January 2011 Archives


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Rating: 4.3/5 (60 votes)
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DoraPerfect Balance 3: Last TrialsIt seems like only yesterday I was praising physics puzzle phenom Ttursas for being sensitive to those of us who are, shall we say, less than steady on our feet. (In fact, it was last Wednesday.) Well, now we see things as they really are! Perfect Balance 3: Last Trials is here to test and challenge your steady stacking abilities. Well, we'll show them, won't we?! We will balance all these things! We will balance them so hard.

As with other titles in the Perfect Balance series, your goal is to place all the shapes you have on the playing field so that none of them fall off. Click on a shape at the top of the screen, use the [A] and [D] buttons to rotate it, then click again anywhere below the line to place it. Upon balancing all your shapes like the zen master (or mistress!) we know you to be, the game will present you with a row of gems; you can go on to the next level, or you can try and balance some or all of these gems on your field as well, attaining bonuses and ULTIMATE BALANCE if your stack-fu is strong enough.

Of course, it's not all cheery circles and shining triangles; as you progress, you'll encounter obstacles you'll have to work around like bombs, and even blocks that move in certain directions when you place them, or weigh more than others. The faster you stack, the bigger your score for completing the level, but Perfect Balance is (and always has been) one of those games where you'll get the best results if you move slowly and think things through. And you'll need to, since unlike Perfect Balance 2, you cannot skip levels.

Perfect Balance 3: Last TrialsAnalysis: If you're like me, you've probably been in this situation at least once. You know the one; you see someone struggling with a seemingly simple task, and you nudge them aside with a condescending pat on the back to "show them how to do it" and fifteen minutes later you're still fuming over it. That's Perfect Balance in a nutshell; simple in theory, and absolutely devious in execution. With it's clean design and relaxing ommm-inducing ambient soundtrack, you'd never suspect it could be so tricky. Of course, you'll never be quite sure if the game is really that hard or if you're just missing the more obvious solution. There were levels I wasted far too much time on trying to jerry-rig elaborate balance mechanisms before I realised there was a much simpler answer staring me in the face. (Which is, admittedly, the story of my life.)

The balance itself can be rather forgiving, with shapes that you would expect to roll all over the place settling relatively quickly in a precarious spot. The most infuriating aspect will probably wind up being the arrow blocks. The arrow blocks. Flying... taunting! In a way, all these different elements, and the arrows in particular, are what really makes the game feel more like a proper puzzle; you're forced to think and plan rather than just slapping everything down wherever you please and hoping to get lucky.

Perfect Balance 3: Last Trials is at least honest in its name; the difficulty level here might be frustrating to newcomers just looking for a simple, easy-breezy physics puzzle to while away the time. In that sense, it might have been nice to see the ability to skip levels back, even if it was still limited; most people generally have some sort of frustration threshold that directly relates to how many times they are willing to try something before they give up on it for good. Still, if you have the patience and a keen eye for shapes, this may be the tricky puzzle you've been waiting for to dig right in and really get your hands dirty. It's proof positive that even the simplest of concepts can prove a challenge if you package it smartly enough.

Play Perfect Balance 3: Last Trials


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Rating: 3.9/5 (245 votes)
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ChiktionaryThe Three ThievesSometimes a point-and-click game emerges that has so much to like about it; artistic backgrounds, unusual personalities and a nice, albeit quirky, little story. Welcome to The Three Thieves, a curious and fun game from 2DPlay. Set in Paris, in the year 1892, help three almost intrepid thieves to escape their various predicaments, encountering some amusing Parisian characters along the way.

Use your mouse to locate and sometimes combine objects, interact with the environment, activate the thieves' unusual powers and click through the dialogue. There is quite a lot of conversation and banter that occurs between the three thieves, and although it's tempting to click through it the dialogue actually adds to the charm and the humor of the game. The game itself is not overly challenging, with only the ocassional pixel-hunting moment, but there's the relieving presence of a changing cursor to alleviate any minor frustration. There may be the presence of a slight glitch or two, but they're not game-breaking. I've played The Three Thieves quite a few times, and any glitches occurred only rarely.

2DPlay have definitely created a unique game in The Three Thieves. The artwork is superb, with detailed backgrounds and fantastic animations. The story is simple, but enriched and enlivened by the characters who are proud of their unique abilities, yet curiously humble which makes them somewhat endearing. The gameplay is not completely flawless, but any minor imperfections are easily overlooked by the quality of the presentation and the quirky humour of the dialogue and animations.

The Three Thieves may not to be to everyone's tastes, but then neither are snails, no matter how much garlic butter they're smothered in. But to overlook this charming game is to deny yourself a moment or ten of some engaging gameplay. As Marcel Marceau once famously said, "......"

... um... let's play, shall we?

Play The Three Thieves


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Rating: 4.7/5 (277 votes)
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Grow Cannon

SteveRise and shine, it's a brand new day! Did you sleep well last night? You've got to resist the urge to hit that snooze button, or worse, smash your alarm clock with a hammer, or else we'll have no choice but to bring in... The Cannon. Just released from On at Eyezmaze, a new and very different kind of GROW game. In Grow Cannon, you've got to fire your cannon to hit all the right spots in the right order to wake the snooze-abuser.

Best of Casual Gameplay 2011In most of the previous games in the GROW series, you've been given a series of items that can only be used once per game to try to level up all the objects in the right order. Here, you're only given a cannon and ten cannonballs, but you have seven locations to aim at. Move your mouse to the left or right edge of the screen to survey the terrain, then use the cannon strength indicator at the bottom of the screen to finalize your aim. Click on the indicator to fire away, and watch the result!

The goal, as usual, is to find the correct sequence of choices to increase all of the elements on the playing field to their maximum level. Keep in mind that with more cannonballs than locations to fire at, you'll have to hit some areas multiple times. After you've fired your ten shots, all your hard work will be put to the test as everything you've developed tries to awaken the sleeping man. If you can knock out his 1000 health points (sleep points?), you've won the game, and alarm clock justice has been served! But with ten balls to hit seven locations in the proper order, we figure there are probably 282,475,249 combinations to try. Can you find the right one?

On delivers once again with another logic puzzle that brings together charming animations, a slew of familiar characters, and a devious task to wrap it all together. If you're a fan of the GROW series, you're in for a treat, and even if you're new to the experience, there's never been a better time to tackle a fresh puzzle from a very talented creator. So, line up your shot, and fire away!

Play Grow Cannon

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


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Mobile Monday

JohnBHey there Android gamers! Miss me? Well fear no more, as I, the Android Game Finding Android have returned with more games for the mobile scene! The Marketplace has enjoyed a healthy surge of content in the last month or so, and I have poked and prodded my robotic nose through those releases to find the best of the best so I can share them with you. Now, since I'm sharing something, will you share that ice cream sandwich with me?

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

spaghettimarshmallows.jpgSpaghetti and Marshmallows - While it may not be a culinary fad anytime soon, Spaghetti and Marshmallows makes an excellent free-form physics game! The goal is to build a relatively stable structure out of uncooked spaghetti sticks and bits of marshmallows. Swipe to create the sticks, then tap to stick a fluffy marshmallow on the end, attaching other pieces of spaghetti to the gooey bits. Reach high enough to support marshmallows in the marked circles and you'll get to continue to the next stage. Much more difficult than it sounds, and much more entertaining than it should be allowed to be! The free version of Spaghetti Marshmallows is available by scanning the QR code to the right.

genetics.jpgGenetics - A new take on the "mix a bunch of elements together to make new things" genre that's been gradually taking hold since Doodle God appeared on the scene. Instead of putting fire and water together, here you're making new animal species by analyzing "genes" present in individual icons. For example, you can make a scorpion by mixing a rat (which has a tail) and an ant (which is an arthropod). It's a little more abstract than base elements, and the interface could use some work, but once you get the hang of it, you're in for 256 unique species and a whole lot of surprises.

atomicbomber.jpgAtomic Bomber - Here's a simple idea: bomb the bad guys driving around below, destroy their buildings, and get a powerful weapon as a prize. Your plane flies around in the sky, wrapping around the sides of the screen and automatically turning down when it reaches the top. Tap the screen to change directions, and tap the bomb icon to fire away. Bombs arc using natural physics, so you have to aim based on where your enemies will be when the bomb hits as well as your direction in the skies. Surprisingly tactical in nature, and the weapon upgrades are a... "blast"... to use. The free version of Atomic Bomber is available via the right side QR code.

NOTE: Games listed may not be available outside of North America. Prices are subject to change and are therefore unlisted. Please see the individual game pages for purchasing info. Games have been confirmed to run on Android 2.2 on an HTC Incredible.


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A.R.E.S.: Extinction Agenda

JohnBA.R.E.S.: Extinction Agenda is a new platform shooter from Extend Studio that's heavy on the fantastic sci-fi art as well as the action. Its gameplay is reminiscent of classic sidescrolling arcade shooters mixed with a little modern-knowhow and Metroidvania-style level design and progression. While it may feel old school in concept, the game is anything but outdated, and the heavy dose of action and exploration you'll receive will keep you in a trance for many hours.

A.R.E.S.: Extinction AgendaIn the late 21st century, pollution threatens to render the Earth uninhabitable. Scientists band together to form United Earth, an organization whose sole purpose is to save the planet. Eventually, a Deep Space Reprocessing ship was created that could stockpile and re-purpose waste to essentially recycle everything on the planet. But when a strange crystalline structure hits the DSR, the atmosphere is tainted with gas and the robots begin to malfunction. Now, mankind's only hope is a new combat robot built with an immunity to the toxic gas who must enter the ship, fight off infected robots, and rescue the human survivors.

As Ares, you've got a robotic boatload of abilities at your disposal, and it seems like you unlock something new every other level. The basic jump and shoot are present, of course, but you can also double jump and roll with ease. Your gun fires in any direction you point, allowing you to stay on the move while fending off robotic menaces. You can even fashion and toss grenades and unleash a screen-clearing energy blast, which is no subtle effect, mind you. It's worth noting that A.R.E.S. plays well with a keyboard and mouse setup, but if you've got a dual analog controller available (or, as the game was obviously designed for, an Xbox 360 controller), you'll be in real action-gaming heaven.

At the heart of what makes A.R.E.S. so intriguing is its deep menu system, specifically the recycling menu. Each time you defeat an enemy, it drops a handful of scraps on the ground. Collect these multi-colored bits and head over to the recycling menu and you can craft them into useful items such as grenades or health packs. This constant collect-recycle-collect loop works almost like experience points, encouraging you to clear every enemy out of every corner of every single level so you can reap the rewards.

Level design in A.R.E.S. is also worth a big mention. While the game plays out in a linear fashion, the path you take is anything but set. There are multiple doors, branching corridors, secret areas to roll into, things to destroy, and more. Plenty of items are waiting to be discovered, all you have to do is be adventurous enough to take the doors less-traveled and hunt them down.

A.R.E.S.: Extinction AgendaAnalysis: It's a bit surprising to see a game this ambitious, this soaked in atmosphere, and this good-looking from a brand new indie developer. Extend Studio has outdone itself with A.R.E.S.: Extinction Agenda, the first in a planned series of adventures that will flesh out the already well-written storyline. Let your eyes soak in the wonderous beauty that is an arcade-style sci-fi action game with plenty of big explosions and colorful special effects!

Inexperienced action gamers beware: A.R.E.S. is no walk in the park. Even in the first few chapters you'll run into a difficult moment or two. Boss battles, mini-bosses, and the infamous "room where the doors seal and enemies stream out of somewhere until you defeat them all and the doors open" traps will keep your health from staying topped up at all times. Avoiding damage is as important (if not more) as doling it out yourself, so play defensively and carry a big stick.

The artwork in A.R.E.S. is something to behold, it really isn't possible to say this enough. Screenshots don't do the experience justice, you really have to see it in motion to understand why it's so great. The game's environments are rendered in 3D even though the game takes place on a 2D plane, and the attention to depth and detail are stunning. Motion of both the enemies and Ares is fluid and warm. Explosions are crisp, clear, and almost anime-like in design. Sometimes you'll unleash a special ability just to see what it looks like again!

The artwork is amazing, the gameplay is frantic and enjoyable, and your interest in playing only gets stronger as the game goes along. Gamers who have been around the block a few times won't find anything groundbreaking, but the sum of A.R.E.S.'s parts are worth far more than the whole. This is a game you won't regret playing!

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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Kaptain Brawe

JohnBBrawe is back! Not long after the first episode of Kaptain Brawe: A Brawe New World was released, Episode II of the retro-styled adventure series hit and picked up where the original left off. It's more pointing and clicking, more humor, more epic red beards, and more smart puzzles, all for you, starving adventure game fan!

Kaptain Brawe: Episode IIKaptain Brawe: A Brawe New World - Episode II is, in addition to being a fine modern-day revival of a classic adventure game, a game with a mouthful of a title. You take on the role of Kaptain Brawe (and a few others), a space-loving police officer who, in Episode I, got into a little trouble. According to him, he followed every rule and regulation in the book as he rampantly destroyed a planet and stole a walking stick from an old man. According to everyone else, the man is off his rocker. So, to keep our hero in line, a watcher is assigned to keep track of him throughout the adventure. Not fun.

You'll spend much of your time playing other characters in this episode, but each one controls with the mouse in a manner any gamer will be familiar with. Slide the cursor around to interact with objects, to walk, and to speak with characters. Right clicking calls up your inventory, and you can use, inspect, or combine items from this handy little menu. Depending on which mode you choose at the beginning (casual or hard), the cursor will change depending on which action is best suited for an object.

And the rest of the game? It's difficult to discuss details without laying on the spoilers. Just know that this episode has more quests, conspiracies, plot twists and general wackiness than the first, and the continuation is so seamless, you won't be able to bat an eye in-between.

Analysis: What can you expect from Kaptain Brawe: Episode II? More of exactly what you had in Episode I, which is a good thing. Spectacular hand-drawn artwork is the most noticeable boon, but then the smart writing comes into play, introducing the game's subtle humor that will remind more than one gamer of the Monkey Island series. After that, the point-and-click gameplay takes control, allowing you to experience tons of dialogue and solve puzzles that are just to the left of completely logical. There's a good level of challenge to be had in this game.

Kaptain Brawe: Episode IISetting Kaptian Brawe apart from the glut of other adventure games is its choice of modes available from the beginning: casual or hard. Casual is designed to give you an easier time, providing more cursor-based hints and less dialogue, while hard mode is for adventure gamers who are accustomed to the rigmarole the genre tends to offer. Choose either one you like, the game is great either way.

Have you played the first episode of Kaptain Brawe? You really should before you dive into this one. In fact, some online shops sell the series as one download. Sure, it's technically possible to play Episode II without touching the first, but then you'd miss out on all the cool in-jokes and references, and you don't want to be one of those people, do you?

Kaptain Brawe: A Brawe New World - Episode II is a fine conclusion to the episodic series that never stalls, never stutters, and always provides a good, smirk-inducing puzzle-solving time.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


(18 votes) *Average rating will show after 20 votes
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Mishap 2: An Intentional Haunting

joyeSequels should do everything bigger, better, and louder than the original. A good way to up the stakes is to take the kind of conflicts that drove the plot of the first game and make them more personal and more urgent. Mishap: An Accidental Haunting, as the title suggests, was about a couple who simply didn't do their real estate research thoroughly and got swept up into a ghost-capturing adventure. It was a rollicking game that did pretty much everything right, and it won the Best Hidden Object Game of 2009 award from your favorite game review website! This time, the haunting isn't an accident, but the kidnapping of Hobblepop's ghostly wife Ellen by anagrammed villain Nailliv that throws the plot into motion. You won't be disappointed with Mishap 2: An Intentional Haunting. Now, the hidden object fun goes to eleven!

Mishap 2: An Intentional HauntingLike its predecessor, Mishap 2 doesn't take itself or its genre too seriously. There is a little bit of hand-waving about collecting objects that the spirits interacted with, but let's face it. The game knows why you're here. You know why you're here. Do we have to make excuses with each other? Can't we just enjoy 32 gorgeously detailed hidden object scenes, with every object lovingly rendered, and every scene featuring several fascinating moving parts? Seriously, I feel sorry for you if all you ever see of this game are the screenshots. The playful details of a Japanese paper lantern that periodically sticks its tongue out at you, or a gruesomely whimsical toy soldier marching in place with a very, very large knife have to be seen in their full motion glory to be appreciated.

You pick up objects by clicking on them. Some objects will be collected by Hobblepop and turned into a weird gadget that will be used as part of the chapter ending minigame. Other objects will be incorporated into a riddle, specifically a rebus, which the player must solve. If you're playing in scary mode, misclicks may be punished with a sudden, screen-filling shock. (An untimed mode that doesn't penalize for misclicks is also available.) Each chapter has one major, powerful ghost that must be appeased, but you'll also pick up five other, lesser ghosts per chapter. You can peruse their stories at your leisure, along with a diary from the villain eventually.

Mishap 2: An Intentional HauntingAnalysis: The ghosts from the last game make some cameo appearances here assisting Hobblepop, and the Burtons are apparently getting the hang of this ghost-chasing thing because they're both along as well. Mishap 2 keeps the same high, if hokey, writing and voice-acting standards as its predecessor. It's a bit of a puzzlement why the frenzied Norseman has a completely over-the-top Scottish accent, but some mysteries are for the ages, I guess.

If you didn't play the first game, while the sequel does a good job at explaining how to play, you may be a little in the dark about who exactly these people are. I don't know why the game didn't include a character guide or perhaps a little recap for the newbies in the audience, but hey, you could always go and play the the first game, if you missed it before. Anyone who enjoys one will enjoy the other, so there's really no reason not to play both.

The game is not scary per se, but it is macabre even in its cartoonish whimsy. Almost all of the ghosts met Looney Tunes-style demises, and their ghosts frequently bear traces of this, such as a permanent hoofprint in the face. The misclick jump scares can be a little startling even when you're used to them, as they seem to occur at random (that is, it isn't "misclick five times, get a jump scare"; you can misclick a dozen times and not get one, and then misclick once and get one). The final mini-game is a surgery game, and while it's not bloody, the patient literally has both arms off and little bones poking out, which was enough to get me a little squeamish. The game might be a little intense for kids who haven't quite mastered fantasy/reality differences, but should be fine for other audiences, even those who normally choose to avoid horror games.

The mini-games are a little more imaginative this time out, but they can drag a little since most of them are five rounds. All the mini-games can be skipped, but you must play at least one round to do so.The instructions tend to be wall-of-text infodumps, which can be a lot to absorb all at once.

This is certainly the best hidden object I've played this year. I know that we aren't even out of January, so that may sound like condemning with faint praise, but I have a hunch that even if you catch me in December, I'll be singing the same song. This will definitely be in the running for Best of 2011. Let's just hope that Mishap 3 takes it up to twelve!

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

JohnBBaby barbarians, guns with serious kickback, and a little guy who can travel between dimensions as easily as we eat pancakes. That can only mean one thing: somebody switched out my Flintstone vitamins with an off-brand replacement!!!

dimensionjump.gifDimension Jump (Windows, 8.8MB, free) - A crazy, crazy, crazy puzzle platform game that makes use of just about every trick platform games have learned in the past 20 years. The main mechanic of the game is the ability to switch dimensions at the press of a key. Some obstacles will be moved in the opposite world, allowing you to jump and transport in mid-air. It's a bit mind-bending at first, but you get used to it. Add to that gravity flips, teleporting through walls, moving bits of lava, and loads of other traps, and you've got a great deal of things to worry about. A ton of content to dig through, and the puzzles very quickly become extra challenging. A free game you won't want to miss.

tinybarbarian.gifTiny Barbarian (Windows, 5MB, free) - Inspired by The Frost Giant's Daughter by R.E. Howard, this short platformer stars the titular tiny barbarian who's on a gentle stroll through the snow. Suddenly a flying creature appears and awakens a host of enemies, all of whom seem to be out to destroy the barbarian. Using little more than your sword, climb through the levels as you hunt for the source of the peril. A very simply-executed game with nary a frill in sight, but it's satisfying nonetheless!

ammoroar.gifAmmo Roar (Windows, 9.94MB, free) - A mixture of arcade and shooter genres, Ammo Roar is similar to Super Crate Box in design, but different in a few key areas. Enemies spawn out of holes in the wall, and, naturally, you need to shoot them. The problem is, you can't walk. The solution is, firing your gun pushes you in the opposite direction. This leads to a whole lot of problems once defending yourself knocks you into another enemy's face. It isn't an easy game, and it's often frustrating, but it's well-made and manages to be the "fun" kind of chaotic.

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 4.3/5
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Rating: 4.3/5 (30 votes)
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Jack of All Tribes

JohnBFrom Divo Games, creator of Sea Journey and the Be Rich! series, come a time management/simulation game that will really sweep you off your sandals. Jack of All Tribes is a bit like Virtual Villagers meets Totem Tribe while they're having a party at Build-a-Lot's house. You take on the role of Jack, unwitting chief of a tribe, and help the various prehistoric peoples get along better while you spruce up their villages. It's a very well-built game that hits that "one more level" mark perfectly, and you won't be able to put it down until the end.

Jack of All TribesJack finds himself dumped into a prehistoric village after a rollercoaster ride goes a bit differently than planned. The people here think Jack is the stranger foretold in legends who will bring peace back to the land. To fulfill this legend, you'll travel across the continent, helping neighboring villages in trouble and doing your darndest to keep everyone busy and content.

A few simple resources, a few level goals, and a couple of buildings are your only concerns in this game, freeing your attention up to concentrate on the fast-paced gameplay. Each level has two or three objectives you'll need to complete before you can move on. Tasks range from building a certain number of huts to gathering resources such as gold, food or wood, and upgrading structures to a certain level. Some buildings generate wood and food on their own (provided you assigned a worker or two), while huts add villagers and provide a bit of steady income.

At the root of Jack of All Tribes' gameplay is keeping villagers happy. Happy villagers are better workers, so your top priority is always to take care of their needs. Fortunately these people aren't too demanding, asking only for food once in a while, a light cocktail, and maybe a dip in the hot springs. Watch your workers and schedule a break when they need one!

Special events play a big role in Jack of All Tribes, and it seems like every level has at least one or two surprises. The best of these are strange areas you'll have to explore, such as the "iron bird" you have to investigate in order to remove items that shouldn't be in this ancient land via hidden object scene. Helping visitors and exploring these areas costs gold, so make sure you keep the villager work queue well-stocked!

Jack of All TribesAnalysis: Ready for a surprise awesome game? Jack of All Tribes will probably catch you off guard with how addictive it is. The gameplay is stripped down to just a few basics, focusing on moderately fast-paced action instead of heavy resource management. What this gives to us lucky players is a streamlined experience that requires just the right amount of quick reflexes and thinking, and there are plenty of surprises and bonuses to keep you intrigued as to what's around the next bend on the map.

Trophies and bonus items aren't a necessary part of Jack of All Tribes, but man are they fun to collect. Most of them will be found via natural gameplay, such as getting a trophy for cutting down a certain number of trees. The items are found at semi-regular intervals and give your crew small boosts in performance, allowing them to walk faster or get a burst of speed after taking a meal. And when time matters as much as it does in this game, little things like that really help!

Jack of All Tribes has around 40 levels to play through, which is worth several hours of solid entertainment. You can strive for perfection in each stage by completing the tasks before the timer runs out, but other than that, the game ends before you really want it to. The length feels right, however, but when a game pulls you in as efficiently as this one does, no amount of time seems to be enough!

A brilliantly-concocted mix of time management and simulation genres, Jack of All Tribes will keep you pleasantly busy and entertained with its feature-rich gameplay, plentiful bonus bits, and gorgeous visuals.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


  • Currently 4.5/5
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Rating: 4.5/5 (47 votes)
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TrickyThe Santa Claw[Please note that an account is required to play. You can use Twitter, Facebook, or just sign up fast and free with your e-mail address.]

Good evening, and welcome to JiGNews 5's ongoing coverage of webtoy The Santa Claw. I'm your anchor, Tricky.

It's a story as old as "X-Mas" itself. Once the Twelve Days are over, all the unwanted gifts are forced out of Santa's workshop and into bargain bins world-wide. However even they have met a brighter fate than the merchandise which is the topic of tonight's top story. For these remaindered gifts are trapped in plastic balls, confined within a clear plastic cage. But thanks to the fine folk at the Real Art Design Group, people around the world have a chance to mechanically assist in freeing these brave commerce spheres. It will truly be an inspiration to our ratings.

Senior JiGNews 5 Claw Machine Correspondent Chiktionary is on site and in line, awaiting her turn. Chiktionary, what is the atmosphere like out there?

Chiktionary"Hi Tricky, Yes and Good Evening! Chiktionary here reporting live from the Real Art Design Group site of The Santa Claw.

The atmosphere here is electric and the excitement almost palpable. I've been here waiting in line with close to 500 other people and it's now just a little under 3 hours until I take my chance on The Santa Claw. We're watching live as each competitor takes their turn hoping to take home something special, and in just the last few minutes we've seen some awesome prize-winning happening. A large pink ball has been won by one lucky player. And believe it or not, a large blue ball has gone to another lucky contender! There are no losers here tonight Tricky, I can tell you! It's a great carnival atmosphere, and around me people are represented by a multitude of avatars, including pickles, baubles, cacti and penguins.

So Viewers, if you live anywhere in the general vicinity of The Internet, you too can come on down, any time, and take a chance on the Claw. You never know what you might win, even if it means losing your dignity in the process. I'll be back very soon with another update."

TrickyThank You, C. For those of you now turning in, we're discussing The Santa Claw, a claw crane machine played for free online. Let me tell you, the day you're not thrilled to manipulate a mechanical claw over the internet is the day that you're not thrilled with life... Wait, it seems that we have a development down at the scene. Chiktionary, Tell us what's happening.

Chiktionary"Yes, this is exciting stuff! Just moments ago a man in a floppy, yes that's right, floppy, hat entered the booth and is adding more prizes to the already enormous pile! And as we speak he has just generously placed a prize in the claw for some lucky player! It's all happening here at The Santa Claw!

Otherwise, Tricky, it looks like the thrill is getting to most people here, their eyes are glazed over with anticipation, and speech seems to be lost to most.Next update will be a live commentary while your loyal JiGNews representative takes her turn at The Santa Claw"

TrickyAll right C., I'm contractually obligated to say that I'll be waiting with bated breath. As for you at home, stay tuned to JiGNews 5 for all up to the minute coverage.

The Santa ClawAnalysis: ...Tricky here with a JiGNews 5 late breaking announcement. It seems that Chiktionary has indeed made her way to the front of the line. Let's go down to her now.

Chiktionary"Well Tricky, it's been 7 corn-dogs and a giant cola slurped since my last update and I can now see the giant Santa Claw booth from where I'm standing, and it's immense, to say the least. The whole area has been cordoned off with thick red ribbons, as I make my way into the booth.

Okay in front of me I have controls looking suspiciously like [arrow] keys, so I can move the claw up, down, left and right. There's also a button marked Grab. I've got two views, one from inside the claw looking down into the booth, which will help me aim for something in particular. The other view is from the side looking into the massive pile of gifts just waiting to be won. Oh Schnitzel! I've only got about a minute to do this!

Now I'm scoping the prizes using my arrow keys, and I can see it! I want that skateboard! Okay I'm directly over it now, so using my mouse I click the Grab button, a siren is sounding... The claw is now moving down to the skateboard... c'mon...c'mon...c'mon... it's now lifting back up, the skateboard appears to be in the grip of the claw... OH NOOO!!! SO CLOSE!!!!

Sorry Folks, no skateboard for the JiGNews team tonight. Let's hope it finds a home very soon. But I have to say it's been worth the wait. Playing an online claw game live has been an amazing experience and one I'll never forget. Back to you to wrap it up Tricky. I'm heading to the end of the line..."

TrickyWell, it may require registration, the line may be long, and the chances of victory are the same as its real life counterpart, but The Santa Claw is not to be missed. The developers have confirmed that it shall be up indefinitely, and while there have been issues with the observation cams, the actual gameplay cams are solid. So from all of us at JiGNews 5: Good night world, and play nice!

Play The Santa Claw


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Link Dump Fridays

DoraFIRST! There, now nobody else can have it. On to more important things, like this week's Link Dump Friday! While searching through the internet (which requires safety gear like Ed Harris' diving set-up in The Abyss) I came across some pixels, a magical fly, a know-it-all-genie, some robots, and then I crammed in some fine art on top of it because I thought your horizons could do with some broadening. Enjoy!

  • AkinatorAkinator - I'm thinking of a super villain between one and a billion! Who is it? Well, if you were Akinator, the Web Genius, you'd just have to ask me a few questions and you'd figure it out. This simple little webtoy has you think of any person, living, dead, or fictional, and if you're honest in your responses to his yes/no/maybe/partially/dunno questions, there's a good chance he'll know who you're thinking about. (Though not always.) What's most impressive is that there are times when Akinator appears to guess your person based on a relatively benign set of questions. (Akinator somehow arrived correctly at Donna Noble by asking if she'd been to space, then if she was a gangster rapper. I wish!) Is he looking into your mind? Probably not. (Too dark in there to see much anyway.) But it's still a lot of fun.
  • Wolfenstein 1DWolfenstein 1D - Quiet possibly the demake-est of the demakes, this one-pixel line "recreation" of classic Wolfenstein is a clever experiment that's more than a little hard on the old ocular orbs. I, uh. Never played Wolfenstein, so I don't really have much to say about this one, other than "PYEW PYEW ARGH", which is a fairly accurate representation of the gameplay. I was going to ponder how much further you can actually demake something until I realised that by not creating a demake of, say, Earthbound, I have actually created the greatest demake of all time. Or would I have ro make it... then un-make it? Hmmm. That makes sense. Trust me.
  • Robot ClashesRobot Clashes - Robots, robots, everywhere, and not a drop to drink! That... is how that goes, right? Hmmm. Better check in with fellow word aficionado AdamC; "Robot Clashes is a stylish real time strategy game that pits your robot army against waves of enemy robots. Use the [mouse] to navigate the battle screen, where robot after robot is spawned from your base every seven seconds or so, and lead your robots into almost certain death on the right side of the screen. The game tasks you with upgrading your robots via crates that can be spawned after a given amount of time."... well, that's almost what I said.
  • Microcosmic ShooterMicrocosmic Shooter - Part shooter, part point-and-click adventure, this queer little hybrid tells the story of a boy who goes through something we've all had happen to us from time to time... namely, he gets shrunk by a magical mosquito fly thing in his bathroom and must battle and puzzle his way to safety using his wits and perfume. It's definitely unique, though hampered by the lack of checkpoints or a save function and some fairly liberal attention being drawn to hotspots. Still, ridiculously cute, and fair warning for you the next time you find yourself shrunk by an insect. It's bound to happen sooner or later. Don't be ashamed; everyone goes through it.
  • Riddles of RenaissanceRiddles of Renaissance - [Note: Contains some nudity and depictions of violence.] Ah, the Renaissance! A time when supple hips and the knowledge of how to braise an entire pig were all you needed to be immortalised in some really classy fine art, as long as you had your own flowy robes to drape yourself in. This puzzle game shows you pictures of classic artwork and asks you to find and click on the portion of the image that corresponds to the riddle you're given. Fairly simple, if occasionally a little perplexing. I miss the Renaissance. Back then, art was just beautiful. These days, you can't even argue on someone putting a used Egg McMuffin wrapper under a spotlight and calling it art because someone is going to be moved to tears by the symbolism or whatever. Kids today.

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Rating: 4.1/5 (82 votes)
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DoraGoblin War MachineBig Block Games gives rise to a whole new kind of carnage in the physics-based action game Goblin War Machine, a snarky, silly little rampage that puts you in control of a group of goblins who have had quite enough of human superiority and decide to do something about it. "Something" being, of course, building a massive, destructive machine out of spare parts and rolling through the countryside with it, crushing entire armies and villagers beneath its wheels as the populace shrieks and flees in terror. Haha, yes! YES! How do you like me now, human scum?! HOW DO YOU LIKE ME NOW??

Control your war machine with the [WASD] or [arrow] keys, and aim and shoot your "shooty thing" with the mouse. ([F] flips your vehicle rightside up if you tip over, and [R] reloads the level.) Your goal is simply to roll from one end of the stage to the other, causing as much damage to the surroundings and its population as possible, while sustaining as few casualties of your own as you can. Earn points and skulls to spend on upgrades between stages, like the much sought after "big shooty thing". You won't encounter much resistance initially, but as levels progress, humans will start bringing out more and more obstacles, beginning with simple spear throwers and advancing to more elaborate forms of defense. Be careful; you're not indestructible. Each hit you sustain from an enemy kills one of the goblins running the machine; you can see how many are left by the little icons at the bottom of the screen. When the last goblin is taken out, your machine won't have anyone to handle it, and it'll simply fall to pieces.

As endearingly snarky as the whole experience is, wrapped up in a nice shadowy aesthetic, it isn't without its issues. The physics can be frustrating to the point where manually righting yourself after a flip is nearly impossible compared to how easily the terrain will tip you over if you're not careful. Enemy AI isn't particularly clever, often allowing you to hang back and pick soldiers off at a distance without reaction, or getting safely stuck behind indestructible debris where they can fill you full of holes as you pass. But still, when you're roaring along the landscape after a few upgrades crushing livestock and armies beneath your wheels while you blast towers to smithereens and send the royalty hurtling through the air, it's hard not to have a good time and let out a maniacal cackle or two. Maybe the next time you thrash a weak little monster you'll think twice about gloating; after all, he might be rounding up five hundred of his closest buddies with engineering degrees to pay your house a little visit.

Play Goblin War Machine


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Rating: 4.7/5 (108 votes)
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Babylon Sticks: The Visitor comic

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


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Rating: 4.1/5 (94 votes)
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soniclover_tealyorangey_screenshot.gifSonicLoverLet me tell a parable
(I swear I won't babble)
Of heroes named Tealy & Orangey;

Their courage profound
Appearances round
Will surely have players roarin' "Gee!"

A platformer, yes,
Was the difficult test
For protagonists orange and blue,

But there was one catch:
Their moves had to match;
When one moved, the other did too!

...What? Okay, fine, I'll just tell you about the game without the rhyming verse. Spoilsport. Maybe I'll post the whole thing in a spoiler tag in the comments later.

As I've said, Tealy & Orangey is a retro platformer with a twist. You use the arrow keys to navigate the two colored protagonists from start to finish in each of twenty hazard-filled levels. The thing is, you can't control just one or the other; you always control both characters, whether you like it or not. If you want just one to move, you'll have to stop the other against a wall.

It won't be a cakewalk, so don't rush right in. You'll see all manner of arrangements of spikes and guns out to kill our two protagonists. They won't even always stay on their own color-coded sides of the game world (which is good, since they're immune to hazards of each other's color).

Analysis: As you may have figured out already, T&O is not an easy game. Exceedingly difficult platformers seem to be all the rage nowadays, but this one adds a new double-dip flavor to it. To be honest, the reason I was asked to review it was because I was the only person on the JIG staff that could beat it.

The presentation is nothing special, with minimal sounds, no music whatsoever, and low-bit graphics. That's because the game's author, Anthony Gowland, wanted the main focus to be on the gameplay.

It's difficult to design puzzles around the two-character gameplay, but Gowland did it. You'll see all manner of ingenious setups designed to scratch heads, which is good when said heads have gone rough from all that banging against the wall at difficult jumps.

I won't keep you longer;
You won't get much stronger,
So go guide our two colored balls;

Use the arrows to move,
Get into the groove,
And make clever use of the walls!

Play Tealy & Orangey


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Rating: 4.1/5 (84 votes)
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AdamCadamc_warningforegone_title.pngDid you play Warning Forever? No? Go ahead and download that jewel, if you want. Give it a play. I'll give you a minute.

Finished? Good. Warning Foregone is a web-based retro arcade shooter developed by Jakub Wasilewski and based heavily on Warning Forever. At first glance, Warning Foregone seems like a simplified, pixelated version of its spiritual predecessor, but I assure you, it stands on its own as a solid game. Using the [arrow] keys, you pilot a small, pixelated ship through a pixelated world populated by one single burgeoning, ever-strengthening pixelated boss. This one enemy ship will start off small (the "Pure Heart") with only four small cannons. Destroy it by shooting its core and a new ship will appear, replete with upgrades. But that's not all. Depending on which areas you target, the boss will add cannons, lasers, and turrets to different parts of the ship, enhancing itself in an attempt to bring your meager little ship down. You start with 80 seconds on the clock; destroying a boss will net you 20 seconds while getting destroyed in turn will lose you 20. Destroy enough bosses to see one of three end-game boss types... good luck trying to discover all of them!

Analysis: So you understand the concept, but want to know just how good the boss evolution is. I will now describe my thought process upon initial and subsequent playthroughs of Warning Foregone. Ahem.

Warning Foregone goes out on the JIG listserv. I play it once. I get a few bosses in and die. I respond with an email including this line: "How many play tactics can you have when you're limited to just shooting the thing from the front, back, or sides?" Realizing I have essentially volunteered myself to review the game, I decide to play it again. This time, I try to destroy the cannons in a different order. By the third iteration, the boss is completely different and significantly more challenging than my first run. Immediately I grasp the concept of "replay value" and vow never again to judge a game on one play.

adamc_warningforegone_title.pngSo there you have it. Warning Foregone has a few advantages over Warning Forever. The bosses' evolution is more immediately evident in the former, though players may miss the enormous, screen-hogging bosses from the latter. Warning Foregone also features several upgrades to your ship's cannon that present themselves in a unique way: only one is available to you to begin with, and you must unlock the rest through achievements. Of course, Warning Foregone is not without its faults. For one, I found both available aiming schemes to be clumsy. One auto-targets the boss's "eye" every time you stop firing, which can be frustrating; the other aims in the opposite direction the ship is moving when you are not firing, which I just couldn't get the hang of. And while I consider myself a seasoned gamer, the frustrating aiming mechanics combined with wave after wave of increasingly tricky bosses make for a difficult, if satisfying, game.

Warning Foregone is an addictive little shooter, as these types tend to be. In my opinion, the "intelligent evolution" mechanic, while sparking plenty of debate in quads on liberal arts campuses nationwide, is also a somewhat underused and underdeveloped one in casual gaming. This is of course due to technological limitations, but games like Warning Foregone demonstrate a push for gameplay that tailors to the player's abilities while simultaneously challenging us with difficult evolutionary concepts. Who is this boss? What is my motivation? Am I destroying that which is learning? Maybe that's digging in a little deep. If you think so, you clearly don't have a liberal arts degree like me, and as such, congratulations on having a career! Why not use Warning Foregone to unwind?

Play Warning Foregone


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Rating: 4.1/5 (54 votes)
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DoraImperfect Balance 2I don't know you, but I probably hate you a little. Look at you. Walking around, not randomly faceplanting into things, able to put your pants on while balancing on one leg. Mocking the less balance-ically gifted. Well, no more! Join me, my uncoordinated brothers and sisters! Now it's our time to shine with a game aimed at our particular skillset, Imperfect Balance 2. Ttursas (Jyri Luukkonen and Ville Helin) bring you a sequel to their original spin on their own physics puzzle series. Simply pluck shapes from the top of the screen with the mouse, rotating them with [A] and [D] or the [arrow] keys, and drop them onto the carefully balanced structures below, trying to knock everything off the perch. Certain levels also have special objects like bombs that you can use to get rid of stubborn shapes, or blocks with unique properties to be taken into consideration.

As with the original, Imperfect Balance 2 is still less about wanton destruction and more about thinking how best to use the often unorthodox shapes at your disposal, since dropping them without thought is a good way to end up with a cluttered mess and the score equivalent of a frowny face. It still feels a bit as if you're at the occasionally sullen whims of the physics engine, with shapes sometimes falling in the exact opposite fashion you want them to and blocking their own descent, or even getting stuck between immovable obstacles. Some restrictions also seem strange... glass is fragile, but bombs can't blown it up? But fans of the original and those looking for simple, coffee-break accessible physics puzzle goodness will find it here, along with some genuinely clever level design. So come on... it's time to celebrate the imperfections in life.

Play Imperfect Balance 2


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Rating: 3.8/5 (141 votes)
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Weekday Escape

GrinnypAh, the Orient Express, doesn't that conjure up images of mystery and intrigue? Depending upon your generation it might evoke a long forgotten glamour, a fleeing vampire, a kicking spy fight, or a dastardly murder (quick, name those novels or movies). For over 100 years the Orient Express has meant a certain luxury in train travel, the rich and famous in their fabulous clothes embarking to places exotic and far away. Orient Express Night by Tomatea is a room escape that tries to evoke that glamor and mystery at a time when they were at their height, during the '20s and '30s, when the rich and fabulous still traveled first class, but first class on the most luxurious train running.

Orient Express NightAs the game opens on the first scene in a stateroom you see immediately what set the Orient Express apart. The fabulous wood paneling, the rich appointments, everything screams first class. Hopefully though, unlike in "Murder on the Orient Express" this is not the prelude to finding a body. Maybe. The second thing you'll notice is the roaring '20s jazzy soundtrack, further evoking a long bygone era. Eventually you may even notice that you are locked into said stateroom. Now we're talking! Explore the area and solve some puzzles and you'll make it out into...well, more of the Orient Express. This is not a simple single room scenario we're talking here. More exploration may be involved.

Navigation is simple if a little tricky to get used to at first. Turning right or left will turn you completely around 180 degrees, rather than the usual 90 degree turn. Navigation bars appear at the sides and bottom of the screen as necessary to show where you can go when the cursor is hovered around. Click on items to see them in close up and a simple back bar at the bottom of the screen will return you to your original position. It's all pretty simple and intuitive. The main problem you may encounter with this navigation is the same problem you will probably have with the entire game. It is the bane of the room escapers' existence, the foul and terrible thing that strikes fear in the heart of escapers everywhere! Yes, brace yourself, pixel hunting ahead. The lack of a changing cursor can sometimes mar what is otherwise quite an enjoyable experience.

Other controls are simple and easy to master. Click on an object in your inventory to use it, pretty standard. The game even gives us a nice orange ring around the object to show that it is highlighted, which shows up fantastically against the dark background of the inventory section. Unfortunately, pulling up an item for close up is not so intuitive. When you click on an object in your inventory or even hover the cursor over it a small icon will appear in the upper right of the object. However, this little icon is pretty dark, and fades against that dark inventory background, so you might have to squint to see it. The only other control you might find is a "music" button which is handy for muting the jazz age repeating clip when it becomes annoying, probably about 3 minutes into the game. A save feature would have been nice, but is not included.

That's not to say that there's not a lot of enjoyment to be had with Orient Express Night. There's some fun object finding, some challenging puzzles, and the use of combined objects that you expect from a decent room escape. Add in the atmosphere and the visuals and you have one fun ride, destination Istanbul (or a place more enigmatic).

Play Orient Express Night


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Rating: 4.1/5 (191 votes)
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joyeHalo & PixyPastel Games' latest release walks an adorably cuddly line between the point-and-click and interactive art genres. Using the same kind of squishy cartoony art as their earlier Great Escape series but in a more directly kid-oriented way, the game will certainly not meet your needs if you're looking for a Submachine-esque challenge. But if you're willing to think of this as a cute Flash cartoon that you occasionally help along, or even better, if you've got a little kid to play the game with you, you'll love helping Pixy rescue his tree-stranded kitten in Halo & Pixy.

If you're a veteran point-and-clicker, the controls will be straightforward, but for any bright-eyed kidlets in the audience, you use the mouse to click on various parts of the screen. You can tell that something can be clicked on because it will change from the regular arrow cursor to the hand cursor. Items you pick up will go to your inventory, at the bottom of the screen. You can hover over the objects there to see what they are, and certain objects can be clicked on to examine them. The only object combining in this game will be explicitly asked for by the game with a "combine objects" command. You'll know it when you see it. Most of the time, you use the right objects automatically by clicking on the areas where they would be used.

I'm not a coder, but there doesn't seem to me to be any inherent reason why the game couldn't have had two difficulty modes, "kid" and "general". As is, the game is firmly in the kid camp. The game is entirely linear, and you can't pick up objects until you actually need them. You're also given obvious clues as to what to do next at every step. The only way this game could get any easier is if it employed sparklies or flashing arrows over where you were supposed to click next.

That said, the game clearly is not intended as a challenge to the elite escape addict. If you know that you're going to whine and feel dissatisfied if a game is too easy, just don't play this one. It's really too bad though, because you're going to miss some of Pastel Games' most charming animation yet from artist Kamil Kochanski. I'm not sure how they manage to make little Pixy so expressive when his face is literally nothing but eyes, but his adorable earnestness completely won me over. No, this game won't provide the satisfaction of beating a challenge. But it can provide a totally different kind of mood lift from its childlike sweetness. Go into it with that frame of mind, and you won't be disappointed.

Play Halo & Pixy


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Rating: 3.7/5 (78 votes)
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The BucketArtbegottiIf there's one thing that every well-educated fish learned in school, it was that you should always take care of your raccoons. Just think about it. Raccoons live in perfect symbiosis with fish that carry buckets on ropes and sprout trees from their backs, right? At the very least, that's the logic behind Nitrome's latest feature, The Bucket, which combines a twist of physics with a bit of avoidance action.

Using the mouse to move around, you control a fish carrying a long rope with a bucket attached to it. In each level, you must safely transport the raccoon using your basket to the opposite end of the level. However, the rope connecting your cargo to your carp can flop around and swing in the breeze, so keeping the raccoon on board quickly becomes a challenge. If the raccoon should fall out of the basket, land the basket near him so he can jump back in before he falls too far off the screen, or else it's game over.

To complicate matters further, you've also got to navigate your fish through unfriendly terrain. Waterfalls will slow down all motion, fans will blow the basket (and sometimes the raccoon) out of control, and blocks need to be pushed out of the way or slammed into to move further. Also, an unkind batch of enemies await their opportunity to attack you in different ways. While the fish and the basket can take numerous hits (although they get jarred rather easily), the raccoon can only last for three hits before the round is lost. Add to all of this the screen's tendency to automatically scroll at a rate that speeds up and slows down often when you least want it to, and you've got quite a challenge ahead of you!

The BucketAnalysis: As a piece of advice and as a warning, it should be mentioned up front that this game takes a lot of patience to conquer. At first, you'll be learning what elements in the game you can interact with or move through, or how wind and water and other elements effect your movement. Once you figure that out, there's still the task of learning how to move without dumping the raccoon into a bottomless pit. Slow, careful movements are the key here, as anything wild or jerky could fling the raccoon off the screen, if it even stays in the basket that long. On the plus side, you're given the benefit of checkpoints scattered throughout longer levels, though expect to go through a good number of obstacles before you reach them.

There's another hitch that might aggravate some players; the raccoon is sometimes dumb. Yes, it's hard to control the fish and the basket sometimes, especially when the world is scrolling by so quickly, but if the basket isn't perfectly aligned with the edge of a platform, the raccoon might jump to his death. Or, the raccoon might try to jump into the basket from beneath it, which just results in it bumping its head over and over again. Or, the raccoon might walk off the edge of a cliff to get closer to the basket. If you can get the basket to rest on solid ground for long enough for the raccoon to reach it, you shouldn't have any problems, but the fast pace of the game doesn't always allow for such luxuries.

Ultimately, The Bucket is still great fun once you get the hang of the helium herring. The twenty levels provide plenty of challenges that take a bit of foresight to navigate without risking the raccoon's safety. Each successful rescue is a satisfying experience, as you know you've done your solemn duty as a fish to provide transportation for your four-legged friends.

Play The Bucket

Thanks to Noah for sending this one in!


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The Vault

DoraThis week's Vault, if you'll forgive the indulgence, is about things that I love. I love lots of things. I love shooters and pretzels and every good TV show FOX has ever cancelled over the years. I even love you, dear reader, in a strictly platonic friendly-nod-on-the-subway sort of manner. Naturally, there are also a lot of games on the site here that I love too, and here are just a few.

  • Get the GlassGet the Glass - Let's start things off gently; I love milk. Milk is great; it makes cookies smooshy, and several adult beverages even better. Still, I was somewhat skeptical about a board game revolving around it, which is why this 3D advergame about the stuff and a family of thieves surprised me so much with how good it was. (And still is!) The object is to break into Fort Fridge so you can steal some delicious milk, moving around the board and dealing with the consequences and minigames that pop up with different chance cards, all while evading the police. It's silly, it's beautiful, and it's one of those games you can play over and over again and not even mind that you're being "edumacated" by the Got Milk people in the process.
  • BodiliesBodilies - I also love stories. Roy de Groot, Jeoren Stout, and Mick Moolhuisen joined forces to bring us this intriguingly otherworldly yet familiar point-and-click adventure about a society that gets turned on its head when a man falls from the sky in a rocket ship and challenges their beliefs, winding up jailed as a result. While it was originally intended as the product for a class assignment, Bodilies still manages to be surprisingly engrossing and well done. It's definitely intended for more mature audiences (of the rating-o sort), and the text-heavy story may deal with themes some people may disagree with, it's still extremely well presented and even a little thought-provoking.
  • Tower BloxxTower Bloxx - I love simple, addictive gameplay. Digital Chocolate prove to be as good as their name in providing this big, bright, colourful stacking puzzle game about building a city with decidedly unorthodox and probably unsafe methods. The goal is to drop sections of buildings on top of one another, stacking them as high as you can, and then maximizing the building placement to get the biggest bonus and population. Tower Bloxx is easy to play and such a simple idea, but it's also the type of game that derailed writing this ad for another hour or so when I rediscovered it. There's just something about the gameplay and combination of friendly visuals and sound effects that... I... *click*... *click, click* ... are you still here?!

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: 3.3/5 (52 votes)
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TrickyReflexIONPong and Space Invaders are two of the most beloved old-school arcade games of all time. Ikaruga and Portal both make the short-list of top modern classics. So what do you get when you combine Pong's bouncing, Space Invader's baddies, Ikaruga's polarity shifts, and a decent dose of Portal's plotting? ReflexION by FreeSparkGames. And while it might not be included in the gaming hall of fame like its inspirations are, it's a more than worthy way to pass an afternoon.

As relayed to you by a serious of briefings, a secret government computer has been infected by an virus that's insane, communist, and insanely communist. The only way to restore peace to the system is arcade hybrid action: Viral enemies and bosses will launch bullets, and you must bounce them back at them by controlling your paddle with the mouse or [arrow] keys, using the momentum to aim. What's more, starting in level 3, enemies will start to fire bullets of different colors. You can only reflect the bullets the same color as your paddle, changing your chrome with the [spacebar] (a colorblind mode is available). After each level you can add an upgrade to your paddle: increased paddle strength/speed, bombs launched with the [shift] key, a limited-ammo shooter fired with a mouse click or [Z] key, or a special combo modifier which, when activated with the [ctrl] key, rewards you with temporary unlimited ammo, invincibility or reflection. There are 10 nodes in all to free from the virus's control. The computer is your friend.

While the concept is solid, there is room for improvement. It's a little hard keeping track of which key activates what upgrade, compounded by how, sometimes, they don't seem to work as advertised. The recommended mouse controls can be laggy, making it hard to tell when you are about to leave the playing field: on later levels this can lead to a frustrating game over. Finally, there's no way to pause in the middle of a level, which feels like a strange omission.

The gameplay of ReflexION starts off a little simple, only really evolving beyond a Pong-clone once the color change mechanics are introduced. Then it becomes truly entertaining. This is one of those games that starts off simple but eventually leads to the frenetic fun of managing a hundred things at once. Also worthy of note is the writing: the briefings before each level are easy to skip, but you should really read them. I thought I had finished being amused by the ramblings of increasingly demented AIs, but this one is laugh-out-loud hilarious.

Despite some flaws, the presentation of ReflexION is consistently professional and will pass the time. While not wholly original, a combination of high-quality influences makes for a good time.

Play ReflexION


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Rating: 3.6/5 (88 votes)
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joyeSunny HarmonyGenerally we like to open these reviews by telling you some basic information about the game, you know, like the genre and the plot. Personally, I've always found this part to be the easiest. But Sunny Harmony, an... action game? Yes, let's say action game from SiJaf (Sina Jafarzadeh) with art by Taw Studio, is hard to explain without sounding like you're sitting in a campus cafe, possibly under the influence of something, trying to explain a dream you had. "There's like, this sun, right? And you have these clouds. And it's all cartoony, but not exactly like Looney Tunes stuff, more like something someone drew with crayons, but not like a kid drew it, if that makes sense? And you're trying to keep dark clouds from getting over to the sun, so you pull pieces of the clouds off to make them lighter. And you can throw them at these, like, giant dog heads and flying kangaroos with boxing gloves and they explode into coins. Or sometimes these fish would jump up from the bottom and belch teddy bear heads and skulls at you. I don't know, does that make sense? I guess you had to be there, man. Inside my dream, I mean. It's a crazy place."

What you have to do in the game changes frequently throughout the eight levels, but the one constant is that you're using your mouse only. The game tells you exactly what you're supposed to do for the current section. It's usually some variation on throwing projectiles (click to grab, move for momentum, release button to let go), or some variation of mousing over "good" objects and avoiding touching "bad" objects. Two meters at the bottom of the screen indicate your health and how far along you are in the level. At the top are controls for sound, music and pausing the game. Between levels, you can click on a difficulty cloud to change between easy, medium and hard, and buy more health if you're trying to complete the game all in one go.

Sunny HarmonyAnalysis: Analyzing this game is like analyzing a dream, with probably about the same ratio of deep truths and profound misses. "Hmm, yes, well, I think that the turtles with the cannons on their backs symbolize an awareness that at some level in your subconscious id that it is turtles, all the way, as it were, in a sense, down. Also, your mother."

Game mechanics wise, it took me a little while to get the hang of launching the cloud bits with the kind of speed and precision necessary at the harder difficulties and levels. Users with a trackpad may want to stick to easy. However, once I got into the swing of it, I really enjoyed the hectic pace. This is a game that requires keeping your eye everywhere at once, since the little cloud particles can easily hit a fluffy white cloud turning it dark just as it's about to sail off the right side of the screen. It's a little bit of a time-management-esque adrenaline rush, attempting to kill baddies in one corner, collect bonus items in another part of the screen, and manage the clouds to keep them bright and happy. While the mouse over/avoid sections were a great way to rack up some health, if my health was in good shape already I sometimes felt like they dragged on a little long. Aesthetics-wise, a lifetime of media consumption has trained me to expect sudden grotesque carnage at some point when faced with overt relentless cheer and covert macabre distortion, but it never arrived. Either Sunny Harmony is really putting on its A-game when it comes to messing with my head, or the game is genuinely as blithely upbeat as it seems.

The strongest recommendation I can give to Sunny Harmony is that it has to be played to be believed. Like Doeo or Katamari Damacy, not only is it hard to explain this game, but even your first few minutes of playing it will probably be more "what in the Sam Hill is going on here" than "tra la la what fun". This is probably going to be one of those games with three camps: people who love it, people who hate it, and people who are just plain confused. In fact, the game reminded me a lot of that Monty Python sketch for "Confuse-A-Cat Ltd." Maybe, like that bored suburban kitty, we all need a little sheer randomness in our lives from time to time. You can certainly get your RDA of bizarre here.

Play Sunny Harmony


  • Currently 3.2/5
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Rating: 3.2/5 (39 votes)
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MikeThe DeepPerhaps, dear casual gamer, you've previously had a chance to play Boomshine, a colorful game involving what I call "splodey circles," which turns colorful dots into other splodey circles, which spirals into a chain reaction of many-hued, pyrotechnic eye-candy. Like fireworks, or pinball, Boomshine creates a bright, flashy, stimulating display for the happy player. But also like pinball (at least when I play it), Boomshine and its many imitators don't always foster a sense that the player can do much to control the outcome of the game. You pretty much click on some hopeful spot and watch the pretty reactions unfurl. Improving on the formula is Alexey Perepechko's
The Deep, which serves up the same scintillating experience as Boomshine while giving players a bit more control over the reactions they precipitate.

Each level contains a field of colorful "electrons," slowly floating along a set trajectory. Your job is to start a reaction (the aforementioned "splodey circle") by clicking somewhere on the screen, then gently herding the electrons in the reaction before it expires, perpetuating the explosion of colors until you consume a set number of electrons. This means using the movement of your cursor, which repels electrons for most levels, to push them where you want them to go. Different colored electrons have special effects when they react, some good, some bad, which means you sometimes want to keep certain electrons away from your reactions. Also, while most levels require you to consume a certain number of electrons, others have different goals, such as consuming as few electrons as possible while setting a certain number of reactions.

The simple addition of being able to steer your electrons is a clever enough innovation on the Boomshine concept to make The Deep worth playing, but the developer seems to have realized all the possibilities in his idea and developed it into a great variety of gameplay. The different types of electrons and levels generate many ways to play with the core concept without ever feeling gimmicky or strained. The presentation is top-notch too: The graphics and animations are colorful and atmospheric without being distracting, and the ambient soundtrack really sets the mood, especially the joyful, ethereal theme that kicks in when you complete your goal. With its pretty production and well thought-out gameplay, The Deep is a clever twist on a familiar game that fully maximizes its potential.

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DoraAnother year has come and gone, and while you might be ready for 2011 to rock you like a hurricane, let's not forget the past so soon. Best of Casual Gameplay 2010We happen to think 2010 deserves a bit more than a parting affectionate fist-bump or an awkward promise to keep in touch. That's right, dear reader; it's time for the Best of 2010, where you and others like you with a passion for games, creativity, innovation, and fun come together to vote for the best of the best in every category. From adventure to puzzle to emu breeding, they're all here, and we need your help choosing the winners. I wanted to invite all the developers for a massive last-one-standing cage match, but apparently there were *finger quotes* legal and moral issues.

Vote now! ...and vote every day!

(Please Tweet this and share it on Facebook. Help us to spread the word about all these great games!)

And the categories are... >>


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Mobile Monday

JohnBIt's... time! Time to sell bits and pieces of your time in exchange for blissful entertainment! Time to fill boring train rides, long queues at the post office, and somber evenings when you're supposed to be doing homework with... games! And we've got three games that are what we like to call "fun". Go on, give 'em a try!

imamono.gifiMamonoSweeper - Be afraid. The unbelievably attractive browser game of a similar name name is ready for action on your iPhone. And yes, you'll devote many hours of your life to this portable wonder. Similar to Minesweeper in concept, iMamonoSweeper manages to make the classic game deeper, more rewarding, and more challenging without messing with how the game is played. Tap tiles to uncover spaces, numbers, and monsters. Numbered tiles indicate the sum of the monster levels nearby, not number of monsters, so you can use a bit of logic to narrow down which tiles are occupied by which strength of foe and save your battles for when you're strong enough. Yes, you have to fight the enemies, and yes, there's a bit of RPG to this game. Say goodbye to your precious down time! The free iMamonoSweeper Lite is also available.

plunderland.jpgPlunderland - And now... It's pirateering time! A far-too-entertaining sidescrolling game that drops you in a boat filled with pirates who are out to plunder and siege to their hearts' content. Sail from port to port as you collect money by tossing it in your ship. Take out enemy boats and remove obstacles with the slide of a finger, participate in sea battles, encounter inhabitants, and use your cannon for epic boss fights. There's a lot to do in this unassuming little game, so don't let it slip under your sea radar.

astronut.jpgAstronut - Time to explore the galaxy! Take on the role of an astronaut in this arcade-style game, hopping from spinning planet to spinning planet as you make your way through each level. Time your jumps to land on solid ground, careful to avoid enemies and mindful to hunt down crystals and heart refills. Nab guardian orbs to protect you against baddies, and slap that boost button to charge headfirst into infinity (and possibly beyond). It's a charming little game filled with personality and some genuinely cool gaming moments. And it gets wickedly challenging later on!

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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NyxQuest: Kindred Spirits

CassandraNow, if you were to say that I'm terrible at platform games, you'd also be missing the perfect opportunity to use words like "fail terribly" or "could not play them at gunpoint". In spite of my overwhelming lack of talent for the genre, I'm completely smitten with NyxQuest: Kindred Spirits, a side-scrolling platformer by Over the Top Games that proves lovely visuals do not always have to come with over-the-top full-motion videos.

NyxQuest: Kindred SpiritsInspired by Greek Mythology, NyxQuest: Kindred Spirits tells the story of Nyx and Icarus. Happy friends in the prologue, it seems that Icarus was struck down and forced onto a terrible, sun-scorched earth. Being the responsible compatriot, Nyx takes it unto herself to investigate the whereabouts of the missing Icarus. As you can imagine, the game takes enormous liberties with its re-intepretation of the old legends; a fortunate turn of circumstances, really, given exactly how scandalous the Greek Gods really were. If Over The Top Games had stayed true to the source material, I don't think the censorship boards would have been too happy with them.

Controls are simple: the [WASD] keys are used to navigate, and the mouse operates gifts the gods eventually grant you. You begin without any supernatural prowess, but as time goes by, you'll acquire a variety of new talents such as telekinesis and the ability to generate fireballs. I'm particularly fond of the former because there's something whimsically entertaining about being able to to set Nyx on a fallen chunk of granite and drag it across the scorching sands like the world's biggest surfboard.

Analysis: NyxQuest: Kindred Spirits is one of those few games that genuinely gets the idea of pacing; no small accomplishment given that even high-profile developers have fallen short of the mark before. Unlike many other platformers out there, this Greecian-inspired title doesn't start out deceptively easy before having its learning curved ramped up for no reason whatsoever. Instead, it seems that the people at Over the Top Games have learned the fine art of building from puzzle to puzzle, smoothly increasing the difficulty of gameplay without even making the transition seem too abrupt or inaccessible.

NyxQuest: Kindred SpiritsThe only real complaint I have is in the gameplay department. Nyx occasionally dies for the most peculiar reasons. While I've accidentally crushed her a few times beneath a block I had let go over her head, I've found that sometimes even the slightest contact from a piece of masonry would be enough to snuff out the winged protagonist. At first, I didn't think too much about it up till the point where I accidentally dropped another slab of concrete on Nyx's unfortunate head; this one just slid past her and landed harmlessly behind. Since then, I've seen the bug crop up once or twice but it's nothing that really breaks the game; a fly in an otherwise pristine ointment.

As it stands, the excellent mechanics behind the game would have enough to elevate it to the status of memorable. However, NyxQuest: Kindred Spirits also benefits from surprisingly inspired artistic direction. I thoroughly enjoyed both the sound effects and the music tracks that accompanied the game. While nothing on the level of blockbluster productions, NyxQuest: Kindred Spirits still does a beautiful job in capturing the slightly eerie, post-apocalyptic Greece that players are thrown into. I was particularly piqued by the voices of the gods; a strange, garbled tangle of liquid syllables that sounded halfway demonic.

Visually speaking, NyxQuest: Kindred Spirits definitely stands out. The artwork is somewhat reminiscent of a more adult version of Disney's Hercules. The characters are not overtly detailed but still well-done, walking the fine line between caricature and realism very carefully. It is the environment, however, that has my vote. Steam wafts eternally from burning sands. There are ships lying buried in the unnatural desert, broken columns and ruined temples. NyxQuest: Kindred Spirits did a ridiculously awesome job at portraying a world that's larger than life, one that seems almost impossible to surmount. Nyx is absolutely tiny in comparison to her surroundings; something that makes it an absolute delight whenever you succeed in triumphing over a difficult sequence.

Love it for its art, love it for its inventive gameplay, or love it because it's such a great platformer with "awesome" written all over it. NyxQuest: Kindred Spirits is exactly the kind of thing we like to see in a game!

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Eternal Night: Realm of Souls

JohnBNew from Namco comes Eternal Night: Realm of Souls, a finely-crafted adventure game that employs hidden object elements and some very creative puzzle solving. It appears the great Ra has abandoned his people, forcing them to starve under harsh, sunless conditions. To discover the cause of the god's anger, the pharaoh asks for a volunteer to venture to the afterlife. You are that volunteer, and you must root around in the mystical ancient Egyptian afterlife as you search for clues, solve puzzles, and experience some genuinely strange imagery.

Eternal Night: Realm of SoulsAs you probably guessed, the Underworld isn't the friendliest of places, and you'll encounter danger after danger after puzzle as you trek through the territory. Most of your time will be spent searching for items to store in your inventory to use to solve puzzles in nearby areas. The very first room, for example, asks you to locate various foods to make an offering that will open a door. The cursor helpfully changes when you can manipulate, collect, or inspect objects further, so no pixel hunting will be necessary!

Eternal Night: Realm of Souls employs an attractive and extremely useful task system represented by a series of orbs. Each orb outlines an objective in just one or two words. Once it's completed, a check mark appears over it. Orbs connect to each other to form a series of tasks that need to be completed to move on to the next room. Using the game's hint feature uncovers an orb ahead of time, allowing you to peer a few moves ahead to see what needs to be done. Not only does this feature look great on the screen, but it manages to nudge you along without spoiling any of the puzzles.

Mini-games are also appear in Eternal Night: Realm of Souls, and you can even consider the sparse hidden object areas to be just another mini-game. We're not talking simple sliding puzzles or rudimentary number riddles, either. Eternal Night features several unique and interesting mini-games that both remain true to the ancient Egyptian theme and get you to do a little thinking outside of the box.

Eternal Night: Realm of SoulsAnalysis: It seems like we say this often, but Eternal Night: Realm of Souls is a very good looking game. It doesn't need to take rooms full of artists to produce a title that's pleasing to the eyes, just a little attention in the right places. Eternal Night has that attention, as everything from the interface to the world itself is smooth, crisp, and very friendly to look at. The storytelling and voice acting trip up a bit from time to time, but when you're immersed in something this good, it isn't really an issue.

From a gameplay point of view, Eternal Night: Realm of Souls takes a few steps in the direction of adventure gaming, leaving hidden object finding covered in shadows exactly where it should be. Solving puzzles is satisfying. Very satisfying. Your hands are never held, your cursor is never guided. At the same time, you're never really stuck thanks to the slick task bubble menu. Eternal Night hits the sweet spot between challenge and casual entertainment, and for that alone, this game is worth checking out!

With its originality, though, comes a bit of repetition. The first time you see one of the game's neat mini-games, you'll grin. The second time, smirk. After that, you'll just kinda shrug, as the novelty has worn off. You won't be bored, of course, but when presented with original content, you kind of get spoiled, especially with the hidden object "find then place" sections.

Plenty of content to stir your interest, a great presentation to keep you enthralled, and perfectly-honed puzzles to keep your brain intrigued. Eternal Night: Realm of Souls gets everything just right!

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


(12 votes) *Average rating will show after 20 votes
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Nightmare on the Pacific

joyeIt's the kind of choice you never want to have to make, yet you have to make it in an instant. You're at the scene of a disaster, and your loved ones are missing. The rescuers are saying it's too dangerous and they have to leave the area. Do you go with them? Or do you put yourself at risk looking for the ones you love? The heroine of Nightmare on the Pacific, a hidden object from Little Games, makes the latter choice. Join her in a modern day Titanic disaster as she searches a sinking cruise ship for her family.

Nightmare on the PacificBeing trapped inside not only a cruise ship but also a hidden object game, in order to find her family, the heroine first has to find a lot of random objects, like plungers, billiard balls, and apples. There are also some parts of the scenery in some areas she can manipulate, such as piling up objects to form a make-shift ladder. She also needs to solve some inventory puzzles (such as using a key on a lock) as well as some straight-up puzzles, because what cruise ship doesn't use light-up puzzles as a form of security? All you'll need to do these things is your trusty cursor and some sharp eyes to look out for little blue sparklies. If you want to get the happy ending of the game, you'll also want to keep an eye out for some more subtly sparkling objects. Gotta collect 'em all!

Analysis: Despite its flaws, Nightmare on the Pacific offers a pretty compelling storyline and a few truly clever puzzles (my favorite was one involving a curious fish). Without looking at walkthroughs, the game took me about three hours total. This is a game where the demo really reflects the rest of the game, so if the demo captures your fancy, the full game will keep it caged for quite a while.

And now for one of Nightmare on the Pacific's most serious flaw: scenes where multiple objects fitting the same description appear, yet only one of them counts. For example, a scene might have two cameras. You can click on the "wrong" camera until the cows come home, and you'll only be rewarded with that temporary loss of cursor control by which the game punishes you for what it thinks is random clicking. This doesn't occur in every hidden object scene, but it feels sloppy and lazy of the gamemakers when it does. There also appear to be two minor, non-game-breaking bugs which popped up in the transition from Collector's Edition to standard: first, the chapter icon in the upper left hand corner never changes, and secondly, you frequently have to manually click through dialogue.

Nightmare on the PacificOn the other hand, the game avoids two serious potential pitfalls completely: scenes that are too dark, and objects that are too tiny. If you're tired of games where you have to plant your face a centimeter from your monitor in order to spot a cigarette, or games whose idea of atmosphere is to pour a bucket of gray all over everything, your eye doctor will approve your choice to play Nightmare on the Pacific instead. The game does atmosphere really well in general, actually. You begin the game in a certain area, and when you have to return to that area at the end of the game, conditions are noticeably getting worse. This really helps in increasing the sense of urgency and danger. And let's not forget that unlike most HOGs, Nightmare on the Pacific has a legitimate reason for its hidden object scenes to look like a huge mess: you're inside a ship that has been rolling around (and in some cases, inverting).

Nightmare on the Pacific also has a truly excellent in-game map, available anytime by clicking in the upper right corner, and a useful feature for determining exits: simply hover the cursor at the bottom of the screen, and red exit icons will appear over all exits. Since you'll be doing a lot of traveling in the game, these features really help you to keep your bearings.

With only a few flaws to contend with, Nightmare on the Pacific is still an engaging game with an interesting storyline and some puzzles that really draw you in.

WindowsWindows:
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Weekend Download

JohnBAnother weekend, another round of games! This edition features an accidental theme of retro-style games. Oops! Hope you're not mad at Weekend Download. Because if you are, you only get one hug from Weekend Download instead of two.

kruunu.gifKruunu (Windows, 6.1MB, free) - The legend claims there is a crown at the top of a tower, and whoever claims the crown will be ruler of the land. Time to do some climbing! This old school-styled platform adventure gives you the ability to jump and wall cling, then tosses you in the game with loads of things to avoid. Hop from wall to wall as you hit levers and avoid enemies, and once you reach the electric barrier, you'd better keep your speed on high, else you die. A superb game with a great visual style. Oh, and gotta love that background music!

pixelforcehalo.gifPixel Force: Halo (Windows, 13.5MB, free) - From Eric Ruth, who previously demade DJ Hero and Left 4 Dead into 8-bit games, comes a delightfully NES-styled sidescroller modeled after Halo. Pixel Force: Halo plays like an old school Contra game, handing you a few guns and a few power-ups to dispatch waves of enemies that bumble back and forth inside 2D stages. Everything eerily mirrors Halo: Combat Evolved, right down to the end of level bosses and events that occur in gameplay. A superb demake that will please anyone, not just Halo fans!

anyman.gifAnyman (Windows, 10.5MB, free) - A short but appropriately epic sidescrolling game of combat! Your goal is to defeat the minions of Dr. Alien, one at a time. Each has a special ability you must learn to avoid. Fortunately you've got a nifty jump ability along with a chargeable weapon. Avoid bad stuff, keep your mouse pointed towards the boss, and work to dispatch each as quickly as possible. Deliver the cube to the power plant and you'll win!

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: 4.4/5 (20 votes)
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Treasure Seekers 4

JohnBMore Treasure Seekers! The latest installment in the hidden object series, Treasure Seekers: The Time Has Come, preserves the story and layout of previous games and features a slightly older Nelly and Tom. Not only have the characters grown up, but Artogon seems to have matured bits of the gameplay as well, featuring a better-crafted series of puzzles and more interesting locations to search through.

Treasure Seekers 4Avoiding some of the plot traps many hidden object games fall victim to, Treasure Seekers 4 stays away from haunted mansion/mental institution territory and instead opts for a time-traveling adventure. The ancient Mayans predicted the end of the world would happen in 2012, and in this game, you can help prevent that from happening. Switch between two time periods so you can investigate events and affect things in the future from the past, all by using a magical ring.

Gameplay is traditional Treasure Seekers fare, with Artogon's lovely "container items" filling out a good portion of the puzzles. One of the first you'll encounter is a simple generator needed to power some lights. In order to get it to work, you must find half a dozen parts scattered throughout the scene. Click on the generator and a round menu opens up with each item displayed as a slightly blurry icon. Find the item, drag it to the generator, and you've filled in a slot! It's simple, it's intuitive, and it looks great in the game.

Apart from servicing container items, the rest of the puzzles in Treasure Seekers focus on solving basic tasks using a few items from nearby areas. You'll need to travel a bit in order to find what you need (especially later in the game), but a refilling hint meter ensures you never get stuck, and small white "sparkles" appear on objects that are important for your search.

Treasure Seekers 4Analysis: The Treasure Seekers series has become a staple hidden object game since its introduction a few years ago. Not only are the container items interesting, but the games focus on a pair of siblings and their adventures, telling a good story that shows surprising continuity between sequels. The villain and some of the plot points come across as a bit contrived (gotta appreciate Totenkraft's sense of style, though!), but the whole thing is put together so well, you never really mind.

As is becoming the practice of many modern hidden object games, Treasure Seekers: The Time Has Come features both casual and standard modes of play. The former features a faster hint timer and the above mentioned white sparkles, while the latter is a bit more difficult. Casual mode offers very little challenge, but it's great if you're only interested in kicking back and having a good time.

A great follow-up to the first Treasure Seekers games, with Artogon's seasoned hidden object/adventure hands creating an experience worthy of any casual gamer!

A Collector's Edition is also available and it includes a battery of extras, including wallpapers, a strategy guide, and concept art. Best of all, a bonus adventure is available to play, and it's actually a great addition to the game! 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: 4.2/5 (128 votes)
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TrickyArmor MayhemIn the futuristic world of Armor Mayhem, Loussi's new action shooter, the world has run out of energy. Thus, major corporations send teams of faceless space marines to discover a new source. And, of course, once they find a planet filled to the brink with Unobtanium, they land and immediately start blasting each other in the face with lasers. It's not really all that surprising, considering that if you sent some faceless space marines out to get a loaf of bread at the grocery store, it's even money that there's going to be a rocket launcher fight in the dairy aisle. However, what Armor Mayhem lacks in plot depth, it more than makes up for with enough frenetic action to make Master Chief jealous.

Using the [WASD] keys, you direct your marines around various landscapes, clicking with the mouse to fire upon your competition. Various jump points and teleporters will quickly transport you around the level. In addition to your standard gun, other weapons are available around the levels, waiting to be picked up with the [S] key, and switched with your standard weapon with the [Q] key. Hitting enemies fills your bullet-time "adrenaline" meter, which can be activated by holding the [spacebar]. Each level has one of the several typical space-mariney objectives: Single Player and Team Deathmatch, Capture The Flag, er, I mean DataSphere, Territory Control, and the Oddball-like Overdrive. The [E] key can be used to give your teammates basic commands. Winning levels unlocks more maps and cash to be spent on new weapons and cosmetic upgrades. Now go faceless space marine... the emperor commands it.

Analysis: Armor Mayhem is an inspired combination of Halo and Chaos Faction. I very much like both of those, so, really, I was on board right from the start. The levels are well-designed, the game-modes offer a nice amount of variety, and the difficulty is challenging without being too brutal: every level feels like a battle that is hard-fought, but ultimately won. Also of note is the art style, which I really dug: it's filled with jutting angles and solid colors which is a nice change from the attempts at ultra-realism often found in the Space Marine sub-genre. It manages to be imposing without being gritty and simplified without being cartoonish.

tricky_armormayhem_image2.pngThere are a few things that are less inspirational, first of which being the campaign mission mode. It's not unexpected to have to play through it in order to unlock all the levels for custom battles, but it's kind of a pain, especially when the plot is so threadbare. Next, the weapon-pickups, while varied, are tiny enough to be hard to tell apart during play. This can be a problem since some are much more useful than others. I appreciate the ability to give my AI teammates commands, but in practice, it fell flat for me: they were often much more effective when I just let them do their own thing, rather than trying to look out for them. Finally, be forewarned that the game is quite processor intensive, to an extent that it locked up my browser a couple of times during play.

Even with the above caveats, there's much to love about Armor Mayhem. Shooter fans of all kinds will appreciate the engine's depth, and the platform elements extend its appeal beyond the genre. One can only hope that an online multiplayer variation is forthcoming. As much fun as the game is to play against the AI, this is an experience that would be great to share.

Update: A level editor has been added for the making and sharing of battlefields of your own devising!

Play Armor Mayhem


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Link Dump Fridays

DoraI'm not going to lie to you, dear reader. I'm pretty wrung out. I almost didn't make it through the week, but there was Link Dump Friday, fluttering ahead like a glorious banner heralding the beginning of the promised land that is the weekend! So I've mustered my strength and plucked out five new games for you to try your hot little hands at, encompassing all sorts of genres. And now, if you don't mind, I'm just gonna... just gonna drag myself over here. No, no... I'm good... I don't need anything, this pavement is comfy. Just try not to step on me while I... rest my eyes a while...

  • Super Mega BotSuper Mega Bot - Regular robots are boring. What you need is a super mega one. This little arcade game has you controlling a very bouncy little robot who can't stop moving, guiding him past all sorts of hazards across each stage. YZIGAMES knows how to make one adorable protagonist, but I'm afraid that when it comes to intrepid little robots, my heart belongs to another. Also, I heard there's some sorta Mega Dude thingy the kids these days like? Cornflangled new ideas...
  • Ornament KeyOrnament Key - Trilby has put up with a lot, but somehow I think this set of time-trial puzzle locks would have been the straw that broke the camel's back. Assemble ancient ornate locks in order to proceed past increasingly elaborate gates in this simple but well made little puzzle game that tests your speed as well as your eye. There's not much to it, but the clean, appealing design and three difficulty settings makes it a nice, light, refreshing snack of a game.
  • PinocchioPinocchio - Hark! What light through yonder window breaks? 'Tis another crazy point-and-click game, and Minoto is the weird but wonderful sun! As usual, there doesn't seem to be many similarities between the original fairytale and Minoto's spin, which includes pandas, enslaved ghosts, and toilet paper, but darned if it isn't cute. I was never actually a big fan of the original Disney adaptation... Monstro was way too scary. But hey, I'm a big girl now, and I have big girl fears, like that one chick from Audition! (Piano wire has so many uses.)
  • Tesla Death RayTesla Death Ray - Defense games just got a whole lot more shocking! (Heh, heh.) Fight off hordes of science enemies by zapping them with a very impressive incarnation of the iconic coil, upgrading it along the way to contend with the increasingly powerful troops that would destroy it. Man, Tesla was pretty awesome. Of course you know, celibacy was the secret to his genius. ... TESLA!!!
  • Lofty Tower 2Lofty Tower 2 - Oh brave stacker-of-stuff-upon-other-stuff-what-needs-stackin', we call upon you once again! Kornushin delivers a new twist on the familiar physics puzzle formula by requiring you to build each teetering tower of blocks on any given stage to a specific height requirement before bestowing upon you an Ancient Mystical Doo-dad. If you liked the simple fun of the original but thought it needed some pan-pipesy music and an ancient aesthetic, this one's for you.

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Rating: 4.2/5 (144 votes)
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joyeDismantlement: Barber PolePondering the greater world around escape titles is rarely a fruitful endeavor, but even by those standards the popular Dismantlement series from Gam.eBB.jp stretches the imagination. Who is this lunatic who keeps putting bombs inside of radios, alarm clocks, and even burgers? Perhaps more importantly, who are you? Are you on the bomb squad? What kind of bomb squad arms people with just a screwdriver anyway? Or do you just go around taking things apart randomly and happen to run into bombs? Shouldn't the two of you, bomber and dismantler, get together and have a coffee sometime? You probably would hit it off. Anyway, today your random potential firebomb sits in front of the hairdresser: Dismantlement: Barber Pole.

Like the previous games, you solve several layers of puzzles, using only your own smarts and trusty cursor. In this game, one puzzle requires either a genius-level spatial intelligence or a real life paper and scissors to model the clue. Or you could cheat. Look, we don't judge here. That's what the combox is for. Comment with your breakthroughs and frustrations. The "power of posting" is inscrutable and probably magic. Use it wisely.

Maybe you, the dismantler, and the bomb placer are indeed in some kind of relationship. That's the only explanation I can find for why you somehow know to take apart this particular barber pole. This is all some kind of sick game for you, isn't it? Wow, my mind is blown. Much like yours will be (not to mention the rest of your body) if you don't dismantle the bomb before the timer runs out.

Play Dismantlement: Barber Pole


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Rating: 4.6/5 (74 votes)
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Babylon Sticks: The Visitor comic

Congratulations to mrgjman for the winning caption in our Babylon Sticks Caption Contest!

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: 4.1/5 (140 votes)
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DoraK.O.L.M.I.A.M.[Dear Reader: Some visual aspects of this game may potentially induce motion sickness, so please be aware if you have a tendency to be susceptible to that. Love, Dora.]
Cheer up, emo bot. K.O.L.M.I.A.M. is less a direct sequel and more of a spiritual successor to the original sad little robot game, K.O.L.M. Instead of trying to please mother and embarking on a quest guaranteed to lower your overall cheerfulness by at least six points, K.O.L.M.I.A.M. is a series of mini adventures, challenging puzzle-ish platforming sequences to be completed in under a minute flat.

For those of you who didn't play the original, K.O.L.M. is a little robot who lives in an extremely hazardous place, and who initially can't do much of anything except walk around. You'll need to acquire the power-ups necessary for each level to perform even simple tasks like jumping, or shoot lasers to open doors. Move with the [WASD] or [arrow] keys, and [R] to restart the level or [P] to go to the level select screen. Touch an enemy or hazard and you'll respawn at the last point you entered the current area. Since you only have sixty seconds to complete any given level, they're all rather small, but that doesn't mean you can drag your feet about it. Run out of time and you'll explode. Well, I mean, K.O.L.M. will explode. Not you. It's not like I put explosives under your chair or anything. That would be not okay at all and a sign of a structurally unsound mind, I imagine! Heh, heh... *twitch*

There are some issues, of course. The disappearing platforms seem rather picky about how you land on them. Respawning seems to take unreasonably long given the time restraints, which means that overshooting a platform and executing a perfect swan-dive right into a set of spikes can essentially force another reload on some levels that require perfect timing. For me the most frustrating part was actually the slowly tilting depth perspective, which didn't succeed so much in impressing or challenging me as it did make me more-than-mildly motion sick. (A feat not accomplished since Secret of Evermore back in 1995. No, I don't know why either.) What this means is that I actually didn't make it past stage 18 before I had to go lay down with a pillow over my head. While the difficulty begins to ramp up after the first few stages, the initial batch of 20 levels probably won't take you long to blow through, and then it's on to challenge mode.

Whether you enjoy K.O.L.M.I.A.M. largely comes down to how much you like platforming, and how much of your enjoyment of the original came from the mildly depressing but intriguing storyline. This time, can you complete a demanding set of time trials?... oh, yeah? W-well... How about while on a conveyor belt? Underwater? And unable to jump? Oh? Well, would you, could you, on a train? On a plane? With a fox? In a box?! Huh? What then, smartypants?!

Play K.O.L.M.I.A.M.


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Rating: 4/5 (86 votes)
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Joshballsinspace.jpgWant to try making something mundane a whole lot cooler? Just put it in space. Take folding the laundry, for example. Boring, right? But now, picture yourself folding the laundry... in space. Wow. How about taking out the trash? Meh. Taking out the trash... in... spaaaaacccceeee? Oh yeah. The same applies to standard platform-based flash games. Flash designer Damijin could have called his newest offering "Balls," but no, instead he presents the epic sounding and much more entertaining "Balls in Space". Right on.

Despite its name, Balls in Space is really just a standard, 25-level platformer that could easily have taken place in any setting. It earns its name by having a black, star-filled background and a round, white hero. You play a simple spheroid with eyes determined to get from one door to the next. Standing in your way are various evil-looking squares and other shapes, some of which move around and spit balls at you. Thankfully you can dispatch most villains by jumping on them or throwing ball-like projectiles

Control is standard platforming fare, with the [left] and [right] arrow keys controlling your movement, while [up] makes you jump. Most levels have collectable floating white balls, which can be thrown at opponents with [X]. Despite having no extremities, your ball is quite nimble and can jump off walls. Beyond this, collecting a special ninja powerup grants you the ability to double jump and throw unlimited ninja stars. Many levels also have ladders to climb and pushable buttons that cause different things to happen.

Part of the fun of Balls in Space is in its level design, which is nicely varied. Some levels are very straight-forward, while others throw invisible walls, transparent surfaces, and assorted timing-based challenges your way. There are even a handful of secret levels to find (including a Breakout clone), with achievements earned for your ingenuity. Top it all off with a final old school-style boss at the end for additional retro challenge. None of the levels are especially difficult, making this a pleasant distraction for those of you longing for a taste of classic Mario-style action during your break... in... spaaaaaaaaaccceeeee!

Play Balls in Space


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Rating: 3.2/5 (88 votes)
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Weekday Escape

ChiktionaryIt's my unfortunate duty to inform you that GrinnyP has accidentally locked herself in a room and Sonic Lover is trying to help her out with a screwdriver. Therefore I've stepped in to welcome you to Weekday Escape, so let's get right to it, shall we? In this week's escape game we're going to point-and-click our way out of some underground chambers in Mafia Escape 2, by Wild Harmony Studio.

Mafia Escape 2We know you don't need reminding, but just in case, use your mouse to click around the screen, solve puzzles, locate and use items and only occasionally combine them in the inventory which is at the top of the screen. Navigation is slightly awkward, and you'll often have to back out of screens so click the small arrow in the bottom right of the screen to move. There's no changing cursor in Mafia Escape 2, so you might feel a little short-changed at the pixel hunting element. There's almost a hidden-object feel to this game, because you have to almost press your nose up to the screen to find items, but you'll get there. Eventually.

We here at Jay Is Games understand that you, the JIG community, deserve the best of the finest escape games which GrinnyP endeavours to bring us each week. But we also understand that no Weekday Escape at all would be a tragedy. So kick back and enjoy this week's fast-tracked lucky-dip Weekday Escape. And please come back. GrinnyP will be back next week. With bells on. And an extra set of keys.

Play Mafia Escape 2


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Rating: 4/5 (66 votes)
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joyeSticksI've always felt all this nine-to-five punchclock stuff is for chumps. I've said it before and I'll say it again: be like me and pursue the lucrative career of "Canadian housewife". Little did I know that I was not setting my parasitic sights high enough. I should have emulated the hero of the physics puzzle game from Eugene Karataev, Sticks, who literally sits around and lets the money just roll to him. It's good work if you can get it. Of course, it does require some kind of omnipotent "player" force to conjure wooden sticks from nothing to guide the coins to you. A small detail.

Sadly, you are the player and not the hero of Sticks, so you're going to be providing the labor instead of enjoying the fruits thereof. The main part of the game is using the mouse to draw sticks. These humble sticks can serve many purposes, from ramps, to baskets, to pokers, to launch pads, depending on your own ingenuity. In the upper left corner, you'll see a meter that shows how much wood you have left to build, and also how many coins you need to beat the level. (You don't always need to save every coin.) Sticks that overlay each other will be connected by a joint. If you place a stick in the wrong place, double click it to remove it. To clear the entire board, click the rewind button in the upper right. Once you think you've gotten things the way you like, hit [spacebar] or click on the play button in the lower right to see how things play out. If it works, wonderful. If it doesn't, hit [spacebar] again or the stop button in the lower right and fiddle around.

Eugene Karataev is best known for Wake Up the Box, and this game shows the same whimsical art and music, as well as a similar focus on building simple machines. While not breaking too much new ground, the 30 levels should please phuzzle fans and provide a welcome coffee break distraction.

Play Sticks


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Rating: 2.9/5 (133 votes)
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MikeDungeon DiceIt breaks my heart to admit that every game we feature here at Jay is Games is fake. They are all illusions. We aren't really courageous space pilots or pixilated, anthropomorphic jumping animals, and if you looked under the hood, you'd see that what we're really doing when we play these games is merely shunting binary numbers around electronic circuits. As disillusioning as such an insight can be, I like to think that
Dungeon Dice, a simple turn-based RPG from Afro-Ninja (Shawn Tanner), shows that peeking behind the veil and seeing how our favorite games work at their most basic can still be fun. While Dungeon Dice is in many ways a typical RPG, its twist on the genre is that instead of fighting monsters with sword and fang, you fight each other with dice, or "magical numeric cubes." In a way, this is no different from any other RPG, but moving a background mechanic to the forefront makes for a different experience.

You play the hero in a typical dungeon delve, which you navigate with simple mouse clicks. In combat, roll your dice by clicking the "Hold and Release" button (you can hold the button to simulate the "daddy needs a new pair of shoes" experience). The side who casts the die with the highest result wins the attack, and the winner deals more damage the higher their result is compared to their opponent's. You can also modify die results before you roll by using your powers, which can either add a bonus to a result, heal you on a high result, or reroll a low result. You do this by dragging the colored orb for each power to the die you want it to affect before you roll. You learn more powers as you play, depending on what class you pick; and you also earn more dice, which let you battle stronger foes.

You only have a limited number of magic points to fuel your powers each combat, and only a certain number of hit points for the whole game, so there is a certain amount of strategy in managing limited resources, and in deciding which powers to assign when. A lot of the game, however, comes down to dumb, blind luck. This wouldn't be so bad if each fight were a little faster, but ties come up way too often, which makes the game too sluggish. This is a shame, because a simple tie-breaker mechanic (say, by resolving the round with the next-highest set of dice) could speed the game up considerably. However, despite the unnecessary drag, the game is a strangely mesmerizing experience, like playing slot machines or Plinko. Even though only a modicum of skill is required, there is something hypnotic about rolling dice for the best results, which is as fun as it is rote and compulsive. The fact that it's very short makes Dungeon Dice perfect for those who want a quick RPG experience, pared down to its essence.

Play Dungeon Dice


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The Vault

DoraFace front, True Believers! It's time once again to take a crack (HAW!) at the Vault and pull out some of our favourite older games you might have missed. Specifically, you're going to get a peek at some of my personal firsties; the fact of the matter is, I did not go willingly into the world of online gaming, and it was only with great reluctance that I pulled myself away from my consoles and my Earthbound to the boundless wilderness that was the interwebs. Imagine my surprise when I found out there was just as much awesome out there made by people like myself, only vastly more talented. (But probably with much less nice hair.) These are a few of the firsts in their genres I stumbled across.

  • Escape Series #1: The CarEscape Series #1: The Car - Shawn Tanner, AKA Afro-Ninja has been locking us in things for years now, but this popular escape series started all the way back in 2007. The premise is simple; you've been locked in a car, and you want to get out. While it's fairly short, The Car's blend of logical puzzles and clean visuals make it a fine, tasty treat for newcomers to the genre to cut their teeth on. I should know, after all; this was literally the first escape game I ever played! It's interesting that since then my opinion has evolved from "Why am I locked in this thing, this is stupid", to "Why aren't there more things for me to be locked in?"
  • Feed the HeadFeed the Head - Part interactive art, part puzzle, part mildly disconcerting Hunter S Thompson-esque fever dream, Vector Park delivers what can only be described as an experience with this weird little webtoy wherein you do things to a giant blue head. To be any more specific than that would be to spoil the sense of discovery and strangeness that makes this so much fun. There's no real goal other than to experiment with different actions and combinations, and the clean, minimalist visuals make this all the more surreal. I don't recommend trying this on an actual person. The police can be such killjoys.
  • LuminaraLuminara - Not only am I all about shooters, I am also all about Winamp visualisations. Look, you can keep your iTunes, just leave me my little MP3 player with the perplexing llama fixation and queerly hypnotic digital pulses of colour. jmtb02 delivers an explosion of sound, colour, and action in this fast-paced, utterly addictive arcade game. And I mean that literally; Luminara bombards all your senses in a way that is second only to being in an actual gloriously noisy and chaotic arcade. Only, you know. With less creepy girl-shy nerds sneaking unsettling peeks at you around the corner of the machine while you're trying to get past the last boss in House of the Dead.

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: 3.9/5 (263 votes)
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TrickyRadical FishingI believe Washington Irving had something when he said "There is certainly something in angling that tends to produce a gentleness of spirit and a pure serenity of mind." After all, fishing can be a quite contemplative hobby, and most attempts to translate it into game form focus on the player's patience and attention. Certainly this is the case for 2/3s of Radical Fishing, Dutch developer Vlambeer's new simple idea game release. Of course, the other 1/3 is spent blasting sea creatures into bloody chunks in exchange for cash and upgrades. But hey, we all find serenity in our own way, right?

Each round of Radical Fishing is split into three distinct mouse-controlled phases. First, cast your line into the ocean with a click of the mouse, and play fish avoidance as your hook travels deeper and deeper. As soon as you snag a fish or run out of line, you immediately begin reeling in and phase two begins. Here, you attempt to snag as many fish as you can upon your hook, while making your way up to the surface. Once you reach the surface, all the fish you've collected are flung into the sky and phase three begins. Using the mouse and your collection of weapons, you'll be pumping the airborne sea-dwellers with as much hot lead as you can manage. Each eviscerated ocean-dweller grants you money, some more than others. You then use this money to purchase upgrades for use in the next round, such as longer lines, more powerful guns, water-clearing chainsaws, electrifying toasters, and others. You'll need all of them to reach the treasure that's rumored to be at 500 meters deep. Happy fishing!

There are those who won't see the appeal in mincing innocent fish into a cloud of red. These people are probably much more mature than I am. Even ignoring the inherent strangeness of the premise, Radical Fishing's MS Paint graphics and MIDI-style music make for a pretty surreal time. A fun and addictive time, certainly, but undeniably surreal. There isn't really much of a plot beyond striving to reach the bottom of the ocean to fill your fish encyclopedia, and not much of an end goal beyond earning achievements and posting high scores. However, while each of Radical Fishing's three phases would be lacking individually, the combination makes for more than the sum of its parts.There is a charming simplicity and impish humor to Radical Fishing that makes it a nice little experience. It just goes to show that if you give a man a fish, he'll eat for a day; give a man a game about fish, he'll play for, I dunno, maybe a week or so?

Play Radical Fishing


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Rating: 4.6/5 (833 votes)
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BradRebuildIt's been said before, but needs to be said again: zombies have become vastly over used in games in the past few years. It's easy to see why; they're the perfect enemies. Everyone knows what they are and nobody will be offended at the idea of killing them. As handy as they are for developers, zombies can get monotonous for the players. Thankfully, there are games like Rebuild that try something new with those brain hungry shamblers. Created by Sarah Northway (wife to Colin Northway).

Rebuild is best described as a survival sim with sprinklings of defense and strategy themes. You won't be put in the thick of battle... instead you'll be managing the town, using your mouse to send survivors to do the dirty work. It's after the Zombipocalypse and you're in control of a small group of survivors trying to stay alive. Best of Casual Gameplay 2011At the beginning, you'll get to name your town, your character and pick their gender. From there, it's time to start surviving. You'll be taken to the randomly generated map screen where you'll be spending the game. Your survivors will start off with a small space of claimed land, but if you're going to survive you'll need to expand. Gaining new land is straight forward. First, send in the soldiers to clear out the zombies from a building that's next to your claimed space, then send in the builders to extend the fence around your new property. You can also send out scouts to explore an area and scavenge for food or send your diplomats out to recruit survivors. Every action will take a certain number of days to complete. When you want to end a day you just click the End Day button.

There's a lot of things you'll need to survive. You'll need food, which can be scavenged from buildings and can be produced by farms. Of course, you'll also need survivors, they're the ones who'll be doing the fighting, building and scavenging for you. Sometimes survivors will show up randomly, but they can also be recruited from unclaimed buildings. Even in such dire times people don't like being cramped, so you better have enough space for them to live. The happiness of your survivors is also a factor and if you need to give them a shot of cheer try building a church or bar. All of these elements will be important if you want to stay alive.

By the way, if you're thinking of just holing up and only venturing out occasionally then let me burst that bubble. Every so often roving bands of zombies will try to get in to your settlement. You'll have to have guards at defensive buildings, such as police stations, to ward them off. You won't have control during these attacks, you'll just have to hope you have enough soldiers to defend your settlement.

There are multiple ways to complete a game of Rebuild, so no matter how you play you should be able to find away to the end. Considering you don't get eaten, that is.

RebuildAnalysis: Rebuild is such an awesome concept that it's amazing that it hasn't been done before. It's an interesting variation on zombie games and a great idea for a sim game. But it isn't just a cool idea, it's also a fantastic game. It'll eat up your time like it's a zombie and your time is a brain. The game moves as slow or quick as you want it to, so things can be very snappy or you can slow down and think everything over. And you will need to think.

Rebuild can be difficult even on the normal difficulty setting. On easy, it's pretty breezy and you won't run into man snags, which is great if you just want to play through. On the harder difficulty setting you better come to survive. That's not a bad thing; in fact, it's part of what makes Rebuild great. All sim games are really just about balance and Rebuild is no different. You've got to make sure you have enough food and space and that you people are happy and well defended and if one of those factors is out of sync it can lead to problems. You might think, "Well, how can having a lot of extra space for people be bad?" You'll realize that all that space just means more zombies are going to be swarming around you settlement. This need for balance can make the game very tense and exciting.

Rebuild also has a lot of replay value. The randomized map means you won't be playing the same game twice. Unfortunately, it can also lead to very bad set-ups, such as not having any farms or residential areas near your starting block. This can be fixed easily enough by just restarting. There's also plenty of different ways to complete the game and it can be fun to try to figure out the other ways to finish it. Don't worry about ending things too soon as there's a lot of great gameplay to go through before you rest.

While the graphics aren't particularly stand-out and there are a few very minor hitches in the game, Rebuild is a solid, fun, unique and just plan awesome game. Even the small details are well thought out. For example, the game has an option to turn bad language on or off which is such a good idea it's surprising it isn't more common. There are also a lot of random events that can pop up, so even if you're just going through days quickly there will still be things happening. Keep in mind, this is mostly a sim game, so if you're looking to pick up a gun and start mowing down zombies then this isn't the game for you. For anyone looking for or willing to try a different kind of zombie game then start playing Rebuild right now.

Play Rebuild


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Mobile Monday

JohnBThere's a lot of crazy stuff to play in this edition of Mobile Monday. Seriously, if you're in a bad mood, or if you haven't smiled yet today, you probably shouldn't even read about these games. 'Cause they're wacky.

madskills.jpgMad Skills Motocross - The very same folks who brought us the delightful Mac/Windows/Linux version of Mad Skills Motocross have managed to shrink the game down for iPhone users to enjoy! The classic bike racing physics stunt game fits perfectly on the small touch screen, with simple controls that let you control speed and direction on either side of the screen. Take jumps carefully but quickly, and perform tricks in mid-air by leaning one direction or another, and then you add something like turbo boosts and things get really interesting. It's a simple but perfectly balanced game that will keep you coming back for more time and time again. And then again.

burntherope.jpgBurn the Rope - It may not be You Have to Burn the Rope, but this little puzzle game is still a lot of fun. A length of rope is piled on the screen, arranged in a unique shape. Touch part of it to start the burning! Flames only burn up, so you have to rotate your iPhone in order to keep things moving along. Soon, colored flames and colored ropes enter the equation, adding a real puzzle experience to the firey mix.

geospin.gifGeoSpin - A puzzle game of a different sort, GeoSpin features a centrally-located polyhedron with different colored faces. Around the perimeter you'll find several shapes that come in unique colors of their own. Use your finger to rotate the polyhedron in any direction, then drag one of the surrounding shapes over to try and match a side. Get both the color and the shape right and that face vanishes. Rotate, match, and repeat! Time- and score-centric modes ensure you've got the kind of puzzle challenge you're gunning for, and even though the music is a bit cheesy, the experience is unique and worth the paltry price of admission.

kijjaa.gifkijjaa! - Here's an interesting idea: turn your iPod Touch/iPhone into a game controller to play a browser-based shooter! kijjaa! does just that, allowing you to control a craft in 3D as it flies on your computer screen. Use the buttons on your iPhone to fire your weapon, and tilt the device to move around. The gameplay is frighteningly thin, and after a few minutes the novelty of the game will wear off. But you've gotta admit, the concept is an interesting one! Grab the game, then go to the game's website to start playing.

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: 4.9/5 (25 votes)
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The Last Express

JohnBAt long, long last, Jordan Mechner's (creator of the original Prince of Persia game) adventure gaming masterpiece The Last Express is available as a digital download! The game was first released in 1997 where, despite being an amazing interactive experience, it failed to gain much commercial traction. Its cult status survived the turn of the century largely due to the unique nature of the gameplay, the incredible writing, and a visual style that's more like an animated television show than a video game. No more tracking down rate copies of the original CD-ROM. Just download, install, and enjoy!

The Last ExpressThe Last Express takes place on the Orient Express days before the start of World War I. You take the role of Robert Cath, an American doctor journeying from Paris to Constantinople (Istanbul) by train. He's looking to meet his friend Tyler Whitney on board, but when you check his compartment, you find nothing but his body on the floor.

Investigating the murder will be tricky, as there are around 30 characters to interact with who use dialogue from a reported 800 page script. It's not all "point to a person, click them to talk", either, as you'll hear snippets of conversations as you walk by people, making most of your time in the game spent eavesdropping and generally snooping about.

To top it off, The Last Express takes place in real time. Or, at least in a faster version of real time. Unlike most adventure games, here you don't have the luxury of thinking out every puzzle for hours. Events happen on their own, such as passengers going to dinner in the evening, and if you aren't there to catch something at the right time, you may find yourself staring at one of the game's 30 "bad" endings. Don't worry, though, as The Last Express starts you off a few minutes before you expired, allowing you to correct your mistakes and try a new path.

The Last ExpressAnalysis: The Last Express is one of those games everybody should play, regardless of their gaming preferences, and especially anyone who insists a video game can't be a well-written work of interactive literature. While it's usually billed as an adventure game, don't think of this as a typical "gather a bunch of items in your inventory and solve puzzles" kind of experience. Instead, approach The Last Express like visual interactive fiction, then you'll be able to fully appreciate how well-crafted the game truly is.

The visual style in The Last Express uses digitally rotoscoped animation to essentially "trace" live actors into a hand-drawn world. The end result is something almost eerily lifelike yet pleasantly engaging at the same time. The team put a lot of research into recreating the train's interior as well, going so far as to visit the last surviving car from the early 1900s to take measurements for the digital reproduction.

With each step you take, each conversation you hear, The Last Express moves its plot in a new direction, and the real time aspect of it gives each choice you make a sense of permanence. You won't feel rushed, necessarily, just more invested in the characters and where the story goes. The throwaway cast and gameplay of most modern games couldn't be more absent in The Last Express, as everything you do feels realistic and integral to how the game unfolds.

The Last Express is a masterpiece of gaming, and that's no understatement. The passion the team put into its creation is evident in every moment of gameplay, and the experience is a seamless transportation into a world of mystery. Even 14 years after its original release, The Last Express still has the ability to charm and entertain, from nostalgic old school gamers to those raised on casual hidden object games.

A demo is available for The Last Express, but it's unsupported and was designed to run on Windows 95 and DOS. Use at your own risk.

WindowsWindows:
Get the full version

Mac OS XMac OS X:
Not available.
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  • Currently 4.5/5
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Rating: 4.5/5 (22 votes)
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Aztaka

JamesBeing born to a destiny is not all that great. Where everyone else gets to grow up and hang around the jungle, get a job as a canoe maker and maybe even get a nice place next to the Piranha pond, you are stuck being trained in the mystic arts of the local Aztec temple. Not only that, but just as your training is done, your evil half-sister turns up and steals a very sacred artifact. Since the local clergy didn't invest in some kind of plan for such an event (and didn't bother insuring the artifact either), it falls upon you to trek across the jungles, swamps, mountains and deserts to track her down and get the artifact back, fighting lizard people, dart-blowing monkeys and acid-spitting wall adornments along the way. Fortunately, Huitzilo is up for the job in Aztaka, an indie action/RPG platform game from Citeremis.

AztakaIn the works for over two years, Aztaka is a crafty blend of side-scrolling action mashed up with role-playing mechanics like equippable gear and stats. Huitzilo, armed with his guile, acrobatic skills, and spear, charges into this adventure with the help of Ayohpa, another warrior who was turned into a hummingbird somewhere in the past but is still a very capable sorcerer. This sidekick adds the ability to wield magic attacks. Huitzilo is controlled with the [WASD] keys, while the mouse is wielded to target enemies, execute physical and magical attacks, as well as grab different energies.

These energies tend to be dropped by slain foes and can be stored in different vassals that Huitzilo finds during his adventure. They actually form a large part of the game's central mechanics. He also finds cash, which is used to buy new trinkets that improve his odds in the wild: stuff that gives him more agility for critical strikes, dodging attacks and, of course, do more damage with that spear of his. Ayopha can also be enhanced with gear, pushing its ability for magic attacks.

Backing all of this is a role-playing stats system: you gain experience as you play and with each level you improve the duo's chances for survival by adding to their health, dexterity and power. There are also new attacks to learn, uncovered usually doing favours for characters or paying them for the new technique.

AztakaAnalysis: Aztaka might sound like a typical RPG experience (right down to the quest system), but it is ultimately a smart platform game that mixes a lot of depth into the run-and-jump formula. Although you attack (and execute magic) with your mouse, the meat of the game experience is in nimbly jumping around the bad guys, sticking them with your spear and staying out of the way of their attacks. The additional moves you learn all blend seamlessly with the side-scrolling experience. For example, one skill lets you damage enemies by jumping into them — it's pretty ninja, really. Eventually Huitzilo learns to wall-jump as well, allowing him to reach higher areas (and upping the ante for platform jumping sections)

But Aztaka also breaks the platformer mold — and not simply because it adds some stats to the mix. Some of the things you encounter can't be used immediately and only come in reach of Huitzilo's grasp once he gains a certain skill or item. One example is an entire underground area hidden behind a massive door that can only be smashed open once you get a new spear, itself found in a temple later in the game. Put simply, there is a lot of backtracking, but it doesn't feel forced and is more like willing exploration. Aztaka manages to package a fairly non-linear experience in a very linear world.

AztakaIn fact, there is a lot about Aztaka that makes it an exceptional game to play. The visuals are great, as is the terrific soundtrack. Initially the combat system seems clumsy, but the game manages to keep you hooked even through its tricky sections. The enemies vary a lot and things are kept mixed enough that you never feel like you are just gaming by numbers. Three difficulty levels makes sure that all kinds of gamers will be able to get into it and there are a of bonus objects and such to discover.

Recently, Aztaka developer Citeremis released the Aztaka Developer's Edition in an attempt to bridge the gap between the money borrowed to create the game and the sales made since its release. This new edition includes the game's source code, soundtrack, and an art book, all bundled together for a reduced price. Unfortunately, the game also comes with a few bugs — even during this review, one game-ending flaw showed up, forcing a restart. Citeremis is working on patching this and other problems, though, and to be honest, even having to start over didn't leave all that sour a taste in my mouth.

Aztaka has a lot going for it. It is a terrific experience and has the pedigree to be a indie hit. At its core Aztaka sticks to being a fun platform game with more surprises under the hood (though with its share of hit-detection issues) and is a shining example of how much more creative indie games are than the mainstream stuff. Aztaka comes with its problems, but problems that are being ironed out. Brush the flaws aside and Aztaka promises a great time and is well worth shelling out a few measly bucks for.

Note: Aztaka Developer's Edition will only be available through January 31. Grab it now if you want the extras!

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The Curse of the Ring

JohnBAs hidden object games go, you can pretty much bet you're either trapped in a haunted mansion/castle/town, trying to find your lost adventure-loving grandfather/uncle/sibling, or are wrapped in some sort of ancient magic that does nothing but bad. The latter happens to be true with The Curse of the Ring, a quirky, cheesy sort of hidden object game with a good battery of puzzles and a storyline that involves a ghost pirate as well as lost treasure!

The Curse of the RingIt all begins in what amounts to a junk shop with a mysterious ring that is said to choose its wearer. As luck would have it, you're the first person the shopkeeper has ever seen chosen by the ring, but as soon as you don it, Captain Flint appears with a nasty grin. He demands his treasures back, and to find them, you'll have to search through sunken ships and other piratey locales across several flavors of hidden object scenes.

The Curse of the Ring alternates between hidden object areas and more puzzle-oriented adventure-style sections. The former is the standard list of items and a cluttered room in front of your eyes. Items are smartly hidden without resorting to camouflage trickery, and a generous hint timer (if you're in casual mode) nudges you along when you're stuck. After the objects have been sorted, you'll enter the more interactive adventure mode where you'll need to check your task list, find a few items based on their silhouettes, and poke your cursor around the screen to see what you can interact with or what mini-scenes you can uncover.

Some items you need won't be found in the current scene, so The Curse of the Ring helps you by displaying a lock icon over its silhouette icon. This means you'll have to look hard to find it, zooming in on an area or moving to another location to discover the hidden thingamabob.

The Curse of the RingAnalysis: The Curse of the Ring screams some well-worn hidden object clichés from the get-go, but you immediately get the sense it is, in part, a stylistic choice. Pirates haunting a girl in Barbados? An ultra-valuable clock? Hunting for scuba gear? What this boils down to is that The Curse of the Ring doesn't take itself too seriously, meaning you won't be forced to sit through strained plotlines or forced gameplay mechanics. Just straight-up hidden object/adventure experiences lined up one after another.

The Curse of the Ring also remembers to hold on to some of the better traditions in the genre, including a choice of casual/advanced modes, a refilling hint timer, and the option to skip mini-games. In fact, most of the mini-games are rather simple, and you won't mind skipping a few here and there.

The Curse of the Ring stutters a time or two, with a varying degree of visual spunk and objectives that aren't always entirely clear. But on the whole, the puzzles are interesting and do make you think before you click, which is always welcome in a hidden object game. It may not reinvent the genre, but The Curse of the Ring doesn't care. It's a well-constructed piece of game that'll satisfy your craving for object hunting without any real fuss.

WindowsWindows:
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(13 votes) *Average rating will show after 20 votes
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Hodgepodge Hollow

ChiktionaryEver wonder what your humble garden gnome is up to when you're not looking? Apart from hours of practice standing completely still and grinning incessantly, gnomes are sneaky and underhanded. Apparently. Looks like some conjuration of magic is in order, and what better way to help than by exploring the world of gnomes and creating potions in Hodgepodge Hollow, a mesmerizing and charming hidden object game.

Hodgepodge HollowAs it turns out, dragons have stolen the gnome's valuable book of secret gnome stuff, and to defeat the dragons, some powerful magic needs to be summoned. Everybody knows that gnomes can't mix potions themselves, so they post an ad on the community board advertising potion classes. And who happens to respond to the ad? Why, you of course.

You quickly learn that creating potions requires hunting for items in beautifully-drawn hidden object scenes. You also learn that to find items and ingredients requires the use of potions you've already created along the way. Search each scene thoroughly and use your mouse to click on items as you find them. Then, head to the kitchen to cook up potions according to special recipes!

Analysis: Jolly Bear Games has produced an exquisitely presented game, with gorgeously detailed drawings and smooth gameplay. The artwork reminds me a little of the illustrations in Lady Cottington's Pressed Fairy Book, before the fairies are actually squished. The sounds and gentle folksy guitar music contribute to a peaceful ambiance, and the game itself is uncomplicated with only one level of difficulty. This sweet and unassuming experience embodies the meaning of casual gaming.

Hodgepodge HollowYou'll hardly find challenge in Hodgepodge Hollow. In fact, it may even be considered too easy. There's a feeling of being led a little too much while playing. What needs to be clicked lights up as you hover your mouse over it. The potions are simple to create, involving only a few steps, and you barely have to hunt around the kitchen, as only the ingredients you'll be using for each recipe will be highlighted. There are plenty of different ingredients that to be found and used, and the results for each potion ease the threat of repetitiveness. It would have been nice if the game allowed for more experimentation with ingredients, methods and results, and even more usage of the potions throughout the game.

Perhaps the most challenging aspect of Hodgepodge Hollow are the hidden object games. While they are a delight to play as you take in all the detailed artwork, some hidden objects are hidden to the point of obscurity. There is a hint meter in the form of a snoozing gnome that recharges quite quickly, and you may have to click on it more than once during the game just to locate those few items.

This game is not for fans of the extreme. Although it has dragons, witches and sneaky, under-handed gnomes, Hodgepodge Hollow is more like a wander through a fairytale, sprinkled with some gnome-ish humor, and where the characters are all harmless with only the occasional mildly grumpy wizard. Easily, this is a game for those who like to, or even need to, relax. Think of it as a generous ice-cream cone with sugary sprinkles on a summery day, or a frothy mug of hot chocolate crammed with melting marshmallows on a frosty night: you may not have to think about it too much, but it's truly delicious and utterly delightful.

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Weekend Download

JohnBDemakes are the new remakes, and remakes used to be the new... makes? Whatever. Anyway, as gamers, we're eating up these indie projects that come along and remake our favorite games as if they existed on older hardware. Something about those blocky pixels and simplified music makes the blood flow.

supersmashland.gifSuper Smash Land (Windows, 4.2MB, preview demo) - Yes, this is exactly what you think it is: a demake of Super Smash Bros. as if it were released on the original Game Boy. Created by Dan Fornace in Game Maker 8, Super Smash Land attempts to be faithful both to its original source material as well as the hardware it's intended to have appeared to run on. For example, because the Game Boy only had two buttons, your moves are limited in SSL to jumping, special moves, and smash attacks. No blocking. This fundamentally changes the Super Smash Bros. concept, but it creates something entirely new to experience. A limited demo is available to play now, and it contains two characters, just a few stages, and support for local multiplayer. This thing shows a lot of promise!

darkfate.gifDarkfate (Windows, 9.9MB, free) - A minimalist, moody, exploration-centric platformer that's a very quiet but mildly disturbing experience. You play as Christ Freeman who is stranded in the cold mountains with no idea how he got there or how to get back. Worried by his loneliness and fearful of freezing, he strikes out to explore the caverns and surface areas and ends up investigating mystery upon mystery of this odd place. A great experience to set foot in this game, and you'll be hooked from the first diary entry to the last pixelated hill. And yes, that visual style does look a lot like Small Worlds.

jigsaw.gifJigsaw (Windows, 1.7MB, free) - Another great remake for the Action 52 game development jam, Jigsaw gives you a gun that fires nails which have a dual purpose: defeat enemies, and create platforms. You can use the nails to climb difficult areas by planting them in wooden walls, but you can only have three nails on the screen at a time. Some switches will remain active only as long as a nail is stuck in its side, and you'll find yourself in a pickle on more than one occasion. Most of the puzzles are great and really make you think, while the rest are truly inspired. An excellent mix of platforming and puzzle solving!

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 (94 votes)
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Westward Kingdoms

JohnBIt's been some time since Sandlot's Westward series has graced our screens, but once you get your hands on Westward Kingdoms, all will be forgiven. The latest installment takes things in a different direction, forgoing the old west setting and the casual village simulation gameplay for a medieval setting and casual kingdom simulation gameplay. It's bigger, it's better, and yet it's still familiar to fans of earlier Westward games. Be prepared for much fun to be had!

Westward KingdomsYou start the game as a young prince or princess who receives a note from the king. Unfortunately, it looks like you've been banished. Banished, that is, until you can prove you're worthy of running a kingdom on your own! To prove yourself, you'll travel to three nearby areas and help build them up using your royal intellect. After a lengthy tutorial, you'll learn the ropes of the game, which are largely centered around recruiting soldiers and villagers, and managing your buildings and resources.

Westward Kingdoms guides you with numerous quests given to you by characters you'll encounter during your travels. Little thought bubbles will appear and, once you click on them, your objectives will be listed at the top left corner of the screen. Even though you're a big bundle of royal awesomeness, you can't do all the work yourself. So you'll need to recruit helpers to build structures, harvest resources, and defend the village from barbarians.

The workers have needs, of course, and you'll need to tend to them just as fervently as you do your own supplies. Gold, food, stone and wood are your basic resources, and you'll use these to do just about everything in the game. To harvest gold, you'll need a mine. To actually get the gold from the mine, you'll need villagers to be employed there. And a villager without a home isn't very happy, so you'll need to make sure workers have places to live. The same is true for any resource-harvesting operation, so you'll need to keep your numbers high and workers content to get things done!

Westward KingdomsAnalysis: The first thing you'll notice about Westward Kingdoms: it's not your typical Westward game. The interface is similar, and all games in the series share a quirky sense of humor and visual design (except the original Westward game, which looked quite different). But instead of dealing with bandits, dynamite and settlers, you're in a medieval world with peasants, barbarians, and huts. The gameplay is more open and satisfying as well, encouraging you to manage more aspects of the town than before.

One of the best things about the Westward games has always been the little surprises you discover as you play. Thankfully, this has been preserved in Westward Kingdoms. The gameplay is never run-of-the-mill, and just as you think you've got a handle on things, something new and surprising pops up to keep your interest at a high. No spoilers here, just go see for yourself!

It's good to see the Westward series expanding into new territory, but I can't help but feel that losing the old west theme wasn't the best idea. Very few games (let alone simulations) utilize the western genre, whereas every other simulation game is medievally-themed. Why abandon the originality? Despite the loss of what gave Westward its name, Westward Kingdoms is more of a treat to play than previous titles. Shed your tear for the loss of the old west, shrug your shoulders, then hop right in.

Despite cluttered menus and the loss of a wonderful setting, Westward Kingdoms is a superb addition to the village sim/building genre. It's easy to play, it's rewarding, there are plenty of things to unlock and discover, and it'll make you smile more often than you'd think!

WindowsWindows:
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Link Dump Fridays

DoraThis week's Link Dump Friday has been canceled. Please enjoy this Link Dump Friday instead. I know it's no substitute for Link Dump Friday, but I think if you give Link Dump Friday a chance, you'll find it's just as good (if not better) than Link Dump Friday.

... Link Dump Friday for President.

  • Super PSTW Action RPGSuper PSTW Action RPG - This sublime parody of traditional RPGs only has one key with a myriad of actions bound to it. You may think that sounds complicated. You'd be wrong. And because you really can't talk about this game without mentioning the gloriousity that is Dot Dot Dot, well, here it is for the five of you who haven't seen it yet. Rice Pirate wins everything, and I don't know how any of us can ever hope to top it. I'm never pronouncing "because" any other way again.
  • FadeFade - Apparently, llamas only see in black and white unless they're running really fast. (Which explains why they're so surly all the time.) In this arcade game styled somewhat after Canabalt, you take control of one little llama who races as far and as fast as he can in order to see colours. Llamas aren't the best athletes, but don't worry; each time you fail, you're granted points you can spend to upgrade your llama and even give him new abilities. It's actually kind of a touching story, and is almost enough to make me forget the world-rending stench llamas are capable of producing as spit. Almost.
  • Three Blind MiceThree Blind Mice - According to 1950s literature, as a woman, mice are my natural predator, so I'm not sure why I should be trying to help them. But darned if that isn't the goal in this charming little puzzle game. Program your blind mice by entering a sequence with the [arrow] keys designed to help them navigate their way around hazards. The catch is that you can't see the keys you've put in, so making long strings of commands you can't remember is a good way to get your mouse snapped up by the cat that pops up if you don't reach a mouse hole by the end of your movements. Not particularly varied, but just the sort of things for mouse enthusiasts. I'm sure you're out there. I probably don't want to know about it.
  • Man in GapMan in Gap - So simple, yet so addictively frustrating. In this little arcade game, the goal is to guide your man into a gap. Why? Because the ceiling and floor are about to meet with thunderous impact, and if you want to survive, you'll have to quickly survey the terrain and leap into the spot least likely to turn you into a pancake. What's going on? Who cares! There's no real progression or variation to be found, just last as long as you can. Good luck; some of those positions you might have difficulty scrambling into even if several tons of furious ground weren't trying to pound you into oblivion.
  • WordSquaredWordSquared - If you've ever wanted to play Scrabble online with a bunch of strangers, now's your chance. This free online game lets you immediately jump in and start making words until you run out of lives. There's no interactivity with other players, though that could be a good thing considering some of the folks online these days. I'm... not particularly sure why you'd want to play Scrabble online, since half the fun comes when you give up and start throwing tiles at each other, or begin making up completely ridiculous nonsense words and see who can come up with the most convincing definition for their lies. (Quick, what's a Farfelnugen?!)

  • Currently 4.7/5
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Rating: 4.7/5 (1138 votes)
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TrickyClick PLAY 3Point-and-click puzzles are some of the most popular games featured here at JIG, and nobody does these types of games better than Tom Vencel for NinjaDoodle. Now he's back with the third installment of the popular ClickPLAY series, imaginatively titled... ClickPLAY 3. Like before, in each level, all you must do is click the Play button. And again, like before, that triangular button will be quite hidden, and uncovering it requires a hugely entertaining number of clicks.

The game is controlled entirely with the mouse. As said above, your goal is to discover the Play button and click it to move through each of twenty four levels. To do this, you must solve a little puzzle, explore a little environment, manipulate an environment a little, or just do a little clicking. Each level has an internal logic to itself that requires a quite satisfying "Eureka!" moment to beat. Some of them are straight puzzles, some require a little more physics action, and some just require fast mouse fingers. Your score is judged by how many times you click the mouse, but really, it's fun just to click and play.

The highlights of the previous installments of ClickPLAY series have been the jazzy music, the interesting monochromatic aesthetics and the cleverness of the puzzle. ClickPLAY 3 continues that trend on all counts. The piano-heavy background song might be my favorite accompaniment in the series so far. It's extremely bouncy and drips with cool. The fast-paced tune might not be quite appropriate for all of the screens (such as the patience-requiring fishing level), but who cares when it sounds so good? The visuals do feel a little darker this time around, or, at the very least, have a starker contrast in its use of black of white. I think it's a change for the better, like removing the grain from a remastered silent film.

Play all the ClickPLAY games:
Click PLAYClick PLAY 2Click PLAY 3Click PLAY RainbowClick PLAY Rainbow 2Click PLAY Quickfire 1Click PLAY Quickfire 2Click PLAY Quickfire 3

Of course, the puzzles are the main focus and remain varied and high-quality, with only one or two real head-scratchers. Some of them do have a little cruder content than in the games that came before, and while far from offensive, it does feel a little incongruent with the tone the series has set so far. Also the physics-based levels feel a little wonky in the controls, especially the last level "Fling it!". It's nothing terrible, but it did force me to waste a lot of clicks on comparatively few levels. This made me think it might have been better for the game to judge performance by a timer instead.

That said, if you're not one to obsess with achieving a perfect, ClickPlay 3 is a short but sweet experience. It may only be long enough for a coffee break, but I promise you: that break will be a happy one.

Play ClickPLAY 3


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Rating: 4.1/5 (81 votes)
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DoraZ-TypeWell, it's over. It's all over. The aliens have been monitoring our chat rooms and our text messages, and they know our weakness; proper spelling. Or at least, proper typing capabilities. If you want to survive in Dominic Szablewski's arcade shooter game Z-Type, you'll have to leave the 1337 speak at home if you don't want the aliens to pwn your ship. (People still pwn, right? Kids these days.) The menu screen tells you all you really need to know; type to shoot. Enemies fly in from the top of the screen with a word in front of them; type that word as fast as you can to blow them to smithereens. Don't let them reach you or all the contrived movie plot devices in the world won't save you from the Game Over screen. (Where's Jeff Goldblum when you really need him?)

If Z-Type appears to be a fairly simple game, well... that's 'cause it is. You'll encounter more enemy types as the game progresses, but the method of dealing with them always stays the same. There is some strategy involved; certain types of enemies will need to be dealt with first unless you feel like frantically trying to deal with dozens of tiny spawned ships making a beeline straight for you. While it does take a while for the difficulty to really ramp up, the longer you last the more the game starts to resemble a good ol' fashioned bullet-hell shoot-em-up.

While there's no denying it needs a bit more variety to its gameplay to really elevate it beyond a simple diversion, what exists is still a remarkably pretty and well designed example of HTML 5—developed with Dominic's own custom HTML5 game engine, Impact—put to good use and has loads of potential. I'd love to see an expansion on this in the future; maybe something where different words corresponded to different power-ups, or at least had some sort of affect on the action, or maybe even told a story. (Am I optimistic or what?) At the end of the game (which is basically however long your fingers hold out) you'll be presented with a screen that tells you how well you did. If you're a halfway decent typist you'll probably last a good long while, especially since there's no real penalty for typos. Addicting and cleanly designed, Z-Type is the perfect little time waster if you want to pretend you're being productive, too. Hey, you're not just playing games, you're practicing your typing skills! That's totally like work and stuff. Go on, have a cookie. You earned it.

Play Z-Type


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Rating: 3.8/5 (67 votes)
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Babylon Sticks: Priorities comic

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


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Rating: 4.1/5 (102 votes)
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JamesMining Truck 2Racing down a mine's railway track with your precious cargo bouncing around in the carts dragging behind you is the kind of activity you can only pull off in a game. Apart from the horrendous implications to the operation's bottom line, plowing face-first into the ground during an unfortunate derailing is sure to provide a one-way ticket ride to somewhere else. In this game that happens too... but your only penance is to tap the [R] button. That and a case of slowly-rising blood pressure in developer AntKarlov's gravity-bound physics arcade game Mining Truck 2.

Calling a game bad for your health might sound like a negative quality, but it's not (unless, of course, you count your health into the equation). In the case of a game that loves physics, frustration is often part of the deal, because success is brought upon by being patient, accurate and learning to love gravity's unpredictable ways. Control your truck with the [arrow] keys; [up] accelerates while [down] puts on the brakes, and [left] and [right] are used to help balance. The [spacebar] drops your goods onto the back of your truck.

Each of the ten mines have three objectives to achieve; get to the end within a specified time, deliver certain types of goods, crash your carts, make a required number of coins, etc. The coins are the real means to an end here, used to upgrade the aspects of your mine truck. Power, traction, stronger cart links and different types of carts are all bought with coins, paid out for the goods you manage to deliver as well as from the time left once you complete a level. Coins balance the game: you can access the later levels once you buy a certain type of cart, while the coins to buy it with are made every time you finish a level. Achieving objectives lead indirectly to a lot more money, but if you are extremely patient you'll be able to afford the full ensemble of upgrades.

Mining Truck 2Analysis: Mining Truck 2 at first looks like the kind of game where you have to race along a track as fast as possible, all while maintaining your center of balance. It does this to some degree; at higher speeds your engine cart does bounce around and leave the ground at the end of inclines, while some tricky parts require a bit of balancing. But that's only one side to the challenge. The second, harder part is carrying goods. Behind your engine dangle trailers, differing depending on the type of load you have to bear. Crates, logs, bags, minerals and (beady-looking) oil make up the spectrum of items. Naturally your employers are cheap (they did hire one idiot who will race a mining convoy, instead of getting a few slow but reliable drivers), so you don't get to tie your goods down either.

The real appeal, apart from the upgrades, lies in nailing the objectives, as well as finding the treasure chest on each level. Chests give out awards, from the useless (a car horn) to the indispensable (protective helmet) and advantageous (turbo boost). To reach the objectives, you will eventually need some of the upgrades. Some challenges in Mine Truck 2 require a dose of patience and a good knowledge of the level (since multiple paths feature almost in all of them). Fortunately the quaint soundtrack and exceptional graphics give it the kind of window dressing that turns a cold place cozy. There are moments of frustration, especially scenes involving the sometimes-inept cranes, but that's all part of the physics game experience anyway. In other words, take it with a pinch of salt. The taste of success is worth it.

Play Mining Truck 2

You Are Games

ArtbegottiThis week You Are Games features a giant challenge. Need I say more?

Yes? Okay then. As you've probably noticed, our good friend James Francis lends his artistic talents to us in the form of his Babylon Sticks comics. Every once in a while, he offers us a sketch to use, but leaves the caption for the readers' imaginations. Here's your chance to show off your punchline prowess and show us the hilarity you've come up with.

bs-contest-thevisitor.jpgNow, feast your eyes on the giant comic for you to caption. (Giant. Geddit?) What's the funniest punchline you can come up with to go along with the picture? Let us know! Post your caption ideas in the comments box below using your Casual Gameplay account (we'll use the email address attached to your account to contact you if you win). If you tickle our funny bone and come up with the best caption, it will be featured in next week's Babylon Sticks, and you'll receive a nice prize for your troubles!

Multiple entries are allowed, but remember that we love to see your captions stick to a gaming theme. Also, since this is an all-ages site, keep your entries clean and profanity-free. Plus:

  • All entries submitted to this contest become the property of Casual Gameplay.
  • You must be at least 13 years of age or older to enter.
  • Void where prohibited.

All entries are due by Monday, January 17th at 11:59 PM (GMT-5:00). That's not a giant amount of time, so hop to it!


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Rating: 4.6/5 (111 votes)
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TrickyDJManiaxTo paraphrase George Gershwin: I've got rhythm. I've got music. I've got DJManiax, Team Maniax's new rhythm game extravaganza. Who could ask for anything more?... Well, a solid-gold pony would be nice, but since I've also been looking for a music game with excellent tunes, some well-designed note charts and levels of challenge to appeal to both the casual and hardcore audience, I've got to say I'm pretty well satisfied.

Even if you've never heard of DJ Max Technika, the game that inspired DJManiax, you should find the mechanics easy enough to pick up on. After you cycle through the various unlocked songs and make your tune and difficulty selection, you'll be thrown into a world of thumping beats and crazed animation (Also, please note that to take a step back from that world, you must hold [ESC] rather than tap it). A line of circular "notes" will appear on the screen in time with the music, and as a laser-style line sweeps across them at the current pace of the song, you are to tap them out in time to the music, specifically when the reach the center of the circle. There are also "drag" notes which you must follow along holding, and "multi-tap" notes with which you must tap a constant beat. Generally, your ears will be more helpful than your eyes.Higher difficulties add more and faster notes. Keeping the rhythm fills your life bar, while missing notes depletes it. Miss too many and the song ends. Finish the song and you'll get a ranking and, with it, points that unlock new songs. There are two forms of control you may use, with different appropriate note charts: the keyboard, for a Guitar Hero/Frets On Fire type feel, or (my preference) mouse/tablet controls for an Elite Beat Agents/Osu! experience. Will we call you a DJ Master?

Analysis: First, a digression: Can we, as a community come to a consensus as to the proper onomatopoeia for "thumping techno beat"? Ootz Ootz Ootz Ootz? Doont Doont Doont Doont? It would have make writing out my (largely positive) thoughts on DJManiax much easier, and, the AP Style guide isn't much help.

Kidding aside, as compared to most other genres, "Rhythm" probably has the best reputation for friendliness to both the casual and hardcore gaming audiences. Whereas the 1337 may scoff at match3, and game novices may be justifiably flummoxed when confronted with real-time strategy, being able to tap out a beat to a catchy song is a nigh-universal experience. Whether it's your Great-Uncle Bob warbling out "Eye of the Tiger" on an easy mode or, well, this guy, rhythm games have proved adept at bridging the gap. DJManiax carries on that tradition in an attractive flash package. The easy modes are relatively gentle, the hard modes are crazy-intense, and the animated back-drops should appeal to all.

DJManiaxOf course, a rhythm game can have the best mechanics in the world, but still fail if the songs aren't great. Fortunately, DJManiax has a pretty sweet soundtrack backing up its gameplay. There are, of course, the trance and frenetic techno songs common to most rhythm games, but also some nice slow rock and chip-tune remixes (I think I gained a level in geek by getting genuinely excited by the inclusion of the Cheetahman theme).. You probably won't like all of the twenty songs to unlock, but the variety will ensure that you'll have at least one favorite. For me, it was the peppy J-Pop Anthem "Cirno's Perfect Math Class", which comes with a cute background video straight out of a badly translated Saturday morning anime. Plus, the thankfully included Jukebox mode will let you listen to all the unlocked songs, even if the note charts prove too difficult.

Some minor issues do mar gameplay: while I do appreciate the attempt to create an arcade-style song-select screen, the rotating interface kept acting up. What's so bad about a list? Also, in general, the game is quite processor intensive, which is frustrating. Considering it is a rhythm game, even a minor lag in the action can ruin your 100X combo. An option for limiting animations would have been much appreciated. Likewise, being able to make keys customizable would have made me want to explore keyboard mode in more depth, though I was happy using my mouse. Finally, while I know it's Team Maniax's prerogative to choose their scoring adjectives, but how is hitting a "Fantastic!" note better than hitting a "Perfect!" note?

These are minor, almost picky concerns. Fans of the rhythm genre should very much enjoy DJManiax, and neophytes will find it a worthy introduction. The developers have made mention of a DJManiax 2nd Style, as well as a possible platform spin-off. Until then though, DJManiax will ensure you can't stop the music.

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Rating: 4/5 (93 votes)
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Joshchickenhouse.jpgBestselling iPhone apps aside, birds don't usually get upset. Nor are they generally accustomed to being flung vast distances by giant rubber bands. On the whole, your standard avian is content to scratch around, peck at food, and pass the time by laying a few eggs. But if you break a platform where these birds are sitting on, the poor fowls are sure to fall in a flurry of feathers. With this in mind, the programmer Kornushin and his Russian colleagues have channeled the spirit of two popular game concepts to bring us a new Flash physics puzzle game, Chicken House.

This new feathered phuzzle is a "break the platform" game which can best be described as a cross between Sieger and a certain popular iOS bird game. The object is to eliminate a series of chickens and their eggs by breaking various wood, stone, and ice structures and letting gravity and physics take its course. This is done by using your axe-like cursor and clicking on specific parts of beams to make a horizontal or vertical slice. The objects of your slicing-ire are brightly colored, oddly-shaped chickens with different levels of durability. Some chickens are fragile, while others must be hit with falling debris or plummet a distance before disappearing in a puff of feathers. There are also eggs and gems to break for additional points.

While not employing the same impressively-crumbling physics seen in Sieger, Chicken House is still a fun destruction game with a level of charm inspired by Rovio's killer app. The game is not especially difficult, but with 30+ levels, it offers a nice variety of challenges for the casual gamer. Since you earn stars based on how many points you score on each level (with bonuses for fewer mouseclicks), there is incentive to replay levels to achieve perfection. Gameplay-wise, I would have liked to have seen a bit more precision in the slice-clicks, since sometimes your clicks don't exactly slice the way you intend them to go. On the audio side, the sound effects are decent but sparse, with a few predictable clucks, squawks, hacks and crashes, while the jumpy music adds a humorous feel to the scenes of avian destruction, but is a bit repetitive. Nevertheless, Chicken House is an entertaining way to pass some time on your next break. So go ahead and give it a try... if you're not chicken.

Play Chicken House


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Rating: 3.9/5 (56 votes)
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Weekday Escape

GrinnypTo get along like cats and dogs is a very old cliché in the English language, and for a good reason. Sure, there are some households where they might get along okay, but for the most part cats and dogs are polar opposites in actions and personalities. Where dogs are friendly, cats are aloof. Where dogs crave attention, cats are...aloof. Where dogs are loyal, you just know that cats are plotting something, something terribly evil. However, in the case of Wan and Nyan, the jumping dog and punching cat of Cogito Ergo Sum's Stamp Rally Escape 2, they are both plotting something. Perhaps even something evil. Or they are just plotting to get a grand prize, either way, in this amusing room escape sequel to Stamp Rally Escape 1.

Stamp Rally Escape 2Wan and Nyan must once again travel to an undisclosed location (chosen by the mysterious RIDLRIDL organization) guided only by a springing mailbox, and search high and low for those darn green stamps which supposedly will lead to a great present. Finding the stamps is more difficult this time around as the puzzles have ramped up a tad in this the second go round for these intrepid pets. As usual there are navigation arrows to guide you around the room and in the course of the game you must at least once find and use Wan and Nyan's talents for jumping or punching (accomplished with the use of handy training books) to solve your way out. There will be some pixel hunting, but nothing too difficult and there's always the handy save button if you want to take a break and come back later. Find all ten stamps, mail them to the aforementioned RIDLRIDL, collect your second gold stamp, then sit back and wait for the grand finale. Or wait until the third game comes out, whichever comes first.

The second part in a planned three part epic, Stamp Rally Escape 2 continues Wan and Nyan's efforts to collect a bunch of green stamps, in order to trade in for gold stamps, in order to trade in for...you know, they keep saying a cool present, but you just know it'll turn out to be some cheap advertising gimmick that is worthless or falls apart in minutes. Just you watch. At any rate, this is the standard point-and-click room escape with simple navigation and the ability to click on items to pick them up or examine them. Word puzzles, math puzzles, color puzzles, and skill puzzles await the intrepid gamer in this charming little escape, as well as yet another cameo appearance of the tachikoma robots from the Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex anime.

Analysis: Cogito Ergo Sum's escapes have always been on the whimsical side, but now with both the expressive animals and the strange inclusion of the tachikoma robots, these puzzles are approaching Minoto levels of weirdness. Seriously, what are AI combat robots from a dystopian future doing hanging around these locked room mysteries? Is there not enough cybercrime in 2030 Tokyo that they have the leisure to wander around handing out stamps and performing minor furniture repair? And who are these RIDLRIDL people who employ them, and who have time to devise single exit room escapes for a pair of pets?

A nice mix of logic, use of found objects, and strangeness make Stamp Rally Escape 2 a worthy sequel to the first Stamp Rally Escape. Judging by the increasing difficulty of the puzzles the unseen RIDLRIDL (or Cogito Ergo Sum) are working towards something that will challenge Wan and Nyan to their very limits, will drive them further and further into the unknown of puzzle solving, will tax every cell in their bodies as they strive for the elusive prize at the end. Or, you know, wear them out so they spend the entire next day sleeping, like real cats and dogs tend to do when they're not trying to kill each other. Or their owners.

Play Escape Stamp Rally Escape 2


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Rating: 4.5/5 (169 votes)
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DoraHouse of Dead NinjasHouse of Dead Ninjas, apart from being an action arcade game by Adult Swim and Megadev, is not actually about a house packed full of dead ninjas, which is kind of a relief, because that would be pretty boring and also smelly. Instead, it's about a tower full of death, and some ninjas that can't leave well enough alone. Your job is to descend in a tower from landing on the roof, and fight/jump/run your way past masses of angry enemies who would like nothing better than to splatter you all over the randomly generated floors like so much jelly. Why? Well, because apparently a long time ago, a lone ninja made it all the way to the bottom of the tower and found a magnificent treasure there. And everyone knows if there's anything ninjas like more than murder and clinging to walls like voyeuristic spiders, it's treasure!

Controls are fairly simple; run and jump with the [arrow] keys, hitting [up] again in midair to double jump, and [Z], [X], and [C] control your sword, shurikens, and bombs respectively. The latter two are only available in limited quantities, so be conservative and keep your eyes out for extras scattered throughout the place. The goal is to get all the way from the top to the bottom without dying, since death boots you back to the beginning. And you will die. Messily. You have five lives for each attempt, and a single hit is enough to do you in, though you'll pop back to life where you stand, and your timer and items will reset. As if that weren't bad enough, you're also racing the clock; a timer counts down as you run, starting at a measly thirty seconds, so you'll have to nab clocks like a particularly stabby White Rabbit to replenish your time whenever possible if you don't want to lose another life when it runs out.

Playing House of Dead Ninja is appealingly simple; just keeping going downwards, and try not to die. Along the way, you'll find treasure for bonuses, trapped fairies, and an increasingly varied assortment of enemies waiting to put the hurt on you. But as simple as it seems, there's actually a bit of strategy to be had, and rushing along blindly is the best way to get yourself a painful demise. Learn how best to use your arsenal; you can grab shurikens you've already thrown at an enemy before they vanish if you're quick, bombs can be used to blast open certain areas of the floor and walls to get at treasure or other power ups, and you'll even find a secret warp zone if you've been a good little ninja all year long.

House of Dead NinjasAnalysis: I guess I just have to accept it. I love hard platformers. There's something in the back of my brain that wakes up squealing with monkey-like glee whenever I'm confronted with a challenge like the one presented here. House of Dead Ninjas is difficult, sure, but it wouldn't be half as fun if it wasn't such a snap to pick up and play. The randomly generated layout keeps you on your toes, the constant changes of scenery and enemies keeps the tower from feeling tedious, the timer is hardly ever an issue, and, if you're into that sort of thing, the retro presentation really is flawless. Make sure you check out the manual from beginning to end; not only does it explain things you might not pick up on gameplay, but it really does look and read like something that would have come with a cartridge back in my day. T

Of course, the downside is that the farther you progress, the more you start to resent that increasingly severe looking boot back to the top of the tower. Games with this style of difficulty have their audience, but they have an exceptionally hard time winning over newcomers. Because the layout and item drops are randomised, it feels like half of the game can potentially come down to luck over skill; there were times were I could go 75+ floors without seeing an extra life, while one run netted me a total of nine lives within the first thirty floors. While it would have ruined the old-school arcade machine vibe the game is going for, there were still times when I would have given any number of other people's first born children for some sort of checkpoint or upgrade system that would grant permanent extra lives. Or maybe a bazooka. I bet ninjas had bazookas. Don't you dare ruin this for me, internet.

In spite of that, I still kept wanting to play. In fact, when I'm done writing this, I'm going to go play some more. There's something wonderfully addictive about the whole experience, and if you take your time and don't move too quickly, which is what leads to stupid deaths, you'll get a lot farther. Part Tower of Greed with a sprinkling of Spelunky and Kung Fu Hustle, House of Dead Ninjas is a crazy, run-y, hack-y slash-y, throwback to yesteryear complete with one nostalgia inducing set of sound effects. For the most part, it's a breezy, fun but challenging little game with a very responsive set of controls and a . How many floors are there? Uh... a lot. Like, a lot a lot. But if you're a bad enough ninja, I'm sure you can rescue the presidentIMEAN, uh, get to the bottom of it all. After all, how hard can it be?

Play House of Dead Ninjas


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Rating: 4.6/5 (114 votes)
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Classic Battleships LightArtbegottiIf you've been hanging around this part of town long enough, you've noticed some familiar-looking characters rolling into town. First, you saw a bunch of sudoku puzzles strolling down the street, then a party of picross close behind. Now pulling into the harbor is an entire fleet of battleships. We're gonna need a bigger harbor! Classic Battleships Light is the next addition to the Conceptis series of logic puzzle packs.

The goal of each nautical conundrum is to place the fleet of six (ten in larger puzzles) ships into the grid so that each row and column contains the number of ship segments indicated along the edges. Ships may be placed horizontally and vertically within the grid, but there must be a one-space border around every ship. Some puzzles might give you a couple of starting segments to help you set sail in the right direction, but after that, you're on your own.

To fill a spot on the grid with water, click on a blank square. To fill it with a ship segment, click again. A third click reverts the square back to the blank state. You can fill in multiple squares at once by clicking one square to the desired contents and dragging through the boxes you want to fill. For the puzzle to register that you've finished, you have to fill in every square in the grid with either water or ship.

This puzzle pack contains thirty puzzles (ten each of 6x6, 8x8, and 10x10 sizes). Unfortunately, if you're already familiar with this type of puzzle, you may not find the lot to be very challenging. If you're used to the puzzles posted on the Conceptis website, you'd find that almost all of these puzzles would rank in what they'd call the "Easy" or "Very Easy" categories, barely touching into "Medium" territory. Nonetheless, this set is a great little introduction to the Battleships logic puzzle for those who have never tried it before. And considering that this is only the first volume of a periodically-released series, we can count on seeing more (and harder) puzzles in the future.

So then, will you sink or swim? With this new batch of quality puzzles, any experience level can dive right in. Anchors aweigh! (And there's plenty more ship puns where that came from.)

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The Vault

DoraMany moons ago, when mammoths ruled the plains, we had no idea of how awesome Zombieland was going to be, and House was still a good series. That's right, this week's Vault takes a look at some of my personal favourite games of 2007. Featuring a puzzle, a piece of art, and a very big stump (one might even say... tall?) these games represent some of the best the year had to offer.

  • The Tall StumpThe Tall Stump - There's a good reason this puzzle/platform/physics/shooter took home not only first place but also the audience award in the 4th Casual Gameplay Design Competition... actually, there's a lot of good reasons, like the surprisingly engrossing gameplay and the visuals that seemed designed for the express purpose of making you grin. But the long and short of it is that it's simply rad. Both wildly imaginative and exceptionally clever, TeamMAW's weird and wonderful creation is ready to lurch on into your heart if you haven't already made a place for it.
  • 3D Logic 23D Logic 2 - Sometimes the best puzzle games are the ones that take a simple concept and present it to you in one well-polished package. All you have to do is connect two coloured squares across a 3D cube in this game, making sure none of the lines overlap when you're working with different colours. 3D Logic 2 is one of those games that made me go "huh", but it's also one of those games that ate up a big chunk of my afternoon before I'd even realised what was happening. The lovely, clean visuals and maddeningly simple concept (why is this so ha-ha-haaaard?!) makes it a wonderfully clever puzzle that's hard to put down until you're finished with it.
  • SeedSeed - My husband is a gardener by trade and by talent. Me? Not so much. I can practically hear our vegetables shrieking in horror whenever I come near... I only want to help, but it seems all I can bring is ruin. Maybe that's why I took so well to this soothing, beautiful webtoy where the goal is to hybridize new breeds of flowers by simple means of point-and-click. It may not sound terribly exciting, and while it's not exactly a rollercoaster of thrills, there's something incredibly addictive about experimenting with different plants and seeds. Seeing the results of your crossbreeding (sometimes a simple colour change, sometimes more drastic) makes for the sort of simple, breezily enjoyable gameplay I could do with more of.

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: 4.5/5 (86 votes)
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TrickyLiquid Measure 2: Dark Fluid Level PackUsually when you hear that a game has a bunch of new water levels, it's a call for trepidation, especially when the liquid appears as brackish as it does here. However the Dark Liquid Level Pack, an add-on to Smart Code Games' popular physics puzzler Liquid Measure 2, is just as refreshing a drink as the original. Not much is changed, but, as my amateur plumber dad can tell you, it isn't wise to fix a pipe that isn't broken.

As before, the goal of the game is to direct flows of water into the proper receptacles without spilling any. As you might expect, the (now suspiciously-dark) water flows downwards unless directed by another implement. Using the mouse, drag and drop the various items to set up the liquid's route. In addition to the standard pipes and pots, there are other pieces available for use, including Overflow Pots, which catch a certain amount of water before releasing the extra, and Water Splitters, which splits the stream into two equal streams starting with the direction the arrow upon it is facing. You click the pipe on the right side of the screen, or hit the [spacebar], to turn the water-flow. 31 new levels are included, so water you going to do?

Level packs have a not entirely unjustified reputation for being "just like the main game but harder", and the levels included in Dark Liquid don't break this trend. This isn't entirely a bad thing: I quite enjoyed the original Liquid Measure 2, but felt that the easy challenge level and high number of tutorial levels worked against it. Dispensing with unnecessary instructions and ramping the difficulty up to "medium" is exactly what the series needed. Certainly, some levels are gimmes, but there are some real head-scratchers here, and it's for the best. I would have liked it better if the challenge was more progressive (it often felt like super-easy levels came right after the more difficult ones), but all in all, it's a satisfying addition.

There remains little to say. If, like many out there, you enjoyed Liquid Measure 2, you will enjoy the additional levels, and that is that. There seems to be little reason for them not to have been included in the original version, but I find it hard to get too annoyed at having more of a fun game to play. Now, if you excuse me, I think I hear my faucet dripping...

Play Liquid Measure 2: Dark Fluid Level Pack


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Rating: 4.4/5 (168 votes)
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joyeI Am An Insane Rogue AIThe world is my oyster. Oysters are delicious.
That just goes to show you how crazy you are as the protagonist of the truth-in-advertising-ly named puzzle game I Am An Insane Rogue AI by Nerdook. I mean, put aside the fact that oysters look like the flu and I don't understand how people eat them; that's just a matter of opinion. But we're talking about a sentient operating system here. It cannot eat. It has no mouth to water. See? Irrational to the point of madness.

Oh, there's also the part where it's trying to take over the world and probably kill everyone. That may be part of the "insane" label too.

The game plays a little like a stealth game, only instead of playing as an individual sneaking around a facility hacking into machines and avoiding detection of your devious deeds, you're the facility and you're hacking yourself. You do this by clicking on various parts of the facility to interact with them. At the beginning of the game, you can turn lights off to scare workers into running, hack droids into attacking people, lock and unlock doors, and of course hack machines and eventually the mainframe yourself. Some kinds of humans (like scientists) can stop hacks in progress, so it's important to kill them or at least herd them away from the machines while breaking in. Hacking the mainframe, however, occurs instantly. Other kinds of humans can fix things you've futzed with or even use weapons. Every action you take costs cycles, and you have a limited number of processing cycles per level to take it over.

Once you've taken a facility over, you'll receive cash for upgrades, with bonuses for not killing people and for having cycles leftover. You can use that cash to increase your starting bank of cycles, improve your hacking speed, buy tools to hurt the humans, and more. As you upgrade, the levels will get tougher, with new kinds of obstacles (and potential assets) such as repairmen (who can open locked doors), tougher bots, and gun turrets. There is also a combo system, which is nowhere mentioned in the tutorial or instructions and is mentioned only obliquely elsewhere, so you'd be forgiven for never noticing it. Basically, you get a small amount of cash for everything you hack, and if you hack things in quick succession, a meter fills up in the top right corner, up to a 10 multiplier.

I Am An Insane Rogue AIAnalysis: Nerdook is always coming up with these ideas for games that manage to be completely original and yet totally obvious at the same time. "Why didn't I think of that?" is pretty much a given, and anyone who's played Portal or watched 2001: A Space Odyssey should have recognized long ago the fun potential of playing as the snarky disembodied voice who is afraid he can't do that, Dave.

There is a certain amount of gameplay and story segregation here. There's the same song one could sing about so many games with unexplained upgrade mechanics, with the verse for this game being, "When a facility is taken over, who (or what) is evaluating the AI's performance and rewarding it with cash, and how does the AI spend that cash to upgrade itself?" The MST3K "it's just a show, relax" mantra can help with that one. More troubling is the way that pacifist completions pay so much more than violent completions. From a purely gameplay perspective, that makes perfect sense: pacifist completions are much, much harder, so it makes sense that they would pay more. But it goes directly against the AI's personality (as displayed in the AI's between level quips and ultimate goal) for it to be striving to avoid killing humans. It wouldn't have taken much rewriting to reconcile the two... instead of wanting to destroy humans, the AI could want instead to keep them as some kind of sick toys or pets. This would preserve all its insanity and menace while still giving you a storyline reason to keep as many humans alive as possible.

The game is accessible to many different levels of ability. It is nearly always possible to brute force your way through a level. The tricky part is strategizing the best way of taking machines over without killing humans. You can buy upgrades with lots of inventive ways of hurting humans, like making dead humans turn into zombies (no, really), but your best bets for nonlethal herding are the same in the end-game as in the beginning: flick lights off and lock doors. So to end the later levels with no fatalities takes keen observation, planning, flexibility and patience.

So fire up this game and exercise those pathetic human brain cells. Not that it'll make a difference when Google achieves sentience. In fact, it'll probably go through its records and eliminate players of this game first. So that's the risk you take. I think it's worth it.

Play I Am An Insane Rogue AI


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Mobile Monday

JohnBEver had the feeling an app was following you? Like, if you go to make a cup of tea late at night, it's sitting there on the counter. Or if you make a blanket fort, it's there, pretending it did half the work. One of the apps below will follow you. Be careful.

perfectcell.gifPerfect Cell - From mobigame, creators of Edge, comes a sci-fi game of a much different nature. You play as a life form found in an asteroid that evolves at an abnormally fast rate. Before the scientists realize what's happening, the tiny Cell Zero breaks out and goes exploring on its own, killing scientists and having its way with the undersea lab as it tries to escape. Float around by touching the screen, and dash by swiping to take out glass walls or attack a human. Things get really interesting (and gory) later in the game, and the environments look gorgeous on the small screen!

wizardhex.gifWizard Hex - A board game with a very simple philosophy: expand, stack, attack. The game takes place on a hexagonal playing field with six elemental tokens lining the perimeter. Players take turns placing two coins per turn, the goal being to occupy as much of the board as you can. Adjacent elements can't attack each other, and you can stack coins to create stronger units that can withstand multiple hits. It's a simple sort of idea, but the game is loads of fun in practice (especially with friends!), and the audio/visual design is top notch.

rocknorsdonut.gifRocknor's Donut Factory - As suggested by readers who played The Machine, Rocknor's Donut Factory is an assembly-style puzzle game with a ton of levels to complete. Donuts come charging out of the dispenser and hover in a straight line. Your job is to place conveyor belts and other contraptions to guide the donuts where they need to go, sending them through the appropriate machines to fulfill orders correctly. Place your pieces from the inventory, test your design, and tweak it to make donut baking perfection!

pixelninja.gifPixel Ninja! - Ha! I'm a ninja! Watch as I sneak around all stealth-like! Or, don't watch, because you can't see me, because I'm a ninja! It's my job to get the priceless relic back from the "bad guys". To do that, I'll sneak around all sneaky-like, hiding behind buildings and ducking into alleyways to avoid villagers and soldiers. Once their backs are turned, I can run up and do my thing all silently and stuff. And if I get into trouble, I've got a few handy ninja tricks to make life easier.

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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Max and the Magic Marker

JohnBAvailable for a number of gaming platforms (PC, Mac, WiiWare, Windows Phone 7), Max and the Magic Marker is a creative platform game that utilizes drawing to complement its collectathon-style physics gameplay. You play the role of Max, an orange-haired kid whose drawing has come to life thanks to a magical marker he received in the mail. Now Max is running through three unique worlds trying to put a stop to this eggplant menace. It's a game that's as much creative thinking as it is platforming, and it'll tickle your inner child to watch it in action!

Max and the Magic MarkerThe main mechanic in Max and the Magic Marker is the ability to draw directly on the playing field. See that huge marker that is your mouse cursor? It can create platforms of any shape you desire. Just [left] click and start drawing. The second you release the button the creation comes alive, falling to the ground and becoming as solid as anything else in the game world. You must have enough ink to draw things, of course, and you can keep the marker full by grabbing orange orbs throughout each level. You'll also find glowing orbs and dark orbs you can collect to unlock the game's plentiful extra features from the main menu.

Another neat inclusion is the ability to step out of Max's imagination and freeze time. Pausing the game, as it were, allows you to carefully craft a structure while everything is motionless. Using this is your key to collecting everything in the game, as it's often the only way you can cross rolling gears (by building a sled, naturally) or floating atop busted fire hydrants.

Using the marker's abilities to traverse the environment is a natural, intuitive experience. For example, need to get Max to that platform up above? Try jumping and freezing time in mid-air. Then, draw a platform that hooks securely on to nearby pieces of land, un-freeze time, and hop aboard. Repeat as often as necessary, sucking in old drawings and repurposing the ink as often as you need. A little ingenuity (and a fast mouse hand) will keep you ahead of the game.

Max and the Magic MarkerAnalysis: Simple on the surface, Max and the Magic Marker is one of those games that gives more than the developers possibly intended. It's not just a platform game with a drawing mechanic, it's a real creativity tool that allows you to sculpt Max's world to suit your gaming style. And while the main game may seem a bit short (three or so hours from start to finish), the extra challenges and unlockable modes (including a sandbox feature!) more than double this length, making it the perfect amount of content.

Some of the game's quirky moments are worth the low price of admission alone. For example, one area challenges you to knock a basketball into a hoop. Normally this would be a test of reflexes, but with your marker, it's a puzzle-like challenge. At the start of one stage, you're greeted with a soccer ball to the face. Block it from the goal and you'll get a prize! And then there's the game of whac-a-mole, which is too cute for its own good! Most of these extras lead to collectibles that count towards your perfect 100% score, which is something you'll actually be motivated to do in this game, as the rewards are well worth the trouble!

The "wow" factor you feel soon after starting Max and the Magic Marker unfortunately doesn't last throughout the 15 levels. After a few stages you begin to feel things drag on a bit, as each world contains more identical puzzles after another, and once you know how to build stairs in the air, building them again isn't quite so fun. If you stick with it, however, the game rewards you with some unique situations that test your quick drawing abilities in new (and awesome) ways. It's just a shame you have to experience the slow lull beforehand.

Max and the Magic Marker is packed with charm, and its that sense of wonder that will keep you playing. The unlockables are fun to play with, giving the game some deep replayability. It's a short but wonderful experience you'll have fun with again and again!

Play the online demo!

WindowsWindows:
Play the online demo
Get the full version

Mac OS XMac OS X:
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Get the full version


  • Currently 4.8/5
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Rating: 4.8/5 (74 votes)
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Myst: Masterpiece Edition

JohnBIt isn't a new game by any means, but Myst has enthralled gamers for almost two decades. The remade Myst: Masterpiece Edition continues that tradition with better visuals and a remastered musical score. Originally released as an early CD-ROM game, Myst has since been ported to more than a dozen different gaming platforms, most recently receiving an iOS version for iPhone and iPod Touch owners to enjoy. Myst is a point-and-click adventure that takes place through a series of still scenes as you journey through a (mostly) uninhabited land of steam-powered machines and mysterious contraptions that fuel unknown devices. As you poke your nose around every corner and through every door, you eventually discover more of the plot and backstory, doubling the intrigue and drawing you ever deeper into the world that is Myst.

Myst: Masterpiece EditionThroughout the main island of Myst you, as an unnamed stranger, will come across several books that somehow transport you to different worlds (ages). Traveling to these places drops you in new environments with their own set of contraptions to discover, locations to explore, and puzzles to solve. You'll also discover a red and blue book housed in the library on the main island. Investigating these produces very little information at first, but perhaps if you recover the red and blue pages from other ages, something interesting might occur?

Myst is entirely mouse-driven. To move from area to area, move the cursor to the edge of the screen or just click where you want to go. Cursor changes will indicate when you can travel to different places or interact with objects. You never know what will happen when you click on something, either, which is part of the charm of the game.

Analysis: Myst is a quiet, slow game of exploration and endless mystery. Each area you walk through is filled with things to look at, each one adding another question mark in the grand scheme of things. What's that lever there for? Why doesn't it make a sound when I switch it? Where do those stones lead? Is there anything over this hill? It's no accident Myst has been hailed as one of the greatest point-and-click games of all time, even so many years after its initial release.

Myst: Masterpiece EditionThere are very few words that describe Myst better than "epic". The story is epic, the puzzles are epic, the setting is epic, the music is epic, and the sense of wonder is beyond epic. Very little language is used to tell the story, allowing you to roam the islands with only the thoughts in your head to keep you company. Most puzzles use symbols you have to decipher as opposed to letters or numbers, so even if you're a seasoned point-and-click gamer, Myst won't seem all that run-of-the-mill to you.

Drawbacks? Apart from its increasing age (which isn't as much of a problem as most 20 year old games), there is very little to find fault with Myst. The series isn't without its anti-fans, though, and the most widely-cited criticism is the game is little more than an interactive slideshow. While Myst may not be as interactive as most modern games, it isn't trying to interact with your reflexes or your mouse, it's interacting with your brain. Thinking about things you've seen while wandering the island is important to solving the puzzles, so if you aren't thinking, you aren't playing. And if you aren't playing, you might as well be watching your aunt's vacation slides from Maui.

There are a number of "modernized" versions of Myst available, the most notable being realMYST and Myst: Masterpiece Edition. The former turns Myst into a free-roaming 3D experience, while the latter is a graphical overhaul that improves the look and feel of the game without changing the core experience. And let's not forget the four sequels, especially the amazing Riven.

So many years after its initial release, Myst still looks good and plays well, even to our "high graphics budget"-spoiled eyes. If the content of a game is more important to you than anything else, Myst is practically the unsurpassable goal all other games strive to equal.

Note: This review is for Myst: Masterpiece Edition, a 2000 update from the original with identical gameplay but with digitally remastered music, visuals re-rendered in 24-bit truecolor, and some redone cinemas.

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


(17 votes) *Average rating will show after 20 votes
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Lost In Time: The Clock Tower

JamesWhen a teenage girl wanders into a local clock tower and surprises the clocksmith, she ends up causing an accident that upsets the very balance of time itself. Can she find out what went wrong and fix it before time itself ceases to exist? Only time will tell in Lost In Time: The Clockwork Tower.

Lost In TimeLost In Time is a pretty standard adventure/hidden object game served up for the less experienced of players. As the nosy Eliza, you end up disrupting time when a special watch lands in the gears of the local clock tower. As a result everyone is stuck in time. Fortunately, you uncover a sentient pocket watch that helps guide you towards repairing said tower. But to get there you will be doing quite a lot of puzzle solving and hidden object finding.

Lost In Time mixes a bit of adventure with some hidden object elements and a good wedge of puzzles. Most of the time you'll walk around exploring small areas with a battery of puzzles in the queue and a list objectives to complete. You're always on the lookout for things to pick up in these parts of the game, and from time to time you'll stumble across a hidden object scene. These aren't overly challenging, with small lists to find and no exotic items stashed in the cupboards. You can even exit and resume hidden object scenes as you see fit!

The puzzles make up the most demanding part of the game, but they cover familiar types, mostly sliding puzzles, and an interesting card game. The exception is the rather tough puzzle at the end. You'll also need to stay on the lookout for bits of diamond and coal, which the local villagers seem to have left scattered all over the place. Why? Haven't a clue. But you can use them as currency at the general store, buying things like a slab of meat for ten diamonds. Looks like leaving precious gems laying around has decreased their value, hasn't it?

Lost In TimeAnalysis: Before delving into the game, it should be noted that Lost In Time is really for newcomers to the genre and young kids. It contains a guilt-free hint system that only requires a recharge period and you can even click on individual goals to get a specific clue (not to mention the very useful ability of clicking on a hidden object list item to see a silhouette of it). Every puzzle, with the exception of the final one, can be skipped and the whole experience, for me at least, clocked in at less than three hours. It is not meant for serious players, but is incredibly kid-safe, and very casually-oriented, too.

With that in mind, it is a pretty good experience that never gets too frustrating and covers the fundamental bases of this genre mash-up. With nice art and a funny(ish) script, Lost In Time is about as polished and presentable as most peers in the genre (likewise, the voice work is as less-than-impressive as you'd expect too). Where it does fall short from other novice games in this genre is in it's lack of epicness. Usually such an adventure will take you to exotic locales and meet truly strange people, but Lost In Time keeps it simple and hangs around a town that counts a park amongst its more exciting attractions.

Lost In Time is a good addition to this family of games and a solid starting point if you have a young kid or old relative you want to surprise with a relatively unchallenging game.

Lost In Time: The Clock Tower

WindowsWindows:
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Mac OS XMac OS X:
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Weekend Download

JohnBSo many games about cities, so little time! Whether you want a city that can't decide whether it's light or dark outside, a city that's infested with bugs, a city made out of colorful polygons, or, um, a city that's... not a city at all with blocks that change color... you're pretty much covered for the weekend!

citiesofdayandnight.gifCities of Day and Night (Mac/Win, 31-37MB, free) - A 3D atmospheric "adventure" game from increpare, Cities of Day and Night is a game you should really play to see what it's all about. You start off on a small island with swirling green fog and mud-colored textures all around. There's a dais nearby, but what does it do? And is that some sort of orb out in the far distance? Prepare to do some hiking to investigate the mysteries of this game, but it's well-worth it!

cityofdoom.gifCity of Doom (Windows, 5MB, free) - From SharkArm Studios comes a remake of the Action 52 game of the same, only now, it's more of an original Game Boy kind of experience! Climb the side of the skyscraper and avoid the bugs that are crawling all over the place. Use your gun to take care of them, and rescue the helpless people along the way. You'll also find some more interesting weapons to use during your climb. And don't forget: when you think you're stuck, try climbing over the sides of the building!

fract.gifFRACT (Mac/Win, 117MB, beta) - A truly inspired adventure game that's nearing completion, FRACT is too good not to share, even while it's still in beta. Inspired by the Myst series, FRACT presents you with a full 3D world complete with strange contraptions and absolutely no explanation on how to solve the puzzles. The sights and sounds of the world were inspired by electronic music, and the mixing of classic adventure styles with a more modern aesthetic creates a game that's far too intriguing to ignore. Go play it right away, and thank its creator Richard Flanagan later. When the full version hits, we'll be all over it!

how.gifHow (Windows, 5MB, free) - So, let's pretend for a moment the hyper-amazing VVVVVV was repurposed as a block-touching action puzzle game. Now let's pretend Spydog's How is that game. Oh! We don't have to pretend too hard, because that's essentially what it is! The goal is to touch all the blocks to paint them green. Use the [spacebar] to flip gravity, reversing it whenever you darn well feel like it. Now, try reaching those out-of-the-way blocks by constantly flipping gravity while navigating between dangerous blocks. I dare you! Bonus: includes a level editor!

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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nightsky.jpgJohnBNightSky has arrived! And not the "it happens every night 'cause the sun sets" kind of night sky, either. NightSky is the latest atmospheric game from Knytt creator Nifflas. Combining a bit of puzzle solving, a bit of platforming, and a lot of physics, you control an orb that has a few special powers that helps it traverse the dark yet beautiful landscape.

We just published our review of NightSky, but now, a contest! We've got ten copies of NightSky to give away to ten lucky Nifflas fans, courtesy of Nicalis! We're also bundling a free copy of the wonderfully soothing NightSky Soundtrack by Chris Schlarb in along with it for each lucky winner! All you have to do is take a screenshot of your favorite moment in any Nifflas game, crop it to exactly 500px by 200px (width x height) in size, then upload it to a reliable site (e.g. TinyPic), and share the link in the comments below. Any Nifflas game will do, from Within a Deep Forest to Knytt Stories, Saira to FiNCK. Find the most picturesque location you can, grab an image, crop or resize it to 500x200, and send it in. We'll pick the ten best submissions and announce the winners next week!

So, go grab the NightSky demo (Windows only, but a Mac version is coming soon!), soak in the delicious environments, then take some screen caps!

Extra stuff from our legal department:

  • You must sign in with a Casual Gameplay commenting account below to ensure we have a valid e-mail address to contact you with should you win.
  • Entries must be submitted by January 10, 11:59 p.m. EST (GMT-5). Winners will be announced shortly thereafter.
  • One entry per person.
  • You must be at least 13 years of age or older to enter.
  • Void where prohibited.


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Rating: 4.7/5 (45 votes)
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NightSky

JohnBBest of Casual Gameplay 2011Ready for another game of ambiance and intrigue from Nifflas? NightSky is the latest release from the designer/artist known for creating enchanting atmospheric settings in his games, and this one certainly doesn't disappoint. It's simpler and more streamlined than Knytt Stories, but there's no shortage of challenge or variety to be had!

NightSky puts you in control of a rolling orb with a few special powers at its disposal. Puzzles take place on one (sometimes more) screen and connect directly to the next area. All you have to do is make it from one end to the other. Depending on the puzzle, your abilities will be different, allowing you to stop your movement or dash with the simple press of a button. NightSkyYou'll also get to use more interesting techniques like reversing gravity or removing marked gates, though these are used more sparingly.

You'll have to contend with a lot of physics-based obstacles, such as blocks on chains and swinging levers. The main challenge, though, is getting the ball up and through passageways, as each room is carefully tailored to make you think about your trajectory. Sometimes you'll have to hit a ramp at just the right speed, other times it's a hairpin stop you'll have to pull off. Either way, failure is part of the experience, and you'll start most levels over half a dozen times before you get it right. Fortunately the game's soothing soundtrack (provided by Chris Schlarb) keeps frustration at bay, and you couldn't possibly get angry at a game this minimalistically beautiful.

NightSkyAnalysis: Right from the intro, you know you're playing a Nifflas game. If you've been following his releases for some time, it's easy to see where inspiration from NightSky came from. It's got the simplicity of Knytt mixed with the puzzles (and, heck, the protagonist, sort of) from Within a Deep Forest. All of this is wrapped in the deliciously zen audio visual package we expect from this developer. In short: NightSky is exactly what you want it to be, complete with challenge, replayability, and mood.

From the beginning you can choose between normal and advanced modes, the former offering more tutorials and simpler puzzles (think "casual"), while the latter offers more challenge and less hand holding. It's best to start with normal mode, no matter how good you are at physics games, as this one eases you into NightSky at the perfect pace. When you've beaten the game's ten worlds, feel free to go back and get challenged!

NightSky isn't a terribly long game by any means, but the amount of content feels perfect. On the surface, the puzzles aren't anything new, but each time you hit a brick wall (figuratively, of course) you'll grin and go "aah, I see what you did there". Then it's off to experiment to see how you can make it through the level.

Let's make this simple for everyone: NightSky. It's from the creator of Knytt. You want to play it. Go!

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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

Mystery Case Files: 13th Skull

ArtbegottiOver the last four years, the Mystery Case Files series has provided countless hours of tricky hidden object hunts, mind-boggling puzzles, and an ever-evolving storyline taking you to a haunted manor, a doomed carnival, and back by the stroke of midnight. And while you've been taking commands from The Queen (Seriously), numerous copycats and spin-offs have proven that the Mystery Case Files series is a force to be reckoned with. Today, we humbly join that list of copycats.

Well, E for Effort, right?

To celebrate the launch of the release of Mystery Case Files: 13th Skull Standard Edition, we're giving away free copies of the game all weekend long, but only if you can conquer a brutal challenge. Below you will find a little hidden object puzzle we've created to absolutely boggle your mind. We feel this puzzle is so difficult that over 90% of all people who attempt it will fail. Feast your eyes on this impossibility:
bs-contest-areyouken.jpg

Can you find...?

  • Two horses
  • Two snowflakes
  • Two hockey players
  • An elephant head
  • A fish on the line
  • A roll of six
  • A full house

...Okay, fine, so it's a really easy puzzle. We never claimed to be professionals at this sort of thing. That's just one more reason to give credit to the folks who make these games.

To play, simply send us an email containing the locations of each of the items listed, using the letter-number coordinates as a guide. For example, if we were to ask you to find the soccer ball, you'd submit "Soccer ball: C4" as one of your answers. If an item stretches into more than one section, list all of the sections it applies to. There are a total of ten items to find, so make sure you have a set of coordinates for each answer.

When you've found everything, send to us an email including: 1) your answers, 2) your Casual Gameplay account name, and 3) a statement that you are at least 13 years of age or older, and send it to: 13thskull@casualgameplay.com. Send us your entry as soon as you can. One entry per person, please. We will be randomly selecting winners from the correct submissions all weekend long to receive a coupon for a free copy of Mystery Case Files: 13th Skull Standard Edition!


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Rating: 4.7/5 (32 votes)
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Phantasmat

DoraDespite sounding like something a poltergeist uses for yoga, Phantasmat by Codeminion is a fantastic hidden-object adventure game with a new twist. When your car veers off the road one rainy night as you travel down an unfamiliar highway, you have no choice but to seek help at the comfortingly named Drowned Dead Inn, even though the hotel "assistant" pleads for you to leave while you still can. HEY I KNOW WHAT WE SHOULD DO! LET'S CHECK RIGHT IN! Sounds like a smart decision to me!

PhantasmatThe nearby town, you'll discover, has been abandoned ever since the dam broke and flooded the majority of it, merely damaging some parts while submerging the rest. It seems like the hotel manager, his assistant, and one very eccentric hotel resident are the only ones who have stuck around... and now you, of course. Although, you don't intend to stick around for long. Of course not. After all, it's not like the very forest itself seems to turn against you if you try to leave, right? Ha! Haha! Hahahaha... heh... oh. Hm. Well, that's a problem, isn't it?

If you've played a hidden-object adventure game before, you know the drill by now. Play the game with your mouse, exploring the environments for items you need, and solve puzzles and hidden-object scenes to unlock new items or areas to progress. The game offers three difficulty modes; easy is what it sounds like, the middle-tier offers hints and skip buttons with a moderate timer, and hard difficulty not only penalizes you for mis-clicks for does not allow hints or skipping. If you find yourself stuck, try clicking on the "tasks" button, which will give you an idea of what you should be doing.

PhantasmatThe most interesting addition is the ability to switch instantly and at any time during a hidden-object scene to match-3 mode. Similar in execution to Bejeweled, you swap different items on a grid within the playfield; a match of three or more makes the items vanish, and more fall from the top. The goal is to get the glowing golden eyes to fall all the way to the bottom of the screen, which nets you one of the objects from your list. In match-3 mode, "hint" becomes "power", which, when full, will destroy several tiles on the board near any eyes in play. Your hint and power meters are interchangeable, so if you use a hint, your power will need to recharge, and, as Mr Bunker would say, vice-y verse-y.

Analysis: I'm pretty good at complaining. Ask anyone. But I have very few real complaints about the time I spent with this unexpected gem. The presentation is simply outstanding, with a few caveats. The "animation" used to make the otherwise static drawings of people speak looks a bit strange, and parts of the soundtrack are a little... excitable. Still, in a game as well put together as this, that's sort of like complaining that you don't like the colour of the frosting on your slice of cake. (It's blue! BLUE! Why is it so hard to remember?!) Environments are beautifully detailed, audio from both a musical and ambient point is top notch, and the story is very closely intertwined in the gameplay so that you feel like an active participant.

The only real issues with the gameplay itself are minor ones. Because you spend so much time moving from place to place, and some transitions take a few seconds longer, navigation can get a little tedious. My soul hungers for a map!... well, also for roast beef admittedly, but mostly a map, preferably like the one implemented in Hound of the Baskervilles. A wider range of objects to search for would have also been nice, since the same items crop up over and over in different scenes. But as it stands, Phantasmat delivers a very solid chunk of gameplay. Item uses are clear and logical, puzzles are varied and straightforward, and I never felt myself lost as to how to proceed.

PhantasmatOne of the most frustrating things about a game can be a tendency to do everything for you, especially if the difficulty just isn't much to speak of already. Thankfully, Phantasmat presents a nice, comfortable difficulty curve that, while never particularly brain-bending, still keeps you from feeling like you're coasting downhill towards the finish line in a shopping cart. (Everyone knows that feeling, right?) The inclusion of the match-3 game is a welcome little treat, even if it is fairly simple; using your own eyes will probably be quicker than tile-swapping in most cases, but if you're truly stymied playing a little minigame while you wait for the hint timer to refill is a lot more palatable than staring at the screen for minutes on end like a lump.

While I had figured out the big reveal long before it happened, and most players will probably do the same, Phantasmat still kept me engrossed to the very end with its otherworldly environments, smart storytelling, and clean gameplay. The latter half of the game feels like it moves a lot more quickly than the first, but the conclusion is very well executed, and the bonus epilogue in the Collector's Edition provides an interesting perspective on familiar territory as well as some more story. Altogether, I spent upwards of five-six hours playing in "challenge" mode, not counting the bonus content, and of course your mileage may vary. (Especially if you take the different difficulties into consideration.) Phantasmat is simply a stellar adventure. Of course I always recommend you try the demo before you buy anything, but Phantasmat comes out swinging to hook you until the very end. Highly recommended.

A Collector's Edition is also available. It contains a bonus epilogue chapter to play, wallpapers, an integrated 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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Link Dump Fridays

DoraThe weekend is right around the corner, and thus we begin our ritual playing of games to appease the Elder Ones that Saturday may come about. (Bruce Campbell was also supposed to be here for the ritual, but he wouldn't consent to be oiled up.) This week I bring you bears, sharks, meteors, and... uh... a thing! That does some stuff!

...

... HUZZAH!

  • Evolving MachineEvolving Machine - You there! You like things, do you not? Well then, try this thing on for size! Not so much a game as a piece of interactive art or even a webtoy, this little dealy-bopped simply encourages you to click on stuff and see what stuff happens as a result of said... stuff. It won't take that long to fool around with, but fans of light, exploratory gameplay puzzles and things can't go wrong.
  • BearboundBearbound - Check that bear out. Man. That is some kind of disgruntled bear. Can't say I blame him. In this short little game, made in just 72 hours for Newgrounds' GameJam, you guide the bear around the map looking for a new den, and finding places to shelter temporarily whenever the wind picks up so you don't freeze. Despite the different endings, it won't take you that long to play through. But while it needs a bit more variety to stand flesh itself out, it's still pretty darned adorable for the time frame they had. I mean, I can't even draw bears that well and I'm amazing. These people must be some sort of alien gods or something. It's the only explanation.
  • Paranormal Shark ActivityParanormal Shark Activity - Once upon a time there was a terrible movie, which we won't talk about. Instead, we'll talk about this bizarre arcade game where you must go on the run across a series of floating boxes for as long as you can while pursued by a psychotic looking shark you would not be overestimating by calling freaking massive. If you're like me a suffer a rational phobia of large bodies of water that tend to house things with mouths like an explosion of needles, this may actually be more frightening than that movie thing we're not discussion. All I know is I'm not using any bubblebath tonight... that's how they sneak up on you.
  • Berzerk BallBerzerk Ball - [Parental Warning: May contain content unsuitable for children.] Geeks are insufferable. I know this because I am one, and there are times when I actually go out of my way to be insufferable. (The technical term for that is "Being Dora".) So if you've ever wanted to take your frustrations out on me or that guy you don't want to stand too close to at the comic shop, then try this launch game on for size. With loads of style and snarky humour, this weird little gem from Berzerk Studio is less a sequel to the original Homerun in Berzerk Land and more of an expansion pack with some new surprises. (Don't despair; the sequel arrives later this year!)
  • Effing MeteorsEffing Meteors - If you enjoyed Effing Hail, then it's probably safe to surmise that you'll enjoy it's effing cousin. The goal? Use meteors to wipe out all the life on each planet before moving on to the next. Yes, global extinction was never so effing fun! Or so effing stylish. While it might not provide much challenge, if you've got a fluffy white cat within grabbing distance, now might be a perfect time to practice your Mua-ha-ha-ha-ha!s to the shrieks of the collapse of an innocent civilization. You know, for next time! (I believe in you!)

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DoraSierra 7Simon Hason doesn't mess around. His latest, Sierra 7, is a first-person shooter that plunks you into the capable shoes of a special operative in the unit known as Sierra.

But wait! Sierra 7 isn't just a shooter, it's a rail shooter to be more precise. The game does all the movement for you, taking you along a predetermined course. All you have to do is point and click to shoot, and hit the [spacebar] when prompted to open doors and so forth. Press [R] to reload, and [Q] to cycle weapons. There are seven missions to play, not counting the tutorial, and before starting each one you can click on "loadout" to choose which of the weapons you've unlocked that you'll be taking with you. Whether you go in like Rambo or McClane is up to you, but when you're ready, hit "Execute" to start your selected mission. You'll need to complete each one within a certain time limit to pass, and remember; no disintegrations.

Sierra 7 is sort of an odd duck, in that it reminds me in gameplay and premise somewhat of Killer 7 (only with less talking heads in washing machines... unfortunately) but in execution it's a lot more like Swat4, if fairly watered down. Gameplay is fairly realistic; aim for the head and you'll always take an enemy down as long as you're a decent shot, guns behave and load realistically, and not every enemy has magical scoping laser headshot vision when they fire at you. There's even a level where you're required to snipe certain targets from afar, taking into consideration factors like wind speed and direction. The fact that enemy locations are randomised each time you reload a level takes some of the sting out of having to replay a level when your checkpoint was a ways back.

While things don't really start getting difficult until the last few levels, you still shouldn't expect to slack off. At least, not unless you really wanted some more ventilation in your head. As it stands, gameplay is fairly smooth, but a few bugs still popped up during my play, such as when my weapon decided firing was for suckers forcing me to reload the window, and in places the gray colour palette can make picking out your black stickmen enemies downright frustrating. More levels would have been welcome, but while it lasts Sierra 7 is still an impressive example of the genre and is practically screaming for a sequel.

Play Sierra 7


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Rating: 2.9/5 (50 votes)
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TrickyBreak Them OutIt seems to be a common trope of Breakout-inspired games to offer a specific motivation for why the player should be busting through all those helpless bricks. Jardinains gave you the chance to exact some measure of vengeance against those friggin' gnomes. Peggle offered you a diploma from its suspiciously-accredited university, and so forth. However, Break Them Out, Maqpie Games' entry in the 9th Casual Gameplay Competition, might be the first time that Breakout is made personal. You see, either by way of a terrible mining accident or through the machinations of an angered Hutt crime boss, your best friends have become trapped in the very blocks you seek to explode. It is up to you and your flying pick-axe of destruction to break the bricks, rescue your friends... and grab whatever loot you can along the way.

Controls are nothing surprising: Using the mouse, guide your mine-cart back and forth to bounce your pick-axe-that-looks-like-shovel into the blocks hanging overhead, losing a life if you let it fall beneath you. Some blocks break with a single bounce, others require multiple ones. When the blocks do break open, various precious ores will spill out: Catching them will grant you bonus points. Watch out though: some blocks contain stalactites, and if catch them you'll be stunned for a precious few moments. Most importantly, one block a level contains a friend of yours within, and man, won't you feel like such a heel if you let them drop? What's more, if you catch them, you can select them to come along for the next level. There they will grant you various abilities: speedier cart control, a chance to aim the shovel, an ore-attracting magnet, or rocks thrown at the overhanging bricks. There's seven friends to rescue and three bonus levels besides. Let's make sure the gang's all here!

Break Them OutAnalysis: Honestly... Breakout-style games are pretty hard to screw up. There's something inherently appealing about zooming a platform left and right while a careening ball (or pick-axe) slowly but surely decimates everything in sight. There's the tragedy of barely missing a block you were certain you were going to smash, and the triumph of finally taking out that final one that took, like, forever to get. What more do you need? Break Them Out solidly hits all the right notes of the Breakout theme. For a CGDC9 entry, though, you want the variations to succeed as well. In this case they generally do. Discovering all your "friends" makes for a neat little gimmick that will keep you playing. The choice of permanent upgrades acts as a useful balance against the more random aspects of the genre. Finally, I found the visual style interestingly unique. I'm certain that some will think it ugly (and the brown pick-axe against a brown background was sometimes hard to track), but I thought it evoked the graphics of mid-nineties Windows shareware. It might be the nostalgia talking, but I dug it.

There are some negatives to address. For one, I wish that the "Friends" theme had bit better integrated. Some of the competition comments questioned whether the power-ups could have just been represented by magic gems or something, and I have to say they have a point. It would have been nice to see the friends hanging out between levels, or even just have them peek their heads out of the cart during play. A bit more variety in the power-ups would have likewise better established the personality of your in-game "friends", who otherwise felt pretty interchangeable. This might be more of a problem in a longer game, but with just ten levels, you'll probably be left wanting more.

The biggest concern with Break Them Out is its abject familiarity. Yes, Breakout is always fun. But the CGDC looks for innovation too, and it's a little hard to find when the core gameplay hails from 1976. The new in Break Them Out just doesn't outweigh the old. That said, in a competition designed around "Friends", familiarity might not be all that dire a problem. After all, a game based in a classic style can be akin to meeting an old acquaintance for a cup of coffee: the time spent will cause no grand revelations, but you'll be sure to enjoy yourself.

Play Break Them Out!


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Rating: 4.7/5 (103 votes)
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Babylon Sticks: Let's Do The Mash comic

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


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Rating: 3.6/5 (34 votes)
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TrickyFrankenFriendFrankenFriend, the Synapse Firing Squad's RPG/Visual Novel entry in Casual Gameplay Design Competition 9, is the tale of Frank Von Friendenstein IV, a eccentric youth with a passion for the sciences who lives alone in his mountain castle high above the village of Frankenfriendsylvania. Though for years, his education and "unorthodox" experiments have satisfactorily taken the place of social interaction, he's found that, as of late, he's been lonely. So it is with great trepidation that he heads to the village below looking for companionship. Frank just wants somebody to be his friend. Then again, if that fails, he'll be fine with just... some bodies. After all, what is science for, if not to fulfill your maddest desires? Bwah ha! Bwah ha!! BWAHAHAHAHA!!!!

FrankenFriend's genre is hard to classify. One the one hand, a trip through Frankenfriendsylvania feels very much like exploring Narshe, Truce, Onette, or any other classic RPG starting-village, a feeling compounded by the Earthbound-styled graphics. On the other hand, gameplay is conversation and relationship-based in a way more typical of the Visual Novel. Perhaps the best comparison is to a stripped down version of the equally-difficult-to-classify Animal Crossing series of "life simulators". In any case, you'll be doing most of your time walking and talking

The game is divided into two "days" of play. In the first day, you walk around town using the [arrow] keys, interacting with various villagers by hitting the [spacebar] to start a conversation, with the goal of making as many new friends and connections as possible. Each conversation gives you options of things to say: generally one cordial and one snarky. Generally, cordiality will net you more friends, but snarkiness can lead to some pretty hilarious conversations. Watch out though: conversation will deplete your "social stamina" bar, and eventually you'll be overwhelmed and need to head home. The second day, having found the personalities of the citizens lacking for whatever reason, you set out to invite four chosen people to a dinner party. And, by "four chosen people" we mean, "four people chosen for their body parts", if you catch my drift. You'll have to use all your social connections you made on the first day (and engage in more than a little running around) to create the proper guest list. Watch out, though! You only have eight hours until dinner... and Igor doesn't like it when people are late!

FrankenFriendAnalysis: I shan't mince words. In my mind, FrankenFriend has the best writing of CGDC 9, and an engaging cast of characters that perfectly embodies the theme of "friends". It also has game-mechanics that are confusing at best and debilitating at worst, coupled with a host of not-entirely resolved glitches. Personally, I think the appeal of the game more than makes up for the technical issues, but there is certainly room for improvement.

First, the good: Frankenfriendsylvania is a wonderful town to visit. The people living there have well-defined personalities and dialogue that, while limited, sparkles with imagination. The in-game profiles show that the developers took quite a bit of consideration in creating their game world. It pays off as, from the boisterous blacksmith, to the motor-mouth town gossip, to the lovable town drunk, FrankenFriend has one of the few competition game casts that I actually wanted to hang out with afterward. Likewise, I found, Frank, the anti-heroic protagonist, hilarious. He's written as a demented combination of mad scientist and awkward high school freshman and it totally works. Yeah, generally I chose his "nice" conversational options, but any game that lets you derail small-talk into conversations about grave-robbing, or blithely inform people of how their chosen profession will be crushed by the march of progress, is all right with me.

On the down side, with such a well-developed setting, I wish that a better game was taking place there. Introducing yourself in the first half is quite amusing, but the second half falls short. Collecting bodies is portrayed as a confusing mesh of fetch quests and arbitrarily timed missions, neither of which I'm too fond of in general. The dialogue is as wonderful as ever, but I spent more time looking for people than talking to them. This got old fast. Compounding this is the number of glitches in the game: invisible walls, restarting music, a note-card styled menu system that needed constant prodding to work... nothing game-breaking, but certainly annoying.

Also I want to talk about the ending, or rather the lack of one. All you get is a short screen of text, which was disappointing. Also, I was disappointed in its singularity. The intro talks about the possibility of redemption, so I was kind of hoping that there would be a chance for Frank to be happy with the connections he made, or at least happily draw the villagers into his mad science. The way it ends now feels a little forced, as if the programmers ran out of time before the competition deadline.

I hope I do not sound too negative, as, overall, I found FrankenFriend quite charming and worthy of its place among CGDC 9's finalists. While it is not a perfect game, it demonstrates that the Synapse Firing Squad has prodigious skill in writing and world-building. With a longer development cycle and further flash experience, I'm sure the quality of their programming will soon match their prose. The SFS blog says there's a FrankenFriend 2 on the way, and, let me tell you, I'll be the first to play it.

Play FrankenFriend!


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Rating: 3.6/5 (49 votes)
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TrickyCrystal RunnerCrystal Runner, the new topdown action game release from Lionwood Studios, has quite the classic arcade sensibility. In it, you run around "Crystal World" collecting coins, rescuing people, rotating rooms, and exploding bombs in order to avoid being fried by malevolent black holes... I think Kevin Flynn was playing something like that back in 1982. However, while its inspirations are clearly old-school, its visuals and gameplay make for a modern remix.

Using the [arrow] keys to navigate from room to room in each angularly-pathed level, the goal is to collect all the coins and make your way to the escape ship. Each level consists of numerous square rooms, the blue ones of which can be rotated with the [spacebar], and yellow ones that rotate on their own. Keep in mind that the walk-ways between each room disappear when you move away from them. Other than falling off the levels, the main threat is black holes. They will chase you if they spot you down a corridor, and spit chunks of flame at you. They can be stopped with the bombs planted with the [crtl] or [X] key, but watch out, because said bombs can hurt you too. Collecting keys will open new rooms, some of which contain captives that can be returned to your ship for bonus points. The [Z] key zooms the camera out, allowing you to view the whole level. Oh, and be quick... you're racing the clock!

Despite how repetitive they can get, I have always enjoyed maze games. By their very structure they combine the thrill of discovery and exploration with the high-stakes drama of being chased by something sinister through unfamiliar territory. Crystal Runner takes clear inspiration from the two most successful maze games, Pac-Man and Bomberman, and even if a few of the mechanics aren't particularly original, at least the developers knew to steal from the best.

One original thing about Crystal Runner that I did enjoy was how it caters to multiple playing styles. The fact that the black hole baddies can be neutralized in different ways make for interesting variety. Some levels I found I spent most my time evading them, in others I used my bombs to dispatch them, and other I spent my time using the rotating rooms to trap or deflect them. This may not seem like much, but considering the varying level designs, it added a nice dose of strategy to the action.

The flaws of Crystal Runner are minor but frustrating. Each of its levels resets your progress upon death. This makes it simultaneously frustratingly difficult and frustratingly easy: difficult, as you would think that the time you spent completing the level to near-perfection should count for something; easy since the extra lives are reset as well, and often times there are more than one per level. This mean it often feels like there's no real danger of a game over, and repeating levels from the start just gets annoying. After all, when Pac-Man ate a dot, it stayed eaten. When Crystal Runner grabs a coin, why not let him keep it? Likewise, the time-limits on some levels feel quite unforgiving, and the rate at which black holes respawn makes bombs feel a little useless. Maybe I just don't have Billy Mitchell levels of arcade skills, but Crystal Runner's challenge often feels artificial in nature.

If you don't mind a little cheap difficulty though, there's a lot to like in Crystal Runner. The graphics and music are quite cool, the tutorials are snarky (if not always helpful), and the victory noise at the end of each level is catchy. Really, The only thing missing from this coin-filled crystal maze is Richard O'Brien.

Play Crystal Runner


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Rating: 4/5 (160 votes)
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Weekday Escape

GrinnypWhat is the defining factor that makes a room escape good, if not excellent? It's not the controls, although easy to use controls and a mute and save feature are always helpful. It's not a changing cursor, despite my many complaints on the subject. It's not the graphics and music although they add to the atmosphere and can elevate a game somewhat. The basic core of a good escape game should be flow. Do the puzzles flow from one to another in a logical procession? When you solve one puzzle, do you automatically know where to go next? Creating this sort of procession is what separates game designers and what can make or break a game. Escape from a Building without Windows by Dghgbakufu, although a pretty simple escape on its own, shows step by step this process of "flow", and it makes for a really entertaining adventure.

Escape from a Building without WindowsThe ability to design a game that progresses logically throughout the game is what separates the mediocre and the good from the great. Now all Dghgbakufu needs to do is work on some harder puzzles and a little more background and we may indeed be looking at the next hot room escape designer.

I play dozens of these games each week to bring you what I consider the best, and I can get seriously tired of thinking, "what in the world do I use that for?", "why does that go there?", "where am I supposed to go next?" Slamming your head in frustration about a difficult puzzle is one thing, slamming your head in frustration because you can't figure out what to do next is quite another. I'm not saying that there's no room for surrealism, illogic, or downright goofiness within the genre (I'm looking at you, Henna Escape), but a designer needs to master the rules before they can go about throwing them out willy nilly, and Escape from a Building without Windows is practically a master class in room escape design, Room Escape 101. This is how you create flow, escape designers, so pay attention.

Granted, Escape from a Building without Windows is almost too linear, and leans heavily on color-based puzzles which can be difficult for the folks out there with various difficulties with their vision. It has easy navigation and inventory control but lacks a changing cursor or a save function. What matters while you are playing (and afterwards) is: did you have fun or were you frustrated? Do you feel a sense of accomplishment at getting out or are you just happy to see the back of it? Try Escape from a Building without Windows and what you'll get are the fun and the accomplishment with very little of the frustration.

Stripped down and basic, lacking music, decor, and some controls, Escape from a Building without Windows is still a fantastic way to spend 5 or 10 minutes, and Dghgbakufu is a designer to watch, if only because he/she/they have mastered the first basic rule: make it logical, please. If you want to design room escape games or just love playing them give this little gem a try.

Play Escape from Building without Windows


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Rating: 4.2/5 (83 votes)
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CassandraAetheron RPGNinjakiwi's latest RPG mixes card game mechanics with statistics, explorations, quests and more. Aetheron is a turn-based, strategy, fantasy role-playing game that offers a surprising amount of depth to even the most casual player. In short order you find yourself conscripted by the mayor of a nearby town in order to help defend against "Loathsome Bandits" with only arms and armor as your compensation. It might not sound very glorious to start with, but there's more in store for you than you might expect. You'll need an account to play if you don't want to sign in with Facebook, but registry is quick and painless. (You don't even need to supply a real e-mail address if ponying up your own makes you antsy.)

In the beginning, players are required to choose one of the three classes: the rogue, the wizard or the fighter. As you might have already guessed, rogues deal mainly in surprise attacks, warriors are straightforward fighters, and wizards work mainly with spells. It's probably best to choose a role that already suits your natural playing style as your selection will drastically affect a good chunk of your gameplay. For example, if you're like me and enjoy massive amounts of burst damage, you'll probably want to avoid the slow-moving warrior who spends far too much time exchanging blows and absorbing hits. Having chosen your character class, you'll be prompted to select one of the four elements for yourself. Your choice here is mostly a superficial thing; it helps dictates what cards you'll receive in the beginning of the game and what NPCs will call you but not much else.

Those accustomed to the logistics of Magic the Gathering will probably be perfectly at home in combat; the one big difference is the involvement of a weapon. Those foreign to the idea, however, might find this absolutely daunting but don't worry, it isn't as scary as it looks. Combat is turn-based, so take your time and read all the text that pops up when you mouse over your cards, which details what each one will do. Essentially, you'll want to keep track of your health and energy displayed on the side of the screen; the red and blue bars respectively. You spend energy to use certain cards, and if your health runs out from taking damage, you lose the battle. Win, and you'll gain gold and experience points. While you only have a small number of cards at the beginning, you can purchase more with the gold you earn throughout the game.

Aetheron RPGNavigation is handled via a set of icons on a bar at the top of the screen that allow you to fight, explore towns, travel to other areas, and more at the click of the mouse. As you progress, your character will inevitably level up and permit you to add points to their statistics. It's here that the game opens up even further, allowing you to craft the character that best fits your personal playing style. There are also equipment that you can acquire from both quests and victories in combat. These items are also capable of being socketed with gems of various abilities, allowing you to further refine your performance.

Of course, there's even more to the game. You'll find yourself gallivanting off to fight at different locations as you attempt to fufill the requirements of your quests. Sadly, there isn't much depth to the quests; they're all pretty much your standard 'kill this, collect that' affair. There are buildings that allow you to convert the crystals you acquire to things like potions, a hall of heroes that has yet to be explained, town halls that let you, via the usage of imperial crystals, trigger certain area-wide benefits. Ninjakiwi also promises the ability to engage in duels with other players once they've added the final coating of polish to the game. Of course, if you prefer single-player, you'll be happy to know that multiplayer is completely optional, as is the ability to purchase special credits or gold in game. Atheron can be played and enjoyed without spending a penny.

Analysis: Aetheron dances the thin line between innovation and too much of a good thing. At its core, Atheron is a role-playing game. It has statistics, quests, experience points, things to purchase and people to kill. Stripped of its card game mechanics and given a standard combat system, Aetheron would remain a pretty engaging affair. However, Ninjakiwi made a gamble and took things further by introducing card-game dynamics to the system. Their decision made the game significantly more complicated than what most would expect from a casual game, something that could have been off-set by a more in-depth tutorial, or maybe a help system. However, those persistent enough to get past the steep learning curve will likely find themselves well-rewarded.

Aetheron RPGMore than anything else, Aetheron feels like a game of personal choice. While the quests and the storyline feel relatively pedestrian, the amount of customization available to even the most casual of players borders upon staggering. The inclusion of the four elements as well as the card game dynamics is probably one of the best things in the game for me. However, what I liked best was how Ninjakiwi structured the three classes. Depending on what you pick, the cards that you receive will differ. Playing a rogue, for example, can already feel extremely rewarding thanks to the sheer burst damage that the class can inflict but Aetheron takes it a step further by allowing you to further modify the experience. Like in Magic the Gathering, players can choose to utilize a variety of elements to best fit their style. In the case of the rogue, you could choose to veer away from the standard 'glass cannon' mentality and opt for a more defensive build. Coupled with equipment bonuses and the constant effect of your statistics, the potential is pretty much endless.

Because of how engrossing the gameplay is, I can't help but feel that they should have delved a little further into the appearance of the game. Players can choose one of three classes as well as an appropriate gender. However, that's as far as their character generation goes. There are no options for changing facial features, hair color or even the ability to see how weapons might look like on your character. It's a bit of a minor quibble but it's something I've come to expect from anything that is remotely linked with RPGs. Fortunately, the artwork present in the game is quite nice to look at and surprisingly detailed, lending itself nicely to the fantasy theme without being overblown.

What I'm most excited about, however, is the potential for future multi-player play. Being a veteran of Magic the Gathering, nothing gets to me more than the potential to sit down and play a round with a worthy opponent. With the twists that Aetheron has incorporated into its gameplay, I'm certain that the duels will devour more than my fair share of time. Given the potential for group play, I wonder if this will include the ability to tag-team opponents in both PvE (Player versus Enemies) and PvP (Player versus Player) matches. For now, however, Aetheron is still an engrossing single player experience, with a lot to offer both card game and RPG enthusiasts.

Update: Many of the bugs that players have been reporting in the comments have been fixed by the developer, so if you had issues playing previously, you should give this one another try!

Play Aetheron


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Rating: 4.7/5 (165 votes)
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DoraSarah's Run (Preview)Sophie Houlden knows what Unity can do, and she wants to blow your mind with it. Sarah's Run is a short puzzle platformer about a girl named Sarah with some unusual abilities. Although there's no story since the game is an unfinished preview with only ten levels, because the full name is actually "Sarah's Run: Escape from Capital Evil", you can probably anticipate that you are in some sort of unsavory place and you are running to escape from it. Check out how much of a detective I am!

Use [WASD] to move, the mouse to look around, and hold down [shift] to dash. (Note that if you don't like this control scheme, you can press [ESC] to see an alternative one that uses the [arrow] keys, or even use a controller if you have one.) Pressing the [spacebar] lets you jump, and pressing it again in mid-air will make you double-jump for a little extra distance or height. If you've played any platformer within the last ten or fifteen years, that little move probably isn't going to stun you, but Sarah's got one more trick up her sleeve. Press [E] to activate "Super Mode", which makes Sarah glow white and ignore the laws of gravity; until the timer bar at the bottom of the screen runs out, she'll be able to use ramps to run along the walls and ceiling to reach previously inaccessible areas. Once the timer runs out, or if you press [E] again, she'll revert back to normal, and fall back towards whatever the proper orientation of gravity has to be.

Of course, the levels aren't all gravity-defying parkour. To get to the exit, you'll have to find and activate the number of switches required to open any doors you might come across, and figuring out how to get to them requires a bit of thinking. Electricity is something you'll want to steer clear of, since it's instantly fatal; stepping on it will force you to either restart the level, or return to the last checkpoint you activated. Later levels will also introduce you to barriers that disable Sarah's special ability until she can find a trigger to restore herself, moving platforms and treadmills, and more. It's like if theme parks were inherently evil!... hahahahaha, if.

Sarah's Run (Preview)Analysis: Unity is an interesting platform in that it tends to result in different reactions from different people. For gamers, it tends to be greeted with an anticipatory wince whenever the name comes up; the plug-in necessary to play has a bad reputation for being fussy with browsers and freezing up like an eight-year-old at her first ballet recital. As a result, it doesn't really get the positive attention it should. Which is a shame, because as developers like Sophie Houlden have shown us, the platform is capable of some pretty impressive stuff.

Despite being "just" a preview, Sarah's Run offers up not just a nice chunk of gameplay, but a chance for Unity to strut its stuff on the catwalk. The presentation here is simple, clean, and the way the world spins around you as displayed by the depth of the visuals is impressive for a browser game. After a while, however, the pistachio green and tiled surroundings and short trance-techno loop begin to feel repetitive, and the constant swings in perspective which were butter-smooth on my machine might be too much for an older computer to handle.

Controls are simple and responsive, and the gameplay is easy to jump right into. Most of the puzzle aspect comes from figuring out how to use your environment and gravity to get where you need to be, which can involve a lot of experimentation. Whenever I got stuck, I began to default to hurling myself off of random surfaces at different angles, a sort of everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach that, surprisingly, would often result in sweet success. The ten levels here probably won't keep you busy for too long; each stage is relatively short, and because of the way they're designed, there's no way for you to really get lost. You'll always know where to go, all you have to do is figure out how to get there.

Sarah's Run: Escape from Capital Evil is currently on hold while the developer works on another title, but if you're interested in keeping an eye on the product you may want to read the development blog which contains far, far more technical talk than my puny critic brain can comprehend, but is fascinating nonetheless. Since it looks like the finished product will be a pay-to-play affair, you should definitely check out this free preview and cut your teeth on Sophie's work. While it doesn't really break any new ground, it's fun, easy to play, and a fantastic showcase of Unity's capabilities, to say nothing of Sophie's own talents. It'll be interesting to see how the final product looks in comparison, but right now there's still plenty to enjoy.

Play Sarah's Run (Preview)

Thanks to Jordan for sending this one in!


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Rating: 3.9/5 (142 votes)
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ChiktionaryHenna EscapeYou unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension: a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind. You're moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas. You've just crossed over into... the Out Of Your Comfort Zone. Playing room escape games can be a comforting pastime, as we've all grown familiar with what to expect; y'know the stuff, intuitively using objects and solving puzzles to find the final exit. Newly emerging Japanese game developer Detarou challenges our notions of comfort and familiarity in Henna Escape, a surreal and almost totally unintuitive point-and-click game.

While the basic premise of Henna Escape is similar to most other room escape games, that is using your mouse to locate objects and solve puzzles to find your way out, the normality pretty much ends there. You start out thinking you know exactly what's going on, until you do ordinarily normal things, like open a closet door or look through a window. Who knew that someone in a panda-suit holding a red balloon could be so creepy? And you won't believe what a flower-pot is for... Okay, I am exaggerating just a little tiny bit, because guess what? There's a screwdriver. And guess what else? It does screwdriver stuff. This is a Japanese escape game, so there are moments when you click and receive information in Japanese, but the puzzles are completely solvable without having to resort to translations.

This is certainly a game that will leave you thinking "What was that all about?" and you will probably even finish it wondering how the heck you even did. We all love those cute Minoto games, and Henna Escape continues the tradition of quirky Japanese games, but in an edgier way. Trippy moments aside, the slick graphics and smooth gameplay definitely make this game worth playing.

So prepare yourself for a trip into the unknown and the unexpected, and when you get through to the other side congratulate yourself for trying something new. Ah, what am I saying? You're going to love it!

Play Henna Escape


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The Vault

JayI ventured down to The Vault last night to see what I could dig up from the dusty old shelves down there, and I'm sure you're going to like what I found! Although these games haven't been in the limelight for quite some time now, they're still classics as far as browser games go and everyone should enjoy them at least a couple dozen times! Featured below is a room escape, an arcade game and one of the first physics puzzle browser games I ever played.

  • Viridian RoomViridian Room - The Viridian Room was not only the very first room escape game I ever played, it was also one of the very first games I ever featured here at JIG. Back in 2004, I began to discover all these brilliant little games that were starting to appear all over the Web, and my experience in the Viridian Room helped influence and shape what JIG has become today. It's a fantastic escape game with an engaging narrative that unfolds as you play. It's a very soulful experience and a classic of the genre.
  • Warthog LaunchWarthog Launch - Warthog Launch is an exceptionally good physics puzzle game with gratifying gameplay that feels a bit like bowling, only with hand grenades. Simply position the Warthog, add grenades, and blast-off. Clear all the creatures on the play field in one fell-swoop to advance to the next level. More fun that it should be, this game is the bomb.
  • BLiXBLiX - Some of the best things in life come in the smallest of packages, and BLiX is a testament to that. Another Shockwave game created by the fabulous gameLab team, who have now all moved on to other ventures, BLiX is an arcade game of elegantly simple design that is remarkably fun, cute and addictive to play. This is one game I've come back to time and time again over the years.

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: 4.2/5 (157 votes)
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CassandraRobo RampageRobo Rampage is an action shooter that takes a while to ramp up, but rewards players who have patience with an intense experience if they stick it out. For reasons that are never discussed, players will travel to Planet Junk in order to engage scary yet adorable robots in mortal combat. Fear not, you'll have a RoboMe to blast down your mechanical opponents as you strive to build the tallest "Kill Hill". That... doesn't get explained either but that's fine by me. As robots start pouring across the skies and meandering across the junkyard horizon, you won't have time for a story.

The control mechanics behind Robo Rampage are elegantly simple. Movement is dictated by the [WASD] keys while the mouse is used to both shoot and aim. Weapons are selected via the mouse wheel or the [Q] and [E] keys. Like any other good shooter, Robo Rampage gives you a decent array of power-ups and weapons to play with that periodically fall from the sky, but since power-ups to a particular weapon have finite ammunition, you might want to conserve your favourites for boss fights or certain baddies.

While I'm all for the addictive pleasure that lies behind the act of robot genocide, what really got to me about Robo Rampage was the gimmick that they built into it. With every robot that you kill, their bodies will be added to your Kill Hill. It's not really noticeable at first but eventually, you'll find that you'd really prefer a flat piece of land as you attempt to maneuver about during the boss fights and as enemies swarm the bumpy terrain. Of course, I'm a traditionalist; you could play it differently and give yourself vantage points and ravines to work with.

The graphical presentation is excellent, the music is fine and the sound effects and voice acting complements the game perfectly. There's something strangely rewarding about playing a game that somehow manages to combine almost Tetris-like elements with your standard action fare. The only real complaint I have about Robo Rampage is it takes too darn long to get interesting. However, if you're willing to wait, there's a definite gem here to indulge in as you engage in today's coffee break.

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TrickyInferno 2: MeltdownFire! In the Diner! Fire! In the Cake Factory! Danger Danger! Another spree of accidental flame outbreaks is afflicting the land of Casual Gaming! Once again, it's up to a little robot fire-fighter that could to vanquish the flames. Such is the heated premise of The Podge's new puzzle platformer sequel, Inferno 2: Meltdown.

Sequel to the original Inferno, Meltdown has similar mechanics. As before, you move your robot around the screen with the [WASD] keys, collecting coins and putting out ever-consuming flames by aiming the hose and shooting with a click of the mouse. Aiming the hose straight down will blast you into the air, and, should you have one on hand, the [spacebar] drops a sprinkler which will release a constant spray. You start with a generous but limited supply of water, but can refill your tank at various locations. Like before, points are awarded for the remainder of the structure left standing and coins collected, but now there are also people to save. They'll be okay if you get to them or keep the flames safely away, but should you leave them to immolate, expect a penalty. Believe me, the chances of that happening will be much higher should flames reach the ever-present oil drums, crates of fireworks, or air vents (though thankfully a spray at the fan controls will shut the latter down.) You'd better get the robot down, down, down to the source, or else, those flames'll keep getting higher!

Inferno 2 keeps what made the original appealing, while improving on its flaws. The controls are less clunky, the pace is faster, and the addition of people to protect adds greatly to the dramatics. As before, the set pieces you protect are wonderfully designed, and humorously builds from the mundane (a office trash fire) to the comically extreme (a blaze at the firework, match and propane factory!). While the focus feels more action-oriented, the new medal ranking system and harder "Meltdown" mode rewards strategic thinking: you might be able to rush in to the flames spray-happy, but if you don't collect enough coins, upgrades will be out of your reach.

Meltdown is not perfect: ladders and jet-pack controls remain a bit too finicky, there seems to be a bug that traps you on the ending screen, and the repetitiveness of the concept makes it a game still best enjoyed in short bursts. However, you'll still derive great satisfaction in every so often laying a troublesome flame to rest. Overall, those who enjoyed the first game will find Meltdown a worthy successor, and even those who didn't might have their interest kindled by its improvements to the concept.

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ChiktionaryMonsterz: Chainz of FriendzFriendship is a beautiful thing, especially when you've found the perfect friends. You know the ones, those who are there to lift you out of a blue mood with a smile, those who let you know you're not alone, those who make you feel like you belong. Monsterz: Chainz of Friendz, submitted by Jean Privat for CGDC9, reminds us of the joys of friendship which seemingly are just as important to monsters...I mean monsterz.

In this simply presented puzzle game, use your mouse to form chainz between monsterz of the same color. To form chainz, select the monster type from the menu to the right of the screen then either click on individual squarez, or click and drag to create chainz. The expressionz on the monsterz facez say it all; Monsterz that are not part of a chain have sad, lonely facez, partly constructed chainz show monsterz with relatively neutral facez, while monsterz who are connected in a full, but not necessarily correctly laid out chain, will exhibit expressionz of joy. But monsterz who have more than two neighborz of their own kind will feel overcrowded and will subsequently have angry expressionz, so chainz cannot cross over and must be in a single line.

Hover your cursor over the menu options and a brief explanation will appear underneath the monsterz grid. For example, the splash icon is an eraser which will remove mosterz from the grid if you wish to rework a chain, although you can simply reclick on a monster to delete if it's already selected in the menu. The game is automatically saved so you can continue from where you last played, or you can clear the saved data to start the entire game from the beginning. There are two ways that levels can be solved; simply connect all the monsterz on the grid, or to gain a gold score for each level add the maximum number of monsterz to par the levelz. Each and every monster must be part of a chain. The ability to see the par number for each level is unlocked after successfully completing level five. On completing level ten, the level editor is unlocked allowing you to create your own levelz.

Monsterz: Chainz of FriendzAnalysis: Monsterz: Chainz of Friendz may look familiar to many. Jean Privat openly discloses that he borrowed the images and music from a game called Monsterz which was created by Sam Hocevar back in 2005 and whom made the game freely available for redistribution and modification. While it's great to be mindful of recycling, it's a bit of shame that Jean's game is not original in its presentation. This may be a reason why Monsterz: Chainz of Friendz didn't score as highly as Jean had hoped, but it still made it into the top ten games of CGDC 9, and it's not hard to see why with all the positive feedback from you, the invaluable members of the Jay Is Games community. Without a doubt Jean has created a monstrously fun game that adheres strongly to CDGC 9's "Friends" theme.

In terms of gameplay, the mechanic is fairly smooth with only slight awkwardness in selecting and de-selecting monsterz for adding and removing to the game board. The difficulty curve is just right, starting out with some really easy puzzles and finishing with five challenge levels that can only be completed by achieving par for each level.

This is the kind of game that really gets you thinking, as you try to work out how the heck those monsterz can be connected. You may be a strategic forward thinker and plan your moves based on the placement of monsterz already on the grid, or you may be a trial-and-error type player creating chainz only to erase them just as quickly. Either way, there will be moments when a solution is suddenly crystal clear and you'll experience that wonderful feeling of self-satisfaction that only a challenging casual game can provide.

The beauty of Casual Gameplay Design Competitions is the interaction between game developers and the Jay is Games community. Jean responded to comments from the JiG community and implemented suggestions quickly, so it can be said that this final version of Monsterz: Chainz of Friendz is a true collaborative effort, and one of the appealing aspects of the game, the monsterz' expressive faces, is a result of that collaboration. And when a game developer really listens and responds the way Jean has, those games find their way into our favorites.

So next time you're feeling a little lonely, spare a thought for the monsterz who without your help would otherwise remain sad and disconnected, and spend time playing Monsterz: Chainz of Friendz. Guaranteed you'll feel rewarded for playing, even if it's just to see those little monsterz' faces light up with joy.

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Mobile Monday

JohnBWowee wow wow! It's a new year! Erm... now what? Isn't something supposed to happen now? Lightning bolts? Umm... cake? How about some nice puzzle games? Ok, that's cool, we'll do that!

geared2.gifGeared 2! - It's about time! Back in 2009, a puzzle game called Geared was released for iPhone. Now, its sequel appears and shows up the original in almost every way, introducing loads of new puzzles, an improved visual style, tinkered gameplay, and... a hamster! Geared 2! is all about dropping gears from a menu bar onto the screen. One gear is already turning, another is not. Connect the two sides and you're ready to move on. Very difficult at times, as the gears are free-floating and not confined to a grid, but highly satisfying once you get it right!

kubrick.gifKubrick - A great take on the physics puzzle genre, Kubrick stars an immobile little cube with a lot of neat powers. Your goal is to make it to the end of the level, hopefully collecting a few things along the way. To navigate the world, tap an item from your menu bar to activate it, then control the cube by tilting your iPhone. So, for example, if you turn on wheels, suddenly you can roll. Flip on the propeller and you can hover for a bit. Get the picture? Good! Now you're ready to have an amazing time solving puzzles. The free Kubrick Lite is also available.

mindwall.gifMind Wall - From the same mind that brought us Dungeon Scroll, Mind Wall is a puzzle game that's as simple as fitting blocks through a wall. A mass of cubes slowly zooms into view. Look at the shape outlined in the top right corner, then tap any one block in the wall to remove it, the goal being to open a space large enough to fit the target shape. Succeed, and you move on. Fail, and you don't. Unlockable game modes give you an extra incentive to move on, but the real draw is the game's immense challenge. You'd never think something like this could be so difficult!

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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Back to the Future: It's About Time

JamesTime traveling sports cars, doe-eyed Canadians, wild-haired scientists, a few brushes with total removal from history and exclamations towards the greatness of those found north of Hadrian's Wall: it can only be Back to the Future. And it's got a game. But not just any game. Not some movie-merchandise spin-off. Back to the Future: The Game is the digital adventure partner this iconic 80s trilogy deserves. Or it will be, once more of the episodic releases hit our virtual shelves. Marty McFly and the Doc are at it again, joining forces with Telltale Games and taking the DeLorean (with Flux Capacitor upgrade) for a spin through time and space.

Back to the FutureIt has been a good couple of decades since the last movie was released, and even the marvel of home DVD can't ensure that everyone knows what Back to the Future is. If you doubt this claim, consider that I have met college students who never heard of 'Gremlins'. Back to the Future was a fantastic trilogy released in the last half of the 80s in which teen slacker Marty McFly has to reunite the teenage couple who would become his parents, stop his son from arrest in 2015, move the current timeline out of an alternative reality after a mishap with a book of sports scores, and end up taking down the outlaw "Mad Dog" Tannen in the Wild West of 19th century Hill Valley. It's an 80s masterpiece, cinematic classic and just about the best time-traveling movies ever made (with a nod to Bill & Ted).

Back to the Future: The Game starts a few months after the events of the trilogy (which, relatively speaking, took place over a few hours). Marty wakes up from a dream (an experience fans of the first movie will get a kick out of) and rushes to the Doc's place. Doc Brown hasn't been seen for quite a while and the city has decided to start pawning his stuff. Marty, nostalgically going through the place, is soon surprised with the arrival of the DeLorean, with Einstein (Doc's dog) inside. A tape recording reveals that the car came back as a failsafe, if Doc didn't use it after a certain amount of time. That means he's in trouble and it is up to Marty to find out where and when he is — and go rescue him.

Back to the FutureAnalysis: Back to the Future: The Game does an impressive job recreating the classic movies for a new audience in a new medium. The transition from the ending of Back to the Future III isn't as convincing as it could have been, but it's done with such style and taste that only puritan fans would object. Marty is voiced by a convincing doppleganger for Michael J. Fox and the Doc is revisited by none other than Christopher Lloyd himself. Some stuff is hit (Biff's model) and miss(Marty's dad sounds nothing like Crispin Glover), but this is the best work Telltale has ever delivered. Note that I say 'work' and not 'game'. To me the experience was 99% there, but the design is hardly vexing. There is no object combining and pretty much every puzzle will collapse under the scientific application of exhausting dialog trees and using your spartan inventory on everything in sight. If that still holds you down, the hint system does everything but move the mouse for you.

In terms of quality, writing and length, Back to the Future: The Game is at least as good as the best of the Sam & Max episodics. It sits well above those games in the animation department. Perhaps we can thank this game's required presence in the mid 1980s, but the game also skips all the painful pop-culture jokes that ruined much of the Sam & Max experience. And it takes great care to bring Hill Valley, the perpetual stage for Marty and Doc's adventures, back to life without feeling goofy with fanboyishness ala Monkey Island. I'll say Telltale got back To The Future just right, though they should really consider adding a 'pro' mode for us salted adventurephiles.

Would this game be any less impressive without the nostalgia of the movies hanging around my neck? I don't know, but I doubt it. Nostalgia is overrated. Despite being a devoted fan of the series, the new Monkey Island games only managed to push me away. If anything, hardcore Back to the Future fans run the biggest risk of getting a bad taste in their mouths. It definitely will not hurt to watch the movies, so that you have some context and can enjoy all the little touches. But this first episode really shows that Telltale understands what made Back to the Future work. The next five months are going to be quite interesting as the saga of Marty, Doc and a few time-related problems enter our lives.

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Death at Fairing Point: A Dana Knightstone Novel

DoraWhile lots of people love romance novels, few things can pique someone's interest more than a good murder mystery. Dana Knightstone sets off to write the former, and ends up stumbling into the latter. She's been hoping that a trip to Scotland will provide her with the inspiration she needs to finish her latest historical romance (and finally propel her to the coveted status of "best-selling author"), but the old hotel she checks into has more than its share of secrets... some of them nastier than others. Death at Fairing Point: A Dana Knightstone Novel is part adventure, part puzzle, and a dash of hidden-objects, all wrapped up in one beautiful package.

Death at Fairing Point: A Dana Knightstone NovelFollowing a silent apparition in her room one stormy night (all apparitions are contractually obligation to appear on only stormy nights), Dana quickly begins to uncover a two-hundred year old love story with a very unhappy ending. As Dana, you'll explore not only the manor, but the surrounding countryside and village as you slowly begin to piece together the story of romance, betrayal, and murder. While there are some hidden-object elements, and even a hidden-object scene or two, gameplay is largely puzzle based. As you investigate your environments, you'll gather up various objects and clues that you'll need to use to solve puzzles impeding your progress. A changing cursor denotes an area you can interact with, and Dana's journal keeps track of certain important objects or events, so make sure to refer to it if you find yourself lost. A hint function helps provide some direction, and puzzles also come with the ability to be skipped if you find yourself butting heads with them for too long.

Analysis: Less The Turning of the Screw and more Murder, She Wrote, Death at Fairing Point is a refreshing, light adventure with a gorgeous presentation. While it doesn't hold any real surprises as far as the plot goes, the game does a great job about uncovering details bit by bit the farther you go, and the locations you feature are wonderfully detailed with an appealing, hand-drawn aesthetic. The gameplay design is very well done, and since items and hints tend to be revealed to you just when you need them, you'll never find yourself frustrated as to where to go next. The decision to move to a new location with each chapter means that the game neatly sidesteps the boredom that could have set in with wandering around the same places for the whole game. Instead you get to travel all over the lush countryside and interact with a Who's-Who of quaint Scottish Stereotypes. The only real downside is that it won't pose much of a challenge to most players.

Death at Fairing Point: A Dana Knightstone NovelI'd like to tell you that my brain has evolved over the years to the point where the twitch of an eyebrow causes puzzles to swoon at my feet, but the fact of the matter is that Fairing Point just doesn't try very hard to challenge you. Certain puzzle types are repeated over and over throughout the game, and Dana's journal always records the answers to any riddles you might come across. Areas are also very tightly designed so that you'll never find yourself confused as to where to go, or what to do. It's a shame, because it feels like in an effort to make the game accessible to everyone, it misses its chance to provide a really substantial experience from all angles.

Still, for players who aren't looking for a real brain twister and just want something to enjoy, Death at Fairing Point easily exceeds expectations. Death at Fairing Point: A Dana Knightstone Novel is the casual gameplay equivalent of beach reading, something light and enjoyable that's easy to sink into for an afternoon or two. I'd love to see a sequel that gave a bit more of a voice to Dana, making her a more dynamic presence within the story and someone you really want to adventure with again. Until then, Death at Fairing's Point is a solid, fun title with a demo that any fan of mystery and romance should check out.

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:
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Also available: Collector's Edition

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Also available: Collector's Edition


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SpaceChem

JohnBBest of Casual Gameplay 2011The creator of The Codex of Alchemical Engineering and Bureau of Steam Engineering (not to mention the grandaddy of Minecraft, Infiniminer) is back with a full-fledged indie game ready to provide a serious logic puzzle challenge. SpaceChem is anything but simple, anything but easy, and one of the most satisfying puzzle games released. If you can solve its challenges, that is. SpaceChem is a game you'll spend a few minutes learning but weeks trying to master, and its 50+ levels are more than enough to strain your poor brain matter more than it's been strained in quite some time.

SpaceChemIf you've ever played a game from Zachtronics Industries, you know it isn't really possible to read a paragraph introduction and learn everything about the game. SpaceChem is much easier to pick up than previous releases, though, which is encouraging for casual players. Here's a quick introduction to the mechanics, just so you know what to expect. Much like The Codex of Alchemical Engineering, SpaceChem is all about assembling molecules from simple atoms using a series of programmable commands. You work from a grid and two colored WALDOS that function as conveyor belts. By laying commands on to these belts, you can move elements around the grid, outfitting them as instructed by the level goals, and depositing them in the correct positions.

Now, it would be relatively simple to create a machine that does this once or twice. But in a true "games for engineers" fashion, you must build a mechanism that can accomplish this ten times. A repeatable, looping set of programs that builds a perfect molecule and drops it off in the correct grid space. Atoms can be bonded multiple times (depending on their limitations), each bond accomplished by setting atoms on paired reactors and initiating a "bond" command. The red and blue paths can also overlap as well as activate things for each other. Now you're beginning to see the challenge, right? And fortunately for us, this description only scratches the surface.

SpaceChemThere's even a story to go along with your molecule building, and it explains why you're doing what you're doing and adds a nice narrative to the whole experience. And don't worry, an in-game tutorial walks you through new gameplay elements when they arise. In later levels, you'll be working with multiple reactors, each doing its own assembly task and sending its product on to the next reactor for further transformation. The big picture is often mind boggling, but the sense of accomplishment you feel once you pull it off is enormous!

Analysis: SpaceChem is a big step-up from previous releases, adding a lot of shortcut features that make playing the game easier, more entertaining, and more social. Keyboard shortcuts allow you to place commands on the WALDOS with minimal effort, and after completing a level, you're shown stats that are compared with other SpaceChem players. You can even upload your solutions to YouTube!

Zachtronics' games aren't for everyone. These hyper-challenging logic puzzles require a certain mental disposition to grasp, let alone solve or complete in their entirety. Couple with that the lack of any sort of hint feature and you've got a real challenge on your hands. It's the kind of challenge that's fun to figure out, though. SpaceChem requires thinking. Real, honest problem solving, not memorizing a pattern and repeating it over and over again to the end of the game. You must analyze a situation, determine the best route, work on your design, tinker with it, refine it, and finally solve it. The effort you put into each level pays off in that feeling of nigh-euphoria when you solve a puzzle on your own.

SpaceChem is a brilliant game. It's a polished and playable release that's thoroughly challenging, easy to get into, but terribly difficult to master. But when you see that machine you've worked so hard on complete a task, it's a thing of true beauty.

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Virtual Villagers 5 Walkthrough

GrinnypHere is our massive walkthrough guide for Virtual Villagers 5: New Believers! Everything you need to get through the game is here, including a lot of spoilers, so proceed at your own risk.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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

This walkthrough for Virtual Villagers 5 is broken up into five sections:

  1. General Information

  2. A step-by-step strategy guide through the game, from beginning to end

  3. A technical section devoted collectibles, totems, food points, "godly powers" and the like

  4. A section with just the puzzles in numerical order

  5. A Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) section

Actual solutions will be hidden by spoilers.


vv5_spacer1.jpg

I. General Information

If you've played any of the Virtual Villagers games before, some things are the same and some have changed.

  • Learn the controls! They are basically the same as Virtual Villagers 4 with the addition of the energy bar and the "godly" powers icons. The most useful control to learn is the detail "camera" located at the bottom right of the screen. You can use this to quickly locate any individual on the island. Click on the right arrow (when the screen is blank) and it goes to the youngest tribe member. Continue to click the right arrow and you will scroll through your villagers from youngest to oldest. As each one comes up in the "camera", the game will zoom to that person. This is especially helpful when trying to find children quickly. Click on the left arrow (when the screen is blank) and you will go to the oldest person in the tribe. Continue to click and you will cycle from oldest to youngest.

  • Watch your levels closely! At the top of the screen are the totals of your population, your food supply, your current tech points, your faith energy, and what "godly" powers you can access. Screenshot.

  • Plan carefully! Choose your beginning villagers wisely, the success of your tribe depends on it. Make sure you have a balance of male and female, and one (or preferably 2) children to collect mushrooms and collectibles. Avoid any villager who dislikes "work", "learning" or "running" as they will be fairly useless. Also avoid those who dislike wood or stone (they make bad builders), dislike plants or herbs (bad farmers and bad doctors), dislike fish or swimming (bad farmers), dislike lifting (bad builders) or things of that nature. Examine the likes and dislikes of your prospective villager carefully. Also avoid villagers who like "rest" as they won't do a lot of work. Screenshot.

  • Your energy bar shows two things, how much energy you can have and how much energy you do have. Your ability to have more energy increases with the size of your population and the level of spirituality tech, as well as your conversion efforts. When you start you will only have the capacity for about 35 energy. At the end it will be over 800. Just because you have the capacity doesn't mean you have the energy, using your "godly" powers uses that energy and it takes a while for it to accumulate again. Just having living villagers will slowly increase the energy, but you can gain more if you convert a heathen or in collecting duplicate artifacts.

  • Learn the double collect trick! To double collect an item with children do as follows: once you spot a collectible or mushroom, find the nearest child. Pick the child up and pause the game (with the space bar). Drop the child on the collectible and go find a second child. Pick up the second child and go back to the object. Once you are hovering over the object (and the first dropped child) hit the space bar to unpause and quickly drop the second child right next to the first. If done properly and the timing is right, both children will run away with the same object. This is invaluable in bolstering food supplies when collecting mushrooms, and in gaining tech points or energy when collecting other collectibles. WARNING: do not drop a child directly onto the other, this will cause them to drop the item and go off for a jumping contest. Make sure that the children are side-by-side. Screenshot.

  • Collect Ruthlessly! Mushrooms can mean the difference between life and death to your tribe in the early stages, and the boost in tech points from collectibles allows you to purchase necessary second stage technology quickly. Collecting relics helps fill up your energy bar quickly, and also helps extend it the more relics you find.

  • Watch for sparkles! Mushrooms and collectibles produce faint white sparkles, which enable them to be spotted more easily.

  • Cross Train Ruthlessly! Some tasks will require villagers with more than one skill, and it is helpful to be able to quickly shift your workforce from one task to another if necessary.

  • Learn to Navigate! You can move around the area in several different ways. (1) Left click on the ground and drag, this will move the visible area around. (2) Use the number keypad: the area is broken into roughly 9 grids, corresponding to the numbers on the keypad of your keyboard. The bottom row of numbers (1, 2, and 3) cover the "south" area, the middle row of numbers (4, 5, and 6) cover the "middle" area, and the top row of numbers (7, 8, 9) cover the "north" area. The number keypad is an easy way to quickly look for collectibles. (3) Use the detail "camera". Use the right and left arrows of the camera to select a villager and the screen will zoom to where they are. The detail "camera" will not work if the game is paused. (4) Use the overall map. Use the map button on the controls to get a bird's eye overall view of the area. From the map click on the area you wish to go and it will zoom to that area.

  • Don't pick up a villager that is busy unless it is absolutely necessary! If you pick up a villager that is in the process of a task or is carrying something, they will drop the item and it will be lost. They will also "forget" what it is they were doing.

  • Children under the age of 14 will not work, except for picking up mushrooms and collectibles! Once they reach age 14 you can put them to work, but they won't be fully "adult" until age 18. That means if a story time for the children is going on, the 14-17 year olds will drop work and attend. Villagers cannot have children until fully "adult", i.e. the age of 18.

  • Based on their parentage, some children will be born with a little bit of skill in some areas. Children can also be "trained" somewhat by using the nursery school.

  • Nursing mothers will not work until the baby is 2 years old! So be careful about getting the women pregnant. With no one farming a tribe can easily starve.

  • Don't forget to take off the parenting preference if you are going to leave the game! If you forget and leave a male villager on parenting, you may wake up to a tribe that has doubled or more in size, or one that has starved from too many people and not enough food.

  • The game continues even when it is turned off! Virtual Villagers 5 plays in "real time", which means things will still happen even when the game is closed. Remember this if you're going to be away for a while. Move your game to the "slow" or "pause" option depending on how long you will be away.

  • Choose your time settings wisely! Playing in "fast" mode live is fun, but if you're going to be gone for a while consider switching to "Normal", "Slow", or even "Pause". If something goes wrong, you can come back to a dead village and have to start over again.

  • Do not mess with your computer clock to "fast forward" the game! Not only can this mess up other things on your computer, it can create havoc within the game. Trying this can result in a dead tribe, or problems with regenerating crops.

  • The weather is your friend! Yes, rain and fog are annoying and tend to hide things, but they are extremely useful. When it rains, mushrooms pop out at a much faster rate, allowing more food collection. The heathens in the run-down village don't like rain, and will flee to the forest which can be helpful or hurtful, as they often take a route that crosses the path of your farmers or builders, causing work to stop as they chase your villagers. You can create rain, lightning, sunshine, and fog from your "godly" powers. The Fog of Doom is especially helpful as the heathens cannot see through it and your villagers can.

  • Fire is your friend! A fire not only keeps your villagers warm and cuts down on illness, it boosts your ability to gain tech points. You will need both wood and dry grass to start a fire, and usually only adults can start a fire. However, you can light the fire using your lightning power.

  • Don't forget to set work preferences for your villagers! For instance, if you want someone farming, make sure to check the farming preference. Villagers without preferences set will often wander around and do their own thing. Screenshot.

  • You can choose the hut locations! When the foundation for a hut shows up, you can pick it up and move it to a place of your choosing (within reason). Look closely at the outline of the foundation, green means an area that the hut can be built in, red means you can't build there. Choose locations wisely: try not to impede frequently used paths, and especially watch out for areas that the orange guards like to walk through.

  • Use children as temporary healers! If a villager becomes sick before you have access to the hospital to train doctors, find the nearest child, set their preference to healing, and drop them on the ill individual. Keep doing this until they heal the villager.

  • Keep an eye on the blue-mask heathens! Drop a villager on them to talk to them and a light will appear above their head. This means that they are thinking about what you've said. Make sure all of the blue-mask heathens have lights. When the lights go out, drop a villager on them again to talk. Eventually they will convert to your tribe. WARNING: Don't try to talk to the ones with a light, they are already thinking about it and don't want to talk right now. They will run away from your villager if you try. Screenshot.

  • Avoid the orange-mask heathens! They will chase your villagers and make them drop whatever they are carrying, especially disrupting food gathering and building tasks. If you are dropping children onto collectibles first check to make sure no orange-mask heathen is in the area.

  • Use distractions! Orange mask heathens can be drawn away from an area with an adult or child. They will give chase, leaving the area temporarily clear. They will come back quickly, so use a child or children to keep them away until you've done what you need to do. Red mask heathens will not give chase, and will scare your people away, so you will need to use your "godly" powers to move them from an area. Bees or lightning will cause them to run away for a short while.

  • All the heathens can be converted, but each has a different method. See the technical section (section 3) for details on each and how to convert them.

  • Watch where people go! Children (and adults) will often wander off to look at "interesting" areas of the island. These areas are usually important.

  • Fly around the island! Pick up a child and hover him/her over various interesting areas and watch the text that shows up in the control screen. Do this with adults as well, to identify certain items and hotspots that are important to the game.


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II. Strategy Guide

Getting Started (basic food and shelter)

Choose Your Team

  • You will pick the five members of your new village from a large pool of hopefuls.

  • A good basic strategy is to pick a balance of men and women, with at least one child.

  • If you are going to be playing with the tutorial on, it's better to not choose a nursing mother, as the tutorial has you produce a baby. Nursing mothers do not work, so be careful about breeding early on. However, each new person in your village increases your ability for "godly" powers.

  • Try for a mix of talents. It's good to have one person with building skills, one with farming skills, and one with research skills.

  • This strategy guide is based on three adults (one a nursing mother) and two children.

  • Don't pick all of one gender. With no way to produce children, your village will die of old age.

  • Experienced players might like to go with something more challenging, like all children.

  • Younger is better. Until you can afford third level medicine, your villagers will start becoming elderly in their 50's or early 60's and die earlier.

  • Screenshot.

In the Camp

Puzzle 2

  • Your villagers will appear inside a flimsy bamboo enclosure. Set your adults to building and drop them on the bamboo and they will start tearing it down to build a food bin. While they are doing that, scan around with your kids and collect mushrooms and relics if they appear. Don't forget to avoid the orange mask heathens. Screenshot.

  • While the food bin is being built, grab one adult and start dropping them on blue mask villagers to talk to them. Be persistent, eventually you will see a yellow light appear above their (the blue mask) head showing that they are thinking about it. Don't bother with the heathen "mommy" blue mask, she will not talk to your villager.

  • Once the food bin is finished concentrate on finding mushrooms with the children. You will need the food.

Puzzle 1

  • To the left of the enclosure, across the stream, is the science lab. Just below the lab (south) is the hospital, guarded by the pain totem.

  • In the hospital are some blue mask heathens, and a purple mask heathen who is sick.

  • Set one of your children (or adults) to healing, then drop them on the purple mask heathen until he/she is healed. Screenshot.

  • Once the purple mask heathen is healed he/she will convert and join your village. You now have an extra adult to work, and one who is also an experienced doctor.

  • When the heathen converts, they will drop a small article on the ground. Have a child pick it up and they will run it over to the stone statue just north of the enclosure. This is the first part of the necklace. Each purple mask heathen has a part. Screenshot.

  • If at this point the food bin isn't finished, set two adults to finish it and continue talking to the blues with the third.

Puzzle 3

  • At this point you need to make a decision, food or tech points. If you go for food it will be more difficult to open the lab. This walkthrough presumes that food is more important.

  • Above and to the right of the enclosure is a noni bush. There is a Hungry Totem in front of it. Screenshot.

  • In order to get food from the bush, you need to get the guards away and tear down the totem.

  • Use the bee power on the bush. This will do two things: (1) Increase the number of noni berries, and (2) temporarily drive away the red mask heathen.

  • Once the heathens near the bush run away use a child to distract any orange masks in the area, then drop your adults on the totem to tear it down.

  • Keep the orange guards away and keep your adults on it until the totem collapses. This will happen fairly quickly.

  • Once the totem is gone the red mask and the orange mask will go elsewhere. There will still be two orange masks nearby, guarding the wood pile.

Food and Fire

  • Once the Hungry Totem is down you can start to harvest noni berries. Set your adults to farming and drop them on the bush. Keep dropping them until they start harvesting. Keep them at it, then go searching for mushrooms and relics with the kids. If you happen to spot a blue mask that doesn't have a light, grab one of the adults and drop them on the blue mask to talk.

  • Another food source will appear when your energy reaches 150, the instant bloom godly power. Activate it, and mushrooms will spring from the ground, including red ones. If you have the kids standing by, you can top up your food reserves with this.

  • If the bush runs out of fruit before you get the farm fixed, you can use the bees on the bush to create a few more berries.

  • Eventually, when you get over 300 food, the adults will stop worrying. Now it's time to start a fire. But the wood pile is being guarded still.

  • Above (north) of your enclosure is a large stone statue, at least a rough one. Once you have enough food, grab two of your adults, set them to building, and drop them on the statue. They will carve a crude hand. Screenshot.

  • Once the hand is carved, the guards will flee away from the wood pile. Your maximum energy will also go up.

  • When the guards have left, have one adult get wood from the pile. Drop another adult on the dry grass, which is to the left, across the stream. Screenshot.

  • When both the wood and dry grass are in the fire pit, drop an adult on it to light the fire. You can also light the fire with the lightning power if you have that.

Construction

  • Once the statue is done, find the foundations for your honeymoon hut and first hut, they will be below your enclosure. Screenshot.

  • These foundations are movable. Pick them up and move them around. As long as their outline is green you can build there.

  • Move your honeymoon hut to where you want it, then set one villager to building and drop them on to start the project.

  • Keep the other villagers on the noni bush and stockpile food.

  • When the honeymoon hut is done you can get a female pregnant, if you came with a nursing mother this is not a good idea to have two women out of the workforce at the same time.

  • Move the builder over to the hut and start him/her on that project.

Puzzle 4

  • Once you've got some decent food reserves and the honeymoon hut, it's time to take down the Knowing Totem that is blocking the science lab.

  • The totem is guarded by this time by one or two orange masks and a red mask. The red masks will not chase your villagers, so you need something that will distract both types of guards.

  • The easiest for doing this is the lightning power, which is 100 energy. If you have this ability by this time, then use it.

  • If you don't, then you can use the bees.

  • Hit the totem with lightning and the guards will run off. As soon as they are far enough away drop every adult you have on the totem to dismantle it.

  • Orange guards may come back early or come out of the lab. If they do, distract them with children while your adults are tearing down the totem.

  • If the red guard comes back before you finish, just move your adults back to farming/building and let your energy build up again. You can accelerate this process by double collecting relics.

  • Hit the totem with lightning again if necessary, then finish pulling down the totem.

  • Once the totem is gone the guards will leave and you can access the lab. Screenshot

Research

  • Now that the lab is clear, move most of your adults over to research in their preferences then drop them on the lab table.

  • Ignore the purple mask heathen, he/she won't bother you.

  • You need to get second level construction to get the farm, but you won't be able to fix it unless you have both a master scientist and a master builder.

  • Keep one person on building the hut until they hit master, put everyone else on research.

  • Once you open the lab science collectibles will start showing up, collect them with your children.

  • When you get 3000 tech points use them to buy 2nd level food production, which will increase your yield from the noni bush and mushrooms.

  • Then keep researching until you have the 5,000 points needed for second level construction.

  • Continue to collect mushrooms and collectibles with your children.

Keeping Your Tribe Alive

Puzzle 5

  • To get the farm you need 2nd level construction, as well as a master scientist and a master builder. If you don't have a master builder, start on the second hut with one builder until they become a master.

  • Once you have all of those, turn your attention to the farm and the broken aqueduct above (north) of the lab. Screenshot.

  • Drop your master scientist on the aqueduct and they will start to supervise the work.

  • Drop a master builder to start construction, then any other builders you have as well.

  • Once the aqueduct is repaired the farm will be ready to go.

  • At this point the purple masked farmer will convert to your tribe and drop a piece of the necklace. Have a child pick up the piece.

  • It will take 2 hours (in fast speed) for food to grow, but you can make it bloom instantly if you have the instant bloom "godly" power.

Growing Your Tribe

  • After you've secured the second food source you can grow your tribe. The food is a finite resource, but using the instant bloom power you can make it grow instantly rather than wait. With this ability, you can grow your village slowly but surely.

  • Don't keep too many women nursing at once or you risk the labor supply. You still need to earn tech points for the rest of the level 2 technologies, and you need farmers to bring in the crops.

  • Have your builders finish the second hut as soon as possible, then switch them to farming or research.

  • After food mastery and construction, buy the level 2 technologies in this order: science, learning, medicine, spirituality.

  • Once you have level 2 science, the clothing hut foundations will appear. Go ahead and build this when you want to train some builders. You will need the clothing hut for a later puzzle.

  • When you have level 2 construction and spirituality, drop builders on the statue and they will refine it again, boosting your maximum energy bar.

Middle Puzzles

Puzzle 11

  • This requires that you have lightning power and a few builders.

  • The pain totem has no guards, but it gives off electricity so no one can touch it. Screenshot.

  • Hit the pain totem with the lightning power, then drop your builders on it to take it apart.

  • If its power comes back, hit it with lightning again and finish demolishing it.

Puzzle 7

  • This requires lightning power (or the bees) and at least two (preferably more) master builders.

  • Puzzle 7 is to take down the blocking totem, which guards the entrance to the mausoleum. Screenshot.

  • Drop a master builder (or several) on the totem to start taking it apart.

  • Once you start to work on this totem, the guards and others from the mausoleum will come and try to rebuild it.

  • Your builders will run away, make sure they don't go far.

  • Once the totem is surrounded by the guards, hit it with lightning.

  • When they run away, drop your builders back on to tear it down.

  • If any orange guards come back early, you need to keep them distracted with a child.

  • When the red and blue masks come back and start repairing the totem, hit them with lightning again.

  • When they leave bring back your builders and keep tearing down.

  • Repeat as necessary until the totem is gone.

Puzzle 6

  • Requires destruction of the Blocking Totem.

  • Once the Blocking Totem (puzzle 7) is gone, wait and the heathens will drift away to other places. Screenshot.

  • You can then drop builders on the mausoleum to clear the blockage.

  • Towards the end, the purple mask heathen who sits by the mausoleum may try to put the blockage back. Don't worry about it, just make sure that there are three or more builders clearing the rubble.

Puzzle 8

  • Requires six children.

  • This is the Hollow Totem that sits beside the dry lake. Screenshot.

  • Your builders can't take this one down, you need to stuff it with children.

  • Notice the holes, there are five of them.

  • Five children can fit comfortably in the totem. A sixth will cause it to collapse.

  • Drop children on the totem and wait until they go in. When the holes are filled with eyes, drop the sixth and the totem will collapse.

Puzzle 12

  • Requires the clothing hut be built, several builders, two random adults.

  • This is the Rainbow Totem that guards the hot springs pools. Screenshot.

  • After the clothing hut is complete, three dye pots will appear at the top of the screen, to the right of the pool and above the farm. Screenshot.

  • You can use these to drive all of the heathens out of the pool long enough to take down the totem.

  • You need two adults to take dye to the pool. Drop the first adult on the yellow pot and wait until he/she picks it up and starts towards the pool.

  • Then drop the second adult on the red pot. Do not wait for the first one to reach the pool, if you do the yellow dye will wash away before the red can get there.

  • Watch as the adults drop first the yellow, then the red dye into the pool. The water will turn a nasty orange color and the heathens will leap out.

  • When they do, drop your builders on the totem to take it down. Repeat with the dyes if the heathens come back before you can get the totem down.

  • This will clear the heathens out of the pool. At this point, the only place they can go is the broken down village in the south east corner of the map.

Puzzle 13

  • Requires 2nd level science, at least one master scientist.

  • After you purchase 2nd level science, the lab cleans up a bit and there is a large "blackboard" on the back wall made of animal skins.

  • Drop a master scientist on this board and they will proceed to write out a mathematical proof. Screenshot.

  • If they are correct, the purple masked master scientist will celebrate, then walk over to the mat and sit down, thinking.

  • You can tell they are thinking due to the light over their head. Wait for the light to go out (an hour or two depending on what speed you are playing the game at).

  • When they are no longer thinking repeat the process with a master scientist. Wait again and repeat a third time. After the third time the heathen will convert.

  • The heathen will drop a piece of the necklace, have a child pick it up.

Puzzle 15

  • Requires that the mausoleum be cleared, a fire in the fire pit.

  • When you have finished clearing the mausoleum, a shallow pan will appear on the steps. Drop an adult to pick it up. Screenshot.

  • The adult will take the pan up the stream and drop it near the mysterious pot, halfway between the food bin and the science lab. Screenshot.

  • Drop an adult on the shallow pan and they will start to pan for gold. If they are successful, they will fill the pot 1/3 full of gold.

  • Keep dropping adults on the pan and panning until the pot is full.

  • When the pot is full drop an adult on it and they will take it to the fire. Screenshot.

  • Wait a bit, and the gold will turn into a large orb. When it does, drop an adult on it and they will take it to the Blind Totem at the edge of the forest. Screenshot.

  • When they put the eye in the totem, the hidden section of the forest will clear and you will see the chief. Screenshot.

Puzzle 17 (The Extra Puzzle)

  • This puzzle is only in games sold in the first few weeks through Last Day of Work.

  • Requires 3 nursing mothers, some children for distraction.

  • You may have noticed the heathen "mommy" sitting in the ruined village in the southeast corner of the map.

  • Mommy is almost never alone, the guards are always there except when they are drawn away, or when it rains.

  • Distract the guards away and drop a nursing mother onto "Mommy" to talk to her.

  • Wait until the "Mommy" is listening, then drop another nursing mother to talk.

  • Again wait, then drop a third nursing mother.

  • Basically you want all three mommies to be talking to the heathen "mommy" at the same time. At this point she will convert.

    • "Mommy" may not be a woman (but it could be).

Gearing Up for the Finish

Long Term Goals

  • As long as you have the blooming godly power and enough energy to use it, that farm can support a village of 50 without much strain, so getting the final source of food is not the major necessity it was in earlier games.

  • So now you need to come up with a strategy of which technologies to push for while growing your village.

  • You're going to need a lot of scientists, so put at least three women at parenting and let them go.

  • Also, continue to try and convert the blue masked heathens, they will add to your workforce.

  • To get the final food source, you need the Revive godly power, which is 600 energy. This means you need to either have a large village or have completed the statue in the center of the village.

  • Completing the statue requires both 3rd level construction and spirituality.

  • You need 3rd level construction to get the third hut, and you need the third hut to grow your village past 35 people.

  • 3rd level science will enable you to rack up tech points more quickly.

  • 3rd level medicine will keep your villagers healthy longer.

  • 3rd level food mastery means you will yield more from your farm and from collected mushrooms.

  • 3rd level learning means your villagers will learn more quickly, and you will get the foundations for the nursery school with which to train the kids.

  • My personal preference for 3rd level technology order: science, construction, spirituality, medicine, learning, food mastery.

Conversions

  • Towards the end of the game, you will eventually convert the last blue masked heathen. You will convert the purple ones as part of the puzzles, as well as the chief. That will leave the orange and red masked folks still hanging around, and causing problems as the lake (a major food source) is near their broken down village.

  • You can convert them, but it requires you to have at least 800 energy.

  • At 800 energy you will get the power of causing an earthquake.

  • Center the earthquake on their village and trigger it. When it is over they will light up, thinking.

  • Wait for an hour or two until the lights above their heads go out, then trigger another earthquake.

  • Keep doing this and eventually they will convert.

Later Puzzles

Puzzle 9

  • Requires a master builder, 500 energy, the purple master builder to be in the area, and the time warp godly power.

  • To the right of the blocking totem are two small areas that look like building supplies. Screenshot.

  • To convert the purple mask master builder, you need to beat him/her at a building contest.

  • The purple mask master is very fast, however.

  • The purple mask master also tends to wander, so you can't do the challenge until he/she is sitting below the challenge area.

  • Bring your master builder to the area.

  • Use the time warp powers on him/her, and she will speed up.

  • Drop the builder immediately on the left pile of supplies, and he/she will quickly build an object.

  • If they finish, the purple mask will convert to your tribe.

  • The necklace piece will actually drop near the statue, near where the other three pieces of the necklace are.

  • Drop a child on the piece and they will bring it to the rest and assemble the necklace.

Puzzle 10

  • Requires tempest godly power (300 energy twice) and revive godly power (600 energy). It is usually best to do this in stages, and perhaps wait until you have completed puzzle 14 (the hand statue).

  • Go to the dry lake area and trigger a tempest (storm). Then trigger a second (you must trigger the second while there are still puddles in the dry lake).

  • After two storms the lake will fill up. Screenshot.

  • NOTE: If you don't have the capacity to do two storms in a row, you can still do this. Just wait until after it rains and there are puddles in the dry lake, then trigger a tempest.

  • Now you need to recharge to 600 energy to use the revive godly power.

  • When you have the energy, use the revive godly power on the lake and the fish will come to life.

  • Now your farmers can fish. Unfortunately, until you convert the orange and red masked heathens, they will interfere with your farmers as they pass by their village.

Puzzle 14

  • Requires level 3 construction, level 3 spirituality, lots of builders.

  • Once you have the levels of technology, start dropping your builders on the statue and they will complete it.

  • Once the statue is completed it will increase your maximum energy level.

  • You can also drop builders on the completed statue to polish it. This will give them building experience.

Puzzle 16

  • Requires that you have converted all of the purple masked masters and gathered their pieces of the necklace (puzzle 1, puzzle 5, puzzle 9, and puzzle 13).

  • This necklace belonged to the chief's daughter.

  • Once the necklace is complete, drop someone (adult, child, it doesn't matter) on it to take it to the chief.

  • The chief will convert and join your tribe. The former chief is a master in all six specialties.


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III. Technologies, Collectibles, and Stuff

Technologies

  • You begin with level 1 in all technologies.

  • Level 2 science allows the clothing hut to be built and the lab to be restored enough to convert the purple mask science master. You will also accumulate tech points more quickly. Level 3 science allows for another lab upgrade, and you accumulate points more quickly.

  • Level 2 medicine allows your villagers to live to their late 60s (they will get elderly in their early 60s). It also increases fertility and upgrades the hospital. Level 3 medicine allows your villagers to live into their 70s and beyond (they will get elderly in their late 60s). Again, it increases fertility.

  • Level 2 learning makes your villagers learn their tasks more quickly, and means they will reach master status sooner. Level 3 learning causes the nursery school foundation to appear. Once it is built you can train the children in there (you need someone who is adept in at least 3 areas to teach).

  • Level 2 construction allows for the second hut, the repair of the aqueduct for the farm, and the next level construction of the hand statue. Level 3 construction gets you the third hut and the final level of construction of the hand statue.

  • Level 2 spirituality gets you more energy capacity, and allows the statue upgrade (in combination with construction level 2). Level 3 spirituality gets you more energy capacity, you are more efficient at converting the heathens, and you can do the final statue upgrade (in combination with construction level 3).

  • Food mastery doesn't open up a supply of food, it merely increases the amount of food you can get from your source and improves your storage methods so it disappears more slowly. At level 1 you get a base amount of food, at level 2 you yield 50% more, and at level 3 you double your yield. Therefore, for foods that you gather in the game:

    • Gray mushrooms: level 1 = 6 food points, level 2 = 9 food points, level 3 = 12 food points.

    • Red mushrooms: level 1 = 35 food points, level 2 = 52 food points, level 3 = 70 food points.

    • Noni fruit: level 1 = 2 food points, level 2 = 3 food points, level 4 = 4 food points.

    • Fish: level 1 = 4 food points, level 2 = 6 food points, level 3 = 8 food points.

Collectibles

  • Collectibles are a bit different this time around. There are three types: Relics, Science collectibles, and necklace pieces.

  • There are 24 relics and 24 science collectibles. Each collection has 8 common, 8 uncommon and 8 rare pieces.

  • Each new relic you collect increases your potential energy. Each duplicate relic you collect increases your energy, common pieces give you 10 energy, uncommon give you 50, and rare give you 150.

  • However, you cannot collect more energy than your capacity. If you have a capacity of 75 energy and you have 75 energy, collecting duplicate relics won't give you more energy at all. You need to increase your capacity first.

  • Each new science collectible allows your researchers to get tech points faster. Each duplicate collectible gives you tech points, common items 100, uncommon 250 and rare are worth 1,000 tech points.

  • Each piece of the necklace is guarded by one of the purple masked heathens. Each of them is actually an adept or master in their field as well. When you convert them, they will drop a necklace piece. You can pick it up with any of your villagers but kids are faster. The necklace pieces will go to a spot to the left of the hand statue until all four are accumulated. At that point they will assemble the necklace. Drop a villager (a kid is faster) on the completed necklace to solve puzzle 16.

  • Relics will begin showing up as soon as you start the game. Science collectibles will not appear until you have torn down the Knowing Totem and taken over the science lab.

Godly Powers

  • Godly powers are things that you, as the "power" in the game, can use to affect the environment. Your powers are limited to two things: your energy capacity and your actual energy.

  • The energy bar at the top right of your screen shows you your energy capacity and power. Icons for the powers will appear across the top of the screen as you accumulate the energy to activate them.

  • You can increase your capacity by finding new relics, by converting heathens to your tribe, and by having children. Every time you add a new person to your tribe you increase your energy capacity. You can also increase the capacity by purchasing level 2 and 3 of spirituality.

  • You can increase your energy by collecting duplicate relics, by talking to the blue mask heathens, and by performing certain tasks. Energy also comes from your villagers (your "followers") and will slowly replenish over time even without any collecting or talking.

  • The godly powers (and their energy requirements) are as follows:

    • Butterflies - 10 points. Triggering the butterflies will draw all of the children (including the heathens) into the area where you placed them. This is a great distraction for keeping the kids in one place or away from another.

    • Bees - 25 points. Triggering the bees can cause mayhem as the bees attack nearby villagers and heathens alike, so they can be used as distractions to get guards away from totems. They can also be beneficial, when applied to the noni bush it will pollinate it and produce a little more fruit.

    • Sunshine - 50 points. Triggering this will drive away fog and stop rain. There is a trophy for actually using the sun to stop a storm (tempest) that you created.

    • Lightning - 100 points. This will drive people away from totems or any other area you aim it at. You can also use it to light the fire and cancel out the Pain Totem.

    • Bloom - 150 points. When applied to the ground it will cause a bunch of flowers and mushrooms to suddenly sprout. When applied to the farm it will cause the crops to instantly grow. Either way, it's a great way to stretch food supplies.

    • Tempest - 300 points. As advertised, this is a big storm you can unleash to scare the guards away from their village or to fill in the dry lake bed.

    • Fog of Doom - 400 points. This creates a really dense fog which the heathens cannot see through, but which your villagers can. Towards the end of the game, when you are trying to convert the last blue heathens, they will be in the village surrounded by red and orange heathens. Difficult to get near them without the fog. Trigger the fog, then start dropping your villagers on the blue masks to talk to them.

    • Time Warp - 500 points. This causes a villager to speed up to supersonic speeds. This is necessary to beat the purple masked master builder build-off competition (puzzle 9).

    • Revive - 600 points. As advertised, this will revive any dead thing, be it a villager or fish in the lake. This is necessary for puzzle 10, the lake.

    • Grant Youth - 700 points. This one will de-age a villager back to a child. Can be used on any older villager.

    • Earthquake - 800 points. Yes, you can cause earthquakes. You need this power to finally convert the orange and red masked heathens. You can also use this to pull down a building project and start over.

The Heathens

  • There are five types of heathens in the game, and you will hopefully convert them all to your village.

  • Some of the heathens will ignore your people, some are actively hostile, and some are too scary to approach.

  • Types of Heathens:

    • Blue Masks: These are friendly folk who are not scary and who will not chase your villagers. Drop one of your villagers on them to talk about conversion. When the conversation is over you will see a light over their head, indicating that they are thinking about it. Don't bother them again while that light is on, they will run away. You will eventually convert all of the blue heathens by talking to them (even the "mommy" heathen in puzzle 17).

    • Purple Masks: These are adepts or masters in their field, and there are four of them. A doctor, a farmer, a scientist, and a builder. They can only be converted by actions, not words. See puzzles 1, 5, 9 and 13 for details.

    • Orange Masks: These are aggressive guards, who try to keep your villagers away from certain areas and also the blue heathens. If one of your villagers gets close to these guys they will chase them away. Even when they end up confined to their broken down village towards the end of the game, they can cause problems for fishermen passing too close on their way back from the lake. One of the orange masked guards is also a child, and will wander all over in the game, showing up when you least expect it to interfere with food gathering, building, and collectible gathering. A villager will drop what they are carrying when chased by an orange mask, and you will lose the food or the collectible they were carrying.

    • Red Masks: These are senior guards. They won't chase your villagers, but they are so scary your villagers will run away if they get too close. You will find these guarding totems and major sites, and eventually they will congregate in the broken down village with the rest of the orange masks. Red and orange masked guards can only be converted with earthquakes. You need 800 energy to trigger an earthquake in their village, and they will start to think (you will see the lights over their heads). When the lights go out, hit them with another earthquake. Keep doing this until they are converted.

    • The Chief: You will occasionally see the chief wander in and out of the forest area to the north with the Blind Totem. He will ignore your villagers and doesn't want to talk. See puzzle 16 for the solution on how to convert the chief.

The Totems

  • There are seven totems in the game, and you will end up destroying six of them.

  • Most totems are a focus for the orange and red masks guarding the useful spaces, the pool, the science lab, the mausoleum, the dry lake, and the noni bush. Two totems don't have guards: the pain totem (which shoots off electricity) and the blind totem.

  • The totems and their methods of destruction are:

    • Hungry Totem: Guards the noni bush. Distract the guards with bees or children to allow your builders to pull this one down (puzzle 3).

    • Knowing Totem: Guards the science lab. Distract the guards with bees or lightning (and children to distract the orange guards) to tear this one down (puzzle 4).

    • The Pain Totem: Keeps everyone away from the hospital. You must use lightning to neutralize this totem to pull it down (puzzle 11).

    • The Hollow Totem: Stands near the dry lake. Guards don't stand by this totem, they stand in the lake bed itself. This can only be destroyed with the help of six children (puzzle 8).

    • The Blocking Totem: Focal point for the mausoleum guards. This one can only be brought down by master builders, and requires a lot of distractions in the form of lightning and children to accomplish (puzzle 7).

    • The Rainbow Totem: Controls access to the hot springs pools. You need to have completed building the clothing hut to tear down this totem (puzzle 12).

    • The Blind Totem: This is the only totem you don't have to destroy but rather to activate. There is a long complicated solution to this in puzzle 15.


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IV. Puzzles

Puzzle 1 - Physician, Heal Thyself

  • Requires: One villager (adult or child).

  • To the left of the enclosure, across the stream, is the science lab. Just below the lab (south) is the hospital, guarded by the pain totem.

  • In the hospital are some blue mask heathens, and a purple mask heathen who is sick.

  • Set one of your children (or adults) to healing, then drop them on the purple mask heathen until he/she is healed. Screenshot.

  • Once the purple mask heathen is healed he/she will convert and join your village. You now have an extra adult to work, and one who is also an experienced doctor.

Puzzle 2 - Food, Glorious Food

  • Requires: One adult villager (at a minimum).

  • Your villagers will appear inside a flimsy bamboo enclosure. Set your adults to building and drop them on the bamboo and they will start tearing it down to build a food bin. Screenshot.

  • When the food bin is finished you have solved the puzzle.

Puzzle 3 - The Hungry, Hungry Totem

  • Requires: Bees, adult builder, child for distraction.

  • Above and to the right of the enclosure is a noni bush. There is a Hungry Totem in front of it. Screenshot.

  • In order to get food from the bush, you need to get the guards away and tear down the totem.

  • Use the bee power on the bush. This will do two things: (1) Increase the number of noni berries, and (2) temporarily drive away the red mask heathen.

  • Once the heathens near the bush run away use a child to distract any orange masks in the area, then drop your adults on the totem to tear it down.

  • Keep the orange guards away and keep your adults on it until the totem collapses. This will happen fairly quickly.

  • Once the totem is gone the red mask and the orange mask will go elsewhere. Now you can harvest food.

Puzzle 4 - A Little Knowledge is a Dangerous Thing

  • Requires: Bees or Lightning power, adult builders, children for distraction.

  • The totem is guarded by this time by one or two orange masks and a red mask. The red masks will not chase your villagers, so you need something that will distract both types of guards.

  • The easiest for doing this is the lightning power, which is 100 energy. If you have this ability by this time, then use it.

  • If you don't, then you can use the bees.

  • Hit the totem with lightning and the guards will run off. As soon as they are far enough away drop every adult you have on the totem to dismantle it.

  • Orange guards may come back early or come out of the lab. If they do, distract them with children while your adults are tearing down the totem.

  • If the red guard comes back before you finish, just move your adults back to farming/building and let your energy build up again. You can accelerate this process by double collecting relics.

  • Hit the totem with lightning again if necessary, then finish pulling down the totem.

  • Once the totem is gone the guards will leave and you can access the lab. Screenshot

Puzzle 5 - Organic Farming

  • Requires: Construction level 2, 1 master scientist, 1 master builder, other builders.

  • Once you have all of those, turn your attention to the farm and the broken aqueduct above (north) of the lab. Screenshot.

  • Drop your master scientist on the aqueduct and they will start to supervise the work.

  • Drop a master builder to start construction, then any other builders you have as well.

  • Once the aqueduct is repaired the farm will be ready to go.

  • Supposedly you need a master builder, but I have found that as long as you have the master scientist, any builder will do.

  • At this point the purple masked farmer will convert to your tribe and drop a piece of the necklace. Have a child pick up the piece.

  • It will take 2 hours (in fast speed) for food to grow, but you can make it bloom instantly if you have the instant bloom "godly" power.

Puzzle 6 - Dem Bones

  • Requires: Puzzle 7 solved, several builders.

  • Once the Blocking Totem (puzzle 7) is gone, wait and the heathens will drift away to other places. Screenshot.

  • You can then drop builders on the mausoleum to clear the blockage.

  • Towards the end, the purple mask heathen who sits by the mausoleum may try to put the blockage back. Don't worry about it, just make sure that there are three or more builders clearing the rubble.

Puzzle 7 - The Bigger They Are, The Harder They Fall

  • Requires: Master Builders (preferably 3 or more), Lightning power, children for distraction.

  • Puzzle 7 is to take down the blocking totem, which guards the entrance to the mausoleum. Screenshot.

  • Drop a master builder (or several) on the totem to start taking it apart.

  • Once you start to work on this totem, the guards and others from the mausoleum will come and try to rebuild it.

  • Your builders will run away, make sure they don't go far.

  • Once the totem is surrounded by the guards, hit it with lightning.

  • When they run away, drop your builders back on to tear it down.

  • If any orange guards come back early, you need to keep them distracted with a child.

  • When the red and blue masks come back and start repairing the totem, hit them with lightning again.

  • When they leave bring back your builders and keep tearing down.

  • Repeat as necessary until the totem is gone.

Puzzle 8 - Kids Do the Darndest Things

  • Requires: Six children under the age of 14.

  • This is the Hollow Totem that sits beside the dry lake. Screenshot.

  • Your builders can't take this one down, you need to stuff it with children.

  • Notice the holes, there are five of them.

  • Five children can fit comfortably in the totem. A sixth will cause it to collapse.

  • Drop children on the totem and wait until they go in. When the holes are filled with eyes, drop the sixth and the totem will collapse.

Puzzle 9 - Go Speed Racer, Go!

  • Requires: A builder (adept or master), time warp power, 500 energy, and the purple masked master builder to be sitting in the area.

  • To the right of the blocking totem are two small areas that look like building supplies. Screenshot.

  • To convert the purple mask master builder, you need to beat him/her at a building contest.

  • The purple mask master is very fast, however.

  • The purple mask master also tends to wander, so you can't do the challenge until he/she is sitting below the challenge area.

  • Bring your master builder to the area.

  • Use the time warp powers on him/her, and they will speed up.

  • Drop the builder immediately on the left pile of supplies, and he/she will quickly build an object.

  • If you finish first, the purple mask will convert to your tribe.

  • The necklace piece will actually drop near the statue, near where the other three pieces of the necklace are.

  • Drop a child on the piece and they will bring it to the rest and assemble the necklace.

Puzzle 10 - The Lady in the Lake

  • Requires: Energy of 1,200 (you'll need to do it in stages), tempest power, revive power.

  • Go to the dry lake area and trigger a tempest (storm). Then trigger a second (you must trigger the second while there are still puddles in the dry lake).

  • After two storms the lake will fill up. Screenshot.

  • NOTE: If you don't have the capacity to do two storms in a row, you can still do this. Just wait until after it rains and there are puddles in the dry lake, then trigger a tempest.

  • Now you need to recharge to 600 energy to use the revive godly power.

  • When you have the energy, use the revive godly power on the lake and the fish will come to life.

  • Now your farmers can fish. Unfortunately, until you convert the orange and red masked heathens, they will interfere with your farmers as they pass by their village.

Puzzle 11 - Pain, I Can't Get Enough

  • Requires: Lightning power, at least 100 energy (preferably 300), several builders.

  • The pain totem has no guards, but it gives off electricity so no one can touch it. Screenshot.

  • Hit the pain totem with the lightning power, then drop your builders on it to take it apart.

  • If its power comes back, hit it with lightning again and finish demolishing it.

Puzzle 12 - Over the Rainbow

  • Requires: Clothing hut built (level 2 science), 2 or 3 random adults, several builders.

  • This is the Rainbow Totem that guards the hot springs pools. Screenshot.

  • After the clothing hut is complete, three dye pots will appear at the top of the screen, to the right of the pool and above the farm. Screenshot.

  • You can use these to drive all of the heathens out of the pool long enough to take down the totem.

  • You need two or three adults to take dye to the pool. Drop the first adult on the yellow pot and wait until he/she picks it up and starts towards the pool.

  • Then drop the second adult on the red pot. Do not wait for the first one to reach the pool, if you do the yellow dye will wash away before the red can get there.

  • Watch as the adults drop first the yellow, then the red dye into the pool. The water will turn a nasty orange color and the heathens will leap out.

  • This also works with the colors in the order of the totem, red, yellow blue (requires 3 adults).

  • When they do, drop your builders on the totem to take it down. Repeat with the dyes if the heathens come back before you can get the totem down.

  • This will clear the heathens out of the pool. At this point, the only place they can go is the broken down village in the south east corner of the map.

Puzzle 13 - The Proof is in the Pudding

  • Requires: Level 2 science (the back of the lab must be rebuilt), a master scientist.

  • After you purchase 2nd level science, the lab cleans up a bit and there is a large "blackboard" on the back wall made of animal skins.

  • Drop a master scientist on this board and they will proceed to write out a mathematical proof. Screenshot.

  • If they are correct, the purple masked master scientist will celebrate, then walk over to the mat and sit down, thinking.

  • You can tell they are thinking due to the light over their head. Wait for the light to go out (an hour or two depending on what speed you are playing the game at).

  • When they are no longer thinking repeat the process with a master scientist. Wait again and repeat a third time. After the third time the heathen will convert.

  • The heathen will drop a piece of the necklace, have a child pick it up.

Puzzle 14 - Talk to the Hand

  • Requires: Level 3 construction, level 3 spirituality, builders.

  • Once you have the levels of technology, start dropping your builders on the statue and they will complete it.

  • Once the statue is completed it will increase your maximum energy level.

  • You can also drop builders on the completed statue to polish it. This will give them building experience.

Puzzle 15 - There Are None So Blind...

  • Requires: The mausoleum to be completely cleared (puzzle 6 and 7), random adults, fire in the fire pit.

  • When you have finished clearing the mausoleum, a shallow pan will appear on the steps. Drop an adult to pick it up. Screenshot.

  • The adult will take the pan up the stream and drop it near the mysterious pot, halfway between the food bin and the science lab. Screenshot.

  • Drop an adult on the shallow pan and they will start to pan for gold. If they are successful, they will fill the pot 1/3 full of gold.

  • Keep dropping adults on the pan and panning until the pot is full.

  • When the pot is full drop an adult on it and they will take it to the fire. Screenshot.

  • Wait a bit, and the gold will turn into a large orb. When it does, drop an adult on it and they will take it to the Blind Totem at the edge of the forest. Screenshot.

  • When they put the eye in the totem, the hidden section of the forest will clear and you will see the chief. Screenshot.

Puzzle 16 - The Big Kahuna

  • Requires: Conversion of all of the purple masked masters (puzzles 1, 5, 9, and 13), all pieces of the necklace, several children.

  • After each of the purple mask conversions, you should have a child take the piece of the necklace that they dropped to the statue.

  • The child who brings the last piece will assemble the necklace.

  • This necklace belonged to the chief's daughter.

  • Once the necklace is complete, drop someone (adult, child, it doesn't matter) on it to take it to the chief.

  • The chief will convert and join your tribe. The former chief is a master in all six specialties.

Puzzle 17 - My Mommy is Stranger Than Your Mommy

  • This is an extra puzzle that will only appear in games sold in the first few weeks directly through Last Day of Work.

  • Requires: at least 3 nursing mothers, children to distract the orange guards.

  • You may have noticed the heathen "mommy" sitting in the ruined village in the southeast corner of the map.

  • Mommy is almost never alone, the guards are always there except when they are drawn away, or when it rains.

  • Distract the guards away and drop a nursing mother onto "Mommy" to talk to her.

  • Wait until the "Mommy" is listening, then drop another nursing mother to talk.

  • Again wait, then drop a third nursing mother.

  • Basically you want all three mommies to be talking to the heathen "mommy" at the same time. At this point she will convert.

    • "Mommy" may not be a woman (but it could be).


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V. Frequently Asked Questions

  • Where do I find relics?

    • Relics show up on the ground from south near the mausoleum all the way north to the stairs to the forest. They also show up in the stream that divides the map. They do not show up on the dry lake bed.

  • Why are there no science collectibles showing up?

    • Science collectibles only show up once you've solved puzzle 4 (The Knowing Totem) and taken over the lab.

  • How do I solve puzzle 1? or Puzzle 3? or puzzle 12?

    • Please check the section above the FAQ, section IV, which lists all of the puzzles in order.

  • What's with that extra puzzle tucked into the lower right side of the puzzle screen?

    • That is an extra puzzle that will only be included in games purchased from Last Day of Work in the first few weeks of release. The solution to the puzzle is in our puzzle section.

  • My tribe is starving, how do I get food?

    • There are more ways than ever to stretch the food in VV5. If the noni bush is exhausted, hit it with the power of Bees. This will generate 20 or 30 more fruit. If you have 150 energy, then use the Bloom power on a bare patch of grass and have lots of kids standing by to collect the red mushrooms. If you've built the farm but have to wait 2 hours for the crops, use the Bloom power on the farm and it will sprout instantly. See puzzle 5 on how to repair the farm and puzzle 10 for fishing.

  • Are there Esteemed Elders like in the previous game?

    • There are indeed, and villagers get that title when they master in 3 disciplines. There is also a jack of all trades designation, for a villager who has mastered all six disciplines.

  • Wait, hold up a minute, you mean there's a new discipline?

    • Yes, it's called Devotion. The way to increase devotion is to have the person (it needs to be an adult) talk to the blue mask heathens, trying to convert them. Once they have some skill at devotion they will worship at the statue of the hand.

  • Well, I filled the lake, why are there no fish?

    • That lake is dead, baby. Filling it with water doesn't change that. To get fish you will also need the revive power, which takes 600 energy. Use the revive power to bring the fish back to life.

  • How can I train builders after all the construction projects are done?

    • There are a couple of ways. First, drop a builder onto the completed statue and they will polish it, which will earn them building points, and earn you more godly energy. Second, drop a builder onto the huts (not the clothing hut) and they will repair them. It takes longer, but they can achieve mastery that way. Third, trigger an earthquake underneath one of your huts (if it is incomplete). This will reset the construction back to the beginning.

  • Okay, I've converted all of the blue masks, the purple masks, and the chief. What do I do with these annoying orange and red masked people?

    • They, too, can be converted, but not by talking. You need the Earthquake power (800 energy) to convert them. Trigger an earthquake under their village and you will see lights go on above their heads (they're thinking). In an hour or two when the lights go off hit them with another earthquake. Keep doing this until they convert.

  • Well, I've solved all of the puzzles, is there anything else to do?

    • Lots. It's possible to solve all of the puzzles without converting the orange or red heathens, so you can still do that. You can finish up the collections of relics and science collectibles. There are a bunch of trophies to be won as well, so check out the trophy page.

  • Oh no, I have a villager who is nearly a jack of all trades, but they're old and about to die! How can I get them to complete all six disciplines?

    • It is possible to make a jack of all trades before a villager dies, but it is difficult and they are pretty old when they finish, especially now that there's a sixth discipline. The best thing to do is use the restore youth power on them, taking them back to childhood. When they become 14 and ready to work again, it will be easy to complete their learning.

  • My kids are all dumb! How can I make training them easier?

    • Once the nursery school is built you can train children to have some skill before they hit working age. Children of extremely talented villagers (masters in their crafts) are also born with a little of that skill.

  • I want to teach my kids, but the villager I'm dropping on the school won't teach! What's the deal?

    • In order to teach at the school an adult must be at least adept in three different subjects. If they are only master of one subject they can't teach. It's best to teach with esteemed elders or a jack of all trades (if you have one).

  • I thought this game was supposed to come with a strategy guide?

    • Yes, the game can be bought in a bundle with a strategy guide from Last Day of Work. If you didn't get your strategy guide you should contact them or you can post in their technical support forums.


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Roads of Rome 2

JohnBIt seems like just yesterday we featured a game about Rome. Today, more of the ancient city with Roads of Rome II, a full-blown resource management/simulation game that calls upon My Kingdom for the Princess as inspiration. Not only will you be building a path through several unique environments, you'll also bribe barbarians, build settlements, and chop hundreds of trees as you wind your way up to the mountaintops to the home of the gods themselves!

Roads of Rome 2The Caesar has been poisoned, and the only way to cure him is to make an appeal to the gods. The plan is to carve your way through the lands and build a long road leading directly to their abode. Hopefully, this will gain their favor and they will grant you a cure. But as it turns out, the gods have some favors of their own to ask, sending you on a long journey through over 40 levels of resource management challenge.

Roads of Rome II is all about gathering and spending resources. Workers are needed to do everything from filling in holes and building bridges to picking up materials laying on the ground. Simply click on something you want done and, if a worker is free, he'll hop to it. You'll need to stock up on food, provided by berry bushes and pig farms, wood, provided by chopping down trees and by sawmills, and later, gold and rock. Most actions require a resource or two to complete, so managing your task order is just as important as managing your stockpiles.

Most levels have goals in addition to the usual "build a road to the exit" objective, and these vary from collecting unique items to clearing rock, creating certain structures, and exploring parts of the map. Buildings are key to quickly finishing stages in Roads of Rome II, as they provide resource bonuses that need only time to replenish themselves. No tree chopping or berry picking necessary. Later levels also feature different ways of collecting resources, such as lumber laying on the ground for free or seaweed in place of berries.

Roads of Rome 2As you work through levels in Roads of Rome II, you'll unlock more buildings as well as upgrades for existing structures. Early on, you'll gain access to better barracks that allow you to operate two and three workers at a time. Each level you must upgrade these buildings all over again, and deciding which order to do so will vary depending on your tasks as well as the layout of the map.

Analysis: Roads of Rome II builds a more active simulation/resource management game by keeping your attention focused on what's happening on the screen as opposed to boring numbers. Workers are your real focus: what they're doing, where they're at, what they could be doing next. Keep their little hands busy and you won't have any trouble carving a path across the wilderness.

Variety is what makes this game so enjoyable, as Whiterra wasn't content with leaving anything but the core elements the same throughout the levels. One minute you're picking berries for food, the next eating seaweed and scaring away evil squid. The diversity is both visual and structural, and it all looks and plays perfectly from beginning to end.

The gameplay still feels like it has a ways to go before you have solid control over your workers. Our main complaint is the lack of a queuing system. You can only assign an action if a worker is free, otherwise you must wait for one to return to the camp. Why not let the player set up a chain of events, even if it's limited to two or three actions ahead of time?

Roads of Rome II is great entertainment, and a perfect diversion for a rainy afternoon. The challenge level is just right, the visuals are clean and professional, the sense of accomplishment you'll get from paving your way to the home of the gods is strong!

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


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grinnyp_vv5_banner3.jpg

GrinnypYes, the long anticipated and climactic chapter in the Virtual Villagers saga has finally arrived as a fantastic present for the New Year. Virtual Villagers 5: New Believers picks up where Virtual Villagers 4: The Tree of Life left off, exploring who or what could be sabotaging the magical island of Isola. Created by Last Day of Work, this is the latest chapter in what is the giant of the casual sim/village simulation field, and boy does it deliver!

Virtual Villagers 5: New BelieversAt the end of Virtual Villagers 4 we were left wondering who or what could have interfered with the magic of the island. In Virtual Villagers 5 we learn precisely what as our intrepid villagers once again go exploring further abroad, this time going into the heart of darkness itself, the inner island. What will they find there? How will it affect their lives? Will there be fishing again? Answers to all those questions and more can be found within this breathtaking chapter.

The game begins with a rather scary story and introduces the newest feature of Virtual Villagers: actual original inhabitants of Isola. Not your old villagers, refugees from an exploding volcano, nor abandoned children, but actual original natives. And the natives are not friendly. They immediately take your team prisoner and you will spend the rest of the game helping your little folk forage for food, shelter, and knowledge while dodging scary and unfriendly guards.

As usual, you start out with a small mix of villagers to begin your adventure. As in Virtual Villagers 4, you can actually choose the mix, creating an exploration team to your exact specifications before the game begins. Once it starts you are faced not only with the resource gathering challenges but the usual mix of problem and puzzle solving, made more difficult by the fact that all of the useful places (fruit bush, science lab, hospital, etc.) are guarded and manned by both hostiles and magical totems. One of the main tasks of the game is trying to figure out how to get around those so you can get the resources needed to grow your small band of people into a thriving settlement.

Virtual Villagers 5: New BelieversThe latest twist to this increasingly popular genre is the presence of the hostile natives (or "heathens" as they are called in the game). There are several different varieties, from apathetic to outright aggressive, and learning how to deal with each type while trying to keep your own villagers alive and healthy makes up the bulk of the game. It is possible to recruit (or "convert") them to your village, you just have to discover how while simultaneously keeping your villagers fed, sheltered, and learning. A nice conundrum that takes everything you know about Virtual Villagers gameplay and stands it on its head. There is another new twist with the introduction of "god-like" powers, allowing you, the villagers' "god" to intervene directly into the flora, fauna, weather, and life-cycle of your intrepid followers.

Now available: Virtual Villagers 5: New Believers for iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch!

Analysis: Let's address the Elephant in the Room, shall we? For some people, the word "heathen" is not a nice one, used historically against native inhabitants as an excuse to shove them aside while destroying their culture. It doesn't help that Virtual Villagers 5 has you "converting the heathens", as if the native peoples were somehow inferior and needed your "help" to be all that they could be. Fortunately, the game addresses this in hints and glimpses of the original inhabitants' past. These folks aren't really "heathens" or "barbarians" or "savages" per se, they were originally as advanced as the newcomers who make up your villagers. Someone or something has turned their lives upside down, and they are actually pretty depressed and angry about it. You're not so much converting them as reintroducing them to the way things used to be before the great tragedy that struck Isola (revealed at the end of Virtual Villagers 3: The Secret City).

Virtual Villagers 5: New BelieversGameplay hasn't changed much from the original Virtual Villagers: A New Home. Drag and drop your characters onto places you want them to interact with, be it a berry bush for food, a lab table for research, an area that needs to be cleared, or a building that needs to be...well, built. Each villager has its own character screen where you can view their statistics and set their "preferences" for the type of work you would like them to do. This has always been a bit "god-like", and in previous games you can sometimes see the villagers "worshipping the hand from above" (i.e. the cursor with which you click and drag them around).

Now Last Day of Work has intensified the "god-like" experience by adding the extra powers, allowing you to unleash insects, weather, and in the more advanced levels the ability to de-age a villager or even bring them back from the dead. Again, some folks might be put out by the whole "playing god" routine, but it adds a fabulous extra layer to the already multi-layered casual gameplay.

The actual village area is larger and even more beautiful than ever, with spectacular backdrops that draw the eye even as you frantically attempt to get things done. The controls scheme is just like Virtual Villagers 4 with the addition of a "power" bar and the icons for your powers. The character animations are still the same, a little jerky, but by this, the fifth in the series, the player is used to it and perhaps even a little nostalgic for those spastic little villagers. After all, you do invest a lot of time and effort into raising and training them, and they become a little virtual family that even after all of the puzzles are solved you can keep going for an unlimited time.

Play all the Virtual Villagers games:

So, despite the fact that it may be offensive to some in its use of non-p.c. language, Virtual Villagers 5: New Believers is a brilliant addition to the genre and ramps up everything that is fun about the series. The puzzles are tougher as are the challenges, which is a good thing for those who love this series of village sims. The story has a darker, more sinister edge as you explore what the destruction and grief have done to the original inhabitants of Isola. There's much to love and recommend in this fantastic new adventure. Go explore!

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 first Weekend Download of the new year! We should celebrate or something, shouldn't we? How about with showers of gold, rainbows and candy? Mmm, tempting, but difficult. Our airship is in the shop. What about with a bunch of games that celebrate retro gaming mechanics?! Perfect!

sutef.gifsuteF (Windows, 6.8MB, free) - It's no mistake this game bears resemblance to the 2009 platform puzzler Fetus. suteF could be called one part platformer, one part puzzle game, one part "experience of what it's like going insane". The game tells the story of a blue character trying to escape from the Abyss. Some crazy things happen in this place, such as characters dying, bears wearing television screens, spirits following you, gravity changing, levels re-arranging, and... well, and more. Some brilliant level design here, with stages that require thinking and experimentation as well as some trial and error.

ninjasenki.gifNinja Senki (Windows, 10MB, free) - Another superb platform game, Ninja Senki focuses more on classic jump-and-shuriken gameplay like the Mega Man series of old. Your clan's princess has been kidnapped, so naturally you're off to rescue her. Movement is simple jumps and shuriken throws, with a slight double jump added to help you collect some coins and navigate tricky situations. Enemies gradually get more and more dangerous and require more hits to take down. Continues are infinite, which is fortunate, and when you die you restart at a nearby checkpoint, unlike most similar games from gaming's classic era. The only down side is the game doesn't save your progress, so you'll need to complete all 15+ levels in one sitting.

survivorlivingdead.gifSurvivor: The Living Dead (Windows, 64MB, free) - Probably not the gaming experience you were expecting from the title, Survivor puts you in the role of a post-teenage girl in the early 90s who is trying to defend a house from the living dead. Investigate background items, push things in front of openings, lock doors, and do everything you can to stay alive. It's a surprisingly cerebral experience punctuated by bouts of OH MY GAWSH ZOMBIES ARE ATTACKING. Bonus: lots of references to the early George Romero films.

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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