earn power ups and try to survive as long as you can while the blocks fall faster and you keep climbing higher. While fairly simple and a little frustrating to get the hang of initially, it can be surprisingly addictive. Although, if that purple monster isn't nightmare fuel of the "something is after you but you can't move" variety, I don't know what is. Maybe... with a clown mask?... n-noooo! Oh, God, why do I do that to myself?!
  • Snow White: Dark CurseSnow White: Dark Curse - You know that one scene in Shrek where Snow White goes all hardcore and totally kicks everyone's butt? This is like that, but with less wrestling moves, and more cursed mutations. In this side-scrolling brawler, you play Snow White, who isn't looking quite as fair as she used to after the jealous queen lets loose a spell that turns the entire land (and its inhabitants) dark and twisted. As new (radder) Show White, you'll have to deal with ferocious woodland beasts and boss monsters as you punch your way through the stages. It's fairly short, and unfortunately fairly repetitive, but it's a great twist on the classic fairy-tale genre that is well worth a look.
  • Underworld Army - Episode 1Underworld Army - Episode 1 - In this point-and-click puzzler, the infamous Professor Pain has just blasted off in his adorable little rocket, and it's up to you to break into his house and find a way to deactivate his robot army, currently poised to destroy the world. (Nooo! Then where will I get my cappuccinos?!) Although the interface is a little clunky, this is a fun, silly little adventure for your coffee break. Who else can say they saved the world before lunchtime? Nobody, that's who!... Though, really. Who's to say Professor Pain isn't a victim himself? With a name like that, you practically have to be a supervillain. Just as Casanova Frankenstein.

corygalliherdeadlyneighbours.jpgEveryone's had problems with their neighbors at some point. From the party guys who blare music at 3 a.m. on a Monday morning to the lawn dictators who go berserk if your grass gets too long, bad neighbors are a fact of life. In Nerdook's latest strategy game, Deadly Neighbours, you get to deal with your neighbors in the most direct way possible: by beaning them in the head with a PS2 controller! Or a fishbowl. Or maybe you'll just take a good old-fashioned butcher knife to the face. You've got $25,000 of debt to make up, and you're going to take it out of the hides of your neighbors.

To clear each stage, your family of three will need to defeat the opposing family of three using throwing, shooting, and melee weapons. The game is largely mouse-controlled, with camera movements tied to the [left] and [right] arrow keys. Click on a family member to select them, then click on a weapon to prepare it. Melee weapons activate if a family member touches an enemy, shooting weapons activate if they're equipped and the family member is idle, and throwing weapons must be aimed and thrown manually with another click. Each weapon costs a certain number of Action Points to use and you gain some AP per turn, so you'll need to prioritize what to use and when.

There's a vast amount of weapons available, from Ming vases to fishbowls. Each has different properties and the throwable weapons are affected by gravity in different ways. You can also use weapons that set the ground on fire, make it slippery or leave toxic puddles that adversely affect enemy family members. Properly arming your family is a big part of the game...though it's hard to resist using less-powerful weapons like the rolled-up newspaper for the sheer comedy value

After every level, you'll also get to go on a mouse-controlled Deadly Drive to run over your neighbors and collect even more cash. This is a nice action-based break from the ongoing neighborhood battles. As you earn money you'll also obtain perks to further improve your characters; you can give them boosted health, more powerful melee attacks or cause them to gain health from toxic puddles amongst other options.

Despite the gruesome premise, the graphics are fairly tame cartoon fare. Defeated characters fall and vanish in full-body casts, even when run over by the van. Everything is colorful and it's generally easy to tell what's going on, though things can become pretty chaotic.

/deadlyneighbours2.jpgAnalysis: The most noteworthy part of Deadly Neighbours is the immense amount of customization available. You can customize your characters' faces, hair and clothing, the weapons they use and the perks they earn as you hit money milestones. There's a ton of different options and you keep unlocking more as you play. When you've got a family you're especially fond of you can share it with other players. Fans of personalization will love this game.

You'll need a balanced arsenal of weapons and perks to counter opposing families. For instance, melee weapons do a lot of damage but are easy to stop with ranged weapons, but perks are available to let melee characters continue charging after being shot or beaned with a ranged weapon. There are also status effects and terrain effects to worry about. There's quite a bit of depth here for strategy fans.

In the end, though, all this depth does boil down to throwing your best weapons and characters at the other team in the right order until someone dies. While the customization and perks spice this up to a degree, if you don't enjoy the first few battles then chances are you're not going to enjoy the rest of the game. A little more diversity of gameplay would've been nice.

Regardless, this is a polished, fun game that certainly merits a look. It's hard to find a game that lets you personalize your experience more than Deadly Neighbors; creating and sharing new families is almost a game in and of itself! So get a family together, grab the nearest Ming vase and take to the battlefield, because if you don't, your neighbors just might.

Play Deadly Neighbours

If you want to play multiplayer, you will have to play at Kongregate.

Babylon Sticks: Unlock Your Potential comic

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

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TrickyKnoxMany will see Knox, a new online simulation of the classic game of marbles by Boxhead: The Zombie Wars creator Sean Cooper, as bit of a throwback to an earlier age. As of late, marble games seem to have fallen into relative obscurity, at least in the United States. Nowadays you're more likely to see the glass spheres used to trip up a pursuing bad guy or being consumed by hungry hippos than played with in the traditional circle upon the ground. Whether or not it turns out to be a herald for a new resurgence of casual popularity, Knox makes for a fun little trip back to the schoolyard.

The rules of Knox are largely unchanged from the real life version of marbles: by aiming and shooting a white marble, knock all of the red marbles out of the circle. The game ends when all the red marbles are gone. Whichever player "Knox" the most red marbles, while keeping their shooter marble within the circle, wins. You can play with up to four players on the same computer or play for solo high scores in a number of practice modes.

To shoot, click on the marble and drag in the direction you wish to fire, the farther you drag, the more power behind your shot (and a little power can pack a wallop). You can also use the mouse to rotate the view of the board by dragging left and right, and zoom the camera in and out by dragging it forward and back. There are various options for the size of the playing circle and the initial number and configuration of red marbles therein, and online high score boards are available for each configuration. And there's not even a chance of losing your best catseye under the sofa!

While Knox is certainly well-presented, I have to admit that it rests in an incredibly niche genre. In our discussion, a fellow reviewer compared it to billiards sims, with their emphasis on angles and the occasional frustration of removing every last ball from play. I'd say that's an apt comparison, especially considering it's a kind of game people either love or hate. Though the variety of boards and practice modes are appreciated, the lack of AI competitors or online multiplayer can make the experience feel quite limited. But if you've been pulling your hair out trying to find a quality recreation of a classic past-time, Knox will ensure that you don't completely lose your... well... you know.

Play Knox

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TrickyMix Sudoku Light Volume One

Mix Sudoku Light is a multi-platform release from Conceptis just waiting to appease the sudoku monster within. The game has a number of useful features, including support for both mouse and keyboard interfaces, undo/redo buttons, the ability to check your current answers for errors, number highlighting, and a save function. It does a great job bridging the gap between pen and paper gaming and browser interfaces, all without the constant fear of paper cuts!

In addition to a very player-friendly interface, Mix Sudoku Light comes with six versions of sudoku, ranging from the very familiar to the less recognizable:

  • Standard sudoku - Place the numbers one through nine on the grid in such a way that every row, column, and 3x3 box includes them only once.
  • Diagonal - Like standard, but includes diagonals in the restrictions.
  • Irregular - The nine-square "boxes" are now irregularly shaped.
  • Odd/Even - All the numbers in shaded boxes must be one or the other.
  • Chain - Like Strimko, numbers are set in crisscrossing chains.
  • Multi - Grids overlap, but numbers must adhere to traditional sudoku rules.

The main downside as of now is the limited number of puzzles available: only ten of each variation for 60 total, and the same puzzles in each version. Conceptis says it will be releasing updates as the weeks go by, along with new online versions of other pen-and-paper puzzles, such as Picross, Kakuro, and Battleships. Conceptis has long been an excellent provider for these kinds of puzzles, though the registration requirement for the main site has kept a chunk of their potential audience away. I'm glad to see they're reaching out across the internet. Online sudoku games may be a dime a dozen, but they're always in demand, especially when, like Mix Sudoku Light, they're done so well.

Play Mix Sudoku Light: Volume One

nuclearoids.jpgJohnBNuclearoids is a chain reaction arcade game that will remind you a little of Boomshine. A collaboration between GameBalance (Warp Forest, Orbox) and Alexander Samarin, expect a whole lot of smooth color changes and great visual effects to go along with your physics-based orb collisions. It's a game of not-quite-controlled chaos that takes a big step in the webtoy direction.

Move the cursor around the field and hover over a viable explosion spot. Notice the trails that get pushed off the nuclearoids? Those indicate where the orbs will go and at what velocity after you cause that grand explosion. Orbs ricochet wildly and collide faster than you can keep track of, all with a glowing color change oscillating before your eyes. Try to knock around as many nuclearoids as you can with that click, as that's all you get to clear the target number to complete the level.

You'll notice a lot of little physics things go on while the nuclearoids are bouncing around the screen. Larger orbs attract smaller ones, often enticing them into orbit before they stick/collide. Black holes do pretty much what you think they would do, only in this universe, you can destroy them, which is kind of a power rush.

Nuclearoids creates a beautiful little mess of chaos that's like eating an entire bag of Halloween candy... with your eyes! In the gaming department, however, it suffers a bit, as you have very little control over what goes on after you make that fateful click. There's some strategy to be had with pushing certain orbs towards groups of orbs or other objects, but in the end, it's pretty random, so it's as much luck as it is planning. Because the presentation is so engrossing, though, it's a lot of fun to sit back and watch things interact.

Put some bright colors in front of your eyes and make some 'splosions with your mouse. You know you want to!

Play Nuclearoids

Weekday Escape

GrinnypAlthough most room escapes take place in an actual room, this week's foray into escapist escaping takes place in...Well, I'm not sure how to describe this one. It's a single space to be sure, but one that appears to be made of glass and is a very odd geometric shape. Almost like trying to escape from a geodesic dome, one without any visible doors. Can you solve your way out of Ice Stone Escape? Strawberry Cafe certainly hopes so, as do I. Welcome to Weekday Escape!

Ice Stone EscapeStrawberry Cafe does tend towards whimsical, almost nonsensical escapes, and Ice Stone Escape fits right into their oeuvre. Wander around the limited area and solve a variety of puzzles based on color, shape, and pure logic and perhaps you will make it out of this...greenhouse? Deck? What the heck is this place anyway? Whatever this place may be, it certainly needs to be escaped from, and for some reason you can't seem to take the simple, logical step of throwing something through the glass and breaking your way out.

Navigation is handled with arrows at the sides and bottoms of the screens, although there's not that many places to go. Inventory control is pretty simple with the help of an "About Item" button that allows you to examine the things you've picked up, and you'll need to pick up a fair few things to puzzle your way out of this odd place. There's even a "Save" button, which is a nice inclusion, but not terribly necessary as this escape is pretty logical and easy. Unfortunately, though, there will be a fair amount of pixel hunting involved as Strawberry Cafe still has not incorporated a changing cursor into their escapes.

Ice Stone Escape is a Japanese game, although that's not much of a downside as basically everything is pure logic. In fact, within the game, you might encounter Japanese text only a couple of times as you click around the room, and you don't need any knowledge of the language to play or defeat the game. What you will find as you wander around is Strawberry Cafe's usual use of geometric objects and of course their signature color scheme of light pink, dark pink, and red.

So it's not the most difficult point and click out there, and the pixel hunting can get a little annoying, but Ice Stone Escape delivers some fun logic and puzzles in this compact little room escape. Cute backgrounds and quirky, logical puzzles make Ice Stone Escape a fun mid-week break, something that will refresh your logic circuits and help you clear your mind for the rest of the week. And after this particular week, we all probably need a little mind clearing.

Play Ice Stone Escape

Storm Winds: The Mary Reed Chronicles screenshotBradAh, the world of Storm Winds. Some of you are getting flashbacks just reading that title. Your head is swimming with fixed cannons firing endlessly as wave after wave of strange flying machines bare down on you. Right now you're just waiting for me to tell you how awesome the game is so you can get to some hot, steampunk-esque defense action. Well, it's time for the old good news/bad news thing. Bad news is that this isn't your normal Storm Winds game, it's a point-and-click adventure. The good news is that Storm Winds: The Mary Reed Chronicles is just as well made as the other entries in the Storm Winds series.

The Mary Reed Chronicles puts you in the shoes of Mary Reed as she tries to rescue Princess Ann from a Demon airship (for non-Storm Winds fans, that's not demon as in monsters, but Demons as in people from Demo). You'll use your mouse to interact with the environment. Along with the puzzles, you'll also be doing some point-and-click gun slinging. When the time comes just click on the enemy you want to take down and Mary Reed will take care of the rest.

Storm Winds: The Mary Reed Chronicles screenshotThe Mary Reed Chronicles isn't a very long game, but it is good, especially considering this is Hero Interactive's first foray into point-and-click adventure. The puzzles aren't extremely tough, but there will be times when you'll have to take some time to think about what to do next and there's not a lot of item combing. However, this keeps things moving and with the gun play it makes the game into something like a fast-paced action point-and-click adventure. You'll be doing quite a bit of shooting, which will appeal to those who are tired of the more cutesy kind of point-and-click. You'll be spilling a lot of blood on your way to find Princess Anne. There is some extra content in the way of an alternate ending that you can unlock by finding all the hidden letters.

The game looks pretty good and it has a distinct style. It seems brighter and cleaner compared to the style present in the Storm Winds defense games. While it might have been nice to have some of that grit here, it doesn't detract at all. On the sound front, the sound effects are good, but what's odd is that there's not much music while you're playing through the game. While this won't bother anyone who usually turns off music in a game, it would be nice to have a little bit of a score during some of the more exciting scenes in the game to compliment the action.

Storm Winds: The Mary Reed Chronicles is a quick, fun adventure game. It will especially appeal to those who have always wanted to get into the Storm Winds universe, but aren't very good with defense games or defense game junkies who don't usually like adventure games. Hardcore point-and-click fans won't find a lot of meat here, but it's still worth a play, particularly if you've been looking for a point-and-click with some blood in it. Whether you're a fan of Storm Winds or not, The Mary Reed Chronicles is worth playing.

Play Storm Winds: The Mary Reed Chronicles

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corygallihercoryg_rollingfall_screen1.gifWhat would games be without zombies? Zombies are a gaming staple and slaughtering them is a cherished gamer tradition. They're basically the turkey of Halloween, if you think about it! It's time to get into the undead-slaying groove once again by playing Rolling Fall, the latest physics puzzler from Mibix.

Zombies have been set up throughout the girders of a construction site, and you need to get rid of them by smacking them with objects like wrecking balls and boards. To do so, use the mouse and click on a chain to cut it. Utilize physics to your advantage to clear each level; all the zombies need to be dead to move on, but it only takes the gentlest of taps to kill a zombie.

The above premise pretty much sums up the entire game. Rolling Fall doesn't pull out any game-changing shocks; you're cutting chains and squashing zombies all the way through. The game's relatively short, with only 30 main levels and 10 bonus levels, so this isn't necessarily a big problem. Since the bonus levels can only be unlocked by earning high scores, there's also incentive to improve.

All in all, this is a solid use of your time whenever you want to send some zombie heads a rolling. Rolling Fall isn't going to change the sport of zombie-slaying as we know it, but it's certainly an excellent half-hour or so of physics goodness.

Play Rolling Fall

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The Vault

JoshHey! What do you think you're doing, running past my section of The Vault so fast? Didn't you read the pixilated sign? There's history down here, you shouldn't just sprint past it! I don't care if your mother's calling you, slow down for a second and sit yourself down in front this here bulky CRT-monitor I got back in '98. There. That's better. Now quit squirming. See, in my day, we didn't have those "advanced" Flash games with their newfangled graphics and gameplay you kids keep playing. No sir, we had nice and simple, ol' fashioned break games, like these gems I found in the back... hold on a sec while I get em... now don't move!

  • Gold-MinerGold Miner - Wow, this one's got a little dust on it... (WOOSH!) There, much better. Now this arcadey "nugget" (ba-dum-tsssh!) from 2003 was quite the popular Flash game for its time, and despite its age, Gold Miner still holds up today thanks to its time-tested, addictive gameplay. Your miner guy is at the top of the screen, with a crane swinging back and forth. Press [down] to shoot your crane out to try to grab valuable gold nuggets and mystery bags in order to reach your money goal for the round. Press [up] to toss a stick of dynamite at any rocks you may pick up to save time. Can you hit your goal before time runs out? With its upgrades, simple controls, and increasing difficulty, Gold Miner is still a great choice for a quick distraction.
  • FishyFishy! - Before the rise of the popular and polished "Feeding Frenzy" series (which would make its appearance on PC and Xbox), there was the Flash game Fishy! by Xgen Studios. The game is a spiritual successor to the classic 1982 Intellivision game "Shark! Shark!", which introduced the "eat or be eaten" game mechanic. Basically, your fish has to eat other fish smaller than itself to grow progressively larger, while avoiding being eaten by bigger fish. Fishy's classic avoidance gameplay and fluid keyboard controls makes this one addictive and fun, just the way casual games are meant to be.
  • GeosenseGeosense - Wait a minute... Geography as a game? Don't recoil in horror — it's actually a lot of fun. This single/multiplayer game in DHTML has you pinpointing locations of cities all over the world using your mouse. Try to get as close as possible to a city's actual location for higher scores. Test yourself on maps of the world, the USA, or Europe. There's even a "Scramble" mode for more challenge, where the location's name reveals itself one letter at a time. Compete against players all over the world in real time for bragging rights over who REALLY knows the actual location of Petropavlovsk within 50 km.

Okay, I'm done. That wasn't too bad, was it? Here, let me unbuckle those straps and... hey... where'd you go?

We hope you enjoyed this week's assortment of vintage casual. Go ahead and post any comments about the games here. Just remember that for help on any individual game, you should post any questions on that game's review page. Enjoy!

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TrickyRunning InkI recall how, when distracted during less enthralling elementary school lectures, I would sketch hypothetical planes upon my loose-leaf for hedgehogs and plumbers to traverse. I thought I was alone in this habit, but apparently Spelgrim had doodle-space in his composition books dedicated to this pursuit as well. The result is his new paper parkour platformer Running Ink.

You control an inky avatar thrust into a graph-paper world of ledges, cliffs, and walls. Controls are standard: the [left] and [right] arrow keys make you run, [down] makes you slide and roll, and [space] makes you jump across gaps and off of walls. The goal of each level is simply reaching the exit as quickly as possible. There are no enemies to impede your progress save gravity and momentum, but in completing each of the eighteen levels, you'll get to know both very well. Building up speed may make jumps longer and walls easier to climb, but collide with a surface too fast and you'll be reduced to a literal splatter. Good luck.

Analysis: We've seen similar aesthetics in games before (such as Ragdoll Cannon and Rock-n-LOL), but instead of pencil scribblings upon a faux-paper background, this platformer is uniquely inky, with drips and smears a-plenty. It makes for a visual style that is stark yet fluid, and for a lively protagonist that is a joy to control. He's a grunting, streaky, jazzy combination of Fancy Pants Man and Sonic the Hedgehog and the way he's animated drew me right in. Clearly a lot of effort went to his design and sound effects, and it pays off (though the trail of ink he leaves behind seemed poorly placed on occasion). Even failure didn't seem so bad when accompanied by such a delightful splat. Special note must be given to the music provide by Salkin: it's appropriately simple but brassy and drips with cool.

As the work draws inspiration from free-running, momentum control and quick reactions are vital to game-play, for better or worse. While it's certainly frustrating to go back and repeatedly attempt a jump you didn't quite perfectly time initially, once you're in a racing groove, the fun clicks on. It's true that certain elements of the control scheme didn't quite work (trying to fall into a roll often just sped me into a wall at high speed. Cue repeated splats.), but overall the engine is up to the task.

At first you'll have to spend a bit of time just running and jumping around to get used to the mechanics (and, again, to marvel at the animation), but there are eighteen levels to beat. The levels are more than a little repetitive and aimless, but go by so fast that you might not notice (though I was saddened to see a lack of a level editor). The only thing you race against is a time-trial clock, which takes away some of the urgency from the proceedings, and the non-linearity makes it hard to know where exactly you should be going. Level Twelve in particular featured a number of blind drops that required a bit of frustrating trial and error to get through. Still, the game has the solid sense of exploration that is the barest essence of platforming, and that is what really counts.

It doesn't have a huge amount of depth and it's a bit short, but Running Ink's visuals and gameplay make for a fun well to dip a pen in for a half-hour. Hopefully another release in the same style is on the horizon.

Play Running Ink

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corygalliherLucky TowerWhich came out of the opened door... the lady, or the tiger? Both can be dangerous, but neither are as frightening as the dangers you'll find behind the doors of Exotworking's platform adventure Lucky Tower. As a slightly dimwitted hero, you'll proceed down from the top floor of the eponymous tower in an attempt to escape...but chances are you'll meet your death a fair number of times along the way.

Move our hero with the [arrow] keys, jump with [A], and use your weapon or hit switches with [S]. If you're stuck, press [K] to instantly die a horrible death. You'll be spending the majority of your time going through doors which lead either to the next floor of the tower or a horrible demise, though there are some brawling and platforming segments as well. You can also customize your character with new weapons and hats as you proceed down the tower, though this doesn't accomplish anything in terms of gameplay.

The doors usually have hints leading you to the correct choice. For instance, it's usually a bad idea to go through the one with a blood pool oozing out from under the frame. However, half the fun of this fairly short game is making mistakes on purpose so you can see what misfortune befalls the hero. Monsters of all variety abound, as do spiked ceilings, crushing floors and other traps.

As mentioned, Lucky Tower is a fairly short game. It's unlikely that any but the least coordinated players will wring more than a half hour of playtime out of it. Still, it's worth a look for its appealing cartoon style and hilarious voice acting.

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TrickyReincarnation: All Hallow's EveThe book of Isaiah tells us that there is no rest for the wicked, and that's accurate for a number of reasons in Reincarnation: All Hallow's Evil, the new Halloween-themed mini-installment of the Chris Gianelloni's popular point-and-click adventure series. Entries in the series have been coming out at such a constant rate, that I'm sure that the snarky demon protagonist has had little time to nap in-between his travels to Earth. What's more, the games have been of such consistently high quality that I wouldn't be surprised if author Chris Gianelloni had made a deal with Mr. Lou Cypher himself, and should probably have Daniel Webster on speed-dial just in case he sees a certain purple creature knocking at his door to collect.

If you've played any of the previous entries in the Reincarnation series, you generally know what to expect here: It's Halloween night, and The Demon has been sent out to check on Darcy, an escaped soul that the higher-ups of down below have reason to believe is once again indulging in some serious evil. Before you can send him down for proper... "rehabilitation", though, you'll need some evidence that Darcy is up to his old ways. Use the mouse to levitate items, manipulate and combine them in your inventory, and use them upon other items in the game to complete your mission. Be sure to try everything! There are two slightly different ways to finish the game and a handful of easter eggs to find.

Certainly Reincarnation: All Hallow's Evil is short and doesn't change much of the series's basic formula. But as the combination of chocolate, caramel, peanuts and nougat has shown every Trick or Treater, however, some formulas don't need to be changed. With it's fluid animation, top-notch voice-acting, creative yet logical puzzles, and pitch-black sense of humor, Reincarnation: AHE makes a spooktacular fun-sized treat to close out the Halloween season.

Play Reincarnation: All Hallow's Evil

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Mobile Monday

JohnBThere's sort of a general spacey, puzzley, anti-human thing going on in this edition of Mobile Monday. It certainly wasn't planned, of course, there just happened to be several games released at about the same time that included, you know, things that hate humans and let you play as them. Honest!

nohuman.gifNo, Human - While floating in space, the arrogant human said "We will colonize you, universe!". The universe was all "Nuh uh", and threw a flaming rock at the human's craft, smashing it to bits. In this physics game, you are the universe, throwing flaming rocks at human things, trying to smash everything into bits. There are things in the way, there are obstacles to ricochet off off. But oh, it's so much more glorious than that. Every physics trap you can dream of is in this game, including comets, magnetized rocks, ice rocks that need to be heated up, and more. In other words, yes, human, get this game immediately.

chuchurocket.gifChuChu Rocket! - In what may be the most bizarre puzzle set-up ever, Sonic Team's ChuChu Rocket is all about guiding chuchus (mice) to rockets located on the grid. The little guys walk in a straight line and change direction every time they hit a wall, and you can only affect them by dropping arrows onto the floor. Oh, and there are holes in the floor they can fall in, as well as big orange cats that'd love to eat them. Hundreds of levels to play, ranging from puzzle to arcade challenges to multiplayer battles. ChuChu Rocket hasn't seen much attention since its original release on Dreamcast, and it's great to see it's still alive and just as fun as ever.

linkoidz.jpgLinkoidz - Another great puzzle game, this one takes the familiar gem stacking concept to a realm of cheesy space sci-fi. Our hero has crashed on an alien planet, and the local inhabitants aren't too pleased about that. Orb-like aliens pile on top of your shield, and they have but one weakness: being grouped together in like-colored columns! Use your gun to pull Linkoidz through the shield and shove them in other stacks. Match three or more and they vanish, creating chain reactions, breaking ice blocks, and doing all sorts of other neat things. A sometimes frantic puzzle game that's just as much action as it is thinking (zen mode tilts it to the former a bit), but it's a great time killer for the mobile platform.

wackylandsboss.gifWackyLands Boss - Oh, those princes and knights and plumbers always getting the glory. What about the one who does all the real work? The villainy, the plotting, the planning, the general feeling of doominess? Yeah, nobody really cares about the boss (other than defeating him), but in this game, you're the boss, and you're sick of putting up with the non-boss-like humans. Stomp, punch, roll and battle your way through hordes of the fleshy things in this side-scrolling beat 'em up, upgrading your boss with a ton of equipment and body alterations. Lots of things to unlock, and the challenge level is there from the beginning.

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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