December 2010 Archives

Humble Indie Scramble

ArtbegottiWe've finally made it to the final day of the Humble Indie Scramble! Over the past week we've given away several Humble Indie Bundles to competitors who have the wits to unscramble a medley of anagrammed game titles and the good fortune to win a random drawing. We hope you've had as much fun participating as we have had making the puzzles (except yesterday, that puzzle was just a pain to come up with). Even if you're just joining us today, you can still jump in the game (a quick review of the rules and a sample puzzle).

We've promised some tricky twists for the big finale, and today, we're ready to deliver. To start off, you're not trying to split just three game titles from the anagram, but today you're playing with five games. To up the difficulty, the clues for all of the games can describe at least two games, so some trial-and-error might be necessary to find the right answers. However, to celebrate the final day of our game, we will give away three Bundles of Humble Indie deliciousness, one each to three lucky entrants. We've cranked up the difficulty, but we've also increased your chances of winning!

Here's your final Humble Indie Scramble:

MONTHS FLY FONT, GAME HYMN TESTIMONIAL: A SHARP ONE CAN FIGURE THE HUMBLE INDIE SCRAMBLE

  • Game involving hexagonal tiles

  • Foreign card game

  • Game where you utilize clones of yourself

  • Match-3 game involving animals

  • Game where you slide rooms into different configurations

Think you know the answer? Send the five game titles to us, along with a statement that you are at least 13 years of age, to: JIGriddle@casualgameplay.com. Only one entry per person per puzzle, please. Multiple entries will be disqualified. This contest is open to everyone 13 years of age or older, void where prohibited. The winner will be drawn at random from all correct entries received. You have only until tomorrow, January 1st, 2011 at 06:00 PM (GMT -5:00), so hurry!

Thanks to everyone who has participated in our lexicon luau! From all of us here at JIG and Casual Gameplay, Have a safe and happy new year!

Update: Far fewer of you sent in correct answers to our finale puzzle, but we did get enough right answers to award prizes! Congratulations to the following players: bluemoose19, danman02, and Chaos! Your correct entries were chosen at random to receive a Humble Indie Bundle!

Answers to the riddle above:

Our sincere thanks to everyone who participated and played with us this past week. You can be sure we'll do more riddle contests like this throughout 2011!


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Cradle of Rome 2

JohnBThere are as many sayings about ancient Rome as there are people to say them. Rome wasn't built in a day. All roads lead to Rome. Rome where you want to (oh, wait... not that one). It just goes to show you that the Roman civilization left its mark on the world in ways we cannot even begin to understand. This fascination with Rome has seeped out into modern media, appearing in everything from books to movies, graphic novels, and, naturally, casual games. Cradle of Rome 2 takes us back to the origins of the ancient city, telling the (abbreviated) tale of Romulus and Remus and allowing you to build Rome in as many or few days as you please, one match at a time.

Cradle of Rome 2Cradle of Rome 2 is a match-3 game at heart, but there's a purpose to all of that tile swapping. Every match you make adds something to your resource meters, whether it's coins for gold, lumber for wood, water for supplies, or even hammers and bombs to build up special moves. You've got a timer on the right hand side of each level reminding you that you can't take all day with your matching. Clear the board as efficiently as you can, earning as many resources as you can get your grubby little paws on in the process.

After your matching session ends, you'll return to your village where you can spend those resources to unlock new buildings (and thus, new things for your puzzle game). All you have to do is click on the structure, solve a short mini-game, drop the cash and you're in business! Rome grows as each level passes, adding more and more to the thriving city thanks to your l33t matching skillz.

Trophies and unlockable game modes round out the experience, giving Cradle of Rome 2 the ability to draw you back again and again. Some of the trophies are actually a challenge to earn, and you must check your achievements page to see the requirements for each one. After reaching certain milestones, you'll also unlock Tournament and Blitz modes, the former is a challenge to solve puzzles for the best time, while the latter is all about completing the game in double speed. Plenty of challenge, plenty of matching, and who hasn't dreamed of building a city with the splendor of Rome?!

Cradle of Rome 2Analysis: Cradle of Rome 2 was designed smartly from the ground up. Everything about the game is responsive, from making matches to menu options, and you never have to wait for the game to play an animation before continuing your thing. It may seem like a small matter, but in an age when so many games ignore the player experience in favor of quirky gimmicks or just making a sale, it's wonderful to see a development studio actually put some effort into the interface.

When simulation meets match-3, getting the balance of the two genres perfect is challenge #1. Awem Studio chose to lean more heavily on the puzzle aspects of the game and leave the simulation to a minimum, meaning you'll spend much more time swapping tiles than you will managing your village. Nudging up the simulation aspect wouldn't be a bad idea in this game, as the gameplay is already very well-tuned and interesting. Adding some thicker sim elements would make Cradle of Rome 2 a heavy-hitting cross-genre experience indeed!

If you played the original Cradle of Rome, you'll find nothing much has changed in this sequel. Everything looks about the same (which, honestly, isn't a bad thing!), the gameplay is the same, and the challenges are on-par with the first in the series. Tournament and Blitz modes are new additions, and they add an extra level of challenge any match-3 fan will enjoy.

While Cradle of Rome 2 doesn't try to break any convention, its mix of genres is an entertaining and well-thought-out element that gives purpose to tile swapping. Don't hesitate to give it a try if puzzle games or a light simulation element are your thing!

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


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Rating: 4.2/5 (80 votes)
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joyeWhere Is 2011?Almost exactly one year ago, Mateusz Skutnik gave us a holiday riff on his popular Daymare Town series in the short point-and-click game Where is 2010? This year, he's giving us a New Year treat in the aesthetic guise of his 10 Gnomes series. Enjoy beautiful monochrome photographs of Gdansk, Poland as you try to answer the question,
Where is 2011?

The new game's short length is similar to its predecessor, but it has a completely different feel, being heavier on the hidden object motif (like the 10 Gnomes games it's inspired by). It's a powerful testament to Skutnik's talent that he can create two games with such drastic stylistic differences and yet have each be unmistakably his work. Not only that, but I'm looking forward to Where is 2012?, which could riff off of Submachine (please oh please!), or the Fog Fall, or Covert Front, or... Okay, I am making an executive decision that the world cannot end in 2012 because clearly Mateusz Skutnik will not be anywhere near finished with New Year's games at that point.

As I've already said, the game is very brief, so if you cheat and go straight for the walkthrough, you'll only be cheating yourself of enjoyment. In fact, now that I know how to beat the game, I can do the whole thing in well under a minute. There is a little something called atmosphere to be appreciated here, along with your usual point-and-click finding of objects to manipulate. There's no mute button, and while usually that's one of my pet peeves, I can't fault him for not including it here, because the understated sound effects are an essential part of the game experience. Definitely put your speakers or headphones on for this one.

Above all, pay attention to the subtle differences in the images through the changing seasons and time of day. In order to find 2011, after all, you have to go to where he enters. Don't rush there, because he'll be coming soon enough.

Play Where Is 2011?

Thanks to Aexis and Spike for sending this one in!


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Rating: 3.4/5 (35 votes)
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joye23:59 screenWhere will you be at New Year's Eve, one minute before midnight brings in 2011? Watching a ball drop on television in the comfort of your home? Partying with several hundred of your new closest friends? Wondering if anyone will notice if you swig your champagne now? Flying in loops around rockets in space, making them explode into beautiful fireworks displays? Probably not a lot of people going for that last one, but no matter your plan for the holiday, you can enjoy just such a cute diversion in the Bobblebrook action mini-game, 23:59.

The game only lasts one minute, so it'll probably take less time for you to go play it than for me to tell you about it, but basically you control a little astronaut figure with your mouse, and you draw loops with him. Once a loop is completed, anything within the loop explodes. This can be a good thing if the loop contains the fireworks and bonuses flying up from the bottom, but a bad thing if you inadvertently include one of the satellites floating down from the top of the screen.

It's short and sweet and shouldn't tax your abilities too strongly even if you have been sneaking the champagne all day. So grab your bowl or plate of cocktail shrimps, mochi, lentils, hoppin' john, grapes or what have you, curl up with your laptop or desktop, and give this a try today or tomorrow. From all of us at JIG, a Happy New Year to you!

Play 23:59


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Link Dump Fridays

DoraWelcome to the last Friday of 2010, friend! We hope you're ready to leave the sheltering embrace of a familiar year for the cold, unfeeling waltz of uncertainty with a new one. To ease the transition, please find enclosed a care package of some of the last games 2010 will ever see. Cradle and cherish them, for they are like the last bison that roam the prairies of the internet.

From all of us here at JayisGames, we wish you a happy, healthy 2011 filled with love, good will, tolerance, and ROCK AND RAAAAWWWWLLLL!!

  • Time PygmyTime Pygmy - [Note: Some content may be mildly suggestive.] A mysterious portal sends you, a pygmy, hurtling through time from your comfortable cave to a modern house. In this bizarre puzzle-ish game made for Ludum Dare 19, you'll explore the house and make various discoveries, trying to unlock everything within the time limit. The discoveries are a bit less "making the wheel" and a bit more "basements can be comfy too", which leads to an everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach to the gameplay. Of course, if you're the type of person who expects logic in a game about time-travelling cave pygmies you're also probably the type of person who writes strongly worded e-mails to websites about the problems with cats consuming cheeseburgers.
  • RushRush - Nitrome's fast-paced arcade racing game plays like an homage to both VVVVVV and Canabalt as you race for the finish across different tracks and obstacles. The idea is that you can flip your personal gravity to run on the ground or on the ceiling, and if someone else reaches a power up before you, it's gone for good. While it can be a little confusing due to the lack of tutorial and multiple screens, fans of arcade racing action will welcome the challenge. I have to tell you, freerunning would be a lot more interesting to me if it was happening on the ceiling, but probably still just as insufferable.
  • Spikes Tend to Kill YouSpikes Tend to Kill You - Spikes are mankind's natural predator, right up there with polar bears and staircases. The wonderfully named Noxious Hamster brings us this simple but challenging platformer where you play an... uh... flaming blue square thinger who has to leap and run through a gauntlet of not merely spikes but other hazards as well. The one-hit-KO is in place, but it merely teleports you back to the start of each short screen. You'll need quick reflexes to make your way through this minimalist game. A vocabulary of creative profanity might not help, but could be soothing nonetheless.
  • DistanceDistance - Also for Ludum Dare 19 is this short piece of interactive art that follows a couple currently in a long distance relationship. For the most part, the only real interaction you have is choosing what they say to each other at the end of each day as they talk on the phone, although one choice towards the end will have an impact on the ending. Depending on the choice you make, the message is different and can probably be construed as optimistic or cynical. Personally, my husband and I are living proof that a couple can overcome any distance and time as long as you have a mutual, deep-seated hatred of cilantro. Food intolerance is a sorely overlooked building block for a healthy relationship. (Also: American Idol, auditions only. Hilarious!)
  • SHIFT: Freedom!SHIFT: Freedom! - Friend, if thou doth hungerest for more Shift puzzle platform amusement, thou shalt sup well this eve. Previously only available as a pay title, Alt Shift has been released for all to play in your browser in celebration of the release for Shift 2 for iPhone. Choose your gender and set out to rescue your beloved from a jealous mad scientist across 80 levels and minigames. Eh... I mean... verily... and forsooth... and whatnot.

Humble Indie Scramble

ArtbegottiAfter nearly a week of giving away Humble Indie Bundles, we're finally starting to wind down the contest. We'll post the grand finale puzzle tomorrow, and we promise it will be significantly bigger than anything else significantly smaller than it. In the meantime, we've got another puzzle for you today. If you're just joining the Humble Indie Scramble party now, you can check here for a full explanation and a sample puzzle. As with every previous day, your goal is to split the anagram into three game titles that fit the three clues provided.

(Ahem.) ...That fit the three clues provided...

...Oh, right. Um... So as it turns out, we only have two clues today. We've still got three game titles mixed in the anagram, but you've only got two clues to work with. (Third one might've been thrown in the junk mail folder by accident.) Submit all three game titles for a chance to win a Humble Indie Bundle!

A PALATIAL CAVALCADE PARALYZES A SEEPAGE. AHA! AGITATE ANA, AUSTRALIA SEES AARDVARK ASTRAY. A FACIA? YAHOO, ARIZONA!

  • Game involving a forgetful elephant

  • Game in which you reproduce a piece of art

  • ??????

Think you know the answer? Send the three game titles to us, along with a statement that you are at least 13 years of age, to: JIGriddle@casualgameplay.com. Only one entry per person per puzzle, please. Multiple entries will be disqualified. This contest is open to everyone 13 years of age or older, void where prohibited. The winner will be drawn at random from all correct entries received. You have only until tomorrow, December 31th at 06:00 PM (GMT -5:00), so hurry!

Update: Congratulations to Lavos! Your correct entry was chosen at random to receive a Humble Indie Bundle!

Answers to the riddle above:

Look for the Humble Indie Scramble Finale.


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Rating: 4.5/5 (31 votes)
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Babylon Sticks: Street Fighter MMXI comic

Congratulations to Rebuild for the winning caption in our Babylon Sticks Caption Contest! An email has been sent to you with a link to your Humble Indie Bundle.

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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Rating: 4.7/5 (163 votes)
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DoraA House in CaliforniaCardboard Computer's (Jake Elliott) interactive narrative, A House in California, originally appeared in a Weekend Download. Following a young boy who can't sleep as he speaks with four women who recount stories of their own, the game is a surreal nostalgic tour down memory lane... sort of. Each story transports you to a slightly different location and presents you with a deceptively simple puzzle to solve; find a way to light a streetlamp, for example, or entice a flock of birds to sing.

Like an old-school adventure game, you have a tray of different actions at the bottom of the game window, such as "Look", "Remember", "Play", and so forth. Click an action, then click something on screen to carry that action out. It's a more abstract approach to the traditional style of point-and-click play; instead of "use fireflies", you might try to "remember fireflies" and be treated to a bit of text that provides some atmospheric flavour, or even transported to another place entirely. It's figuring out what you need to do to trigger those transitions that's the key, and easier said than done. You'll have to be willing to explore and play around with even seemingly nonsensical action/item combinations, especially if you want to unlock more actions.

Analysis: Seeing the community's reaction to anything that might be termed "interactive art" is always interesting because it tends to generate some of the most in-depth discussion around. The thing about calling something "art" is that the word has different meanings for different people; I'll never understand Andres Serrano's appeal, but my ambivalence doesn't (and shouldn't) detract from the enjoyment and emotional/intellectual reactions of the people who do appreciate his photography. Likewise, there are going to be people for whom A House in California doesn't make any sense, and those with which it'll resonate. It's all up to the individual.

A House in CaliforniaFrom a gameplay standpoint, A House in California is potentially frustrating to those of us who like (and indeed expect) our games to follow logical courses. The game's habit of teleporting you around from seemingly inconsequential actions can make progression a little difficult to follow, especially since you need to experiment with action and item combinations that don't really make much sense.

But for players who enjoy that sort of experimentation, then A House in California's dreamlike environments are an absolute treat to explore. It's nowhere near as drenched in layers and hidden meaning as other titles in the genre can be. Each scenario takes place in a similar location, but the actions you take throughout the game slowly begin to transform it. To say more would be spoiling things, since a large part of the pleasure to be found in the game comes from just discovering things. For me personally, it did create a surprisingly powerful sense of nostalgia; I can't say I've ever caught fireflies for lighting or made friends with a flock of birds, but there's something about the sleepy, meandering narrative and use of sound that conjures up memories and sensations for me of time spent with my own Grandmother as a child and the stories she used to tell me.

A House in California is a sleepy little game that won't take you long to play, but you can spend a while wandering around inside the different narratives and exhausting all your options on each item you can find to interact with. The last chapter and the ending feel a little abrupt, but from beginning to end it's a lovely, sleepy story worth experiencing.

Play A House in California


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Rating: 4.7/5 (68 votes)
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You Are Games

ArtbegottiImagine driving your car along a road on a magical island. As you pass by every lamppost and tree, you hear music, and a sound comes out of every house. Could such a whimsical place exist? Possibly, but not yet. In the meantime, you can fiddle with Isle of Tune, an audio webtoy where you can design an entire musical city. (Note that we do not recommend driving your car into your computer.)

Isle of TuneAt the bottom of the grid, your island, you'll find a small toolbar containing the tools you'll need to start building. Roads are, naturally, the pathways your cars will travel on. As your car passes by trees, bushes, houses, and lampposts, the notes or sounds associated with the object the car passes by will play. After you place an object on the grid, you can adjust its specific properties by clicking on it, such as what note/sound is heard, or even when the note plays, allowing for a bit of syncopation in your music. When you've got everything in place, hit the "Go" button and watch your musical town come to life.

Isle of Tune is a fairly simple webtoy, with a mere six elements that you can control to create a variety of sounds. Simple in the lack of any ability to change the key of the scale or the speed at which the cars move (you mean to tell me no one speeds around this neighborhood?). And yet there's just enough tools available to let you create some rather intricate loops. Search through the Top 50 list, and you'll hear some user-made renditions of classic songs. The pre-made loops are a great way to get an island started, and the simple sharing system is good for spreading your island creations with everyone.

Convenient, that, because that's exactly what we want you to do! We're turning you loose and want you to go crazy with Isle of Tune and show us what you can do with it. Try to come up with a catchy tune to drive around to. Once you finish your musical paradise, be sure to give it a name and use the Share function to generate a link so that everyone can check out your work. Post the link in a comment for us, because we want to hear it!

Play Isle of Tune

Humble Indie Scramble

ArtbegottiIf you've been playing along with the Humble Indie Scramble so far this week, you're probably familiar with the drill by now. Split one anagram with three game titles, enter for a shot at a Humble Indie Bundle, check the first scramble page for full instructions and an animal-based sample. But from here on in, expect some twists. Today, the twist happens to be a visual one. You've seen the icons for the games we feature floating around on the left side of this page, or perhaps you spot them in the RSS Feed, or maybe you've even selected some to represent your favorites list. But can you recognize them when you see them?

Instead of verbal clues, use the three icons to decode the anagram. Can you figure out the three games in the shuffle below?

GARGLED CARBOHYDRATE? A COMMITTEE SHOULD GO!

Think you know the answer? Send the three game titles to us, along with a statement that you are at least 13 years of age, to: JIGriddle@casualgameplay.com. Only one entry per person per puzzle, please. Multiple entries will be disqualified. This contest is open to everyone 13 years of age or older, void where prohibited. The winner will be drawn at random from all correct entries received. You have only until tomorrow, December 30th at 06:00 PM (GMT -5:00), so hurry!

Update: Congratulations to Grizix! Your correct entry was chosen at random to receive a Humble Indie Bundle!

Answers to the riddle above:

Look for the next Humble Indie Scramble riddle.


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Rating: 3.2/5 (36 votes)
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JamesJay Needs FriendsIf an alien nation were to arrive upon our blue pearl and attempt to profile civilization on the basis of Flash games found online (obviously they don't use Apple machines, unlike the hapless lot from Independence Day...), they will find a species that has no common ground when it comes to difficulty. Or put more succinctly: some like it hot. Or in the case of Casual Gameplay Design Competition #9 entry and arcade avoidance game Jay Needs Friends, some like the room on fire.

I don't blame Jay for not having friends. The people he hangs out with are lazy louts who wouldn't move a finger without Jay needing to drag them from pillar to post. And then they still lumber along as if they were walking with the motivation and determination of a snoozing cat. Throughout all of this loafing Jay is under pressure to get at least eight of his friends to a specific location before the clock runs out. That his friends congregate around lethal red walls and obstacles that keep sliding back and forth along passageways only exacerbates things.

Billed as an old-school top-down action game, Lost-Ride Studios' entry to CGDC 9 is simple: move the main character around the level with the [arrow] keys and tag other characters, causing them to follow you. Then navigate, with friends in tow, a gauntlet of lethal obstacles towards a designated spot where you deposit your entourage. The aim is to hit the friend quota before the clock runs out; an inevitably temporarily stalled by time bonus pickups, or hampered by time penalties. A classic look, as if you might have encountered Jay Needs Friends on an Amiga or Apple II, compliments the simplicity of this game design, but also hides how tough this game can be.

Jay Needs FriendsAnalysis: Jay Needs Friends is not easy. Once you tag a character, they follow you at varied speeds, but always slower than you. This causes a string of people dangling behind you as you make a break towards freedom. But since the levels are full of lethal barriers that need circumventing, moving in curves causes your followers to lazily lilt towards your general direction. It's like dragging a tin tied to a string behind you and running around the corner: the tin will smack into the wall before pitching around the corner. If that wall happens to destroy cans, that means the can is now an ex-can. No pining for the fjords.

This is the situation that quickly develops in Jay Needs Friends; red walls are lethal to you and your friends, so you can't touch them. At the same time you are fighting the clock. And since stationary walls are just not on, there are plenty of moving walls as well, many requiring pretty exact timing if you don't want half your mates reduced to pixel dust. Combined with the clumsy stop-start movement you need to employ to make sure your idiot buddies don't simply run into a wall, it becomes a serious challenge of dexterity and path-finding.

All of this works well, providing you want a very difficult game. Moving walls that shift at highly variable speeds and blocking the path is not unusual. Running out of time is not unusual. Seeing your hangers-on squished thanks to moving a second too soon or late is not unusual. Meeting your end by veering into one of these deadly barriers is not unusual. And encountering all of this by the fourth level (out of eighteen) is not unusual.

Jay Needs FriendsAt first I was tempted to attack Jay Needs Friends' controls, always the first thing under scrutiny in a game that really lays it on thick. But these are pretty slick. Nor can I blame the level design: these can all be beaten, but expect them to go down swinging... and only after they gave you a good bruising. But despite these revelations I cannot let the developers off the hook entirely. The difficulty curve is the inverse of an Olympic ski jump ramp; after level four the gloves are off. By level six the gloves have been pawned for brass knuckles. Finding games of this insane caliber is not unusual, but when entering a competition where your standing is determined by reader votes a more gradual slide towards the ambitious later levels would have been smart. A sink-or-swim difficulty might gradually gather up approval on hardcore bastions like Kongregate or Newgrounds, but it's also a big shortcoming when trying to lure in a wider audience. The problem with Jay Needs Friends is not that it's hard, but that it's hardly ever easy. That you also need to employ a lot of patience and a penchant for trial-and-error explains why Jay Needs Friends didn't get to the top of the podium.

This is a pity, since it does what it set out to do and I believe that if Jay Needs Friends (or an appropriate clone) lands on some of the Flash hubs that house the hardcore difficulty aficionados, it will be a big hit. There are a few design issues as well; your followers are sometimes just a bit too slow or comfy to entirely blame your own lethargic actions, while the area where you deposit your friends also houses the count-down timer; on the larger, scrolling levels this causes the clock to move out of your sight. But these are blemishes, not flaws, and not invulnerable to a bit more polish. As it stands, Jay Needs Friends is a challenging but noteworthy title that will test your reflexes and make you wonder if these are really the sort of friends Jay needs at all.

Play Jay Needs Friends


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Rating: 3.3/5 (56 votes)
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JoshOn the DeckDiCaprio aside, James Cameron's Titanic wasn't a bad film. Some of its best parts come near the end though, when special effects wizardry shows the doomed ship's stern as it begins to rise at an impossible angle out of the water. As I watched Titanic's deck chairs, heavy equipment, and panicked passengers begin to crazily tumble downward, I never imagined such a concept would ever be turned into a game, but lo and behold, it has. On the Deck is a physics-based title by longanimals and BiscuitLocker that challenges your sense of balance like never before as you control a series of ships and other floating craft on a bobbing ocean, trying to keep people and cargo from tumbling overboard.

At its core, On the Deck feels like a classic gravity-tilt-drop puzzle, only instead of guiding a ball into a hole, you have to manipulate tumbling passengers and cargo into doors, hatches, or just keep them onboard and out of danger. Controlling a ship or raft is deceptively simple — just click and drag left or right to bob each side of your craft up or down. You can also open and close hatches and doors by clicking them, which becomes critical on later levels. Some levels have you controlling a ship's bow and stern, while others involve listing the port and starboard sides back and forth. The real challenge comes from the fact that each floating craft is on a moving sea with huge swells that get worse over time.

In addition to the bobbing waves, On the Deck has various types of characters and obstacles to contend with in the game. The main characters are a series of boogying, Titanic-era sailors and ladies you generally have to save. There are also nefarious gangsters on board, as well as vicious giant crabs, hungry sharks, and deadly mines. Cargo includes different shaped boxes and rolling barrels, plus lifeboats and a few old-timey cars.

Make no mistake, On the Deck may sound simple, but it is tough. Addictingly tough. Some levels are pretty straightforward, while others will have you pulling out your hair trying to accomplish seemingly simple tasks. Mastery of the game requires a good feel for the rhythm of the bobbing sea, nimble manipulation of the decks to flip characters, and good timing to have sailors and ladies slide past deadly obstacles. Some of the hardest stages merely require you to keep a stack of cargo afloat for 30 seconds, and just when you think you've got it, you watch helplessly as the stack comes apart despite your heroic efforts to counter a large swell. Frustrating? Perhaps. But darn it if you don't keep replaying until you get it right.

On the Deck is quite fun despite its tough challenge. Its colorful artwork and folksy guitar jazz gives the game a nifty personality, and its varied, ample levels will keep you occupied for a good while longer than most casual Flash games. So grab your Dramamine pills, strap on a life vest, and hang on for dear life as you tackle this tricky nautical puzzler.

Play On the Deck


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Rating: 4.4/5 (151 votes)
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Weekday Escape

GrinnypAh, it's Wednesday again! Normally that would mean the long, draggy day in the middle of the work week, and we here at Weekday Escape would be working to come up with some charming, fun escape to help ease the stress of the day. But this Wednesday is a little different, isn't it? You're dealing not just with the usual mid-week stress, but the unenviable position of being between two holidays as well. You've just managed to get over Christmas, and New Year's Day is rapidly approaching. What in the world could we come up with that would help with that? Have no fear, Grinnyp is here, and she has the perfect solution. Let's play Fireplace, the latest room escape from Petithima.

FireplaceOne of the things I've enjoyed most over this past year and a half (almost two years now) of writing for Jayisgames is the ability to see the progression of many talented room designers. It's been an absolute pleasure to see someone like Tesshi-e evolve from a fairly standard, somewhat strange room escaper to the powerhouse they've become. And now, we have a new talented designer whose progression we can see from the very beginning as well. Petithima hit big with our readers with an early game Choc-mint, and it's been fun to see each escape get better and better. Fireplace is no exception, and it is lovely to see this capable game designer stretch into a serious contender.

What makes Fireplace such a touchstone? Well, dear readers, Petithima, known for their lovely little two (or three) view games, has made the leap into the third dimension. Yes, Fireplace is a fully realized, 3D space that you can navigation around just as in other room escape games. Now that Petithima has discovered the Z axis, the sky is the limit.

Being the next logical step in room escape design is not all there is to Fireplace, though. While expanding our horizons Petithima has not neglected the things that make their games so good: excellent, original puzzle design, logical progressions, and a fantastic control structure in which to play. Navigation is by the usual bars at the sides and bottom of the screen, and of course there are all the bells and whistles included with a save option, a mute button, easy inventory control, and the blessed changing cursor that eliminates so much pixel hunting.

Analysis: Some game designers are happy to rest on their laurels, to coast a bit with each new game. Not so Petithima, and you can see the progression in each game as they stretch mightily each time around. You would think the leap into the third dimension would be enough, but no, Petithima has put a lot of effort into making sure that the puzzles are still fresh and original, and a nice mix of logic, math, and use of found objects.

The artwork is still pretty typical of Petithima's style, flat, cartoony, and somewhat sparse. The only complaint about the graphics, though, is that the game comes across as a bit pixelated. Not enough to be retro, just enough to look as if the game backgrounds are stretched a little too large. However, this doesn't detract from the gameplay experience. Adding to the experience is a nice little light jazz number playing in the background, mellow, but not quite elevator music.

So Fireplace fits brilliantly into Petithima's ever increasing catalog of escape games, a transition to bigger and better things, we hope. Amusing, entertaining, and original, Fireplace is not only a great escape game to play, it is the perfect mid-week mid-holiday stress reliever you've been looking for. It's still a few days early, but let's raise a toast to a talented new designer whose games just keep getting better and better. To Petithima, long may they challenge us to escape!

Play Fireplace


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DoraThe Greedy OneA friend is a friend to the end! Well, until someone needs to borrow money. Or a ride to the airport at 3 AM. Or they show up drunk in a pair of Spongebob Squarepants swim trunks to your birthday party. Or when you give them a handmade sweater for Christmas and they give you a warm can of Mountain Dew and a package of Bic pens. Or... you know what, let's just say sometimes you and your friends don't see eye to eye. But no matter what happens, it's important never to take them for granted. The Greedy One by Undi is a platforming game that was entered into our 9th Casual Gameplay Design Competition, and explores just what friends mean to us.

You play a tiny, skittering green creature in a top-hat and a monocle who is surrounded by friends, but still finds himself dissatisfied with his life and impatient to get on with things by climbing the tower to "The Professional Life". Move with the [arrow] keys, and jump with the up [arrow]. Along your way you'll encounter pink checkpoints, which is where you'll respawn if you land on spikes (or if you press [R]), and pink bouncy bulbs that can give you an extra boost. Your goal is to climb to the top of the tower, but the catch is that you can't do it alone... you have to use your friends to get there. While jumping, you can press [J] to dump a friend for an extra boost. You only have a limited number of friends, and when they're all gone, the game is over. Of course, the higher you go, the more money you earn, and that's all that really matters... right?

The Greedy OneAnalysis: Rather than take the sweet, sentimental route to interpret the competition theme of "friends", The Greedy One leans more towards the classic cautionary message, sort of like the Aesop's Fable of flash games. Most players are probably going to get what it's trying to say on their own, and it might have been nice if the game had relied on the experience to convey what it wanted to say rather than flat-out telling you at the game over screen. The presentation here is very simple, but there's something quite appealing about it. The sound of the wind is appropriately lonely, and there's probably some symbolism to be found in how much more cold and dangerous things get the higher you go and the more alone things become. Some platforming skill is going to be required if you want to make it all the way up, especially with some criminally tiny ledges and liberal use of spikes, which will probably make you wish starting a new game didn't force you to trudge all the way back to the tower from the house at the start every single time the game ended.

Unfortunately, there are times when you literally have no other choice but to lose one of your best buds to proceed. Or at least, that's how it appears; even allowing for flawless execution for some ridiculously fiddly jumping. Because the game is trying to deliver a moral, maybe we could have been able to choose to take another path; perhaps an alternate way to the top that was more difficult, but still allowed you to keep your friends, or even an entirely different path that lead to a different life choice. So... is the only way to win... not to play? Well, no, not really, since you'd be missing out on a clever little interpretation of the theme. It's interesting the impact these tiny little sprites can have. There are times when a misstep would require me to climb all the way back to a certain tricky point, and I caught myself thinking how much easier it would be to reach it if I just got rid of a friend or two. The way they turn white and drop off the screen when you use them, falling away like a dead body, is an interesting contrast to how happy they all seem to be in their comments about you before you jettison them. I actually felt a little guilty for it.

It's important to remember that The Greedy One was created within a limited time frame for the competition, and for how long it'll take you to play, it's definitely worth a look. It's easy to sometimes forget about the things our friends have done for us (the big and the small), and it's even easier to get impatient with them when we're frustrated by own our lack of progress. Undi's little platformer explores the concept of friendship and progress in simple but effective fashion, and reminds us just what exactly matters in life.

Of course, if your friends are the type who like to call you up at 2 AM after they've been playing Halo for five hours straight and want a recipe for "energy drinks", all bets are off. INTO THE ABYSS WITH YOU.

Play The Greedy One

Humble Indie Scramble

ArtbegottiThe second installment of the Humble Indie Bundle might not be available on the Internet's store shelves anymore, but we're still looking to give away a few more copies! If you want a shot at a shiny new Bundle, all you have to do is split the muddled-up anagram into three titles of games we've featured in the past and send in your response. We've had three winners so far this week, and you could be the next!

As you've probably noticed by now, the anagrams have been getting longer and more difficult. If you need a refresher on the rules or a peek at a sample, you can look here. Can you crack today's puzzle?

A COMICAL ICEBOX ACTED FOREVER IN AGONY. IN THE MEANTIME, DRAB FRENCHMAN GIGGLED.

  • Award-winning game in which you fire numbered balls from a cannon

  • Game in which you program mechanical arms to combine elements

  • Game based on a 1982 film, which recently received a sequel

Think you know the answer? Send the three game titles to us, along with a statement that you are at least 13 years of age, to: JIGriddle@casualgameplay.com. Only one entry per person per puzzle, please. Multiple entries will be disqualified. This contest is open to everyone 13 years of age or older, void where prohibited. The winner will be drawn at random from all correct entries received. You have only until tomorrow, December 29th at 06:00 PM (GMT -5:00), so hurry!

Update: Congratulations to Nick! Your correct entry was chosen at random to receive a Humble Indie Bundle!

Answers to the riddle above:

Look for the next Humble Indie Scramble riddle.


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Rating: 4.4/5 (81 votes)
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CassandraShattered Colony: The SurvivorsShoot him, shoot him, shoot... oh god, why do you keep missing? Aren't you a sniper?!... uh, what do you mean you used to be a pizza delivery boy? In Shattered Colony: the Survivors, that's pretty much the best defense you're going to get. In fact, that's the only form of protection you have against the zombie apocalypse: a ragtag group of ill-matched, anonymous survivors who have probably never held a gun in their lives. Addictive, intense and unforgiving, this tower defense game from Jonathan Duerig doesn't really fit the normal definitions of the genre.

For one, you'll only ever get to build four things in this zombie-infested Flash title: barricades, sniper towers, supply depots and workshops. You need to consider your placement of each thing carefully; supplies and ammunition need to be delivered on foot, so place a sniper too far from base and they may become overwhelmed before a runner arrives with assistance. You'll also have to place workshops at the entrances to buildings to scavenge any supplies they might hold. Icons at the top of the screen display all the survivors, boards, and bullets you have, and building something (done by clicking the appropriate icon in the bottom left) requires a certain amount of each resource.

Technically speaking, each of these constructs can be upgraded. You can put more people in the workshops to make things go faster, add boards to the barricades to make them stronger and increase the range and ammo each sniper tower holds. And that's pretty much it; you're not going to get anything else to work with. While other games might throw a variety of mutant zombies at you, Shattered Colony only has the slow, shambling and stupid variety. Holed up inside abandoned buildings and scattered throughout the city, zombies will not approach you unless you engage in construction too close to them or fire randomly in the immediate vicinity. It's all about holding out as long as you can, and learning to construct your network of survivors for your best advantage.

In some strange way, the spartan features are really what make the game shine. Shattered Colony doesn't want you to craft the world's most impenetrable maze of defenses. It wants you to survive. Everything in Shattered Colony is finite. (Except for the gameplay, considering the presence of a map editor.) Each decision you make is vital. Do you waste those bullets picking off that lone zombie or wait for it to arrive in a pack with everyone else? Do you invest everything in one sniper tower or are you willing to risk building another two? Each choice you make is likely to come back to haunt you. Strangely realistic and visceral in a top down, cartoony sort of way, there's no better feeling than when you've finally survived to the end. Of course, there's nothing more depressing than realizing you're out of bullets when the zombies finally break down your barricades.

Play Shattered Colony: The Survivors


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ChiktionaryChild of a Witch TrilogyYou've gotta love your mother, even if she's a gnarly and cranky old witch who doesn't like your taste in girlfriends. She just may have her reasons for being crotchety, controlling and downright witchy. In the Child of a Witch Trilogy by Garbuz Games, three chapters of a spot-the-difference game, a somewhat touching story unfolds that may explain why gnarly old witches are, well, gnarly old witches.

Scour each screen to spot the six differences in every level and click as you find them. Choose to play with hints or without, and find the differences within the allotted time frame. And if you're expecting to play with ease, it seems that Garbuz has ramped up the difficulty a notch or two, as many of the differences are very well hidden.

Like the Butterfly Fantasy trilogy that was featured over several Link Dump Fridays, Garbuz has again skillfully created a story through pictures. However, in the last chapter of Child of a Witch, some text is incorporated which perhaps serves to provide further insight into the entire story, although it can be more distracting than useful. For those who aim for high scores it might be more annoying than helpful, but Garbuz's wonderful abilities to weave a beautiful tale override any apparent shortcomings. And on that note of powerful story-telling, there is an adult theme of implied rape in the second chapter of the game, hence the orange rating.

Garbuz has again created a beautiful story that draws you in and gets you playing even if it's just to find out how the story ends. This time the story jumps backwards in time and reminds us not to judge simply on appearances, even when someone looks like an evil and nasty old witch. Witches are mothers too, and will do whatever they can to protect their offspring, even if it means deceitfully conjuring corpses. But after playing the Child of a Witch Trilogy, you can't help but feel that witches have their hearts in the right places. So next time your mom looks gnarly and cranky, give her a hug and tell her that you love her.

Play Child of a Witch 1

Play Child of a Witch 2

Play Child of a Witch 3


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The Vault

DoraAnother Christmas has come and gone, but if I know you (and I think I do), you still want some more toys, don't you? A (INSERTGENDERHERE) after my own heart, if I do say so myself. That's why this week's installment of The Vault features some of the best webtoys of yesteryear. Webtoys are an under appreciated bunch; not only can they encourage some of the best expressions of artistic creativity, they also provide a comforting bosom to run sobbing to after a game like, oh, say, Manufactoria or The Codex of Alchemical Engineering have chewed you up and spit you out again and again. While this is just a small sampling of some of the great webtoys out there (specifically early ones from 2005 and 2006), it should suffice to whet your whistle for these little gems of the internet.

  • TinyGrowTinyGrow - Very few games have the ability to reduce me to simple monosyllabic communication of "Ooooh" or "Aaaah!". This absolutely gorgeous piece of moving, surrealist interactive art by Shinichiro Sato is one of them. Combining a rich, vivid colour palette with the sort of easy, delightful exploratory gameplay that makes for perfect lazy afternoon or morning coffee gaming, this is a real treat. Just click to create a decidedly unusual landscape using the spinning icons that pop up on the sprouting "trees" and use your mouse to interact with the environment. You might say there's no real point to it other than to flood your eyeballs with strange but captivating landscapes. I say, so? Also, be quiet, Fun Wrecker. It also reminds me of The Very Hungry Caterpillar for some reason, and I can't help but like anything that tweaks that long ago forgotten recess of my brain in such simple, lovely fashion.
  • Fly GuyFly Guy - This one is a personal favourite, not just because it looks like it was conceived on an Etch-a-Sketch, but because it is literally one of the first flash games I ever played. You control an average looking fellow with the decidedly unaverage ability to fly, guiding him up through the sky, which is littered with all manner of strange people and objects to interact with or just observe. It's extremely short, but very well done, with lots of amusing things to stumble across and great animation that perfectly captures the notion of a daydream. Provided what you daydream about is soaring through the sky while a monkey construction worker waves at you, and not, say, creepy Thundercats/Firefly crossover fanfiction.
  • Hell of SandHell of Sand - Dofi's sand games have been around for roughly forever, but if you've never encountered them before, be prepared to lose out on a whole lot of spare time. Hell of Sand is, quite literally, a virtual sandbox where the only goal is to experiment with your own creativity. You're presented with a big black screen and a lot of tools you can use to draw with a la MS Paint, all of which interact with each other in a realistic fashion. It's absolutely fascinating... although for me it's also a little disturbing, because any people in my sandbox always appear to be clawing in vain at their surroundings, trying to escape. It doesn't have anything to do with my fondness for fire, d'you think?... naaaaaah.

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


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Rating: 4.3/5 (110 votes)
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DoraThe Visitor: Massacre at Camp HappyWhile there's no denying that Will Smith and clever socio-political commentaries have done a lot of great things for the "space monster" genre, I say it's high time it gets back to its screamy, bloody roots. The Visitor: Massacre at Camp Happy is ClickShake's newest horror puzzle game, does just that. In this slippery, squelchy follow-up to the original, you once again take up the noble mantle of interstellar spaceworm of death, here to devour animal flesh and gain their abilities. Mmmm, otter! Good for what ails ya.

This time, the Visitor arrives via meteor to the no doubt completely appropriately named Camp Happy, a veritable buffet of varied wildlife and oblivious campers... your real goal to find and devour in any stage. Manually control the Visitor with the [arrow] keys, maneuvering around the map, and try to make your way towards the tender human flesh in each level. You can devour any creature equal to your size or smaller by pressing the [spacebar], to not only gain a boost in energy and size, but also take on any special abilities that friendly forest critter might have had; birds will allow you to fly, for example, while certain mammals will allow you to make your way through dense underbrush. The trick is not only knowing what animal is best for getting you past certain obstacles, but also to make sure you're neither too big nor too small for certain areas.

Your progress is automatically saved, so if you leave and come back to the game, you'll start on the last level you didn't complete. Take enough damage, and your current Visitor will meet an untimely end, but another will arrive immediately to take its place, forcing you to restart the stage from the beginning. It's like a great big, dripping, fanged circle of life. Let's see you try and make that sound appealing, Tim Rice.

The Visitor: Massacre at Camp HappyAnalysis: If you played the original installment, you were probably as surprised as I was to see the gleefully sadistic and disgusting point-and-click puzzle screens replaced with some good old fashioned action/puzzle gameplay. Personally, I don't think this is a bad thing; The Visitor came out in 2007, and to release more of the same three (almost four!) years later would have reeked a bit of beating a dead horse. (A smelly process to be sure.) Camp Happy is actually what I wish developers would do more of; a step in a new direction. It keeps the original oddball concept, but this time there's more involved to playing than just clicking a series of hotspots in the correct order. The gore is as over-the-top as ever, and combined with the bright visuals lends the game a certain morbid charm that makes it fun to explore.

It's a lot more hands-on... or, uh, flipper-on, depending what you've just taken a bite out of. Most of the early levels have you just wandering around the area, taking stock of what animals exist and what order you need to chew their faces in. It's figuring out what animals are going to impart some special ability and which ones are going to shrink and grow, like Willy Wonka's factory via Quentin Tarantino, that makes the experience a little bit trial-and-error at first. It would have been nice to see a few more abilities featured, too; the game features such a unique lead character that I wish the gameplay offered a bit more surprises to take advantage of that. An underwater stage where you were stuck in fish form, perhaps, or a titanic squirrel/raccoon battle that took place in the treetops.

While it might not test your skills, The Visitor: Massacre at Camp Happy is still a weird, fun take on the puzzle genre, with all the splats and cheek you've come to expect from its developers Jay "Zeebarf" Ziebarth and Steve Castro. It's silly, it's gross, and it might be just what you need to rinse the oppressive taste of Christmas cheer out of your mouth after the holidays. And the best part is you get to live out the completely normal fantasies we've all had about being a terror from beyond the stars that craves mountain lion! Right, guys?... guys?

... why are you looking at me like that?

Play The Visitor 2: Massacre at Camp Happy

Humble Indie Scramble

ArtbegottiWant to win a Humble Indie Bundle on our tab? While the bundles are no longer available, we managed to scarf up a few before the deadline and now giving you the opportunity to win one. And we've got a puzzle with your name on it. That is, of course, if your name happens to be Scramble. If you're not yet familiar with the Humble Indie Scramble, you can check out the rules and a sample puzzle here, but be prepared for a little twist. Up until now, all of the games used in the anagrams have been one-word titles. From here on in, game titles may have more than one word, meaning the anagrams are getting tougher!

As a hint, all of today's answers definitely contain more than one word. Also, there's somewhat of an underlying theme of weapons among the clues. Sort of. Take a look and see what you can make of it:

IT'S OBVIOUS: COOP STARTING RECOVERY

  • Game in which your hand is a gun

  • Game in which you ride a unicycle and use a grappling hook

  • Game in which you might upgrade the Polar Star to the Spur

Think you know the answer? Send the three game titles to us, along with a statement that you are at least 13 years of age, to: JIGriddle@casualgameplay.com. Only one entry per person per puzzle, please. Multiple entries will be disqualified. This contest is open to everyone 13 years of age or older, void where prohibited. The winner will be drawn at random from all correct entries received. You have only until tomorrow, December 28th at 06:00 PM (GMT -5:00), so hurry!

Update: Congratulations to Isi! Your correct entry was chosen at random to receive a Humble Indie Bundle!

Answers to the riddle above:

Look for the next Humble Indie Scramble riddle.


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JamesGravinaytorUndoubtedly, once scientists manage to harness and control the direction of gravity they will start to do really strange and interesting stuff with it. Building a crazy gauntlet of levels and decorating the walls with spikes, though, does not seem like some of these. So I am calling the game out: the premise of it representing a lab experimenting with gravity is a lie. Alnoor Games' Gravinaytor, a sort of puzzle-platform gravity hybrid, was made to torture you, the dear gravity game addict. And trust me, you will love to hate it.

The principle mechanics of the game is same to everything else in the genre. You are able to switch the direction of your falls with different switches, in this case represented as zones you step into. By using the appropriate direction at the right time, you navigate through a series of platforms towards a portal at the end of the level. Every successive level pushes this further, introducing moving platforms, buttons for doors and sharp spikes that are lethal on contact.

There have been many twists on the concept, which is perhaps why Gravinaytor steers away from being too creative. Instead it holds a certain vanilla feel that actually works in its advantage. Instead of trying to rewire your brain with every gravitational switch, the challenge instead is to find the correct way through the level. Even the controls are remarkably spartan; the direction on your keyboard always corresponds to the screen and the appropriate direction button will also initiate a jump if gravity is pointing the other way. (But I would like to mention one big flaw: no level select.)

Instead your skills will be invested on the timing it will require to get through a level. And the patience. Oh, the patience. Resetting a level is mercifully instant, but reclining on a moving platform, waiting for that right moment to jump into a gravity zone so you swoop around a cluster of spikes and back up to land on the platform again, is not. Did you catch of all that? That is level 18, the point where the game eventually shows its colours. Compared to the extremely simple beginning stages, the last seven to eight levels will leave you at the end of your wits. Timing becomes a measure so pedantic that some challenges will appear impossible.

They aren't, but don't expect Gravinaytor to be easily beaten. That, along with the pretty spot-on controls and inventive levels, is what makes it work. There have been a manifold of better, smarter and screwier games at the gravity party, but few would meet Gravinaytor's penchant for sadism. If that scares you, don't give this a try.

Play Gravinaytor


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TrickyInsidiaInsidia, the new Metroidvania-styled platform game from Woblyware, revels in its simplicity, not only concerning its graphics, but also is its plot and gameplay. In fact, I think that I can give you the gist in fifteen words: Crashed Spaceship. Alien World. Explore Caverns. Find Repair Kits. Collect Upgrades. Avoid Baddies. Quite Fun.

Using the [WASD] or [arrow] keys to move and jump, guide your little orange traveler around the desolate alien world looking for the ten kits you need to repair your ship. In addition to the repair kits, there are a few upgrades to be found (double-jumps, wall clinging and the like) that will help you explore new areas. You can keep track of where you've been with the map screen brought up with the [M] key, and can instantly teleport back to your ship with the [T] key. Be on the look out for red dots in the wall: these signify a secret passage, usually leading to one of ten switches. Activate all of them and you'll get a less depressing alternate ending. The information signs scattered around give additional information (along with one that gives the sponsor plug. Having to use the mouse to close it in what was previously a solely keyboard game is jarring.) Save points are available throughout, and should you take a flying leap into a saw blade or end up chomped upon by a baddie, you'll instantly revive at the last one. Expect to have to be revived quite a bit.

Insidia has a very cool visual style: simple, but not-quite pixellated, and very evocative in its snowy darkness. That, along with the similar thatched overlay, reminded me of the winter level of Small Worlds: a place where something terrible happened sometime in the recent past and that you are driven to leave as quick as possible. The fact that Isidia adds a touch of the eldritch to its technological creepiness makes it all the better: the enemies are few, but well seriously eerie.

If Insidia suffers by anything, it's comparison: with K.O.L.M., endeavor, and the Robot Wants series leading the way, there's been kind of a glut of these sort of casual exploration-fests as of late, and the planet of Insidia may seem lacking when compared to its denser cousins. However, taken on its own merits, fans of the genre should find Insidia a more than satisfactory way to spend twenty minutes.

Play Insidia!


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Mobile Monday

JohnBAre you one of the estimated 6 million new iPad owners this holiday season? Or was it just new socks and a cheesy sweater this year? We've been keeping up with the gaming scene on Apple's really big touch screen device, and we're pleased to report there are several great reasons to part with some cash in exchange for a great gaming experience.

corpsecraft.gifCorpse Craft - A real-time strategy game/puzzle hybrid with visuals based on the works of Edward Gorey. Corpse Craft casts you in the role of a school child who must create and send various undead critters out to fend off and eventually destroy the fort of an opposing schoolmate. The trick is that crafting units is done with a samegame grid at the bottom of the screen. Clear groups of blocks to add materials to your queue, and spend materials to create monsters with unique abilities. It's... an unusual set-up, to be sure, but the premise works like a charm, and as soon as you start playing, you'll be hooked for a very long time. A Flash version of the game was reviewed by us back in 2008.

worldofgoo-ipad.jpgWorld of Goo - Normally, touching sentient black balls of goo isn't a good idea, but in this case, it's encouraged. You loved the game when it was released for Mac/PC back in 2008, and now World of Goo is back and sporting a fine new touch interface that is perhaps the best way to craft goo towers ever made. The goal is to send a certain number of goo balls through the suction tube at the end of the level. To get there, you'll have to build a wobbly structure from point A to point Not A, using several types of goo balls with their own unique characteristics. Gravity is both friend and foe in this highly creative game, and being unleashed from any sort of interface device (mouse, Wii remote, etc.) has done wonders for the game!

osmos-ipad.jpgOsmos - Ok, so this zen-like puzzle game is great on the PC, right? Now, take away the mouse and give you the ability to directly interact with your mote. See where we're going with this? Yeah, it's great. Zooming around the amoeba-like world, absorbing other organisms to grow larger and larger, it's all so great when it's right in your hands staring you in the face. Check out our Osmos review to get a feel for the game, then nod your head slowly as you realize how natural of a fit it is for the big-screened touch device.

drawn-ipad.jpgDrawn: The Painted Tower HD - The beautiful hidden object adventure game from 2009 is back and even more accessible on the iPad platform. A full port of the PC/Mac game, Drawn features over 70 areas to explore and solve puzzles in, complete with an original soundtrack, a lush visual package, and gesture navigation. An already great game making a flawless migration to a new platform!

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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Immortal Souls

Josh(Evil Skull) "I'll swallow your soul! I'll swallow your soul!"
(Ash aims his shotgun) "Swallow this."
- From Evil Dead II

Vampires and the gothic, macabre world they live in have traditionally been good subjects for pulp novels, comic books, and video games. In recent years, however, there has been a marked change in these fanged, angst-ridden bloodsuckers. No longer are they your standard evil monsters with thick Hungarian accents, widows' peaks, or a tendency to obsessively identify the number of flying bats in a room. Now vampires are seen as misunderstood tragic figures, and some are even considered good guys who try to actually help people (when not thirsting for their lifeblood, that is). Such a character is John Turner, a street racer-turned-creature of the night who is on a quest for justice in Comic Book RPG's newest independent release, Immortal Souls.

Immortal SoulsThe story of Immortal Souls is standard graphic novel fare. In the city of New Haven, it appears that trouble's a brewing. Lots of evil zombies, monsters, and bad guys are roaming the streets, causing death, destruction, and mayhem in their wake. At first John Turner is on mop-up duty with his guns, baseball bat, claws, and fangs, dispatching evil with impunity. Then the plot thickens. What was once just an unholy street gang's mischief soon involves even greater forces of darkness. Soon a mysterious corporation appears, and John begins a quest on their behalf to acquire a series of artifacts from the modern-day Knight Templars and their minions. Along the way, John engages in much butt-kicking, becoming powerful by winning battles and purchasing new items.

Immortal Souls is an interesting cross between a Final Fantasy-like, turn-based combat RPG and Bejeweled. At its core, you participate in a series of battles involving John Turner versus one or more enemies. Instead of just choosing to attack or defend though, you pick your actions by selecting icons in a 4 X 3 grid. Actions are color-coded and include shooting (purple), martial arts (orange), vampire skills (red), and melee attacks (blue). John has stats in these four categories, as well as hit points (HP). The key to success in Immortal Souls is chaining two or more attacks by matching the same colored icons in a single path. In addition, enemies each have a random "color weakness" that gives them a shield bonus against any attack that isn't their weak color. Each battle involves breaking an enemy's shield with the right color attack, then finishing them off quickly before your character gets overwhelmed.

To add some flavor to the mix, there are items and upgrades you can purchase to help you out in battle. Items (such as trench coats, baseball bats and amulets) are sold in the store and will boost your character's stats. Thankfully, defeated enemies drop cash in battles to help pay for your vampire wardrobe. There are also special, limited-use upgrades that can randomize the battle grid or give you more power, XP, or extra cash at the end of the fight. These upgrades cost gold trophies, which can only be earned by winning battles quickly.

Immortal SoulsBetween battles, the game employs a comic book-like story interface chronicling John Turner's epic quest. These cutscenes show closeups of the different characters talking in speech bubbles back and forth. In addition to moving the story along, these sequences show off the game's impressive background and character art.

Analysis: It's in the art and animation department where this game really shines. Each scene and battle takes place in front of detailed backgrounds that look hand-painted, and the look of the fighting interface fits nicely in the gothic theme. The animations are solid, taking advantage of the comic-book theme by relying on heavy line art and anime-like powerful attacks. Some animations, like the zombies' projectile vomiting and the ghouls' tongue attacks are especially impressive, though a bit gory. There is also some level of variety to the animations, adding a bit of freshness to each battle.

While I enjoyed going through the numerous battles in Immortal Souls and seeing the neat fighting animations, unfortunately things began to get a little irksome and repetitive after a while. The game's fighting interface is interesting and easy to get the hang of, but it has some issues. Unlike most turn-based RPGs, each enemy always attacks and hits, and does maximum damage each time unless you spend one of your turns using the defense icons. This means that your success in battle is really based on the random layout of the grid at the start, and the random color weaknesses of your enemies. If the enemies are all weak to colors that your grid doesn't have enough of, it's very difficult to win. And with no way of quitting out of a battle or running away, you are sometimes forced to play through a futile engagement knowing that you'll be defeated in a few more turns. Thankfully there's no penalty for losing battles - you just return to the map screen and can retry the battle with full health.

Having battle grid layouts with few matching symbols can be mitigated by using upgrade powerups that "re-roll" the layout during play. Unfortunately their use is limited, so once you use them up you need to spend gold trophies to purchase more. The problem is that earning gold trophies can be incredibly difficult at times since it requires you to take down your enemies in a low number of turns. With some grid layouts and enemy color combinations, earning a gold trophy is pretty much impossible. Perhaps making the special upgrades permanent or part of the normal cash-based store would have made things far less frustrating.

There's a lot of gameplay in this title (14 chapters with 4-6 battles each), but aside from different animated enemies and background locations, each battle starts to feel pretty much the same. Even the boss fights feel like you're just facing a standard enemy that does more damage and has more shield points. Gameplay becomes a matter of getting through battle after battle to see a little more story, and earn some cash and XP to better survive the next battle. Maybe this is enough for some players, but I felt there could have been a lot more to the gameplay. How about some branching story dialogue paths? Unique spells to cast? More interesting enemies with less predictablity? Better use of the environment and backgrounds?

Ultimately, Immortal Souls looks great and has a unique interface, but its repetitive fighting system and restricted game engine may somewhat limit its appeal. Still, if you're a fan of vampire lore or turn-based fighting RPGs, be sure to check out the demo and take up John Turner's cause for epic justice. Only then can you see if Immortal Souls is really a bite above the rest.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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

Humble Indie Scramble

ArtbegottiDay two of our mixed up Humble Indie Bundle giveaway has arrived. We're giving away a bundle of Humble Indie Bundles, so if you missed yesterday's installment, no worries! See the rules of how to play and an example in our first Scramble. And if you rifle through the comments, you'll also notice a little hint left by Chojiro. Even if you can't solve all three clues right off the bat, you can use the clues you have solved to eliminate letters from the provided anagram to narrow down the possibilities. Thanks for the clever tip!

We've got a new puzzle for you to tackle today. Remember, your goal is to find the three game titles muddled up in the anagram that correspond to the clues. Take a gander at this:

BOOK BROCCOLI, JUST TUNA

  • HTML5 game played like Tetris on a donut

  • Lego-based game about collecting garbage bins

  • Game involving colored balls and colored lines

Think you know the answer? Send the three game titles to us, along with a statement that you are at least 13 years of age, to: JIGriddle@casualgameplay.com. Only one entry per person per puzzle, please. Multiple entries will be disqualified. This contest is open to everyone 13 years of age or older, void where prohibited. The winner will be drawn at random from all correct entries received. You have only until tomorrow, December 27th at 06:00 PM (GMT -5:00), so hurry!

Update: Congratulations to Kokswijk! Your correct entry was chosen at random to receive a Humble Indie Bundle!

Answers to the riddle above:

Look for the next Humble Indie Scramble riddle.


  • Currently 4.8/5
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Rating: 4.8/5 (30 votes)
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Awakening 2: Moonfell Wood

JohnBJust like its predecessor, Awakening: The Dreamless Castle, Awakening 2: Moonfell Wood bills itself as a hidden object adventure, but it plays more like a fairy tale puzzle adventure with hidden object mini-games. That's to say, you won't spend too much time looking for objects from a list, but you'll spend plenty of time picking up items and learning how to use them to progress through the game.

Awakening 2: Moonfell WoodThe young princess Sophia awakens from a 100 year long slumber to find everyone has disappeared. She immediately sets out to locate them, assisted by a shy fairy friend who emerges from a flower. The fairy guides Sophia along the way, pointing her in the right direction and functioning as a hint dispenser at the bottom of the screen. Just click her whenever you're in doubt!

Most of Awakening 2: Moonfell Wood centers around solving short puzzles using the environment or things from your inventory. To cross a river in a leaf boat, for example, you might need a paddle. All you can find is one piece of it, though, so it's off to search for a handle and something to bind it together with. Once you locate everything, assembling the oar is a simple point-and-click affair, just like the rest of the game. All you have to do is engage in a bit of thinking and some light experimentation.

The mini-games are numerous and interesting in Awakening 2: Moonfell Wood. You'll swap tiles to form pictures, rotate circles to unlock boxes, play a game of cards, and of course, the hidden object scenes, which are extraordinarily well done. There are even mini-hidden object scenes where you must find several of one item in the card's artwork, which is a simple but brilliant gimmick!

Awakening 2: Moonfell WoodAnalysis: We've come to expect our games to look great nowadays, and Awakening 2: Moonfell Wood doesn't disappoint. It doesn't go the route of hyper-expensive artwork, opting instead for a gorgeous fairy tale setting, complete with fantasy art galore. The card mini-games (and anything that is supposed to look "drawn") really pop out in my mind after playing the game, as their images are truly striking.

Awakening 2: Moonfell Wood is a linear game, and you won't have a tough time working through to the end. You can choose between Casual and Normal modes from the beginning, the former allowing more hints and a more frequent appearance of goals. It's not about the challenge, though, it's about experiencing this world and falling for the excellent puzzles and mini-games.

Awakening 2: Moonfell Wood is a great follow-up to the original game and manages to continue the story and set-up without faltering. The setting and mini-games are two high points of the experience, and everything else wraps the package up in a game you really won't mind completing!

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


  • Currently 4.3/5
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Rating: 4.3/5 (70 votes)
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GrinnypEscape from Santa's RoomChristmas day is almost over now. The presents have been opened, dinner has been eaten, football has been watched, trash has been taken out, and naps have been taken. Now for the downside of the holiday, what to do next? There's nothing on TV, so that's out. You could go see a movie, but it will be crowded and noisy with all of the other folks (and their kids) who had the same idea. So what can you do to keep the spirit of the day alive for a little while longer? Why, play a new Christmas-themed escape the room game, of course! Welcome to Escape from Santa's Room by Tesshi-e, a late in the day escape for folks looking for something to do after the festivities.

The setup is another Tesshi-e classic: you're waiting in a bar for your friend (that looks like the bar from Escape from the Small Bar, doesn't it?) when you fall asleep. In your dreams Santa appears (as he often does) and lets you know that he needs you to save Christmas. Out of curiosity, why does Christmas constantly need saving, anyway? You'd think from these games and numerous TV specials that Christmas is constantly one heartbeat away from never happening. Considering its effect on the retail market and how vital it is to the economy, I really can't see that happening, can you?

Escape from Santa's Room is pretty standard Tesshi-e fare. Nice three dimensional space? Check. Puzzles involving moving pictures and dolls? Check. Rather familiar music? Check. Lack of a changing cursor? Check. Happy coin alternate escape? Check already! Seriously brutal math puzzle that will have you pulling your hair out? Okay, that one is fairly uncommon in the Tesshi-e oeuvre. Fortunately the excellent English translations are still around to guide you on your way.

The recycling of so many familiar puzzles (especially the picture puzzle) makes this sort of "Tesshi-e: The Greatest Hits". Yet, despite the familiarity and the feeling that this was a rush job to make the holiday (the game itself only hit on Christmas Eve), there's lots to enjoy about Escape from Santa's Room. Familiar puzzles or no, Tesshi-e always provides an amusing and intriguing escape experience, with puzzles that flow from one to another with logical procession, making for an organized yet not too easy escape.

So sit back, relax, and enjoy Escape from Santa's Room. And while it may not be Tesshi-e's best, it sure hits all the right notes for room escaping fun, and may help a little with the post-Christmas blues that tend to settle in around 7 pm or so, depending on when dinner was served. Cheer up, and join the escape!

Play Escape from Santa's Room

Humble Indie Scramble

ArtbegottiHow would you like a chance to get your hands on the Humble Indie Bundle for free? As luck would have it, we've got a few copies we'd like to give away. As misfortune would have it, there's a wicked little puzzle standing in the way. (Don't worry, it's a fun one though.)

Welcome to the Humble Indie Scramble, a little contest designed to test your puzzling ingenuity and your gaming prowess. For the next few days, we'll throw up an anagram containing the names of three games we've reviewed on this site in the past. We'll also give you three clues to help narrow down the names of the games. For example, as an animal appetizer, consider the following puzzle:

THE PEACE FLOWING FAR

  • An animal with a trunk

  • An animal with a long neck

  • An animal that goes "moo"

Using the letters in "THE PEACE FLOWING FAR", it might be hard to pick out individual animal names, but you can use the clues to figure out that an ELEPHANT has a long trunk, a GIRAFFE has a long neck, and a COW goes "moo". To be entered into the contest, all you would have to do is send us an email with your answers (ELEPHANT, GIRAFFE, COW). We'll randomly pick a winner from all the correct entries, and that lucky duck will get a free copy of the Humble Indie Bundle!

Let's leave the zoo now and get to the main event. Remember, you're looking to make the names of three games from the anagram and clues provided. Here's your puzzle for today:

CRAZY WILL CHECK SKI

  • Dice game where you race your opponent to reach 10,000 points

  • Game with an onomatopoeic title where you create a domino effect using rotating mallets

  • Game where you avoid obstacles while driving an aerial cable car

Think you know the answer? Send the three game titles to us at JIGriddle@casualgameplay.com. Only one entry per person, please. Multiple entries will be disqualified. You must be 13 or older to participate. This contest is not limited to US residents only. The winner will be drawn at random from all correct entries received. You have only until tomorrow, December 26th at 06:00 PM (GMT -5:00), so hurry!

Update: Congratulations to Plisk3n! Your correct entry was chosen at random to receive a Humble Indie Bundle!

Answers to the riddle above:

Look for the next Humble Indie Scramble riddle.


  • Currently 4.8/5
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Rating: 4.8/5 (22 votes)
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Airport Mania 2: Wild Trips

JohnBIt's been more than two years since the phenomenal time management game Airport Mania: First Flight was released. How do you follow a game like that? With Airport Mania 2: Wild Trips, a release that matches and beats its predecessor in every way possible. Not only is it rare to see a game this all-around good, but a sequel that carefully hits every mark is practically unheard of. Get ready for more landing strips, fueling stations, and cute, big-eyed planes in this amazing follow-up!

airportmania2a.jpgThe basic idea is to get everybody where they need to go as quickly as possible. Planes fly in at the top of the screen, so you simply click them and tell them which landing strips to approach. Once on the ground, send those adorable little things to unload and pick up passengers, refuel, or whatever their needs may be. When all is complete, click the plane and direct it to a free landing strip to send it back to the skies!

Naturally, you never have the luxury of dealing with just one plane at a time. The skies are full of different vehicles, some that are very needy, some that are sluggish, some that need urgent assistance, etc. It's a constant tangle of planes swapping positions and waiting on other planes to finish their tasks before starting their own. It's never unmanageably frantic, only pleasantly challenging.

The challenge and strategy comes into play when you incorporate combos and points multipliers. Planes have unique colors, and, for example, if you direct a pink plane to a loading dock, the dock turns pink. When that plane leaves, if you send another pink plane there, you'll get a score multiplier. Keep the same colored planes visiting the same buildings and you'll earn an expert score in no time. You can also earn multipliers by keeping frequent same-direction traffic going on the runways, something that's a bit more difficult to pull off, but the rewards are worth it!

Upgrades are massively important in Airport Mania 2, and what you decide to buy with your cash deserves some serious thought. The store is available after each level, and there are lots of things to choose from. The selection varies a bit depending on your location (there are ten airport environments you'll visit, which is nice!), but basically you'll have the option to upgrade some of your structures so they work faster, add new amenities that keep passengers happy for longer, or buy new gizmos that help you play and plan, such as granting you the ability to see the color of upcoming planes. Spend your cash wisely!

airportmania2b.jpgAnalysis: Lavishing praise on the Airport Mania series almost seems inefficient. The series is tightly constructed to provide a balanced experience from beginning to end, allowing you the luxury of scaling your challenge level as high or low as you like as you strive for a better score. The visuals are great, it's so fun watching the planes blink and smile at you (or scowl when they've been waiting too long), and the little extra touches here and there really make things pop.

Airport Mania 2: Wild Trips is a huge game, featuring well over 100 levels in the Premium Edition we reviewed. This will keep you busy for a solid 6-8 hours, easy. And even though the gameplay is confined to one mode, you'll never feel bored or unchallenged in this extremely well-balanced game. It's all fun, all the time.

As with the original, some possible depth of gameplay is downplayed by a lack of visual cues. Airplanes come in all different types, ranging from big passenger planes to puddle hoppers, and each has slightly different attributes. It's difficult to tell the planes apart by a quick glance, so most of the time you treat them all the same. It doesn't dilute the game one bit, but it's still a missed opportunity to make the game even more interesting.

A phenomenal sequel and a grand release in its own right, Airport Mania 2: Wild Trips is the time management game to play, plain and simple. Be sure to check out the original Airport Mania: First Flight, also available for your iOS device.

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

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


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Weekend Download

JohnBRoguelikes seem to be a lost love amongst most modern gamers. "Give me simplicity!" they cry, "Give me pretty pictures!", "Let me play without reading a manual or memorizing commands!". Well, while they sit in the corner and play FarmVille, we'll settle down with our deliciously intriguing dungeon crawling RPGs of yore. Even though the glory days of Nethack are gone, the roguelike is alive and very well today, and there are a number of great projects that aim to bridge the gap between fans and non-fans so that everyone can enjoy the deep satisfaction of exploring the unknown.

brogue.gifBrogue (Mac/Win/Linux, ~1MB, free) - A roguelike that peels away layers of complexity without pulling off an ounce of the meat of the game. Brogue's biggest feature is its shallow learning curve. You don't need to know that "Q" allows you to drink a potion or what that wandering "D" represents. Instead, Brogue informs you of your surroundings automatically, even going so far as allowing you to use the mouse to move around. And to use items, one or two keys will do, a menu allowing you to choose which objects to quaff/read/equip. The rest is all about exploration with some combat that gets gradually more challenging as you continue. Loads of items to find, and some surprisingly tasty flavor text fills out the ASCII world you inhabit. And even though the visuals are just colored text, you'll be amazed how beautiful the world looks.

ledom.gifLEDom (Windows, 2.5MB, free) - How's this for simplicity: you're controlling a light on an LED board! Even simpler than the other roguelikes featured, LEDom is just about running through passageways, defeating red dots and collecting equipment in the form of flashing dots. Clear the floor, find the exit, and you're on to a more challenging level of the dungeon. A handy outline of your character shows you which parts are armored, and the music makes sure you never take the game too seriously.

smartkobold.gifSmart Kobold (Windows/Linux, 4MB, free) - Less of a traditional roguelike than the above, Smart Kobold spins more of a tale than your usual dungeon crawler. You are an adventurer looking for gold to repay some of your debts. Kobolds are rumored to keep valuable metals in their caves, so you decide to head in and investigate. Full of bravado, you start your quest with nothing, knowing you could defeat swarms of those beasts with your bare hands. It's not like the kobolds are... smart, right? Well, we'll see how your assumptions pan out once you start exploring the caves...

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


  • Currently 4.4/5
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Rating: 4.4/5 (130 votes)
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GrinnypSnowingThe best thing about Christmas as a kid is Santa, isn't it? Not necessarily the presents per se, but more the excitement of Christmas Eve. The anticipation, wondering what you're going to get. The excitement of trying to stay up late and catch a glimpse of Santa. Dreaming about the jolly old elf himself, flying around the world in his sleigh, tied to the back of a beluga whale, an endless bag of toys on the seat beside him...wait. What's that you say? Santa's sleigh is drawn by eight reindeer with goofy names that are the constant subject of bar bets around the world, not a beluga whale? Well, perhaps in your neck of the woods, but in Snowing, this great little Christmas escape game by 58 works, Santa does things a little bit differently.

The premise of Snowing is the subject of numerous holiday themed shows and stories the world over. It's up to you to save Christmas. Or, at least, that's what you assume as you work your way through the game. There's actually no intro, so perhaps the premise is completely different. However if you do managed to work your way through the game you will end up taking that wild Christmas eve ride to deliver the presents, so perhaps you are indeed saving Christmas after all.

Snowing has all of the bells and whistles we've come to expect from a really good escape game: logical puzzles, a changing cursor, easy navigation with both arrows and bars, and a charming story. All that's missing is a mute button, but then you'd miss the seasonal music at the end when you succeed in saving Christmas. Pick up and use objects and solve puzzles and soon you'll be making that magical ride, albeit without Rudolph and company.

There's not much to criticize here, just a delightful little holiday treat to put you in the right mood for the day. Even if you don't celebrate Christmas ("bah, humbug!") Snowing is a wonderful escaping treat, and a Christmas present to enjoy. No matter your circumstances, we here at Jayisgames wish you a wonderful, happy holiday season and hope you enjoy this time of year no matter what you celebrate. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Play Snowing


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Ballville: The Beginning

JohnBA spaceship filled with traveling orbs has crashed on a strange planet. The crates holding its living passengers have been scattered across the world, and as the lone captain, it's your job to find them all. Ballville: The Beginning is a matching action puzzle game that emphasizes characters, unlockables, and action over tile swapping, creating an experience rich in variety that will keep you interested level after level just to see what strange new things you'll uncover.

ballville.jpgSentient orbs need homes too, you know, and in Ballville, this is your central task. The overworld map is littered with crates, television screens, and other objects you can eventually interact with. As you complete levels, you construct a new city on this uncharted planet, one building at a time. Unlocking structures rewards you with new orb types as well as other bonuses, some of which are just for fun!

Here's the meat of the game: orbs have special abilities. Of the first few stock orbs, for example, the yellow bird can move on its own, often swapping with tiles and making matches on its own. Hint orbs show you another match on the screen, and DJ orbs sing and break blocks on the grid. Soon, you'll gain access to wood orbs that can clear any block on the screen, and electric orbs that can power certain devices. The list goes on, with almost two dozen orbs to find, collect, and use in the game. Not only is unlocking and collecting game-changing orbs fun, but learning how to use them in "battle" is a challenge unto itself.

Before each level begins, you'll get a preview of the oddly shaped board to see what obstacles await you. Will there be crates to clear out? Gold tiles to form matches over? Tight passageways you have to clear? Look at the layout and choose which orbs to bring into the stage from the inventory at the bottom of the screen. Then, head in and do some serious matching.

Making itself friendly to all ages, Ballville allows you to choose between timed and untimed modes. The former offers you a cash bonus, while the latter is for more casual players who just want to kick back, make some matches, and see what kind of chaos they can unleash.

ballville2.jpgAnalysis: Match-3 games have been around the block a few times, and it's always great to see a development studio try something a little bit different. Ballville features a number of smart design decisions that make it a competent matching game as well as a unique diversion from the norm.

Perhaps the most entertaining chunks of Ballville are the interactive hidden object scenes. Before you unlock a new orb type, you've got to find a host of them stashed around an area. They're rarely visible, though, and you have to poke and prod objects to coax them into showing their faces.

One mechanic most matching games ignore is the ability to set up chain reactions, leaving titles like Zookeeper holding the torch. When you make a match, most games lock the ability to swap tiles until everything has settled down. In Ballville, though, your swapping is limited only to how fast you can spot matches. Flip some orbs, flip some more, and cause some serious commotion on the screen.

Ballville isn't the most challenging game, as the orbs' abilities tend to overshadow any sort of difficulty you might encounter. Sometimes, the levels seem to play themselves as you watch match after match play out while you sit back and watch the screen clear itself. Don't walk into this game with the expectation of getting a mental workout. Do walk into it with the intention of having an exciting match-3 experience.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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

Link Dump Holiday

GrinnypIt's Christmas Eve, a time of wonder and anticipation for child and adult alike. For the children it's the anticipation of Santa coming down the chimney. For the adults, it's the anticipation of a long night of assembling things with directions written in French as translated from the Chinese. It's also the anticipation of being woken up extremely early, facing a long day of unwrapping presents, family fights, and the possibility of a fire sparked by defective lights and fed by a too-dry tree and tons of discarded wrapping paper. But have no fear, this special Link Dump Holiday is here to ease the tension and make the day all better. Well, at least better than it might have been. So sit back, relax, and enjoy this special edition Link Dump filled with something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue, even though that's weddings, not Christmas. And yes, these selections are heavy on the room escapes. That's my bag, baby!

  • Grow OrnamentGrow Ornament - Let's start off with something old. Grow Ornament is a special holiday edition of the wonderful and charming Grow series. It's 5 years old now, so it's time to revisit and enjoy this amazingly sweet little holiday gem.
  • Present of Santa 2Present of Santa 2 - And now for something new, Present of Santa 2 by Minoto. Yet another amusing, surreal point-and-click by the ever popular Minoto. Cats being held up? A strange yellow creature lurking in a refrigerator? Yep, sounds like a Minoto Christmas alright. And hey, no shaving Santa's beard this year!
  • Tannenbaum EscapeTannenbaum Escape - Okay, so this one isn't borrowed, let's forget that stupid theme anyway. Tannenbaum Escape is a quick little room escape solved by decorating a Tannenbaum, which is German for firetrap. Or Christmas tree, one of those.
  • Gift WrappedGift Wrapped - Another old chestnut, this one from the warped minds at Nitrome. Gift Wrapped is an amusing and occasionally frustrating little "find the present" puzzle done up in a festive bow for the holiday season.
  • Christmas Escape 1Christmas Escape 1 - From Neutral, one of the best room escape designers out there, came a tradition of creating a "mini-escape" every Christmas. This year, not so much, but travel back in time and enjoy the escaping. And while you're at it check out Christmas Escape 2 and Christmas Escape 3 if you have the time.
  • First LoveFirst Love - Two great escape designers, Bianco-Bianco and Robamimi teamed up last year to create this delightful point-and-click game about trying to recreate a magical moment from your past. First love is a great way to feel some warm and fuzzy nostalgia about your youth, even if the actual past wasn't all that great to begin with.
  • Frost BiteFrost Bite - Nitrome again, so sue me. Frost Bite is a fantastic platformer from three years ago. Not particularly Christmas Themed, but something that definitely fits into the winter season. And hey, bonus ice cream!
  • Colour My FateColour My Fate - Part of the "Colour My..." series of point-and-click platformers by Silver Stitch, Colour My Fate is a bittersweet and awesome exploration of a world without color and the true meaning of Christmas.

Rating: 4.8/5 (86 votes)
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Babylon Sticks: iHumbug comic

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


  • Currently 3.8/5
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Rating: 3.8/5 (88 votes)
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JamesPush and PullLove is like a gravitationally void room, filled with spinning razor disks. Being in love is like being an astronaut, charged with crossing such rooms. Having your heart broken... well, it's also really the same thing, so I'm going to go ahead and assume that Push and Pull is also a metaphor for the first date, first argument and when your tax audit arrives.

Push and Pull, from Alexander Shen, is a very interesting take on... well, I am not entirely sure what that would be. It incorporates a lot of the hallmarks of a gravity game, but with a good dose of pattern-solving stirred in. Every level is a room, with your astronaut on the one side and the exit temptingly placed at the opposite end. Standing in the way of such release are razor-sharp spinning blades, either happily rotating in one spot or moving along invisible tracks at varying speeds. When you tap [space], your astronaut pushes forward into the room and towards the exit - the obvious goal is to have him reach that without smacking into one of the blades.

Push and PullBy manipulating lights at the bottom of the room, you can change the gravitational character of the vertical span above a light. Blue pushes the astronaut up, Red brings him down. Green and Yellow accelerate and slow down respectively, while Purple inverts the effects of the previous two colors. The rest is simple: find the pattern of colors that will guide the astronaut through the gauntlet and onto the exit. It's a process of trial-and-error that is surprisingly calming and definitely not something that will have you claw at your keyboard.

Okay, it has a little frustration in store for you, but this goes away once you understand how important timing is. Hitting [space] a second time will instantly restart the astronaut's run, so finding the right time to launch is often just a matter of tapping a few times until you get it right. Discovering the pattern is a bit more involved, but Push and Pull never establishes a tug-o-war of wits and lateral thinking.

So, what's love got to do with it? Push and Pull is about a guy trying to find his love (then finds her and has to deal with the aftermath). Strung along with a melodramatic soundtrack that borders on the melancholy, it works very well. It's just... space is a strange place to be when you are looking for your lost love. What the game does and why it exists are two very different things. But the story is non-intrusive and at times quite endearing.

Yet Push and Pull doesn't rise to its full glory. What you have here is a great game; a very short great game. It takes roughly an hour to crack all the sequences – that might seem like a lot, but it hardly scratches the surface of what this game can do with the bag of tricks it has in hand. But it's well worth firing up this love-story-meets-Event Horizon and completing it. If the developers release a lot more levels with some advanced challenges, it will be a big hit.

Play Push and Pull


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Rating: 4/5 (149 votes)
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Joshblueknight.jpgWe've all heard the story before. An alien spaceship arrives from deep space, its aggressive inhabitants hell-bent on eradicating the local populace in order to make the planet suitable for colonization. Except this time, the spaceship contains a lone human in blue, a sworn knight of the human alliance sent to clear Planet ERA-138 so humans can live there. So what are you waiting for? Can you purge the planet of its perilous, pernicious pixilated inhabitants? In Alistair Maunder's Blue Knight, you'll get your chance.

Blue Knight is a power-up and exploration-platform-shooter that best falls under the category of "Metroidvania". Like Metroid, Blue Knight starts you off woefully lacking in any weapons or boosts (strange that your superiors would expect you to purge a planet empty-handed) but has you kicking butt and taking names in no time after a bit of exploration. Your knight moves and jumps with the standard [WASD] or [arrow keys], while you can aim and fire at bad guys with the mouse. You get to traverse a fairly large world, visible in its discovered entirety by holding the [M] key. Thankfully, there are numerous respawn points throughout the world, so even if you die, you're never too far from your last spot.

The point of the game is to destroy the world's four gate keepers before facing off against the final boss. Along the way, you will need to zap many bad guys to collect their precious black diamonds. Certain areas of the world only open up if you have enough of these diamonds, which means a fair bit of backtracking to dispatch the limited number of aliens in order to advance. Bad guys are very Metroidesque, consisting mostly of relatively harmless aliens that jump and walk around in patterns, and a few pesky homing birds. Some of the tougher bad guys shoot at you from turret-like structures that protect the four pyramid gate keepers. The Blue Knight is quite agile and powerful once he finds his weapon and accessories though, so dispatching these bad guys is never much of a problem.

With its satisfying shooter qualities, pickups, and elements of exploration, Blue Knight is a nostalgic romp that classic Metroid fans should enjoy. From its graphics (a green and grey-hued landscape filled with a pink-lined grey walls and tunnels) to its sound (wind-blown background ambience mixed with NES-style sound effects), Blue Knight has definite personality and old-school charm. While there's no way to save the game and the ending feels a little anti-climactic, overall Blue Knight is still a nice way to pass half an hour while fondly recalling memories of an earlier videogame era.

Play Blue Knight


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Rating: 4.2/5 (79 votes)
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BradBubble Tanks 3Hero Interactive has just released another installment of their famous Bubble Tanks series with Bubble Tanks 3, an arcade arena shooter in which you pilot a tank made of bubbles and fight other similarly composed tanks for their bubbles on your way to total bubble domination.

There are two sides to the gameplay: semi-close quarters arena-shooter-style combat and exploration. Your immediate playing field is just a single bubble, but that bubble is connected to four other bubbles and those bubbles are connected to other bubbles and the whole network of bubbles stretches out into infinity. Use the [WASD] keys to move, and when your bubble tank moves outside of the current bubble you slide over to the next bubble. A mini-map will help you keep track of where you've been. The farther you get away from your starting bubble the more difficult and plentiful your enemies will be. Press the left mouse button to fire and take down your enemies.

You'll start as a pretty weak bubble tank, but when you destroy an enemy they'll leave some of their bubbles behind. You can pick these bubbles up on your own or, alternately, clear all the enemies from the bubble to have all their remains magnetically drawn to you. Once you have enough bubbles, your tank levels up. And this is where Bubble Tanks 3 differs from previous installments.

Bubble Tanks 3 screen 2In the past, player input to tank upgrades was limited. You were given some pre-determined options to choose from. And while those are still available, now you have the option of really getting your hands soapy and doing all of the tank building yourself. Using the system Hero Interactive was testing in Bubble Tanks Arenas, you can build your ideal tank. Every upgrade level unlocks new weapons and passive upgrades and you're given a bigger pool of gun points to spend. Each primary weapon, secondary weapon or passive upgrade costs gun points to equip, so make sure you have enough available before you start tearing your tank apart. If you're not happy with your build, you can edit your tank in any bubble that's been cleared out.

Bubble Tanks 3 also features some cool sharing systems. From the menu screen you can enter the enemy editor. This lets you create an enemy and upload it. After it's uploaded, there's a chance you might see your creation and the creations of other players in-game. This keeps the gameplay fresh not only in terms of enemy variety, but also because it's doubtful you'll play the same game twice. Also, you will find some premium content being offered in the form of monthly parts packs that will offer more parts for your tanks and for enemy tanks. Don't let this discourage you, though, because it seems Hero Interactive will be offering a lot of free updates as well.

Analysis: Bubble Tanks 3 takes the series to new heights by combining the best of the Bubble Tanks core gameplay with the customizing features from Bubble Tanks Arenas. The result is a solid sequel to a very popular Flash game series that's a lot of fun to play. Although there's no story you need to be familiar with, the combat is simple and easy to grasp and the new customizing features are easy to learn as well.

Bubble Tanks 3 screen 3The best part of Bubble Tanks 3 is also the biggest new feature: the tank editing. It's so much fun to play around with the different weapons and the construction of your tank. There's a nice variety of weapons to try out and all the different combinations will surely keep you entertained. And yet the game doles out gun points rather stingily, which will cause you to stop, think and plan carefully what to add and how to customize. All this is compelling because it makes you want to get to the next upgrade as quickly as possible.

The sharing systems are also well integrated. The tank sharing mechanics give the game an incredible amount of variety. It never stops being cool coming up against a new user-designed enemy in-game. It also means that playing through the campaign doesn't fall into a routine. Which is good, because while the campaign is fun, it doesn't offer a whole lot. The new tanks help keep things fresh and replay value higher than for previous installments.

Bubble Tanks 3 is a great new addition to a great series. The campaign is solid, the user-created tanks keep things fresh and the enemy editor is a ton of fun and will keep this version of the game living for a long time to come.

Play Bubble Tanks 3

Thanks to CJ and Code1949 for sending this one in!

Play the entire Bubble Tanks series...

You Are Games

ArtbegottiHAPPY NEW YEAR! Nearly. It's the end of the year, so everybody's celebrating different holidays in different ways. Perhaps you're getting your presents wrapped or lighting candles, menorahs, or kinaras. Or, perhaps you're getting ready to celebrate the start of 2011 with loved ones, a handful of confetti, and a plate of pork and sauerkraut. Maybe you're hanging bosc pears from the living room furniture and stapling sweaters to the ceiling. However you celebrate, we're asking you to put the cup of punch down and give us a hand.

bs-contest-areyouken.jpgTake a gander at the festive Babylon Sticks cartoon to the right, created by our resident toonmeister, James Francis. Can you come up with a party-worthy punchline to fit the scene? If you think you've got one, post a comment below using your Casual Gameplay account (we get a hold of the winner using the email address attached to it, so make sure it's up to date). Multiple entries are allowed, but try to stick with a gaming theme. All entries are due on Monday, December 27th at 11:59 PM (GMT-5:00). If we pick your caption, it will be featured in next week's Babylon Sticks and you'll win a Humble Indie Bundle!

We've got a bit of legal merriment we need to mention. Keep in mind that this is an all-ages site, so your captions need to stay clean and profanity-free. Also:

  • 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.
There are only so many shopping days left, so warm up a cup of good cheer and start punchlining!

Also, don't forget about the Berzerk Ball comment contest, which also ends on December 27th!


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Rating: 3.8/5 (44 votes)
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joyeJohnny Why 2Not so long ago, gamers grappled with the question Johnny Why Are You Late? Now keybol is back with another point-and-clicker, this one as an entry into JIG's own Casual Gameplay Design Competition #9. Perhaps taking us down a more profound road, the title of this one is simply Johnny Why 2. Johnny Why What, you might be thinking. Well, in this case, it's possibly "Johnny, Why Has Facebook Overstepped Its Bounds Beyond All Possible Expectation and Actually Reached Into the Real World to Suck In Four People Whom You Probably Could Live Without But Feel the Need to Rescue Anyway?" A bit long for a game title. "Johnny Why 2" was probably the wiser choice.

As one would expect from a point-and-click title, you point and click your way through several screens, picking up items and combining them to solve puzzles as they present themselves, with the sure knowledge that somehow, these unrelated tasks will somehow coalesce into your final goal of rescuing your friends. There's always an inventory screen at the bottom, and on the top there's a menu bar with a few external links plus a link to the main page of the game. From the main page, you can visit your four frenemies by clicking on their icons on the left and then clicking on their screen on the right to confirm. Be as quick yet precise as you can, because your score is trickling away with every moment and every click.

Johnny Why 2Analysis: Time was, you had friends, and if you made a new one, you befriended him or her. Friend, the theme word of CGDC9, was strictly a noun. But there has been a rather seismic change in that. We now all speak of friending and defriending and while a number of websites use these terms, Facebook is probably the biggest and most prominent currently. And the bigger they are, the riper they are for the kind of parody that Johnny Why 2 goes for.

The people Johnny is rescuing are in a literal sense his friends, and two of them are even members of his family, but towards none of them does he have anything approaching friendly feelings. In fact, Johnny's primary motivation in rescuing them is a promised nixing of a $10 debt. An extreme example of the superficial, hostile and nonexistent relationships between many "friends" on services like Facebook. Each of the pages you visit is a parody of a prominent Facebook game, and keybol gets some skewers in here too, particularly towards the microtransactions that have caused many a kid in real life to sneak his father's credit card.

The puzzles are fairly logical from step to step, and while some hotspots are tiny, when you hover over something clickable, it gets a label, which evens things up. The only real grief I have with the gameplay is that the ending is a total deus ex machina. The "ex machina" part is even literal in this case. This is a step backward from the first Johnny game, where everything you did had a logical connection towards getting you to work. On the plus side, while the hostility between Johnny and his son and wife are still there, it's definitely been toned down from the first game.

Once again, in addition to simply beating the game, there are five achievements possible for the savvy player. Having finished a respectable fifth place in the tight race of CGDC9, point-and-click fans won't want to miss this one.

Play Johnny Why 2


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Rating: 4.6/5 (1505 votes)
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TrickyMonkey Go Happy 3It all started with Monkey Go Happy, which tasked you with cheering up a downcast monkey. Then, Monkey Go Happy 2 made you responsible for the happiness of a monkey pair. Well, guess what brother: Pencil Kids has released a third installment in their Monkey GO Happy! series of silly point-and-click puzzle/arcade hybrids, Monkey Go Happy 3, and this time, three's a crowd! An adorable, adorable monkey crowd.

Players of the previous games in the series should be familiar with the premise: a trio of monkeys is sad, and it's up to you to make them "go happy." Use the mouse to click on objects and locations, solve puzzles, blast stuff etc. Some levels are click-fests in the Hoshi Saga model, others act like mini-escape games, others have a hidden object flavor to them, and still others are action-based. There's quite a bit of variation packed into the game's 16 levels and an expansion pack. Let's monkey see what you can monkey do!

Play all the Monkey GO Happy games:
Monkey GO Happy!Monkey GO Happy 2Monkey GO Happy 3Monkey GO Happy 4Monkey GO Happy 5Monkey GO Happy 6Monkey GO Happy MarathonMonkey GO Happy Marathon 2Monkey GO Happy Marathon 3Monkey GO Happy Marathon 4Monkey GO Happy: Mini MonkeysMonkey GO Happy: Mini Monkeys 2Monkey GO Happy: Mini Monkeys 3Monkey GO Happy: ChristmasMonkey GO Happy: The CastleMonkey GO Happy ElevatorsMonkey GO Happy Elevators 2Monkey GO Happy MayhemMonkey GO Happy AdventureMonkey GO Happy EasterMonkey GO Happy TalesMonkey GO Happy Tales 2

Monkey Go Happy 3 shouldn't pose much of a challenge for adults, but it is clever enough to be enjoyed by gamers of all ages. The variety of levels makes for a coffee-break-long, but consistently fun experience, even if sometimes the win conditions felt a little arbitrary. (But hey, who am I to say what monkeys should find joyful?) Older players should also enjoy some of the casual gaming shout-outs herein: I particularly enjoyed the Atari 2600-styled "One Button Blob". The only thing that would have made me happier is if there was a level featuring the baby monkey going backwards on a pig.

I do wish it were possible to continue to the next level directly after you've solved the previous one, rather than having to return to the menu, though I appreciate the option to solve the levels in any order. Also, there seems to be a slight bug that prevents the game from saving your progress if you leave and return. Since the game is so short, it shouldn't really impact play, but I can imagine it being kind of a pain if you're trying to go for a high score.

Overall Monkey Go Happy 3 keeps the high standards of its predecessors. Most of the levels aren't going to give you much, and even if they do, you'll be sure to find someone to give you a nudge in the comments. Be sure to check out it and its holiday expansion-pack. You'll likely find it more fun than a barrel of... really fun things.

Play Monkey Go Happy 3!


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Rating: 3.6/5 (27 votes)
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Joshstrangeattraction.jpgAt one time or another, haven't we all wished we could have super powers? Who hasn't dreamt of wearing a large egg-shaped suit capable of granting its wearer the ability to jump 20 feet in the air and punch through walls? And doesn't everyone wish they could just pull a switch to instantaneously invert gravity? (Well, most of us not unfortunate enough to be outside, that is.) All this is possible in Character Arcade's newest action adventure game, Strange Attraction. As the accidental hero Gus, you are called upon to save your fellow blobby-shaped villagers from the vile clutches of a horrible cage-like machine. Along the way you'll encounter challenges and enemies across three worlds, with coins to collect and various medals to earn based on your time.

Strange Attraction is a standard shooter-platformer with a slick presentation and interesting gravity elements. After reading through a comic book-like intro, you get a quick tutorial on the controls. The standard [WASD] / [arrow] keys make Gus move and jump really high, while the mouse controls Gus' aim and punches using gray boomerang-like boxing gloves. The goal of each level is to get to the magical vortex to warp to the next area, though it is usually closed off by some type of barrier. Sometimes punching various buttons opens this barrier, while other closed gates require you to trap enemies inside cages before letting you pass. Many levels also require you to reach certain areas by punching gravity switches. These switches can make Gus walk on the ceiling, or cause the entire level to rotate upside down.

Game mechanics aside, much of the charm of Strange Attraction is in its style and visuals. Everything is presented in a friendly cartoony manner, with vivid colors and rounded edges. Later levels use dramatic shadows and color contrasts to help set the mood. Strange Attraction also has a colorful assortment of baddies ranging from spiky plants and floating orbs, to evil-looking floating meatballs and spiny whomp-like walls. All this is accompanied by a groovy electronic-style soundtrack that keeps things moving nicely.

All told, Strange Attraction is a fun romp through an interesting new world. While the game itself is not particularly difficult to get through, the challenge is in getting through the levels quickly while snagging all the coins, a task requiring a bit more effort and ingenuity. Notably, the controls used to do this are a bit pokey, and you might end up dying a few times leaving some of the levels' vague boundaries or landing on offscreen enemies. Due to the game's forgiving nature, though, these issues shouldn't prevent you from enjoying your stint in Gus' super suit. So what are you waiting for? Tap into your inner blobby-hero and give Strange Attraction a try.

Play Strange Attraction


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Rating: 4.1/5 (97 votes)
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Weekday Escape

SonicLoverWhat do you want for Christmas? A new car? That awesome new video game? Or maybe you want your room turned into a room escape game? If you're the protagonist of Endless X'mas, then that last one's what you want... and that last one's exactly what you get when Santa comes down your chimney one Christmas.

Endless XmasSo what do you do when St. Nick turns your living quarters into a room escape puzzler for the holidays? Naturally, you try to escape. Like most games in this genre, you pick up items you find around the room, use them in various places, and try to solve puzzles. When an item goes into your inventory, click once to use it, or double-click to examine it further. The rest you should have down by now.

Analysis: What a delight! Endless X'mas is a good sample of what room escaping should be like. The puzzles are exceedingly creative compared to most, and the graphics and music are quite nice as well, bringing everything together into a quaint atmosphere.

The only serious flaw Endless X'mas has is its difficulty, or lack thereof to be more precise. Most of the time it was fairly obvious what I had to use and where, but maybe that's just because I'm a seasoned room escape veteran. There was really only one part that slowed me down, and I got over it quickly. If you're a hardcore escaper, then this game may seem like more of a light snack to you.

But don't let that stop you. This is a charm of a game that's especially appropriate for the holidays. Now go forth and open your present... and with this present, getting it open is the whole point!

Play Endless X'mas


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Rating: 4.6/5 (158 votes)
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BradArkandianIf I say "there's a new game from flash game developer Undefined," what are you picturing? A new Protector game? Well... SURPRISE!! Way to fall into the trap. Get ready for Undefined's new game Arkandian Crusade the first chapter in the new Arkandian Legends series, a turn-based RPG with defense elements. Create a hero who will venture out into the world at the behest of your kind to combat the demon threat. With over sixty dungeons, hundreds of items, magical spells, quests, and much more, expect to be busy for a very long time indeed.

While there are story quests, the game lets you decide what you want to do. The bulk of the gameplay is split into two categories: adventure and defense. When you decide to go adventuring you'll be presented with a world map with possible adventure locales. Some of them are simply places where you can hone your skills, make some money and find equipment, while others are places where you can get spells or are dungeons related to completing story quests. To go to a dungeon you'll usually have to pay a fee. When you go to a dungeon, you'll control your character with the arrow keys. In the dungeon you'll find materials scattered around which can be gathered and used for crafting, along with chests containing equipment, and enemies. Combat is turn-based and you have a few options when it comes to attacking. There are three kinds of weapon attacks (heavy, normal and light) with different chance-to-hit percentages. You can also use items, defend or cast any spells you've found.

If you choose a defense mission you'll be taken to the battle field, which is a 6x6 grid. At the beginning, you'll place your character and then click the next turn button, whereupon enemies will start moving in from the right. With every new turn, you can move your character. When you end your turn your character will attack whatever's directly in front and diagonally of them. Enemies will move one square at a time and if one of them reaches the other side you fail the mission. If you've earned enough gold during the defense you can place one of your soldiers on the field.

In Arkandian Crusade, you won't level up in the traditional way. Almost everything you do exercises a stat and will increase your proficiency in it. Buying and selling trains your bargaining stat, for example, and every action in combat has its associated stat. Even when you're not adventuring there's a lot to do. You can visit and decorate your home, craft items using the materials and recipes you've gathered, or you can equip your soldiers, sell and buy items and check out your progress.

ArkandianAnalysis: The best part of Arkandian Crusade is that all of the elements are collected into this one game. It's like a buffet. Different kinds of gameplay all collected in one place and you can sample them as you like. The adventure quests are the meat of the game, which is good because they're a lot of fun. It's exciting to watch the dungeon unfold as you explore it and the prospect of all the new equipment that awaits will keep you moving forward. The combat is simple, but it works well. Sometimes it falters a little, like when you land a heavy attack and it does disappointingly low damage. However, that won't be too much of a problem as your character's skills increase at a pretty fast rate and your attacks won't miss as much. That's not to say the game is easy; as you get stronger, more difficult dungeons and tougher enemies will be unlocked.

The defense quests are a little weaker than adventure quests, but they're still fun. As time goes on you'll find yourself in really tense situations. There's nothing like trying to take down one enemy while another has almost made it to the edge of the screen. The crafting system is another element that starts off slow. You won't have many recipes initially and your crafting skill won't be very effective, but as you get more recipes and materials you'll have a good time creating new items.

There are other small touches that make for a great experience. Just like in Pet Protector, all the items you equip are shown on your character in battle. If you equip your hero with a pretty bow, you'll see yourself doing battle with demons while wearing that bow. The leveling system is nice too, because some stat or another is constantly increasing. You'll be getting a lot of notices that your stats have raised, which gives a nice sense of accomplishment and progression.

Arkandian Crusade is an incredible game that offers a ton of gameplay and will last a long time. Sometimes this expansiveness works against the game when it comes to smaller things, like managing items. The vast majority of the time the game is a treat. You can easily lose yourself on minor dungeons for hours and barely touch the storyline and you'll be glad because so much more content is ahead of you. It's great to see a talented developer like Undefined do something a little bit new and it's even better when it turns out this well.

Play Arkandian Crusade


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Rating: 3.5/5 (49 votes)
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TrickyPoltergiftsSince Halloween and Christmas are the holidays with the strongest themes, it seems only natural that so many have attempted to combine the two. There's something inherently appealing about subverting the jolly with the scary or, for that matter, the spooky with the sweet. It's a tradition that goes back at least as far as Ebeneezer Scrooge's ghostly visitors. Sometimes the mesh works excellently (i.e. The Nightmare Before Christmas or Gremlins) and sometimes... not (i.e. Jack Frost or the John Waters-endorsed Christmas Evil.) I'm happy to say that Poltergifts, the new semi-first person defense shooter release from Evil-Dog and Sick Death Fiend falls into the "excellent" box.

Tis the night before Christmas, and all through the house, not a creature is stirring, save for the hordes of demon-possessed toys that have found their way under the tree, ready to devour the sleeping bodies of Mom, Dad, and little Timmy. The only thing that stands in their way is you, your hammer and lots of tacks, a ball, a whip that cracks, and a plethora of other gift-weapons. It's six hours until sunrise, with waves of toys coming every ten minutes... as Tiny Tim would say, God help us, all of us.

Use the mouse to unwrap gifts by clicking them, and pick up weapons and traps. Click the mouse to use your current weapon on an approaching baddie, holding the button to attack continuously. Do note that due to poor construction, all the weapons have a limited number of attacks in them, though upgrades can be purchased between waves to make the weapons stronger and sturdier. Hit the [shift] key to grab an item that might be slightly blocked by an enemy, and press the [spacebar] to discard your current weapon. In addition to the standard "wave" mode, there is also a survival mode and a bowling mode available for play.

PoltergiftsAnalysis: Stylistically, Poltergifts is near-perfect. Right from Antfish's opening narration, a tone is set that is clearly "holiday" while also clearly being "horror". The tropes of "staying up Christmas night" and "fighting zombies until dawn" makes such a natural fit in combination that I'm surprised that it hasn't been invoked before The designs for the malevolent toys are equal parts scary and darkly humorous, and range from the expected-yet-effective (creepy knife-wielding dolls), to ones I found quite creative (saw-blade wielding Hot Wheels/demonic rubber balls). Though I wished later levels introduced a few more new enemies, rather than stronger re-colors of earlier ones, the fact that each one had a personalized "killing blow" animation was a nice touch. While these animations are surprisingly light on the gore, that just serves to make them all the more terrifying (though they do get old the 15th or so time you see them). The semi-first person perspective adds to this horror: you really feel like these little baddies are bearing down on you, and that you're always only seconds away from being chomped on by a rabid teddy-bear.

Gameplay-wise, Poltergifts is pretty average for the defense genre, which isn't really a bad thing. The biggest twist in the mechanics is the indistinguishable boxes from which both enemies and weapons spring. This makes for interesting variety, but also can make success in each wave feel a little too luck-based. The weapons available are appropriately varied. However, there are some that are so clearly less useful than others that, whilst you are pinned down by enemies, you will curse their appearance. (I'm looking at you, Super Soaker... at least with version 1.1 you are now slightly more useful than bare fists.) On the other hand, the bowling ball is a joy to wield, and rightfully deserves the additional game-mode based around it.

The biggest negative for Poltergifts is its eclectic difficulty. Some waves are laughably easy, some are brutal, and some required a good twenty lives at minimum. As a result, the pacing feels weird and the thirty six waves of story mode became a bit of a slog by the end. Perhaps it would have been better if time passed in 15 minute rather than 10 minute increments? This would have also allowed for new weapons to become available faster, making for a much-needed shot in the arm.

Every year it feels like the holidays come earlier and earlier. Poltergifts is a nice reminder that sometimes we need to slow down the rush: if the hell-spawn aren't ready for their season to be over just yet, who are we to stand in their way? Poltergifts should be enjoyed by lovers of all things Christmas, Halloween, or Defense, and I eagerly await the inevitable sequel where the denizens of Boxing Day take their revenge.

Play Poltergifts


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Rating: 4.5/5 (392 votes)
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JoshYou Find Yourself in a RoomThere are many things we all take for granted on a daily basis. We stand firm in our belief that the sun will rise tomorrow, the earth is round, and that interactive fiction (IF) will follow standard game conventions. But does this have to be the case? What if the sun decides to take a holiday for a change and leave us in perpetual darkness? Or what if indeed there be dragons and an extreme ocean drop-off when taking that next long seafaring cruise? Or how about if the computer narrator in a text adventure challenges and belittles your very existence as you attempt to play? Best of Casual Gameplay 2010While the first two possibilities are pretty unlikely, Eli Piilonen, the author of Viricide and The Company of Myself has crafted a short piece of IF that plays with your notions of how a text adventure is supposed to work in You Find Yourself In A Room, or YFYIAR for short.

YFYIAR starts off like any standard escape-themed, text-based IF experience before things get weird. As expected, you type in one or two words, such as LOOK or OPEN DOOR, to interact with your environment. The computer narrator is somewhat helpful at first, but as you play, the comments begin to get a bit snarky and insulting regarding your perceived human inferiority. This becomes more and more blatant to the point of being darkly comedic. Soon it feels like you're in a text adventure from hell being run by a mix between a profane GlaDOS and a hostile version of Marvin the Paranoid Android. And no matter what you do, you always find yourself in yet another room.

Without ruining the experience, YFYIAR takes you on a strange trip that stretches the confines of most text adventures, leaving you with what can be described as an existentialist IF experience. The drama of your absurd situation is enhanced by intense synthesized background music, which sounds like something out of the Half Life soundtrack. While the game feels a bit too short and isn't very challenging as far as gameplay goes, the point of the experience is to take you on a journey beyond your comfort zone, which YFYIAR does well. So give it a shot, puny human; escape from the room, if you can.

Note: This title is actually a sequel of sorts to Viricide, which references a computer intelligence called ABOMI (Absolutely Omniscient Intelligence) that forces its users to play text adventures. Though not named directly in the game, that intelligence is clearly in full effect here.

Play You Find Yourself in a Room


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The Vault

JaySelections from The Vault for this week are 3 of my all-time favorite games, and I'm thrilled to be able to share them with you again. All three of these gems have long-lasting appeal: a puzzling platformer, a short yet challenging point-and-click adventure, and a remarkably futuristic turn-based strategy game. Individually, each of these games represents a tremendous achievement in browser-based casual gameplay and if you've never played them before, you're in for a real treat.

  • SaltacolSaltacol - You're just a lonely saltacole in this very unique puzzle-platformer that dates back to 2003. Find your way through each of the 6 caves by first locating and tripping the switch that opens the door, then reach the exit. It's easier said than done, though, because saltacoles are roundish and you often have to reach ledges and platforms without rolling off. Persevere through this high-difficulty game and be rewarded by experiencing its fantastic level design. A recent collaboration with the author has produced a special version made exclusively for the JIG community with an all-new level never before seen anywhere else!
  • ChasmChasm - With the appearance of a Saturday morning cartoon, Chasm whisks you away to a little forgotten town with a water problem. Your task is to help Joe, the purple protagonist from Chasmton, figure out how to get the water flowing again in one of the most fantastic (and bizarre) puzzles I've ever seen in a Flash game. Although there may not be a lot to this game, what's there will definitely take you some time to figure out. Several years old and still one of the best Flash games of all time.
  • Spybot: The Nightfall IncidentSpybot: The Nightfall Incident - Originally created to promote a Lego product by the fantastic (and former) gameLab studios, Spybot is a fun and futuristic turn-based strategy game in which you play a S.M.A.R.T. Agent hunting down infocrime and other problems throughout the Net. You'll travel around a network of 'nodes' collecting special programs by engaging in data-battles. The game includes a tutorial to get you started, so don't worry about all the crazy terminology. It's easy to get into, but difficult to leave! Spybot is still one of the most ambitious, well-conceived and well-designed browser games ever made. It requires the Shockwave plug-in, and if you're on a Mac I suggest you use your Windows partition to play this one due to Adobe's abysmal Shockwave player support on the Mac platform.

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!

You Are Games

JohnBIt's time for some more fun! Over the weekend, Berzerk Studios unleashed Berzerk Ball for iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch. The game is a follow-up to the browser game Homerun in Berzerk Land released earlier this year. If you're not familiar with it, think Nanaca Crash but ten times as hip and with upgrades galore. If you are familiar with it, you've already started drooling!

berzerkball.jpgApart from actually getting to play the game, there's another fun bit to announce. We've teamed up with Berzerk Studios to offer you a chance to be a part of Berzerk Ball! Not only that, you can win one of four iTunes Gift Cards, each worth $25! You know the geek you smack around who makes snarky comments as he walks back for more punishment? Well, you can be one of those comments. All you have to do is sign in below with your Casual Gameplay account and leave a comment along the lines of something you might see in the game. An example: "Noob shot. Didn't get that far lolz." Be funny. Be unique. Be awesome.

All entries will be judged by our staff and the Berzerk Studios team. All entries must be received by Monday, December 27 at 11:59 PM (GMT-5). Multiple entries are allowed. Keep in mind that this is an all-ages site, so make your captions profanity-free (but include all the internet attitude you like!).

The winners have been chosen! The winners are, in no particular order:
  • "I'm calling the GM! My pvp flag was NOT on!" (elle)
  • "You somehow managed to not break any of the limited-edition models in my pockets." (Nimdok)
  • "You hit like a girl. At least, I assume that's what the touch of a girl is like." (Akarroa)
  • "That hurt less than my Second Life divorce." (BuenoCabra)

Berzerk Studios will be in touch with you with your prizes. Thanks to everyone for participating!

Plus, some extra notes from our legal department:

  • You must sign in with a Casual Gameplay commenting account below to ensure we have a valid e-mail address.
  • All entries submitted to this contest become the property of Berzerk Studios and Casual Gameplay.
  • You must be at least 13 years of age to enter.
  • Void where prohibited.

We'll be getting a hold of the winners via e-mail. Now, warm up your funny bone and get to work!


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Rating: 4.4/5 (97 votes)
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MikeCat Astro PhiPicture the Internet User personified, and imagine making a game for this stereotypical entity. If you're like me (and who isn't?), your creation would likely feature space rangers, robots, cats, elves, zombies, pirates, ninjas, and nostalgic appeals to growing up circa 1987-1994; which, I believe, pretty much covers everything the platonic Denizen of the Web could ever crave. Minus the ninja-pirate elf-zombies, Cat Astro Phi, a retro-styled action adventure, is exactly that game.

You play a plucky astro-pilot with an ill-defined though doubtlessly heroic agenda, who keeps crash-landing onto planets with hostile, labyrinthine space bases, losing your steadfast feline companion in the process. You move with the [arrow] keys, and fire, when you find a weapon, with either the [spacebar] or [alt] keys. Your job is to recover enough power cells and find your missing kitty before blasting off for the next planet to crash-land upon. You'll also need key cards to open doors and boxes to push into obstacles, if said boxes are not obstacles themselves.

Players will likely recognize the familiar handheld game console that Cat Astro Phi is mimicking, and the game looks the part. The green-tinged, four-bit graphics smell of pixilated authenticity (a good smell, I promise), and the music sets the era and is awesome besides. As an exercise in nostalgia Cat Astro Phi succeeds, and lucky for us, it is also a dandy little action game. I wish some aspects of the game were better explained, like how to neutralize the fatal "acid mud," or that the impossible space-shooter mini game between each level is really just a device to get the player to crash and experience more planetside gameplay. But the level designs are clever, encourage exploration, and feature all kinds of neat, surprising little things to do in your mission to recover your cat and be spacebound again. Cat Astro Phi is a nice, short action game with retro appeal, and even players who aren't the targeted allegorical Internet Citizen will find something to appreciate.

Check out the excellent soundtrack for Cat Astro Phi, composed by Rich Vreeland. Listen to samples, or buy the entire soundtrack to download for a measly $3. For a free download of the soundtrack, use Casual Gameplay account to leave us a comment, telling us how far you'd go to rescue your space-cat (or other space-pet, real or imagined). Submit your comment by December 24th, and we'll give one deserving commenter a free download of the game's soundtrack. Update: Congratulations to lvlsomething! We're sending you a code to download the soundtrack free. :)

Play Cat Astro Phi


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Bejeweled 3 netbook giveaway

JohnBWOW. That's exactly how everyone here at JIG felt about the response to our Bejeweled 3 netbook giveaway! So many people sent in so many gems, it was great to see everyone having fun solving riddles!

After checking all of the entries, we sat down for that fateful moment when the magic of randomness chose who got to walk away with a Bejeweled-themed netbook. Once the numbers settled, only one name was left:

  • Samata K. of Foster City, CA

Congratulations, Samata! We'll be in touch soon with all the fun details about your prize!

While we had our random number mojo going, we also chose three gem matchers to receive free copies of Bejeweled 3:

  • Aaron H. of Redmond, WA
  • James W. of Lemoore, CA
  • Jon R. of St. Paul, MN

Enjoy your free game! We'll be in touch with you three as well!

Everyone did such an amazing job in this contest, finding all of those gems and sending in complete rosters of perfect matches. A huge thank you to everyone who took part in the scavenger hunt! You can bet we'll be doing giveaways again in the future, so don't be surprised to see more riddles. Only this time, they won't be so easy to solve!

And, as promised, below you'll find a list of all the hints and games used for the contest, in chronological order.


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Rating: 4.3/5 (23 votes)
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CassandraZebulonIn space, there is no McDonalds. However, there is Bennie's Mac and Cheese. There is an uncanny warmth to the story that unfolds in Zebulon by Matt Slaybaugh. Crafted in the style of classic text-based 'choose your own adventure' games for the 9th Casual Gameplay Design Competition, Zebulon features the exploits of a somewhat wayward space crew. Unlike most fiction set in a science-fiction universe, the atmosphere is neither too grim nor too jocular. The story itself is relatively simple; you're the captain of a small ship that runs regular courier missions for Asmico, a delivery and service IT company. With you are your shipwright and communication officer; your shipright Hariett is a straight-laced, by-the-book stick in the mud while Reynolds, the communication officer, is unlikely to win 'Employee of the month' anytime soon.

The controls are extremely simple. For the most part, Zebulon requires you to read chunks of the story. The game was written using the Choice Of scripts and tools; at certain intervals, you'll be presented with multiple choices, each of which might lead to entirely different endings. Once you've selected your response, hit the next button and life will continue. There's no right or wrong answer here, really; it's all a matter of how YOU want the character to interpret his situation. Different choices will of course lead to different results, and you'll likely want to come back to the game again to find out exactly what changes depending on how you treat people or how you react to certain situations.

Analysis: More than anything else, Zebulon is likeable. In many situations, interactive fiction is often a straight forward matter that doesn't quite engage the reader. In Zebulon, it is easy to picture a good-natured Dungeon Master lurking behind the screen and penciling in your adventures. On certain levels, the jokes feel a tad bit forced but the overall atmosphere of the game is delightful.

While the writing might not win the Pulitzer's prize for its creator Matt Slaybaugh anytime soon, it is more than sufficiently compelling to hold most attention spans till the end. Small touches like being forced to brush your teeth, mentions of Spacebook and a space-bound goldfish are responsible for truly bringing Zebulon to life. Though 'choose your own adventure' games are the province of the past, the inclusion of almost RPG-like elements to the game will make it approachable even to the younger generation. What I like most, perhaps, is how both the protagonist and their crew seem to play equally important roles. In between training, negotiating disagreements and working your ships, there's a lot to weigh and consider. That's also the reason I would happily sacrifice a chocolate bunny (I seem to like sacrificing confectionary rabbits, don't I?) for a much needed statistics system in the game.

In terms of the game's interpretation of the competition theme of Friends, I'm somewhat undecided about its performance. While I'm extremely fond of the characters that power this soap opera, I can't help but feel that their personalities are somewhat stereotypical. It almost feels as though they were plucked from a predetermined roster. Now, this isn't a bad thing per say and I cannot imagine having to conceive fully realistic characters within such a short time frame but you know, I'd like to have been able to second guess my analysis of the people we meet in Zebulon. Still, the predictability doesn't weigh down the fun read nor the imaginative play on the genre; it's definitely something that could be easily remedied in an upcoming sequel. (Hint, Hint)

Play Zebulon


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Rating: 4.1/5 (90 votes)
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joyeBloons 2 Christmas Expansion PackDeck the halls with bloons filled with tack-shooting holly, fa la la la la, la la la la! Forty-eight new levels, by golly! Fa la et cetera. Yes, it's the Bloons 2 Christmas Expansion Pack, a gift from Ninjakiwi. Take control once again of the dart-throwing monkey (now in jaunty Santa cap) and clear the bloons, now arranged in Christmas-themed patterns that will test your puzzling skills anew.

In this mouse-controlled game, simply maneuver your cursor around to aim, click and hold to control the launch speed, and release to throw your dart at a bunch of balloons, keeping in mind the effects of gravity. Did you pop anything? Well, good, keep going until you pop the required number of bloons for the level. Occasionally you'll pop a special bloon with its own rules, such as a bee bloon, which releases bees which follow your cursor and should be guided by same into popping other bloons. If you've played the predecessor Bloons 2, you'll recognize the new specialty bloons, some with clever seasonal reskins. For example, the monkey in a biplane is now flying a sleigh, and the pin bloon is now a sprig of holly. The music uses the familiar Bloons style in a medley of two Christmas favorites, "Jingle Bells" and "Joy to the World". Both take a while to repeat, and the way they switch back and forth also keeps the annoyance factor down. Separate mute controls for the music and sound effects are available, however.

While most of the game is focused on being fun and visually amusing rather than hair-yankingly difficult, there are a few levels towards the end that rank right up there with the best or worst (depending on your point of view) the series has to offer. You get five "super monkeys" to use over the course of the game (basically, your monkey turns into an eye-beam shooting machine of death, which is very satisfying if you've been trying to beat a level for fifteen minutes), as well as three "solutions". If you use a solution, the game shows you the level being beaten in-game. Interestingly, the solution doesn't always show the monkey beating the level perfectly, even on levels where this is possible. Once you use up your solutions and super monkeys, you have to pay to get more. However, don't forget about one more totally free option for getting through a level: on the level select screen, you can put on "unlimited darts" mode.

A lovely seasonal twist on the smash hit, the game doesn't break any new ground, but when the established ground is this good, it doesn't need to.

Play Bloons 2 Christmas Expansion Pack


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Mobile Monday

JohnBA truly epic Mobile Monday this week, as we've got some huge iPhone game releases along with the results of our drawing last week! The name "Myst" will perk anyone's eyes up, and recently that game's sequel, Riven, was released on the mobile platform. And it's excellent! Combine that with a new game from the creator of Hook Champ, a hilarious browser game hitting iOS, and one of the best freemium city building App Store release so far, and you've got more than enough reasons to stay curled in bed playing iPhone games all morning long.

And now, free game time! The creator of Clock Blocks was kind enough to supply us with a few free copies of the iPhone puzzle game last week, so we randomly chose a few commentors for the prize. Congrats to jolson42, glowtmickey, and Malorion for winning! We'll be in touch with you shortly to give you your prize, and be sure to check back soon for even more game giveaways!

riven-iphone.jpgRiven - Needing no introduction and no praise from us for you to know it's an amazing game, Riven: The Sequel to Myst has been released for the iPhone. And, as you would expect, it's beyond stunning. The game received the same touch screen overhaul as its predecessor Myst, and every bit of the original game was stuffed into a single package, cramming five discs of data into a 1.01 GB download. It's a massive game, for sure, but oh so worth buying, whether you've played it before or are new to the experience. Over a dozen years after its initial release, Riven still manages to awe players with its rich world and tough puzzles, and the storytelling is as engrossing as ever.

hookworlds.gifHook Worlds - Ready for more hook swinging action? From the creator of Hook Champ and Super QuickHook comes their best-looking and most playable game yet. Take control of four heroes, each with their own ability and own worlds to traverse. Everyone's got a hook, of course, and you use it to swing from ceilings to keep your momentum going so you stay safe from the baddie chasing you. But the secondary ability is what makes things interesting, allowing you to reverse gravity, rocket jump, or fire your gun, depending on the character. Each world has its own setting and storyline, and levels are randomly generated and endless, meaning you'll never run out of things to do. Unlockables and equippable items make the experience even more enticing, and Rocketcat Games is well-known for providing lots of tasty updates for its games!

qwop-iphone.jpgQWOP - Oh that's right, the hilariously uncontrollable runner is back, with all-new visuals and a brand new control scheme that's guaranteed to produce epic failures. Use the left and right diamonds to control the runner's left and right legs, sliding them around to manipulate the tiniest muscle movements. Most of the time, you'll end up flat on your face (or back, or chest, or bum), and if you do manage to get forward movement going, you'll probably look like a kangaroo doing an impression of a lemur on a pogo stick at a disco. But QWOP isn't about running. It's about giggling uncontrollably at your iPhone.

tradenations.jpgTrade Nations - A very well-tuned freemium building game along the lines of We Rule and Smurf's Village. This one, however, offers a greater degree of customizability and has a more simulation feel to it, along with a gorgeous art style. Build cottages to attract villagers, build places to harvest wood and grow food, then assign each villager a task. Harvest resources so you can make your village a sprawling town, then trade goods and services with your friends to grow even more. You can speed up tasks by purchasing magic beans, otherwise you'll wait for things to happen in real-time, as Trade Nations is active even while you aren't playing. There are tons of buildings and decorations to play with, and the friend sharing is a more integral part of the game than in other building titles on the iPhone.

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


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Rating: 4.7/5 (20 votes)
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Puzzle Dimension

JohnBPuzzle Dimension is a great-looking and extremely well-made 3D puzzle game from Doctor Entertainment. Your goal is to collect the sunflowers on each level. Roll the satisfyingly-solid stone block across the floating tiles, leaping over single-spaced gaps when necessary, and touch each flower to nab it. Now, factor in ice, vanishing blocks, and loads of other ingenious puzzle contraptions and you've got a satisfying and challenging game that never seems to get old!

Puzzle DimensionRolling the stone ball and jumping are your two main moves, but you'll also control the camera to get a better view of the surrounding landscape. You'll need it, as some of the stages feature wrapped terrain, curved surfaces, and other obstacles you'll need to peer around. The controls are fully customizable, but the default [arrow] keys to move and [WASD] to change the camera work quite well.

Most tiles are solid and can be rolled across and jumped upon however many times you please. However, this wouldn't be much of a puzzle game if all you had to do was find your way around a scattering of blocks, would it? (Isn't that called a "maze"?) Unique block types are what makes Puzzle Dimension challenging, and when you encounter weak tiles that crumble after landing on them a few times or patches of ice that slide you along automatically, you'll see how devious some of these levels can be. It requires a lot of thought (and then a bit of dexterity) to plan and carve your way across a level while leaving a path back to the exit!

The set-up will be familiar to anyone who has played path-related puzzle games before, so the learning curve is minimal. Even still, Puzzle Dimension offers a stellar tutorial that manages to walk you through the basics without spoiling the content. The first few levels introduce you to some of the mechanics you'll see in later stages, and as the challenge gradually increases, you'll get quicker at making decisions and better at playing the game.

Puzzle DimensionAnalysis: Puzzle Dimension relies on perspective and logic to provide its challenge, and both are smartly implemented. You can tell the developers at Doctor Entertainment spent a lot of time integrating every idea into the game, as the performance is seamless and each puzzle is more brilliantly concocted than the last.

Logic-based puzzles of this nature are usually fertile ground for frustration, but Puzzle Dimension takes extra precautions to ensure you never want to pull your hair out. The group level select is the biggest feature, unlocking entire groups of levels you can play in any order. Collect enough flowers in these stages and you unlock a new group, so if you're ever stuck on a puzzle, it's very easy to skip over it and come back later. Thank you, Doctor Entertainment!

The visual presentation must be mentioned, as not only is it crisp, inviting, and interesting, it's also customizable! Once you collect enough flowers, you start to unlock new tile skins that change the appearance of the levels. The default blocks look great, but soon you can experiment with jungle and volcano themes that add a nice change of scenery. Best of all, these skins can be swapped no matter what level you're on, which is far more convenient than you might imagine! The tiles also start off with a more blocky kind of look until you run across them, which creates a cascade visual effect that's pure pleasure to look at. And pay close attention to the music as each level progresses. That's a treat unto itself!

You'll have a difficult time finding a game as well-made as Puzzle Dimension. Everything about the title is smart and player-friendly, something far too few games take into consideration. Challenging, customizable, unique, and always refreshing, it's a puzzle experience you're not allowed to ignore!

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo (via Steam)
Get the full version (via Steam)

Mac OS XMac OS X:
Download the demo (via Steam)
Get the full version (via Steam)


(13 votes) *Average rating will show after 20 votes
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Mystery of Mortlake Mansion

DoraEveryone gets junkmail. Coupons we'll never use, offers for bank loans we don't need, scams that are pathetically easy to see through... but today you've received a very different sort of letter. One mailed decades ago, begging for your help, and warning you against great danger. Mystery of Mortlake Mansion is a stunning new hidden-object adventure game that takes you on a journey full of talking beasts and shadowy places, and friends and foes... it's telling them apart that's difficult. Combining magic and mystery, this is a game that will appeal to fans of Dream Chronicles, or even anyone looking for a good story and some fun gameplay.

Mystery of Mortlake MansionUpon receiving this letter from the past, you decide you're intrigued enough to investigate. Thoughtfully, the game allows you to decide whether your character is male or female, and the spoken dialogue changes accordingly. Whatever your gender, you'll soon find yourself at a deceptively run-down looking manor in search of the mysterious "R", who sent you the letter and claimed to need your help. It isn't long before you find yourself embroiled in a very dangerous battle whether you like it or not, and you'll have to do your part if you ever want to get home.

Part hidden-object, part old fashioned adventure, to solve the Mystery of Mortlake Mansion you'll need to scour both sides of the strange old building, solving puzzles and gathering items both ordinary and magical. Keep an eye out for a changing cursor that marks something you can interact with, as well as any glimmering areas that mark puzzles or hidden-object scenes. (Keep in mind that it seems like the game's terminology is British, so "football", for example, is more likely to mean "soccer ball" than the American pigskin.) While you usually won't be given much instruction for any puzzles you find, a little experimentation will go a long way, and you always have the option to skip particularly difficult ones if you wait a few minutes. Likewise, you also have a hint button to guide you in the right direction that only takes a handful of seconds to recharge. The map you gain access to will also show you areas that have uncompleted tasks in them, and allow you to instantly hop to any place you've already been. Handy!

Mystery of Mortlake MansionAnalysis: Games these days are very pretty. With how graphics have advanced (and continue to advance every year) that's almost a given; you no longer get any points for that. I bring this up because Mystery of Mortlake Mansion is gorgeous, but I made a mistake in assuming that's all it would be. The game is visually stunning, with hand-drawn artwork and the sort of rich colour palette that's a welcome treat in today's realm of computer generated visuals. It strikes a fine balance between creepy and mystical as you wander back and forth between the two realms that the mansion occupies, so that exploring never feels stale as you keep uncovering hidden mechanisms or new spells.

But Mortlake is more than just a pretty face. It took a while for me to really become invested in the story, since talking birds and Grim Reaper robes aren't as impressive as they used to be, but before long I found myself genuinely interested in the story you piece together through journal entries and other clues you stumble across. There are so many hidden mechanisms and puzzles and minigames on offer that you're never just wandering around without an objective, making this the rare sort of game that engages you constantly.

Mystery of Mortlake MansionIt's just unfortunate that it occasionally feels as though the game is more concerned with presentation than clean gameplay. There are a lot of little flourishes, such as the "victory" shower of symbols for puzzle completion, certain area transitions, or the map that pops up every single time you change areas, that look nice, but don't really add anything to the experience, and after a while they actually became a little annoying to me when I was seeing them every ten seconds and some of them actually hold up the gameplay to play out. The option to turn off the voice acting would also have been welcome; since the game always offers subtitles, you wouldn't miss anything, and to be frank not everyone delivers the a great performance. (Fortunately you can click through text as it pops up.) The end result is a game that's visually stunning, but winds up feeling a little cumbersome.

The gameplay itself isn't actually that difficult. While you may have some issues spotting items in hidden-object scenes initially, once you get used to the distinctive artistic style you'll probably fly through them and most of the challenges the game tries to offer. It decidedly feels like a more casual experience, something for you to sink into and easily enjoy without hitting any brickwalls or getting frustrated. Mystery of Mortlake Mansion is an absolutely beautiful game that's easily enjoyed by just about anyone. It's a solid adventure game that manages to perfectly capture that otherworldly spirit and atmosphere, and any aspiring magicians should definitely check out the demo.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


(15 votes) *Average rating will show after 20 votes
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Soap Opera Dash

JohnBVery few people think creating a soap opera is a complex and time consuming process, but PlayFirst's new time management game, Soap Opera Dash, simplifies the formula even further. Assemble your actors, do their hair and makeup, make sure their wardrobes are set, and shoot each episode one scene at a time. It's a bit different than other games in the Dash series, but it's every bit as well-made and engaging!

Soap Opera DashStep one in making a soap opera: choose parts for the actors. From the available roster, you'll select the jealous best friend, the supportive pal, set who the quarreling lovers are, etc. Once the roles are cast, the real work begins. Actors appear on the left side of the screen and take a seat. Each wants a script of a certain color, and it's your job to deliver it. Once they've read their lines, actors will want their hair done, then need a trip to wardrobe, and probably a visit to the makeup department. With each step, you'll move the actors by clicking and dragging, then give them a hand by dashing Rosie over to their positions to get the work done.

Once the actors are ready and on stage, it's time for a quick prop check. Need a table on the set? Drag one from the props area to the right. Fill all the shadows with the right equipment and you can finally start shooting! Drag the camera man over to his position and the actors get to work. Once the scene is complete, a volunteer clears the stage and you're ready for the next round!

Soap Opera Dash also incorporates color-based combos that function much like Airport Mania: First Flight. Red actors, for example, will turn a gray makeup chair red after they've used it. Drop another red actor in the chair after that and you'll get a tidy bonus, a number that keeps increasing the more same-color actors you utilize. The key to reaching the expert goal in each level is to spam combos like there's no tomorrow!

Soap Opera DashAnalysis: Another game in the Dash series, another excuse to perform a menial task that's somehow made fun! Creating a television show isn't as simple as, say, serving a burger or parking a car, but it's still a greatly simplified version of something much more complex, and it's every bit as engaging as the other time management games. Only now, instead of worrying about baked goods, you've got persnickety actors to deal with!

Soap Opera Dash doesn't take any chances when it comes to its design. Just about everything you encounter hits right up the middle for this genre, providing everything you would expect and not much more. That may seem like a down side, but it really isn't, as the game doesn't need to innovate in order to be entertaining. And because of the set-up (actors, makeup, stage props, etc.), the game doesn't play like the other Dash games before it, so the experience is new without having to reinvent the formula.

One shortcoming worth mentioning is the easy at which you'll play through Soap Opera Dash. The game doesn't offer too much challenge, and aside from some hectic levels where you're managing a dozen things at once, you probably won't even break a sweat.

Thankfully, you don't have to be a fan of soap operas to play or enjoy Soap Opera Dash. It's a good looking and easy to play time management game with high quality everything. And without the cheesy soap opera storyline!

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


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Weekend Download

JohnBIt's the last weekend before Christmas, so a lot of people are out shopping for presents and such. Not us. We're sitting inside playing games. All. Weekend. Long! Take that, thinly-veiled incentives to buy gifts!

gravitygarden.gifGravity Garden (Windows, 21.9MB, free) - A fully-stocked puzzle game with astronauts, flower pots, Russian scientists, and some crates. It's... Gravity Garden! Working to become the next Russian space hero and one-up the U.S. in the space race, you are put in charge of a device that can switch gravity with the touch of a button. Your goal is to move a fragile flower pot to the teleporter at the end. However, since gravity affects everything on the screen, swapping the flow can crush your plant if you're not careful. A very challenging game with 25 dastardly levels to complete, and a sense of humor any child of the internet will appreciate!

daceyinthedark.gifDacey in the Dark - Prelude (Windows, 9MB, free) - A short prelude for what is planned on being a multi-chapter tale, Dacey in the Dark is an adventure game that takes place in a stylish 2D sidescrolling world. Dacey has a fight with her father and leaves home. Going beyond the gates of her front yard won't be a simple task, as she needs a few supplies before striking out. A mysterious golden butterfly appears and seems to be guiding her somewhere. But, can you really trust it?

stargirl.gifStargirl and the Thief from the Exploded Moon (Windows, 2.7MB, free) - From the creator of A Game with a Kitty and Treasure Hunter Man comes another polished (and awesome) platform game! Some thief guy stole Stargirl's Starscooter, and not nobody is gonna stand for that! Even though she's a bit chubby (and boy does the game not let her forget), Stargirl is determined to recover her Starscooter, no matter how many platforms she has to platform upon! The game plays much like the item-lifting Super Mario Bros. 2 or Lyle in Cube Sector. Pick up blocks or enemies with [ctrl] and give them a toss. Work your way through 17 blissful levels of platforming awesomeness provided by one of the best creators of indie platformers!

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


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Rating: 4.1/5 (157 votes)
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Dismantlement: SmartphoneGrinnypWow, Christmas came early, didn't it? Gam.ebb.jp has given us the best christmas present ever, another dismantlement game, Dismantlement: Smartphone. It's dismantling time for the umpteenth time!

For those two or three hardy souls out there who have never tried a dismantling game the concept is simple: take apart an object using only your screwdriver and your wits. Why your wits, you might ask? Because whomever designed these neat little gadgets has decided to copy protect their proprietary hardware in the only way they seem to know how, by creating mind-bending puzzles to slow you down in the process of deconstruction, with a nasty little booby-trap surprise at the end to thwart any would-be reverse engineering knock-off.

Taken as a whole the dismantlement series has been one of the most popular on the site, a basic concept that you might find in another, longer game — taking an object apart — and turned it into its own little genre and art form. Dismantle a radio? We're tuned in. Dismantle a fan? Let's give it a whirl! Dismantle a Burger? Omnomnom...wait, what? Yes, we have taken apart many things in our eternal quest to reduce common objects to their basic components, even something so esoteric as a Tea Canister. Does Smartphone live up to the standards of those that came before it?

Well, yes and no. The initial puzzle is definitely a tricky one, no question. Unfortunately, it goes a little downhill from there, the puzzles becoming progressively easier. The emphasis in Dismantlement: Smart Phone seems to be more on the graphics this time around, and the puzzles do suffer a bit for it. Still loads of fun, but not as difficult as some in the series. Tougher than Dismantlement: Burger, certainly, but still...

This is still a dismantlement game, though, thus a whole lot of puzzle solving fun wrapped up in a neat little package. And for us older folks who are sometimes confused by this newfangled technology stuff, who have trouble with touch screens or tiny little buttons, or who JUST WANT TO MAKE A DARNED PHONE CALL WITHOUT ACCIDENTLY SETTING OFF A CAMERA FLASH RIGHT IN THEIR EYES...um, well, for us this is sweet revenge, to say the least. So get dismantling!

Play Dismantlement: Smartphone

Thanks to Cyberjar88 for the heads-up about the new release!


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The Humble Indie Bundle

JohnBIt's bundle time again! Following the massive success of the original Humble Indie Bundle as well as The Indie Love Bundle(s), The Humble Indie Bundle #2 comes along with five great indie games, each available for Mac, Windows and Linux, with no DRM and a price tag of whatever you want to pay. Yay!

Why so humble, you ask? Because you get to decide where the money goes. You can distribute the cash between two charities (Electronic Frontier Foundation or the Child's Play Charity), send it all to the developers, or even tip the Humble Indie Bundle folks themselves. Then the games are all yours to play or gift as you please.

Here's what's available in The Humble Indie Bundle #2:

Go check out The Humble Indie Bundle #2, get a few really great games, and help out a few charities/indie devs. You've got until Tuesday Saturday (12/25) before the sale ends!

UPDATE: Pay more than the average and you'll get all of the games from Humble Indie Bundle #1 included FREE! WOW!


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Rating: 4.8/5 (32 votes)
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Haunted Halls: Green Hills Sanitarium

DoraIf nothing else, adventure games are always great examples of how not to do things. Take Haunted Halls: Green Hills Sanitarium, an adventure/hidden-object hybrid from ERS Game Studio, for example. How not to conduct a missing persons investigation. How not to react to demonic visions that nearly force your car off the road. And, perhaps most importantly, how not to run a sanitarium.

Haunted Halls: Green Hills SanitariumYou play the role of a distraught young woman whose boyfriend, Tim, went off to investigate the Green Hills Sanitarium and hasn't been heard from in weeks. Rather than contact the authorities, you decide the best course of action is to track him down yourself, and you soon find yourself caught up in a mad doctor's mad experiments in his extremely non-regulation mad house. To escape the sanitarium safely, you'll have to rescue not only Tim, but other patients who are trapped within their own phobias as well, and each of them is held prisoner in a twisted cell that reflects his or her own deepest fears. Once again, I find myself glad I'm not a video game character, since my cell would apparently be full of giant squid, clowns, spiders, and lutefisk.

You'll be using the mouse to play the game, clicking to interact with the world. Objects you can interact with will sparkle slightly from time to time, and your cursor will change to an eyeball when you mouse over points of interest. While a lot of the items you'll need to progress are just laying around for you to pick up (marked by the cursor changing to a hand when you mouse over them), you'll have to search for others by solving hidden-object scenes or puzzles, both of which are indicated by yet more sparkles. Don't forget to check your notes from time to time to read the stories of the sanitarium's inhabitants, which may give you clues on how to help them break free of their torments.

Analysis: When I was a kid, there was a video store across the street from the supermarket that would rent you VHS movies for the princely sum of .47 per night. They had a rather spectacular horror section filled with low-budget schlock flicks, and every Friday after school my friends and I would rent approximately two dozen films with titles like "Luther the Geek" or "Moontrap" and binge all night on them. I tell you this so you know I have seen a lot of crazy stuff, but until I played Green Hills Sanitarium, I had never seen a writhing mass of tentacles playing two enormous electric keyboards. It just hadn't been done, and it was then that I realised this game was rad. That's the sort of thing you encounter in this game, and it happens a lot, making the game less scary, and more bizarre.

Haunted Halls: Green Hills SanitariumThe flipside of this is that Haunted Halls is also extremely creative and is full of strange environment with stranger occupants. It's great to explore a place that deviates so drastically from the standard (boring) haunted house concept and just cuts loose, taking delight in surprising you with impossible concepts and a sort of goofy, cheerful oddness. While the puzzles you'll encounter will probably be variations of ones you've seen before, the manner in which they're presented makes them feel fresh and fun to tackle. The visuals for the whole thing are great; while people tend to look a little odd, the environments are extremely detailed and full of rich colours that bring the experience to life. The design especially shines for the prisons constructed for each patient, and I found myself looking forward to seeing each new one.

One problem you might encounter is that the creative approach to design also extends to the gameplay. While many of the item combinations you'll have to make are logical, such as a dead battery and a battery charger, some of them are just bizarre to better fit in with their strange environment and don't always make sense deliberately. This might not be so bad, but you could be using the right item in the right place, but you might be using it a few degrees off that mystical "sweet spot" the game considers to be correct. You might also want to avoid using the "hint" option outside of hidden-object scenes; it's supposed to point you towards spots you can make progress with inside a room, but it will often point out things even if you don't have the right item for them yet, and doesn't give you much of an idea of what to do with it, which can be confusing.

But despite these few flaws, Haunted Halls: Green Hills Sanitarium is still a wonderfully weird and extremely imaginative game that doesn't take itself too seriously. Although the story isn't outside the realm of cliche, uncovering all the strange sights the sanitarium has to offer is a lot of fun and is definitely worth checking out if the demo you're bored of the same-ol', same-ol' cavalcade of more "serious" adventure horror titles. And now, because you had to know it was coming, say it with me;

It's a mad house! A MAAAAAAAAD HOOOOOOOOOUSE!

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.

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

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


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Rating: 3.6/5 (56 votes)
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TrickyMonomazeIt goes by many names: Dots, Dots and Boxes, Paddocks, Square-It, Dot-Boxing... Whatever you call it, it's the grid-based game of strategy that's been played the world over since its rules were first published in 1889. However, unlike its pencil-and-paper cousins tic-tac-toe or hangman, Dots has never been all that satisfying to play against a computer. It suffers from the same difficulties as Go, in that the plethora of move options makes it difficult for a computer to sift through and find a winning strategy. Clearly, if the game is to effectively make the leap from restaurant place-mat to computer screen, some remix of the core rules is necessary. Monomaze, the new release from Diffusion Games, is just such a remix, and a successful one at that. It combines the core strategic elements of Dots with a healthy dose of arcade-puzzling, and coats it in a futuristic aesthetic. Never has clever line placement been so intense, or, for that matter, so entertaining.

Monomaze is played entirely with the mouse. On the Dots-styled grid, you must click the screen to place lines to form complete loops in exchange for points. Once a loop is formed, it and all the power-ups on it disappear and are replaced with a random selection of lines, spaces and new power-ups. Loops with larger perimeters grant more points and a greater probability at power-ups. You start with thirty line segments to place. Run out and the game is over. Likewise, bombs will appear on the grid. These are destroyed by looping them, but if not done so in ten turns, they will explode and end the game. Power-ups include arrows which, when captured, grant you an extra turn, Diamond Multipliers that increase your loop score, and lightning bolts which clear the grid of all bombs. In addition to the standard game, there is a Blitz Mode which adds a sixty second time limit to the challenge. I think (puts on sunglasses) dots all you should need to know. YEEEEEEEEAH!!!

MonomazeAnalysis: Monomaze has both the surface simplicity and hidden depths that are the hallmark of classic arcade puzzle games. Indeed, if it wasn't for the high-rez backgrounds and occasionally-too-thumping soundtrack, the game wouldn't be out of place in a cabinet at the local pizza parlor, nestled between Tetris and Qix, right behind the claw machine. However, there tends to be very little middle-ground in opinion for games like this, based so strongly around a singular mechanic: for any individual player, it's either addiction or boredom with little room in between.

Me? In this case, it's addiction. I love Dots, I love grids games, I love pattern-recognition, and I love games that reward both careful planning and quick improvisation. I'm happy to see that the developers were confident enough in their gameplay to avoid tacking an unnecessary plot onto the action. Trying to set up an extra-long circuit, while formulating enough short ones to prevent the entire board from exploding, has appeal enough all its own.

My biggest concern with Monomaze is that it misses out on clear opportunities for additional play-modes. This is a game that cries for multi-player. Considering that Monomaze's mechanics are taken from a two-player game, it feels quite the glaring omission. (Though, I suppose that the addition would have forced a rename to "Polymaze"... not quite the same ring to it.) Also, some form of puzzle mode, based around the best placement of line segments would likewise seem a natural inclusion. Of course, if the main complaint about a game is that you want more ways to play it, clearly it's doing something right.

Monomaze's repetition, whiningly-futuristic music and no-frills presentation might initially turn some away, and indeed you'll probably know if you love or hate it by the end of your first play-through. However, I'm sure more than a few will start playing, and then, suddenly, it's three hours later. If you're looking for a high-quality game to pass the time with, to paraphrase Lyle Lanley, it's a gamer's perfect choice. Throw up your hands and raise your voice! Monomaze!... Monomaze!... MONOMAZE!

Play Monomaze!


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Rating: 4/5 (69 votes)
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CassandraHell, YeahBiological and metaphysical issues aside, let's imagine for just one moment that it was possible for a mad scientist to create a hybrid of Okamiden and Jack Black. Hell, Yeah would most likely be the demented, over-the-top product of that experiment. Irrepressibly tongue-in-cheek, Hell Yeah is a gesture-based defense game in which you'll defend the wonders of the world against the armies of the Devil, who wants to overtake them all for his wife. Armed with your magic paintbrush and some divine assistance, you'll have to paint your weapons and defenses into reality against oncoming enemies.

You'll be using your mouse (or whatever other pointing device you own) to draw the sigils that correspond to the current weapons available. Although your arsenal comes with a time limit, you'll be able to craft multiple copies and have them stored away for a short interval. Initially, the only weapon in your arsenal is a giant magnifying glass that will literally allow you to roast your foes alive with a little patience. Creating weapons (which don't last forever) costs mana, which replenishes slowly over time, or is gained whenever you kill an enemy.

Speaking of enemies, you'll find that they march in from the left side of the screen towards whatever wonder it is you're trying to protect. Your goal, naturally, is to keep them at bay so they can't destroy your wall and capture the wonder du jour. If you find the magnifying glass is too slow, you'll want to take full advantage of the upgrade system, which lets you spend the souls you accumulate on both improving old weapons or powers, and buying new ones once they've been unlocked. Destroy your enemies Looney Toons style by dropping an anvil on their head, or summon the Flying Spaghetti Monster to bring about their noodle-y doom. But don't neglect your defenses; damage to your wall doesn't repair itself, so you'll also have to spend souls for that.

Hell, YeahAnalysis: Hell, Yeah is fun. Hell, Yeah is really, really fun. It is also reasonably impressive from a technical perspective. Its gesture recognition implementation is surprisingly receptive, something I wasn't expecting from a Flash production. However, I do have a minor quibble. Due to how some of the weapons are constructed, it can become a surprising chore to get to the enemies pressed up against the side of the screen. Of course, I'm also extremely impatient and would rather be done with the enemies sooner rather than later. Adding in hot keys that let you instantly switch between your available weapons would also have made things a lot simpler and gotten rid of some frustrating clicking.

While not much skill is required to do away with the regular troop, the bosses are actually reasonably tricky for a Flash game, and usually require some cunning or technique to beat. You'll find yourself taking full advantage of your stable of weapons, your sense of timing and occasional ingenuity to survive both the bosses and the never-ending waves. Fortunately, however, there's an abundant amount of upgrades and items to unlock to help you in your one-man battle against the Devil. Pop culture references abound in Tiger Tail Studio's latest production; the Flying Spaghetti Monster is an unlockable ally here, for crying out loud! The humor in Hell, Yeah is relentless. Enemy design is relatively inspired, albeit far too cute for words, at times. With tiny, fast-moving feet and overtly large heads, they look like a legion of dolls come to bop you into submission.

There is a respectable amount of variety in terms of the arsenal available. From mana capacity right down to unlockable allies, there's a lot to think about and a lot to invest in. While the game might seem frivolous at first glance, there's actually a significant amount of strategy involved. For some players the idea of their favourite deities duking it out may be a bit much, and as such some of the humour is a little subjective and might want to be something you investigate yourself before letting your kids play. There's nothing blatant in the game but there's a lot of insinuations to be found. However, if you've already reached an appropriate age and have a broad mind, you have nothing to worry about and a lot to look forward to.

Play Hell Yeah


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Rating: 4.6/5 (88 votes)
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Game created by Benjamin Soule of Motion-Twin
Hosted here with kind permission of the author
Just a quick update to say that we have been moving our bandwidth-heavy content (images, hosted games) during the past few days to a global content delivery network to help the site load faster (no matter where you are in the world). We were hoping this would be completely transparent to you, the visitor, and that we wouldn't have to bother you with a note like this.

Unfortunately, one of the downsides to moving all the games we host is that any game saves you may have created will seem to be missing since Flash stores your data on your hard drive based on the server domain name where the game is being hosted.

Tech savvy users can resurrect those lost saves by locating the .sol file (Flash game save file) for the old domain — will be of the format: flash.games.*.fizzlebot.com where * stands for the first letter in the game title — and move it to where the .sol file is stored for the same game at the new domain, games.jayisgames.com.

If you have a problem with that, leave a comment and someone should be able to help out.

I apologize for any inconvenience this causes you, but rest assured this won't ever likely happen again, and your experience here at Jayisgames should be even better from now on. :)


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Link Dump Fridays

DoraThey say laughter is the best medicine. Typically, I disagree; medicine is the best medicine. But during this time of year when, for most of us, the days are getting longer and colder, laughter is a great way to help stay warm. This week's Link Dump Friday features a batch of games to make you grin... or else.

  • No Time to Explain!No Time to Explain! - Forever earning a place in my heart for its completely ridiculous premise and equally ridiculous but hilarious dialogue (do screams for help count as dialogue?) this absurd action game by Tom Brien is about a man who receives a visit from his future self, only to have it cut short when a giant crab claw bursts through the wall and abducts his strange visitor. There is literally no time to explain as you must take up the conveniently dropped super-powered laser and use it to propel yourself after... uh... yourself, around obstacles and hazards, as Future Dude's cries get increasingly piteous and hysterical. While the propulsion controls are unfortunately extremely frustrating, this is one game that you'll probably enjoy checking out just for the laughs alone.
  • Camelot SmashalotCamelot Smashalot - If you've never heard of Monty Python before, you're probably just going to be confused and maybe a little frightened at this physics puzzle game that has a group of very silly knights trying to destroy castles with some very silly ammunition while some very silly sound effects play. You've probably seen this sort of game before, but it's still entertaining to launch a pig at your enemies while they shriek in exaggerated agony and terror. The addition of Holy Hand Grenades and some more puzzle-like aspects to certain levels, such as castles with moving parts, helps to distinguish the game somewhat from its influences. It's also good training for any little nerds you have growing up in your dwelling. "Okay, sweetie, what does the knight say... ?"
  • Hurry Up Bob!!!Hurry Up Bob!!! - You will never catch me in a mine. I have just enough claustrophobia that seeing Mike Rowe first nearly buried in coal dust and then nearly become trapped in a narrow cave crawlspace has instilled within me a natural distrust of enclosed areas. Now I have another reason to avoid them thanks to this arcade platform game where you star as a tiny miner (or is that a minor miner? HAW!) trying to outrun a swelling tide of lava by climbing as high as he can past traps, monsters, and other hindrances with your reflexes and power ups. If the movement and jumping were a bit tighter, this game would be a lot better, but it's still adorable, and besides which, entertaining to beat cave men to a bloody pulp with your bare hands.
  • Lame CastleLame Castle - [Note: Requires Unity plugin.] When Sony made an ad slamming mobile phones as a gaming platform, they probably never expected one developer (Bradley Johnson) to take them up on their joke concept of a mobile game. Inspired by the "Lame Castle" idea intended as a joke in the commercial, this short but sweet little arcade game features you as a knight on a wee little hobby-horse charging along a straight path, leaping over or bashing through obstacles, on your way to rescue your princess. The levels are short, and Endless Mode doesn't really offer quite enough variation to keep your interest for long, but with its adorable presentation and simple gameplay, it's easily worth a play and a smile.
  • Night Adventure of SleepwalkerNight Adventure of Sleepwalker - Garbuz Games brings us this odd spot-the-difference title about the perils of sleepwalking. Speaking as someone who has the tendency to wake up if the cat sneezes three rooms over, I'm rather jealous of this girl's ability to not only survive a fall down a manhole, but to then proceed to snuggle into the cold, hard floor and continue sleeping like a baby. The artwork is simple, but really shines, and serves as a cautionary tale against rats. Do you think this is what Jill Valentine was worried about when she said she was close to becoming a "Jill sandwich"?

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Rating: 4.2/5 (58 votes)
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Babylon Sticks: Tick Tack Go! comic

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

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


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Rating: 4.6/5 (2102 votes)
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DoraOne ChanceOne Chance is an interactive narrative adventure game where you literally only get once chance to save the day, and seems to be developer AwkwardSilenceGames's attempt to live up to his name. You play a scientist who is part of a team who discovers a revolutionary cure for cancer, but the celebration is short lived when you realise the cure is actually a death sentence for the entire planet... a gas-based drug that rampages through all living things. You have six days before life as everyone knows it ends, and it's up to you to figure out how you want to spend them. Use the left and right [arrow] keys to move, and the [spacebar] to interact with people or objects. Be careful about the choices you make, since you can usually only choose to do one thing each day, such as work.

When the game says you have one chance, it means it. There is no replay button. If you fail, you fail for good. Once the game ends, you cannot play it again, unless you're particularly savvy and "cheat" by disallowing cookies to be stored on your computer, or clearing all your temporary internet files from your browser. To say this has caused a polarised reaction from its players is a mild understatement. The developer has said he wanted to explore the concept of permanency in games, and to get players to really think about their choices. Guilt and responsibility often go hand in hand, but it's entirely up to people as individuals how they react to their mistakes; whether they decide to do everything they can at the cost of themselves to try and make things right, or simply accept things as they are and shrug their shoulders.

It's an ambitious attempt at connecting with the player, but for some its attempt to try something new with its mechanics may wind up being a nail in the coffin. While it's acceptable that shirking work results in a lost day, why in the world does walking up onto the roof of the building to have a short conversation with your boss take an entire day? Five seconds of conversation should not count as wasted time when you can literally spin on your heel and be back down at the labs hard at work in just as long. For me personally, things like this acted as blocks that kept me from ever really connecting with the story emotionally. Which is kind of a shame, since the story here is intended to be some pretty grim, introspective stuff even though it's only told through short pieces of dialogue.

Structurally, One Chance will probably remind some gamers a lot of Every Day the Same Dream, which the developer admits was an inspiration (along with Babies Dream of Dead Worlds); the area design in almost identical in a lot of cases, although the stories are completely different. Seeing the way the world changes around you as the days roll by is a little alarming; some differences are subtle, such as the trees that slowly begin to wither, while others like the rioting protesters who begin to appear on your way to work are harder to ignore. There are multiple endings depending on your actions, but as we've discussed, you're probably only going to see one of them unless you take other measures (or play on another computer). I wouldn't call One Chance an "art game", but rather an experimental one. Whether you think that experiment was a success or simply a questionable design choice is entirely up to you.

Play One Chance


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Rating: 4.5/5 (170 votes)
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joyeIsoball 3In February, Isoball 2 came out with 50 levels of block building, ball rolling, isometric madness. Now, Candyflame is back with 75 more levels of puzzling goodness in the imaginatively named Isoball 3. I took forward to playing all 825 levels of Isoball 33, guys.

The titular "isoball" is as fragile as your roommate's heirloom glass Christmas bauble. If you knock back too much eggnog and try to set up a high-speed racecourse for either one, things are going to end in degradation and shame, okay people? Learn from me, here. Stick to the game version if you must try it, using your trusty mouse to select various bits of track, from basic ramps and blocks to energy bridges and elevator blocks and construct a course for your little ball to merrily roll around. The poor thing cannot handle even a small sudden drop, and at high speeds even a gradual change in angle may cause spontaneous combustion. And if you don't have enough momentum, the little cabbage just plain tuckers out and quits. Grit your teeth and bear its diva ways and try to guide it into the hole. Complete levels to unlock sandbox levels where you have unlimited pieces, as well as some inexplicable trophies. The "barber trophy," for example, is a square metallic sheep.

Play all the Isoball games:
IsoballIsoball 2Isoball 3Isoball X1

Isoball 3 removes the timing levels that were the source of so much complaint from fans in the Isoball 2 comments section. Neither is there any need for mid-level erasing and rebuilding, like there was in the final levels of that game. These are both causes for rejoicing. Game developers need to try new things, but it's a good sign when they recognize that their audience didn't like a change. Isoball 3 really gets back to the basics of what people want in an Isoball game and then provides 75 levels of it. Experienced players might grouse at there being no way to skip over the beginning levels to get to the hard stuff, but that's really the only caveat. I think fans of the series and newcomers alike will find enough to like in these 75 levels to provide procrastination assistance all the way through New Year's. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have things to do. Those ornaments are not going to throw themselves. Hang themselves. Yes. Right.

Play Isoball 3


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Rating: 4.8/5 (518 votes)
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DoraSubmachine 7Mateusz Skutnik's Submachine series has kept puzzle and adventure game fans guessing for over five years. With its eerie atmosphere and mysterious narrative, each subsequent installment has only served to raise more questions and wild speculation amongst its fans. If you've been waiting patiently (or not so patiently) for another chapter, your loyalty is about to be rewarded. Submachine 7: The Core is finally here... and it's waiting for you to unlock its secrets.

Best of Casual Gameplay 2010Use your mouse to interact with your environment and pick up items, which are stored in your inventory on the right. You can click once on an item you're carrying to pick it up, and then again anywhere else on the screen you want to try using it. Investigate everywhere, sometimes more than once; if something has happened and you've made progress, it's worth revisiting old areas to see if anything has changed, or if you can interact with something new. Since the game saves your progress automatically, you can take time out whenever you want to scrawl "What does it mean?!" over and over on your walls (it's very therapeutic) before picking up right where you left off.

Analysis: I am going to be honest with you; until now, I had never played any of the Submachine games, and playing them all back to back to prepare myself for this review was a lot like wandering around inside a M.C. Escher painting with H.G. Wells and H.P. Lovecraft as travelling companions. (Hunter S Thompson might have been there too, flicking the back of my head every few minutes.) The series is baffling and intriguing, and has only gotten bigger and more complex as it's gone on. To say it's ambitious is putting it mildly, and the fact that Mateusz appears to have only gotten more creative with his brainchild with each chapter is really impressive.

Submachine 7It's easy to see why the series has earned such a devoted following. Not only is it extremely well made, with subtle ambient noise and clean visuals, but its sparse narrative revealed in notes and snippets for years has fueled a lot of wild speculation. By now Mateusz has his series down to an art and exploring the game just for the sake of enjoying the gorgeous design is rewarding too. The biggest problem you might run into is that like most other games in the series, The Core is prone to giving you very little direction. You might spend a while flailing at switches or spinning valves, not realising that your monkey-like problem solving antics have actually triggered something in a different area even if there was little or no indication anything had changed. You'll also have to keep your eyes open for small items, and be willing to examine all corners of each area; I spent a while going around in circles, not realising I'd actually missed an area transition next to another one.

Play the entire Submachine series:
Submachine 1Submachine RemixSubmachine Zero: Ancient AdventureSubmachine 2Submachine 3Submachine 4Submachine 5Submachine 6Submachine 7Submachine FLFSubmachine FLFSubmachine: 32 ChambersSubmachine 8: The PlanSubmachine 9: The Temple

Although it initially seems like a very small game, The Core quickly reveals itself to have a big environment for you to explore... provided, of course, you can figure out how to unlock it all. Players hoping for more brain-teasing puzzles such as those found in Submachine 3: The Loop might wish the Core found more balance between those and "use this item here" school of puzzling typically found in adventure games. The game is definitely challenging and requires you to keep your eyes peeled and be diligent in exploring your environment, sometimes more than once. Compared to most other games in the genre, making even a little progress in The Core (or even any game in the series) tends to feel like a big achievement, so go ahead... pat yourself on the back now and again. If you've come this far, you've certainly earned it.

Now available: Submachine 7 HD!! Play offline and in fullscreen for only $2. Help support Mateusz and his future games.

If you're hoping for a resolution and answers to all your questions, you might find the "To Be Continued" finale just another reason to camp outside Mateusz's doorstep. Submachine 7: The Core still offers a lot more pieces of the puzzle, and provides a fantastic realm full of secrets to uncover them in. And, perhaps most important for an adventure game, the series as a whole actually feels like an adventure. So, I've got to ask... why are you even still reading this when there's a whole new world out there for you to explore? Allons-y!

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

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


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DoraFlightFlight by Krin Juangbhanich (creator of Sonny) is a launch game with a sweet but simple premise. You control a paper airplane bound for Santa Claus and the North Pole, containing precious cargo indeed; a letter from a little girl whose only Christmas wish is to see her mother again. But before you can say D'AWWWW, her letter winds up passing through the hands of different people all over the world who have their own interpretation of her Christmas wish.

Click and hold on the paper plane at the start of each level, and "toss" it with the mouse, releasing the left mouse button to let it fly. Once you've bought the rudder upgrade, you can use the [arrow] keys or [A] and [D] to turn the plane and help direct its flight as long as you have fuel left. Picking up stars grants you cash you can use to upgrade your plane, while catching paper cranes gives you a temporary multiplier to your funds. The farther you manage to fling your little paper missile, the farther the plane actually travels, passing through different locations on its way to the North Pole. You'll learn to make use of shooting stars for boosts, how to avoid perilous wind conditions, and more in order to get to your destination.

FlightAnalysis: I've never been good at paper planes; ask me to make one and you're going to wind up with some horribly misshapen paper monstrosity that flies half a foot and then executes a perfect nose dive. Despite that long history of bitterness, I took to Flight almost immediately. It's a relatively simple game, but offers a lot of charm and polish that makes it worth the play. There's just something breezily enjoyable about Flight, from the clean graphics to the fast-paced gameplay, even if there's not much variety to it.

Each part of the world you travel through has its own design, although you're admittedly going to spend a lot of time cruising at higher altitudes where everything tends to look the same, so you might wind up wishing there were more things to encounter in the mostly empty sky. Sky whales? Sky pirates?... what? Birds? You're boring. If you fight your way high up, you'll find space stars, which are worth more than the regular stars you encounter, but fighting your way up often isn't worth the fuel. The farther you go, the better you'll probably be at flying your little paper craft (or at least the more kitted out it'll be with awesome upgrades), so you'll probably find that the game moves a lot quicker in the latter half than it does in the beginning.

For me personally, the biggest flaw in the game actually feels like the story behind it, which unfolds in brief cutscenes between stages. Not only is the ending unsatisfying considering the bittersweet beginning, but there's also a cutscene in Egypt that just makes little sense at all, and just feels bizarre and out of place. (And is actually what earned this game a Y rating to be on the safe side rather than a family-friendly G, so check it out before you let your tots play if you're concerned.) Regardless, Flight is still an extremely polished little launch game that will definitely appeal to fans of amateur aviation, and keep you upgrading your stalwart paper craft for a while. It just goes to show that if you really want Santa to know what you want for Christmas, a good old fashioned stamp and some baked bribery is the right way to go.

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ChiktionaryStarlight Xmas"Fa La La, Fa La La"... the spirit of Christmas as expressed by that little pig that herds sheep. But let's be honest; this time of year can be tough for many people. Thank goodness Julia and Kostya Stankevych have created a simple puzzle game that encapsulates the peace that we all deserve and wish for, especially at this time of the year. With some beautiful chiming music, and gorgeous graphics with gently falling snow and shimmering stars, you can't help but feel all Christmassy playing Starlight Xmas.

Just like in the previous two Starlight games, to solve each of the thirty levels simply move your mouse, without clicking, around the screen to find the point at which the constellations of stars fall into place to create pictures. In Starlight 2, each picture was automatically bumped into place when the cursor was placed near the point of solving. In Starlight Xmas, the actual point of solution needs to be found, requiring just a little patience to locate the particular spot, and providing just a wee bit more of a challenge. What is completely new in Starlight Xmas is the addition of a puzzle mode. This mode is comprised of thirty dot-to-dot, or star-to-star, puzzles. Complete the pictures by clicking on stars to join them. Not all of the stars in each puzzle are needed, so it takes a little bit of guesswork to figure out which stars make up the puzzle. Each puzzle is solved when all the right stars are connected to each other.

In each mode there's easy access to the main menu by clicking or hitting [Esc]. There's volume control and you can mute the music without removing the sound effects, and there's access to a walkthrough. In classic mode, your score is based on how quickly you solve each level. In puzzle mode, the score is based on the number of mistakes made. In puzzle mode, one minor frustration is that when you realize that you've clicked on a star that's not part of the puzzle, the intuitive response is to click it again to deselect it but instead we're advised that you can't connect a star to itself. But the frustrations are by far outweighed by the beauty of the graphics and accompanying music, as well as the smooth, almost pure gameplay.

Overall, Starlight Xmas is so sweet and uncomplicated. It offers us a moment to relax and unwind, gently reminding us of the meaning of Christmas while indulging our senses. So take a break from the everyday, immerse yourself in a simple yet magical game and maybe you'll emerge singing "Fa La La" like that happy little, sheep-herding Christmas pig.

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Weekday Escape

GrinnypStamp Rally Escape is part 1 of an epic, three part struggle, in which you, the player, must face incredible odds, climb unscalable heights, fight unbeatable foes... okay, so not so much of that, actually. Cogito Ergo Sum's latest release might not have any of the above, but it is the first in a three part series of room escape games.

Stamp Rally Escape 1Wan and Nyan, the jumping dog and punching cat, are back for this epic journey to collect stamps. Okay, that does sound rather lame, but if they collect enough stamps — or so they are told by a mysterious post card — they will get a really cool present. Seriously, that's the setup. They get a piece of mail from a mysterious organization that has created several room escapes just for them to get out of, and at the end are the promised presents.

As with all of Cogito Ergo Sum's escapes this one is on the light and frivolous side, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. In fact, these room escapes featuring the aforementioned animals (see A Cold Escape, and A Hot Escape) are actually quite fun and charming. A nice combination of using found objects and puzzle solving is incorporated as well as the cute conceit of needing to use the powers of these incredible pets to solve your way out.

Navigation is simple as there are arrows at the sides (and sometimes top and bottom) of the screen to show you where you can turn. Click on an item to pick it up, and double click on inventory items to see them in close up. You will begin with a card from your mysterious benefactors that has ten spaces for stamps, rather like one of those cards you get in restaurants and other stores where you fill up the spaces and get a free meal or whatever. In this case, along with finding objects to help you solve puzzles you will be looking for nine rubber stamps that, when found, will automatically stamp your card for you. Yes, nine stamps, as the nice folks who set up this scenario have kindly started you off with the first stamp.

The puzzles are a nice mix in Stamp Rally Escape 1, including a nice twist on the classic old "click on the corners of this picture until it falls down" puzzle. There is, unfortunately though, a bit of pixel hunting involved due to no changing cursor. On the upside, there's a mute button and a save button, not that this amusing little puzzle should take long enough for you to need to use them. And the backgrounds are the usual pastel cartoony style that Cogito Ergo Sum does so well.

Not rocket science, and certainly not in the league of, say, Neutral, Stamp Rally Escape 1 is still amusing and entertaining casual gameplay. And, of course, although at the end all you get is a special gold stamp (you will need three to get the promised cool present), you also have the promise of more to come. So join Wan and Nyan on their quest for consumer goods of an undetermined variety. Do it for the challenge. Do it for pride. Heck, do it for the funny-bone tickling "Engrish". And do it for the cool presents!

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CassandraBest Friends FighterBest Friends Fighter by Glitchy Pixel took home third prize in our 9th Casual Gameplay Design Competition. In a nutshell, Best Friends Fighter is what its name implies it to be: a beat 'em up fighter game. When a treasure falls from the sky, two boxes who were once best friends decide both must have it, and the only solution is to duke it out. Best Friends Fighter pits robotic entities comprised out of many, many blocks with faces against one another.

Yes. Faces. Happy faces. Sad faces. Faces with tongues stuck out. Faces that look rather constipated. There's a Facecube for all occasions here at Best Friends Fighter. In the arcade mode, the game begins with players being asked to select one of five different colored cubes to represent their heartblock. Should this cube touch the ground, it would spell an automatic loss for the player. After that, Best Friends Fighter will present the option of either selecting an automatically generated robot or constructing your own. While it's perfectly fine to have the game create your fighter for you, the real meat of the game lies in the development of your cubical champion.

Competition third place award winnerFair warning, however, if you're the impatient type, you might want to skip out on this aspect of the game. There are two types of robots to design and three components to work on: the body, the legs and the weapon. Each segment of your robot consists of anywhere from four blocks to twelve blocks. While this might seem simplistic at first glance, it isn't. There are three rather self-explanatory statistics to consider as you build your robot: speed, constitution and strength. Because the statistics are randomly generated for each block and also because the selection of Facecubes is rather limited, you'll find yourself spending a fair amount of time deciding whether you'll want to skip to the next batch or implement the best cube available somewhere. Mind you, you can only skip batches up to five times.

While tedious seeming at first, there's a strange satisfaction to be earned from building your own robot. Because your control during the actual fighting is limited to moving your robot left and right using the [A] and [D] keys, victory becomes highly dependant on both the statistics of your robot as well as your sense of timing. For example, if your overall constitution is too low, you'll find yourself crumbling at a friendly nudge. On the other hand, a well-constructed minion might allow you to simply roll over your opponent and win. Alternatively, if you opted for the vertically-challenged variety of robot, you could just beat the other guy's knees in.

Best Friends Fighter comes with a multiplayer mode that allows local players to duke it out with their wildly swinging representatives in the game. Charmingly retro in appearance, the visuals don't set any new standards in the industry but they serve perfectly in their capacity. I do, however, adore the chip tunes they've employed for the game. The upbeat, bouncy chords that abound in the game complement this unusual fighting game perfectly.

Best Friends FighterAnalysis: On some levels, Best Friends Fighter resembles traditional fighters like Tekken or Soul Caliber but the fact remains that all you're really supposed to do here, once you've concluded your construction work, is wave the robots left and right. Make no mistake, a certain amount of finesse is required in the execution of this but I'd have been more thrilled if they have provided a little bit more interaction; the ability to control the hammer would have made things pretty much perfect.

Still, Best Friends Fighter is, all said and done, a pretty smashing accomplishment for something crafted in such a limited time frame. In many ways, this is probably my favorite entry amidst the others that were relayed simply because it rather well conveys the way best friends fight. You know what I'm talking about. You trade blows, physical or otherwise. You yell at each other. You make funny faces... but at the end of the day, there's still that sense of camaderie. Though blocks come smashing down in a profusion of colors, they never quite lose that happy vibe.

Overall, though, the game is a pretty darn spiffy take on a tired old genre. Earnest and peculiar, it's one of those games you should play while depressed as the cute facial expressions and cheerful tunes are more than likely to chase away lingering blues. Being the anal-retentive Asian that I am, I was especially enraptured with the fact that I could make my own robots. While I do feel this urge to go 'Why can't I make guns to go pew pew', that might just be asking for too much. However, I think I would murder a chocolate bunny for the ability to save the design somehow and relay it to a friend. Nonetheless, there is always room for further expansion given the success Best Friends Fighter has seen this time around.

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BradPlanetary ConflictPlanetary Conflict is the latest game from the guys at Toge Productions. They've stepped away from Infectonator and Necronator to bring us this multiplayer turn-based combat RPG. You've joined up with a kind of mercenary organization, dedicated to keeping the peace within the galaxy... by force, if necessary. When there's trouble with Insectoid aliens or space pirates, they'll send you and your squad into the fray to put everything right. While you can play alone to some degree, you should note that the difficulty definitely leans towards getting a group of Facebook or Twitter friends together to kick some alien butt... provided the aliens in question have butts, of course.

First thing's first; note that in order to save your game, you must register with MochiGames and log into your account. You can still play without logging in, but you'll be unable to save. You'll start the game with a little character creation, and some weapon proficiency points to distribute across the nine different weapon types. After a quick tutorial you'll be ready to start doing missions, and regardless of mission type (such as 'Escort' where you'll have to guide certain characters into a safe zone), they boil down to one thing: combat. Single player combat, unless you have Facebook or Twitter friends playing with you at the same time to form a squad.

During combat every action uses up action points (AP). You can move your character by clicking where you want to go, and a small box will pop up showing the number of AP it will cost to move there. Click it again to make the move. Now, you don't know where your enemies are, but they'll pop up suddenly you get close enough to them or they to you. To attack an enemy, click one of the two weapons you can carry, then click the enemy. Again, you'll see a small box, this one showing your chance-to-hit percent. Click the enemy again to fire, or if you want to go back to the movement cursor, just click your selected weapon again. After a certain number of rounds of combat, you'll enter sudden death mode, where everyone becomes visible to everyone else.

In order to go on missions, you need to have enough energy, which gradually replenishes over time, making Planetary Conflict the sort of game you play for a while each day rather than hours and hours at a time. After you finish a mission, you'll get experience, money and possibly loot. If you level up, you'll be given three more weapon points to distribute and a perk point which you can spend on equippable perks that give you various stat bonuses. With your money you can buy new weapons, armor and other items. If you don't mind parting with actual, physical cash, Planetary Conflict does offer you the option to purchase Mochi Coins to spend within the game to beef up your character, though this is unnecessary and completely optional.

What's slightly less optional is that unless you do connect with friends via Facebook and Twitter you'll find that the game doesn't have much to offer in the way of a singleplayer campaign as the difficulty quickly ramps up. While playing alone is a great way to get a taste of the game and decide if you want to continue, the game is definitely intended to be a multiplayer experience. If you don't want to give the game access to your Facebook account, you may want to consider making a Twitter account just for playing games like this or Echo Bazaar, which is quick and painless, and lets you and friends play together without actually giving up any privacy you might be worried about.

Planetary ConflictAnalysis: If you're like me and you love turn-based combat RPGs with lots of guns and wish there were more of them, then you're probably already sold on Planetary Conflict. If not, then let me tell you that Planetary Conflict is a whole lot of fun. The fact that you don't know where your enemies are adds a lot of suspense and it keeps you on your toes. Will you risk using all your AP on movement or should you just edge forward in case you need to fire? The system is kept simple and that's what makes it so much fun. There are a few kinks, like the enemy AI. Your enemies aren't very bright, especially when one of their own is standing in front of them. Don't be surprised if one of your enemies takes out their comrade because the shooter didn't step up and/or to the side before taking the shot. Still, Toge knew their game would be focused on combat and they did their best to make it really enjoyable.

While you can play without registering an account, the process is easy, and it's definitely worth it. Not only will you get to experience the great combat, but you'll get to soak in the great production values. While the actual in-game graphics are kind of so-so, the game does feature some really great art. During the movies that sandwich the storyline missions, and especially within the intro movie, you'll see some really awesome visuals. The character portraits, while pretty exaggerated, are really well done. On top of that you've got some nice voice acting. Just be warned that Planetary Conflict can be demanding on your system. If you have a lot of other tabs open, you might notice your browser locking up, so you might want to fiddle with the quality settings until you find what works for you.

Unfortunately there is a major problem with the game, and for some it will be a deal breaker. Planetary Conflict is extremely punishing on the solo player. If you're playing alone, you'll be okay for the first few missions, but soon any progress will slow to a halt. You can try grinding previous levels, but you'll probably get discouraged with that before you get far. The only other way soloing might be viable is buy getting the premium currency and outfitting yourself with the very best equipment, which is a turn off. So, if you really want to keep enjoying Planetary Conflict, you'll have to get some friends in on it. That'll probably mean linking the game up with your Facebook or Twitter. Those who don't want to do that or don't have those things...well, you're kind of out of luck. On one hand, it's understandable that Toge Productions would want people to play the game with other people, that's why they made a game like this. On the other, it's a big disappointment to be getting into the game and then suddenly realizing that it's over because you have no one to play with.

It'd be nice if there were more lower levels missions for solo players to grind for experience and money or if there was a way fill your squad with characters you controlled. That said, Planetary Conflict is still worth a try for the solo players. If you're already making a list of the friends you want to invite to play with you, then you're set. You'll be playing this game for hours. While you'll probably encounter some bugs, it's important to remember that the game is being routinely updated both with bug fixes and with additional content. All in all, Planetary Conflict is a fantastic game, but when it says multiplayer, it's really not messing around.

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The Vault

DoraThe week has just begun, but for a lot of us, this is the time of year when it's far too easy to get run down, and the weekend seems too far away. When the doldrums start, we could all use a little bit of colour in our day to remind us that there's beauty everywhere that can serve as a welcome respite from the chair you accidentally head-butted (don't ask), the cold cat barf you stepped in on the way to the shower, or the painfully bitter coffee you had to choke down because you forgot to get any creamer. That's why this week's installment of The Vault features some of my favourite lovely games from different genres.

  • Grrr GameGrrr Game - Bunnies. They got those floppy legs and twitchy li'l noses. But this isometric arcade puzzle game is a lot more than that. Actually an advergame for Honda, the goal is to collect all the carrots on each stage and get to the finale with all the bonuses, which you rack up by destroying certain objects and replacing them with lovely or positive ones. It's fairly simple, though just a little challenging if you're "going for the gold", and may involve a bit of trial and error, but Grrr Game is still just the lovely, sweet sort of thing you need every now and again. Just ask yourself this... what's with all the carrots? What do they need such good eyesight for anyway?
  • Thinking Machine 4Thinking Machine 4 - Ordinarily, chess isn't pretty... chess is ugly. Or at least it is when you're playing it with me, and therefore subject to a full-on tantrum upon my loss that results in more than a few creative but incoherent swears as the board goes flying across the room. But this java version of the game has a few surprises in store that makes it worth a look. As you play, the AI opponent's thinking process is revealed to you in dozens of thin, criss-crossing lines of colour that light up the board and trace all the possibilities and outcomes that the game is considering. It's really unexpectedly lovely to watch, and is just as tricky as you'd expect a game of chess to be. If more board games were like this, I might be slightly less disinclined to cheat and just enjoy the experience... slightly.
  • Small Forest StorySmall Forest Story - Though the weather outside is frightful, this site is so delightful, so if you've no place to go, click this rabbit, then this stick, it's on the snow! This tiny little point-and-click puzzle adventure is about little tiny animals and their seasonal quests. With simple, adorable visuals and the sort of odd-ball logic you'd typically find on the internet, it's extremely simple but definitely worth experiencing. After all, how many of us can say we've fought off a giant, worm-ridden apple monster for our tree-toppers? You kids today have everything just handed to you. In my day it wasn't the holidays unless we'd vanquished three impossible beasties before lunchtime. My grandmother says that's just a hallucination brought on by the time I stayed outside making snowmen villages too long and wound up with a 104 degree fever, but I know better.

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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TrickySteamBirds: SurvivalThe original SteamBirds, by Radial Games and Spry Fox, has become one of the most popular casual gaming hits of 2010. The combination of aerial dogfighting and turn-based strategy has captured the interest of fans like Penny Arcade's Tycho, our own JohnB, and, thousands of others out there in internet land. And now, not-so-coincidentally coinciding with the original's release on the iPhone and Android platforms, the SteamBirds team has released a new quality iteration of the franchise, SteamBirds: Survival. This time, instead of the original time-spanning mission-based gameplay, the focus is on October 15th, 1940, holding off an ever-growing number of enemies over London during the Battle of Britain. The Axis air armada will blitz the city: history tells us they will not be stopped. The evacuation of civilians depends on them being stalled, though, and it is up to you and your fellow pilots to try. Choose your plane, and Godspeed. It is a dramatic premise, but one that the SteamBirds engine thankfully does justice.

Though gameplay is a bit more action-oriented this time around, and you control a single plane instead of many, the core control mechanics remain similar. After selecting your plane at the main menu, you'll be plunged into a battle for survival. Using the mouse, set your flight path by moving the arrow that extends from your plane's tip, with you and your enemies moving simultaneously once you end your turn. The plane will automatically start shooting once it gets its sights on an enemy, but the planes have different ranges of fire. Most planes have allies that come with them, but truthfully, you'll find them pretty useless. A new game-play aspect is how each downed plane releases a power-up to be picked up, including health, shields, bursts of speed, missiles, bombs, gun-jamming poisons, easy 180 degree turns and others. Knowing when to collect these and when to retreat under fire will be key to your success. New planes can be unlocked with the points earned in each battle (and by publicizing the game), or through the use of microtransactions. 16 planes are available for all players with another 8 available with payment or newsletter sign-up, though, as each plane has a separate high score table, they offer no competitive advantage: only more ways to play.

SteamBirds: SurvivalAnalysis: It's most accurate to describe SteamBirds: Survival as a new mode of play, rather than a sequel proper. As the interesting development post by Daniel Cook reveals, that was kind of the point. Certainly the random generation of enemies and situations makes it much more replayable that the original, and the various planes to choose allow you to focus on your preferred play style. Still, there are some drawbacks to this approach: First, most of the planes up for selection didn't really seem all that different. Yes, there were a few that seemed set up to focus on specific power-ups and tactics, but others seemed pretty indistinguishable. Admittedly I am a turn-based strategy novice, and the experts among us might appreciate the fine-tuning the choices allow.

Still, since all planes have their own high-scores tables, it makes you wonder why it's necessary to have to unlock them in the first place. I mean, unlockables are usually based around the idea that you deserve advantages in a game for playing longer or kicking the developer some well-deserved cash. Here it just gives you a plane that has a little better shield, but less powerful guns or whatever, which feels more like an additional option than an upgrade. If the idea is to allow each player to pick a plane that fits their method of play, why force them to earn points to unlock it in a plane that doesn't fit ? The answer, of course, is to allow non-paying players earn them slowly while letting paying players get them in one fell swoop, which is fair. Developers gotta eat. I wonder though, if players will be up to paying for the additional planes sight-unseen, especially in a game with limited multi-player content. I appreciate David Edery's Game Tycoon post explaining his rationale, and I'm certain that those who enjoy SteamBirds: Survival will find the extra options worth it,. I'm just more likely to support the developers by buying the original at the App store.

Switching gears, I want to talk about the in-game prose. There wasn't a whole lot of it, but it was extremely well-done. SteamBirds: Survival is one of the few games I've seen whose writing manages to appreciate the inherent value of the pilots' actions in protecting civilization, while simultaneously not shying away from the horrors and feelings of helplessness war brings. Each new wave of enemies brings you closer to a fiery crash, and there will be no victory parade. Yet it is because of you that children will live. So many games either over-glorify or over-deprave war, so it was nice to find a nice balance here for once. Death be not proud, but sacrifice can be, and SteamBirds: Survival recognizes that unison. A fellow reviewer, the daughter of a military pilot, said that the game caused quite an emotional response in her, especially the music. I think that alone speaks to the quality herein.

She also said she wished there was an option to turn off the music without turning off the sound, and I agree. So hey, get on that, developers!

In conclusion, while SteamBirds: Survival may not be the full sequel fans of the series might hope for, it is certainly a high quality expansion, and one those new to the series will find a welcome introduction. It is forgiving to strategy newbies while presenting depth to the more hard-core among us. The developers say they are dedicated to providing a number of sequels and spin-offs to the core SteamBirds concept and I hope they deliver on the promise. This is a franchise that has, well, wings.

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Rating: 4.8/5 (410 votes)
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Factory Balls Christmas EditionGrinnypThe Christmas season is upon us, and especially a time for that oh-so-wonderful tradition of decorating the tree. How about we start a new tradition? Let's decorate a tree by playing Factory Balls Christmas Edition! Bart Bonte has come up with this fantastic new edition of Factory Balls that — although fun and challenging — isn't nearly as frustrating as the real thing.

If you've never played any of the JIG favorite Factory Balls games (and why haven't you, anyway?) then the premise is simple. You begin with a blank white ball, and are given a pattern that you need to reproduce on that ball. Using cans of paint and various tools, you mask or block out certain areas of the ball and then dip it into a particular color. Step by step, masking and uncovering and dipping, you will eventually be able to reproduce the given template. Simply click and drag a blank ball to one of the tools then drag to a paint bucket and see what happens. Removing the tools is also simple, just drag the ball back to the tool "shelf" to remove it and see the lovely revealed pattern. Alternate between the tools and the buckets of paint and eventually you will get the pattern and move on to the next.

Factory Balls Christmas Edition is sort of a Factory Balls light in that it confines itself simply to recreating paint patterns, no pulling or cropping surfaces here. Instead, you have a basic toolbox of seasonal items: Santa hats, belts, suspenders, earmuffs, and bobble hats (along with several colors of paint) to recreate various decorations on a Christmas tree. Also unlike the other games in the series, the tools never change, so you get a chance to become really proficient in their use. Hopefully. Rather than dropping the completed item into a box for shipping (as you do with the other Factory Balls games) the finished ornament goes back onto the lovely tree in the background.

Along with the tools and paint come a few more features, such as a continuous loop of Christmas-type music to set the mood (or turn you homicidal, depending on how long you listen to it). There is also, thankfully, a mute button for when it all becomes a bit much. The game automatically saves when you leave, giving you the option of returning to where you left off. And along with the tools is a very handy trash can where you can discard your mistakes and begin anew.

Play all the Factory Balls games:
Factory BallsFactory Balls 2Factory Balls 3Factory Balls Christmas EditionFactory Balls 4

If there is a minor niggle about the game, it is in the rigid and precise order in which you have to use the tools. For instance, if you want to use the belts in combination with any of the hats, the belts have to go onto the ball first. If you want to use the earmuffs in combination with the hats, the hats have to go on before the earmuffs. And you have to remove the tools in the reverse order that you put them on. In some of the later levels when you are using all three things in various combinations, it can get a little tricky remembering the exact order and where you need to drag the ball to remove the various items.

That is only a minor quibble, though. Factory Balls Christmas Edition has all of the fun and challenge of the regular series combined with a heartwarming and less stressful touch of the holiday season. No physical effort, no reminding yourself that attempted treeicide is a bad thing... all in all a perfect way to enjoy this time of year without most of the baggage that comes with it. And for those who are not celebrating this particular holiday, it's still a fantastic, challenging, and amusing game to play. What are you waiting for? Get decorating!

Play Factory Balls Christmas Edition


  • Currently 4.5/5
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Rating: 4.5/5 (247 votes)
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TrickyBad Ice-Cream I've always thought that ice cream must feel a little depressed around the holidays. For a good half of the year, it is the unquestioned king of desert and queen of dairy. However, round about October, the trucks that delivered it to neighborhoods amidst the dulcet tones of "Turkey In The Straw" fall silent. The shops that once sold it in more than fifty varieties close their shutters. Worst of all, though, ice cream finds itself replaced in our hearts and on our tables by all manner of thematically-shaped cookies, pies, gingerbreads, fruitcakes, and nogs. Well, the stars of Bad Ice-Cream, Nitrome's new top-down arcade puzzle game, are three dollops of frozen dairy that are mad as heck, and not going to take it any more. They're rebelling the only way they know how: collecting fruit and spitting ice cubes. Are you a bad enough ice-cream to claim the season back?

In Bad Ice-Cream, you start by selecting whether you shall play as chocolate, vanilla, or strawberry, and if you'll be player with a second person. For the record, I like me some strawberry, and while I'm not a big fan of sharing the keyboard, I'm glad the options are there. Guiding your heavy-browed ice-cream dollop using the [arrow] keys, the goal is to collect all the various fruits on the level, one type at a time. Hitting the [spacebar] will cause your dollop to breathe out a straight row of ice blocks, or destroy an already created row if you're standing next to one. Various baddies, including stalking monsters, rampaging bulls, searing flames, ice-breaking squids, rolling logs, and tunneling triple-scoops, will attempt to cream you into a puddle of goo. Ice blocks and quick movements are your only defense. Stay frosty and see if you can avoid a meltdown through all forty levels!

Don't let the cheerful pixel graphics and chirpy music fool you: Bad Ice-Cream is no helping of soft-serve. After a few underwhelming opening levels, the difficulty curves ramps up: It becomes unforgiving around level 25, and frustrating around level 30. Generally, though, I would call the difficulty fair, though the slight isomorphic tilt to the perspective can make it difficult to place which line of the grid enemies are on, leading to some cheap deaths. Also, the later levels rely a bit too heavily on fruit that moves randomly around at speeds faster than your character can manage, which feels a little cheap, especially when you think you're racing the clock. (To be clear, the clock in the corner of the game window is solely for bonus points, something that I wish had been made clear in the instructions. Would have been a lot less stressful.) That said, there are some clever level designs: some relying on quick movement, some on proper ice block placement, and some on figuring out enemy movement patterns and using that to your advantage. I especially liked level 20, whose recreation of Pac-Man into Bad Ice-Cream's own mechanics make for a nice twist on an old favorite.

Those gamers who aren't turned off by Bad Ice-Cream's cuteness, might be by its difficulty. However, if you're looking for an challenge, and are open to adorableness not precluding being-tough-as-all-get-out-ness, you'll find Bad Ice-Cream makes a very nice sundae.

Play Bad Ice-Cream

Thanks to Jordan, Alan, Tobie, and Tom for sending this one in!


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Mobile Monday

JohnBIt's time for some freebies! Below, you'll see a little game titled Clock Blocks. Thanks to the developer 80d Games, we have three promo codes to give away to three random people! All you have to do is sign in below with a Casual Gameplay account and leave a comment on this page. We'll draw three names at random and announce the winners on next week's Mobile Monday. All you have to do is play some games and have fun!

clockblocks.jpgClock Blocks - Simple, stylish, and challenging, Clock Blocks is a great puzzle game that combines reflexes and planning in a unique package. When a level begins, a ball flies on screen and lands on one of the clocks. The hands of each clock are constantly spinning, and when the ball touches it, the hand starts drawing a gray background. You must tap the screen to fire the ball in the direction the hand is pointing before the circle is complete. After you fire, that clock disappears, so the goal is to lob the ball from clock to clock until the screen is clear. Three modes of play are available, from quest to survival to classic, the former being a more puzzle-oriented experience while the latter two are all about speed and accuracy. It's a wonderful puzzle game that's filled with levels and that simple kind of challenge we love to see in our mobile games. The free Clock Blocks Lite is available, and you can also try the browser version of the game to get a feel for the mechanics before downloading.

blindworld.jpgBlind World - A calm, beautiful sort of puzzle game with one little goal: paint all the walls. Problem is, you can't see the walls, so all you can do is tilt your iOS device around so the ball moves around the screen. Globs of paint coat every surface you bump into, allowing you to see and slowly map out the pattern hiding right before your eyes. A great concept that's superbly implemented on the mobile platform, and the game is so soothing to the eyes and ears you can't help but feel relaxed while you play.

superblast2.jpgSuper Blast 2 - Whew! This one will probably make you break a sweat. An old-school arcade experience to its core, Super Blast 2 is a great-looking shmup that's all about staying alive as long as you can and obliterating everything in your path. Plenty of weapons to pick up, loads of enemies to get rid of (capped off with great boss battles), some seriously stunning visual effects, and absolutely no apologies. Three modes of difficulty ensure you can play with as many or as few fits of rage as you like, and fortunately you won't have to pump any quarters into your iPhone every time you die.

flightoffire.jpgFlight of Fire - Another game from Ferry Halim of Orisinal fame has made it to the iOS mobile platform! Flight of Fire drops you on a magic carpet flying through the night sky. Tilt your iPhone to move up and down, and tap the screen to fire a blast of... fire! The longer you wait to attack, the bigger blast you'll unleash, allowing you to take out whole groups of enemies at once. Pick up energy, more bombs, and shield power-ups to stay in the game, and watch the time meter in the upper corner of the screen. Another very simple game that's got plenty of style!

diceball.jpgDiceBall - The oldest set of dice are dated to 3000 B.C., but they've been around since the beginning of recorded history. Such a simple tool with so many possibilities, it's hard to ignore their versatility. In Dice Ball, you tilt the iPhone to roll a silver ball around the playing field. Dice litter the screen, most of them blue with a single green and red die somewhere in the mix. The goal is to bump into the green die without hitting the red. Touch the green and you get points equal to the die's face value. Simple, no? Each round rolls the dice (or you can shuffle them yourself) and adds new twists, like a magnetic block that affects how the ball rolls. A great way to pass the time!

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


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Rating: 4.8/5 (450 votes)
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FunnyManMinecraft AlphaSometimes, a game goes through such a metamorphosis during its development cycle that it's practically a different product from its original release. Thus is the case with Minecraft, a little old building game, inspired by Infiniminer and Dwarf Fortress, and created by Markus Persson (a.k.a. Notch) that we originally reviewed back in 2009. After a huge explosion in Best of Casual Gameplay 2010popularity and steady development for over a year, the team has evolved the game to add a new branch, a significant update dubbed Minecraft Alpha.*

Mojang Specifications has clearly been doing something right, as Minecraft Alpha has sold over half a million copies. And yet, at first glance, one might think nothing has changed since Minecraft Classic. The game generates random 3D landscapes just like before, still uses the same blocky world with low-resolution graphics, and continues to have no real goal. Even the controls are unchanged, with mouse movement to look around, [WASD] for movement, and [space] to jump. What, then, has changed? Why have half a million people paid money for a game that's still available for free?

Minecraft AlphaThe simplest answer: survival. Minecraft Classic is a straightforward creativity tool that allows players to sculpt a world to their liking. With Minecraft Alpha, however, the twin elements of scarcity and danger have been added. No longer do you get a limitless supply of any resource you wish to build with. Now you start with nothing, a limited amount of health, and precious little time to build a place of safety before the sun sets and all the various denizens of the night come out and hunt you. That's right, hunt you.

Your first task in Minecraft: make it through the night. Because you won't have the materials to construct weapons or armor, your only option is to set up a rudimentary shelter and wall yourself off from the various baddies that will soon attack. By gathering a few resources, you can use Minecraft's crafting system to build dozens of items, from shovels to pickaxes to mine carts and staircases. It's a very simple matter of dropping materials into a grid and watching what happens. It's probably a good idea to consult the Minecraft Wiki to get some more details on your first shelter, as it's an important first step in learning to play the game. You can't very well build a castle if you can't live through your first night!

Analysis: Minecraft is one of those games where what you get from it depends on what you put into it. If you come in looking for a way to "win", you will be disappointed and run out of things to do. If, however, you are willing to put yourself in the shoes of a greedy miner searching for ever-greater riches, a heroic warrior fighting off the forces of evil, an explorer in search of new and beautiful areas, and a builder striving to fill the world with the products of his own two hands, you will get endless hours of enjoyment, especially with the new features each update brings. Few indeed are the games that offer a world that is both infinite (or effectively so) and infinitely malleable.

Minecraft AlphaThe graphics may look horrid at first glance, but this impression is something of a standing joke among the Minecraft community. Many a player has reluctantly tried it, then found themselves wondering where the last twelve hours went and why the birds are already singing when it surely can't be any later than one or two in the morning.

Minecraft Alpha's biggest weakness is the one revealed in the title itself: it's in alpha. It is buggy, and sometimes demonstrates the programmer's half-joke that fixing one bug creates two more. Multiplayer is available, but is far buggier than single-player, and minecraft.net is famously unreliable, often making updates and authenticated multiplayer unavailable for hours when a new version comes out. However, this is changing rapidly! The website is slowly being hardened, bug fixes have been streaming in for the last couple weeks, and beta has just been announced.

Whether you can only play it for fifteen minutes at a time, or end up devoting hours at a stretch (often unintentionally) to it, Minecraft is intensely enjoyable, and an incredible bargain even at the slightly higher price point it will hit at the end of this month.* Currently, players can buy in for some Minecraft goodness for 10 euros (around $13). When the game enters beta, however, the price goes up to 15 euros (around $20). I cannot recommend this game strongly enough.

*Note: Minecraft Beta will be out on December 20th, so this is your last opportunity to get the game at Alpha pricing and with the promise of all future updates for free.

WindowsWindows:
Play the free Minecraft Classic (also in multiplayer)
Order Minecraft Alpha

Mac OS XMac OS X:
Play the free Minecraft Classic (also in multiplayer)
Order Minecraft Alpha

LinuxLinux:
Play the free Minecraft Classic (also in multiplayer)
Order Minecraft Alpha


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Lylian

JohnBLylian Episode One: Paranoid Friendship is a new horror-themed platform adventure from Pixelpickle Games. You play as the titular Lylian, a girl who may or may not be completely unhinged, as she tries to escape the mental institution she's being held in. Unfortunately for her, it seems like something much more sinister is going on, as nurses, other patients, and even the janitor are working to thwart her moves. Using Lylian's "imagination", you can change the scenery to make your way through the dark and disturbing passageways in and around the twisted hospital.

lylian1a.jpgLylian controls like a typical platform game, though there's less emphasis on reflexes and timing than most games in the genre. You can walk, you can jump, and you can use what could be the most curious form of attack in any game: untied sleeves from your straitjacket. Customize the controls as you like from the settings screen, then jump right into the game. Or, more likely, timidly ease yourself in, comfy pillow at your side.

As you move through each area, you'll be confronted with enemies and a few obstacles. Use your whip-like sleeves to take out foes, gathering the glowing sparks that float from their defeated bodies. When you fill both meters at the bottom of the screen and the Lylian in the center grows up, you can utilize one of two different mental states (after you obtain them) that are key to making it through the game. The first transports you to a colorful field full of leaves, trees, and... bees. Moving to these alternate worlds allows you to pass certain obstacles and evade enemies. If you're ever stuck, try switching to another mind mode and exploring. You can also send out your teddy bear companion to crawl through ducts to open doors and such, something that, in the context of the game, will rattle you in its own way.

lylian1b.jpgAnalysis: Lylian's story and setting easily place it on a high shelf with other horror games like Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Sanitarium, Still Life, and more. Right from the beginning cinema you'll realize you're in it deep, as the imagery is as surreal as it is disturbing. There's a pervading sense of un-reality in this game, meaning you're never quite sure what's real and what isn't. Even things that affect you as "real" may be completely fake, and real obstacles vanish when you enter one of Lylian's alternate states of mind. The experience leaves you a bit unhinged yourself, which is a very good thing.

And now for the bad news: the first episode of Lylian is very short. You'll probably only get an hour or two of playtime out of this release, though there is some incentive to go back and play again and collect the things you missed. Seeing as how the story is a major part of what will draw you to the game, it's somewhat disappointing to see it developed so little in this first episode. Still, with future releases in the works, hopefully the short length won't feel so bad when subsequent installments are out.

It may be a short experience, but Lylian: Episode One packs enough horror in for a full evening of "what the heck was that am I going mad?!!". Its gameplay is a bit overshadowed by the setting, but the only area it really falls short is its length, a blow somewhat softened by the budget pricing. Here's hoping episode two comes along soon!

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


(16 votes) *Average rating will show after 20 votes
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Kaptain Brawe

JohnBIt's interstellar space travel, early 1800s-style! Kaptain Brawe: A Brawe New World is the first episode in a planned two part series point and click adventure games that keeps story and puzzles high on the list of priorities. Kaptain Brawe features a whimsical setting stocked with hilarious dialogue, quirky characters, and more gorgeous hand-drawn art than you can shake an ion-proton drive at.

Kaptain BraweKaptain Brawe is a space-loving police officer with a rugged red beard and a habit for spelling C words with the letter K. Also, he's a bit of a hero, in his own mind, and when a distress call comes from a nearby planet, he decides to check it out, forgoing back up in favor of doing it all by himself. With the help of his ensign. And a robot. And a bunch of other people he talks to. But other than that, completely alone!

Kaptain Brawe is a classically-styled adventure game that will remind you of the good old days of complex puzzles, cartoonish visuals, point and click interfaces, and a humorous script. So, the Monkey Island series, Broken Sword, and all those guys. Use the mouse to interact with objects, to walk the Kaptain around, and to speak with characters. Right clicking calls up your inventory, and you can use, inspect, or combine items from this handy little menu. The interface is smartly constructed and will be immediately intuitive for just about any player.

One of the game's neatest features is the ability to choose from Hard or Casual modes right from the beginning. The latter turns on a hint system that shows you clickable spots on the map, removing any sort of pixel hunting you would be in danger of participating in. Your journal can also reveal hints that gently nudge you in the right direction, if you need a little push. Allowing players to choose difficulty levels like this is a great way to open the doors for both seasoned adventures and the growing number of casual players out there!

Kaptain BraweAnalysis: Adventure games are usually judged by two main things: puzzles, and storyline. Kaptain Brawe hits the mark on both counts, providing a story that's funny, interesting, and multi-faceted without being stuffy or predictable. The characters are all clumsy in their own ways, especially our hero, and that's exactly what keeps you interested in the events that transpire.

The puzzle design is somewhere between classic adventure games and casual adventure games. You'll gather a fair number of items in your journey, not all of which you'll use right away, creating an immediate sense of mystery when you enter a new area. Should you try using that potato peeler on the flint stone you just found? This encourages experimentation, something that's necessary to solve the not-always-logical stumpers that occasionally come your way. The game does a good job of pushing you along when you're stuck, creating a fine balance between challenge and the satisfaction of solving the game on your own.

If the game looks a little familiar to you, Kaptain Brawe originally made an appearance in demo form back in 2006, when production was still going on and publishers were being courted. Cateia Games eventually stepped forward and nabbed the game, bringing us the Kaptain Brawe we see today.

Kaptain Brawe: A Brawe New World reaches a hand out to casual and established adventure gamers alike, inviting everyone to come in, sit down, have a cup of tea, and enjoy a well-written game that's a treat to look at and an utter joy to play.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


(7 votes) *Average rating will show after 20 votes
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Cake Mania: To the Max

JamesPoor Jill: she has to finish high school, go to the prom, decide what she will study at college, and she has to run the cake shop for her arthritic grandmother. On paper she already looks like a real miss goody-two-shoes. In reality, though, I suspect that she is insane. Also, I have lost all sympathy with grandmother, just sitting there and doing nothing, all while the cake shop gets busier and busier. Really, can't she take the orders or something? But slave labor is an inevitable theme in the world of these speed-based puzzle games. Get ready to peddle sweet loafs in Cake Mania: To the Max.

Cake Mania: To the MaxGames such as Cake Mania require a deft balancing act as to always stay one step ahead of your increasingly impatient customers. Jill manages her grandmother's cake shop: this means she takes the orders, makes the cake, renders the frosting (and whatever other decorations are required) and delivers the concoction before the customer walks off in a huff. If someone gets a bit impatient, you can calm them down with a cookie or two — the happier they are, the more the customers tip, which works towards reaching your daily target.

Cakes come in many shapes, so orders can be simple single layer creations or multi-level monstrosities. To help you keep ahead of the rush (for clearly grandma has no plans to hire some additional help), you can upgrade elements about the shop to increase your productivity or income. Nice walls and counters mean better tips, floor upgrade improve Jill's speed and splashing out on the oven or additional frosting bays is always a smart idea. Alas, money comes in very slowly and to reach the full glory of grandma's bakery will take most of the dozens of levels on offer ('levels' being used loosely — every stage is the same shop, but with your upgrades and increasingly demanding customers).

Analysis: Cake Mania: To the Max is a challenging game — beyond titles like Family Restaurant; where your actions and focus there can be very singular, Cake Mania will have you run from pillar to post as you try and bring multiple orders together. Thankfully the grading scale it uses — being able to hit the daily cash target — is pretty forgiving. In addition, you can make a lot of mistakes and still finish a level. Strictly speaking it doesn't appear possible to lose a level, but you can fall short on the expected takings for the day.

Cake Mania: To the MaxIf you have a knack for games that require mouse speed and dexterity combined with a good short-term memory, this game is ridiculously fun. It is a bit strange, really, that Cake Mania is wrapped in such a cutesy package — one that regularly solicited sneers and grunts from my more macho friends. A game about making cake? Despite what it ways on the tin, this is not Cake Mania's gig. It just pretends to bake cakes. In reality it is testing your cobra-like mouse skills. The buying of upgrades and equipment breakdowns create an extra dimension and Cake Mania has a lot more depth than it suggests.

There is an additional activity where you can rearrange the customers standing around (since some do not like others). This seems a bit too much, especially when different customers have different demands: cheerleaders tend to form groups, oil barons will supersede everyone (sometimes useful, sometimes a disaster), the 'dudes' will take anything, brides tend to be more impatient and so forth. Understanding all of these quirks is ultimately the key to serious players who intend to take on the clock. But they are less of an issue if you prefer to play at your own pace.

If acts of great speed and agility is your idea of a fun puzzle game (and it certainly is mine), the new Cake Mania hits the sweet spot, even though it has some areas that can be improved. It is certainly one of the best in the genre, whatever that might be.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


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Weekend Download

JohnBHelpful tip for humans: if you ever find yourself in inclement weather, such as the rare steel storm that only comes out at night, seek shelter in the nearest building. If you can, find the Temple of Leemeealown, as it offers the best protection from these dangerous conditions.

steelstorm.jpgSteel Storm (Mac/Win/Linux, 258-310MB, free) - A surprisingly robust top-down action game that puts you in control of a mech armed to the teeth with weapons. Blast through destructible environments as you carry out tasks ranging from making it to the exit alive to laying waste to half of everything you see. Very action-packed, yet you always feel in control of your mech and of your fate. The controls are extremely responsive, the levels and missions are interesting, and the game's level of polish is very high. Episode One is free and contains a number of missions along with multiplayer, campaign and deathmatch, and a level editor. Episode Two is in the works as well, and it looks like it's going to be even bigger and better than this one!

rockymemphis.gifRocky Memphis and the Temple of Ophuxoff (Mac/Win, 6-7MB, free) - Treasures? You want treasures? Well, go get you some treasures, then. C64-style! Guide Rocky through over 600 trap-filled rooms, each stuffed with tons of loot to pick up. Gather everything, then return to your vehicle to see how quickly you worked. Your only ability is the power to jump, so you're mostly helpless against enemies. Some potions, however, grant you temporary powers, such as super speed or an uncanny magnetism to certain pieces of pretty. A great retro-styled game that's fun, even if you're terrible at it!

theycomeoutatnight.gifThey Come Out at Night (Windows, 1.4MB, free) - True to its name, They Come Out at Night is a top-down survival shooter where you collect ammo and weapons during the day and barricade yourself in by night from the baddies that appear. A timer counts how much daylight is left, and when the darkness arrives, so do the waves of little critters. You've got plenty of weapons to deal with the foes as well as the ability to move certain blocks with your mouse, but their sheer numbers make it tough to do without some sort of a strategy. The game was made in seven days and, according to the creator, is technically unfinished, but it's still fun to play "hide and don't die".

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


  • Currently 4.9/5
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Rating: 4.9/5 (27 votes)
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Broken Sword Trilogy

DoraThey say you never forget your first. Adventure game, that is. For me it was Charles Cecil's classic point-and-click tale of mystery and high-stakes adventure, Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars. I played it on the Game Boy Advance, and I was instantly taken in by the narrative, the humour, and the adventure. Now Good Old Games has the whole series in one place. Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars (Director's Cut), Broken Sword: The Smoking Mirror, and Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon from Revolution Software are adventure games that may have been around for a while, but still pack some serious pedigree. Any fan of the genre who hasn't already should check these games out, both to experience their adventure and lively stories, and to learn valuable life lessons... like, "Never trust a mime."

Broken Sword: Shadow of the TemplarsImagine what would happen if you took Dan Brown's globe-spanning conspiracy stories, made them, you know, good, supplemented them with a cast full of likable, realistic characters and a lot of humour, and then turned it all into a video game. You'd get something that sort of approaches what Broken Sword is like. All three games follow George Stobbart, an American tourist, and Nicole "Nico" Collard, a French reporter. The two first meet in Shadow of the Templars, when Nico's investigation into a string of seemingly unrelated murders all over the world attracts the wrong kind of attention, and George finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time when a bomb goes off inside a tiny cafe. Before long they find themselves embroiled in a dangerous mystery that involves a mime, a clown, a penguin... oh, and an ancient order known as the Knights Templar.

Things don't settle down for Nico and George even after they solve the mystery of the Shadow of the Templars. In The Smoking Mirror, Nico is kidnapped when she discovers a strange stone that may be connected to an ancient Mayan prophecy and an upcoming eclipse, and in The Sleeping Dragon George is stranded on the other side of the globe after a plane crash while Nico suddenly finds herself the prime suspect in a murder.

All three games are mostly traditional point-and-click adventures, relying more heavily on story-telling and problem solving than action. Moving a cursor over an interactive item will cause the item's name to pop up, and you can click to use it or pick it up. The first two games are played almost entirely with the mouse, while The Sleeping Dragon takes advantage of its 3D world to give you control over your characters, using the keyboard to move them around the environment. You should also save frequently, and in different slots, since the series has no qualms over rewarding poor choices with a GAME OVER screen for poor Nico and George. You'll find yourself in a multitude of dangerous situations that will need some very clever thinking (and maybe a hand-buzzer or two) to get out of.

Broken Sword 2: The Smoking MirrorAnalysis: While they might not require a behemoth PC from the future to run, the Broken Sword series has always had a very strong benchmark for all-around quality. As a whole the series has some tremendously strong presentation in every aspect. The musical score is fantastic, perfectly suited to each locale and knowing exactly when to pick up during certain events to add to the atmosphere. While the third game, The Sleeping Dragon, features more "modern" visuals with "3D" characters and environments, all vibrant and lush, the original two titles share classic hand-drawn artwork and carefully detailed pixel environments. The animation is fantastic, and adds to the expressiveness of the characters even more than the voice acting... which is perhaps a good thing, since, while earnest, not all the actors are equally talented.

Since all of the Broken Sword games are extremely story-driven, you spend a lot of time talking to other characters, watching cutscenes, or otherwise uncovering exposition. That's not to say there aren't scenes of action or other intensity, but players who prefer a more hands-on approach to their participation within a narrative may occasionally wind up feeling more like passengers. The other caveat is that Broken Sword is also fairly slow in that it takes its own time for everything; even I occasionally found myself getting impatient with how slowly it takes someone to walk across a room, or groping with some of the trickier sequences and item combinations. Did I ever have to resort to a walkthrough? Hey, that's between me and my pride. My poor, broken, wounded pride.

Broken Sword: The Sleeping DragonBut if what you want is a story to engage you and give your brain a work out at the same time, Broken Sword will provide, and give you a chuckle along the way as well. Not all of the humour is spot on, of course; Nico and George do drop some groan-worthy cornball lines. But the whole theme of the series tends to lean that way in general, blending international (and ancient) mysteries with some light-hearted Indiana Jones-style humour and adventure that draws from real myth and history. The games are a fantastic example of storytelling, and the gameplay is just tricky enough to challenge if you pay attention and think creatively.

If you've already played the series before, you still might want to check out the Director's Cut of Shadow of the Templars (which was re-tooled and released for the iPhone), which features a welcome integrated hint system, remastered visuals and puzzles, and entirely new gameplay sequences where you play as Nico and uncover more of the story from her perspective. And here's some even better news; series creator Charles Cecil recently announced on Revolution Games' official blog that we can expect to see a remastered edition of The Smoking Mirror available of iOS devices very soon, as well as PC/Mac versions "very early next year". The adventure genre doesn't get much better than this, and while all three games aren't without their flaws, they're still tremendous fun and deserve to be experienced... whether for you it's all over again, or for the very first time.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Order Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars
Order Broken Sword: The Smoking Mirror
Order Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon

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


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Rating: 4.4/5 (27 votes)
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Haunted Legends: The Queen of Spades

Dora Haunted Legends: The Queen of Spades is a hidden-object adventure game that puts you in the role of an inspector who receives a letter from a colleague. It seems a young police officer who was investigating some disappearances in a countryside manor has gone and disappeared himself, and your colleague is too intimidated to look himself, having put much stock in the superstitious rumours that surround the old place of demons and curses. Hah! What nonsense. Poppycock, even! You're not scared of anyth-OHMYGODWHATSTHAT oh no it's cool, it was just a leaf brushing against my ankle. Heh. Sorry. Where were we? Oh, right, nerves of steel.

Haunted Legends: The Queen of SpadesThe site of all these strange happenings is the property of a woman who was once known locally as the Countess. Legend goes that hundreds of years ago she made a deal with the devil in return for a magic pack of cards, and built herself a massive fortune on them, rather than settle down and watch Judge Judy re-runs and play Keno on the weekends like every other respectable old lady. The Countess died alone, but the local villagers insist her home is still cursed... and once the bodies start piling up and someone starts following you, it gets harder to dismiss it as superstition. Will you solve the mystery, or will you too meet your fate at tiny murderous hands? Your investigation will take you all over the Countess' estate and the surrounding area, gathering items big and small to unravel the truth. Does the truth involve magical playing cards, or is there something even weirder going on?

Analysis: There have been a lot of horror- themed hidden-object adventure titles on the market lately, and while a month or so ago you might have been able to just pass this off as seasonal infatuation, it seems we just love anything the slightest bit dark and weird. Enter the Queen of Spades, which reminds me somewhat of a slightly less gory Elizabeth Bathory... with a gambling problem. While the music is probably going to sound a little familiar to anyone who's played any recent ERS Game Studio titles, the presentation here is still great. The developers have by now perfected the art of depicting shabby, once grand and elegant environments, and exploring the wonderfully creepy areas is a real treat for the eyes.

Haunted Legends: The Queen of SpadesSurprisingly, and perhaps disappointingly, the game is fairly light on puzzles compared to other titles in the genre. Maybe that's a good thing when you consider how massive your inventory tends to get as you explore your surroundings... I didn't know Bags of Holding were standard issue for detectives. For the most part, item usage is pretty intuitive, and you'll usually be able to figure out which of the items you've picked up will best fit any situation. For the more abstract solutions, the sort of thing that you'd typically never figure out on your own, the game will usually tell you what items you need and it's a simple matter of tracking them all down. It's not particularly challenging, but it does make the game extremely accessible, and cuts out a lot of frustrating problem solving.

While the gameplay is fairly standard, Haunted Legends: The Queen of Spades is still a beautifully crafted, bizarre tale that will keep you busy for quite some time. It does a great job of keeping you interested and wanting to see how things play out, with a strange story that is anything but ordinary. While you might wish there was more of a challenge to it, if you're a fan of the mad and the macabre, you'll at least want to check of the demo. Just remember... when you stare into the gnome, the gnome also stares into you.

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.

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

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


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Rating: 4.5/5 (46 votes)
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Bejeweled 3

JohnBBejeweled has been around for almost a decade, and its popularity is showing no signs of waning. From the original browser game released in 2001 to the 2008 re-envisioning in Bejeweled Twist, practically every person who's ever touched a computer knows about the series. PopCap invests a lot of effort into the scarce Bejeweled sequels, and as soon as you see what Bejeweled 3 has to offer, you'll appreciate the extra attention that was put in to getting you hooked on gem swapping all over again.

bejeweled3a.jpgThe core experience of Bejeweled 3 remains unchanged from previous releases, maintaining that smooth look and familiar layout we could all sketch out in our sleep. Matching four or five gems creates Flame Gems and Hypercubes, which help clear large chunks of the screen at once, and if you create two intersecting matches, you get a Star Gem. These bonuses are constant throughout most of the game, rewarding you for being wily with your swapping skills with big, Best of Casual Gameplay 2010pretty special effects and a nice clear game grid.

Where the game really captures your attention, though, are the extra modes that incorporate goals, challenges, and twists on the Bejeweled formula. Four modes are available from the start: Classic, Zen, Lightning, and Quest. Hitting certain milestones in each of these unlocks four additional modes. You'll probably start with Classic, which is exactly what the name implies and lets you work your way into higher, more challenging levels by matching gems to fill up a meter. Lightning mode is a race against the clock where you have to match time gems to keep the hourglass from emptying. Then there's Quest mode, a hefty experience that's packed with mini-game-style levels built around a single goal. Time Bomb, for example, asks you to match ten bomb gems before the timer hits zero, and Alchemy challenges you to turn the whole grid into gold by making matches that spread to each column and row. The list goes on, and there's no shortage of challenge to be found in Quest mode!

bejeweled3c.jpgHere's what you might not expect to get from Bejeweled 3: a serious relaxation tool. Most games feature a Zen mode that strips timers and other stressful features from gameplay. Bejeweled 3 goes about ten steps further and adds a host of customizable tools that help you relax. For starters, you can change the background music to ambient sounds like rain falling through leaves or waves on the beach. Then, incorporate positive mantras or binaural beats to create new patterns in your brain that put you in a different state of mind. Finally, breath modulation uses audio and visual cues to regulate breathing patterns, a great first step in soothing your nerves. PopCap designed Zen mode with actual studies in mind, and reducing anxiety is something so very few games can lay claim to.

Analysis: Bejeweled 3 is a whole lot of Bejeweled. It's no wonder the series is the flagship for the match-3 genre. PopCap has really outdone itself with this installment, and as you can clearly see from the wall of text above, it's more than just moving things around a grid. Even though the core mechanic of gem swapping is the game, it somehow manages to be different all over again.

bejeweled3b.jpgParticularly interesting in Bejeweled 3 are the fun unlockable modes. You don't have to play for very long to gain access to them, and once you do, you'll probably stick with them for a very long time. I had the most fun with Poker, a mode that turns your matches into cards that must be combined to form valid poker hands. Each hand scores points, and as the game progresses, easier hands become locked, forcing you to get smarter and smarter with your moves. There's also Diamond Mine (a reference to Bejeweled's original name, no doubt), which turns your gem matching into a digging tool. Very cool!

If there's any room for improvement in Bejeweled 3, it would be with Zen mode. A lot of work and research already went in to creating this effective relaxation tool, but once you play it, you'll want more. With the breathing tool turned on and ambient sounds soothing your ears, it's sometimes jarring to have gems exploding from your speakers and the game's color-filled effects shaking up the screen. Bejeweled 3's visual effects are stunning, so no complaints there, but when you're on the verge of a total brain zone out, a little more plainness would be a good thing.

A near perfect experience, just like you'd expect, Bejeweled 3 is the next generation of match-3 puzzle games. It looks amazing, it plays smoothly, it's got challenge, relaxation, replayability, and lots of badges to earn and things to achieve. Get ready to start the addiction all over again!

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


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Link Dump Fridays

DoraOh give me a site, where the games are real tight, and you can find the genres you love to play... where seldom is heard a "FIRST!" or a... uh... somethingrhymeswithheard, and the reviews keep on comin' all day... JAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY, JAAAAAAAaaaaAAAAaaaYYY IS GAAAAAAAAMES! Where the... huh. That's odd. All the plants in the room have withered and all the glass seems to have shattered simultaneously. Must be defective.

  • Fallen From The MoonFallen From The Moon - Even though science has now proven the moon isn't made of cheese, it's still a pretty rad place to be. There are no olives on the moon, or pop music, so it's understandable why the hero of this adorable little point-and-click puzzle game from the makers of Easy Joe wants to go back there. What it lacks in depth, it makes up for in sheer, squeal-inducing sweetness. Guys, don't be afraid. Even Chuck Norris likes to clap his hands in giddy delight once in a while! (... oh man, please don't tell him I said that.)
  • Mountain Maniac X-MasMountain Maniac X-Mas - What do you do with an unstable hammer-wielding maniac with rage issues? Why, you put him in a Santa suit and give him lots of unsupervised children, of course! (Mmm, smells like lawsuit!) When the "hero" of the first game goes rather predictably bonkers from all the little ankle biters running around, he decides to take it out on Santa and heads to the north pole to enact a little hammer-swingin' revenge in this quirky but repetitive arcade game from Adult Swim. If you've ever wanted to drop a boulder on some elves, this is the game for you, though that's probably a guaranteed trip to the naughty list.
  • Dungeon DeveloperDungeon Developer - When mad-scientist developer Nerdook is around, you know your genres are about to get spliced together! This puzzle sim puts you in charge of building a dungeon fit for a group of adventurers that will challenge them enough to be able to defeat the dragon on the 15th floor without taking a dirt nap along the way. While the gameplay is unfortunately a little dull, the concept is great and would be absolutely fantastic if it were fleshed out a bit more.
  • JumplessJumpless - We could all learn a thing or two from this little physics puzzle platformer. Our little box hero is unable to jump, but he can get by with a little help from his friends. Use the other boxes on each level, who move when you do in certain directions, to get to the end of each stage. I should hope that if I ever were to find myself unable to jump, my friends would lie facedown on the ground so I could flop awkwardly and painfully over them. It's just something friends do.
  • Star CatcherStar Catcher - Ignoring the fact that being close enough to touch an actual star would probably kill you stone cold dead, you've always wanted one of your own, haven't you? Second to that would probably be your desire to be a fish. (That's right, I know ALL your secrets. Even the thing with the snails and the patio umbrella.) Well, luckily for you, in this very brief little avoidance game you can do both. You play as a little moon fish who goes in search of all thirty stars that have fallen into a pond on Earth, while trying to avoid being eaten. And... well, there's no "and", since that's basically it, but it's still adorable.

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Rating: 4.7/5 (85 votes)
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Babylon Sticks: Position Secure comic

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


  • Currently 4/5
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Rating: 4/5 (103 votes)
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ChiktionaryCarrot TrackLife is so sweet when it's simple, like a Sunday afternoon strolling through the park or, even better, taking your new puppy for a walk. Aren't puppies great, sniffing, straining at the leash, wagging their cute puppy tails with their pink tongues hanging out of their happy, puppy faces? But aren't bunnies cuter, wiggling their little noses and waggling their cute cottontails in the sun while flying through the air with their helicopter backpacks? Ferry Halim, in Orisinal's most recently released flash game, has recreated the pure enjoyment of an afternoon in the park, where puppies and bunnies frolic, in Carrot Track, a vertical scrolling, avoidance game delight.

Like Drifting Afternoon, and in typical Ferry Halim style, the aim is sweet and simple. Help the bunny along the carrot trail by using your mouse to click and hold puppies on a leash and prevent them from colliding with the wascally wabbit. You can also select multiple puppies that are in close proximity, and leash them together. The puppies can be moved backwards as well as forwards, or simply held in one spot. It's so cute to see them straining at the leash, eager to keep dashing forward. Luckily for the bunny, it will encounter temporary power-ups like berries that provide a surge of energy and prolong its lifespan, helicopter back-packs to help it fly safely over the puppies, and dog-whistles that will command the puppies to sit and stay, allowing for an almost clear path. However, it seems Rotweiller pups are not so obedient.

It has been a while since we've experienced the finesse of Ferry Halim, so playing Carrot Track can be likened to a breath of fresh Spring air; sweet, uncomplicated, refreshing and absolutely essential. Halim's games ask for very little, but give so much in return, with gorgeous graphics, simple and beautifully smooth gameplay, and the music... well, just wait 'til you hear it, because it's absolutely lovely and you might just find yourself whistling along to it.

There's no point in trying to analyze Carrot Track, because like all Orisinal games, it's simply a moment of pure enjoyment; sublime and relaxing, like a Sunday afternoon walk in the park, with your puppy. Oh, and did I mention rabbits with helicopter backpacks...?

Play Carrot Track


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Rating: 4.6/5 (142 votes)
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SonicLoversoniclover_fiends_screenshot.gif"I don't get it. This game is called FRIENDS, but I'm alone!" Actually, Pepe, it's called Fiends, and it's stefanT's entry in Casual Gameplay Design Competition #9. Fiends is best described as an innovative puzzle game masquerading as a roguelike RPG, and worst described as an unentertaining game, though you'll find that "unentertaining" doesn't enter into the equation.

You start out controlling Pepe, a hammer-wielding, black-haired character in red overalls. He can attack any fiend by moving to a square directly adjacent to it (click on him, then on any blue square to move) and smashing it with his hammer (click the fiend when the square it's on turns red). If any other fiends are directly or diagonally adjacent to Pepe when he attacks, they'll attack back... and since Pepe can't take it any more than he can dish it out, that means you'll have to take back your move (click "UNDO" when it pops up) and think of another line of action.

Competition second place award winnerThankfully, Pepe won't be fighting alone for long, or this game wouldn't fit the "friends" theme very well. Before the game is done, he'll team up with Bonnet (who can prevent enemies from counterattacking by engaging them in VERY interesting conversations), Harumaki (whose bow and arrows enable her to attack fiends from two squares away instead of Pepe's one), and Gummy (who can't interact with fiends, but whose "pajama" makes him completely invincible, allowing him to block counterattacks meant for his friends).

As the growing circle of friends makes their way from outer space to a castle to an abandoned marketplace, they'll encounter new fiends with different counterattack ranges, set up in all sorts of arrangements to create all sorts of puzzles, leaving you thinking constantly. Who can I pick off first? If I stuck Gummy there, could Pepe attack that fiend safely? Could Bonnet put those three monsters to sleep without getting countered, and would it help? And by the way, just what are these four friends doing in this weird world, and how will they get home? So many questions.

soniclover_fiends_screenshot2.gifAnalysis: This is my personal favorite entry in the entire competition. Apparently a lot of people agree, if its win of second place is any indication. Everything about Fiends is excellent. The gameplay is the main focus, and it's quite a nice challenge. It's like a one-player game of chess, in a way, and it incorporates the competition's theme perfectly. The fact that you only have to take back the one move when you screw up, and the additional fact that it's impossible to get into a situation where it's impossible to beat the level, takes away most of the frustration that haunts most similar puzzle games.

Elsewhere, the game is simplistic: simplistic graphics, simplistic audio (no SFX whatsoever), simplistic mechanics. This is a good thing; Fiends wants you to focus on the gameplay without distracting you with anything else. There's also plenty of fourth wall humor embedded in the game's dialogue (yes, Pepe, it is typical of RPGs), which is also a plus in my book.

To boot, the game caters to a lot of playstyles. Do you want to make a pacifist run, killing a few fiends as possible, or are you like me, with the desire to kill every fiend you can? Do you want a run that minimizes mistakes? A speed run? A fewest-possible-moves run? It's up to you.

There are few if any flaws in Fiends, and although several bugs turned up in testing, stefanT has been hard at work fixing them. I look forward to a sequel, if indeed stefanT intends on making one. But for now, let's work with what we've got.

Play Fiends

You Are Games

ArtbegottiFor this installment of You Are Games, we considered holding a spaghetti-cooking competition. You know, one of those contests where people gather from miles around to boil water, throw in some noodles, and see who can prepare a plate of spaghetti in the least amount of time. However, we decided there were too many tricky details to holding a competition of this nature. What kinds of sauce should be allowed? Should there be a time penalty for improperly grating parmesan? And how do we prevent competitors from using linguine (practically the steroids of the pasta world) in their dishes?

bs-contest3-rageandcrosses.pngInstead, we figured it would be easier (and more carb-friendly) to ask you to supply a punchline for another edition of Babylon Sticks, JIG's weekly comic feature created by our very own James Francis. Take a look at the comic to the right. It's humorous on its own, but it needs a caption to really drive the hilarity home. That's where you come in! Submit your caption suggestions 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, December 13th at 11:59 PM (GMT-5:00). Multiple entries are allowed, but don't forget to stick with a gaming theme!

Be sure to keep in mind that this is an all-ages site, so keep your captions clean and profanity-free. Plus, some extra notes from our legal department:

  • 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 getting a hold of the winner via email. Now, warm up your funny bone and get to work!

Oh, and don't forget to keep an eye out for hidden gems floating around the website!


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Rating: 4.7/5 (386 votes)
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DoraendeavorEach of us has probably had a time in our lives where we felt overlooked, misunderstood, or even just plain bullied. In endeavor by Zillix, you play a small dwarf who sets off in search of a lost treasure after his father passes away. The other mountain-dwelling members of your clan are less than helpful and in fact seem to view you as little more than a nuisance. But when an unexpected tumble lands you in a strange realm, will you ever be able to find your way back home? More importantly... do you want to? Combining retro style with good old fashioned Metroidvania gameplay, endeavor is a surprisingly big quest for such a little critter packed with secrets, lies, treasure, and multiple endings... good and bad.

Best of Casual Gameplay 2010Embark on your quest of dwarfly epic beardishness by using the left and right [arrow] keys to move, [X] to jump, and the up and down [arrows] to climb. You're a fairly sturdy little fellow, so you don't have to worry about actually dying... in fact, you don't have to worry about drowning, lava, and even large falls will only temporarily stun you. Which is handy, since you'll spend most of your time getting around by climbing cliffs and ledges both above and below ground, and as anyone will tell you; what goes up must come down.

The pale blue bar at the top of the screen represents your endurance; you need it to be able to jump and cling to things, and it depletes slowly when you exert yourself, but quickly recharges if you're standing still on firm ground. While initially your itty-bitty dwarven hands can only hold hold on to things for a very short time, which makes climbing risky, you can find fruit in your journey that increases your endurance, which will let you cling and climb longer. Also in the realm of useful upgrades you'll find certain artifacts throughout the world that will help you do things like swim deep underwater.

endeavorAnalysis: I tend to be a little suspicious of retro games as a result, since so many of them try to slide by style over substance, hoping your subconscious is flooding with warm nostalgia at the sight of an 8-Bit character. This is not one of those games. If you remember October's Summit, which was a game created in only 48 hours by the same author for a competition, you'll be amazed at how much the world and concept has expanded. The narrative is relatively sparse and is mostly down to what you pick up on from the brief snippets of dialogue from characters throughout the game. I wouldn't say the "bad" ending is a particular surprise, since most gamers will probably see it coming a mile away, but both it and everything leading up to it feels suitably epic so that when the credits rolled I was eager to leap back into it again for another try, a different course of action to see what would happen instead.

endeavor's world feels appropriately massive, and exploring it is a lot of fun. Exploring makes up the lion's share of the gameplay since you're typically given very little direction. Certain NPCs may offer you quests and you can complete them or go off and do your own thing. Whatever you decide to do, it will take you all over the map, which means you'll go far and see a lot in the process. Eventually you'll gain the ability to teleport to certain locations you've already been to, but since you still have to walk everywhere else (including back to the teleport spot) you'd better hope those boots you're wearing were made for walkin'.

endeavorOf course, the game is not without its frustrations, apart from travel. The lack of an in-game minimap can make it frustrating when you're trying to backtrack to a previously unaccessible area with a shiny new power up, or track down all those luscious fruits. My personal biggest complaint is that there are times when the world, big as it is, feels a little empty. More creatures, more NPCs, even of the one-liner variety, would have done a lot to enliven things and inject a little personality into each environment. I did want to replay for a different ending, but at the same time there was no particular encounter or event I looked forward to because the method is basically the same; go here, climb there, try not to fall here or you'll have to climb alllllllll the way back up.

Regardless of its flaws, endeavor is still pretty great, and should be regarded as a big achievement by its creator Zillix. I'd love to see the world expanded on a bit more, and to be able to experience it with more varied gameplay. There are some great hints at a big, rich world out there to explore, and I want my piece of it. endeavor might be fairly easy, but even without a lot of bells and whistles its a surprisingly engrossing little game with a lot of great touches, fans of fantasy who are looking for an adventure they can jump right into will find a lot to love here.

Play endeavor


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Rating: 4.1/5 (64 votes)
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corygalliherAs I Lay Dying title screenshotWhat is love? (Baby don't hurt me.) Love is many things to many people. To some, love is a physical thing, while to others it's an emotional response. Teale Fristoe believes that love is expressed through devotion and makes this point quite succinctly in his new platform adventure, As I Lay Dying, created for Dig Your Own Grave.

Teale and his significant other Christie are on a hiking trip when Teale decides to stop and check out a flower on the edge of a cliff. Teale is a clumsy doofus, so of course he falls off the cliff and dies a horrible death. You, as Christie, must go on an epic quest to return Teale's corpse to his family by using it to solve various puzzles.

Yes, that's seriously what this game is about.

Control Christie with the [W], [A] and [D] keys. Use [S] to pick up and drop objects, including the aforementioned corpse, and use the [Mouse] to throw them around. Both Christie and Teale's corpse have health meters; Christie can take three hits including fall damage, while the corpse is destroyed after it's dealt a certain amount of abuse, including being picked at by pesky ravens and being thrown around by Christie. If either Christie or the corpse runs out of health, you have to restart from your most recent checkpoint or from the beginning of the level.

Thankfully, the remarkably morbid subject matter is handled with as much dark comedy as Fristoe could muster. Christie's response to Teale's death is essentially "aw crap" and there's no heavy-handed drama anywhere to be found. It goes without saying, though, that this is still fairly disturbing for Flash platformer fare and might not be good for the kids.

Anyway, it's up to Christie to get Teale's corpse home because his mother might be upset if it was ruined, so you've got to lug his corpse through ten levels of platform adventure. There are a variety of puzzles to solve, mostly involving managing the integrity of your boyfriend's rotting corpse, but the game never becomes too complex or difficult.

coryg_asilaydying_screen2.gifAnalysis: As I Lay Dying has one of the genre's more bizarre premises, but what really makes it stand out is how well the premise is integrated with the gameplay. Your worst enemies throughout the game are the ravens that are trying to make a meal out of your pet cadaver and you'll spend a lot of your time fighting them off by throwing rocks at them.

Along with dealing with the black, winged menace, you'll also use a variety of mechanisms to help you play hearse with Teale. The most common are moving platforms that are activated by hitting a switch or by throwing a rock at a nearby electrical box. There are also scales that activate only when weighed down; your erstwhile companion doesn't have any complaints if you use him for this. Again, the game doesn't become too complex, but it's engaging enough to keep the player going.

Things get a little bit repetitive; Christie is slowed considerably while carrying around the corpse, which in turn makes the game feel fairly slow. Checkpoints are available, but dying or losing the corpse still means a fair amount of backtracking. Slightly more checkpoints might have been appreciated, or at least speeding everything up in general.

There are also achievements to earn for a variety of unusual tasks, including following Teale on his faithful cliff dive. This is a fairly short game so there's only five achievements, but the attention to detail is appreciated.

All in all, this is a solid platformer with an unusual enough premise that it's worth a look. Try not to get too bogged down with the morbidity of the proceedings and just enjoy being a cadaver caravan. After all, isn't love unconditional?

Play As I Lay Dying


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Rating: 3.7/5 (975 votes)
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joyeImagia 2 the DomeIn Imagia 1: The Tower, we were introduced to a world with lots of mysteries and no answers. Imagia 2: The Dome picks up right where Imagia 1 left us, pointing and clicking our way around a mysterious rooftop, gathering clues about just what we're trying to accomplish in the first place. If you were hoping for answers in this sequel from Kayzerfish (Ralf Hebecker and Nikita Tutubalin), I'm afraid we're still in questions without answers mode. You know, like the first season of Lost, only no smoke monster.

Using only your trusty pointing device, point-and-click to navigate about the dome to find hidden objects that yield clues, and thus gathering hints to solve the mystery of this latest Imagia chapter.

Imagia 2 improves over the original by actually having the cursor change over hotspots, although some hidden objects run on the small side and blend in with the scenery. Once you find an object and click on it, it will enter your inventory, either on the left or the right. Mouse over an object in the inventory to learn its name. If the object is a piece of paper, click on it to examine it for clues. Otherwise, objects can be picked up from the inventory and used in-game on certain hotspots. In addition to visual clues in scenery and clues in notes, there is one audio clue in the game. The last important thing to be aware of is the save button in the lower left, another big improvement over Imagia 1.

Imagia 2 the DomeAnalysis: As a beta tester, the most difficult part of the game for me was the audio clue. It's quite soft and liable to be mistaken for mere background noise. Since I generally turn the sound off entirely when playing these kinds of games, I never would have thought to pay attention to the sound without being told. So here I'm telling you: pay attention to the sound. Luckily, the audio clue is now paired with a visual clue. It's still a very subtle effect, but it's a much fairer clue now and observant players should be able to figure it out by themselves.

That said, the note clues in the game are outstanding. They manage to clearly give information without any words at all. Although the game offers multiple language options, they aren't really necessary. The puzzles in the game are visual/spatial logic problems, and thus are equally accessible to all gamers.

In comparison to the first game, the art in Imagia 2 is less cartoonish and more polished, but there's also a bleakness and starkness here. In the first game, there was plenty of evidence that someone else had recently been there, a certain human messiness, as well as the mysterious damage. It was also a much more material game, with lots of object combining and fussing about. In contrast, Imagia 2's inventory puzzles are very limited, and even to the extent that they are present, they are mostly being used in conjunction with the clues in the notes.

The myth-building in Imagia 2 is as restrained and subtle as the art, and a player could miss it all together. The observant player, however, should gather enough to seriously pique curiosity and build anticipation for subsequent chapters to soon follow. Hopefully we won't have to wait for Imagia season six to find out that actually we're all inside a little child's snowglobe. SPOILER ALERT.

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Weekday Escape

GrinnypDust motes dance in the air as you stealthily make your way along the abandoned corridors. All around you is the detritus of a once occupied mental hospital, now descending into ruin. The pungent odor of decay permeates your nostrils as you carefully pick your footing, tiny creaks and groans reminiscent of bygone shrieks and moans echo in the stillness. Suddenly you see a sign of life ahead, twin girls, strangely still, observing your every move. Is this a nightmare? The Shining? No, my friends, it is Mystic Asylum by Selfdefiant in this week's Weekday Escape.

Mystic AsylumMystic Asylum is more of a building escape than a room escape. Seriously, there are a lot of rooms in this place. Apparently you have been chosen to rid this abandoned asylum of its negative energy. Okay, not The Shining, more like Poltergeist then, with you the casual gamer cast as Tangina Barrons ("Don't go into the light, Carol Ann!"). Why does the asylum have all of this negative energy? What, haven't you ever seen a horror movie? What old abandoned asylum doesn't? Why have you been chosen? Who knows?

The object of this large escape effort is to explore the decaying building, finding purple energy orbs to rid the place of the negative energy. Oh yeah, your job is to also figure out how to get the heck out of Dodge. To that end you will do lots of wandering around, picking up helpful objects, solving puzzles, unlocking a lot of doors, and hopefully enjoying this amazing tour through a stunning space.

Navigation in Mystic Asylum takes a little getting used to. Hover your cursor at the sides, top, and bottom of the screens and when a hand appears, then you can click and move in that direction. Strangely, to move forward you must hover at the top of the screen, rather than just clicking a door or a foreground. Some rooms can be entered or exited in only one direction. And then there are the locked doors. Fortunately, the first thing in your inventory when you begin is a handy map showing you the layout of the facility. Use it often or you risk wandering for an eternity with only the spooky twins for company.

Scattered in every room are small purple energy orbs. You must accumulate these as you go, lest you risk being consumed by the negative energy that permeates this rotting shell of a building. There are also useful objects to pick up, clues to find, and puzzles to solve as you meander your way around. There is a changing cursor, so watch carefully in each room or you risk missing a vital object or piece of information that will help you get out.

Mystic AsylumAnalysis: Selfdefiant's games tend to fall into one of two categories: cute, cartoony point-and-click adventure types (Kidnapped by Aliens, Escape from the 13th Floor) and haunting, photorealistic and spookier escapes (Absence). Mystic Asylum is one of the latter, with stunning urbexing photographs by Andre Govia that automatically make you want to slow down and just appreciate the urban decay. There's a spooky sound loop which can haunt or just become annoying, so fortunately there's a mute button handy for when it becomes a bit too much.

Mystic Asylum isn't just gorgeous scenery, however. There's a lot of escaping fun here amongst the amazingly creepy settings. A nice balance of use of found objects and puzzle solving make Mystic Asylum an amusing (and very creepy) mid-week break. The game has an auto-save feature, so if you leave and come back you will be right where you left off. Play more than once and see if you can improve your score, which is a combination of how many energy orbs you can find combined with the fewest amount of clicks it takes to complete all of your tasks.

Is there a downside? Well, yes, a few minor ones. Many of the objects are small and placed in dark areas, so you really need to "sweep" a room with your cursor to find the hotspots. It can be very easy to overlook a vital and necessary piece of equipment in the sweeping vistas, which can become annoying. The odd navigation is a challenge at first, but rely on your map and eventually you will begin to make sense of the twists and turns contained in these 35 rooms. And the inclusion of the "Shining" twins seems like a bit of a waste, since it's not like they actually do or say anything.

Spooky rather than scary, Mystic Asylum is a game of chills rather than frights. No jump scares here, just a lot of spooky atmosphere enlivened by the standard conventions of a room escape. Stunning to look at and fun to play, Mystic Asylum is also a nice, creepy escape slap dab in the middle of the holiday season, something to cut the treacle and a relief from all of the frantic shopping.

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Dora...But That Was [Yesterday]Who are the people who have given you the most in your life? I don't mean the sort of giving that comes with a price tag at holidays, but the sort of giving that left an indelible mark on you. ...But That Was [Yesterday] is the first place award winning entry into our 9th Casual Gameplay Design Competition by Michael Molinari (OneMrBean); a game that's more interactive narrative than gameplay, and in which you follow one person through their emotions and memories to learn about the influential people in his life and what they've left him with. Best of Casual Gameplay 2010The end result is a bitter-sweet, introspective game that feels at once both deeply personal, but at the same time universally relevant for everyone.

Although the game doesn't present you with any instructions, it should be fairly simple to figure out what you're supposed to do. From time to time, and from different characters, prompts will appear onscreen to indicate you should hit an [arrow] key to perform an action. These actions will help you bypass obstacles Competition first place award winneras they appear, and will carry you through the story to the end.

Analysis: Since [Yesterday] fits most easily into the category of interactive art and narrative, let's get the aesthetics out of the way first. When it comes to immersion, a lot of people underestimate the importance of audio; you may not always realise it, but an appropriate music track, even a very unobtrusive one, can mean the difference between a game that remains in your memory for years versus one you can't remember playing the next day. The soundtrack here is perfect and really captures the mood, and the art design is striking, full of soft colours and simple, fluid animation that bring the faceless characters to life.

...But That Was [Yesterday]As lovely as it all is, it does sort of feel as though some sequences drag on a little longer than they should. Each character the game introduces to you teaches something new, and more often than not they want you to prove you can follow instructions over and over until the game will let you progress, and then you have to do it all over again alone for a while. [Yesterday] is a very slow, thoughtful sort of game, and the emphasis here is definitely on the experience and the narrative. You'd also be forgiven in thinking there's not much to the gameplay; since you can't fail, and there's only one path, from a very basic perspective you're just accomplishing tasks to advance the story.

However, there aren't many games that have made me give a soft, satisfied sigh upon finishing them, the sort of thing generally reserved for snuggling into a warm blanket at the end of a long day, but [Yesterday] managed it handily. It was amazing to watch the flood of comments, both on site and on Twitter, from people who got emotionally involved in [Yesterday]; they ranged from simple messages of praise to more personal stories of events that impacted their own lives in a manner the game identified with. It's one of the strongest community reactions I've ever seen, with people commenting not just as critical gamers, but as human beings, and for me it was completely unexpected.

...But That Was [Yesterday] is still a lovingly crafted title that is an absolute must play for anyone who enjoys art or emotional stories. While there's not much gameplay, there is a lot to take in from it, and for the ten-fifteen minutes or so it'll take you to play it, there's no finer way to get a little bit of warm sentiment and perspective ...from a game.

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Game Design Competition #9EA 2D

JayThanks to everyone who entered our latest Casual Gameplay Design Competition, our 9th to date. Each competition we have hosted here at Jay is Games has blessed us with an array of unique, original games to play, rate and discuss. This time we asked browser game developers to design a game around the theme of "FRIENDS", which resulted in 15 very creative entries from all over the world.

...But That Was [Yesterday]Today marks the end of the competition, and our kind and sincere thanks go out to each and every one of the participants, the judges for helping to score the entries, and to the players for enjoying the competition entries and for leaving constructive criticism and praise in the comments.

We are here to honor all of the games that were entered, as well as award a few prizes, too. Thanks to our kind and generous co-sponsor: EA2D for their support (Thanks, Elliot and Ethan!). It is due to the efforts of these people that we have the following prizes to award, so please show them your kind support as well.

CGDC8 sponsorsEA2DCasual Gameplay

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

And now, to the game designers who have made this, our 9th, competition a success. We appreciate and applaud your efforts and your dedication to the art of game design and to the creation of casual gameplay.

  1. First Place ($1,500):
  2. Second Place ($1,000):
  3. Third Place ($500):

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

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

  1. ...But That Was [Yesterday]
  2. Fiends
  3. Best Friends Fighter
  4. Zebulon
  5. Johnny Why 2
  6. The Greedy One
  7. Jay Needs Friends
  8. FrankenFriend
  9. Monsterz - Chainz of Friendz
  10. Break Them Out

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


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ChiktionaryGolden Dragon MysteryWho's up for a taste of the Orient? No, not a Yum-Cha banquet as much as I'd like to be able to take us all out for. Rather, a nice little point-and-click entree from Abroy games, a delightfully seasoned escape game without the MSG. Golden Dragon Mystery is a pleasurable break from routine, as sweet as ordering Chinese take-out on the weekend.

Use your mouse to point and click on furnishings and items in an Orientally ornate room, find codes and solve puzzles. The wisdom of Confucius is conspicuously absent, so you may experience the occasional puzzle that's not quite intuitive or logical, but for the most part the puzzles are straightforward and easily solvable. As you click, explore and solve, you'll be accompanied by some traditional Chinese music to set the mood. There is a mute button in case it breaks concentration levels.

The basic aim of the game is to locate nine puzzle tiles and six coloured dragon tiles, by finding clues, working out the codes and exploring the environs and furnishings of a lavishly decorated room, and work out a means to escape. There are no fortune cookies, sadly ('cause they're the best part of a Chinese meal, aren't they?) but you might just find out your animal symbol of the Chinese horoscope. Apparently I'm a Monkey. Yea, so I have a penchant for bananas, but I don't do the whole groom-the-body-hair-of-family-members-and-eat-mites thing. That's what flea bombs are for.

So sit back like it's the weekend, brandish your chopsticks, and enjoy the Oriental flavors of Golden Dragon Mystery.

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The Vault

DoraWelcome to another edition of The Vault, your ticket to the gems of yesteryear. (It's like Christmas in December!... uh... nevermind.) This week I'm going to talk to you about one of my favourite subjects; adventure. Adventure is pretty rad. You can ask Sir Theodore Roosevelt, who would probably agree that some of the best games are those that tell a story and take you to another place. (Also good games: Those that mesmerise you with pretty colours and amusing sound effects.) Here are some of the older titles in the genre, and some of my favourites. Try them, won't you?

  • Climate ChaosClimate Chaos - This ridiculously adorable point-and-click adventure game puts you in the soft, fluffy feet of Blue Rabbit, who crosses the ocean with his friends and comes across a beautiful island which, he soon discovers, has some rather unusual weather problems. Created by the marvelously talented Super Flash Bros, it features simple but beautiful visuals, frequent and well animated cutscenes, and expressive characters who use pictures rather than words to communicate. Even four years later, Climate Chaos is still a beautiful representation of its genre, and is wonderfully polished, engaging fun. If you're looking for a game to play with a rugrat on your lap, this is it, but those of us who still secretly love Saturday morning cartoons when we think nobody is looking will enjoy it too.
  • Tri-AchnidTri-Achnid - A collaboration between Florian Himsl and Edmund McMillen produced this wonderfully moody and faintly melancholic action-adventure game that follows one of the last of an endangered species after the death of his mater, who is trying to find a safe place for the cocoon he's carrying around... which just happens to contain the next generation. The control scheme takes a little getting used to; it can feel a little cumbersome at first, and even get a little frustrating when you're trying to move somewhere in a hurry. Still, Tri-Achnid manages to be surprisingly engaging, with its strange alien environment, oddly affecting story, and slick art by Edmund McMillen. It's definitely one of the most unique adventures out there and represents how far the right choice of sound and art can really go to create an engaging experience.
  • Escape to ObionEscape to Obion - What sorcery is this?! This final entry in this week's Vault is not one game but five! This engrossing series from Matt Slaybaugh follows you as member of a resistance trying to stop the sinister Dr Saturday's plot of hijacking the minds of every sentient machine in the world! (The last thing you want is a computer that can give you crap about your browsing history.) Although each episode is short, Obion offers some great "Myst-like" adventuring combined with good-old-fashioned puzzle solving like your mama used to make. While the hotspots can be tiny, the fact that they highlight when you mouse over them helps, and features some wonderful contraptions and puzzles for you to wrap your big, magnificent brain around.

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


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Rating: 4.1/5 (106 votes)
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TrickyShoot Pixels Maybe I just have Tron on the brain, but the premise to Shoot Pixels, Irsperanza's new top-down arcade shooter feels a little familiar. A mysterious messenger from a world inside your computer with graphical resolution no better than a Coleco informs you of an ongoing war... a war that the messenger's people are losing. The enemy's tanks are growing ever-larger, and ever-stronger. Time is running out. Only you have a chance to succeed in building your own super-tank, eliminating the enemy, and saving the pixel world. Help them, person at the computer, you're their only hope... Okay, so it doesn't quite have the dramatic gravitas of The Last Starfighter, or even the Nick Arcade bonus round. But at least it's a lot of fun!

Naturally, if you want to fight a pixel war, you'll need some pixel weapons, and Shoot Pixels offers a number of pixel tank options for your pixel pleasure. You start by dragging and placing guns upon your tank base, and selecting which wave of enemies you wish to face. Once in the arena, you control your tank's movement with the [arrow] or [WASD] keys, and fire by clicking your mouse. Defeating a wave of enemies give credits which can be used to upgrade your tank to your preferred specifications. Maybe you want enough guns and weapon energy to fill the screen with bullets. Maybe you want to beef up a single gun into a powerful sniping tool. Maybe you want to beef up your armor to turn the tank itself into your weapon, or any manner of hybrids. The inclusion of the pretty well-balanced "Weapon Builder" system allows for some interesting combinations, though a few pre-made weapons are available for use. Now go out there and fight that war!

Overall, Shoot Pixels's content outstrips its polish. While this is undeniably better than the alternative, it makes for something that feels a bit more like a demonstration of a game engine, than a full game in itself. Even if you find this to be the case, however, it's worth noting said engine is incredibly well-made and makes for button mashing fun. The game's customization options, particularly the ability to modify the placement of the guns upon on pixel tank, make for an undeniably creative twist on the upgrade shooter genre, though more non-gun related upgrades would have been nice. Shoot Pixels has a solid base that would probably be best served by a sequel to build upon its strengths. Still, if you might enjoy enjoy skulking around an arena, dodging bullets, seeking out waves of baddies, and upgrading a puny starter tank into a mighty juggernaut, Shoot Pixels will make for some high quality low-rez action.

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joyePapa's BurgeriaPapa Louie runs fast food enterprises in a town with the most weirdly specific customers in creation. If you've played Flipline's wildly successful restaurant sim Papa's Pizzeria, you know that round these parts, nobody blinks an eye at customers who ask for a pizza with two and exactly two pieces of pepperoni per slice. These same customers will patronize your business in Papa's Burgeria. Here comes a customer who wants a well-done burger with a pickle, then a tomato slice, then a dollop of mayo. Put the tomato on before the pickle? You're taking your life into your hands, bub. Get it right, and hear that wonderful sound of a fat tip hitting the tip jar.

An excellent (if sometimes a little hand-holding) tutorial shows you the path to burger domination. On the order screen, you'll write down the exact instructions for your customer's ideal burger. Over to the grill, where you can drag out some burgers. Mouse over them to check how done they are, and when they're halfway to the point desired, click to flip them over. Once perfectly cooked, drag them to the side and hop over to the build station. Follow the order sheet exactly, dragging bun, burger, and toppings in the right order. Try not to make the thing look like the leaning tower of Beef-sa, ok? When everything's done, top the burger with the top piece of bun, which will send the burger onto a tray. Drag the ticket down onto the tray and you'll present your meaty offering for grading. Drum roll and... it's a trifecta of perfect scores! Well, at least you hope it is. The higher the score, the happier the customer, which not only means a good tip now, but also adds a point to his or her "star gauge". Once the gauge fills up completely, you'll earn star badges, all the way to a gold star customer. Gold star customers tip the most of all.

By making your customers happy, you'll earn customer points which will improve your rankings. As you move up in the rankings, new customers start coming by, and the overall complexity of the orders and number of things you have to juggle at once increases. However, you can use all those tips you've been collecting in the upgrade shop between levels, buying things to keep your customers happy while they wait and tools like doorbells and meat warmers to help you keep things rolling backstage.

Papa's BurgeriaAnalysis: I spent a slightly embarrassing amount of time on Papa's Pizzeria back in the day, playing the game steadily for months until I had gold-starred each and every customer (and I have the Kongregate badge to prove it). The sequel has the same kind of long-term addictive appeal. This isn't a game that you play for hours at a stretch. It's the same thing over and over, pretty much, and new customers are more "the same thing only kicked up a notch" than "new and exciting twist". But it is a game that calls to you pretty regularly for "just one level". Each level takes only a few minutes to play, so it's a perfect game for coffee breaks, and you definitely get a sense of long-term progress as your customer roster grows and your burger joint fills up with posters, a TV and a gumball machine, yum.

Just like the previous game, Papa's Burgeria stands out from its time management brethren by making you really do everything yourself. You don't just click on a station and send your avatar scurrying to assemble a burger--you yourself squeeze the mustard and arrange the lettuce just so, adding an element of skill to the usual timing challenges. Another great advantage is that because of the focus on improving customers as individuals and building customer points as a whole, you can never get to a point where you get stuck on a level through inability to hit a target (and therefore can't progress at all in the game). There's no target, so even if you have a terrible time on a level, you can never go backwards in the game as a whole. The absolute worst thing that can happen to you is if you treat a customer really badly, like you serve them a burger that's burnt on one side and raw on the other and you forget all their toppings, their star gauge can drop to zero, which is a set-back but not insurmountable. This helps balance the admittedly hectic pace and the series' hallmark ordering neuroticism.

When it comes to simulation games in flash, it doesn't get any better than this series. Papa's Burgeria's burger-flipping fun just might make you forget that your own lunch break is slipping away.

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Rating: 4.3/5 (28 votes)
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Scarlett and the Spark of Life

JohnBAdventure game fans with an iOS device, it's time to saddle up. Scarlett and the Spark of Life, a brand new "point-and-click" adventure from Launching Pad, creator of The Pretender series, has arrived, and it's got more humor than you can shake a pair of reclaimed fenceposts at. Princess Scarlett has been kidnapped by a pair of meatheads, but she's clever and snarky enough to get out of the situation on her own. Her sister, on the other hand, needs her help, so it's time to break free, find a horse, and gallop off to the rescue!

Scarlett and the Spark of LifePrincess Scarlett's little adventure starts off looking grim, as she's tied up and on the back of a horse. Fortunately, escape is a cut rope and a disobedient servant away, eventually leading Scarlett to a town where everybody seems to be in love with a nasty llama-like creature called the polcalcos. Most of the village is away at the polcalcos festival, but a few stragglers stayed behind, just enough to help you solve the mystery of the mechanical horse in the warehouse just inside the city walls.

Everything in Scarlett and the Spark of Life is handled with a simple touch of the screen. To move Scarlett, simply tap where you want her to go. To use inventory items, tap the backpack icon and drag the item to the screen. The star icon at the bottom of the screen will show you areas you can interact with, a handy tool that makes exploration a cinch.

Scarlett and the Spark of LifeAnalysis: Most of the puzzles in Scarlett and the Spark of Life are straightforward affairs that can be solved through a little conversation. In fact, much of your time will be spent navigating conversation trees and talking to villagers, something you'll love doing because of the snappy dialogue. In fact, the writing in this game is nothing short of brilliant, and the wry humor will remind you of classic adventure games like Broken Sword and Secret of Monkey Island.

It's great to see another adventure game make its way to the iTunes App Store, and having a completely original outing built for the touch screen devices from the ground up is even better. Casual gamers will feel right at home with Scarlett and the Spark of Life, as the puzzles are pretty simple and if you ever get stuck, a tiny bit of experimentation can get you out of any situation. Don't expect to spend more than a few hours with the game, as 90 minutes is about all it'll take to work through to the end.

Scarlett and the Spark of Life is planned as a series of four games, so with any luck the next installment will grace us before too long. The humor and writing are definitely the strong points of the game, and you'll encounter several genuine laugh out loud moments while you play. An excellent adventure game for casual gamers, and a must-buy title for any iPhone/iPod Touch owner!

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Mobile Monday

JohnBAs the holiday season approaches, game developers start rolling out the big guns. Today's selection features some great-looking games that provide tons of entertainment, all packed neatly in their tiny little iPhone packages. Ain't they cute? Yes, yes they are cute.

lamecastle.jpgLame Castle - You and your lame castle. Bet I could knock the whole thing over with nothing more than my javelin! In fact, let's test that out. This Canabalt-style running game puts you in the boots of a knight on "horseback" charging across the kingdom. Jump over obstacles and use your javelin to smash into things, and keep an eye out for floating chests and other nifty bonuses. Make it to the end of the short-ish level and you'll topple the castle and move on to the next stage! Each area also has an optional task you can complete for an achievement, like punting chickens, earning a certain amount of cash, or performing other strange tasks.

kosmospin.jpgKosmo Spin - A simple little game with a simple goal: entertain you for short stretches of time. Breakfast foods are in danger of being abducted by a UFO, and being the helpful little critter that you are, you decide to save the cups of coffee, pieces of toast, and other yummy foods. All you have to do is spin the entire universe! Slide your finger to rotate the game world and move around the planet, picking up any foods you touch. Watch for the alien's abduction beam, as it'll end your game, and be sure to bounce back any objects the UFO drops towards the planet with your tough head. Ain't nobody gonna touch my muffins!

masterofalchemy.jpgMaster of Alchemy - A lot of us scheming gamers secretly wish we could master the elements and become alchemical geniuses. Master of Alchemy teases us with a bit of that, providing a physics-based puzzle experience not unlike Enigmo 2 or other similar building games. Each level features dispensers that create solids, liquids, or gases of certain colors. Using an inventory of tools, you must convert these elements into the proper type and color and direct them to the goal. Naturally, each element acts like the real thing, so in order to move things up high, you'll need to turn them into a gas, and so on. It starts off a bit slow, but later levels are great, and the game looks and plays as smoothly as you could want!

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


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Rating: 4.8/5 (116 votes)
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Super Meat Boy!

DoraOoooohhhh... Who's in a hard platformer for all to see? SUPER MEAT BOY! Fleshy and red and daring is he! SU-PER MEAT BOY! If you like challenge and things that go "squish!", then Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes have what you wish! SU-PER MEAT BOY! SU-PER MEAT BOY! SUUUUPEEER... MEAT BOOOOY!

That's right, kiddies, everyone's favourite blob of the red stuff is back in this quirky, tricky follow up to 2008's original. Fans want to know; is it worth your time and cash? Short answer? Yes. Long answer? Awwwww yissssssss.

Super Meat BoyThe story in Super Meat Boy is pretty simple. You have Meat Boy, and his girlfriend, Bandage Girl, who loves him. You also have Dr Fetus, who nobody loves, and decides to abscond with Bandage Girl. As Meat Boy, you'll do anything to get your adhesive beloved back, and you set out to rescue her... no matter how many times you're reduced to a pile of gory chunks in the process. Which will be a great many times, since the level design in Super Meat Boy tends to be, as a rule, spite made manifest.

The game offers you both keyboard and gamepad control options, and both I and the game recommend the latter. Frankly, if you can manage to beat the game with a keyboard, you're a better person than I am, Charlie Brown. The game is divided up into themed worlds comprised of short but fiendish levels, and the goal at each (except the boss stages) is always to rescue Bandage Girl, wherever she may be. Just be careful since a single hit for Meat Boy from either foe or hazardous environment will kill him and force you to restart the level. You'll need to run, leap, wall-jump and bravely dash your way through every obstacle, and at the end of each stage you get to see a video of all your level attempts trying (and probably failing) at once.

Super Meat BoyOf course, Bandage Girl doesn't have to be your only goal. As you squish your way through the game's 300+ levels you'll find warp zones that'll take you to other games, bandages you can collect to help unlock new characters with special abilities, and once you've beaten a level you may want to check out its more challenging Dark World counterpart... if you can find it. Buckle up, buttercup; we're in this for the long haul.

Analysis: Let's be honest; you can't make a platformer that the average gamer is going to fail approximately one billion times at without also making it inventive and charming. People would be lined up outside your door with torches and pitchforks otherwise. Super Meat Boy isn't just punishingly difficult, it's extremely imaginative. Each level constantly throws new twists at you, such as forcing you to play a level entirely in silhouette. It's a great incentive to keep playing and see what it comes up with next. The visuals are simple but clean and appealing, and the soundtrack is fantastic. It's also funny, in a way that manages to be both dark and completely absurd. It's the sort of thing you know you should probably feel bad about for laughing at, but can't quite help yourself.

Super Meat BoyA frequent response each time a new level loads is probably going to be, "How in the world do they expect me to do that?" At first contact, most stages of Super Meat Boy tend to resemble a haphazard fever dream of buzzsaws and other dangers. But sit a moment and observe your surroundings and one of Super Meat Boy's best features will start to shine; there is always a method to the madness, and once you figure out how to approach a particular stage running through it is usually very fun. Level design isn't just clever; it's downright Machiavellian. Dance, meaty puppet, dance!

Of course, if you're not into the sort of relentlessly aggressive, split-second-twitch gaming Super Meat Boy offers, this probably isn't the game for you, since that's mostly all it offers. There are very few levels in the game where standing still for more than a split second is ever a good idea, and it's fairly easy to work yourself into a jittery lather. Frankly, I was rarely sure if I was ever too caffeinated to play, or not caffeinated enough; there were absolutely times when I needed a time out. These are times when Meat Boy's tendency to explode if he's within a hair's breadth of a hazard are really grating, coupled with how springy he is. There were instances where I literally thought, "There's just no way. I absolutely cannot pull that off." (Though of course I eventually did.)

Admittedly, Super Meat Boy isn't going to be for everyone, and to be honest, it isn't trying to be. Fans of high-difficulty games will love the challenge, and anyone can appreciate the sheer amount of effort that's gone into making this game with its no-room-for-error stages and signature cheek. Super Meat Boy is absolutely insane, frantic, disgusting (but cute!), and at times incredibly frustrating... and personally, I loved every second of it. If the idea of a fetus in a giant robotic tuxedo and monocle flipping you off before the opening cinematics are over doesn't scandalise you, you might want to give this one a try.

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Millionaire Manor: The Hidden Object Show

JohnBThe Hidden Object Show has returned, now with more hidden objecte-ness and more game showeyness! Millionaire Manor: The Hidden Object Show blends just about every type of hidden object scene you can imagine — from finding lists of items to picking up numbers of certain items and even finding the differences between scenes — and places them in a game show-style arena. Tied together with a loose story, Millionaire Manor: The Hidden Object Show is more whimsical in nature and keeps everything moving quickly, allowing you to get your hidden object fix without wading through a dark and depressing story.

Millionaire Manor: The Hidden Object ShowYour grandfather has left you a message saying he's going to be a contestant on The Hidden Object Show. However, that show was canceled years ago, so you know something is awry. Driving off into the dark countryside, you encounter a mad barker with a number of people held hostage inside a glitzy mansion. The only way to free everyone — including your grandfather — is to play the madman's hidden object scenes and beat him at his own game!

The game works just like a gameshow, right down to spinning a colorful wheel before each round. The wheel is stocked with hidden object games of various types, and when it stops, your randomly-selected scene will begin. Some rounds feature more than one scene to complete, but after you've done so, you'll return to the wheel for another spin, eventually freeing a captive with your object-finding fervor.

A fun feature in Millionaire Manor: The Hidden Object Show is when the word "BONUS ROUND" appears during a scene. Click it and you'll be taken to a separate hidden object scene where you have a few seconds to collect pieces of chips scattered around the area. Gather as many as you can, and when the scene ends, completed chips will give you bonuses like hint tokens, unlock tokens, and skip chips that can be used on the wheel-o-games. A wonderful way to spice up the already whimsical gameplay!

Millionaire Manor: The Hidden Object ShowAnalysis: It's a big understatement to say Millionaire Manor: The Hidden Object Show is a "breath of fresh air" for the hidden object genre. Many casual gamers love finding objects in titles like this, but with the glut of copycat releases in the past few years, it seems you must also enjoy a "spooky" storyline, a dark and sour setting, and stale scenes that get old after half an hour. This game, however, is more of a parody of the genre, pulling the best bits out and concentrating them together, allowing you to experience the fun of finding hidden items without getting bogged down in details you'd rather just ignore.

Apart from its refusal to fall victim to the usual hidden object game traps, Millionaire Manor's next biggest strength is its variety of games. The usual stock of hidden object scenes are present, such as finding items from a list or picking things out by looking at their silhouette. You'll also discover scenes where you must combine objects to match list items, solve riddles to learn which items are hidden, or even peer through a blurry lens at your scene. Most of them are great fun to play, and if they aren't, your skip chips come in quite handy.

Millionaire Manor: The Hidden Object Show represents everything a hidden object game should be: light-hearted, fun, fast-paced, and full of variety. The challenge level is just about right, and you'll have a great time spinning the wheel-o-games to see which hidden object scene you get to play next!

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  • Currently 4.7/5
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The Journey Down

JohnBThe Journey Down: Over the Edge is a classic-style point-and-click adventure game released by SkyGoblin. Bwana and Kito, longtime friends and mechanics in Kingsport Bay, are having a bit of a cash problem. The all-powerful and evil electric company is demanding massive payments from everyone, and to top it off, they've made it a punishable offense to visit the area known as "The Edge". Couple that with a woman loaded with cash who's asking questions about Bwana's missing friend, and you've got a great start to what is guaranteed to be a strange and intriguing adventure!

The Journey Down: Chapter 1The Journey Down plays like any other old-school adventure game, though this time around the controls are simplified. Instead of swapping cursor commands between Look, Talk, Walk, etc., everything is handled with simple mouse clicks. So, to walk to a certain spot, click it. To talk to someone, click them. To interact with objects, just click. You'll suddenly realize you don't miss switching commands in the slightest.

Puzzles are largely inventory-based, and they're very well constructed. Solutions are logical, if a bit whimsical in nature from time to time, and if you can't figure out what to do, you probably missed a subtle clue while talking to a character. The Journey Down: Over the Edge isn't a game you can just charge through. You need to take your time, talk to every character, explore every option in the conversation tree, and not be afraid to do a little exploration.

The Journey Down: Chapter 1Analysis: The Journey Down: Over The Edge is a gorgeous, gorgeous game. Not only are the backgrounds and characters painted with a lot of loving attention, the animations are surprisingly complete for a free adventure game. Instead of using two frames to show a console opening, The Journey Down fills in the gaps so you can watch it drop on your own. It may not sound like much, but in practice, it makes the game look so much better than most of its contemporaries.

Another area where The Journey Down really excels is setting a great atmosphere. the world of Kingsport Bay feels familiar, yet a little different. It could take place in the present day, but there's a vibe of the future lurking as well. The characters and the dialogue are also great, allowing you to sink in to the game as if you were reading a graphic novel (or a regular novel!).

Over the Edge is just the first chapter in what is planned to be a four part series. The next episode, Into the Mist, is scheduled for late next year, which is a long time to wait once you get a taste of what this adventure offers. Expect between two and three hours of gameplay for this run, shorter if you're a l33t adventure gamer. But the best part is, the game doesn't feel short. It feels like a complete, hearty adventure game

The Journey Down: Over the Edge is a carefully-crafted, gorgeous-looking adventure game with an intriguing story, fun characters, excellent dialogue, captivating music, and well-made puzzles. Chapter 2 can't come soon enough!

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  • Currently 4.5/5
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Rating: 4.5/5 (23 votes)
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Septerra Core: Legacy of the Creator

JohnBSepterra Core: Legacy of the Creator is an isometric role playing game designed by Valkyrie Studios and released in 1999. The game had a rocky start, with its development team struggling to find a publisher, but when the title was finally released, reviews were extraordinarily positive, with many publications calling it "RPG of the year". Septerra Core's story is rich and intriguing, weaving an intricate steampunk-style world that's thick with history and interesting characters.

Septerra Core: Legacy of the CreatorThe world of Septerra is built around a series of world shells that are bound by a spine that supports the core of the planet. Each shell has its own environment and inhabitants, some of which are mythical in nature, while others are the downtrodden peasants of the world. As the game begins, you are in control of Maya, a young woman who lives in a town called Oasis on the second shell. Here, most citizens collect and convert junk tossed down from the first shell, the world inhabited by the Chosen. The mayor has repurposed some of the work 'bots a friend of Maya's created, and one of your first tasks is to investigate the events surrounding this. Naturally, that leads to something even bigger, and the story of Septerra Core opens wide.

Gameplay is point and click based with keyboard shortcuts available to make things a bit more convenient. You explore the world of Septerra by clicking where you want your party to go, double clicking to run, and single clicking on characters/objects to interact with them. The cursor changes when you hover over something you can use, so don't be afraid to mess around with everything you see in the game.

Combat works a bit differently than most role playing games. For starters, there are no random encounters, which is a welcome break for many RPG fans, especially the more casual ones. Once you enter battle, each participant takes his or her position on the field, and your character's meters begin to charge. Meters are divided into three sections, each allowing a more powerful attack than the previous. So, if you wait for your bar to fill to 1/3, you get a basic attack. Let it fill to 2/3 and you get something even better. While you're waiting, the enemies are having their way with you, so a balance must be achieved.

Septerra Core: Legacy of the CreatorMagic points, called "core power", are shared between party members, and you use Fate Cards to cast spells. These cards can be found and used individually or combined to form more creative spells. At first, magic doesn't seem very useful, but later in the game, when you build up a stock of cards, it becomes an indispensable part of your strategy.

Analysis: Septerra Core isn't a new game, but it's aged remarkably well. The visuals look suitably dated, but the gameplay manages to feel mostly modern. The first part of the game is a bit slow, featuring a lot of backstory, a few fetch-style quests, and plenty of dialogue. Afterwards, expect a lot more combat and some massive dungeons capped by rough boss battles. The level of challenge in the game is spot-on, and as long as you keep your equipment up to date, you won't lose too many battles.

With the gameplay details out of the way, let's discuss what makes Septerra Core so interesting. Just like Tolkien expanded Middle Earth to include ages before the story took place, so Septerra Core uses spoken legend, mythical tales, and knowledge lost to the passage of time to make its world more complete. It creates a strong sense of mystery and allows the player to wonder about the origin of nearly everything in the game. Almost everything about the game is directly connected to the story

Years after its initial release, Septerra Core still offers a superb RPG. The story is a pleasure to experience, the setting and visuals are inspired, the combat and item systems are solid, and even the voice acting is top-notch. It's easily a 50 hours trip from beginning to end, and you'll be hooked from the first loaf of bread to the final battle.

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Weekend Download

JohnBHere's a bit of a blast from the past for you: BatMan. Not Christopher Nolan's dark, brooding Batman, not even Tim Burton's interpretation of the caped crusader. This is old-school Batman with old-school gameplay, and you'll love every minute of it! Where does he get those wonderful toys, anyway?

senseofconnectedness.gifThe Sense of Connectedness (Windows, 6MB, free) - This is the kind of puzzle game you need to play rather than read about. Figuring out what's going on is 90% of the experience. Figuring out how to do it is the other 10%. And then there's a bonus 10% you're rewarded for actually pulling it off. Do yourself a favor and grab this game if you're even remotely interested. Then, you can peek back here to read about it if you're still stuck. So now: SPOILER ALERT!! You start at the center of the brain as a little spark by the ego. As you move about, you'll uncover new parts of the brain. Stray too far and you'll vanish and respawn. To explore the entire brain, you'll need to use the [z] key to flip neurons to direct the energy sparks around to different areas. It takes some time, but soon you'll dig out even the most remote areas of the brain. And that, dear friends, is where I stop talking about the game for fear of a real spoiler!

batman.gifBatMan (Windows, 17MB, free) - A remake of the classic ZX Spectrum game by the same team that remade Head Over Heels, BatMan is an isometric adventure that takes place inside of Bruce Wayne's mansion and throughout the Batcave. Explore the rooms to find seven parts of the BatCraft, avoiding enemies and falling victim to some really sneaky traps. Play it careful, as you've got a limited number of lives, and remember that games originally made in 1986 were much less forgiving than today. This remake does an excellent job updating the classic to more modern standards, and an extraordinary job was done on the music, visuals, and controls!

walkwithjack.gifWalk with Jack (Windows, 13.4MB, free) - What you can't see can't hurt you, right? While anyone who's tried swimming in a mountain lake at night might disagree, Jack's on board for the concept. In this game, Jack walks from left to right. Lots of nasty things scroll his way, from spikes to pits to spiders and more. How do you keep Jack safe? Click and hold the [left] mouse button and the entire screen goes black. In the darkness, Jack continues to move, but any dangers he would smash into don't hurt him. Release the button to see what's going on, but be prepared to click again soon. An interesting arcade-style game you'll have fun playing all afternoon!

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!


(11 votes) *Average rating will show after 20 votes
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Luxor: 5th Passage

JamesFear is the mind killer. Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear... Phew, am I glad my mother was a Bene Gesserit witch, otherwise the new Luxor would have driven me over the edge a long time ago (that is a Dune reference, for those at a loss). And in good-old balls-on-the-roll fashion, Luxor: 5th Passage soon enough puts you in positions where staying cool, calm and collected spells the difference between victory and disaster. That and a few lucky power-ups...

Luxor: 5th PassageAre there still those uninitiated to the style of match-3 game found in Luxor and Zuma? Even during this review, someone looked over my shoulder and posited why I don't just copy-and-paste an older Luxor review. It is, after all, the same game: a string of coloured balls are pushed along a track towards a hole at the end — the player fires a ball into the arrangement, causing sets of three or more to disintegrate; the aim of the game is to destroy all the balls before they reach the hole (and the sooner, the better, as another string will roll onto the track soon).

As the name suggests, this is the fifth outing of Mumbo Jumbo's popular series, but in terms of changes it seems to sidle sideways, not forward. This isn't a bad thing. It would be with a different genre, but as I alluded to earlier, this is not a game that changes much at all — and it shouldn't. Like any good puzzle mechanism, be it Tetris or Solitaire, there are only a finite amount of tweaks you can make before you risk changing the formula so substantially that it won't register with fans (the proverbial "if it ain't broke..."). To Mumbo Jumbo's credit, each release of Luxor did reshuffle where it can. In 5th Passage the game modes have been stripped down to a more spartan selection, story mode has vanished and the power-ups have been tweaked to give a more constructive set you can work with.

Most of the regular power-ups are here: the ball-munching scorpion, the always-welcome colour bomb and genre staples like the ball-evaporating lighting strike and slow-down/reversal effects. There are a total of fourteen powerups, but unlike the previous Luxor they are much less convoluted and do exactly what they say on the label — technicalities such as impact radius have been left to the game (or your imagination). The game-modifying artifacts are also nowhere to be seen, nor is there an upgrades shop and as mentioned there is no 'adventure' — or story — mode.

Luxor: 5th PassageBut that probably makes this the best Luxor to get your hands on. Sure, all that extra stuff that featured so prominently in the fourth game, Quest For The Afterlife, made things interesting, but 5th Passage takes the series back to its roots and then establishes it with a very balanced selection of power-ups, as well as some truly challenging levels.

Well, 'levels' is a tad liberal. Luxor seems to recycle its settings often and you will encounter the same screens several times during the 100-level Adventure mode (despite the name, there is no story), though they still represent a lot of variety amongst them. For a different challenge, Blast Mode pushes you to get the highest score possible in two minutes, and People's Choice is a collection of the best levels from the series. The difficulty comes in how the balls are arranged, how fast they are moving and those truly harrowing levels with two lines coming at you (as well as four difficulty settings with appeal for newcomers through to salted Luxor-veterans).

To be fair, the previous Luxor game is probably a better bet for new players, because it adds a lot of window dressing that attracts people seeking something beyond the match-3 challenge. Yet 5th Passage represents the best unification of Luxor's core, sticking to a series of great powerups and smart levels. If you preferred the earlier Luxor games, 5th Passage is right up your alley, because it combines the best ideas from the first three games. With a big emphasis on how well you score, not to mention the introduction of achievement trophies, the new Luxor is geared towards series purists. In fact, if they just called it Luxor: Hardcore Fan Edition, it would explain exactly what you get. So start practising that mantra:

I must not fear spheres.
Fearing spheres is the mind-killer.
Spheres are the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear of spheres (preferably with a color bomb).
I will not permit spheres to pass me.
Because when the spheres have gone past I will turn the inner eye to see their path.
Where the spheres has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain... until the next row arrives.

(with apologies to Frank Herbert)

WindowsWindows:
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Bejeweled 3 netbook giveaway

JohnBOh joyful day! It's time for a contest! And not just any contest, either. We've teamed up with PopCap (you know, the folks who have taken away most of your free time with games like Peggle and Plants vs. Zombies) to celebrate the impending release of Bejeweled 3! Our original idea was to run a contest where the prizes included high fives and fist bumps, but then we decided to up the ante. How "up" did we up it? How about a Bejeweled-emblazoned netbook for the winner?!

Bejeweled 3 ContestWhat better way to run a Bejeweled contest than to match gems of your own? From now and for the next 12 days, we'll be hiding a few gems in game reviews throughout the archives of JIG. We'll send out a riddle for each hidden gem, sometimes right here on the front page, sometimes on our Twitter feed, sometimes on our Facebook page, pointing you in the right direction. Find the gem, take a note of its color and the title of the game reviewed on the page where it appears, and keep that info somewhere safe. When you find three gems of the same color, you've earned yourself an entry into the netbook giveaway!

But there's more! We'll be using all seven gem colors from Bejeweled 3, so feel free to submit matches for more than one color. If you submit a match of five like-colored gems, your name will be entered twice! So, theoretically, you could have your name dropped in the hat over a dozen times. In the very big hat we've reserved just for this occasion! And even if you don't win the laptop, we've got three copies of Bejeweled 3 to give away, so there's plenty of opportunity to walk away with something great.

So you know what to look for, here's an example of the gems you'll see in the coming week (no, they're not part of the contest!). Each one will be in the body of the article of the game in question, easy to find once you decipher the riddle! Gems will be available for approximately 24 hours, at which point the next round of hints will become available, pushing the old ones away forever.
Bejeweled 3
The official colors are as follows (from left to right in the image above):
blue, green, red, white, yellow, purple, and orange.

Wait until you collect a match of three gems of the same color before e-mailing us. Sending in random gems doesn't count as an entry. It's best to wait until the end of the contest, then organize all the gems you found into matches and send us one e-mail.

Contest rules and details:

  • Contest runs from December 3 to December 14.
  • Gems will be hidden on review pages throughout the site. A few of the gems will be released per day, each one available for a limited time only.
  • Clues pointing to the gems will be announced on our website (http://jayisgames.com), on our Twitter page (http://twitter.com/Jayisgames), on our Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/Jayisgames), or a combination of all three.
  • You must be at least 18 years of age or older to enter.
  • Contest is open to US residents only. Employees of Casual Gameplay and their family members are not eligible for this promotion.
  • Send us your name, address, phone number, and a statement that you're at least 18 years of age or older, along with an itemized listing of all the gems you found, including: 1) gem color; and 2) the title of the game reviewed on the page where you found the gem; to: Bejeweled-3-Contest@CasualGameplay.com, or mail your entry to: Casual Gameplay, P.O. Box 22775, Rochester, NY 14962.
  • Entries must be received no later than December 17, 2010 to qualify for the drawing.
  • Winners will be selected by random drawing on December 18, 2010, and the results will be published at http://jayisgames.com soon thereafter.
  • Total prize value is $425, specifications include: HP Mini 210 HD Edition Netbook, 1GB DDR2 System Memory, Wireless-G Card, IntelAtomN450 (1.66GHz, 512 KB L2 Cache) and Intel Grphc3150, Genuine Windows 7 Starter 32-bit, 250GB 7200RPM SATA Hard Drive, 10.1 in HD LED widescreen (1366x768).
  • Prize is non-exchangeable.
  • Casual Gameplay is not responsible for any lost, late, misdirected or incomplete entries. By participating in the contest, the winners and entrants (a) agree that Casual Gameplay, its employees, directors, and partners shall have no liability in connection with the acceptance or use of the prizes awarded. (b) acknowledge that said parties have neither made, nor are in any manner responsible or liable for, any warranty, representation or guarantee, express or implied, in fact or in law, related to any prize including, but not limited to, its quality, mechanical condition or fitness for a particular purpose. (c) shall indemnify and hold harmless Casual Gameplay employees, directors, and partners from and against any and all liability, claims, loss, damage, injury or expense, including reasonable attorney's fees, arising from or in connection with any third party action arising out of a breach, or allegation which if true would constitute a breach, of any of its representations, warranties, or obligations herein.
  • No purchase necessary, void where restricted or prohibited.

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Link Dump Fridays

DoraWhat's this? What's this? Games are everywhere! What's this? The weekend's nearly there! What's this? I can't believe my eyes, I must be dreaming, wake up JiG this isn't fair!... what's this?!

... well, the answer is clearly Link Dump Friday, of course! The first Link Dump Friday of December, also known as "there is no other music but raucous seasonal tunes" month. No matter what holiday you're gearing up to celebrate, or even if you aren't celebrating at all, let's kick this month off right with a new batch of games for my most beloved readers. (Hey, that's you dudes!)

  • LoveLove - Love makes the world go 'round, and apparently it's the inspiration for this slightly arty little arcade game. The object is to increase your score by staying close to as many people at once, which makes you happy, but if you get too close to any one of them, you get hurt. Whether you agree with the oddly cynical sentiment behind it aside, there's still something soothing and hypnotic about the hushed chorus that grows louder the more people you have around you, combined with the flush of colour, versus the stark silence when you're alone. I can guarantee you I'd get hurt if I got close like that to my husband, but only because he probably couldn't tolerate more than fifteen seconds of me going "aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa" softly in his ear from an inch away while he was trying to work.
  • Flaming Zombooka 2Flaming Zombooka 2 - I've said it before and I'll say it again; bazookas make everything better. This physics puzzle game continues in the footsteps of titles like Fragger, but has you taking aim at the undead instead. Try to blow up all the zombies onscreen while at the same time try not to blow up any not dead bystanders. I question the legitimacy of the claim that these people are indeed human since I'm reasonably certain most of us couldn't survive even a single bazooka shot to the gut. I mean... at least, I don't think so. Hey, anyone wanna help me test a theory? It'll be like Mythbusters!
  • MomigaMomiga - Aside from being my new victory cry ("MMMMOOOMIGAAA!"), Momiga is also the title of this super minimalist little puzzle game where the object is to get the little white dot (pictured thusly) from the left to the right side of the screen. Sound simple? Well, you don't get any instruction as to how to do that, and the method changes each time you successfully cross over. Short, tricky, and a little frustrating, Momiga is still a fun little diversion for those of you who haven't yet earned your "moving a thing to the other side of another thing" merit badges.
  • MorphingMorphing - In this weird little physics puzzle game, you play some magic floating eyeballs with the ability to instantly morph into any object you're able to click on. ... Jay, are you sure this isn't something I came up with during last night's office party? I don't remember much, but this is kind of... no? Okay. Anyway, the goal is to get yon ocular orbs to the big target at the end of each level by figuring out which objects you need to click on in what order. The morphing concept is a clever one, but it's not implemented nearly as well as it could be to make the game really interesting beyond "click here, then click here faster".
  • Training SetTraining Set - This vaguely unsettling little... uh... puzzle-ish interactive art-ish game, for lack of a better classification, is definitely strange. You play an oddly proportioned humanoid in a black and white land who must rely on your silent observers for direction; each of them will push a button, which will unlock a new ability for you to use that corresponds to a number key. You know, abilities like walking. It's a shame the ending is so abrupt and unsatisfying, because, frustrations with the controls aside, it's strangely compelling.

  • Currently 3.6/5
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Rating: 3.6/5 (94 votes)
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joyePaper VentureDrawing things on margins of notebook paper. "Don't let it touch the ground!" Punting little paper footballs into a goal. Spinning razor blades of instant death. Ah, the little joys of childhood, rolled up into one fun puzzle platform game from Sandeep Saha, Paper Venture. In a carefree doodle art style, you use a simple block attached to your cursor to guide your lemming-like protagonist around a dangerous or simply tricky area to the goal.

Controls are as simple as it gets: when you click the left mouse button, your little robot guy starts walking. He will walk straight forward until he encounters a wall, in which case he will turn around and walk straight backwards. If he encounters a gap, he will drop through it. If he encounters the edge of the screen, he will walk right off of it. And if he encounters a spinning blade of death, he will suffer from sudden existence failure. Luckily, you, oh player, are there with your trusty block, permanently attached to your cursor. You can manipulate the robot character with it by lifting him, catching him, and nudging him towards the goal and away from dangers. As with any platform mouse game, use of an actual mouse rather than a trackpad is recommended, especially in the later levels.

Paper Venture has great level design and a satisfying level of challenge. Its only drawbacks are peripheral. The biggest design flaw was the location of the sponsor logo in the lower left corner. There are several levels where clicking to start the level seems most natural right on the sponsor logo... which of course causes the sponsor website to load in another window. It is possible with careful positioning to click without hitting the logo, but this is a needless hassle. The game also could have been improved with a level select screen to allow the player to replay a favorite level. As it is, your choice is either to replay level 30 over and over, or to wipe your save and start from the beginning.

These two flaws are definitely something that should be improved in any sequel, but as it is, the game is still a delightful little puzzle platforming diversion with a whimsical mood.

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Rating: 4/5 (144 votes)
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ChiktionaryRoom PerfectionContrary to popular belief, it's not true that the Inuit culture has more than a hundred words for snow, but it is true that the Japanese language has roughly fourteen symbols and words for the English word 'perfection'. I bet you're all enthralled at this little piece of trivia, so to avoid contentious discussion let's now turn our attention to Room Perfection, a lovely, albeit brief, escape game from Gam.eBB, creators of the Dismantlement series of puzzle games.

Using your mouse, click on items and discover clues to solve the various puzzles around a very small and cleanly decorated room. You'll even encounter the odd mini-game or two. Navigate the room by clicking on the small, gray arrows to the left and right of the screen, and click on items to collect, use and zoom in on.

Room Perfection is a short and sweet game, with puzzles that are generally logical and with easily grasped outcomes. There are, however, a couple of puzzles that are out of the ordinary and may temporarily confound. But for all its pointing and clicking delight, this is a game that leaves some questions unanswered. For instance, there's a bomb with more than one way of being detonated, and its inclusion in the game can hardly be construed as anything other than random. Perhaps it serves as a reminder of the Dismantlement games, but who knows? Oh, and while we're on the topic of the bomb, you may want to know that this is a timed game. You've got thirty minutes to find a way through the door before the bomb goes off. Heh! As if we need a whole half hour to escape a room. Total underestimation of the powers of the JIG community.

For its compactness, and clean and orderly graphics, Room Perfection is a really nifty escape game, with puzzles that will barely raise a sweat. But because it is compact, clean and orderly with a bomb's potential to make it all but, this is a game that provides a simple and thoroughly enjoyable diversion. I wouldn't say 'perfect' but totally and most definitely a gratifyingly good game to play.

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  • Currently 4/5
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Rating: 4.5/5 (82 votes)
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Babylon Sticks: Power-Up comic

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

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


  • Currently 4.3/5
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Rating: 4.3/5 (406 votes)
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CassandraTruck LoaderWith graffiti on the walls, funky-fresh music and a grunchy-chic environment, you'd think that Truck Loader was trying a little too hard to be cool. Were this another shoot 'em up or platformer, I'd probably have dismissed it outright but Truck Loader is a refreshingly ghetto-looking stack 'em up physics puzzle game with a twist.

In this physics-based title from Flazm, players are put into the massive wheels of what the developers call an 'amazing magnetic forklift truck'. Frankly, it looks more like a little excavation robot fresh from a trip to the moon but that's just me. The objective of the game is simple: you'll have to move a variety of cargo containers into the waiting bowels of an even bigger truck. While this sounds almost pedestrian at first, the developers have done a great job at incorporating the usage of your vehicle's magnetic arm. The arm follows your mouse movements, and you can use it to push and pull items around the screen, or pick things up with your rather large magnet. While there's nothing particularly ground-breaking here, there's something absurdly fun about having to gingerly manipulate a series of boxes to ensure that everything is facing the right way up or snickering to yourself as you load a cracked box marked 'fragile' into the waiting truck.

Depending on how you look at things, the physics here may either make or break the game for you. In Truck Loader, things are extremely sensitive to motion. However, the same cannot be said about their response to magnetic forces. While it's entirely possible (and a lot of fun!) to throw boxes around, you'll occasionally find that the containers do not respond as intended and flop onto the ground instead of flying through the air. I would have liked to have a little bit more control over things but the occasional lapses do nothing to take away the joy of the experience. Truck Loader has about twenty levels in all. With the upbeat music and smooth transitions from one puzzle to another, it's entirely too easy to lose yourself in the moment and go, 'Hmm. Maybe, just one more level.'.

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Rating: 4.4/5 (218 votes)
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picapix.gifJohnBFrom the logic puzzle masters at Conceptis, creators of the recently-released Mix Sudoku Light, comes another great pencil and paper game transformed for your browser. B&W Pic-a-Pix Light, volume one, is an online version of picross that does one thing and does it very well. Instead of trying to dazzle you with pretty colors or distracting mini-games, Pic-a-Pix Light presents you with a simple, highly usable interface that allows you to get in, solve picross puzzles, and take a break whenever you like. It's another great entry in the logic puzzle universe that's primed to be your main stop for picross!

Pic-a-Pix puzzles are logic puzzles where you fill in squares on a grid that, when completed, form a picture. Numbers line the top and left sides of the screen, each indicating a number of blocks to fill. What they don't tell you, however, is how many empty spaces there are. For example, if a row says "2 3 1", you know there are two blocks that need to be filled in, followed by at least once space, followed by three more filled blocks, followed by a single filled square. By using logic you can gradually narrow down the possibilities until each segment is a certainty, carefully tagging each empty space and filled space with the correct marks.

B&W Pic-a-Pix Light has a few nice interface additions that make it easier to use than some other browser-based picross efforts. For starters, colored rulers highlight the row and column where your cursor is, allowing you to watch the entire area without tracing your eyes across the grid. When a row or column is complete, a triangle appears by the number clues — green if everything is correct, red if something isn't. And, if you're stuck or need a push, you can always ask the game to check the entire puzzle for accuracy or just show the solution.

Three grid sizes are available in B&W Pic-a-Pix Light — 5x5 to 10x10 and 15x15 — each with ten different puzzles to complete. All are accessible from the beginning of the game, so no worries about unlocking puzzles or getting stuck on a board and being unable to continue. You can even save and continue your work by using the icon at the top of the screen!

With all of its user-friendly features, B&W Pic-a-Pix Light sometimes steps on its own toes. For example, being a picross fan myself, I'm used to having the entire grid ready for my viewing pleasure at any moment. While the colored rulers were useful when working on a piece of the puzzle, I often thought they were in the way when I wanted to scan the rest of the board. Moving the cursor off of the screen clears the rulers, so it's not like it's a big issue. It would also be nice to have a keyboard shortcut for marking non-filled blocks instead of using a double click.

Conceptis knows logic puzzles, and it knows how to get them right. With the first volume of B&W Pic-a-Pix Light we see a great picross engine with a lot of promise. Once more puzzles (and more difficult puzzles) are added, this will be one of the heavy-hitting forces on the browser picross field!

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Mission in Snowdriftland: Indie Games Edition

JayMark your calendars and set your bookmarks, Mission in Snowdriftland is back to entertain us once again with its joy-inducing classic-style platforming gameplay set against the backdrop of a cheerful holiday advent calendar. Beginning today and continuing right up through Christmas Eve, a new level will be unlocked to play each day as we march closer to that most joyous of holidays filled with presents, friends and family gatherings.

Mission in Snowdriftland screen 1The levels themselves have not changed, but that's not really a bad thing as they will all present quite a challenge for you to earn that bonus present waiting at the end. Use the [arrow] keys for control, avoid enemies or bounce on them, and collect all the snowflakes. You've gotta catch'em all. The game is well-designed with high production values, and the experience is well worth reliving again (and again).

You might remember us covering Mission in Snowdriftland way back in 2006. Back then, Nintendo had commissioned extra toxic, a German game development company, to create this amazing and joyful experience as a means to showcase unlockable goodies from familiar Nintendo games. But then the contract ended and it was taken down and disappeared from the Web only to resurface just in time for the holidays once more!

This time the company, under the label of tons of bits, has teamed up with a dozen different indie game studios to showcase unlockables from each of their respective titles. Complete each level to find a new surprise bonus waiting for you from these great indie games. It's a great way to share the talent offspring of so many wonderful indie developers, and we thank Tons of Bits for bringing back this great advent calendar platformer and sharing it with the world once again!

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Rating: 4.2/5 (83 votes)
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Weekday Escape

GrinnypSo a friend has called you over to visit his art studio. Are you going because you are both friends? Are you going because you appreciate art? Or are you going on the off chance that he has turned his studio into a classic escape-the-room game? Well, if you're Tesshi-e (and wouldn't it be nice to be Tesshi-e?), it's the latter. Welcome to Escape from the Art Studio and welcome to Weekday Escape!

Escape from the Art StudioWhat would it be like to actually live in Tesshi-e's world? Seriously, a world in which everyone you encounter, friends, relatives, co-workers, bosses, even complete strangers do nothing but modify places so that they are a tricky puzzle to figure your way out of (not like in real life, as these things would probably involve charges being filed). How cool would that be? Or how inconvenient, depending on your tolerance for exploring and puzzle solving.

As always navigation is by bars at the sides and bottom of the screen, and the controls are handy and include a mute button and a save button. The scenery is, of course, gorgeous and definitely makes you want to slow down and take your time while exploring this amusing little space. Everything looks so realistic you could almost be there. Well, almost, because frankly no art studio that ever existed could be this neat, tidy, and organized. Trust me, I went to art school.

Escape from the Art Studio has a nicely balanced mix of exploration, puzzles, and use of found objects. Even better, the puzzles have become more unique for a Tesshi-e escape, especially the little robots with the moving arms. These escapes continue to evolve, rarely falling back on cliché d, "I've seen this before" puzzles. That is one of the reasons that Tesshi-e escapes are so entertaining.

Has Tesshi-e found that changing cursor? Well, no, not yet. But with such an uncluttered space (seriously unrealistic for an art studio), there's not a lot of pixel hunting to be found. Some use of combined objects, but no construction. Of course everything is made so much easier with the new English translations. And yes, Virginia, there is a happy coin escape as well.

Escape from the Art Studio isn't in Neutral's league, but it is an amusing and fun little romp through room escaping funland. Something to awaken your escaping spirits and beguile your little gray cells as you wander around to the rhythm of a very familiar tune. That's the wonder of Tesshi-e escapes; they keep getting better and better! Start your engines, guys, it's time for your mid-week break.

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