April 2011 Archives


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Allora and the Broken Portal

JohnBNote to wizards tinkering with space and time: if you're going to build a magical portal, be sure to calibrate it for humans before unleashing its unstoppable power on the universe! In the far away land of Sefirem, one such wizard failed to do this, and the high-tech portal he was working on went all wacky and trapped him inside. Now, an elfin girl and her rodent pal need a human — namely, you — to collect crystals and find the wizard, else the entire land will fall to ruin! So begins Allora and the Broken Portal, a gorgeously-drawn fantasy hidden object adventure from the folks at AZ Art development studio.

Allora and the Broken PortalAllora and the Broken Portal blends genres together more seamlessly than most hidden object adventure hybrids, and the resulting mix of gameplay elements frees you from the constraints of unsolvable puzzles or too-difficult lists of items to locate. The game is divided into chapters, each containing three or four scenes you can wander around in freely. The goal is to find a number of crystals within these locations. Sometimes you can see the crystals right in front of your face, but collecting them is never as easy as pointing and clicking the mouse. What kind of game would be that easy, anyway?!

Each screen you visit comes with a list of items to find, all of which are cunningly hidden within the landscape. Most of the time, items you're searching for aren't as literal as the name implies. For example, if you're looking for a snake, check for drawings on the wall or carvings in pieces of wood instead of hunting for a real snake. Some items on these lists are in yellow. When you find these guys, they'll stash themselves in your inventory. Click on the inventory tab at the bottom of the screen to select and use and item. You'll encounter a number of key objects throughout each chapter, denoted by your cursor turning into an eyeball. Use the right item on the right object and a brand new crystal can be yours!

Hints are available on a recharging timer, and they're kind of tough to see once activated. Each time you use a hint, quickly scan the screen and look for yellow sparkles. They stick around for a few seconds, so you're not likely to miss them. Just don't expect neon arrows pointing the way to your next item! Frequent mis-clicks are punished by a few seconds of lost cursor control, so forget about going on a click frenzy and instead take things slow and steady. You want to calm down and enjoy the scenery in this game, anyway!

Allora and the Broken PortalAnalysis: Your first challenge when you play Allora and the Broken Portal: try not to gawk so hard at the stunning imagery that your eyeballs dry out. Seriously, no part of this game was spared an artist's lovely touch, and you'll want to smack your face against the monitor and rub these stunning colors all over your eyes. The gently moving animations, the beautifully-colored objects, it all has a very professional comic-style look to it, and even though the gameplay and story are interesting, the art far outshines the rest of the game. Which is a good thing.

Fortunately, the game is much more than a pretty face. Allora and the Broken Portal blends adventure and hidden objects together into a single experience. So, instead of sending you on a quest that's interrupted with laundry lists of items and fancy mini-games, everything is stacked in one pile, allowing you to play the game without being jolted into another genre. You can use inventory items at any time, leave scenes without finding all of the objects, and pretty much play the game the way you want to. Not bad for a linear, casual sort of game!

Lengthwise, expect around three hours of playtime with Allora and the Broken Portal, more if you're not a hidden object expert. The game never gets too difficult, although finding some of the objects takes some thinking outside of the box. Locations are repeated a few times, separated by chapters in-between, but the items are different, and the scenes have been altered, so you won't feel like you're re-treading parts of the game.

If you're looking for a game that will wow you with some great artwork, Allora and the Broken Portal ranks right up there with the Drawn series. You'll be hard-pressed to find a better looking hidden object adventure. The blended gameplay also works well, keeping the experience dynamic and interesting from beginning to end. A fantastic game you won't be able to put down once you start playing!

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


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Voodoo Whisperer: Curse Of A Legend

GrinnypAh, New Orleans. The name conjures up images of excess, whether food, drink, or partying. There's something almost otherworldly about the place, from the music to the exotic food, the vibrant mix of cultures to the mysteries of Voodoo. New Orleans almost seems like a foreign country in our own back yard. If you don't have the time or the money to make the trip, however, you can give Voodoo Whisperer: Curse of a Legend a spin. Designed by Funswitch, this hidden object adventure hybrid brings the atmosphere and mystery of New Orleans to you in the comfort and safety of your own home, or wherever else you and your laptop are at present.

grinnyp_voodoowhisperer_screenshot3.jpgSet in 19th century New Orleans, Voodoo Whisperer: Curse of a Legend is the story of Lillian, a young girl who has just begun her tutelage with Madame Leveau, a Voodoo Priestess. Before they can get very far a curse falls upon both the Madame and the town, suspending all life except for the intrepid Lillian who must — with the help of a disembodied Madame Leveau — travel around the city and break the curse one person at a time while investigating who could have perpetrated such a heinous deed. Follow Lillian as she explores the area, finds lots of useful objects, learns lots of new spells, and even raises and speaks to the dead to discover what has happened to her town and her beloved family.

While in many ways Voodoo Whisperer plays like a standard point-and-click game, there are a few interesting differences. There is a changing cursor that indicates objects that you can take, objects that can be inspected, areas that demand a closer look, and places you can go, something that you will find in most games of the genre. What is less usual is the fact that Lillian has no journal (or the equivalent thereof) to keep track of what has happened and what is going on. Instead the player has a small button that helps keep track of goals, and in the place of a journal is a grimoire. Yes, a magic book, and all that magic book does is collect spells that Lillian learns along the way. The grimoire will display recipes for spells needed to knock out an alligator, release a person from the insidious curse that infects the town, or brings the dead back from the beyond for a little chat about recent events. The grimoire keeps track of these spells as well as lists of items needed for the recipes to create the spells and detailed instructions on the rituals to make them work.

grinnyp_voodoowhisperer_screenshot1.jpgAnother unusual facet of gameplay is the fact that you can walk away from hidden object scenes with more than one useful object. Some scenes in fact can produce two. And while most hidden object games feature a single sparkle for areas or items of interest and a shower of sparkles for hidden object scenes, Voodoo Whisperer is unusual in that you get a small scattering of sparkles for both, at least if you are playing in regular mode. There is also an advanced mode of gameplay, in which there are no sparkles to indicate areas of interest, and there are less hints and the refilling hint timer fills much more slowly. Another nice feature is the fact that there are four "permanent" spells attached to the grimoire: The usual refilling hint feature along with three others that allow the player to move heavy objects, break things (always fun), and set fire to things (even more fun!).

Analysis: It seems there is an abundance of hidden object adventure hybrids with supernatural themes on the market today, so it's nice to find one that lifts itself head and shoulders above the crowd. Voodoo Whisperer: Curse of a Legend has all of the standard tropes of today's hybrids: finding, using, and combining objects; large hidden object scenes; and the usual mini-games and puzzles. What Voodoo Whisperer brings to the table is a twist on the usual gameplay along with fantastic atmosphere and a gripping story that keeps the player engaged while sending shivers down the spine.

grinnyp_voodoowhisperer_screenshot2.jpgThe graphics are simply stunning, whether you are looking at the locations in and around town, the animated cut-scenes between chapters, the brilliantly detailed and almost photo-realistic hidden object scenes, or the lovely mini-games. The story takes place entirely at night and pale moonlight kisses each outdoor scene, while gentle oil lamps and fires caress the indoor scenes and give them a warming glow. Everything in this world seems on the edge of decay as befitting a town built basically on a swamp, and the prevalence of dust and cobwebs adds to the eerie feeling of abandonment as Lillian makes her way through a town that, while only asleep, feels almost dead. Adding to the experience is the chilling sountrack and incidental sounds along with some competent voice acting that brings the game (and the time and place) alive.

The length of gameplay depends on which mode you choose. With the faster refilling hint timer and the ability to skip the mini-games the regular mode allows, you can expect about 2 to 3 hours of play. Gameplay will be longer in advanced mode as more exploration is needed and less help is available. The thing that might irritate players most, though, is that the story builds to a crashing crescendo only to jar you with those fateful words, "to be continued..." There are some minor niggles also about the clickable areas which in the hidden object scenes seem a bit too small while in the outside world they seem a bit too large, making the picking up of objects near the edges of the screens (near travelable areas) a tad difficult. Also this story is drenched in Voodoo rituals and spells, which may offend some folks.

The minor criticisms, however, are far outweighed by the casual delight contained within Voodoo Whisperer: Curse of a Legend. The atmosphere is fantastic, the story gripping, and a lot of effort has been made to conform to at least some historic consistencies. The Madame is based on a real person, Marie Laveau, the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans in the 1830's, a woman still venerated in that city to this day. The hidden object scenes are a joy as everything you find within looks and fits within the time period with a couple of minor exceptions. Happily no boom-boxes and skateboards are to be found anywhere. Perhaps the only complaint most players will have is that it is all over way too soon, leaving you hanging for the sequel which is, according to Funswitch games, already in the works. If you don't have the time or money for a vacation, Voodoo Whisperer: Curse of a Legend is just the antidote, a perfect way to travel to an exotic city and submerge yourself within a story that tells a tale of the macabre.

A Collector's Edition is also available. It includes wallpapers, an extra chapter to round out the story that contains six hidden object scenes, and a built-in strategy guide. 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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Weekend Download

JohnBHello, traveller! Did you know it's possible to have protagonists made out of clay? How about protagonists that are really tiny due to radiation? These facts and more on this edition of Weekend Download!

hubbyclaycube.gifHubby the Clay Cube (Windows, 7.7MB, free) - Platformers don't get much simpler than this, but there's something charming about the ease in which this game plays. Hubby the Clay Cube puts you in the gooey shoes of a squared kid who is out to save the cube world from a device called the Clay Cube. You accomplish this by gathering keys to unlock doors and by stomping enemies on the head. I know I know, very basic, right? Then, why is it so entertaining?!

little.gifLittle (Windows, 5MB, free) - Playing baseball in the yard with your pals, you chase after a long fly ball that soars across the lawn. Just when you're about to nab it, you touch a puddle of radioactive goo and shrink to the size of an ant. Bummer! Now, being all little and stuff, you have to work your way through a 2D platform world, navigating simple mazes and gathering items for characters that need them. Oh, and also, figure out a way to return to your natural size! Created by Zach Banack, author of Fire with a Riot, TimeStill. and PaperDreams.

coldblooded.gifCold Blooded (Cold 2) (Windows, 6.3MB, free) - An intricate platform shooter with a main character who can just about do it all! You play the role of an assassin bribed by an assassin's guild, and since you're the most efficient killing machine around, you eagerly pick up all the weapons you can get your hands on and head out on the job. Jump and wall jump to navigate the levels, and latch on to overhead ceilings by getting close enough to them. There are several weapons to use and pick up, each brightly colored to contrast the game's black and white manga look. The controls take a bit to get used to, but the game's filled with action and over-the-top kills.

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 3.5/5
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Rating: 3.5/5 (56 votes)
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joyeStar ForgeHero Interactive described the inspiration behind their latest game, Star Forge, as follows: "it had to be simple, it had to have a lot of action, a base you can build, and explosions- LOTS of explosions." In a better world, I would have just copy/pasted that quote, posted the link, and called it a day. You can read the rest of my review if you like, but that's all you really need to know about this strategy game that nestles snugly on the line between the general defense and the niche tower defense categories. Don't look for much of a plot, though. You have a base. Some ships want to explode your base. You must explode them first! Ah, simplicity.

The game provides the tutorial as you play, and new options are unlocked gradually, which on the one hand is great because you don't get overwhelmed by too much at once. On the other hand, bad choices you make early on can really hamper you later, so you'll probably want to restart the game at least once keeping later levels in mind. You start out with a base that is only able to build basic towers. You can arrange these towers as you like, but once you put them down, you won't be able to move them at all (except for much later in the game, when you will be able to recycle them). Use the mouse to arrange the towers around your base quickly, because waves of enemies are going to start coming in from all directions. Hopefully, your towers will make short work of them.

As you defeat waves of enemies, you'll progress up in levels, and unlock new kinds of upgrades and abilities. You start with a basic damage and defense upgrade, but soon you'll have the ability to increase range, make your projectiles explosives, slow enemies down, set bombs, heal units, and more. Each tower can take up to six upgrades. You switch your base from producing one kind of upgrade to another by clicking on its button. Your base will keep producing the same thing over and over until you change it to another thing, going by a timer which may be fairly fast (eg heals) or slow (some of the better tower upgrades and late game tower production). That's a good thing, because your enemies are going to get tougher and tougher as well.

You must play the game all in one session; there is no saving mid-game. Your game ends when you beat all the levels or when you die, although you can restart from the level before you died with a high score wipe. The game can get quite processor intensive, so if you have a slower machine you might want to click on the quality control in the lower right. The same area also includes controls for music, sound, and a pause button.

Star ForgeAnalysis: Like many defense titles, emotions tend to run between cockiness and sheer panic when playing Star Forge, depending on whether at the moment you're beating the waves back effortlessly and racking up extra upgrades, or frantically hovering over your base waiting for the timer to tick down and screaming at the monitor "I TOTALLY DRAGGED THAT HEAL ON YOU!" as a unit explodes. When you play through the first time, things can really come out of nowhere to devastate you. For example, my first play through, I focused on beefing up a few towers with six slots filled rather than building lots of towers with one or two slots filled. Then the range upgrade was unlocked, and along with it, enemies which settled just out of range and fired on my towers. I couldn't do anything to improve my towers' range because they had all six slots filled, so they were sitting ducks. I was frantically trying to build more towers to upgrade with range and save them, but it took too long and all but one was destroyed by enemies.

I ran into similar "Well, if I had known that was going to happen, I wouldn't have done that!" issues later as well, though none of them were as devastating as that one. So this isn't a game you should expect to beat on the first play, unless you are lucky enough to make the right choice before being given the data that allows you to know it's the right choice. To be fair, I made some right choices by serendipity as well, clustering some units in such a way that I was able to use cluster upgrades that I didn't know were coming the next level.

To a certain extent the fun you have will depend on your personality. If you're the kind of person who likes to play tower defense games like a general in main HQ, analyzing wave data twenty steps ahead and relying totally on planning, this probably isn't your game. On the other hand, if you think a more field marshal kind of war experience sounds more thrilling, with unexpected challenges just making the triumph that much sweeter, and if you take pride in your speed and your ability to change strategies on the fly, Star Forge is going to really suck you in. You'll probably even be crazy enough to play the game again on insane mode, or the appropriately named Awesome mode available only at Armor Games, with your shirt off saying "I love the smell of explosions in the morning!" I, for one, salute you.

Play Star Forge


  • Currently 3.5/5
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Rating: 3.5/5 (34 votes)
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DoraBattle for Wayland KeepWho are you, and what are you doing here? You're probably familiar with the Mysterious Hero trope by now if you're even a passing fan of fantasy RPGs, but fortunately for the more bloodthirsty hack-and-slashers, the answer to both questions turns out being "kickin' arse and takin' names". In Jazza Studio's action-packed game Battle for Wayland Keep, you are Argus, an unusually talented swordsman who finds himself stuck in the middle of a bloody battle in front of the titular Keep. Forced to defend himself, when it turns out he can cut through foes like a hot bolt of magical lightning through soft, squishy marauders, Argus winds up being enlisted in the cause of defending the Keep. Naturally, this involves making people burst like ripe fruits full of giblets at every opportunity. Huzzah!

The game is played top-down, and most of your time is spent waging bloody battle against the forces that come to attack the Keep itself. Click on the ground to move, or on people to interact, and use the [WASD] or [arrow] keys to scan the camera around the area (moving the mouse to the edge of the screen works for this, too.). The goal is twofold; stay alive, and hold the gate. If you die, or if the Keep is breached, then it's game over. As such, whenever enemies are around, you're going to want to do your best to turn them into a fine paste. Argus will automatically react to enemies attacking him, but you'll need to manually activate any special abilities, whether by hitting the corresponding numerical hotkey or clicking on the appropriate icon. Most of Argus' abilities have a short cool down time (apparently screaming like a banshee while you tear apart entire battalions like overcooked spaghetti is tiring), but certain abilities can only be used once per day, so think twice before you use them.

Between battles, you'll retire to what remains of the Keep, where you can spend the resource points you've earned on reinforcements for the Keep itself, or on upgrades if you'd prefer to do your baddie slice-and-dice with greater, messier efficiency. Of course, when you're all ready for the following day, you should spend some time conversing with the other people stuck holding the line along with you. Who knows? You might just learn a thing or two.

Battle for Wayland KeepAnalysis: Battle for Wayland Keep gives off serious Icewind Dale and Temple of Elemental Evil style vibes, primarily due to the way combat is handled and presented. For me, at least, this is a good thing; the nostalgic vibe is nice, but what's nicer is the combat-centric gameplay bolstered by the medieval fantasy tale that wraps around it unobtrusively. The writing is actually pretty good; the game doesn't dump exposition in your lap, but paints the world through character actions or turns of phrase that give you a better idea of what the world is like and what sort of people you're with. Not the stuff fantasy dynasties are built on, certainly, but a far cry from HELLO HERO PLZ STAB THE DRAGON KTHNXBAI.

The downside, unfortunately, is that the mouse/keyboard control combo fails to feel immediately natural and instead takes some getting used to. As a result, combat feels messy, and not just because of the gore you'll be slipping around on; as enemies clutter the screen, it's frustrating to feel like you're fumbling around and scrabbling to keep up, frantically reducing one group of enemies to a fine red mist while dozens of others hack away at the gates. It feels more than a little chaotic, and while that's probably what an actual blade-to-blade battle would be like, it does make for some potentially disorienting (and annoying) moments early on.

Of course, once you do get the hang of things, Battle for Wayland Keep really begins to shine. There's something immensely satisfying about absolutely destroying a dozen or more enemies in a single blast of light, and while it does wind up feeling a little repetitive, the short scope and the conversations you can have with your fellow soldiers adds to the story and helps to keep it from feeling like an unpleasant grind. (Sadly, no immediate option for "Get off your butt and HELP ME.") The presentation is great, if a little dim, and everything from the music to the voice acting really helps make the whole thing feel polished. Battle for Wayland Keep is, basically, a teaser prelude of sorts to Jazza's upcoming fantasy RPG Ortus, set 100 years in the game's future. While you have a while to wait for Ortus, Battle for Weyland Keep should more than serve to keep you good and bloody busy for a bit in the meantime.

Play Battle for Wayland Keep

DN8


  • Currently 4.1/5
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Rating: 4.1/5 (70 votes)
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TrickyDN8I'm always hearing about how the next evolution in gaming is right around the corner. Whether its a handheld that enters the third dimension by giving you a headache, a new brand of controller that only does everything its competitor did years ago (except with a glowing tip), or a motion sensor that requires an intense pilates workout to do everything that a "start" button could accomplish, it's clear that we are innovating far beyond our wildest dreams. However, for those shooter-lovers who would like to see the effects of evolution right at their fingertips, there's DN8, the new dynamically-generated bullet hell from intelligent-designer Squize. It looks pretty fit to me.

DN8 is played entirely with the mouse, with your ship auto-firing its weapons as you play, taking out dozens of path-tracing pixel baddies. You start out with a dinky horizontally moving single-shooting spacecraft, but each wave completed cause you to "evolve" into a ship with a new ability. About half of these end up being the direct result of player-choice, sending you on one combinational path or another. Bonuses are awarded for enemy kills, mutations, and grazing bullets. Can you make it to the top of the evolutionary ladder?

The main gimmick of DN8 is in its branching abilities system, which provides a unique alternative to the upgrade-plethora of most casual shooters. You'll have to get a good balance of offensive and defensive evolutions to make it through to the end, and depending on what you decide on, similar levels will end up playing completely different. Some balance issues are palpable (as some abilities seem vastly more useful than others), but that may just be the result of me adapting the game to my personal play-style: for instance, I was never quite able to get the hang of the bullet "grazing" mechanic, so I tended towards more defensive upgrades. Those with better mouse-eye coordination might choose differently, and end up with a final ship that shoots and plays much differently than mine, if just as entertaining. That's a good thing, especially when you throw in the randomly-generated enemies and soundtrack. There's quite a bit of replay value for shooter lovers (though I think its cross-genre appeal will be limited).

The phrase that best describes DN8 is "Visually Interesting". There are a ton of cool explosions, pseudo-3D effects, and gyrating backgrounds delivered here. Indeed, there is so much to look at on-screen that eye-overload is a distinct possibility. However, I think this this assault on the senses was intentional: victory comes not just as a result of a steady hand and proper aim, but the ability to focus through the swirling masses in front of you. It would be tiring if it weren't so friggin' cool looking. It is true that not all of the aesthetics work together: the 16-bit player character clashes quite deeply with the 8-bit enemies and the 32-bit backgrounds in a way that felt quite jarring as time went on. That said, those who are able to stand the vertigo of flashing lights and colors will find DN8 to be definite progress.

Play DN8


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Link Dump Fridays

DoraI've got a lov-e-ly bunch of Link Dump Games, (diddly-diddly) here they are all standing in a row, (bum bum bum) one with Bloons, one with cubes, one with spikes fallin' onto yer head...

  • Spike: A Love StorySpike: A Love Story - [Parental Warning: Violence and gore.] If, like me, you have difficulty expressing your emotions, you might find a kindred spirit in this morbidly amusing reflex/arcade game about a lowly but lethal spike trap in a castle. He/She/It falls in love with the plucky hero of the game, and can only express this affection the same way he/she/it expresses everything else... by smashing the hero into a bloody pulp. It doesn't take the hero long to realise he doesn't want anything to do with what you consider romance, and he resorts to increasingly tricky and complex means to try to scoot past you without getting pulverised. Just like high school!
  • CubiumCubium - When your parents or grandparents were kids, they didn't have any video games to keep them occupied. Instead, they had to go outside and play, chasing hoops with sticks, tying tin cans on strings to younger siblings, or tossing pennies at walls. (Apparently.) At its core, Cubium is a simple projectile physics game that hearkens back to simpler times as well, only instead of knocking cans off of fence posts with baseballs, you're hurling orbs at top speed towards stacks of tiny sentient cubes, trying to knock them all off the screen, Blosics style. It's good, wholesome old-timey fun with a little wanton destruction tossed in.
  • Sci-FightersSci-Fighters - If there's one thing every nerd secretly holds to be true in our heart of hearts, it's that we would totally have Kirk's back in the event that we were thrown into an alien deathmatch ring with him. Unless, you know, it was an every-man-for-himself style battle royale arcade avoidance mess... then he'd have to go down. SuperFlashBros wants to throw you in a ring with a slavering alien monstrosity along with several other competitors and an assortment of random power-ups, and see who comes out alive.
  • Bloons 2: Spring FlingBloons 2: Spring Fling - April showers bring May flowers, and a young man's fancy turns to thoughts of... monkeys chucking pointy implements at balloons. Obviously. Bloons is back with a seasonal pack of poppin' for you to try your hands at. Spring seems like the perfect time for Bloons action, especially if, like me, you're old enough to remember lawn darts. Man, this makes me nostalgic for my childhood; running around the backyard, hurling bits of plastic with spikes on the end at each other... memories. Painful, traumatising memories.
  • Animal RacewayAnimal Raceway - Most of us have, at one time or another, wanted a pet we could hug and pet and squeeze and name George, but why stop there? Unleash your favourite critter's true monetary potential in this racing sim that has you train up your hot-shot octopus (mine was apparently named Greasy Dirtyburger, which I deemed appropriate enough to keep) until you can clean up at the racetrack. Really, shouldn't you get a big trophy just for convincing an octopus to wear a pair of racing shorts and walk upright?

  • Currently 3.7/5
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Rating: 3.7/5 (133 votes)
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Joshvampirephysics.jpgThere are numerous casual physics puzzles out there, but not too many with bite. Many of them are a pain in the neck, without enough good content to really sink your teeth into or get your blood boiling. Well my friends, that is about to change with this monstrous entry in the phuzzle realm by Ozdy, Cathy M and robotJAM: Vampire Physics.

Vampire Physics takes a familiar game concept but adds a fun spin on it thanks to an amusing horror theme. Instead of using physics to manipulate colored balls or shapes, each level's goal is to turn all humans into vampires by making your vampire touch and bite them. To get the bloodsuckers rolling (or falling), click on various wooden blocks and platforms to remove them. Things get more challenging with the introduction of deadly priests, stinky garlic, and pesky rival vampires. On top of that, humans turn into werewolves (which kill vampires) unless the full moon can somehow be obscured.

The mix of these various characters and objects leads to some fun and amusing gameplay. There are 36 levels filled with inclined planes, ropes, moving contraptions, and other bite-sized physics challenges. Beating each level is satisfying, and part of the fun is seeing how the characters and theme will be implemented next. Beyond the standard levels, there are additional bonus user levels to try, and you can even make your own challenges with the included level editor.

It's worth noting that some of the levels in Vampire Physics are more straightforward than others, and a few require a bit of luck that may require a liberal application of level restarts. Regardless, with its cute characters and lighthearted vampire theme, Vampire Physics has enough charm to easily suck your break time away.

Play Vampire Physics


  • Currently 4.5/5
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Rating: 4.5/5 (96 votes)
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DoraSoul BrotherIn general, if we're late for work and our car gets a flat, the best most of us can offer is a contrite call into management. But what if we could immediately leap into another car, and another, no matter how many times we broke down? Now replace "car" with "hapless unsuspecting host body" and you've got something like Jasper Byrne's retro platformer Soul Brother, where a swift and painful demise is only the beginning. You play a little ghost-like creature whose primary means of transport is hijacking the various creatures that inhabit the realm and assume control of all of their motor functions.

Use the [arrow] keys to move, and tap the [down arrow] to read signs, which will inform you of the abilities of each creature you encounter, as well as any other pertinent information. Different animals have different powers, such as flight, double-jumping, or, uh, being really, really tiny, and it's up to you to figure out how to use each one onscreen to get to your goal. You'll usually need to control more than one critter to pass each area, so whenever you need to "jump ship", just take a nosedive onto the nearest fatal object, of which there are many. If all the creatures onscreen die, the area resets to its original configuration, and you're booted back to the entrance in the body of the animal you came in wearing. If forcing a docile creature into mind-controlled slavery and possession seems a little callous to you, well, I don't know about you, but if I lived in a world full of arrow traps, floating saw blades, and angry robots, I'd probably expect to be dead at least three times before my morning cup of coffee anyway. It's like something on National Geographic, only with 100% more immediate, painful reincarnation.

Soul BrotherAnalysis: Soul Brother's presentation is, without a doubt, fantastic, from its Tomogatchi-Meets-NES style of visuals to the relentlessly energetic and catchy soundtrack. Each screen represents its own challenge or puzzle, and while this means the game is appealingly packed with opportunities to showcase your 1337 possession skills, it also means you can probably expect there'll be at least one stage that will reduce you to a frothy lather of frustration shaped like a human. Especially if you intend to track down all the bonus gems. It doesn't really approach Meat Boy levels of difficulty, but certain areas can be so hazardous and require such careful timing and platforming that being forced to restart them stings more than it should, particularly since some of the creatures don't control as fluidly as you might hope.

But if you're looking for a challenge wrapped up in one weird and wonderful package, Soul Brother will not disappoint. It's got a ton of character all its own, and puzzling your way through each progressively more difficult stage by the skin of your teeth (or beak... or worm... mush mouth) is pretty satisfying. It won't be for everyone, but you don't have to be a non-corporeal body snatcher to appreciate its charm. One wonders why you don't just float your ghostly butt past all the obstacles, rather than forcing harmless animals to hurl themselves into death over and over and over... but I guess you'll have to play it to understand it.

Play Soul Brother


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Rating: 4.5/5 (178 votes)
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dismantlementkeyboard.gifJohnBWhen you see the word "dismantlement" in front of a noun, especially when that noun is a gadget filled with nifty parts to dig through, you know it's time for another installment of the excellent point-and-click Dismantlement series! Just like previous releases, Dismantlement: Mini Keyboard charges you with the task of taking apart a gadget with nothing more than a screwdriver. The insides of this contraption won't be familiar to anyone who has actually pulled apart a keyboard before, and there might be a surprise (or six) waiting for you behind that rear panel!

Use the mouse to click on parts of the keyboard, zooming in on certain areas and opening tiny hatches when applicable. Any exposed screw can be removed with a simple click, and you can move back through the parts of the keyboard or even view the opposite side with the button in the top corner of the screen.

Much like a room escape game, Dismantlement: Mini Keyboard's challenge rests in its puzzles, many of which are code-related. For example, in this rather unusual keyboard, removing the back panel reveals some hatches that can only be opened by entering the proper sequence of numbers or letters. We don't know about you, but our keyboard certainly doesn't have that feature tucked away behind the circuits. If the Dismantlement series was going for realism, however, there would be a distinct lack of timers and bombs in things like toasters and tea canisters. We can suspend our disbelief for a few moments while we get absorbed in a new Dismantlement game!

Grab your screwdriver and get crackin', it's time to take apart a mini keyboard!

Play Dismantlement: Mini Keyboard


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Rating: 4.6/5 (74 votes)
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Babylon Sticks: Bonus Content 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: 4.3/5 (134 votes)
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ChiktionaryAnbot 2I was standing in line at the JayIsGames cafeteria, patiently waiting for my serving of gruel, when Dora announced over the loudspeaker that PencilKids aka Robin Vencel has just released Anbot 2. I was like, "PencilKids!! Robin Vencel!! ANBOT 2!?!?!", dropped my tray on J-Witz's NBA endorsed Nike's and headed back to my station to play. And wow, I have to say if you're looking for a little more action in a point-and-click adventure then this is the game for you!

The gameplay of Anbot 2 is so characteristic of Robin Vencel's game developing style, only this time there's a little more challenge and a lot more action. Use your mouse to click on hotspots to activate mechanisms in Anbot's environment and so help him escape the Work Police with the ultimate goal of rescuing his bot girlfriend. In between scenes requiring only pointing and clicking, there are moments where you have to fend off enemies either by shooting them or avoiding them, which will test your reflexes. And maybe even your patience. Just a little.

PencilKids games are a firm favourite, with detailed and charming cartoony graphics, smooth gameplay and nice little storylines woven throughout, and all without the pixel hunting. What's lovely about Anbot 2, is that we once again encounter the stoic little bot we first met in Anbot, and journey with him as he endeavours to avoid the crushing regime of the processing plant and make a life for himself. Robin Vencel is certainly adept at creating characters that we can somehow relate to, even if they are little cracked robots.

Anbot 2 is short and sweet, but so totally jam-packed with action and excitment that it's much more than just a mouthful of gaming goodness. It might not take long to help Anbot through his second adventure, but you'll definitely feel like he owes you one for helping him out this time.

Play Anbot 2


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Rating: 4.5/5 (142 votes)
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monstercastledefense.gifJohnBMonster Castle Defense is a retro-styled 2D tower defense game with cute little pixel graphics and a level of difficulty that will certainly get your attention. In order to keep the princess (queen? lady in a towel?) safe, you must deploy a series of creatures to fight off ever-advancing evil soldiers. Upgrade your warriors to bigger, badder fighters, and keep the hallways clear as you try to survive wave after wave of attacks!

We're all quite familiar with the tower defense concept by now, and even though Monster Castle Defense ditches the top-down perspective in favor of a side view, the principles are pretty much the same. Use the mouse or keyboard to select any of eight creatures from your inventory on the right side of the screen. Each one has its own unique ability, such as close-range melee attacks, fireballs, slow gel, or even attack bees! Buy a unit and set it on one of the glowing spaces on the floor. Creatures automatically face the right direction, all you have to do is decide what to place and at which moment to do it.

When an enemy saunters by, your creatures attack. Wear down streams of evil soldiers, nasty priests, demented hikers, and not-so-nice kamikazes to earn cash, represented by skulls. Use the money to buy more creatures (naturally), or upgrade existing ones when their XP bars are full. You can also increase an individual unit's effectiveness for a small fee, and if you've decided someone isn't pulling their weight, sell them off and put in something new. After all, it's your responsibility to defend the lovely lady at the top of the castle, not some crummy skeleton's.

Units not doing a good enough job? Why not summon one of your spells to give them a hand? Fire, lightning, tornado and blizzard are at your disposal, each costing a hefty chunk of change and offering a one-off attack to deal extra damage to a foe. They're best reserved for emergency situations, so save them for just such an occasion and spend your skull money on upgrades and new units instead.

monstercastledefense2.gifAnalysis: Strategy is the name of the game with Monster Castle Defense, and everything in the game is chiseled down to allow for fine-tuning of your own personal tower defense philosophy. Instead of dealing with flying enemies, fast enemies, walking enemies and other gimmicks, Monster Castle Defense tosses creeps your way that can heal themselves, climb up through the ceiling, or even attack your own creatures! This allows you to focus on your strategy, not worrying about whether or not you can defend against a flying monster that's immune to fire damage. Balance is still key, but you're a bit more free to customize your attack plan in this tower defense game.

Monster Castle Defense isn't necessarily one of those games you can just pick up and play right off the bat, even if you're a tower defense expert. You're presented with an information dump before the game begins, running you through everything you should know before you start to play. Enemy abilities, keyboard shortcuts, info on how to upgrade units, and even your own creatures' abilities are shown in a quick slideshow, with a few pointers and the same tutorial available from the in-game help menu. It's a lot to digest for a casual browser game, but at least you have a few waves to experiment before the heavy fighters start to roll in.

Four castles in all, each with a variable difficulty level, offers a good deal of challenge for browser tower defense fans. Even on easy, however, you'll have a bit of an uphill battle trying to survive each wave of enemies. Distilling your own plan of attack is absolutely essential to winning this game, so practice makes perfect. And memorizing the help screens never hurts, either!

The interface could be a little clearer and the learning curve a bit more accessible, but Monster Castle Defense provides a solid strategy experience with a distinct focus on actual strategy, not luck. Plus, it's hard to say no to a game with pixel art this gorgeous!

Play Monster Castle Defense


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Rating: 4.3/5 (117 votes)
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Weekday Escape

GrinnypThis week let's honor the season in an old-fashioned way, shall we? No, I'm not talking about Easter with its egg hunts and bonnets. No, not Mother's Day with the obligatory flowers and cards either. If you guessed Beltane you'd be pretty close. This week we're honoring springtime as our ancestors used to, and what better way to do that than feature Blossom Spring Escape for this week's room escaping enjoyment? What, your family never celebrated spring with locking someone into a room and making them figure their way out? Bo-ring.

Blossom Spring EscapeCreated by Tomatea (Orient Express Night), Blossom Spring Escape is bursting with color and light, just like the season. Oh, sorry all you guys who are in the Southern Hemisphere. What we're talking about here is a classic one room, four wall escape. Well, almost. You will find in the course of the game a second room but otherwise we're looking at classic room escaping. Unusual for a Tomatea game is the fact that there is no back-story involved. There's only one way out, and it is up to you, you intrepid room escaper you, to find it. Move around the area with your mouse and some handy navigation bars, click on anything that looks vaguely interesting, and solve your way out. There's also a cute little side quest of finding pink flowers to make a nice bouquet which may be handy if you forgot Mother's Day.

Blossom Spring Escape is your basic wander around the room and pick up things to use or things to examine type of escape. Inventory control is pretty simple, click on an object to highlight it and you can use it, click on an object in your inventory and then click on the little "i" button to examine it in close up. Some items are single use; some can be used more than once. And while you will find some use of found objects in Blossom Spring Escape, much of the game consists of puzzles. These puzzles are fun, logical, intuitive, and very heavily color-based.

Visuals are very pretty and heavily feature spring colors and lots of flowers. There's no musical accompaniment (not that that's a bad thing) but there are some amusing sound effects when you hit upon the proper solution for a problem. What would have been nice, though, is a save feature although the game is short enough that most folks wouldn't really need it. On the downside is the lack of a changing cursor which leads to some pixel hunting. Amusingly enough there is a feature in the game with the code locks that may irritate some players. You cannot even attempt to solve these locks until you have clicked on the clue for them, eliminating the ability to "force break" these codes.

Not long and not terribly difficult, Blossom Spring Escape is a perfect mid-week break and a nice celebration of the season wrapped up in one. Amusing, easy on the eyes, logical, and just plain fun, enjoy the escaping madness. So take a few minutes out of your day and celebrate spring with a lot of pretty flowers and colors and logic puzzles. You know, just the way Grandma used to do.

Play Blossom Spring Escape


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Rating: 4.2/5 (113 votes)
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joyeUpBot Goes UpUpBot Goes Up. It's more than just the name of a puzzle collaboration between Dom Camus, Luke Davies and Craig Forrester developed at TIGJam UK2. It's an entire philosophy of bot-dom. UpBot is at peace with its purpose in life. It is UpBot. It goes up. It doesn't try to be something it's not. If UpBot needs to go left, then LeftBot is going to have to help it. UpBot is humble. Shouldn't we all be more like UpBot?

In each level, the player is presented with a number of yellow UpBots and its brethren, red RightBots, blue LeftBots, and green DownBots. All bots of the same color move at the same time, so you can control them either by clicking on one bot on the playing field, or by clicking on the color of the bot you want to move at the bottom of the screen. There's also a rewind button (two left facing arrows) to go back a step at a time. Your goal is to usher all the bots to the color-coded targets. Bots can push other bots, and some levels also have special squares such as teleporters to transport bots around. If you get yourself into a hopeless mire, click on the pause button on the left to bring up the menu, where you can control the sound, restart the level, or go back to the main menu.

UpBot Goes Up's level select has a feature that other casual puzzle game makers should take heed of: you can play the levels in any order, without having to unlock higher levels by beating lower ones. Difficulty of puzzles is always going to be subjective. Everyone has probably had the experience while playing a game where you got horribly stuck on a level, to the point where you had to seek out a walkthrough, and then went onto the next level and breezed through it. UpBot is one of those games where playing another level and then coming back to the level that you were stuck on sometimes enables you to see things in a different way, so it's particularly helpful.

The makers describe the game as "elegant," and that really is an apt descriptor for the solutions. When you figure it out, everything works together like clockwork. It's the figuring out that's the challenge, and the fun.

Play UpBot Goes Up


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Rating: 3.9/5 (38 votes)
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Joshleroysmith.jpgIn this day and age, we could all use a little motivation, right? How about a double helping of it, courtesy of the self-proclaimed man who motivated Michael Jordan to become the greatest basketball player ever? That's right, Leroy Smith is here to save the Internets and your next break with what he considers the best video game ever made: Leroy Smith's 2 on 2 Hall of Fame Challenge.

At its core, Leroy Smith's 2 on 2 Hall of Fame Challenge is an all-out, high dunking arcade basketball game similar to Arch Rivals and NBA Jam. You control the players facing Team Leroy in a little hoop action. The controls are relatively simple: move your players with the [arrow] keys, switch to a teammate with [Z], pass or jump with [X], and shoot or defend with [C]. To dunk, just run close to the basket and press [C] to watch some high-flying aerial artistry. Each of the game's three periods lasts one minute, and you have ten seconds to shoot before turning over the ball.

leroysmith2.jpgWhile the concept isn't new, 2 on 2 Hall of Fame Challenge has something that previous games have definitely lacked: Leroy Smith. Leroy is constantly in your face, whether it's his amusing sound taunts during gameplay or grainy VHS-quality videos of his motivational antics. The game (as well as his whole site) simply wallows in the awesomeness that is Leroy.

Gameplay-wise, the basketball challenge has fun aspects that makes you want to replay it until you can actually defeat the esteemed Mr. Smith. The game's graphics, with its polygonal characters and bizarrely-themed environments, are definitely cheesy but have a charming old school feel. There are also some nicely retro-sounding chip tunes to accompany the action, which may have Leroy sailing and spinning over a hundred feet in the air on his way to another impressive dunk. The controls aren't always precise, and the AI gets harder each period (to the point that it could be accused of cheating), but Team Leroy can indeed be defeated with enough practice. Can you do it? Are you ready to get motivized? Shazaaaam!

Play Leroy Smith's 2 on 2 Hall of Fame Challenge


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Rating: 4.1/5 (123 votes)
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ChiktionaryDererebaDereba... Dererereba... Derereba! I don't know how to pronounce it, or even what it means but I love the game! Detarou's latest release is completely Detarou; in other words, it's a wonderfully weird, surreal, delightfully presented and maybe even a little unsettling point-and-click game with three endings to discover.

The goal, of course, is to escape using your mouse to click on objects, add them to your inventory and use them to interact with the characters and the environment. There's also a little puzzle solving to do, but it's really only a smidgeon. In typical Detarou style, collecting and using items is a one-click delight. The trick is figuring out what to use and where, resulting in some of those nice moments of "oohh, right..." The logic is a tad bewildering, but it's there.

Those familiar with Detarou's previous games, Henna Escape and Gold Door, will know how confusing and surreal these games are. I would suggest that quite a bit of the confusion lies in the presence of items that appear to be clickable, but really are not. Many of the items and characters present in the environment are included simply as detail. And some of them, despite their benign presence, lend a wonderful quirkiness to the game. It's worth clicking everywhere just to find them.

Much of the appeal of Detarou games lies in the surprisingly realistic artwork; the posturings of each character and their facial expressions convey so much mood, and despite the apparent lack of a storyline you can't help but feel your imagination stirred into wondering about what the heck is really going on in this house. There's also a delicious anticipation of what lies around each corner, because you know that what's next is will be utterly bizarre and either funny in a left-field kind of way, or almost poignant.

I've Google'd Derereba until my fingers were sore, and I still don't know what it means. The game itself defies any sense of reality, but it's funny, quirky, surprising and a real pleasure to play. And each ending only adds to the enjoyment of play with startling humour.

Play Derereba


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The Vault

DoraHappy Post-Easter slump, dear reader! I hope you're able to tear yourself away from microwaving your Marshmallow Peeps (my mother never forgave me for teaching my little sister about that one) for another installment of The Vault! I said to myself, "Self, what would Dear Reader enjoy?" And of course the obvious answer to that was dubious fashion sense, things jumping out at you and going AAAAA, and unlawful imprisonment. Do I know you or do I know you?

  • ExmortisExmortis - Horror and I go back a long way, and good or bad, I love it all. Ben Leffler's point-and-click adventure horror game series, Exmortis, however, is very, very good... provided you don't have anything against JUMP scares, that is. In this first installment, you wake up in a cabin in the woods with a lump on your head and no memories. However, I would argue that you don't need memories to realise that sepia-toned environments with a soundtrack consisting solely of lonely, howling wind probably aren't a good thing. Despite some pixel-hunting and a bit of predictable cheesiness, Exmortis has still aged extremely well and provides some of the best atmosphere to be had in a Flash horror experience with just some photo-realistic backdrops and a keen eye for creating tension. It's the sort of thing that lulls you into a false sense of security until RAAAAGH!... did I get you? Hah, of course not, you're far too BA-LOOGA-LOOGA-LOO!... how about now?... okay, fine, I'll GWAAAAAAAAH! stop. Spoilsport.
  • The Fancy Pants AdventureThe Fancy Pants Adventure - Somewhere, deep inside all of us, is a fancy pants hero. Brad Borne's smash hit platformer has been wowing players for years with its fast-paced, runny-leapy gameplay, smooth animation, and fantastic sense of style. The controls in this first installment feel a little stiff, just a taste of the free-running atmosphere and oddball vibe will show you why it's still popular today. Neither too easy or button-mashingly difficult, perhaps more than any other title it really feels like a casual platformer, and I mean that in the best sense of the word possible. It's fun, accessible, stylish, and weird, and provides a great bit of cartoonish escapism from your day. I mean, unless your day already involves jumping on gun-toting mice, bright orange pants, and running upside-down on the ceiling. In which case, stop making the rest of us feel like underachievers!
  • ChrononChronon - This was the first Eyezmaze game I ever played, and without context, it was completely insane. Which is not to say that adding context completely boots it out of the realm of the surreal, of course. This bizarre little point-and-click puzzle game revolves around a tiny yellow fellow held prisoner by some hulking creature, and asks you to free him by manipulating various objects at various times of the day, clicking back and forth between different hours to see what your efforts yield. The logic is... uh... well, barely there unless you grew up in a Dr Seuss book, but that's part of what makes it great. I don't mind telling you I never managed to finish this without a walkthrough, but I also don't mind telling you I desperately need a rad doom clock like that one. You just know when it chimes something rad involving Jack Black, Alice Cooper, and Ozzy Osbourne is gonna happen. Rock!

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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ArtbegottiHere at the JiG Headquarters, we take challenges very seriously. When there's one donut left in the break room, it's usually Jay who wins it in the arm wrestling competitions. Dora usually sweeps the box hockey tournaments, and Tricky is surprisingly adept at solving crossword puzzles while hanging upside-down. But when a visitor stopped by HQ over the weekend and left us a challenge, we went berzerk.

Unfortunately, our efforts in finding the visitor's hidden treasure came up fruitless, not to mention eggless. So, being the genial and competitive folks that we are, we felt it only proper that the visitor, one Mr. E. Bunny, should spill any relevant information that we needed. We went straight into JiG HQ's infamous Room 214B (also the storage room for joye's muffin contest trophies) for a little grilling.

We've made a transcript of the interrogation, and we think there's enough information to locate where the final egg lies. It may look like Mr. Bunny clammed up and gave us no information, but in his own devious way, he's answered every question with a yes or no response. The question is, can you crack his code and find the hidden egg?

Take a look at the interrogation transcript and see what details you can wring out of his vague responses. If you can find the review page on which he hid his egg, submit its location AND an explanation of Mr. Bunny's code, along with your Casual Gameplay account name to mrbunny@casualgameplay.com. We'll give the first person to correctly crack the code plus four other randomly selected correct entries a prize for their efforts. As with all our contests, you must be at least 13 years of age to enter. Void where prohibited. You've only got until Friday, April 29th at 11:59 PM (GMT-5:00) to get your answers in, so get cracking!

Update:
Your investigations have proved fruitful, and we can release the answers! The egg was hidden on the review page for Mr. Bounce. And what was Mr. Bunny's code? The key was to remember that every answer had a yes or no response embedded within. Here, "yes" responses are represented by the letter Y appearing before the letter N in a response, while the "no" responses had an N first. If you followed this code, you would get five pieces of information:

  • The review was written by zxo
  • The game is similar to Breakout
  • The game is named for Mr. Bunny's "accomplice" (a bit of wordplay, there)
  • The game's developer is slightly "pixelated" (namely, Pixelate)
  • The game was reviewed in 2008

All of the other questions, which yielded "no" responses, were red herrings. In fairness, when selecting our winners, we accepted other explanations that didn't match the Y/N theory listed above, as long as they resulted in the five facts above being marked as "yes" responses, and the other eight as "no."

Congratulations! to the following winners:

  • dhaisud — was the very first person to send in the correct answer, and very shortly after we posted the contest. Excellent work! :)
  • Ditrix
  • Tahnan
  • A Game
  • schep
All winners have been sent their prizes. Thanks to everyone for participating! :)


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Rating: 3.5/5 (94 votes)
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Joshcrazyovergoo.jpgIt's a story that's been told many times before. Boy meets girl. Boy likes girl. Girl runs away from boy. Boy pursues girl across 63 levels filled with spikes, fire, water, gravity inverters, and switches while earning medals for the fewest number of clicks. Cliché? Perhaps, but that's exactly what happens here in Kristian Macanga's updated Flixel Flash port of Banov's 2009 downloadable game, Crazy Over Goo.

In this physics-based projectile platformer, you play a malleable but mostly rigid ball of goo on a mission to find another goo ball with a pink bow. Your quest will take you through six worlds (plus a bonus world), each with nine unlockable levels. You control your ball's trajectory by dragging and releasing the mouse. Like golf, the object is to get to each level's flag in the least number of jumps. To make things interesting, some jumps can occur in midair, requiring nimble mouse control (head's up, laptop users).

Practically every platforming element from other games is here in Crazy Over Goo. You have your midair jumps, ninja jumps (off sticky walls), and jumps onto spinning throwers. There are special gravity-affected areas and switches that flip the screen upside down. Some levels are dark, with illumination around your goo ball. Other stages have pushable buttons and keys that unlock closed-off areas. Deadly spikes and firepits dot the landscape.

While much gameplay is familiar, however, there are some new elements as well. Some levels require you to set your goo ball ablaze to burn down wooden barriers, though you'll need to quickly find a water area to extinguish the flame before you burn up. There are also interesting levels containing various sections that restrict or challenge your goo ball's leaping ability.

Overall, Crazy Over Goo is a challenging but fun break game that will keep you entertained. Fans of the original and newcomers alike will appreciate this update's simple but slick-looking visuals and fun sound effects. And with its new levels, game modes, medals, unlocks, customizations, and a comprehensive level editor, there's plenty of gameplay to go around. At the same time, some levels are indeed tough and may lead to a small measure of frustration, but all are beatable with a bit of persistence. So ask yourself: Can I save the pink-bowed goo? Fulfill the cliché and find out!

Play Crazy Over Goo


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Rating: 4.1/5 (92 votes)
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TrickyConvergenceThe riddle of the sphinx is invoked at the beginning of Convergence, the flixel-based platformer/life simulator/interactive art piece that serves as the debut release from Streetlight Studios: "What walks on four legs in the morning, two legs in the afternoon, and three legs in the evening?"... No, the answer isn't "William the Performing Dog". It's that miserable pile of secrets itself: man. And you'll be be spending an interesting three days in a life herein. Wake up, fall out of bed, drag a comb across your head and check it out.

Coming off as a bit of a simplified version of Alter Ego, Convergence has you play through a trio of life stages, with the choices you make in each sending you in one direction or another along the way. First is infancy, where you scurry around the house with the [arrow] keys and climb with the [spacebar], trying to collect more toys than your sibling. Then comes adulthood, with its straining choices between work and social life, again moving and making choices with the [arrow] keys and the [spacebar] to confirm. Finally, comes old age, the least interactive part of the game as you move through and see what your choices have wrought, with three major endings to achieve.

There are those out there in casual-gaming land who are of the opinion that pixel graphics are increasingly becoming a crutch for "art" game designers, and that the aesthetic often fails to make up for stiff mechanics or a bathetic tone... Let's just say that Convergence won't exactly be Exhibit A for the defense. That said, there are quite a few things to like. For what it's worth, the increasingly-complex pixelated graphics are quite well done, with the various home environments being particular stand-outs. The dialogue flows well, packing a lot of emotion in very few words, and has some amusing shout-outs (like the Majesty of Flavors ice cream stand). Lastly, the choice of tracks from Creative Commons music-meister Kevin MacLeod shows the developers have good taste, if not neccesarily in-house music talent.

In the final assessment, while I liked each of the individual scenes in Convergence, I'm not quite sure if they successfully mesh into a coherent whole. The tone shifts so quickly from manic platforming, to relationship simulator, to interactive art that you might get whiplash. There are so many ideas here, that some aren't given the room they need to breathe. Despite this, Convergence intrigued me enough to play through enough to see how each of the three stages converge and diverge based on your actions. I found it quite satisfying in that regard, even if the "Multiple Endings Based On Choosing Work or Love" aspect is hokey. Still, even if Convergence comes off as always verge of mawkishness, the pros of it outweigh the cons, gents. I look forward to seeing how the strengths of Streetlight will grow in games to come.

Play Convergence


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Rating: 4.7/5 (155 votes)
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MikeOtomataIt's the Era of Automation! We automate everything from manufacturing, to financial transactions, to blog updates. So why not automate creativity as well? Okay, that sounds horrible, but there is something fascinating about pre-configured, automatic processes that produce beautiful and seemingly random results.
Otomata, a musical webtoy from self-described computational sound artist Batuhan Bozkurt, is one such project. Somewhat similar to iNudge from a few years ago, Otomata lets you use a few moving, colliding "cells" to create musical compositions that approach infinity in length.

Click a cell on the square grid to activate it; click it again to change the direction it will move. Click [spacebar], or click the play/pause button to start or stop the composition. You can always add more to your piece, or clear the grid and start anew. When cells hit a wall, they produce a defined pitch, depending on what part of the grid they are in. When they collide with each other, they rotate clockwise and proceed in a new direction. If you can get two cells to overlap and move in the same direction, you can also creating rotating oscillators, which interact with the composition in interesting ways.

Depending on how you start your composition, you can either create regular repeating patterns, or patterns that subtly shift in interesting ways. It can be difficult to predict how a given setup will act, but that is part of the joy of Otomata. According to the developer, these patterns could spin out for billions of years without repetition, and like Fractal images, it is amazing that something of such aesthetic complexity can be generated from a few simple parameters. It also helps that the music is invariably interesting, as the developer selected his pitches such that even the crudest musical talent can produce something cool.

One more thing: You can also click the "Copy piece link" button to copy a URL of your music into your clipboard, so you can paste it anywhere you want to share it. Play Otomata, then paste your creation in the comments section below and show your genius to your fellow JIG readers.

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Mobile Monday

JohnB3D games on the iPhone? That both play well and are actually interesting? Preposterous! Well, maybe not so strange, but it's rare to see a first person game that actually fits the mobile platform well. Sometimes it's good to be proven wrong!

vectorconflict-iphone.gifVector Conflict: The Siege - Here's a surprisingly amazing game for iPhone: a 3D first person defense title that looks like it came out of the original Tron film. Wireframe tanks, planes and other baddies appear on your radar. Swipe the screen to rotate and face them, then tap to start firing your guns. You can use missiles and a few other items to help protect yourself, but they're limited, so try to rely on your wits and skills rather than big bullets. Between stages you can upgrade certain stats and purchase more ammo. Somehow the 3D aspect really makes this game work, and it's just the right amount of challenge to find and destroy enemy planes before you get hit! Based on the original browser game of the same name.

mrninja.gifMr.Ninja - From the creator of Mr.AahH! and Mr.Space! comes another simple arcade game you'll replay hundreds of times. Mr. Ninja stands on the rotating orbs until you tap the screen to make him jump. The goal is to slash the aliens with each leap and land on the next rotating circle. You can jump in mid-air by tapping the screen again, but other than that, your moves are pretty limited. Which is exactly what makes getting a high score and increasing your combo chain so fun! The free Mr.Ninja Lite is also available.

robosockets.gifRoboSockets: Link Me Up - Matching games are no stranger to any gaming platform, but RoboSockets aims to do something just a bit different. The screen is filling with strange robots, each with a number of hands extending to several of the four main directions. You can drop the 'bots anywhere you please, but the goal is to link up four or more robots so they are holding hands (aww!). Hand-holding robots disappear, making room for more of the machines falling from the sky. Simple idea, that's for sure, but the challenge, visual presentation, and variety of robots makes it a big winner. RoboSockets: Link Me Up! Free is also available.

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


  • Currently 4.4/5
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Rating: 4.4/5 (25 votes)
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grinnyp_dreamchronicles5_banner.png

Grinnyp"To sleep, perchance to dream — ay, there's the rub: for in that sleep of death what dreams may come." The dreaming state has held such fascination in human culture since before recorded history due to the surreality of what wells up from our subconscious when we sleep. The Dream Chronicles series of point-and-click adventures developed by KatGames manages to capture within its gameplay both the beauty and the danger whereof we dream, especially in the second narrative of the second Dream Chronicles trilogy (and fifth game in the overall series): Dream Chronicles: The Book of Water.

grinnyp_dreamchronicles5_screenshot2.jpgThe Book of Water picks up where Dream Chronicles: The Book of Air left off, with the heroine Lyra making her way back home to the land of Wish after her adventures with the Clockmaker. However, as she approaches the village a raging thunderstorm forces a crash landing, leaving Lyra stranded with a broken airship outside of the locked gates. Pretty soon she discovers that everyone has fled, including her mother Faye (heroine of the first trilogy), leaving her father dying of a curse from the evil fairy Lilith. Yes, once again Lilith is back and badder than ever, accompanied by her now-grown-up and homicidal son Kenrick, and not-so-good things are happening in the land of Wish. Father Fidget is dying, grandma Aeval is nowhere to be found, mother Faye is searching desperately for a cure, and grandfather Tangle...well, let's just say, poor Tangle is no longer with us. It is up to Lyra now to trace her mother's footsteps and find a solution to both her father's curse and the nasty thunderstorm that is tearing Wish apart.

Dream Chronicles: The Book of Water is virtually a pure point-and-click adventure experience of the old Myst school of gameplay, with some minor hidden object elements mixed in. You simply interact with your surroundings using a click of the mouse, whether it is picking up objects, examining interesting areas, or moving from place to place. Unlike most hidden object hybrids you will not find rooms full of junk and long lists of useless items to search out. Everything you pick up in this game is used, whether to solve puzzles, to manipulate your surroundings, or to power the Dream Jewels that you need to complete the quest. As with other games in the series you will be finding both Dream Jewels and Dream Pieces. Collect enough pieces to power a jewel and you can use their unique abilities to further manipulate the dream-like world around you. There is only one mode of gameplay this time around, and the makers have included the blessed relief of both a hint generator (which helps you keep track of your quests and goals) and a hidden object hint finder (which refills slowly). Anyone who was stuck in Dream Chronicles 2: The Eternal Maze searching for that last tiny scrap of music score or piece of the chess set will appreciate this the most.

grinnyp_dreamchronicles5_screenshot3.jpgMuch of the fun in Dream Chronicles: The Book of Water is revisiting many locations that will be very familiar to those who have played the previous games. Places and people from all four games show up either directly or indirectly, setting up for what promises to be the final blowout between Lyra's family and the evil Lilith and son in the upcoming sixth game. For those who have enjoyed the series it is a nostalgic look back ("Hey, I remember this place!") while setting up for the ultimate showdown. What is Lilith up to? Is she really behind all of the mayhem? Where does the Dream Librarian fit into all of this? The Book of Water doesn't answer many of these, but whets our appetite with the promise of answers to come.

Analysis: Being a strong fan of the series myself, I can already see the controversy brewing. On one side will be those happy to embrace the nostalgia of visiting the town of Wish (game 1 and 4), Meerow's house (game 2), the herbalist's place (game 3), the Clockmaker (game 4) as well as the new locations. On the other side will be those who consider reusing all of these locations simply recycling, adding nothing new to the storyline. However, despite seeing these familiar places, you won't be doing the same things this time around. Many of the places have new viewpoints, and in every case the actions the player needs to take will be very different with one big exception: veteran players should brace themselves for the gramophone puzzle from game 2.

grinnyp_dreamchronicles5_screenshot4.jpgAlthough Dream Chronicles: The Book of Water is similar to The Book of Air in that it is shorter than the first trilogy of games, it packs much more of a punch. The problem with Book of Air was that it seemed a bit...detached from the main story. After all, Lilith was still on the loose and things hadn't been totally wrapped up from the first trilogy when Lyra went off to an adventure featuring a completely new character with no seeming connection to events of the past. In Book of Water, however, the past is present with either the meeting of or mention of lots of main and secondary characters we've come to know from the first trilogy, along with a hint that the Clockmaker has his own agenda that may or may not coincide with Lilith's. Heady stuff and a perfect setup for the final game in the second trilogy.

As usual the game is heavy on the puzzles, normal for any Dream Chronicles game as they all favor puzzles over object finding. However, whereas Book of Air seemed to be almost overloaded with puzzles that slowed down what little story there was, Book of Water sacrifices some puzzles (fueling the airship, finding and setting coordinates, etc.) to keep the story moving along at a fast clip as there is a lot of story to get through. For fans of the series that makes Book of Water much more satisfying than Book of Air, which was more of a prologue than a fleshed out story, and seemed to use the constant puzzles to slow down gameplay rather than create a narrative.

Be prepared for more of the stunning visuals that are the hallmark of the Dream Chronicles series. Wish, that charming, quaint fairy village looks very different at night by the light of a dreadful thunderstorm. Although there is some recycling of locations there are also some new places to explore and gasp over. And for fans of the series it is a joy to see what is happening with the characters they have come to know and love (or hate) from previous games, even if the answer is a bit of a downer in some cases.

The game is still on the short side but if you take your time and don't skip any puzzles you will be richly rewarded with some pretty satisfying casual gameplay. Stunning to look at, a joy to listen to (the soundtrack is lovely as always), challenging, entertaining, and downright fun, Dream Chronicles: The Book of Water is a worthy successor to those games that have come before, while setting the stage for the (hopefully) big wrap-up that is to come.

A Collector's Edition is also available. It contains wallpapers, screensavers, the soundtrack, a strategy guide, and a hefty bonus side quest. 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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Rating: 4/5 (24 votes)
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flaws.jpgJohnBFlaws, the interactive work of fiction from author Jon Ingold, is a difficult game to categorize as well as a different game to review. For starters, it isn't really a game in the traditional sense, more like a choose your own adventure produced for modern, Kindle-enabled devices. Then there's the nature of the story, where discussing even a few of the details can spoil whole bits of the experience. Suffice it to say, Flaws is an intriguing interactive fiction "game" about finding treasure and fame, the Andromeda galaxy, a mysterious diadem, and a possible assassination.

To start off with, Flaws is available to play via a Kindle or any device with the free Kindle software. Which, in case you didn't know, is just about every platform on the market today: Windows, Mac, iPhone, iPad, Android, BlackBerry, and Windows Phone 7. So first you'll need to download the software, then grab the game through Amazon and load it like you would load any book. Now you're ready to go!

The story begins with a simple question: I will ask you one more time, and for love of your life, be sure to answer me truthfully. Did you kill him? You have four options to choose from at this point: No. Yes. Tell the truth. Lie. Which choice you make determines the next scene you visit, changing how the story unfolds. At each juncture you're given a number of choices to make, so what happens in the game is determined by your decisions. It's sort of like a more story-centric Choice Of game, with Jon Ingold's usual flare for compact, interesting writing.

To figure out what's going on in Flaws, you'll probably have to play through it several times, making different choices each time you begin. Make your character brash and bold, make him shy and respectful. Each time the story will branch off in a new direction, filling in more and more details about the unusual sci-fi world before your eyes. Each "page" isn't very long, so don't worry about having to digest mountains of text before making your decision. Just read, pick, and have a good time.

Jon Ingold is no stranger to the interactive fiction world. Author of text adventure games like Fail-Safe and Make it Good, you can pretty much expect to walk in to a smartly-written game whenever his name appears on the cover. Flaws may be less dense and intricate than its cousins, but the experience is still intriguing, the branching paths filled with options, and the setting surprisingly full for such a small amount of text. And having it on a mobile reading device is especially nice.

Flaws is an experimental sort of game released on a platform that isn't really made for games. It works out fairly well, though, as you spend all of your time reading and making a few text-based choices. The formatting isn't as svelte as it could be, so the visual presentation suffers a bit depending on which device you read/play it from, but it's not about looks, it's about content, and for a casual gamer/casual reader, Flaws is a perfect fit. Give it a try, see if the bite-sized adventure suits your taste, and hopefully we'll get more portable works of interactive fiction in the future!

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Avalon Legends Solitaire

JohnBCard games: love 'em or be just sorta "meh" about them. We happen to love them, and when it comes to downloadable solitaire games, you'll always be hard-pressed to outdo the card masters at Anawiki. New from the developer that brought you Soccer Cup Solitaire comes the smooth, attractive, and long-playing tri peaks sort of game Avalon Legends Solitaire. One you start, you probably won't want to stop. And hey, we won't blame you!

Avalon Legends SolitaireSimplicity is always the name of the game when it comes to cards, and the fewer lame gimmicks the better. Avalon Legends Solitaire features the minimum amount of story required to actually say it has a story. All you need to know is that there is a legendary deck of cards that has mystical healing powers. They were scattered years ago, and now you're on a quest to find them all. How do you find missing cards? By playing cards, of course.

Occupying most of the top of the screen is an arrangement of cards with the bottom-most cards turned face up. Below that you'll see a tableau consisting of your deck as well as the current "in-play" card, also turned face up. The goal is to move cards from the top of the screen to the in-play card on the bottom. you can only move cards that aren't covered by other cards (similar to mahjong solitaire), and it must be either one rank higher or one rank lower, regardless of suit. The more cards you move, the more face-down cards are flipped over. Repeat until the screen is cleared!

To spice things up and give you a reason to play a computer game rather than sit down with a real deck of cards, Avalon Legends Solitaire features a few special cards as well as bonuses awarded for being an awesome card player. For starters, each level has a goal that must be met in order to proceed. So, for example, you might have to earn a certain number of points or play a perfect game. And of course, there are locked cards later in the game, poor little critters that are blocked by, say, stone, and can only be freed once you find a hammer card. Much easier to do in a video game than in real life!

Avalon Legends SolitaireAvalon Legends Solitaire also has a power-ups store you can visit between hands. Spend points you earn to buy items that grant you special abilities, such as a pendant that allows you to see how many cards are left, or power-ups that turn over a number of cards. You'll need to hoard points to spend them at the store, however, as nothing comes cheap in this game. Keep combos going strong to rack up a good score, and don't forget to unleash spare cards to maximize your combo efficiency!

Analysis: Card games are one of the darling genres of the casual gaming scene, especially when it comes to solitaire. Fairway Solitaire was one of the first heavy-hitters to find its way to our screens, and its combination of rich visuals and pixel-perfect gameplay made it a clear winner on every front. That tradition only grew stronger with each successive game. Even though the gameplay always stays about the same, the experience somehow gets a little more immersive and a little more entertaining.

Avalon Legends Solitaire follows suit (sorry, had to include that pun somewhere) with a gorgeous set of graphics that are bright and engaging from level to level. Cards have wonderful illustrations on them and are a treat to look at, and you'll even love hearing the sound effects such as the little "snick" when you move a card!

There's very little not to like about Avalon Legends Solitaire. If you're looking for fancy gimmicks like mini-games, crazy power-ups, or some sort of storyline that interrupts the game every few minutes to tell you what someone is thinking, you won't find them here. Instead, it's just cards, a power-up shop, some nifty in-game items, and a lot of solitaire. Which, you know, is exactly what you'd want from a game with the word "solitaire" in the title!

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(9 votes) *Average rating will show after 20 votes
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My Farm Life

JamesThey say the price of fame is steep, but when Lisa signs on for a TV show, little does she know it's about running a farm — and she's the star! Think Old McDonald meets Paris Hilton. Fortunately for Lisa, you'll make sure she's awesome at farming in the time management game My Farm Life.

My Farm LifeNo two time management games are quite alike, but you can lump them in two general categories: consumer and producer. Consumer games have people queuing up for some service, such as cakes in Cake Mania or vegetables in Garden Dash. Fall behind on orders and you are toast. Producer games, on the other hand, focus on creating things before a timer runs out — such as meeting building, money or material targets in the construction-centric The Timebuilders: Pyramid Rising.

Like every farm-themed time management game, My Farm Life is a production game. Plant and harvest crops, manage animals, and produce refined products to hit quotas set for each level. Dunk Lisa neck-deep in corn, watermelon, popcorn, strawberries, cows, strawberry milkshake, peppers, salads, dougnuts, sheep... quite a lot, actually. Lisa's job is to perform farm tasks before the "episode" finishes. An ambitious producer keeps giving her more stuff to do, more upgrades, more help and more obstacles. Pretty soon what was a small-holding is a bustling, compact farming industry — from tilling the soil to tossing the salad.

My Farm LifeUsing your mouse, you assign tasks to Lisa. For example, to milk a cow she must collect a bucket, milk the cow, then take the milk to the barn (or relevant machine if you are looking for milkshake or chocolate). The ground must be prepared, crops sown and eggs collected, but it is all achieved with a swift flick of the mouse. Stack up tasks for Lisa and her occasional helper, one of three she can periodically summon to lighten the load, and speed her towards her quotas before the time runs out. You'll only manage this by thinking ahead, adapting fast and making sure you have enough cows.

At random moments plants will require water. You will also need to keep an eye on soil or plants that need replacing, make sure your animals have grass to graze on and that their water troughs are full. Let's not forget that machines need fixing. And make sure you keep buying new seeds! Fortunately there are upgrades that speed things up and a helpful night tradesman who will sell you produce you desperately need.

Analysis: As is often the case, My Farm Life's comically cute graphics hide a pretty tough game underneath, though not as frantic as some of the more... frenzied management games. Still, it is demanding, thanks to the sheer amount of things you have to do. No, scratch that. Rather, thanks to the sheer amount of stuff you can do. Your orders never seem to hit a ceiling — just keep clicking on what you want to do, even if it involves an object you have already tagged. Sometimes you speed so far ahead you have time (albeit not much) to pause and survey the farm while Lisa rushes around. Get something wrong, though, and it can cancel the stack (or worse, have Lisa run around in indignant circles with a crate of eggplants).

My Farm LifeEqually nice is the move function. For one, it pauses the game and lets you contemplate your strategy. It also moves stuff, as the name suggests. Organising your farm becomes very important, because you have very little space. Whereas some farm games encourage you to run vast tracts of vegetables, with My Farm Life you have to manage your area conservatively. The move tool lets you rearrange things all you want, as long as you put everything somewhere.

These are both smart little features that makes a challenging experience much more enjoyable as they both allow you to take a moment and focus on your strategy. Since hammering away with mad abandon is the worst strategy in time management games, these two features gives newcomers a easier road into the genre while awarding veterans by easing them ahead. There is an expert mode, but apart from shorter times it doesn't alter anything else in the game.

But what is it that really distinguishes My Farm Life from most time management games? It doesn't feel like something Dante might have encountered during his trip through hell. Many of the genre's big titles are demanding and at times sadistic. No wonder they are addictive. But sometimes that is too much, yet games like Royal Envoy just never quite give you that sensation of skin-of-your-teeth panic. My Farm Life meets you in the middle: kind enough to just have fun, but it's going to worsen that case of carpal tunnel syndrome.

There are flaws, but most gnashing of teeth will come from erratically bouncing between a cow and the bucket station because you got your orders wrong. On top of all that it scores major points for skipping some generic "save the farm" or "family legacy: yarn. Reality TV about efficiently doing stuff on a farm? Take how boring that sounds. My Farm Life is on the opposite side.

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Weekend Download

JohnBThis happy weekend time, we are proud to present: fun games! Really, really fun games. It's like, if you wanted to get a bunch of games together that were just plain fun, not so much challenging, not so much brain-taxing, just awesome fun, then you'd assemble something like what we have below. And then you would go play them and have some of that fun everybody's always talking about!

mechaspiderisland.gifMecha Spider Island (Windows, 14MB, free) - A lone ark sails the skies to deliver animals to the Earth. An extremely sci-fi-related time vortex occurs, leaving only two animals: a giraffe and a frog. Then the rift combines the two, and somehow a gun comes into play. Now, you are the giraffrog, leaping across 2D retro terrain, shooting mechanical spiders as you climb your way to the top to defeat the ultimate robotic arachnid foe. Mecha Spider Island is everything awesome about retro games, featuring level design and gameplay that screams "unbridled fun" and a soundtrack that, if it were any happier, it would be illegal in some countries. Do yourself a favor, go play Mecha Spider Island!

grief.gifGrief (Windows, 14.4MB, free) - From Magnesium Ninja Studios, creator of free downloadable indie games such as Bun-Dun and Everclimb, comes a game about happiness, sunlight, sorrow, and darkness. And puzzle platform adventuring! Trot through a nicely-drawn 2D world as you switch between the light world of optimism and the dark world of pessimism, each with its own exclusive obstacles, platforms, and abilities. In the light, you can jump higher and will find orange pieces of ground to stand on. In the dark, you can crawl under tight spaces and stand on blue platforms. You must creatively use these abilities to grab the teddy bear in each level, and the game doesn't shy away from making you do some serious thinking to get the job done.

terralegend.jpgTerra: Legend of the Geochine (Windows, 283MB, free) - A curious little experiment created by students at DigiPen Singapore, Terra: Legend of the Geochine is a fantasy-themed 2.5D action/exploration game that puts you in control of both a character and the environment. You have a fairly standard set of objectives and moves at your disposal, moving in the four basic directions along with attacks, jumps, and a spell or two. The neat part is you also have control of the world itself, holding a button on the mouse to tilt the screen in any direction. Naturally, tilting the world moves everything on the screen, opening up possibilities for a number of labyrinth-style puzzles and other orientation-centric gimmicks. A very interesting concept that's just simple enough to work yet complex enough to be interesting, and the artwork is of top quality, too! Note: Terra requires Source SDK Base 2007 and Steam to run. If you don't have either installed, first download Steam, then go to "View" followed by "Tools" to grab the Source SDK Base.

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!


(16 votes) *Average rating will show after 20 votes
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GrinnypIt must be startling to learn, upon reaching adulthood, that you are actually a princess rescued from a castle before a great evil befell it. Especially if you learn at the same time you must begin a quest to save the castle and the kingdom from the doom that descended all those many years ago. Thus begins the adventure/hidden object hybrid Spirits of Mystery: Amber Maiden, the latest offering from ERS Game Studios, creators of the Puppet Show series and the more recent hidden object adventure game, Shadow Wolf Mysteries: Curse of the Full Moon.

spiritsofmystery.jpgThe game begins with a gorgeous animated sequence that explains the story so far. According to the loving nanny who raised you, when you were a babe in the cradle, an evil witch attacked the castle, freezing its inhabitants in amber before they could defend themselves. Fortunately for you, your dear nanny had hair-trigger reflexes and managed to snatch you from the crib and flee the scene before the same fate could befall your royal person. Now you must figure out how to travel to the castle without drawing the attention of the evil witch (still in residence), and one-by-one free each person and thing from their amber prison, thus saving the kingdom. Along the way you will also encounter the witch more than once as she taunts you with what she claims is your ultimate fate, sharing the doom of the rest of your family and kingdom.

Gameplay is the standard found in most point-and-click adventure/hidden object hybrid games. Click on things of interest to examine them, pick them up, or to travel to new locations. There are also a plethora of hidden object scenes, each one yielding a single useful item that will be helpful somewhere down the road. There's a journal which records things that you have seen which is helpful when running into some of the puzzles, and a large inventory to carry the many, many objects that you will be picking up along the way. Included is a handy refilling hint timer and the ability to skip the puzzles and mini-games after a certain amount of time has passed. Along with single useful items (hammers, jewels, etc.) you will also be collecting multiples of other items that you need to activate some of the puzzles. In the end you will hopefully succeed in freeing both your family and the kingdom from the curse of being encased in amber for eternity, useful only as pretty statues or very heavy jewelry.

spiritsofmystery2.jpgAnalysis: I can hear the chorus now: "Not another adventure/hidden object hybrid with a princess fighting her way into a castle to free her family! It's been done a million times!" Yes, it has, but rarely with such style and atmosphere. Spirits of Mystery: Amber Maiden is a cut above most of the herd with its stunning graphics and absorbing gameplay.

To begin with the visuals are out of this world, especially the long shot vistas that you will encounter as you travel towards and inside the castle of doom. There is a stirring soundtrack that plays when you are inside the hidden object scenes and when you have finally breached the castle walls, but one of the joys is that when you are in the great outdoors the music gives it a rest and the incidental sounds take front and center. The whisper of wind through the grass, the heady buzz of insects, the lyrical birdsong, the gentle crash of waves upon the shore, all of these and more play out during the outside scenes, adding an eerie atmosphere and really driving home the fact that there is not another living soul around for miles. Another small but delightful detail are the doors you encounter along the way. Hover your cursor over one of these doors and they will creak gently open a crack, sending shivers up and down your spine as you explore this desolate world.

spiritsofmystery3.jpgThe gameplay is smooth and seamless as you transition from one scene to the next, opening up new areas to explore. The castle, especially, is large and you might get lost more than once as you wander around attempting to find all of the items needed to accomplish your goals. A handy changing cursor indicates items that can be examined, things that can be taken, and places where you can travel. Hidden object scenes are indicated with a magical blue shimmer rather than the traditional shower of sparks. The hidden object scenes themselves are detailed and intricate, and not everything is in plain view. The player will have to interact with certain portions of the scene to reveal objects that are especially hidden (which show up in yellow text in your object lists). The puzzles, while familiar, make an effort to add either an extra twist (such as a match two puzzle in which the pieces rotate every time you make a match) or just add a bit of humor, like the Simon puzzle that involves a giant octopus one-man-band. The story is made up of seven main chapters, each requiring quite a bit of traveling back and forth amongst the echoing, empty rooms or hauntingly quiet spaces.

Mind you, Spirits of Mystery: Amber Maiden is not a perfect game. The hint timer refills slowly, even in regular mode. The story has certainly been done before, although ERS Games has made an effort to throw a bit of a twist into the ending. The puzzles are pretty familiar variations on ones that have been done before many, many times. And what is up with the taunting of that evil, nameless witch? Why in the world does she show up to cackle about the princess' eventual doom and then disappear, rather than just killing the girl on the spot?

With its high production values, haunting music and sound effects, and amusing twists on classic puzzles Spirits of Mystery: Amber Maiden offers a lot of fantastic adventuring and hidden object gameplay. The beautiful scenery, the competent voice acting, the amusing animations and the fine interface guarantee lots of fun for fans of the genre. So take some time and explore this gorgeous world while saving the kingdom from a fate that is, while visually very pretty, in reality not all that pretty.

A Collector's Edition is also available. It contains concept art, wallpapers, screensavers, music clips, and a pretty hefty extra adventure to help completely wrap up the story. 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 (32 votes)
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Cathode RaysArtbegottiCathode Rays is a Unity-based game by Christoffer Hedborg that could be best described a puzzling avoidance game. Or, it could be described as a LAAAAAAZERRR SPAAAAYCE BAAAATTTLLLLLE!!! Of course, if it is the latter, it's a very colorful laser space battle. (WIIIIITHH COOOOLLOOORRRRRRR!!!) In either case, it takes a steady hand and some quick thinking to pass these tests with flying colors. (COOOOLLOOOOOokay, enough of that.)

Each level features a series of light-emitting planks that always rotate to face your mouse's position. When you hover over the hollow starting triangle, the planks spring to life, and you'll have those titular cathode rays in your hands. Your goal is to weave your way through the other planks to the glowing target triangle. The trick is that as you move, the cathode rays can't touch planks that aren't their own color. One false move, and *pop*, you've got to go back to the start to pick up a new set of rays. The good news is that when a ray crosses a matching-colored plank, the plank absorbs the ray, meaning you have a little more slack in your movement (until your mouse can reconnect with the ray).

Cathode RaysAnalysis: Cathode Rays starts out simply enough (with only one ray to handle), but the difficulty quickly ramps up as you're required to thread the rays through tight passages and time your movements to match moving and fading planks. Soon you'll be trying to manage four beams at once in sparkly vector glory. While it might seem like a straight-up avoidance game, Cathode Rays both encourages and rewards thought and planning. The layout of each stage is carefully planned and rarely feels like you'll need to flail about and cross your fingers.

While it sounds like some sort of formula for the perfect rage-quit, the lenient approach to letting you restart merely by moving your mouse back over the starting triangle goes a long way towards keeping things from being frustrating. It's still a very simple game, however, and the slow pace it demands isn't going to be for everyone. The colourful 80's arcade-style visuals and electronic soundtrack are nice (apart from the frenetic jittering), but they almost feel out of place with the gameplay, as if they would be better suited to light-bike races or saber battles. Still, the game is simple and beautiful and just the sort of thing to get you psyched up for the weekend, even if you may walk away with a strange urge to dig out your neon green leg warmers and FRANKIE SAY RELAX t-shirt after playing.

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  • Currently 4.2/5
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Rating: 4.2/5 (47 votes)
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TrickyLesbian Spider-Queens of MarsNo wait, come back! This one is satire, I promise! The kind of Swiftean satire that runs straight into Poe's Law, yes, but this is a game that, like The Leather Goddesses of Phobos before it, deserves a look beyond the title. For one, there's its pedigree: Anna Anthropy, master designer of such games as Redder, someone who clearly knows from killer pixel art, engaging concepts, and uber-difficulty minus uber-frustration. Then, there's its sponsor, adult swim a network that time has shown to have quite the track record in promoting works that capture just the right blend of retro aesthetics and modern sensibilities. And, last, but not least, there is the fact that Lesbian Spider-Queens of Mars is a heck of a lot of fun to play. It's a high-quality throwback to 80s arcade-style risk-reward action whose gameplay sucks you into a frantic world of patterns and rhythms, scratchy sounds and blocky graphics, high scores and extra lives. And Lesbian-Spider Queens, of course. This game includes suggestive themes and implied nudity.

The game plays like a more confrontational version of Pac-Man, or maybe Wizards of Wor, with you in the role of the Wizard. Player as the titular (though singular) Spider-Queen of Mars, you skulk around various maze screens with the [arrow] keys hoping to smash the rebellion that has swept your kingdom. Your weapon is an ever-firing crystal scepter that ensnares any unfortunate renegade that walks into its line of webbing. Once webbed, you must collect them to remove them from the board. Fail to, and they'll be back faster and stronger. Generally, your revolting slaves follow along the walls of the maze, though several varieties will block your shots with shield, give chase if they spot you, or leave a trail of fire in their wake. There are fourteen mazes screens to complete in total with a certain element of non-linearity in choosing the order of room-clearing, meaning that you can beat the game without visiting every screen.

Analysis: First, the elephant in the room: Lesbian Spider-Queens of Mars features content that is quite suggestive, if not really obscene. There is some bare skin on display, but nothing worse than what you would see on a Barbie doll. There are themes of bondage and domination, but said themes are so typical for Space Opera in general (e.g. Orion Slave Girls, Leia in a Gold Bikini), that it doesn't seem all that inappropriate. That said suggestiveness is presented with a layer of loving camp mutes much of the potential offensiveness. This one won't be for kids, but Anthropy has her tongue firmly planted in cheek, and that counts for a lot. In any case, it's not out of place along side site-mates like Gigolo Assassin or Hot Throttle. In fact, I would say Spider-Queens was tasteful by comparison, if it didn't seem like that could be taken as an insult.

Lesbian Spider-Queens of MarsOf course, some might find the invocation of lesbianism to be problematic in and of itself, or, for that matter, the portrayal of it herein. I don't feel particularly qualified to comment on that issue so I'll limit my thoughts to the following: I don't know if requires a LGBT designer to be able to successfully satirize the not-always-stellar-track-record of lesbianism in games, but it doesn't hurt. Gaygamer.net has a good discussion here.

Okay, enough philosophy, how does it play? Quite well actually! I particularly liked the mechanics of the constantly firing weapon. If shooting webs required a button to be pressed, I'd likely be holding it down 100% of the time anyways. It simplifies things by cutting out the middle-man, and just makes me wonder why more games aren't designed to require only one hand to play. Beyond that, I loved how the weapon it fires across the screen, slowly dragging a captured enemy towards you once it has one in its grasp. It's quite intriguing as a central play form, but also is entirely appropriate for the spidery protagonist. As you wait in a corner for an unfortunate barbarian to wander in to your path, you'll be all but ready to rub your feelers together in glee when your positioning pays off.

As well as it plays, the game might be slightly unremarkable if it didn't have style, but Spider-Queens has that in spades. It's easy to dress a game up in pixel graphics and chirpy music. It's much harder to capture the feeling of retroness: the beats, the glitches, the cut-scenes that pack hours of story into seconds of screen times, the taunting sounds, the not-quite PC politics, the frenzy of enemies speeding up as time goes by... As a throwback, Spider-Queens does nearly everything right, and all that's missing is "Winners Don't Do Drugs". Certainly, there are those who think retro is overplayed nowadays, and they may have a point. Still, if you are going to indulge in a trip to the past, this is the way to do it.

It is not a trip without a few bumps. Particularly... the sound mixing is terrible. I couldn't seem to find a volume level that was comfortable for all the effects: if the taunts are playing at a nice level, you can barely hear the queen's foot-steps. Turn it up, and you'll be hit with an expected blare. The sound really adds to the experience, but I think it would work better coming out of an arcade cabinet than my speakers. Also, my eyes got tired looking at some of the flashing effects. Epileptics be warned.

In conclusion, though it has a name that might be awkward if spotted in your browser history, I highly recommend Lesbian Spider-Queens of Mars. I only wish that I was able to play it on a cathode ray tube screen, instead of my laptop, but hey, you can't have everything.

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Link Dump Fridays

DoraRead the Link Dump! (Like a boss.) Click on all links! (Like a boss.) Get a burger! (Like a boss.) Control some zombies! (Like a boss.) Land on some deadly spikes! (Like a boss.) Miss with shurikens! (Like a boss.) Swallow sadness! (Like a boss.) Get first comment! (Like a boss.) Win the internets! (Like a BAWSS.)

  • Burger CatBurger Cat - Chances are, if you're a person, and you're on the internet, you've at least had a passing encounter with the LOLcat phenomenon, so this om-nom-nom adorable puzzle platformer should come as no surprise. The goal is to build and manipulate the terrain to enable the cat to reach the hamburger at the end of each level. It's cute, even if it is in dire need of a fast forward button, but I have to say it's also entirely unrealistic because after two steps the cat does not throw itself to the ground and demand to be carried the rest of the way.
  • Wizard of OzWizard of Oz - It's been a while since I checked in with my favourite conductor of magnificent strangeness, and what better reason to pay a visit than this surreal interpretation of the classic tale? I just... I just don't know what to say about this one. It sort of feels like something that can only be expressed through song. When yoooooooooou game with Minoto... puzzles ruuuuuule... yoooooou'll fiiiiiiiind monkeys and red bulls, and maybe a raccoon too...
  • Mindy in ZombielandMindy in Zombieland - Zombies, it seems, are everywhere, and today they're in your puzzle platformer starring opposite one very creepy little girl. (Sorry, Mr Harrelson.) Mindy has the ability to possess zombies (even ones that would rather eat her braaaaains) and force them to flip switches and perform other tasks for her, although doing this causes the zombie to crumble to dust in short order. It's a weird, quirky, and atmospheric little game that deserves a play despite the spike in difficulty later on.
  • Ninja DogNinja Dog - [Parental Warning: Censored profanity.] I'm really more of a cat person, you guys, but admittedly neither of my felines has ever shown a talent for ninjitsu. This cute little physics game is about (surprise!) a ninja dog. He wasn't always a dog, naturally, but unlike the rest of us who have read fairytales and know not to sass wise old men, he's been cursed in dog form to wander the land, helping people in need. Well... helping people and presumably dragging his butt all over their carpets because, well... dog.
  • Clowning AroundClowning Around - If you're like me and have seen far too many scary/unsettling clown films in your lifetime, then you probably believe all clowns should be punched in the jeans. So maybe, like me, you can take some solace in bashing them around with this little physics puzzle. If you're familiar with Cut the Rope at all then you're basically qualified to play this, but even if you haven't, the desire to cause harm to the soulless, grinning mug of a clown is inherent in most of us, so start slicing and fire away.

  • Currently 4.6/5
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Rating: 4.6/5 (102 votes)
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secondpersonshooter.gifJohnBSecond Person Shooter Zato is a unique kind of action game that flips everything you know about shooters on its head before turning it inside-out and looking at it through a mirror. Well, that sounds like it would cancel the weirdness out, but it doesn't! In this game, you control a gun-toting hero who is being attacked by groups of enemies. However, instead of getting a first-person view of the action, you can only see yourself through the eyes of the enemy. Spin around, fire your weapons, and hope you can survive without looking at the world from behind your own gun!

At the game's outset, developer himo describes Second Person Shooter Zato quite elegantly: camera = enemy. If you can see yourself, shoot the screen, it really is that simple. Hold the [right] arrow key to rotate clockwise (as viewed from above) and [left] to spin the opposite direction. Hit [x] to fire a missile, [z] to shoot your standard beam. The controls are persistent no matter the point of view, and even when multiple enemies (and thus multiple camera views) are active, you'll find you're able to spin and shoot with the greatest of ease.

Your weapons aren't infinite, so forget about spamming the [z] and [x] keys and calling it a day. Each one has a limited clip size, but ammo automatically regenerates after a few seconds. It's best to reserve the more powerful missile for stronger enemies or foes who are uncomfortably close. You can also alternate weapons to ensure they both stay charged. Either way, if you're out of ammo, you're vulnerable, and that's bad.

To further awesome-ify things, new enemies are introduced in almost every level, each one more intriguing than the last. The first few are simple variations on the basic concepts (faster, stronger, etc.), but then you get foes that drop from the sky, shielded enemies, and even enemies stacked in a tower! To top that off, the levels you'll unlock in often have different abilities you can use, such as being able to move around the screen, or challenges to complete, like missile-only combat.

Second Person Shooter Zato isn't your normal sort of game, which is exactly why we love it. The concept is pulled off with a lot of finesse, and the sense of progression you get after unlocking new levels, abilities, and enemies keeps you very much interested in pushing through to the next stage. The multiple camera views are sometimes confusing, and it's easy to get caught in a pinch when enemies have surrounded you, spinning rampantly trying to find the nearest baddie to shoot. But practice makes perfect, and soon enough you'll master the art of shooting cameras that are closing in!

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  • Currently 3.4/5
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Rating: 3.4/5 (29 votes)
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Reader ReviewLake City Rumble 2[The following is a reader-submitted review written by Samuel.]
The sequel by the multitalented Christine Love to an obscure arcade game from Before-The-Millennium, Lake City Rumble II places you in a tough, combat-heavy environment of the 70s where 8 completely different martial artists are preparing to battle it out in the year's hottest tournament: and YOU get to be a part of it! Will you be a good-natured detective, a self-proclaimed street king or anything in between as you battle it out amongst your computer simulated enemies?

The game starts off with a bit of backstory: you're actually just passing through an area when you see a Greyhound station, and after stopping by you see an arcade and remember what an older friend once told you: fighting games are cool! (Who would disagree?) After you nostalgically "Insert Coin" the fun starts. You can immediately choose 6 diverse characters each with individual, immersive backgrounds. However, there are another 2 secret characters to unlock later in the game.

Lake City Rumble 2Lake City Rumble II is not really a typical "action" game: everything is controlled turn-by-turn, similar to some combat RPGs. The player selects a move and then the computer selects a move. Depending on the nature of both moves, many possible things could happen: you could end up missing, giving a one-hit-KO or barely scratching your enemy. Certain elements of the game, such as the Super bar which builds up over time and the different types of attacks, make the gameplay interesting and varied.

Love has delivered a realistic, believable game, once again proving she has an uncanny knack for writing great (and occasionally, even funny) dialogue and scene sequence. The game itself is highly polished, incorporating technical wizardry and good design. What may put some people off is the persistence players must go through to win; beating Qaisar does take time, but it is possible, I promise! What this reviewer particularly likes about this game is the setting, which gives playful allusion to her other games Digital: A Love Story and Don't Take it Personally, Babe, It Just Ain't Your Story.

Conclusively, Lake City Rumble II is not your run-of-the-mill fighting game, but instead offers an experience where choice and interpretation is everything if you want to pack a real punch into your attacks. Will you beat Qaisar, or accept defeat? Time to enter the arena.

Play Lake City Rumble II


  • Currently 3.4/5
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Rating: 4.9/5 (85 votes)
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Babylon Sticks: Easter Spoiler comic

Congratulations to Night Stryke 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.


  • Currently 3.8/5
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Rating: 3.8/5 (318 votes)
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crashtherobot.jpgJohnBIt's always been our philosophy that robots are our friends. They're smart, they can do cool things like make toast, and if they ever rise up and start an apocalypse, they'll remember we were nice to them! Not everyone holds the same "just in case" ideas in mind, of course, and Crash the Robot from Tamas Games proves just that. Your goal in this physics-based puzzle game: set up bombs to press buttons that eventually cause a robot to be destroyed. Fortunately, the little golden guy doesn't seem too upset about it, as level after level he comes back for more. Points for persistence!

The basic idea behind Crash the Robot is to manipulate platforms, levers, crates, balls, pendulums, and other obstacles so you can eventually bump switches or knock something destructive onto our mechanical friend. The action begins as still as a sleeping robot, allowing you to grab inventory items from the top and place them in the space below. Get everything in place to set off the chain reaction, hit play, and if it doesn't work out, pause the game again and get to tweaking!

There's more than just bombs and a hapless protagonist in Crash the Robot. In later levels you get to play with crates, planks, bombs that explode in sequence, and even a sawblade or two. You can use these items to interact with magnets, trampolines, balloons, and cannons, some of which can be moved to better suit your anti-robot purposes. Often you'll be required to construct balanced structures using materials, while other times your job will be as simple as shoving a sawblade on to the robot's head. Solving the game's puzzles is just as much about precision as it is about figuring out a viable solution, so a little trial and error goes a long way.

If there's anything lacking from Crash the Robot, it's that the game doesn't really try anything new. The concept of blowing up a robot is quirky, the interface is smartly designed, and there are plenty of objects to mess around with and levels to complete (40 in all, not including five bonus stages), but when it comes down to it, Crash the Robot plays like most other building-type physics puzzle games. It plays well, mind you, but it doesn't rewrite the book, it just adds another chapter.

Whether you've got a bone to pick with robotkind or you're just looking for a fun physics-based diversion, Crash the Robot is happy to assist you!

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  • Currently 4.1/5
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Rating: 4.1/5 (36 votes)
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TrickyMission US: For Crown or ColonyEdutainment!... Commence eye-rolling. Many are skeptical of any game that claims to "make learning fun", with the obvious exception of games involving the combination of buffalo hunting and dysentery and/or trench-coated Hispanic women stealing national monuments. Perhaps it is the assumption that, since most believe learning (if not necessarily schooling) to be naturally fun, any subject that has to be made fun must be really dry. Certainly people learn from games: resource management, strategy, physics, lateral thinking... they're just not thrilled about setting out to do so. That said, while Mission US: For Crown or Colony is unlikely to redeem the genre for everyone, the tale of a teenager coming of age in Colonial America makes for a solid adventure, whose gentle challenge is balanced by excellent production values and historical detail. Note: Site registration is required to play.

Created by Electric Funstuff under the auspices of New York PBS Station Channel 13, For Crown or Colony is a mouse driven point-and-click game. Playing as 14 year-old Nat Wheeler, a lad who has just been accepted as a printer's apprentice, the goal of the game is nothing so much as to enter the world of 18th century Boston and navigate the revolutionary events that are about to occur. There are few out-and-out puzzles in the game: the emphasis is on exploration, discovery, and especially conversation. Most of the five chapters start with Nat receiving a task to complete, then moving from location to location hoping to accomplish it. Though the game is quite linear overall (keeping as it does to historical record e.g. There's no chance of preventing the Boston Massacre), and each of the chapters are self-contained, certain actions will open up optional events and there are three obviously-branching endings. Throw in a Pennywhistle Hero music rhythm minigame, a history review quiz, and a handful of primary documents, and you've got an adventure that Patriots and Loyalists of all ages will enjoy.

Analysis: There is no doubt that For Crown or Colony was made for a relatively young audience, and for the classroom at that. However, this impacts the game quite little: certainly there is a focus on vocabulary which may annoy older players, but there's nothing wrong with historical accuracy. The developers have clearly taken the time to create a nuanced recreation of revolutionary times. No doubt it is a simplified one, as per the target audience, but also a balanced one. Both the Sons of Liberty and Tories are given their say, (not to mention the subsection of the population that just wished there wasn't so much violence or thought it a good opportunity to make a buck). You will meet Constance, the comely daughter of a loyalist merchant, genuinely confused as to why people are hating her father for selling the same British goods he always has. You will meet Royce, a firebrand revolutionary who proves that just because one is patriotic doesn't mean they can't be kind of a jerk. And yes, you'll meet important figures of the time "Before They Were Stars", as it were.

Mission US: For Crown Or ColonyParticularly, I liked how For Crown or Colony seemed unafraid to confront the complex issues of the revolution. Were the Sons of Liberty hypocrites for being unlikely to extend their ideals to the emancipation of slaves? When does the attempts of British soldiers to protect the peace cross the line into murder? Are those dedicated to an ideology inherently biased? It's pretty heady stuff for a Junior High audience, and I can see it being of great use in the classroom. The copious background materials on the site should be of interest both to educators and to those just interested in further research of the period.

But, for those who aren't teachers, middle-schoolers or history geeks, how does For Crown Or Colony play? Quite well actually. It reminds me of the chapter games the BBC releases every so often, in terms of both structure and polish. The game is quite easy to make your way through, which is both an advantage and disadvantage. The mere fact that the game hopes to teach history, not adventure-game-logic, means no pixel-hunting or throwing pies to defeat yetis. On the other hand, it might be said that there are no puzzles to solve at all. This can make you feel like you are interacting with the game, rather than play, if that makes any sense. That said, the characters and situations are intriguing, the game-world is incredibly detailed, and if most of the critical thinking ends up going on inside your head after the game, rather than on the screen, there's nothing wrong with that.

For Crown or Colony falters a bit near the end with a blatant "pick your ending" moment, and a pretty dire epilogue movie that feels like a bad lecture. Still, the game's flaws are more than made up for by its advantages. For Crown or Colony is only the first in a series of four historical games, and while its promised sequel Fight For Freedom has missed its promised March release date, the developers assure that it is still on the way. Frankly, I think it'll be worth the wait. You say you want a revolution? Well, you know, it's gonna be all right to play Mission US: For Crown Or Colony.

Play Mission US: For Crown Or Colony


  • Currently 4.3/5
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Rating: 4.3/5 (73 votes)
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MikeFront RunnerThere was a time in Earth's history when we fancied that space was absolutely crowded with stars, heavenly objects and strange aether-borne creatures floating among them. Now that we've studied it in better detail, it seems that most of space is cold empty void, a few kelvins short of a blank firmament. But wouldn't it be great if we found that space really was the colorful playground of the bizarre that our early imaginations anticipated? According to Front Runner, a new space shooter from Uncle Handsalt games, maybe not so much. Front Runner's protagonist would rather sit unaccosted on his asteroid outpost, playing his space-recorder, but all the quirky locals just won't leave him be. And as arcade games have taught us for years, such aggravation can only be answered by taking the wheel of an absurdly overarmed runabout and showing all comers what-for.

Control your ship with the mouse. Your gun fires automatically; use it to dispatch your gormless antagonizers. Collect the cheery musical notes from the wreckage, as these are the currency used to buy upgrades for your ship between stages. You can upgrade your ship's speed, shields, and weapons, including getting new secondary weapons as you defeat more powerful bosses. Shoot bad guys, defeat bosses, purchase upgrades, and show your annoying neighbors that you mean business.

Front RunnerAnalysis: Front Runner isn't the tightest shooter around. Your ancillary weapons don't always want to target the way you want, and the mouse-based controls have a tendency to get dazed and confused if you slip outside the game screen. But the game makes up for its slippery controls with its bold design, inventive enemies, and friendly gameplay. Enemies run the gamut in design from kamikaze troopers, to armed gunships, to bosses that have a habit of hounding you in later levels after you think you've defeated them. The overall presentation is colorful, silly, and cheerful, and make me think of kid-friendly claymation. I also liked the simple soundtrack and sound design, particularly the happy clarinet sound that plays when you pick up floating musical notes.

After a short but sluggish tutorial, Front Runner strikes a pace that is rarely either too fast or too tedious. The upgrade system is crafted so that your power tracks with the challenge of each new stage. This means that you won't often be bored, but you also won't often find a level too difficult for your ship's capabilities. Occasionally you might get stuck, but you can always restart, and you will usually have a chance to upgrade between tries. This might strike some as grinding, but others will appreciate the chance to undertake Front Runner's challenges with renewed vigor.

Front Runner isn't perfect, but it's got a great sense of fun that keeps you playing. It takes the vastness of space and turns it into a strange, colorful neighborhood of oddly shaped planets and goofy, irksome monsters. Empty space is rarely this lively, or this silly.

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Rating: 3.5/5 (108 votes)
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psychosomnium-flash.gifJohnBA lovely little game that will twist your perception of reality into a hundred lovely different shapes. Psychosomnium was originally a downloadable game by cactus. Now, with its Flixel-based Flash port from Miroslav Malesevic, anyone with a browser and a keyboard can experience the body-switching weirdo-world that is the inside of cactus' mind!

Controls are pretty simple, just use the [arrow] keys to move and jump. Later the [x] key will allow you to perform special feats, such as punching or flying higher in the air, but we won't get into that, as it would spoil bits of the game! Checkpoints are marked by gray boxes at the top of the screen pointing towards small buttons on the ground below.

Psychosomnium takes place in Jimmy's dream world. It's his world, so he gets to make the rules. Shortly after he learns this, Jimmy meets an untimely spike-induced end. Well, that's a bummer. Now, you're in control of another character, wandering the strange platform world that is Psychosomnium in search of Jimmy. This character swapping is the central mechanic in the game, and depending on who you're in control of, your abilities and the puzzles you have to solve will be different.

Psychosomnium is a short experience, and there isn't a whole lot of challenge apart from figuring out the unusual methods of clearing each screen. You'll get stuck a few times, but a little experimentation will always get you through. It's a different animal than most other browser-based platformers you've played, and we always love a game that bends your perception of reality a bit.

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Rating: 4.5/5 (68 votes)
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Weekday Escape

GrinnypMy, how time flies when you're having fun. It seems like only yesterday that I took over Weekday Escape and featured my first Tesshi-e room escape. Why the nostalgic turn? Partly because I'm getting old and that's what we old folks do, reminisce. And grouch about...well, everything. Mostly I'm being nostalgic because Tesshi-e has finally created a sequel to that first game we featured, way back almost two years ago. Welcome to Escape from the Living Room 2!

Escape from the Living Room 2Some of you may remember the original Escape from the Living Room as it was a bit controversial back in the day. Some folks didn't like the fuzzy logic of constructing a toy car out of a cell phone, corks, sticks, and tape to retrieve a key from under a couch when all you had to do in real life was move the [bleeping] couch! Others hated the wall of DVDs that you had to plow through to find the few that actually pertained to the game and the puzzles. However, despite all of the complaints, as well as the more obvious design flaws of early Tesshi-e (lack of changing cursor, lack of English Translation) the game was still rather popular. Let's see how the sequel measures up, shall we?

To begin with, Escape from the Living Room 2 does not feature one of the most prominent puzzles in Tesshi-e's oeuvre, construction. There are a couple of disks to go through (Blue Rays instead of DVDs this time around, technology has moved on), but nothing near as many as the original game. And of course this time around we have Idahhh's lovely English translation to tell us exactly what is going on, although it is once again a variation on the "my friend invited me over and locked me in this room" scenario that is so prevalent in Tesshi-e's strange, surreal little world filled with friends, acquaintances, relatives, employers, and even total strangers who ambush the player into a locked room scenario (and that's not counting the times the player manages to wander into places they shouldn't be and locks themselves in). The rest is a series of logic puzzles and use of found objects and the return of another Tesshi-e constant, the wobbly picture frame. So is Escape from the Living Room 2 the better escape? Mostly yes.

The improvements in Tesshi-e's design (controls, visual, and puzzle-wise) are obvious immediately. The new interface with the easy inventory control, the great English translation (available as a separate game, remember to change the language when you start), the ability to mute the music and sounds, and the ability to save are a notch above earlier games. The puzzles flow together with a lot more logic, removing one of the criticisms of the earlier game (how were we supposed to even know we needed to make a car?). The visuals are, quite frankly, stunning. When you look back at the original you see some pretty good three dimensional design, but it's a very generic, sterile room. Escape from the Living Room 2 features a place so realistic it looks like something you'd really like to live in, or a place that someone already does inhabit.

On the downside, though, is the fact that the puzzles in Tesshi-e games are beginning to feel a bit...samey. That wobbly picture puzzle, for instance, is getting extremely old. The original Escape from the Living Room featured a really cool three-layer totem that was fun to solve but there's nothing quite so original this time around. Heck, it might have even been nice to have a bit of construction (although nothing so intricate as creating the toy car) to hark back to the first game. And I cannot say it enough, Tesshi-e needs to learn how to code a changing cursor to eliminate the pixel hunting.

Despite a few minor complaints, though, Escape from the Living Room 2 is a fun stand-alone room escape, a bit of a nostalgic nod to the past while incorporating all of the elements that make the more current Tesshi-e games much more fun and playable. Whether you are young and new to the genre or an old, old veteran like myself, Escape from the Living Room 2 is quite a fun classic room escape game, perfect for the mid-week break.

Play Escape from the Living Room 2


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Rating: 4.1/5 (71 votes)
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TrickyMagnum: Pleasure HuntI think it's about time that I admit that I just don't understand viral marketing. For instance, if I decide to use an advergame to sell a certain chocolate-covered ice cream treat that just so happened to share a name with a brand of prophylactic, I probably wouldn't call said game Magnum: Pleasure Hunt. Then again, I wouldn't know why a jump and run platformer based around racing through a myriad selection of websites would be considered an apropos format for an ice cream bar in the first place. But hey, I do know a good time when I see it, and Lowe Brindfors and B-Reel have certainly given Unilever their money's worth when it comes to making a commercial that's hilarious to play.

You'll want to make sure your windows are maximized and your speakers are turned on for this game. Using the [arrow keys] to move, and the [spacebar] to jump, you speed through an overview of the internet, interacting with various hot-spots along the way. All the while, your goal is to collect the bonbons which, my sources assure me, are the taste-tastic secret ingredient of Magnum Temptation ice cream bars. Occasionally, there is a break from the platforming for a brief vehicle section or cut-scene. Make haste, grab the bonbons, and invite your friends to beat your high score on facebook. This last feature is one added purely in the spirit of friendly competition and has nothing to do with further spreading a corporate message. Share and Enjoy, CONSUMER_69101!

Magnum: Pleasure Hunt has both a high concept and high production values, and it pays off. I always find it visually interesting to be in the control of photo-realistic characters, and this game is notable in breaking the fourth-computer screen in ways that I've only seen once before. Incredibly gimmicky? Yup, but like the song goes, you gotta have a gimmick to be a star. Certainly I would want to see more internet locales that I, as an American, would be familiar with, but I can understand that the focus is on the European market. Thus, the majority are Unilever partnership sites or clear pastiches. No matter. The various screens are packed with stylish interactions, a kickin' soundtrack by Plan8, and a lot of cute hot-spot touches.

The game's biggest downfall is in the mechanics, which come off as more than a little stiff. Moving your lady avatar doesn't flow as well as it should and the jumping physics just feel off entirely. What's more, in the screens that let you jump on the textual and pictoral elements to reach bonbons, the platform detection is frankly shoddy. Perhaps part of this stiffness is inherent to translating photo-realism to the platform genre, but I can't help but thing that it will be something that prevents it from becoming a Subservient Chicken level viral marketing classic.

In the end, the fact that it is 75% an effective game makes it 100% an effective ad. If it were in fact possible to purchase the product in the US, I'd be sold as A. I want more people to be paid to make games like this, and B. I like ice cream. I think you'll be quite satisfied with Magnum Pleasure Hunt, just like I'm going to be quite satisfied with the Dilly Bar I'm now going to purchase. Later!

Play Magnum: Pleasure Hunt


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Rating: 4.6/5 (81 votes)
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DoraRaaSoolThe students at DADIU (the National Academy of Digital, Interactive Entertainment in Denmark) want to take you out of this world for a while with RaaSool, a beautiful point-and-click puzzle adventure. In it, you control the titular character, who is in fact the Sun of another universe, who has fallen from the sky and needs to climb back up. The world he finds himself in is more than a little alien and surreal, but with your help and a very Majora-esque time-manipulating mask, he can find his way home. Just click on the screen to interact with objects; the cursor will change to a paw if you can use something, or an arrow if you can move to the location. Clicking on RaaSool's mask will move time forwards or backwards, which affects the surrounding land in different ways depending on what you've done. In each area, you'll need to figure out how to change it in order to proceed to the next one.

While chances are you're not going to be familiar with most of the... I don't even know if this stuff is flora or fauna... the environmental obstacles you'll encounter in the game unless you're a resident of Whoville, the game still won't be particularly difficult for most players. The biggest challenge lies in figuring out how to manipulate the landscape, and a few clicks back and forth through time after fiddling with everything you can will probably set off a light-bulb before long. In this, however, RaaSool displays its best quality; imparting a sense of wonder and exploration that other point-and-click games lack with more familiar settings or clearly defined rules. The game is, unfortunately, only three levels long, which will run most players about fifteen minutes or so of play.

For such a little game, it had a surprisingly large team behind it; director Claudia A. Bille Stræde, designer Paul Brinkkemper, project manager August Ras Jørgensen, a host of programmers (Jakob Udsholt, Rune Holm, and Michael Jensen), even more artists (Stephanie Degiorgio, Pernille Sihm, Elisabeth Atlandó ttir, and Stinna Frydkjær), a pair of animators (Josefine Hannibal, Thomas Mortensen), and sound designer Bjørn Jakobsen. Phew! That's a lot of names, and a lot of talent... almost a sequel's worth, wouldn't you say? (Hint, hint.) With its comparative brevity and limited narrative, RaaSool does wind up feeling a little like more of a prototype than a complete game, but while it lasts it's a beautiful, otherworldly little adventure that everyone can enjoy.

Play RaaSool


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Rating: 4.2/5 (160 votes)
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ChiktionaryZombie CatsI was recently shocked to discover during my internet wanderings that Zombie Cats really do exist! And they're not pretty. So it's no surprise that there's a game about them, possibly as a warning to the casual gaming population about this new threat to civilization. It may just appear to be a simple point-and-click puzzle game, but the threat is real, I tells ya! You may scoff, but with the onslaught of zombie games pervading the internets, we should be taking this seriously.

Use your mouse to click on objects and interact with the environment to help...um, let's call him Butch, to eradicate the Zombie Cats and to save the rest of civilization. This is important work people! For a simple point-and-clicker, this game presents more of a cerebral challenge compared to games like Adam & Eve, with more challenges that require timing, although the ending feels a little flat in comparison. But hey, you gotta feel good about serving your community by squishing a few zombified cats.

Zombie Cats seems to borrow some of its themes from the cult movie Pulp Fiction; mass slaughters backed by surf music, except without the Royales with Cheese. It's easy to play and almost atmospheric in a cartoony kind of way, but it's a game that leaves so many questions unanswered. Like what is being done by the authorities to rid our world of this new pandemic, and why does Butch turn into a zombie for no apparent reason? And why aren't there any Royales with Cheese in this game? And even more importantly, why doesn't anyone believe me that zombie cats are real...?

Fine. Don't say I didn't warn you...

Play Zombie Cats


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The Vault

TrickyI read the mysterious scrap of paper my contact has just put in my hand... "MHCFRYM AV RGU VTW GHIYN!"... Let's see, if I rot13 that, I get "ZUPSELZ NI ETH IGJ TUVLA!". Unscramble and... "PUZZLES IN THE JIG VAULT!" And what type of puzzles do we have this week? Action starring a Lego-Robo, adventure with a cast of steady Teddies at the ready, and a styling tiling board game remix.

  • JunkbotJunkbot - Usually character design doesn't mean that much to me, but I absolutely love Junkbot. He's a a stomping, clomping, banging, clanging piece of metal, and he sounds genuinely happy whenever you've placed Legos to successfully guide him to his wastepaper reward. A Shockwave creation from gameLab, Junkbot is the epitome of what an action-puzzler should have: engaging visuals, consistent rules used to make clever challenges, new elements introduced at a proper pace, and a learning curve that's not too steep. Shockwave can be a bit wonky on modern machines, and you'll need to be signed in with a Lego Club Account to save your progress, but that's a small price to pay for the over 100 levels there are to complete in the two games. Now, if only there were a Junkbot kit for Mindstorms...
  • WarbearsWarbears - .Warbears. HUH! What are they good for? Well, for one, starring in Ioji's excellent puzzle-adventure series. Join Ryoh, Steve, Kla, and Lucas as they take on groundhog bank robbers, their intensive training sessions, subterfuge on the high seas, and Christmas shopping. You'll have to plan your point-and-click context-sensitive actions carefully and with proper timing if you want to please Da Commander and complete the mission. The make-a-mistake-then-restart difficulty is balanced by the adorable animations and gentle humor that are the hallmarks of the series... failure doesn't seem so bad when it's so fun to watch. There's something very chill about the experience that almost makes it the casual gaming equivalent of comfort food. We haven't seen a new installment since 2007, but the four missions and various spin-offs are as enjoyable as ever.
  • SlidonSlidon - For our final gem this week, we head to the east for a board game puzzle developed by Yoshio Ishii of Nekogames. Those who only know Ishii from his excellent work on the Hoshi Saga or Cursor10 series, should really take a look through the archives. This is a developer takes the most basic concepts and spin them in ways equally innovative and fun. Case in point: Slidon. Now, sliding puzzles often frustrate me and Mahjong confuses me, but Ishii has combined those concepts into a game I love. Gameplay is as simple as pushing matching tiles together on a slippery board to make them disappear, the ultimate goal being to clear them all. However the simple idea is executed superbly, to the extent that Slidon feels like it should be an adaptation of an ancient game, rather something cooked up in 2007... appropriate considering how Mahjong itself is only a late 19th century invention. Slidon, my wayward son!

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


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Rating: 4.3/5 (215 votes)
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joyeTransylvaniaTransylvania is without a doubt the best point-and-click game about a sleepwalking potato who accidentally drives his car into the depths of hell that I have ever played. The bar has definitely been raised for that particular niche. But be warned: the dangers in this place aren't just of being scared, nor even of being trapped there forever. No, you can expect to die many, many times on your quest to escape back to Miss Potato, often in extremely unfair (but hilarious!) ways.

In each level, you'll be presented with a scene involving at least one obstacle preventing Mr Potato from leaving, from a simple closed gate to an elaborate bomb. Use your mouse to try clicking on various areas of the screen and interact with them. Clicking on the gate to open it will be pretty easy, but you'll have to have sharp eyes, quick wits, and a little luck to make the right choice when it comes to escaping a murderous tree or a piano playing demon. If... well, let's be realistic, when you die, you can click to try again from the beginning of that level, and levels are all quite short, so you never lose much progress. There is no pause button, but the game can be muted in the upper right.

The game is reminiscent in many ways of early silent films, especially in the grainy opening cut-scene. Mr Potato's jaunty hat and old-fashioned car seem to set him up as a hapless Chaplin type. But I don't think that those silent films featured their protagonists getting smashed by spikes, swallowed whole, or crushed by boulders. While the scene generally cuts away just before showing the actual carnage, this is not one for the kids. For gamers who enjoy a little macabre whimsy, however, this is perfect.

Play Transylvania


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Rating: 4.3/5 (44 votes)
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TrickyProtector IV.VThe Roman Numeral part of my brain tells me that the title doesn't quite scan, but the tower-defending part feels nothing but glee: Protector IV.V, an expansion pack for Undefined's popular fantasy tower defense strategy series has just hit the internet! It's nowhere near a sequel, but it has a host of new quests and all the exploration and variety the series has displayed so far. Those who were put off by the cuteness of Little Protectors should enjoy the return to form, but really, it's a treat for all strategy-lovers looking for an complicated addictive challenge.

As before, the factions of the kingdom of Arkandia are caught in a twistily-plotted struggle for power, and spoils are there for the smart and strong to grab. After a quick character-generation personality quiz, you are thrown right into the action. Using the mouse to select a quest from the map screen and three heroes to fight for you, you enter the battle map. You start by selecting a mercenary, then place their units on the grid-map by clicking, holding [shift] for multiple units and hitting the [spacebar] to cancel. Different mercenaries have different units with different strengths, weaknesses, attacks, defenses, and specials, the better to use against the myriad enemies you meet. Click the "Start Wave" button to begin the enemy charge. Succeed in defeating all enemies, and you will find yourself with loot (to buy new units and level them up, along with store goods), experience (to upgrade individual units), reputation and equippable items, along with the possibility of new maps to play. Really, this is just a basic overview: to truly understand all the aspects of the game, a quick run-through of its predecessor or a trip to the in-game Protectorpedia might be in order, though the gameplay is easy enough to pick up... after a half-hour or so. Sadly, you can't load a save game from Protector IV, the result of some minor engine tweaks. But hey, if you don't like building armies from scratch, why on earth would you be a strategy fan in the first place?

Like the previous installments, Protector IV.V will not be for everyone: Its complexity makes for a steep learning curve, especially if it is your first look at the series. Even those familiar with the concept may wish for easier item sorting, a streamlined update system, a better sense of balance, a faster speed-up option or other nitpicks. Still, it has all the advantages of the game it is expanding: depth, customization, polish, clever writing (especially in the item names), and some cool art. I can't deny that Protector IV.V feels like "more of the same", but when it comes to quality, whether it's casual gaming or Grandma Tricky's Pumpkin Pie, I never turn down a second helping.

Play Protector IV.V


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Rating: 4.6/5 (215 votes)
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steamlands.gifJohnBFresh from the bronze halls of Nitrome comes Steamlands, a game that mixes strategy, defense, and building genres with a steampunk exterior to make a final product that begs you to become addicted. A great war has left Europe in ruins. Even though the last of the machines have been disassembled, pirates still roam the land with their patchwork tanks built from scrap. As a lone mercenary commander, you must pick up a spanner and build your own war machine by scavenging parts from defeated pirates. Embark upon dozens of missions in this expertly-crafted game of combat, strategy, and on-the-fly steam tank construction!

Steamlands is equal parts combat and construction, and you'll spend just as much time preparing for both. The branching overworld map allows you to choose missions one by one, often taking different paths if a particular level has you completely stumped. Before each mission begins you get a chance to buy a few upgrades and gather gossip from the local citizenry. Gossip, as it turns out, can be essential, as these sometimes-bemonocled folks know their pirates and will hand you valuable combat tips for a very low price. Or they'll tell you useless factoids, either way, it's worth the cash! You also get a chance to rebuild your tank before trekking out into the desolate outlands, so be sure to move armor to the front and fit guns in prime locations.

Ears filled with gossip and tank armed to the brim, you're ready to make tracks. Use the lever at the bottom center of the screen (or the [z] and [x] keys) to move your machine forwards and backwards. When you see pieces of scrap armor or guns laying on the ground, slide your mouse over, pick them up, and stack them on your tank. You'll want the biggest, strongest pieces of armor in the front and, usually, on the top of your vehicle, as that's where you'll be absorbing the most fire from your enemy. At all costs, you must protect the engine room. Without that engineer shoveling coal into the furnace, you're up Gear Creek without a brass paddle, so shield your little buddy as best you can.

Don't take too long building your tank, as the pirates up ahead aren't going to sit around and wait for you to give them the OK to attack. Enemy tanks are built in vastly different ways, sometimes with loads of guns on the top and sides, sometimes packed with armor, etc. Your tactics will vary widely with each battle, but you can rebuild your steam tank at any moment, moving blocks and adjusting gun positions to shield damaged pieces or provide emergency cover. You'll have to manage tank location, gun targets, repairs, and vehicle reconstruction all at the same time, so suffice it to say, Steamlands gives you plenty to think about (and plenty of possible courses of action) during combat.

steamlands2.gifWith free-form tank building, upgrades, numerous types of armor and guns, you'd think Steamlands would be finished piling on the cool things to experience. But it's not! Scavenger units, for example, can be deployed to sabotage enemy vehicles, adding a bit of espionage-like action to the battlefield. You can even design your own flag, which is an excellent touch for those of us looking to live out our steampunk tank commanding fantasies (I know I'm not the only one)!

Analysis: A strategy game is nothing without rich, delicious strategy, and Steamlands has you covered on a number of fronts. From the building standpoint alone, you're free to use and repair any kind of armor you find, from small bronze blocks to bigger iron boulders, and being able to refit them to just about any location is an extraordinarily powerful boon. Gun placement is a science unto itself, as depending on the firepower you have available, you may want to have hidden guns that peck away from a safe location for slow, guaranteed damage, or stick some blasters on your front end and watch the explosions ensue. It's your call!

From a combat perspective, you naturally have the ability to play in any way you please, adopting an offense or defensive position as you see fit. Being able to simultaneously drive your tank while targeting with guns (individual guns or even groups of them tied to macro keys) lets you evade while stabbing forward, which works even better than you might think.

Despite its seemingly complex construction, Steamlands plays as simple as any other casual browser game. Everything is largely drag-and-drop, from welding armor to your tank to targeting the enemy with your guns. Keyboard shortcuts go a long way to simplifying the interface, but even with mouse/key control, there are still a few minor scrolling issues to be found. Nothing a little forethought won't take care of, naturally.

Steamlands is a phenomenal game that takes aim for a casual browser strategy experience and hits the bullseye dead-on. It's about as perfect as you can get, with Nitrome's usual flair for presentation, balanced gameplay that increases in complexity at just the right rate, and deep, interlaced levels of strategy that allow for fine control of your weapons, your tank, and your experience in general. A massive accomplishment from every perspective, Steamlands is something you want to play. Like, right now!

Play Steamlands


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Rating: 4.2/5 (71 votes)
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ChiktionaryStalwartThe ability of game developers to capture and convey an idea with seemingly simple pixel art is totally admirable, and Jonathan Whiting has done just that with his newly released game Stalwart. This is a game that presents simply with pixel art and easy to master controls, but a closer look reveals its true side-scrolling, platform and challenging avoidance essence. And all with rhythm!

Controls for Stalwart are simple; use the [arrow] keys, or [WASD] for the left-handed, to sprint, halt, jump and execute some nifty ninja style maneuvers. The stalwart knight's ultimate goal is to get to the castle, but there are a myriad of hurdles to avoid along the way, like meteorites, crashing boulders and obstacles created by a hovering spacecraft. There are three levels of difficulty to choose from, with an in-game tutorial featured in the easiest level. The easy level is great for getting to know the controls and the awesome music you'll be playing along to. But for hardcore casual gamers, you can't go past the hardest of all levels. You've got one life and the full gamut of obstacles, which is possibly why Jonathan Whiting calls it the 'Hell' level.

StalwartAnalysis: Stalwart is a game that appeals to many with its various difficulty levels; you can play as someone who likes the experience of interactive art and enjoy the pixel graphics and electronic music, or you can go for the adrenaline kick of playing the most challenging level. Gameplay is fairly simple, the controls are easy to master and the rhythmic appearance of obstacles in time to the music lends some predictability, but the game is not necessarily any easier for it. Which is a good thing. And while I would have liked to hear a different track for each difficulty level, the catchy and vibrant electronic pop sounds of Demoscene Time Machine are completely easy to listen to. At times I even found myself tapping the keys and maneuvering the knight in time to the music. What's also pretty cool is being able to choose a color-scheme for the screen (spectrum for me all the way!). For a totally retro look you can't go past the color scheme 'Handheld'.

You may remember Jonathan's previous release, Love Letter, which featured similar pixel art with the same suggestiveness of detail, and presented a challenge that at once frustrated us while compelling us to keep playing. You can expect more of the same in Stalwart, and even more with nicely varying levels of difficulty, smooth and simple gameplay, and great music. While there may be moments of arduous gameplay, there will also be sublime moments of satisfaction.

So if to be 'stalwart' is to be filled with resolve, courage and physical endurance, then it's fair to say that Jonathan Whiting's game may bring out the little stalwart knight in all of us.

Play Stalwart


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Mobile Monday

JohnBIt's old school games and puzzle experiences that dominate this episode of Mobile Monday! Also, it seems like we've included two furry animals in the lot. Subtle marketing ploy to get you to buy kitty litter and JayIsGames Brand Monkey Food? We're not saying. But, on an unrelated note, if we did make a packaged monkey food, would you buy it?

monkeylabour.gifMonkey Labour - Old school LCD handhelds will never die, not even when super-futuristic touch screen devices rule the world! This lovely emulated LCD game is all about carrying piles of wood from the conveyor belt to the furnace. Problem is, a monkey is standing above you trying to bonk you on the head. Stoke the fire with several logs, and when the monkey is below the lit burner, let him have a taste of fire! A great game of its own accord, but if nostalgia rules your video game budget, you should definitely grab this one right away!

forgetmenot.gifForget-Me-Not - Mazes plus monsters plus shooting equals so much fun. Run around the Pac-Man-esque corridors as you pick up dots and shoot at enemies. Nab the key and head to the door to exit the floor and make your way to deeper, more difficult levels. Old school retro stylings make this game feel like it should be on an arcade cabinet, and the high score-centric skill-based gameplay reinforces that aesthetic. Just how good are you at picking up dots, anyway?!

robotwantskittyiphone.gifRobots Wants Kitty - The browser game we all adore, now on iPhone! Mike Hommel's fantastic exploration platformer has made a smooth transition to the small touch screen, porting everything over with a surprisingly functional control scheme and a nice bump up in visual style. As cold, metallic things are wont to do, this robot is seeking something furry and warm. Is there anything furrier or warmer than a kitty? Answer: NO! To get the kitty, you'll need to upgrade your abilities and traverse a ton of terrain, solving puzzles and navigating through enemies along the way. In short: great metroidvania action!

pixelshift.gifPixel Shift - Have you ever gotten angry at and subsequently tossed a Rubik's Cube across the room? Or, less likely, have you actually solved one? Pixel Shift is sort of a two dimensional Rubik's Cube. Slide the grid in rows and columns with the touch of a finger. The goal is to arrange the pixels to match the small picture on the side of the screen. Naturally, this is never so easy, and it requires logic and forethought to master. Just like the 3D cube!

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


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Rating: 4.8/5 (95 votes)
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Digital: A Love Story

TrickyAs the name would suggest, Digital: A Love Story by Don't Take it Personally, Babe, It Just Ain't Your Story author Christine Love, is a downloadable romance/mystery set against the backdrop of 1980s online technology. Part interactive fiction, part Uplink-style hacker game, and part nostalgic pastiche of a time of low-res graphics and crackling dial-ups that many current gamers never got to experience (which, for the record, this includes me, and, presumably, the author herself!). Digital: A Love Story (originally shown in a Weekend Download feature) offers a short, sweet and occasionally heart-wrenching trip back in time.

digital_a_love_story_screen.gifThe premise is a powerfully good: You are the owner of a brand-spanking-new 1988 42kb hard drive Amie Workbench computer, complete with modem and dialer. After "dialing" into the local text-based Bulletin Board System and navigating the message boards there, you strike up a somewhat quick relationship with aspiring poet named Emilia. From there, the plot takes enough twists and turns that saying anything more runs the risk of spoiling.

Analysis: Recreating the blocky-lettered dial-up systems of the past is a form strong enough to be intriguing, even if the game had mediocre content, but Love's writing is more than up to the task. It has just the right mix of affection and parody for its subject, and the plot has the right amount of heart and research behind it. Indeed, the main criticism I have for the writing is that there isn't nearly enough of it. The opening bits of romance feel a bit rushed, as if the game wants you to fall in love with Emilia as quick as possible so that it can get on to the rest of the story. When you "send" an in-game message, you never get to read what "you" wrote, only the replies you receive. It's fun to mentally fill in the blanks of the plot, but it's just as likely to leave you a bit lost. As a result, the player may not feel they have much efficacy on the plot beyond typing in a few puzzle answers. The writing is always of high quality, but for better or worse, it definitely leans to the "fiction" side of interactive fiction a great deal.

digitallovestory2.gifThe interface for this tale is a faithful recreation of the Amiga 1.0 and the BBSs of days gone by, (as far as I can tell), and therein poses a conundrum for the erstwhile commentator. Just as it seems not quite fair to decry the poor graphics of a game that intentionally uses a pixelated art style to great effect, it seems wrong to criticize Digital for accurately recreating the clunkiness of computer inputs of day gone by as part of its aesthetic. The game would not have the same appeal without it. However, clunky it is, and typing and retyping BBS phone numbers and passwords and struggling with immovable text-windows that block key information may become tiresome. There will likely come a point when you have done all you can think of, and are reduced to calling various BBSs and sending random messages hoping for something to happen.

Perhaps this feeling would be mollified if there was help offered for the interface, but Digital throws you into the deep end. This makes the feeling of investigation palpable, but some aspects of gameplay really needed to be spelled out. (Protip: You can skip the dial-up sound-effect sequence by clicking the "Dialing..." window. Going through the beeping sounds of the modem is a great inclusion, but considering how many different numbers you need to call, you might lose your patience with this particular historical tidbit pretty quickly.)

With its collection of hacker in-jokes and lore sprinkled throughout, Digital is as much a love story about a bygone era: a time when the internet was primitive, but also a mysterious unknown, its capabilities untested. Communicating with strangers thousands of miles away has become mundane, and because of that, we forget how magical our sufficiently advanced technology is. If you're looking for a recreation of that early magic, ASCII and you will receive Digital: A Love Story.

WindowsWindows:
Download the free full version

Mac OS XMac OS X:
Download the free full version

LinuxLinux:
Download the free full version


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Rating: 4.8/5 (24 votes)
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Youda Survivor 2

JohnBIn the first Youda Survivor, your job as a ragged castaway was to impress the chief of the island by brewing potions and living off of the magic of the world around you. Prove you were the stuff of legend, and you would be rewarded! After saving both the island and its inhabitants, you settled down for a nice and quiet civilized life of your own. But as Youda Survivor 2 begins, the island chief calls you back, and it looks like some serious trouble is brewing this time around!

Youda Survivor 2The mechanics in the time management game Youda Survivor 2 are just about the same as in the original. Both titles resemble Farm Frenzy in design, which certainly isn't a bad thing. Levels generally start out with very little to work with, and it's your job to build things from the ground up. Start with digging holes to create water pits that attract animals. Then, other animals might be drawn by the products those animals leave behind (goats want to eat flamingo eggs, for example). Each animal leaves something you can collect. Gather what you need to meet the goals listed at the bottom of the screen!

Caring for animals, gathering their products, and fending off bad guys with your fierce cursor aren't your only concerns. In Youda Survivor 2, you also have to pay attention to your health. Strength and hydration are shown in the top corner of the screen, and they slowly deplete as time goes by. You can keep your hearts full by brewing certain potions, and often you'll need to have a certain number of hearts to beat a level. Strength also serves as a meter for using rituals, special abilities you can activate that do cool things like summon rainstorms. If your water or health bars drop to zero, you lose the level, so keep a constant eye on them!

Branching paths in Youda Survivor's map creates a nice open-ended feel to the game. You can go in either direction you please, but often you'll need certain upgrades before you proceed, so you might need to backtrack to earn more points so you can visit the shop. There are also a number of achievements to strive for (ten pages of them, in fact!), and since you'll be spending many hours of your time working through and perfecting over 100 levels, earning trophies should be a snap!

Youda Survivor 2Analysis: Every bit as content-rich and entertaining as its cousin, Youda Survivor 2 is another excellent time management game from the crew at Youda Games. The mixture of time management styles with a bit of simulation thrown in (with the strength/hydration management) is carefully balanced, so you're never too overwhelmed with either aspect. And mixing potions from recipes feels a lot like one of my favorite time management games, Miriel the Magical Merchant (P.S. I heart you MythPeople!).

Story is pretty much unimportant in a game like this, so you can safely forget why you're playing and what you're trying to do. The cheese factor is unfortunately high, so you'll need to swallow a few quirky plot points and tolerate some stiff 3D models throughout the game, but it's nothing that really detracts from the experience. We'll call it "charm" and keep clicking away at those flamingo eggs, bottles of milk, and pirates with shields.

As for differentiating itself from its predecessor, Youda Survivor 2 doesn't try so hard. It's largely the same as the original game, a fact many could argue isn't a bad thing. If you played and loved the original and want more, hop right in. If you're new to the series, hop right in, too!

There's a lot to love about this game, and thanks to its impressive length (and variety of locations), you'll spend six, eight, or more hours working through the levels and going back to master each one. The gameplay is nigh perfectly balanced, what with the branching map paths, careful upgrade system, and introduction of new elements every few stages. In short, Youda Survivor 2 is more Youda Survivor from the proven time management experts at Youda Games. You'll have a great time with it!

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The Agency of Anomalies: Mystic Hospitall

DoraSuper soldiers; everyone knows they're a bad idea at this point. For every Captain America, there's an Alma, an Umbrella Corporation, a Jenova. And yet, somehow, somewhere, someone looks at a whirling, unstable mass of paranormal energy they know next to nothing about and think, "Yeah, you know what? I wonder what would happen if I shot someone up with this. That seems like a good plan to me." Orneon's The Agency of Anomalies: Mystic Hospital is a hidden-object adventure that puts you in the shoes of an investigator sent to a hospital in the middle of nowhere, a site of a super soldier experiment gone wrong. If you can't track down the volatile and angry creatures now roaming free and the man responsible for releasing them, things are about to go very badly for a lot of people. Sounds like a job for Buffy or Torchwood... but all we've got is you. No pressure or anything!

The Agency of Anomalies: Mystic HospitalLike most games in the genre, Mystic Hospital uses the mouse to interact with everything. You'll solve hidden-object scenes of varying types, gather items, and solve puzzles in your attempt to save the world. The hint button can even be useful in normal gameplay; when used, it highlights any places you can interact with like a radar, and if you click on one of them, it'll show you the item you need to use there. Of course, this is no haunted house tour; the hospital hosts five angry beings you'll need to contend with, outwitting and capturing them before you can deal with the man who put it all in motion. DOCTOR PHIL... well, no, okay, not really. But you have to admit, that'd make one heck of a final boss battle. Just image the summoning animation for Mecha Oprah! "RAAAAAAAAAAAH! LOOK UNDER YOUR SEATS! YOU'RE GETTING PAIN, AND YOU'RE GETTING PAIN, AND YOU'RE GETTING PAIN!"

Analysis: If creepy crawlies make you cringe and things that go bump in the night aren't your bag, don't worry. Mystic Hospital is a fairly tame game, and you'll find very little here that would even passably qualify as scary. Instead, a better descriptor would be interesting; as you play and uncover clues, you're rewarded with cutscenes that tell you the origins of the creatures running rampant on the hospital grounds, and while more often than not they wind up sounding like something out of Marvel or DC, it's still a great incentive to keep playing. Environment design is absolutely beautiful and renders the hospital in wonderful, run-down detail.

The Agency of Anomalies: Mystic HospitalThe hidden-object scenes that require you to work backwards, putting items back in the scene where they belong, can be a little baffling depending on the objects, but provide a welcome variation from typical scavenger hunting. The game typically doesn't offer you a lot of direction, requiring you to keep your eyes open for clues and remember points of interest for when you've grabbed the appropriate item. There's also rather a lot of backtracking, which might frustrate players for whom the hospital's dilapidated, molding charms wear off the fifth time you see them. The use of the hint button means you'll never be stumped, but chances are you'll probably be relying on it more than you should have to. Whenever I got stuck, I quickly discovered that simply cycling through all the rooms using the hint radar over and over was far easier than trying to figure out where I should go next.

The game itself will likely run you upwards of four hours, depending on your hint reliance and how many puzzles you skip. For hidden-object adventure fans who prefer their experiences just a little bit creepy, Agency of Anomalies: Mystic Hospital is the perfect choice, with an emphasis on adventure and puzzle solving to balance out hidden-object scenes. The story is fairly predictable, but acts as a solid vehicle to drive the gameplay, and besides, who doesn't want to add "saved the world... a lot" to their resumé? Give the demo a try and let the Agency broaden your skillset for future employment opportunities... you'll be containing vengeful invisible men and putting ketchup on your pasta with the best of them in no time.

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.

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Also available: Collector's Edition

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Also available: Collector's Edition


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Blood and Ruby

joyeVampires. So many different kinds of vampires, aren't there? On one hand are truly frightening vampires who will shank you with their fangs in the middle of the night unless Van Helsing gives them the what's what with a wooden stake. On the other, we have the kinder, gentler modern vampire, who sparkles and just needs a hug and a hair gel refill. Both tend to take themselves seriously. Blood and Ruby, from Hitpoint Studios (creator of another fine adventure game, Guardians of Magic: Amanda's Awakening), features both the traditional bloodsucking villains and the new heartthrob type (he even has a cuddly scarf!) in its new adventure, but thankfully it doesn't take itself too seriously. Melodrama is the order of the day, from the histrionic organ chord which occurs when you finish a hidden object scene to the opening cut scene take-down which looks more like some people slipping during flag football. It all makes for an entertaining campy ride, with some clever touches along the way.

Blood and RubyAfter her brother Marcus gets tagged out in a graveyard game of flag football—sorry, I mean, kidnapped by evil vampires—the titular Ruby comes to Venice in search of him. To assist her in rescuing him, you'll need to use your trusty cursor to pick up useful objects and employ them to solve so-called inventory puzzles. Of course, that flask of holy water isn't always just going to be lying around, as that would be too easy. Sometimes you'll need to search for it, and with the same mania that grips other hidden object heroes, you'll compulsively find other objects you're not going to use as well. A generous serving of puzzles, some of which are more like mini-games, and the merest sprinkle of spot the difference, tops off this recipe for adventure game enjoyment. Just don't forget the garlic.

Analysis: Blood and Ruby does not immediately give you instructions for puzzles, although you can click on a question mark button to get them. Unfortunately, sometimes these instructions are a little vague, telling you your ultimate goal, for example, but not the rules for how to get there. The skip takes a fairly significant time to charge, as well, so this is a recipe for running to the walkthrough. On the other hand, the hidden object scenes are extremely player-friendly. Too many games with dark themes think that means dark, monochromatic scenes that have your straining your retinas to tell which of the jumble of gray shapes is your desired knife or necklace. The art is excellent, and the item text is concise and descriptive. The hint button charges pretty fast to boot.

Blood and RubyAs I've already said, the plot is on the hokey side, so your individual taste for hokeyness is important. The demo hams it up right from the opening cutscene, so you'll be able to tell right away if it's something you enjoy. That said, the writing truly isn't bad. There are even some genuinely creepy moments like the murderous marionettes. If the phrase "murderous marionette" in itself doesn't creep you out just a little, you're too jaded by far for this game.

Sometimes there's a little bit of gameplay/story incongruity. There are several times when, plot-wise, you are in deadly peril and need to act fast by quickly using objects to conquer various threats in turn, but since gameplay-wise, there's no timer, it saps the urgency out of it. There may be a vampire ready to spring at you, but you as the player can leave the game running and have a shower if you like; the vampire will still be crouched there when you get back. The ending cutscene is quite brief and abruptly fades to credits, which is particularly disappointing given the many fine cutscenes up to that point.

The last major thing I want to single out for praise is the map system, which is not only easy to use, but even gives gentle hints about where to go next, with an exclamation point indicating an area of interest and a number indicating hidden objects to find. At about three and a half hours for my first play through, the length is a fair value as well.

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Weekend Download

JohnBGot some pals over and want to engage in some retro-styled multiplayer fight-a-thons? TIGSource has your answer! The recently-concluded TIGSource Versus Competition inspired a community of game creators to craft 81 multiplayer games, each one focused on combat. Some are playable online, others are confined to meatspace multiplayer, but they're all unique in that awesome indie sort of way. Below are a few of the top games as voted on by the TIGSource community!

0space.gif0Space (Windows, 5.5MB, free) - A local-only multiplayer deathmatch game for you and up to three of your pals. Control space marine-type characters who can stick to walls in the rotating world, jumping, shooting, and tossing grenades when appropriate. And you know what? It's almost always appropriate to toss grenades. A pure versus game if there ever was one, 0Space is still technically in beta, but it's very playable and will cause a riot with your pals. This little gem by teknogames took the top spot in the competition.

masjin.gifMasjin (Windows, 1.35MB, free) - An online-enabled team-based game by hempuli, author of a ton of great games we're still totally in love with. Masjin is a lot like Team Fortress 2 except in 2D. You take on one of the classes, each with its own special abilities, and hop in the fray, contributing to your team however you see fit. You must mine resources so items can be purchased at the shop, so, naturally, a few team members will get to the drills. At the same time, other players will become soldiers and start fighting right away. There are vehicles to pilot, game-altering items to buy, and a lot of well-balanced battles to participate in. This one looks very promising, and we hope hempuli continues development on it!

mushroomshatekaya.gifMushrooms Hate Kaya (Windows, 8.35MB, free) - A very unconventional versus game, Mushrooms Hate Kaya pits a 'shroom-gathering soldier against an army of spore-throwing mushrooms. One player controls Kaya with the keyboard, the other player uses the mouse to plant mushrooms. As mushrooms grow, they can fire out more spores, seeding the walls with fungi galore. Kaya, on the other hand, wants to gather as many of them as she can, so each player is constantly battling the other for supremacy. And that's just one of the several game modes! Simple, enjoyable, and executed with a no-frills sort of style. Plus, you don't have to share a keyboard with your nemesis!

engarde.gifEn-garde! (Windows, 2.6MB, free) - Probably the most basic versus game you could imagine, En-garde! pits you against a keyboard-sharing friend in a mano-a-mano duel. With swords! Step forward, step back, and thrust in three positions as you rock-paper-scissors your way to victory after victory against your friends. Everything about this game is simple, but it's great for a few rounds.

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 4.8/5
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Rating: 4.8/5 (308 votes)
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joyeI Have 1 DayYou have one (1) day. One is the number of days you have, and the number of days you have is one. You shall not have two days. One day to do what, you ask? Well, actually, you've got to find that out yourself. You've been knocked on the head and placed into a prison cell, and there's some kind of coronation going on in a little less than 24 hours. Maybe you should just point-and-click around and see if you can discover what's going on. Oh, you've died? Well, never mind. You only have one day, but you can have it over and over again as much as you like until you solve the various puzzles. It's a messy medieval groundhog day in Cellar Door Games new adventure game, I Have 1 Day.

Use your mouse to interact with the game. Click through dialogue and click on objects to interact with them or pick them up and add them to your inventory. You can use inventory items on other inventory items or on objects in the scene. In the lower right, you'll see two important buttons. One is the clock showing what hour you are at in the day. (You have 1 day, remember, so don't fritter it away.) To the left of that is your logbook. You'll keep notes there of what you did throughout the day. You can rewind to the beginning or end of a previous hour by clicking on the hour at the top of a page. Beneath the logbook is the controls for sound and the menu button. The sound controls are actually game-important, though I can't explain further without spoilers.

Your first priority is going to be figuring out who you are, why you are where you are, and what to do about it. Then you need to figure out what you need to get in order to do it, and finally, you have to figure out how to get it all done in the time period you have. The best ending requires absolutely perfect performance from start to finish with no wasted time. There is also a hilarious "just missed it" ending if you manage to right the major wrong but not in time to stop the villain from putting part of the evil plan into motion. All other endings are simply short descriptions of your death.

I Have 1 DayAnalysis: The rhythm of the game, in terms of requiring players to use trial and error to collect information and make a plan that fits stringent time limits, is reminiscent of interactive fiction classic Varicella, only in a much briefer and more casual experience. Few people have the patience and note-taking skills to solve Varicella completely independently. I Have 1 Day is much easier to figure out, and the ability to rewind so precisely lessens the frustrations of mistakes.

Only one puzzle is what I consider unfair, in that it requires the player to do something that breaks the fourth wall in a way that I would have never thought to do on my own. I can't see many gamers solving that one on their own without doing the required step by coincidence. Other puzzles can be tricky but make logical sense, at least in hindsight. When in doubt, the adventure gamer standby of "click on everything and rub everything on everything" is your best friend. It will occasionally kill you, but usually your death reveals information to you, so messing up in this game is all part of the learning process.

The game has a lot of charm, from its super chunky pixel graphics (I especially love the way the wizards look when they laugh) to its writing, which is frequently gently self-mocking. I actually liked the "almost" ending the best, because of the forlorn/hilarious pictures that accompany the credits. Cheer up, almost ending! You may have one day, but you can have it again.

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(7 votes) *Average rating will show after 20 votes
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Shades of Death: Royal Blood

DoraIt's been a long time since you've been home, but you were hoping to return under better circumstances than this. A phone-call from your distraught sister, Violet, tells you your father has died, and you're to return to Morton Castle to settle some family matters. What are the chances that will involve divvying up the old Christmas presents hidden in the attic or tracking down dear old Dad's famous Beer Can Chicken recipe? Well, considering Vogat Interactive's hidden-object adventure is called Shades of Death: Royal Blood, you can probably assume it's going to involve less feel-good family times and more ancient unspeakable family secrets. That's okay... that actually makes me feel better since that's how all my family get-togethers wind up anyway.

Shades of Death: Royal BloodGameplay is strictly standard point-and-click adventuring, solving hidden-object scenes and figuring out where to use the plethora of items you'll amass in your inventory. The game offers two difficulty modes, one with more help and one with less and longer hint/skip timers, but whatever you choose, you'll find yourself progressing easily as long as you remember to stay nosy. Investigate everywhere. Items, clues, and notes are tucked away in unlikely places, and naturally your family has invested in every sort of puzzle lock imagineable. I don't know, you guys, all I'm saying is that I don't have any sliding tile puzzles in my bathroom and I've never had any issues with malicious shadow creatures. I'm not saying the two things are necessarily related, but... don't they have, like, a spray for that?

Analysis: Shades of Death: Royal Blood really manages to feel like a mystery, and a wonderfully creepy one at that. A lot of work has gone into creating a lush atmosphere that straddles the line between fantasy and horror, and the end result is a satisfyingly macabre, though never particularly frightening (with the exception of a jump scare or two), adventure. Naturally, in your investigation into your family's disappearance and the ruined nature of the castle, you quickly discover that there's an ancient evil afoot, and if you don't want to become its next target, you'll have to track down a mystical amulet and delve into the spirit world for answers.

Shades of Death: Royal BloodPerhaps ironically for a game primarily about sneaking around a dusty old castle chock full of nasties, the best way to describe the gameplay is clean. Everything about it is well designed and smooth to play in a way you don't often encounter. Hidden-object scenes are beautifully drawn with art that's appealing to look at but doesn't let style interfere with function which is a common mistake many other titles in the genre make. ("Oh, I'm sorry, did you want to play the game? We thought you wanted to stare at our exaggeratedly sketchy and heavily stylised chest of drawers for an hour.") You'll encounter a fair amount of puzzles as you go, but I'd be surprised if you told me you had to skip any of them; so much of what you'll have to deal with is simple trial-and-error to be solved in less than a minute or reassembling images in some form or another that players looking for a meaty challenge might be a little disappointed.

It's not particularly long, mind you; at somewhere between three to four hours for most average players, it's the sort of thing you sink an enjoyable evening into rather than something that'll suck your brain away for long stretches of time. It's a pulp paperback of a game, but that's not necessarily a bad thing, since it costs less than a movie ticket and will keep you entertained for at least as long as your typical flick would run. Shades of Death: Royal Blood is the perfect choice if you're looking for a solid evening's worth of entertainment, and maybe to save the world from unknowable shadow evils in the process.

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  • Currently 3.9/5
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Rating: 3.9/5 (41 votes)
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JamesAll We Need Is Brain 2It's inevitable; when zombies take over they will eventually end up in the cities, and then you have problems. Why the people who inhabit this world thought that what didn't work the first time would a second is a mystery. However, it does give the rest of us an excuse to have fun at their expense. With your pile of brains, it is time to send more of the undead to their watery doom in All We Need Is Brain 2, a great puzzle game from VladG. If you haven't tried the first game, best start there. This sequel was made for the fans who went through the rigors of disposing zombies with the smell of mental mush. Each level is a puzzle where the objective is to lure the one or more zombies out of the ground and into the water (or on a mine or in front of a firing squad). This is done by placing a limited number brains in tactical positions, guiding the zombies to your bidding and their doom. Thoroughly addictive and creative, it's a different take on the genre.

This sequel, at first glance, doesn't seem very different. In many ways it is not. There is a new shine to the graphics, but you have to compare the two games side-by-side to really notice it. The menus are pretty similar and, apart from an intro sequence, you might think nothing has changed. But once the game gets past the formalities of a few tutorial levels, it cranks up the challenge level. The theme has shifted to an urban environment where zombies are literally coming out of the sewers, and all this brick and steel is used to an impressive (and often confounding) level. Timed drops and lateral thinking are hallmarks of "phuzzle" games, something the first in this series loved to dish up for players. The sequel takes it all that step further.

To help break up the puzzle-ness a bit, new shooting levels have been added. In these you kill the zombies by shooting them, but you need to do with the lights flashing or off. These are a bit of a mix; they interrupt the puzzles a bit much (especially if you get stuck on one), but they are also a fun diversion from the brain-churning the other levels unload on you. To be clear, this is not some damningly hard game. But All We Need Is Brain 2 does pick up where the first left off and it does everything just that little bit better.

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Link Dump Fridays

DoraHappy Friday, dear reader! I hope that wherever you are, the sun is shining and the birds are singing, and after you finish with today's batch of games you plan on getting outside, catching butterflies, running on the beach with golden retrievers... er... chasing hoops with sticks... save kids from wells with the help of plucky collie dogs... whatever it is people do outside. Look, I'll be honest with you. I don't do well under the judgmental glare of the Daystar myself. But maybe these fine titles will provide some measure of comfort when you slink back indoors covered in sweat, bug bites, and newly irritated red flesh.

  • Pokemon Tower DefensePokemon Tower Defense - I love Pokemon, and I don't care who knows it! I also love tower defense games, so this would seem to be a match made in heaven if not for the potential threat of Nintendo's legal department hanging over this title like the Sword of Damocles. Sam Otero brings us this geek-tastic title complete with a story that stays faithful to the original silly, fun source material; a mysterious man and woman are set to attack Professor Oak's lab with a bunch of hypnotised Pokemon and steal all the Rare Candies they can find. Select your Pokemon and go on an adventure, tower-defense style, getting stronger and evolving to save Oak's stash! WATER TYPE FO' LIFE, YO!
  • Epic CharlieEpic Charlie - I have to wonder how epic the protagonist of this platform game can really be if he doesn't have a jetpack or a rocketbike or a group of dogs with bees in their mouths (and when they bark they shoot bees at you). When his mentor meets an untimely demise at the hands of the prerequisite Big Bad, Charlie is blamed by the townspeople and given time to prove his innocence, which appears to involve spikes, enemies, wall-jumping, and more. It is a little disappointing... I mean, now that everyone knows about the "ancient evil struck down my mentor" ploy, when the heck am I going to say the next time I need to strike my mentor down?! "He just got overly enthusiastic cleaning his lightsaber?" "I'm not going to name any names because He Who Must Not Be Named?" Way to make things harder for the rest of us budding megalomaniacs, Charlie.
  • Jhink ToyJhink Toy - Oueo brings us this simple puzzle game with pleasing spherical shapes and the only demand that you "think widely". The goal is to clear the board, which sounds easy enough, at least until you start shifting rows around. See, only rows of one colour will be cleared, while the rest sit there silently mocking your attempts to plan three moves into the future. It's a stylish workout for your brain that will send you out into your day much better suited for any important tasks you might be called upon, like... eh... man, I dunno... sorting magic jelly-beans? Not much call for a glowing thinger mover arounder since Wonka closed up, I'm afraid.
  • From BeyondFrom Beyond - As my great grandmother used to say, there's a little bit of unknowable cosmic horror in all of us, and Super Flash Bros will help you unleash it in their latest arcade game/intergalactic griefer simulator. Ping destruction down on unsuspecting planets, trying to rack up as much damage as possible, though if you're clever you'll make sure to leave at least one author still alive so the next generation of Hot-Topicers can know what mythological horror trend to follow next. Quirky, colourful, and oddly satisfying in a way that sates the galactic voices inside our heads for the time being, it's a fine way to get a little carnage in your day.
  • Alien Attack 3DAlien Attack 3D - You may disagree, but for my money the finest first-person-shooter arcade experience to be had lies with House of the Dead 4 Special. While Alien Attack 3D doesn't have seats that swivel and full surround sound, it still manages to capture that gleeful old rail-shooter arcade feeling quite nicely. You're a prisoner whose reprieve comes in (surprise!) an alien attack on the base you're being held at. Blast your way through headcrab thingies (I still need to play Half-Life, I guess. Priorities!), grab med kits, and admire the swinging camera that faithfully recreates the arcade experiences of yore.

  • Currently 3.9/5
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Rating: 4.9/5 (142 votes)
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Babylon Sticks: My Lord comic

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


  • Currently 4.1/5
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Rating: 4.1/5 (127 votes)
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TrickyJanuaryThe passing of a season always makes me nostalgic for it. Lord knows that I'm never too thrilled with skidding my Honda on the icy roads of winter, but now that the May flowers-bringing showers of April are upon us (in the Northern Hemisphere, at least), I find myself wishing for one last walk in a swirling frozen cloud of flurries. While Chione is quite unlikely to heed my prayers, I can take solace in January, a musical piece of interactive art from Rich Vreeland. It's an impressive debut release that impressively captures the beauty and melancholy of a walk of a blustery winter's evening.

January is a game that must be played with the sound on, preferably in a darkened room. Using the [arrow] or [WASD] keys you move your toque-clad player-character through a monochromatic landscape. After a bit it begins to snow: only a few flakes at first, but eventually a blizzard fills the sky. Holding the [up] key sticks out your tongue to catch a snowflake upon it. Catching a snowflake plays a MIDI note, each moving around the scales by an algorithm that I'm sure quite impressive. Every so often, a piece of text is displayed, altogether forming a poem about the transience of the seasons. And so it continues until the sky gets dark and you return to your warm house for a nice cup of cocoa.

I think that January will be a love it or hate it kind of experience. Me? I love it, but I can definitely see why others might think it too slow, too short or too aimless. Indeed, there's not much to see after your first walk through. However, even knowing that, I find myself returning to January whenever I need a quick de-stressing. Indeed, I think it functions best as a respite from work or other games: a five minute walk that leaves tension behind in a flurry of poetry. Not that it doesn't have merits all its own: The music generation engine at the center of the piece is intriguing both for the intuitive presentation and for the demonstration of programming skill it embodies. Artistic games using 8-bit graphics might no longer have the novelty value they once had, but the aesthetic is fitting and captures the subtle ambiance of winter's gray. So come, take a walk in the snow with January, then hope that Vreeland has some ideas for the rest of the year. Personally, I can't wait.

Play January


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Rating: 4.3/5 (60 votes)
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MikeSubtle EnergyI keep hearing how gaming is supposed to be a relaxing hobby, how booting up your XBox, Nintendo, or Fairchild Channel F is supposed to be a great way to unwind after a stressful day. But considering how many games demand keen senses, hair-trigger reflexes, and general poise under fire, I just don't buy it. A truly relaxing game should lull me into a peaceful state, not put me on edge. However, we occasionally come across a game that manages to be as soothing as we often hear gaming is supposed to be. Subtle Energy, a new-agey, color based puzzle game reminiscent of Auditorium, is one such title.

The goal of this new-agey puzzler is to direct the streams of colored particles, which project from colored lotus flowers, to correspondingly colored chakras, represented here by colored symbols. Drag eyeballs and other tools onto the screen in order to do this. Eyeballs redirect particle streams toward the direction or directions they face, and they can also blend streams into new colors (remember: red + green = yellow, red + blue = magenta, green + blue = cyan, and red + blue + green = white). Streams will also change color when they bounce off of colored walls. Once you have everything set up the way you like, press the Play button in the upper right corner to see if it works. Direct enough properly colored particles to all the chakras without overloading them, and you can continue to the next level.

Subtle Energy succeeds in being a pretty relaxing puzzler. The soundtrack is inoffensive aural Xanax, and it is always soothing to watch colored pixel streams flow about the screen. The puzzles themselves are few, and while most are not too difficult, you will likely find that some make you stop and think. One could object that the difficulty curve is not so much a curve as an uneven graph of spikes and valleys, but one could also argue that the variety of pace keeps the game interesting. All in all, Subtle Energy is not meant to be a vexing puzzler, but a pleasant way to occupy a break in your day, and shows that games can be stress-free after all.

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You Are Games

ArtbegottiQuiches. French toast. Omelets. Omelettes. Omelots. Ocelots. These are just a few wonderful dishes that can be made using eggs, nature's water balloons. You can scramble them, boil them, fry them (over-easy, over-hard, and mysteriously, over-medium). Eggs are an incredibly useful ingredient in many recipes, and they even taste great on their own. But the question still remains... Can eggs be funny?

bs-contest-easter-1.jpgUnfortunately, no. It's your job to come up with an egg-laden pun in this week's You Are Games challenge. That's right, the yolk's on you! Take a look at this unfinished Babylon Sticks comic drafted by resident comicster James Francis. It could use another dipping in the dye batches so it gets some color. But most importantly, it needs a punchline! What humorous quip can you imagine to finish this comic?

If you think you've got a line to do this comic justice, send it to us! Post your caption as a comment below using your Casual Gameplay account. Multiple entries are allowed, but remember to keep them appropriate for all ages and obscenity-free. In addition to a certain upcoming holiday, keep in mind that we tend to favor captions that stick to a gaming theme. And some final legal bits:

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

You've only got until Monday, April 18th at 11:59 PM (GMT-5:00) to get your entries in, so get scrambling!


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Rating: 3.9/5 (95 votes)
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Joshbigevilrobots.jpgHow many times have you been at home relaxing only to discover that a horde of giant, evil robots are once again on the loose, wreaking havoc on the city? Yes, I know, too many times to count. As usual, our bombs are useless and the army is ineffective, but that doesn't stop a small boy with a marble-flinging slingshot from saving the day. And save it he shall (with your help) in Spilgames' latest casual puzzle shooter, Big Evil Robots.

Presented in a Japanese Chibi-anime style, Big Evil Robots is a projectile puzzler that has you controlling a pint-sized protagonist armed with a slingshot and a limited supply of robot core-shattering marbles. Click and drag the mouse to adjust your marble's trajectory, and release to fire away. To destroy each level's mechanical menace, you'll need to send a single shot toward the robot's glass-like core, breaking it (and the robot) in spectacular fashion. You get scored on each level based on the number of shots and how many gold coins you can collect, earning up to 3 stars for an efficient performance.

With each new level, you face a different robot with new internal mechanisms to figure out. In order to skillfully reach each automaton's fragile core, you need to place your shots with accuracy while manipulating various buttons and screws. Shooting red buttons may activate internal gears or raise platforms, while hitting screws loosens them and causes various robot joints to fall to the ground.

With its cute personality and robot-shooting-puzzliness, Big Evil Robots is a fun, short break game certainly worth its weight in marbles. Its cartoony, stylized look fits the mood nicely, while the game's frantic, epic-sounding soundtrack and mechanical sound effects are sure to encourage your desire to kick some robot chassis. With its 15 levels, Big Evil Robots is pretty short, but completionists should enjoy retrying the levels to earn 3 stars. So go ahead: find your marbles, aim steadily, and put those big robots in their place where they belong!

Play Big Evil Robots


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Rating: 4.5/5 (246 votes)
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joyeBela Kovacs and the Trail of BloodBela Kovacs may wear his sunglasses at night and waterfall exhale like a total bad ass (not that you should imitate him, smoking is bad, kids, don't do it), but for some reason the Budapest police department doesn't want him as a detective anymore. When his niece is viciously murdered, however, he's not going to let any power on earth stop him from catching her killer. Not even preternatural powers. In this film noir, photorealistic point-and-clicker from Hungarian studio Extropia Games, you'll need to collect evidence, and manipulate not only your environment but also the people you meet to get the clues you need. Bela Kovacs and the Trail of Blood sets up an intriguing story that will have mystery fans hoping for a sequel.

For the most part, you'll just need your mouse, but don't chuck your keyboard out the window because you will need it for a password at one point. Mostly what you'll be doing is clicking, aided by the fact that your cursor changes when you hover over something clickable. Click through cutscenes. Click on suspicious areas to investigate them and mark them as evidence. Click on objects in your inventory and use them in the scene, or combine them. Click to travel between scenes through marked exits. Click on people to talk with them. Click on dialogue choices to attempt to turn the conversation your way. Click on the blood stains. Click on the many, many blood stains.

Bela Kovacs and the Trail of BloodAnalysis: "You people know them well. The eyes gazing from the shadows. The claws scratching in the attic. The freaks under your bed, the spooks in your closet. Let me tell you a secret. They're all real." So begins the game. Aesthetics-wise, Bela Kovacs is pitch perfect. The English translation is fluid and natural, with only a few minor typos. I've played many games by native speakers that didn't have a tenth of the storytelling talent that the Bela Kovacs team displays. The plot could quite easily have become hokey, and lesser developers might have taken the easy way out and pushed everything over the top into parody. Instead, they went for a subdued but sustained creepiness. There are no jump scares, and the game isn't really horror per se, despite some scenes displaying more blood than I think the human body actually contains. Rather than going for scares, the game elicits the kind of base of spine revulsion we feel when we read about terrible murders in the newspapers.

The visuals back this up. The art of Bela Kovacs is a beautiful blend of photographs and sketchwork with a brooding industrial atmosphere, reminiscent of some of Mateusz Skutnik's works. Maybe there's something in the Eastern European air that turns out excellent point-and-click artistry. This oppressively dark atmosphere does make some objects hard to find, especially if you don't pan the camera sufficiently with your mouse. The developers made the right call in having the cursor change when you hover over a hotspot; otherwise the game would have been unfair. The lack of a hint button, especially in the nightclub scene, is a little frustrating.

As for the game play, it switches easily back and forth between discovery of evidence (similar to hidden object), code and puzzle solving (such as figuring out a password), and trial and error conversations where you attempt to wheedle people into giving you what you want. In a few places, the suspension of disbelief became a little difficult, like picking up all those bottles of UV paint that just happen to be lying around a nightclub while the suspect stares at you, apparently suspecting nothing. But for the most part it's easy to get engrossed in this fascinating tale of darkness, serial killing, revenge, curses, and the Old World.

Play Bela Kovacs and the Trail of Blood


  • Currently 4.6/5
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Rating: 4.6/5 (393 votes)
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ChiktionaryShadowOh Happy Day! I get to review a game from my most favorite genre, and it's a good game! Shadow is a quiet yet solid escape game by Kotorinosu, which stands apart from the crowd of point-and-click puzzle games with its simplicity, appealing graphics, and honest escape game fare.

Shadow's formula sticks to escape game tradition; use your mouse to navigate rooms, examine areas and objects, collect items and solve puzzles. The inventory is beautifully simple to use, click on items to use them and when no longer needed the items disappear from the inventory. This is a delightful escape game to play, generously providing some easy finds and obvious puzzles to solve. However there is a confounding moment or two where certain steps need to be taken to make progress.

So what makes Shadow such a great escape game? Apart from the predominantly logical puzzle solving and intuitive use of objects, Shadow presents beautifully with gorgeously rendered graphics, satisfying sounds effects and smooth responsiveness to clicking. There's not even a smidgeon of pixel-hunting to be had here. And what's more, this is a game that will satisfy even the hungriest of the hungry for escape games. How often have you experienced that bittersweet realisation that you're about to exit through the final door, the triumph of success tinged with the slight sadness that it's all over? Shadow offers just that little bit more gameplay, which sweetens the ending somehow.

Although not overly challenging, Shadow is deliciously satisfying to the very last click of a lock. If you have an appetite for honest-to-goodness escape games, then loosen your belt a knotch and enjoy a hearty helping.

Play Shadow

Thanks to Fhyre and Patrixio for sending this one in!


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From the creators of Tiny Castle, Canary, Fault Line, and many more...

In the aftermath of the terrible war that brought Europe to its knees, civilisation struggles to rebuild. Standing in their way is a barren landscape made feral and dangerous by roaming bands of pirates in massive steam tanks, and standing up for them is one lone mercenary tank commander in all of New Britannia...

Steamlands

It's just you, a bunch of junk parts, and your trusty engineer in Nitrome's upcoming steampunk strategy/combat game, Steamlands. As you prowl about the dusty streets, you'll encounter pirates and fellow scavengers driving their own patchwork machinations. Using blocks, guns, and other bits of discovered salvage, piece together your own tank, placing weapons in strategic spots and keeping a strong front to protect your coal-shoveling engineer. As the battles wage on, you've got to work to keep shielding strong where it counts, all the while directing your weapons to send your opponent's tank to the scrap heap. When the combat dust settles, you get to pick up the pieces and strengthen your machine.

We had a chance to get our hands on a pre-release version of Steamlands, and we've basically decided we're in love with it. Steamlands is like a building game crossed with a strategy title, combining on-the-fly ship repair and construction with smart weapon and defense placement, sort of like the Captain Forever games. You dispatch foes with brilliant tactics as well as strong defenses, and between levels you get to visit an upgrades store to keep the core of your machine healthy and strong. It's just the right balance between action and cerebral thinking, so you'll never feel overwhelmed by too much activity or bored by too little.

So far, Steamlands looks and plays like a steampunk dream. The combat is wonderful, mixing genres with elegant finesse and allowing you to satisfy your need for visceral battle as well as tactical construction. Driving a huge tank is beyond awesome, as we all have imagined once or twice in our lives, and being able to attach scraps you blow off of enemy vehicles makes you feel like a boss. Any game that looks this good, plays this well, and lets you build and drive patchwork steampunk tanks will earn a permanent place in our browser window!

Steamlands is coming soon from Nitrome, and you can be sure we'll be all over it the minute it's released!

SteamlandsSALVAGE...
Traverse the ruins of Europe, gathering materials for your own machinery, fighting off other scavengers and pirates in a fantastic steampunk environment, guv'nor!

BUILD...
Design your own tank using materials gathered from the field, applying bonuses and defenses to your vechile in order to withstand attack, generate income, and more! Support your stumbling dystopian economy by buying new uprades, fancy flags, or even just the latest gossip... you never know what you might find out!

DESTROY.
Take part in harrowing real-time strategy battles against enemy forces, fighting for power-ups and rebuilding your own defenses before they can bring you down, and then bring out the big guns when things get hairy.


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Rating: 4.1/5 (56 votes)
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binb.gifJohnBWhen dungeon crawler meets Bomberman, BinB is the result. A simple-looking arcade game at heart, this little release from Maxim Karpenko (a.k.a. Kendja) packs a lot of bombs, a lot of power-ups, and a surprising amount of strategy, especially when you consider it's mostly about blowing things up and collecting gold.

Each of the two dozen stages in BinB has the same goal: kill all of the enemies, find the exit stairs, and crawl deeper into the dungeon. You've got one main weapon throughout all of this: an infinite supply of bombs. Just like in that all-too-familiar game of bombing things on a grid, explosions in BinB have a horizontal and vertical reach that will destroy piles of dirt, enemies, and even power-ups that come in contact with the fire. Oh, and you. You shouldn't touch explosions either!

You can increase a number of attributes (walking speed, number of bombs you can set at a time, explosion blast radius, etc.) by nabbing power-ups you find by destroying crates. Treasure chests hold gems that are worth tons of points, and you can also dig through the soil to pick up gold, valuable pieces of shiny that increase points as well as add to your timer. Yes, you're timed for these levels. Rather than put pressure on you to find the exit, though, it serves as a metric for calculating your score. If you want a crack at the game's unlockables, you'll need to do a fair amount of digging!

Standard loot aside, BinB also offers special power-ups that give you neat abilities, several of which can completely change how you play a level. A pickaxe allows you to tunnel through the dirt with the press of a button. Perfect for avoiding bomb blasts and grabbing nearby gold. A magician's staff allows you to teleport, and a detonator lets you choose when your bombs go off, giving you the sneaky option of trapping enemies and watching them perish in your flames of triumph!

binb.gifAnalysis: BinB is a good mix of wild bomb blasting action and careful strategy. You can't go in to a level with fuses blazing, but you can't really sit back and plan things out, either. Instead, you're forced to think on-the-fly, adapting strategies to each situation as it arises. A single bomb blast can change the setting drastically, so stay limber and don't back yourself in a corner!

Enemy AI is key in BinB, as your real goal is to destroy every foe on the screen. Each one has a different intelligence pattern you must learn to foil, but they're fairly limited and usually involve the bad guys running in certain directions when you place a bomb. Some of the smarter, more aggressive enemies can be a real hassle to deal with and eat a lot of time off of the clock, however.

The balance of fighting against the clock and hunting for loot is a fine one in BinB, and in some of the later levels it leans too far in the former direction. Digging through dirt to pick up gold is awesome, as is opening every crate you see on the screen. But sometimes you're forced to abandon power-ups in favor of blasting skeletons and bats. You don't have a choice in the matter, sometimes, but a quick exit and re-enter will generate a new level layout and, with any luck, and more balanced experience.

There are achievements, there are unlockable character skins, and the random nature of the level design gives BinB a good dose of replay value. It's a smart balance between arcade gaming and strategy, with a heavy leaning towards the action side of things. Loosen up your bomb-setting finger and get ready to chase down some pixel enemies!

Play BinB


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Rating: 4.6/5 (154 votes)
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Weekday Escape

GrinnypLast week's escape game was rather complicated, wasn't it? With all of those puzzles and weird viewing angles. Well, Weekday Escape is supposed to be a mid-week break, something to refresh rather than frustrate, so what we need to do is find a palate cleanser. Something simple, yet exceptionally well designed. Something that features absolutely no pixel hunting. An escape that is so well-designed, in fact, that it has a built in hint system. Wow, if only Robamimi had a new game out... Oh, hey! They do! Japanese designer Robamimi is at it again. Yes, once again for your room escaping pleasure Robamimi has created another (the fifth) in the Who Am I? series of room escapes, 18 Who Am I? Why 18? That is something that will actually only make sense once you make it out of the room.

18 Who Am I?The Who Am I? series of room escapes are a fun combination of classic room escaping conventions such as use of found objects and puzzle solving combined with a classic word riddle. In each of the games you must find five "hint" cards which give clues to the central riddle, which is the one word that will finally unlock what you need to escape the space. And this time around it is an exceedingly small space. No closets, no trap doors, no extra rooms like the last one, R20 Who Am I? Instead, this is pure four wall one room escaping goodness. Thankfully Robamimi is quite good at packing a lot of puzzle oomph into such a confined little area.

One of the reasons we like featuring (and playing) Robamimi escapes is the consistent top-notch designs which they put out. Even such a simple game as 18 Who Am I? has all of the bells and whistles that you'd want in a larger room escape game. Fun and challenging puzzles, beautiful graphics, interesting points of interest, intuitive navigation and inventory control, non-intrusive music, an English version, a mute button (for when the music finally becomes intrusive), a save button, even a built-in hint system. That's a lot of detail to pack into such a diminutive package, and it makes for a fantastic overall experience.

If there are any complaints at all about 18 Who Am I? (other than the fact that it feels way too short) is that Robamimi leans more heavily than usual on the color puzzles. Although some attempt has been made to add text to make it easier to distinguish the colors, there are just such a variety of the puzzles that this amusing little effort is less accessible than usual to those with colorblindness issues.

The Who Am I? series of puzzles are Robamimi "light", leaning more on the central wordplay than the complexity of the other individual puzzles. Not that this is a bad thing. Robamimi light is still a heck of a good time, a lot of well designed and well executed escaping gameplay wrapped up in a fun 10 minutes or so, the perfect mid-week break. So relax and enjoy the soothing rhythms of a mellow jazz soundtrack as you ponder the universal question, Who Am I? Or, at least, the 18 Who Am I? version of that eternal question.

Play 18 Who Am I?


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Rating: 3.9/5 (104 votes)
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DoraAzurefishDespite Disney's best efforts, there is nothing in this world that can make me think being under the sea is anything short of terrifying. I mean, do you watch the Discovery Channel at all? More than half of the meanest, strangest, biggest, most deformed and poisonous/fanged creatures in the world live in the deep blue sea. Still, I have to admit that Lucas Paakh's underwater exploration-oriented Azurefish manages to make the ocean look pretty spectacular, and packs it full of minigames, secrets, and achievements to boot. You play a fish (decidedly azure in colour... go figure) swimming through a vast ocean; just move your cursor, and the fish will follow it. The basic gameplay may remind you of Paakh's previous title, William and Sly, albeit without any sort of story or real goals; your only real objective is just to explore the large underwater map, hunting down treasure, performing acrobatic tricks, and more.

Azurefish isn't just story-lite; it's story-free. It winds up feeling a bit more like an elaborate webtoy that takes cues from both Ecco the Dolphin and Dolphin Olympics, only without the dolphin. While some players may be put off with the lack of any real direction or overarching mission, there's something to be said for just going with the flow and immersing yourself in the beautiful environments and atmosphere. It's not that there aren't things to do; hunting down tokens, or gems to play games like races or acrobatic tricks, is a lot of fun. The presentation is gorgeous, rendering the sea in rich colours and surreal touches that would almost make me think the ocean is a lovely place to visit if not for the fact that I know what sort of critter lives down there.

Of course, even taken solely as an adventure in the life of the world's flashiest fish, there are a few quibbles. Control feels (perhaps appropriately) slippery at times, since long, floppy-bodied fish aren't typically known for their ability to execute hairpin turns. The real issue for players trying for 100% completion may wind up being that trying to navigate to the myriad of items tucked far behind scenery in little crevices winds up being more trouble than it's worth, since you can't see where you are or where you're going. Still, Azurefish is absolutely beautiful, and packed full of wonderful detail and surreal touches that make it a lot of fun to spend time with. It's relaxing and engrossing and should provide a tasty treat to whet your appetite for certain sequels about certain foxes which could be on the horizon if you've been good this year. Until then, keep your feet wet and dive on in.

Play Azurefish


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Rating: 4/5 (136 votes)
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MikeThis is a Work of FictionWhen you get yourself a kit for a bookshelf, or a model car, or a perpetual motion machine, do you carefully read the instructions, sort all the parts and pieces into easily accessible piles, and follow the directions with diligence and exactitude? Or do you dive in, confident that you can work out what needs doing without consulting stodgy manuals or schematics? If figuring out instructions on your own is as much fun for you as following them, you may enjoy This is a Work of Fiction, a suite of abstract riddle and puzzle games by Eli Piilonen with a conspiratorial vibe, where figuring out what to do is the heart of the gameplay.

Once you determine how to start This is a Work of Fiction, you may choose from among five categories of mini-games. You get no instructions or directions except for what controls to use, but you can always restart or return to the level selection screen if it is too confusing or difficult. Complete enough of these games, and you can play the next "round" or column of games, which are more difficult permutations of the same sorts of games. As you complete each level, you also gain access to several "documents," which may or may not be related to each other, or to the games you are playing.

Something about the presentation in This is a Work of Fiction reminds me of the Submachine series, with its collection of strange documents, its moody ambient soundtrack, and its focus on oblique puzzles surrounding murky motivations. Indeed, the presentation enforces the idea that there is something mysterious about these little games, which really drives you to unravel how they work. The one disappointment is that once you figure out how a type of game or puzzle works, the later rounds become less exciting and more tedious. Unravelling the point behind a type of game is fun, but playing harder versions of the same game is less fun if you have already figured out the point.

Still, if you like edgy atmosphere, mysterious trappings, and figuring things out without instructions, This is a Work of Fiction is well worth your time. Just be persistent, and don't let the paranoid ambiance get to you. It is a Work of Fiction, after all.

Play This is a Work of Fiction


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The Vault

DoraHappy Tuesday, friend, and welcome once more to The Vault! I've only been writing here since late 2008, but the site's archives go back a lot longer than my meager tenure, and cruising through them looking for likely Vault candidates is about 30% actual work and 70% having my productivity blown out the door each time I run across a game I haven't played in a long time. These are just a few of my favourites that have really stood the test of time. Unlike the carrot cake I just finished making, which probably won't survive the test of "last til the weekend". It's hazardous, being covered in cream cheese icing.

  • Papa's PizzeriaPapa's Pizzeria - If you've ever worked in customer service, then the phrase "the customer is always right" probably makes you groan a little. So how did Flipline Studios manage to make a time management game about just that, and make it not only addictive, but fun? In it, you play a young man tasked with handling absolutely everything in the titular pizzeria, from taking orders, to meticulously arranging toppings, and even baking and slicing each saucy pie to your customers' specifications, all before time runs out. It's the sort of thing that, were you to do it in real life, would probably have you huddled in a fetal positon on the floor of the walk-in cooler, but in a game winds up something you can sit down to play for five minutes and instead lose an hour to. Papa's Pizzeria has the perfect combination of quick, easy to pick up and dexterous gameplay, and big cheerful visuals that make it such a joy to spend time with. A spiritual sequel in the form of Papa's Burgeria was recently released, but for me there's nothin' better than a piping hot 'zza. Just don't ask me to toss the dough for you... been there, totally ruined that.
  • Wink: The Game!Wink: The Game! - Stealth games don't always have to be about manly mercenaries hanging upside down in ventilation shafts. They can be about little blue bobble-head heroes, too. Andre "gel" Nguyen's adorable adventure platform-ish game puts you in the soles of Wink's blue shoes as he sets out to rescue a kidnapped princess... a task made even more difficult than you might think since Wink has to use stealth and surprise to sneak his way through the castle and deal with enemies covertly whenever possible so as to avoid an untimely demise. While some of the controls demand Wink be standing in fairly precise proximity to whatever he's attempting to use/wrassle, the game's fantastic charm and character make it a journey worth making. The art is fantastic, the narration is frequently funny, and the combination of genres keeps it feeling fresh and unique even these many moons since its release.
  • DotvilleDotville - Tears for Fears once sang, everybody wants to rule the world, but they probably weren't talking about Finefin's quirky tribe. I don't see how you could possibly resist, though; this turn-based strategy simulation is as adorable as they come. You've been tasked with raising a tribe of dots to a position of power and success over a period of fifty years, starting out a nobody and (hopefully) winding up the mighty Dot Emperor, which I believe is a title we can all aspire to. But it isn't all rose petals and cute blobby subjects; balancing the happiness of your populace with building armies, acquiring upgrades, and more quickly turns out to be harder than you might think. While not particularly complex compared to some other titles in the genre, Dotville still presents a healthy challenge for casual players with a great sense of humour and style.
  • SkywireSkywire - It's a little surprising to realise, but Nitrome has been around since 2005, consistently turning out beautiful, cheery, clever flash games for six years now. One of my favourites is this simple and wonderfully weird little action avoidance game about trying to pilot your passengers up a ridiculously twisted route littered with all manner of harrowing obstacles. Obstacles like bomb-dropping birds, enormous killer whales, monkey chains, and more. It's so simple, controlled with only two keys for accelerating and slowing down, and yet it's so much fun. Is it the cheery music and sound effects? The increasingly silly things that pop up to get into your way? Well... it's all of that, really. You don't need a ton of bells and whistles and complex gameplay to make a hit, and even today Skywire is one of those games that constantly gets brought up by you, our dearest audience, as one of Nitrome's best classic hits. After a few levels, you'll probably realise why.

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!

Spy


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Rating: 3.6/5 (57 votes)
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joyeSpyMomentum is a pretty great thing, generally. Roller coasters wouldn't be fun without momentum. But when you're a little flying spy cube attempting to infiltrate an evil virus designing company (motto: "Selling country-destroying microbes to terrorists is a sustainable business model for sure!"), momentum isn't on your side. In Filipe Sheepwolf's Spy, not only do you need to figure out how to solve puzzles to manipulate the enemy territory, you've got to do it without attracting any attention, and banging into walls or sailing in front of a security camera tends to hinder that. Newton, Newton, what hast thou donest.

A brief tutorial level will teach you the basics. For the most part, you're using the arrow keys to guide your plucky little cube through ventilation ducts and under tables. Your chief weapons are your screwdriver (number key 1) and your visual sensors (number 2). Sometimes you'll pick up things like keys, and if you have them, they'll be controlled by number key 3. You can hit number key 4 at any time to adjust the options such as the quality or sound. You will also need to use the mouse occasionally, to enter in codes or to zoom in on a list of codes. Lastly, the [enter] key is used to finish reading information or instructions, and is a quick way to restart when you're caught. That's when, not if.

Our elite game seeking team (we're kind of like the cube in this game, actually, we rappel into developer's sites and do cartwheels through lasers and stuff to get to the new releases) wants to let you know that for some reason, a number of us had difficulty playing this game on Firefox, even the latest versions. If you're experiencing problems with stuttering and lag, and you're using Firefox, you might want to try Chrome, Safari, or IE instead.

SpyAnalysis: If the popularity of any game that requires you sneak things up International Person of Mystery style is any indication, inside each and every one of us is a super spy screaming to break free and climb all over things with suction cups attached to our hands and feet. There's something weirdly fun about sneaking around where you're not supposed to be, getting in and out before anyone knows you're there, and Spy perfectly captures that sensation. It's similar in concept to Shadow Game, but much more fleshed out, and it's the addition of all those wonderful spy gadgets we all secretly long for that really makes the game stand out, puttering around sleeping guards and surveillance cameras without a sound. It's more than enough to make you want to rappel down from the ceiling in a black bodysuit just to make coffee every morning.

You really don't want to have lag for this game because the game pretty much jumps straight from "tutorial level" of difficulty to "end stage". With the noise sensors, you have a little (a VERY little) amount of leeway, but it's so easy to bang into things that it isn't much comfort, and at some points, even scraping the side of an object creates noise. For visual sensors, get caught once and it's start over time.

Most of the game's length is from its difficulty. If you are some kind of elite stealth genius, you might be able to whip through the game's four non-tutorial levels in a few minutes of perfect performance. If you are like me, it will probably take you hours, with frequent breaks for homemade brownies and crying. Those of you in between should expect a decent amount of both length and challenge. The game might have been improved by adding a few levels between the tutorial and the first level that gradually ramped up in difficulty, but after I got over the initial shock of "you die, you die, you DIE" and restocked my chocolate reserves, even I was able to play through the game and felt very proud of myself when I did. For fans of the genre it should be even more enjoyable, and the cinematics are quite cool, even if the plot is a little hokey. Elite players, get ready to mock us lesser mortals. The rest of you, grab your favorite sugary comestible and try your best.

Play Spy


  • Currently 4.4/5
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Rating: 4.4/5 (234 votes)
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floodrunner3.gifJohnBBored with running games such as Canabalt and Robot Unicorn Attack? You should be, because they don't have giant squids, lava, lightning, oil slicks, and main characters who are on fire. Flood Runner 3: Armageddon, however, does. We mentioned Clockwork Monster's Flood Runner 2 in a previous Link Dump Friday, and this one's got even more over-the-top action to help you feel like a demi-god dashing through the mortal realms.

If you're looking for a simple "press a button to do one thing and keep doing that until you die" experience, you'll find Flood Runner 3 a bit more... interesting. You can move left and right, and jumping is naturally very important. You also have a health bar to occasionally keep an eye on, as well as a glide bar that determines how long you can hover in the air. There's even a speedometer in the corner of the screen! Even though all of these bars and meters litter the playing field, your eyes will always stay focused on the action at hand. Everything else just sort of takes care of itself, adding a touch of complexity to the game without cluttering things up.

Flood Runner 3 takes place in a three-tiered world: clouds, land, and sea, each filled with things like trampolines, oil slicks, wind tunnels, enemies, and more. You start off on land, in the middle, and hop from platform to platform. A wave of lava is always behind you, encouraging you to, you know, not touch it. If you fall below you'll hit the sea; climb higher and you'll run in the clouds. Naturally, you'll want to stay as high as possible so you can stay alive longer. Dip into the water at the very bottom of the levels and you'll encounter a big evil baddie. Be quick, hit the buttons in the right order, and you can punch giant sea monsters and live to run and jump another day!

floodrunner3.gifAnalysis: Flood Runner 3 plays on the "all-powerful" feeling games like Caster 2 invoke. You can run, you can jump, you can glide, you can even punch sea serpents and light yourself on fire. While the sense of all-powerfulness is there, you're still almost as vulnerable as you are in any running game. True, you can climb higher, fall further, and absorb much more punishment than, say, BIT.TRIP RUNNER, but you're not quite invincible, just enough to activate that risk-reward center in your brain.

Despite its plethora of neat-o features, Flood Runner 3 falls a bit flat after playing it a few times in a row. Being Superman and flying through the clouds is awesome, but naturally it loses some of its pizazz the tenth time through. The difficulty also seems uneven, as some sessions will be a breeze, while others will tax your keyboard skills from moment to moment. Most of these fallbacks are common to the fast-paced running genre, as the path you take is never the same, resulting in very different experiences each time you play.

Flood Runner 3 delivers fast action, varied gameplay, and plenty of epic moments to make you think "Awesome. I'm awesome, and this game proves it"!

Play Flood Runner 3


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Rating: 4.3/5 (90 votes)
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JamesPigs Can FlyPigs can fly, which is distressing news for anyone who has promised action when the pink porkers grow wings. You know: "You'll get the bank loan when pigs fly". Turns out all the ungulates needed was a little help from your mouse in Elliot Pace's new physics puzzle game that bends time, Pigs Can Fly.

In Pigs Can Fly you have three colors: green, blue and pink. Each level has obstacles, also in at least one of these three tints. By selecting a color, the cursor can manipulate objects of that color. The objects themselves vary from balloons you pop to rotating cranks to simply dragging. In fact, it all comprises of dragging; the motions you make are relative to the object, but you need the right color cursor to do it.

Here it gets interesting: Once you switch to a different color, the objects you previously moved start animating in the motions you moved them. Now you have to move the objects of the second color in a synchronised set of motions. The idea is to clear the way between a pig and a magic bottle; get piggy to the rainbow and he sprouts wings. Pink is the pig's color and therefor interacts with it. But it's the last color you can use and you cannot use a color twice; it cancels the previous motions recorded.

These limitations form the foundations of the puzzles. Sometimes pink isn't used, but the objective always involved finding the choreographed shuffle between green and blue objects in order to reach the bottle. The puzzles are as creative as the system they use. Wrapped in a blanket of soft graphics, a slightly morose soundtrack and no limits or notches such as a timer or scoring. While writing reviews for this site, you get those moments where you play something and wonder if someone did it before. With all the games swirling out there you can't play everything. But I am certain that the drag-a-pig-by-manipulating-time-and-space hasn't been done yet. And it is so captivating that you will probably end up finishing it in one city. So go on, get those pigs in the air.

Play Pigs Can Fly


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Mobile Monday

JohnBWith the release of a brand new iPad 2, we thought we should celebrate with a collection of some of the platform's best exclusive games! What better way to break in that Apple A5 processor (or even the original Apple A4 processor!) than with a couple of big, gorgeous casual games? Look for more iPhone or Android games next week!

ballfalldown.jpgBallFallDown - Physics toys are awesome, and this iPad-exclusive is built for one thing: so much fun! BallFallDown provides you with a blank woodgrain canvas and a set of tools to work with. Nothing too complex, just balls of various weights and sizes, platforms, teleporters, tubes, bumpers and flippers. Everything can be rotated and placed wherever you like, it just takes a few fingers and a bit of creativity. What's the goal? There is none, just play around with spawning ball baskets and see what kind of trouble you can stir up. Create and save layouts to view and tinker with them later. The game is just simple enough to draw anybody in, but the more time you spend with it the more fun you wrest from its pixels. With the tagline "some assembly required", you can't help but be curious. The free BallFallDown is available, as well as the more full-featured BallFallDown Deluxe.

halcyon.gifHalcyon - From stylistic designer Zach Gage, creator of Unify and Bit Pilot, comes another artistic sort of game, this time for iPad owners only! Halcyon is best described as a puzzle game with musical elements fused with a time-managing drawing game like Flight Control. Your goal is to connect currents to bring like-patterned pieces together. Direct them to the correct areas and they fly together, disappearing from the screen. Depending on which mode you choose, you can expect a blissful or a taxing experience. Either way, it's awesome, and there's something oddly trancelike about directing triangles against a background of soothing sounds and music...

wordgeek.gifWord Geek - Like spatial puzzles but also love words? This simplified sort of crossword puzzle lays out a matrix of five letter words, each crossing over a few others in key areas. You are given no clues, you just have to guess which word fits. After typing in a word, you're told if a letter is correct and in the right position, or correct but in the wrong spot. Work your way across the grid using trial and error, digging up some fairly obscure words from the recesses of your vocabulary. A great game for any word nerd, and loads of fun to play with a friend. Just one nitpick: why is the in-game keyboard in alphabetical order?! Word Geek Free is also available.

slicehd.jpgSlice HD - Here's an idea: a game you don't want to touch. While everybody else focuses on creative new ways to get your hands on your iPad, this one encourages you to pull them away. Blades shoot on the screen and cover up a button you're trying to get at. Carefully slide each sharp object away, holding it with a finger while you use other fingers to move other blades aside. It's tough, but possible, with one player, but even more fun if you get a friend in. Kind of like finger-based Twister. It's a bummer you're sent back a level after failing, but other than that, the game is a treat to play. If slicing your fingers can be called that.

panopticon.jpgPanopticon - A nice little game for us steampunk fans! Panopticon takes advantage of the iPad's large screen and multitouch capabilities to create an interesting sort of experience. Your goal is to move all of the orbs to their respective slots. The trick is you can't move one orb at a time, you have to have contact with all orbs to move any of them. That means your hands will be splayed across the screen as you twist, rotate, and perform harrowing finger-switch moves with the orbs in dangerous locations. Push and pull pieces of the board to squeeze through, and marvel at how motivated you'll be to beat each of the game's 100 stages. A fantastic experience, especially with a friend, and the music (provided by Verninan Process) is phenomenal.

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


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Rating: 4.7/5 (160 votes)
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Don't Take it Personally, Babe, It just Ain't Your Story

DoraBest of Casual Gameplay 2011The year is 2027, and you are John Rook, the new teacher of an 11th grade English Literature class trying to earn the trust and respect of your students. This might be difficult enough even without the fact that you know everything about them... largely because you're eavesdropping on their private lives. Is it a gross invasion of their privacy? Or do you consider it fine as long as you save them from themselves in the process... even if they might not need your help at all? Don't Take it Personally, Babe, It just Ain't Your Story is a visual novel from the creator of Digital: A Love Story that deals with guilt, sex, sexuality, trust, and acceptance throughout the course of its remarkably potent narrative.

Don't Take it Personally, Babe, It just Ain't Your StoryFor the most part, you play the part of John, a teacher who has essentially suffered a midlife crisis and has doubts about his own successes, but must put that on the backburner to handle his new job. At this school, as an experiment, all the students have been given personal computers, and to keep tabs on them (ostensibly to keep an eye out for bullying and the like) you have access to everything they say between one another... whether it's public posting on Facebook-like profiles, or private conversations. Naturally, the students aren't supposed to know this, and keeping this secret might prove difficult. As time progresses, you'll come to learn the good, the bad, and the ugly sides of the teenagers you're working with, and have to decide for yourself when and how to step in when they have problems... even if those problems are less related to school and more to their complicated personal lives.

Interactivity is fairly limited in the game. You can (and have to) read messages whenever you get a notification by clicking on the little mail icon in the upper right corner of the screen. This grants you access to John's computer, through which he can watch student interactions, receive mail himself, take a peek at the seemingly innocuous conversations going on on message boards, and, of course, save the game and change the settings. Reading messages winds up being the bulk of the actual gameplay, but throughout the narrative you'll be given chances to choose what John says to his students and how he deals with them. The game comprises seven chapters, each focusing on someone different with their own issues, from Charlotte, who seems to be the perfect student but remains clueless about how to deal with her own feelings, to Taylor, who can't seem to keep her mouth shut but remains locked in her own internal struggles, and even to John himself. There are three different endings depending on the choices you make, and the game features a text skip option so you can speed through dialogue you've seen before on different playthroughs to reach choices faster. (Please be aware that one of those endings results in an implied intimate relationship with a teenage girl, but it isn't explicit, and you can simply avoid the dialogue choices that would take you there.)

Don't Take it Personally, Babe, It just Ain't Your StoryAnalysis: Despite its popularity and ambitious scope, I failed to really warm to or become invested in Christine Love's earlier title, Digital: A Love Story, which was too much like listening to one half of a stranger's telephone conversation. By contrast, Christine here has managed to create a very large cast of characters I found myself caring about in a very short time. She has a knack for writing believable, natural dialogue and manages to craft some surprisingly engrossing drama into what is essentially just what we see from the sidelines. In a lot of ways, it winds up feeling like an experimental visual novel; all the typical love triangles and problems and rivalries are going on, but we only get to see the edges of them from our perspective as what is basically a voyeur.

It's especially surprising when you consider that it really isn't our story, just like the title bluntly informs us. John has very limited interaction with them, and despite the fact that each student comes to see him for advice once throughout the course of the story, to them you're little more than an authority figure. It's jarring to realise that the connection you feel to the students isn't reciprocated because any "relationship" you perceive is entirely one-sided; you might think Kendall is awesome or Taylor is a jerk, but to them you're just a teacher and you barely register as a blip in their own personal lives. Because of this, some players might not get as easily invested in the story.

Don't Take it Personally, Babe, It just Ain't Your StoryIt's easy to forget while watching the social lives of your students change, but you really are only tenuously connected to all of the drama and personality conflicts going on, an outsider looking in. Don't Take it Personally is, at its heart, trying to say something about privacy, and how the concept of the word is already changing. It's a little disappointing that the game won't let you proceed due to story constraints until you've read any backlogs of communication between your students. The game does imply that this is basically part of John's job, keeping tab on his students' activities for bullying and such, but there are more than a few exchanges I might have been more comfortable not witnessing, purely because they were such intimate moments. Even from John's perspective, I didn't feel like I was doing my "job", I felt like a voyeur, and I sort of resented the game a little for forcing me into it.

For all that, however, Don't Take it Personally, Babe, it Just Ain't Your Story is still a tremendously smart and creatively told piece of narration. Everything is peppered with meaning, and it's easy to see something of ourselves in almost all of the students, both good qualities and bad. The cast here feel like people rather than stereotypes, and that's what makes the story such a success and the game worth playing despite its limited choice and interactivity. I grew more than a little attached to the students and celebrated their personal successes as much as I desperately wanted to warn them when John's unique position let me see trouble headed their way. While not perfect, with so much chatspeak infiltrating even the students' everyday lives you might want to cringe, and a moral that feels heavy-handed and a little unsatisfying in its execution, it's intelligent and heartfelt and definitely worth a play.

WindowsWindows:
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Mac OS XMac OS X:
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The Treasures of Mystery Island: The Ghost Ship

JamesWhat would you do for a million bucks? Thanks to the popularity of reality TV, we now know that there is relatively little people won't do (I wonder if they remained so enthusiastic when they learned how much of that will go on tax?). But stepping onto a haunted island? That's not in all of us. Fortunately it's not much of a thing for one young writer, which gives us an opportunity to experience the adventure through her in The Treasures of Mystery Island: The Ghost Ship.

The Treasures of Mystery Island: The Ghost ShipThis is not a hidden object game, but instead very much a first-person adventure. There is plenty of object-hunting, but you are never presented by the standard laundry list where you have to find a dozen items, only one of which ends up being important. No, here every single thing you have to dig out of a scene has a role to play — which means at most three or four objects can be hidden, but usually there are just one or two.

To be clear, there is no treasure in this game (not unless you count a million dollar reward for clearing all the supernatural activity from the island). But there is a ghost ship and a whole lotta haunting. Your first ghost, in fact, appears in the intro movie and the spirits of the departed are all over the place. In this adventure game you have to discover why they are walking the earth, in turn preventing a much bigger disaster from happening. The clock is even against you, with regular countdowns to the inevitable eclipse that will bring something nasty to the surface. This countdown is entirely cosmetic and only rears its head when you enter certain new scenes, so there is no threat of running out of time. But it is a very nice touch.

Finding pieces of objects and then figuring out what to do with them is the core of Ghost Ship's gameplay experience. The adventure is split into four parts, each divided into multiple areas that you will revisit frequently while digging through the challenge. This is a fairly long game — even on a steady clip where you know exactly what you are doing, it takes more than four hours to complete. More salted players can up the odds by playing on the higher of the two difficulty modes. All this does is increase the hint system's reload time to two minutes and not change the cursor when over a highlighted area. That sound like little, but it really ups the challenge in an already challenging game.

The Treasures of Mystery Island: The Ghost ShipThe myriad of objects you use is broad and simply going around randomly trying everything with everything else is laborious and sometimes impractical. As you progress, new areas in a scene can be activated and new objects can appear, so adventurers have to vigilantly move around the various scenes, trying to figure out their way forward. Whereas many such adventure games degenerate into a connect-the-dots affair - solving one puzzle inevitably leads to the next, etc — Ghost Ship is elaborate and expects you to do a bit of thinking. In ways it resembles the Mystery Case Files games, but without the hidden object sequences and with only a handful of traditional "puzzles". Most progress is made by finding objects and then figuring out what to do with them.

Analysis: The Ghost Ship is a gorgeous game with a beautiful soundtrack and handles its theme with enthusiasm — right down to the lack of characters you encounter. The sense of looming disaster and eerie isolation is handled brilliantly and even the interface design is great. For example, if a part of an object is hidden and requires an additional action to reach, it flashes in red — this has saved so much agony pining over a scene, trying to find a piece. The hint system is also excellent, only delayed when it reloads.

But some of the puzzles aren't as intuitive and the game doesn't always deliver clear clues. Sometimes you will be stuck until you click on a certain highlighted area, which in turn would unlock a new hidden object or activate new parts of other scenes. These events aren't always obvious and, at least in this reviewer's case, on occasion had to be highlighted through the hint system. But pixel hunters and detail hounds will revel in the challenge.

Honestly, though, the glimpses of frustration do nothing to take away from this game. It makes for a nice challenge in a game world that draws the player in from the get-go. The Ghost Ship also smartly avoids using clutter and familiar puzzles to extend its lifespan. Instead the several hours it packs feels fresh and engaging. The Treasures of Mystery Island: The Ghost Ship is one of the best adventure games we've seen this year. Sometimes I struggle through these types of games, mostly the result of boredom. This title? I played it twice — in a row.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


  • Currently 4.5/5
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Rating: 4.5/5 (22 votes)
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The Fool

JohnBReady for an adventure game that will engladden you with every puzzle? Or maybe you're in the mood for a little princess saving, dragon slaying, ghost-costume-wearing fun? Either way, The Fool has got you covered. And then some! The Fool is a perfect example of what a casual adventure game should be: smart, funny, filled with puzzles, and just the right number of diversions to keep things from going too silent. All wrapped in a deliciously tongue-in-cheek fantasy setting.

The FoolA fierce dragon is terrorizing the kingdom, burninating everything it sees and turning entire villages into charcoal. The king is pretty much fed up with that, so he sets an enticing bounty. To the knight that slays the dragon and brings a tooth as proof of a deed done, he will give his daughter's hand in marriage along with a hefty portion of land. Many brave soldiers have perished in the attempt, but then a boy with a stick ambulates over the hills. He'd have to be some kind of fool to undertake this quest, wouldn't he?

The Fool is built like a casual adventure game, with exploration, item gathering, and puzzle solving taking center stage, while mini-games and hidden object scenes come at a distant second. The mouse is all you need to play, and you can count on the cursor to show you things you can examine, interact with, or walk to. The inventory at the bottom stores key items you'll pick up during your journey, and to use them, all you have to do is click and click again!

Each small area you're turned loose in has a number of puzzles you have to solve in order to proceed. All the items you need are within a few screens of each other, but you'll have to travel back and forth several times to gather what you need. The hint system only works inside the hidden object scenes, but if you ever get stuck, just revisit an old area and look at the environment more closely. Chances are, you missed something!

The hidden object scenes aren't too numerous, and they're exactly the right length and difficulty. Twelve items per scene, and there's always at least one "riddle" item to find. For example, a clue on the list might say "basket full of apples". You can see a basket, you can see some apples, so why not click the apples, drop them in the basket, and make the very item you were looking for? Each one of these brings a grin to your face, especially the first one where you have to find "baked bread".

The FoolUnlike most casual adventure games, the mini-games in The Fool are worth talking about. You won't find the usual battery of letters to assemble piece by piece, bits of string you have to unwind, or jigsaw puzzles. Instead, this game is packed with unique mini-games that fit the jolly fantasy atmosphere very well. How about sliding squares to match a picture? Or solving a numbers problem to unlock a door? Some of them are quite challenging, but you can always hit the "skip" button at the bottom after it fills up.

Analysis: Oh, The Fool. Where have you been our whole casual adventure gaming life? To the seasoned retro adventure gamers out there, an experience like The Fool won't be unheard of. The game takes inspiration from the likes of King's Quest to construct its world, its characters, and, naturally, its light sense of humor. The Fool never takes itself too seriously, which, combined with smart design choices from developer MagicIndie (creators of Adventures of Robinson Crusoe), is why it turns in to such a brilliant gaming experience.

The setting and atmosphere take a huge leap forward in terms of quality for casual adventure games, and you won't be disappointed by any aspect of the game's story. It's not because the plot is so original and well-written that your brain will explode from the newness. It's because The Fool takes a familiar concept, adds a bit of humor, and draws upon parody and lightheartedness to entertain. Not allowed to dig in the cemetery? Why not find a digging permit? Need mandragora root but all you have are mandragora seeds? Bet that "quick gro" potion will come in handy!

Drawbacks? Caveats? Warning signposts? Nothing! If you don't mind revisiting a few hidden object scenes several minutes after you've completed them (with new items to find, of course), backtracking doesn't bother you, and you don't want your hand to be held at every decision in the game, The Fool is the perfect casual adventure/hidden object game for you. Seriously, you'd be a fool not to play it. (Or would you accept 'I pity the fool that doesn't play this game?')

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

Mac OS XMac OS X:
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Get the full version


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Weekend Download

JohnBGames. Fresh games. Newly minted from game presses built before the turn of the century. Which, come to think of it, wasn't that long ago, was it? But it sounds like it's ancient. Classic. Time-tested. You keep thinking that while you play the gems below!

1916.gif1916 - The War You Never Knew (Mac/Win/Linux, 58MB, free) - Ok, so you're stuck in the trenches. That's not good, but you should be able to find a ladder and climb out, right? The twisty little passageways all look the same, save a few crates, an item to interact with or two, dead bodies on the ground, and roving dinosaurs. Wait, roving dinosaurs? Yeah, roving dinosaurs. This 3D survival horror game will scare you to your bones with its deep infusion of lizard-based terror. You don't really have anything to fight back with at first, all you can do is throw a shoe and hope the dino leaves you alone long enough to run away. But watch where you run to, as there are more dangers around the next corner... Note: You can also play 1916 in your browser, but your performance may vary.

ranger.gifRanger (Windows, 15.5MB, free) - This top-down sci-fi shooter is the bee's knees! You play a well-armed space pilot hired to rescue prisoners on an alien world. Stock up on guns before you step out into the jungle, then confront your enemies as they play hide-and-go-seek in the bushes, appearing only when in your line of sight or when they fire at you. Move around using the [WASD] keys, switch weapons, aim and fire with the mouse. You can even order the prisoner you're rescuing to hold position, but mostly it's a run and gun back to the ship after the rescue has occurred. Ranger is a bit of stealth, a bit of arcade action, and many big bits of entertainment!

tottenham.gifTottenham (Windows, 3MB, free) - Upgrading subway lines is rough work. Especially when the walls you explode tend to fly back and destroy you! This minimalist game gives you the power to blow up any wall you can see. The goal is to clear a path from the entrance to the exit. The challenge is giving yourself the room you need to blow a hole in the wall and hide from the flak. Later, new challenges arise, like pests you have to get rid of, but the puzzle-meets-arcade feel never really changes. You'll never look at the subway the same way again!

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: 4.2/5 (1303 votes)
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GrinnypDr. Stanley's House II"A long, long time ago...I can still remember how that music used to make me smile..." Or shiver, I can't remember which. Oh yeah, it was shiver. What I'm reminiscing about is the creepy incidental music to a game we first introduced way back in 2005, Dr. Stanley's House, a point-and-click adventure created by James Li that was by turns moody, mysterious, and downright spooky. Now, many years later, Dr. Stanley, his house, and much of the original cast are back in Dr. Stanley's House 2, a continuation of the story that while still moody, mysterious, and creepy, has also added mind-blowing to the now extra-long adjective list.

In the original you played Mr. James, a private detective called in by Dr. Stanley for...well, for what is a bit unknown. When you arrived at the house you found it deserted, except for two injured men and a mysterious intruder who helpfully sets the guard dog on you. Or, at least, you would know this if you could read Chinese, since the first game was entirely in that language and some of the story was lost in the translation. Not to fear, however, as the entire plot is recapped for you at the beginning of Dr. Stanley's House 2, and this time in English, which is a good thing otherwise you'd be pretty lost right from the start.

Where were we? Oh yeah, the plot. In the first game you came across a young guy with papers whom you assumed was the thief, and an injured old guy whom you assumed was Dr. Stanley. Wrong. It was, in fact, the other way around, and now the old guy has made off with the papers, while poor Dr. Stanley is now in the hospital with a concussion. It is now your mission to find a way to speak to Dr. Stanley (being semi-competently guarded by a sleeping security guy) and figure out how to get back the papers and other objects that were stolen. Sounds pretty straightforward, doesn't it? And it is, until you encounter the old guy again and you have to go back to that creepy house, solve your way past a whole mess of new puzzles, and eventually run into more plot twists and turns than found in The Entropy Effect.

Dr. Stanley's House IIAs the game begins remember to choose the English option (unless you can read Chinese) and enjoy the spooky intro and music. Eventually you will find yourself outside the hospital where Dr. Stanley has been brought for treatment. Navigation is a mix of simply clicking on doorways or other areas, along with blue arrows that appear to navigate you in other directions such as right, left, up, down, and occasionally into another dimension. Rather than an onscreen inventory control (it would get way too crowded with all the things you have to pick up) you have a valise in the lower left corner of the screen. Simply click on the valise and you can scroll through the contents. With some objects merely having them in your possession will allow you to use them (without the usual bother of selecting and highlighting an inventory item), with other objects you may have to click on them in your inventory and use a multiple choice menu (use? combine? discard?). It all may seem a little unintuitive at first, but eventually you get used to the eccentricities of the control and navigation structures.

What you might not get used to, however, is the strange "now-it-works, now-it-doesn't" changing cursor. The arrow cursor will change to a hand to indicate some clickable areas, but not takeable objects, raising the specter of pixel hunting, especially in some of the darker scenes. And brace yourself; this is rather a long game. Fortunately it comes with the ability to auto-save, so you can quit in frustration if you can't solve a puzzle or you become lost in the hospital air ducts (easy to do) and come back later after a refreshing beverage and a little down time.

Analysis: Dr. Stanley's House was good and popular back in the day, but that day was six years ago; Flash-based point-and-click adventures and the puzzles they contain have matured since then. So, has the sequel kept up with the times? The answer is a resounding "YES!" The graphics—although a little dated—combined with the soundtrack still set quite an eerie atmosphere. The story has moved beyond a simple crime caper and wanders into Twilight Zone territory about halfway through the game, keeping the player on their toes.

The puzzles are mostly of the found objects variety, with a few pure logic puzzles and at least one wicked color puzzle thrown in for a little variety of the extremely frustrating kind. Dr. Stanley's House 2 is also not for the faint of heart or the squeamish. Although there's no blood to be found, be prepared to do anything to accomplish your goals, up to and including throwing things, shooting at people, and messing about with pharmaceuticals that amateurs should, strictly speaking, not be messing with. Don't worry, it will all make sense in the end. Maybe.

Dr. Stanley's House 2 is not a perfect game. The odd navigation can get frustrating at times, as well as the "now-you-see-it, now-you-don't" changing cursor. However, if you're looking for a fantastic point-and-click adventure that combines mystery, suspense, pharmaceuticals, science fiction, and an extremely goofy English translation, then look no further. Take two shots of Dr. Stanley's House 2 and call me in the morning. Presuming, of course, that you ever find your way out of the air ducts.

Play Dr. Stanley's House 2

Cheers to Cyberjar88 for sending this one in! :)


(17 votes) *Average rating will show after 20 votes
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Gravely Silent: House of Deadlock

DoraAwakening one night from a nightmare where your sister pleads with you to save her, you receive a phone call from your brother-in-law who informs you that she actually is dead. After hastily informing you that she didn't want anyone other than himself to attend the funeral and hanging up, you decide that this is possibly the most suspicious thing he could have done aside from shrieking, "WELL I DIDN'T KILL HER OR ANYTHING IF THAT'S WHAT YOU'RE ASKING GAWD" and set out to uncover the truth. Gravely Silent: House of Deadlock from Vogat Interactive is a lengthy hidden-object adventure that combines magic, mystery, and menace into a satisfying experience that just goes to prove you should be wary of any man with that much oil in his hair and who looks like he belongs on the cover of Brooding Hunx Monthly.

Gravely Silent: House of DeadlockGameplay is divided between puzzle solvin', item usin', and hidden-object findin', and you'll be doing quite a lot of all three. The game is played entirely with the mouse, clicking on the screen to interact. You'll want to be very diligent in exploring the areas you'll visit throughout the game; as you'll quickly discover, there are secrets everywhere, and if you're playing with harder difficulty that disables the helpful sparkles marking interactive places, you'll really have to train your eyeballs to notice things that seem out of place and be willing to investigate every nook and cranny. The hint button will let you know if there's something in the area you can interact with, and if you find a puzzle too difficult, you can always skip it when the bar fills up. Unlike a lot of recent adventure game protagonists, you're not carrying a journal with you, so to stay on top of things make sure you check your task list and keep your eyes peeled for notes, photos, and other bits of incriminating evidence lying around to further the plot... after all, any good criminal mastermind knows the secret to a long and successful career is to leave as many clues to your weaknesses and potential downfall as possible strewn about the area.

I should also point out at the behest of several people that if you have a phobia of certain creepy-crawlies, such as the fine specimen depicted in that screenshot right up there, you might want to be cautious about trying this game. I promise I won't judge you. After all, you're talking to a lady with an irrational fear of giant sea monsters and large bodies of water. (Which made playing certain areas in, say, Bioshock or even Knights of the Old Republic... interesting, I'll tell you that much.)

Analysis: Gravely Silent: House of Deadlock is a game that I have a lot of admiration for; it took a simple concept and spun it into a surreal and engaging experience that really surprised me the more I played. To uncover the truth and get a shot at saving your sister, you'll wind up saving the souls of other people bound to the mansion, learning their stories and even visiting a dreamworld or two. What's great is that the game works to keep you interested in the story as you go along, doling out clues in the form of pictures or correspondence you'll find lying around as you explore. It's a great incentive to keep going, and a welcome change from games that just vomit lengthy exposition into your protagonists' journal every time you so much as glance at the scenery. If you have to stop playing every five minutes to read a wall of text just to figure out what's going on, you're breaking up the flow of the whole experience, and House of Deadlock mercifully understands that. As you play, you feel like you're uncovering the pieces of the mystery yourself rather than having everything narrated to you, and it makes for a surprisingly engrossing experience.

Gravely Silent: House of DeadlockThe gameplay in House of Deadlock is actually pretty darned satisfying despite not really presenting anything you won't have seen before. The puzzles tend to be variations of types you'll likely have come across in other games, but are presented creatively enough that they don't feel stale. Which, as it happens, is a good thing, because this game is practically infested with puzzles... in a good way, of course. Your brother-in-law apparently subscribes to the Umbrella Corporation method of home security and invests in a lot of themed keys, locks, and puzzles. The hidden-object scenes do have an unfortunate tendency to shrink down normal sized objects in order to hide them, but then again it's also the sort of thing that becomes easier to spot as your eye becomes attuned to the art style.

All told, Gravely Silent: House of Deadlock is just a fantastic example of the genre; fans who prefer more "serious" titles may be put off by how clearly fantastical the story winds up being, but for players who want a surreal adventure with a lot to do, this is an easy recommendation. (Naturally, I always recommend you try the demo for anything before you buy.) It's also a fairly lengthy game with a lot to do in it, clocking in for me in excess of six hours. Of course your mileage may vary depending on how much smarter than me you are, which is probably a lot... speaking of flattery, nice shirt! While you will find yourself doing quite a bit of back-tracking throughout the house itself and the grounds, the game does such a fantastic job at keeping you busy with new puzzles and objectives that it's hard to mind at all. Despite not doing anything particularly new or original, Gravely Silent: House of Deadlock is a extremely sturdy and extremely enjoyable game from a developer that clearly knows their stuff.

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

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

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


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joyeCrush the Castle 2: Players PackYou may have felt a little bad about laying waste to vast swaths of castles during the previous three iterations of the Crush the Castle series. After all, for the most part, the princesses, kings, knights and so on just seemed to be standing around in their extremely drafty homes, minding their own business, only to explode into a fine red mist thanks to your physics-powered projectiles. But in the newest game from Joey Betz with artistic collaborators Con Artist and Jimp, Crush the Castle 2: Players Pack, you have a totally legitimate reason for killing without mercy: there's a zombie plague going on! And if there's one thing I learned from living in Pittsburgh, it's that when the zombie plague starts, put bullets in heads first and ask forgiveness later. In addition to many levels of user-submitted goodness, there's an "undead" mode exclusive to registered users of ArmorGames where you must use your mighty catapult to keep back the hordes through ten days of defense gameplay.

The basic control scheme is simple as always: click once to start your trebuchet's arc, click again to release its payload. In regular levels, the camera will pan over the field giving you a view of your target, and you'll need to use this information to time your release. You start out with a number of different projectile options, from the simple log to a trio of iron shells, and as you progress through the game you'll unlock more options, either through regular gameplay or through special achievements. There's a way to unlock a certain enraged avian, for example.

In Undead Mode (which you need to register a free Armor Games account and login for), you'll start with just the log, and you won't have the luxury of carefully lining up your shots, as a shambling mob is coming ever closer. It's important to remember to click to reset while playing in this mode so that you can fire faster. Between days, you can spend money buying better projectiles, ending with an enormous rock that with proper release basically steamrolls an entire screen's worth of zombies, which is very satisfying.

With the exception of Undead Mode, this is basically the same song they were singing in Crush the Castle 2, so if that game got your game playing toes tapping, this game will do more of the same. And you should post a video of your game playing toes, because that's pretty cool.

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Link Dump Fridays

DoraIf it's Friday, and you're there and I'm here, then it must mean the tornadoes didn't carry me away last week and I live to prattle on another day! (Special thanks to J-Witz for filling in for me; you make that lustrous, unruly mane look pretty good!) This new lease on life has made me appreciate the important things, like king-size fluffy pillows, yogurt-covered raisins, shoulder rubs, and... uh... what else?... Oh, I guess togetherness and my fellow man or whatever. Junk like that. Fortunately, everyone can appreciate games about fleet-footed little dinosaurs, the bond between a ghost and his egg, and the proper feeding of your undead friends. Maybe one day Lifetime will make a made-for-TV movie out of how touching and important all this is when they run out of "all men are secretly evil/should spend lots of money on you" plot ideas.

  • Dino Run: Marathon of DoomDino Run: Marathon of Doom - Despite the best efforts of Joe Johnston, I still have a soft spot for dinosaurs. I'm kind of jealous, actually... I mean, if I were to leap onto a stranger's back, shrieking and ripping at the back of their neck with my teeth it'd be frowned upon. (Stupid double standards.) If you're a fan of Pixeljam's addictive retro arcade game Dino Run (and have already checked out Dino Run SE, and why would you not, honestly.) then this simple little race to keep one step ahead of death will be a welcome snack in your day. Mmmm, tastes like extinction!
  • Egg and GhostEgg and Ghost - I'm a sucker for buddy comedies. Rush Hour, Hot Fuzz, Turner and Hooch... I am all over that! So it's not surprising I was charmed by this oddball defense shooter arcade hybrid about a Ghost doing his best to protect his friend, the silent and unmoving Egg, from wave after wave of baddies. It's just like Milo and Otis, but with less uncontrollable sobbing you have to lie and pretend is because of allergies. With a quirky design and an interesting concept for power-ups, this is a repetitive but clever concept. Plus, it sounds like something the Addams Family has for breakfast. Win!
  • Brains Will RollBrains Will Roll - To think, all that T-Virus outbreak nonsense could have been avoided if the Umbrella corporation installed a few physics puzzles to keep their ungodly creations happy and satiated. In what the undead sympathisers will likely see as a welcome change, instead of destroying zombies you're trying to feed them some tasty, perfectly spherical brains by removing obstacles so that they can roll down some rotting gullets. You know, this is actually very educational. Nobody should have a zombie unless they're responsible enough to take care of it. After all, it's not like you can lock them in a garden shed and play video games with them. Oh wait.
  • Purple InvadersPurple Invaders - While the similarities with Red Remover are pretty clear, I'm sure you don't need any more incentive to get rid of the purple interlopers in this physics puzzle game than that icon over there. Look at that guy. He's got a bad attitude. Don't you think you should manipulate momentum and blocks to send him hurling off the edge of the screen, where he'll presumably fall for eternity into an endless nothingness, the harsh sound of his terrified breathing the only break from the silence of the void? At least, that's what happened when we got caught sassing our elders when I was a little girl.
  • Choose Your GameChoose Your Game - This tongue-in-cheek adventure game is part webtoy and part delicious parody. As you play, the game routinely quizzes you on the sort of things you do or don't like in your games, and then builds a short experience around it. It's actually fairly cut-and-paste, but definitely cute and amusing. Try telling the game you like Massively Multiplayer Online Games and also that you think ads are keen and you'll basically have a near-perfect recreation of playing an MMO, complete with bouncy, clueless, oh-my-God-nobody-likes-you nooblet to follow you around casting unwanted buffs at useless times. Basically, it perfectly encapsulates what my early years in Ultima Online were like.

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DoraOrbital Onslaught!I've always had a fondness for bounty hunters, some more than others. Nerdook is known for a lot of things, such as creating clever hybrids nobody else has thought of, but until today he wasn't known for swarms of tiny robots blasting each other repeatedly in the face with lasers at the behest of their human masters. Orbital Onslaught! is a strategy action defense game with RTS elements that stars you as a bounty hunter setting out to clean up the galaxy, one evildoer-with-a-bad-haircut at a time.

Although it might seem confusing at first, gameplay is actually very simple. You'll travel to different planets and engage with the criminals hiding out there. Since they won't go quietly, you'll have to beat them into submission by deploying various units with various strengths and weaknesses to storm the battlefield and defend you at the same time. Your opponent will be doing the same, and every minute or so you'll get a "deployment turn" which lets you choose which of your remaining troops you want to bring into the fray. (After you deploy a unit, you'll have to wait a certain amount of "turns" before you can send another member of that same unit out onto the field, so choose wisely.) Still sound complicated? Don't worry, the in-game tutorial will walk you through the basics.

Winning a battle grants you fame and, more importantly, cash, which you can spend on buying new units or leveling up your existing horde. Even if the units available for purchase are the same type you already have, make sure you don't dismiss them out of hand; all units are randomly given a bonus, like +10% firing rate, and so the snipers for hire might wind up being more useful than the snipers you currently own even if they're at the same level, Just be careful not to lose or click "Quit" unless you really mean it; while you do get to keep some cash even if you lose, retreating counts as a loss, and you only have three losses before the galactic council penalizes you for your incompetence. This results in you being unable to earn anymore fame, and the council taking a 25% cut out of all your future earnings, for which I believe the scientific term is SHENANIGANS.

Orbital Onslaught!Analysis: Leave it to Nerdook to make bloody warfare with that galaxy's worst examples of scum and villainy adorable. The whole thing is packed with such quirky charm you can't help but smile as you smear you opponent across the landscape, from the tiny little minion-esque troops to their names and descriptions. (If you don't think having units called Blood Badgers and Unseen Bulls is funny, then there's something wrong with you I can't fix.) Call me strange, but I think tiny "Rrrrrrrrrrrraaaaaaaah!" battle cries as your troops charge into the fray would have made the presentation that much more perfect. Speaking of audio, however, you might find as I did that the short looped music tracks were more annoying than anything else, but hey; isn't that why we all have mute buttons and Ride of the Valkyries cued up on our MP3 players?

The whole strategy aspect is sort of a mixed bag and feels like it mostly comes down to deciding what sort of troops to take into battle to counter the strengths of your opponent's army, like an intergalactic take-no-prisoners version of Pokemon. Die-hard RTS fans who bleed the collective works of Sun Tzu will probably be quick to point out that this a fairly diluted example of the genre, but for the rest of us, that's probably okay. While there's no denying that the dozens of little black warriors swarming all over each other don't really offer much in the way of control or strategy, it does make it all extremely accessible to the more casual player. Battles move along fairly quickly, you don't have to concern yourself with a lot of tedious resource management, and bite-size warfare with obedient killer robots is better than no warfare at all.

The whole "three strikes" loss penalty will probably frustrate a fair amount of players, since it seems like a fairly vestigial element that just serves to annoy. Though perhaps light on any real deep strategy, it's a fun, quick mashup of genres and a great way to spend some time. After all, who amoung us hasn't longed to respond to, "What have you been doing all afternoon?" by slamming our hands down on our desks, rising out of seats, and hissing, "Saving the whole freaking galaxy, that's what," with a steely glint in our eyes?

Play Orbital Onslaught!


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Babylon Sticks: Wayward Son 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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JohnBFill-a-PixWhat's better than having no new logic puzzles from Conceptis? Having plenty of new logic puzzles from Conceptis! Continuing its series of pencil and paper games transformed into browser experiences (see B&W Link-a-Pix Light and B&W Pic-a-Pix Light for more), Conceptis has just released Basic Logic Fill-a-Pix Light, a minesweeper-esque take on using numbers to create pictures on an empty grid. If you enjoyed Picma Squared, any of the Conceptis Light games, or logic puzzles in general, you'll definitely want to check this one out!

Here's the gist of how to play Fill-a-Pix. Each grid is dotted with numbers zero through nine. The digits tell you how many filled squares touch that number square. For example, if you have the number eight, eight of the squares surrounding it will need to be filled in, while one will need to be marked with an "X". By process of elimination, you'll eventually work your way across the grid, filling and marking boxes like a boss. And when you're done, a pretty picture is yours to behold!

You'll just need a mouse to play Fill-a-Pix, and laptop users won't feel too awkward with a trackpad, either. Simply point to a square, click once to fill it and twice to X it. The usual Conceptis Light puzzle bar is at the top of the screen, allowing you to check your work, save the puzzle, or just auto-solve it and call it a day. Handy features for when you have to, you know, do work or something else non-puzzle-related!

Analysis: When they aren't planted in front of a hidden object game, paper-based logic puzzles are the bread and butter for many casual gamers. From sudoku to picross, they provide a great distraction that's just the right amount of challenge, reward, and entertainment, all wrapped into a tiny little grid with a few numbers on it. Converting that to the digital realm isn't always an easy task, but as we all know, Conceptis has done it right with the Conceptis Light series. Fill-a-Pix is another fine example of this!

The only real drawback in this Conceptis release is the click control. One click fills a square, a second click marks it with an X. If you double click, however, you'll enter mass erase mode, allowing you to clear any square just by hovering the cursor over it. While this is useful in some instances, it doesn't outweigh the fact that you have to pause for a second each time you place an X. Click once to color the square, wait, click again to X it. On several occasions I accidentally erased parts of the grid because my clicking speed was too quick.

Conceptis once again provides an excellent logic puzzle game fit for pen and paper aficionados. Look at the numbers, fill in the squares, and devour the game's 30 puzzles as efficiently as you can!

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DoraHumbugPixelcontinuous' puzzle platformer Humbug is both weird and weirdly charming. You are Ziggy Fraud, the sketchiest looking thief around, whose quest to steal an appealingly large diamond lands him in hot water. Fortunately for Ziggy, he's not bound by the traditional laws of physics (or the game engine) and with some skill and your help, should be able to cheat his way to victory. Initially, gameplay is simple; use the [arrow] keys to look around and jump, [P] to pause the game, [S] to throw switches, and [R] to restart a room if you get stuck. Each room is a puzzle you'll need to solve in order to proceed, but they're anything but traditional. To succeed, you'll need to think like a cartoon character, one who is constantly breaking the fourth wall, and figure out how to manipulate yourself, the environment, and even abuse the pause function. Think creatively, think outside the box, and maybe even channel the soul of Bugs Bunny or Daffy Duck if you really want to make it. If you stop playing, you can continue from the last room you finished when you pick it up again.

Humbug is strange, no bones about it. From its slightly off-key discordant soundtrack, to its shifty protagonist, to its unorthodox approach to getting past obstacles, this is definitely an unusual game. Fans of more traditional puzzles will probably find the cartoon-character problem solving required baffling, and if you demand to take the logical approach to games, you might end up more frustrated than anything else with this one. The second-to-last stage feels like it needs a lot of experimentation and trial-and-error to complete, and since every stage has a different solution and set of unspoken "rules", you never really feel like you're building a skillset. Instead, you're repeatedly confronted with situations where the only solution is just to jump right in and mess with everything.

If you're willing to approach the levels from different, illogical angles, (Scooby-Doo'er angles) you'll find a lot to like here for the few minutes it takes to run through the game. Humbug may not win everyone's heart, but it's appealingly different, and with three (very well hidden) secret items to track down if you keep your eyes peeled, you might even unlock a more heroic ending. For my part, it felt like a breath of fresh air despite its faults. There were only two stages that really hung me up for longer than a minute or two, and if that has taught me anything its that my brain apparently does not work the same way everyone else does. I'm not entirely sure what it was about it that won me over so completely... it certainly wasn't Ziggy himself, since he looks like the sort of kid who liked to lurk silently behind other people, breathing heavily through his open mouth. But Humbug made me smile, and if you give it a chance, you might find it does you the same favour.

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Weekday Escape

GrinnypApartment House Escape is a bit...misnamed. Once you start playing you will realize that you are, in fact, attempting to break in rather than break out, a change of pace from the usual mid-week room escape. Welcome to Weekday Escape!

Apartment House EscapeSo basically you are trying to make your way into this lovely, terraced, gated apartment complex. Why? It's never actually stated. Instead you get some pretty bird's eye views of the complex from various angles (including close ups) and you must use the objects and clues that you find to solve your way into the place. Presuming, of course, that you can figure out precisely where you are trying to get in in the first place. Here's a hint: it's not the front door. So Apartment House Escape plays less like an escape and more like Breaking and Entering 101, if in real life common burglary involved lots of keys, color puzzles, logic puzzles, and a wicked rotating jigsaw. Well, being as I am completely law abiding, maybe it does. I certainly wouldn't know. Moving on...

So you begin at the beginning, the front of the complex where the parking lot is. You will discover that you can examine various areas of the terraces, yards, and even cars in the parking lot in close up simply by clicking on them. The right and left navigation arrows at the bottom of the screen actually move you around the outside of the complex, rather than turning you right or left, allowing you to view the place from both sides and the back. Nice looking place, really, and probably way out of my budget range. No wonder a person might want to break in.

Part of the fun of Apartment House Escape is the reverse of the usual escaping conventions, i.e. breaking in instead of breaking out. Even better is the nice mix of use of found objects tied up with some wicked fun (and occasionally just wicked) puzzles, a lot of them heavily color-based. It's a little disorienting to use the standard looking controls to navigate and find yourself moving in what would seem like a non-intuitive direction, using a right arrow to move to the side rather than turning 90 degrees away from the building.

The biggest flaw would not be the navigation system, though, as you get used to it pretty quickly. It is the unfortunate use of extremely wide clickable areas combined with a lack of a changing cursor, making it difficult at first to determine where you can click for the close-ups that you will need to complete the puzzles. A close up of a second floor terrace, for example, can be gotten to by clicking on that terrace, or below that terrace, or above that terrace, or even what looks like several feet to the right of that terrace, which can cause some confusion at first. The simplistic percussive music loop is also very short and can get extremely annoying extremely quickly. Fortunately there's a mute button. I suggest using it immediately. Inventory control also takes a bit of getting used to as well, since you have to click and drag items from the inventory rather than the usual highlight and click an area usually seen in a more standard room escape.

Despite the pixel hunting and the overly large clickable areas, Apartment House Escape is still a lot of escaping fun. Or breaking and entering fun. Heck, it's just a lot of amusing, logical puzzles, whether you have lost your keys and are just trying to get home or you have lost your job and are looking for a quick source of income from stolen property. Either way works.

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Joshroadkill-revenge.jpg

"Revenge is a dish that is best served cold..."
- Khan Noonian Singh, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

We all remember the classic "Frogger" game. In it, you control a little green hopper trying to cross a busy highway to get home. Before long, however, your unfortunate amphibian faces an untimely demise under the cruel wheels of a passing semi. Somewhere, there's a lonely cemetery filled with these squashed sprite-based frogs - hundreds of thousands of them since 1981. Who weeps for their pixely remains? Who will answer the small, silent call of the flattened for vengeance? Kizi Games, that's who. They present us with a group of mechanically-savvy, furry friends of an ill-fated road crosser who ingeniously constructs an instrument of vehicular meyhem to cause... Roadkill Revenge!

Roadkill Revenge is an action-filled, top-down puzzler of sorts involving vehicles, buildings, and lots of explosions and destruction. Use the mouse to place your rocket-powered revenge-mobile on certain areas of the screen. Adjust your vehicle's angle, then click to let it loose and start a chain reaction of destruction. You can cause damage to various cars, buses, trucks, and emergency vehicles, as well as buildings like gas stations and banks. Traffic control buildings also add to the madness, as their destruction causes cars and trains to plow into oncoming traffic. Each level has an objective to advance, and two bonus challenges. These tasks range from blowing up specific buildings or vehicles, or causing a certain dollar amount of damage. Meters at the top of the screen fill in as you meet your objectives, and statistics let you bask in your destructive glory.

Fans of the original top-down Grand Theft Auto series will feel right at home with Roadkill Revenge. The game features semi-realistic traffic patterns, and traffic-based physics leading to some satisfying vehicle and building carnage. That said, some of the levels rely on sheer luck to accomplish all the tasks, making the game's retry button quite handy. The theme is definitely not for kids, with a bloody intro sequence and politically-incorrect goals. For those looking for irreverent destructive fun, however, this title and its 45 levels should help you get out some workplace aggression (not to mention a bit of satisfaction for all those squashed frogs of yesteryear).

Play Roadkill Revenge


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Rating: 4.1/5 (106 votes)
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TrickyChoo Choo PuzzlesSome games have titles that clearly describe their contents. Some games have titles that are intriguingly obtuse but make perfect sense in retrospect. And some games have titles that are just... uh, well. Choo Choo Puzzles, the new simple idea dragging puzzle from a team led by Piotr Iwanicki, is one of the latter. It sounds like a cross between a candy bar and a maze you'd find in Highlights for Children... kind of inappropriate for a fun little game with only a tenuously abstract connection to railways. Fortunately, the simple mechanics of Choo Choo Puzzles present a worthy challenge for puzzle-lovers of all ages.

In each level, the goal is to drag the red chain to the exit, using the [mouse]. However there are other chains blocking your way, and rules to follow. You can move both the red chain and other chains to clear a path, (and indeed, they will push each other, the bumper at the ends showing which way they will travel at intersections) but you cannot make any "sharp" turns... i.e. on the hexagonal grid, you can drag a chain through a 120 degree angle, but not a 60 degree one. The goal is to complete each of the 25 levels in as few moves as possible, for which medals are awarded for especially concise performances.

Despite my onomastic teasing above, I really enjoy Choo Choo Puzzles. It feels like the second cousin of Rush Hour or those metal puzzles you'll find in barbershops: something whose minimalism hides how much it will end up teasing your brain. The presentation is sleek, with plenty of satisfying clicking noises and a thick-lined style whose elements are a pleasure to manipulate. I admit that I wasn't that good at solving the puzzles in the suggested fewest number of moves: for me it was more fiddling around with the pieces to see what worked. Still I always felt satisfied when a path to victory made itself apparent, as if by magic. It may be a little no-frill and repetitive, but overall Choo Choo Puzzles is a quite gratifying geometric toy.

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The Vault

TrickyLet me see... going from all the evidence in front of me... I'm going to have to go with... Tricky! In the JayIsGames Vault! With this week's handful of games from the past!... Okay, the games below might not be of too much help in discovering who killed Mr. Boddy, but any amateur sleuth out there should enjoy the collection of not-so-elementary cases to crack. These three mystery adventure games take us to crimes around the globe: from the underbelly of the big city, to a small-town circus, to the deserts of Egypt. The game's afoot!

  • The Goat in the Grey FedoraThe Goat In the Grey Fedora - I've met a lot of hard-boiled gumshoes in my day... but Nick Bounty, star of TGITGF and the earlier A Bad Case Of The Crabs... he's been left on the stove all day. Still, when a saucy dame meanders into his office and offers a hefty paycheck in exchange for help in locating a valuable goat statue, how can he resist? Hilarious noir meets old-school Lucas Arts-styled point-and-click fun, with a good mix of top-notch voice-acting, devious puzzles, and a host of movie references. Really, both Bounty adventures are top quality work from Pinhead Games, but I've always had a soft spot for Goat. Its primitive 3D graphics might be a step down from the hand-drawn art of Crabs, but the story is better and it includes a Monkey Island-inspired scene in a dark room that's one of my favorite moments in any game.
  • Detective GrimoireDetective Grimoire - Considering that a sequel is on the way, now is the perfect time to reacquaint yourself with the Super Flash Brothers' 2007 work about a murder at a carnival... and if you've never played it before, you're in for quite a treat. Fun, well-written, and more than a little cheesy, the focus is on interrogation as you press suspects' testimony to find guilt or innocence. Everyone has something to hide, even if it's just their face behind the grease-paint, and Detective Grimoire could give Phoenix Wright a run for his money when it comes to breaking through contradictions. Highly recommended to everyone who doesn't mind that friggin' carnival music.
  • Death in SakkaraDeath in Sakkara - Unlike the other two games featured today, the protagonist of 2005's Death in Sakarra isn't a detective by trade: he's a reporter searching for both a friend's missing daughter and a lucrative book deal. Thus his investigation is much more journalistic, packed with documents, photographs and research of the game's setting of 1920s Egypt. However, just because the tone is more Christie than Chandler doesn't make it dry: the stakes of life and death are just as serious. The BBC and the Preloaded team blends quality comic art, effectively twisty writing and a few obtuse puzzles into an extraordinary production. The Beeb has a tendency to let their high-quality past projects disappear from the web (and, even in this one, the save system has become a little wonky), so be sure to play through the four chapters while you still can!

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: 3.6/5 (102 votes)
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DoraKnight TrapSweet Princess Nectarine has been kidnapped!... or at least, that's what you and your band of knights heard. Turns out her ladyship has a few screws loose, and the only one in any real danger is you. Knight Trap is Nitrome's latest arcade platformer and a tale of traps most foul and princesses most cra-zay. Princess Nectarine informs you that if you can make it out of her castle alive, she "promises" to marry one of you, and while neither the quotation marks or the prospect of marrying a chick with some serious courtship issues fills me with confidence, maybe that seems like a sweeter deal to you. I dunno, buddy... I'm not here to judge, I just make the words.

Just use the [arrow] keys to move around, tapping the up [arrow] once to jump, and again to double-jump. The goal is to get one knight on each of the platforms with a flag along the top of the screen, avoiding all the traps that will trigger along the way, and rescuing any caged villagers for bonus points. (Really, have I stressed to you how bonkers this lady is? Are you sure you want to... oh? *sigh* Very well... ) You've only got a finite number of knights, and since you need a certain number to complete each level, you'll want to be very light on your feet and steer clear of any hazards. While you might be able to contend with simple brainless slimes or spikes, the farther you go, the more dastardly Princess Nectarine's devices become. You'll slip and slide on magical ice, flee Dr Jones style from enormous boulders, trigger springs, bats, and more. All in the name of, um. Love, I guess?

Knight Trap is a simple, fun, and as should go without saying extremely charming game. Nitrome's signature pixelated style lends itself particularly well here, rendering all the fatal hazards with adorable flair and cheer. The sheer variety of traps on display means you'll really have to work hard to stay alive the farther you go, and helps compensate for the fact that the gameplay is actually extremely simple. (Jay, our own illustrious boss, actually referred to it as a cross between a platformer and Frogger, and he's not far off.) You'll need quick fingers and quicker feet if you want to win the heart of Princess Nectarine. Although considering how she treats her suitors, this really is one princess you might hope is in another castle.

Play Knight Trap

Thanks to Noah, Kyle, and Abhinav for sending this one in!


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Rating: 4.5/5 (132 votes)
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TrickyOsadaIf there's anyone in the land of Casual Gaming that has experienced the work of Amanita Design, and hasn't, in some small way been charmed, I don't think I've met them. Tempting fate as that sentence may be, the worlds of Samorost, Machinarium, and Questionaut were instant-classics of both gamecraft and art and more than worthy of the awards they won, both from us, and others. That said, while I can appreciate that the success of the company means that they can take their time in formulating each new project, I do start going through withdrawal symptoms round about the eighteen month mark. Fortunately, the sleepless nights are over with the release of the distinctly desert-themed Osada. It may be more of an interactive music video webtoy than a game proper, but frankly, I'd be fine watching Amanita Design animate a phone-book.

Taking place in a dreamlike vision of the landscapes of a Central-America that never was, Osada has a distinctively Latin flavor to it. Using the mouse, there is no more goal than clicking the various hot-spots to trigger delightful animations and play captivating music. Some of the scenes might be said to have point-and-click puzzles in a loose sense, but it's obvious that the point is not to challenge. Whether it's the cigarettes of a fireside mariachi band, shadowy wolves howling at the moon, flies swimming around bottles of hooch, desperadoes in a diabolical drinking contest, or gunslingers in a televised ping-pong show-down, Osada makes beautiful music.

As much as I enjoy Osada, I will say that it's more intensely surreal than the fancy of Amanita Design's other works, having a touch more violence and sexuality than what is usually seen from the developer (though the latter is limited to a quick look at a mermaid tattoo). Plus, while I wouldn't personally say its surreality reaches the level of "disturbing", this game has a collection of faces that takes the sunshine deep into the Red Uncanny Valley. However, while kids might want to skip this one, the sound and animation are top-notch, the various fugues you can make are delightful in their polyphony (naturally, the whole game ends up being a round), and altogether it is a worthy addition to the Anamarita canon. Light up the old calumet and give it a try.

Play Osada


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Rating: 4.5/5 (176 votes)
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DoraBullet HeavenLove arcade action? How about bullets being disgorged on your screen faster than you can keep up with? Think the term "bullet-hell" is a misnomer? Then try Matt Roszak's fun, frantic vertical shooter Bullet Heaven on for size. Fly and blast your way through bizarre and adorable but very, very deadly hordes of enemies with unlockable characters, powerful upgrades, power ups, and more. Set to a trance-like soundtrack courtesy of music maestro HalcyonicFalconX and featuring characters from Epic Battle Fantasy, it's a crazy, twitchy, blast-a-millisecond throwback to shoot-em-ups of yesteryear. And we wouldn't have it any other way.

Control is fairly simple; your character follows your cursor, and you click to shoot. Left clicking fires your default weapon, while double-clicking activates your sub-weapon; more powerful, but slower to charge. (Check out the controls menu to see an alternate setup using the [arrow] keys if you prefer.) Characters also have a limited number of bombs that can be triggered with the [spacebar] for massive area damage. You can also press and hold the [shift] key to "focus" your character, moving more slowly, while lets you sneak in and around between incoming fire more easily. While you'll begin fairly weak, as you progress you'll gather coins you can spend between levels on a variety of invaluable upgrades. (Note that there's also an extensive "Options" menu that will let you mess with the settings to increase performance or disable specific annoying sounds or even activate cheats, as well as enable or disable auto-fire and auto-focus.) While the different characters all control the same, some are better or worse than others, depending on your perspective. Do you favour speed over power? Concentrated fire over projectiles that spread out around the screen?

Although things start out simply enough, the sheer amount of enemies and projectiles onscreen quickly progresses from "manageable" to what we're going to scientifically call "redonkulous". Surprisingly, the game doesn't really feel unfair or impossible in spite of this, largely due to the fact that your hitbox (the place on your character where an enemy can score a hit) is literally only one pixel, lying at the tip of your cursor when it's directly over your character. (Hold [shift] to focus and see this pixel for yourself.) This means you can pull off some truly hair-raising evasive maneuvers, even when the screen is full to bursting with death.

Bullet HeavenAnalysis: I have a weird relationship with any genre that requires any sort of skill or reflexive manual dexterity, and this is especially true with shooters. I'm typically uncomfortable with anything more demanding on my ability to aim and stay alive than Super Metroid, so games like, say, Team Fortress 2 are basically out of my range of ability no matter how much I might want to be friends with them. The one exception to the rule, however, lies with vertical shooters, and bullet-hell shoot-em-ups in particular. Some Rain Man part of my brain takes over and I enter a trance-like state of pure enjoyment. Throw in some pulsing ambient music and lava-lampish projectiles and you basically have a recipe for unproductivity for yours truly.

Bullet Heaven is like the perfect trap to snare people like me; frantic and challenging, yet oddly hypnotic and lovely. The backgrounds are fairly monotonous, but in a game where the screen quickly becomes cluttered with fatal eye candy, more detailed environments would just have proved a disastrous distraction. What's nice is that the variety of enemies you encounter feels genuine; it's not a parade of foes that behave identically with just a palette swap to try to make them distinct. Different enemies shoot different projectiles that behave in different ways, from the orange jellyfish that spits homing golden orbs that break apart into numerous others as they track you to monstrous bosses that vary their attacks the more you damage them.

Bullet HeavenThe downside is that the farther you progress, the more time you'll probably have to spend grinding the almighty dollar to purchase upgrades. The bosses tend to have such an obscene amount of health that whittling them down becomes a test of endurance more than anything else, so unless you've gained enough cash to dump a herculean amount of levels on your damage or your rate of fire and damage, you'll be blasting for a long, long time. Another potential issue is that it can be difficult to keep track of your character in the maelstrom of bullets (both yours and your enemy's) that appear onscreen. Just remember that speed isn't always the answer, and keep your eyes glued to your character; that one-pixel hitbox is the only thing that really matters, and once you've upgraded the Magnet ability, the cash will come to you anyway.

While Bullet Heaven doesn't do anything that really sets it noticeably apart from other titles in the genre, it does prove that bullet-hell shoot-em-ups aren't ready to be consigned to the dusty, unused corner of the arcade just yet. (Which is lucky because where I come from an "arcade" actually means "laundromat with Pac-Man and Contra".) It won't be for everyone, but for those of us with a song in our hearts and a Gatling gun in our hands, it's a fun and fast call to arms.

Play Bullet Heaven

Thanks to Chris for sending this one in!


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Rating: 4.3/5 (76 votes)
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DoraSplitter PalsSplitter Pals! Flying here and there and everywhere! Slicing through stages 'til they're beyond repair, they are the Splitter Paaaaaaals! ... whoa, sorry. I kind of went to a place there. Eugene Karataev's cheery physics puzzle Splitter series makes a comeback and includes more cameos than you can shake a newly severed wooden stick at. The goal is the same; get your wide-eyed little yellow avatar to the exit in each level by cutting through obstacles in his path, figuring out how best to manipulate the landscape to get there; just click and drag anywhere onscreen and then release to slice through material. Only wood and "string" can be cut through, however, so pulling a Jason Vorhees and slicing things up willy-nilly isn't going to help, especially since each stage only has a limited number of slices you can make. Not only will you need to take into account the lay of the land like a swarthy pioneer, you'll also have to contend with motorized joints that cause whatever they're attached with to move in a certain direction.

The only real major change is the inclusion of three delicious golden stars on each level, which, while optional and more challenging to snag, are needed to unlock later levels. There are 48 stages in all, and some will require more thinking than others to complete. There are some minor issues, mainly pertaining to a few stages requiring some annoying precise cuts for maximum star get-age that may force a few restarts, especially later in the game when timing comes into play. You may also notice that slicing through something close to a string you don't want cut can be a little finicky, but since you aren't on the clock, feel free to take your time.

While Splitter Pals doesn't reinvent the wheel, it does provide a welcome diversion with a sunny cartoon style that those of us who aren't quite ready to be dragged kicking and screaming into the work/school week just yet will appreciate. Make ready thine implement of slice-y destruction, young hero... your quest awaits!

Play Splitter Pals


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Mobile Monday

JohnBIt's Android time! We know your phone's been burning a hole in your pocket, angry because it wants more games. Let it feast on the four tasty morsels below. They're half the calories of a regular casual game, but all the taste. Trust us, we did research on this. With science!

officerush.gifOffice Rush - Do you remember the fantastic Flash game from a few years ago Rooms? How about its grown-up cousin Rooms: The Main Building? Office Rush is a lot like those titles in that it combines a bit of platforming with puzzle solving and room sliding. You play one of several office workers who are tasked with simple jobs: stop the ninja as the security guard, for example, or fetch water for the boss. You move around in rooms one at a time, but in order to get to another room, you have to zoom out and actually slide the rooms around the screen. Exits and entrances have to line up in order for you to proceed, so everything has to be in the right place before you can cross. It's a great little game with a good premise, although the levels get suddenly harder after a few minutes. The free Office Rush Lite is also available.

monomaze-android.gifMonomaze - A smooth port of the browser game of the same name, Monomaze is a simple-style puzzle game that can easily hook you for huge chunks of time. The goal is to place sections of wall so you complete loops in the sparsely-populated grid. Close off an area, the lines reset, and you get a handful of points. The bigger the area the better, and any bonus multipliers caught in your match are also added. You have a limited number of walls to place, however, forcing you to be strategic with your moves and go for the extra turn pieces as often as you can. A great port of an already great game, one you certainly won't want to miss!

geostruct.gifGeostruct - Solving puzzles in 2D is boring. So is solving puzzles in 3D. Geostruct's answer to this: solve puzzles using both crazy dimensions. A 3D shape has been pulled apart into a series of blocks, each with lines sticking out like bare twigs. Your goal is to slide them left and right, up and down, higher and lower so they snap together to form the target shape. It definitely takes some time to acclimate to the interface and general set-up, but once you do, you'll realize how awesomely brain-bending this game really is.

yooninja.gifYoo Ninja! - How about something a little different than a puzzle game? YooNinja is a great-looking running game along the lines of Canabalt or Robot Unicorn Attack. The difference is your only move is the ability to switch from running on the ground to running on the ceiling. Big deal, you say? Try maneuvering these hyper-fast levels for a few minutes, see exactly the size of this "deal" you mention! Plenty of levels, plenty of challenge, and that soundtrack is really great (if repetitive).

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.


  • Currently 4.7/5
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Rating: 4.7/5 (20 votes)
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Pragmatica

JamesAs soon as assembly robots appeared America's car factories in the early '80s, there was a lot of concern that they would replace the human workforce. But the pro-robot camp argued that workers doing the menial stuff can step up to higher-skill jobs. It's the way of technology: once the first donkey was domesticated, some guy was let go from being cart-puller. But he might find a new line of employment as some kind of donkey mechanic. In other words, if you want to have a job, learn how to work with robots. Time to fire up indie developer Hive Games' programming-centric logic puzzle game Pragmatica.

PragmaticaPragmatica is "the world's largest distributed autologistics manufacturer" and makes its money by selling robots to clients, then instructing the robots to the needs of said customers. Your job, as its employee, is to program those robots. This means giving the machines a sequence of instructions to help them through a maze and to an exit. Each level has its own specific challenge: deliver a crate, save a robot from destruction, or blow up everything with bombs, etc. This has to be done with the limited set of instructions you are allowed, and the challenge comes from using sets of instructions to control groups of robots simultaneously.

Programming isn't as easy as slapping a bunch of commands on a grid and hitting the "go" button. In each level, you're given a few slots that can contain condition commands or action commands, each separated on their own rows and columns. Conditions allow you to tell the machines which events should trigger the action directly to its right. For example, you can pair the condition "if you see a hazard" with the action "turn left". Then, every time the robot comes up against a hazard, it will turn left. Commands are paired up in sets that are carried out in order of top to bottom. Sometimes you'll even get multiple condition/action slots per line, allowing you to set up crazy things like "if you are carrying a box" and "if you see a switch" then "set the box down" and "reverse your course".

Program the right sequence and you finish the job. Get it wrong and there are robot explosions. Fortunately, the gloomy Pragmatica environment also seems devoid of any angry managers or emails from frustrated clients. If you mess it up, you can just try again. The whole set-up feels somewhat like Manufactoria or a Zachtronics Industries game (The Codex of Alchemical Engineering, SpaceChem), albeit a hair less complex and much more user-friendly.

PragmaticaAnalysis: Pragmatica has twenty challenges to complete, excluding the tutorial levels. These are spread amongst four different customers, each with their own demands. One company is all about underhanded business and junk food, so they tend to want crates delivered or destroyed in creative ways. Another requires you to keep an inspection robot alive — mainly to foil the inspector in thinking everything is kosher.

The presentation does a lot to keep you playing. It feels like Pragmatica is a company that hires a skyscraper in the Beneath A Steel Sky universe — that spot between steam- and cyber-punk. Ultimately it's only wrapping for a puzzle game, but small touches gives the game a sense of absurd seriousness, echoed by the emails
(instructions for each level) sent by customers and other employees.

The puzzles are challenging, but there's a rather thin spread of them. The learning curve flexes upward sharply after the tutorial ends, and soon enough beating a level becomes a studious mental exercise. Don't feel bad if you eventually reach for a piece of paper. The very nature of Pragmatica's rules makes it open to becoming very intricate and complicated, despite its rather short length. But don't despair: if you have the time and the inclination, Pragmatica includes a full level editor, allowing you to dive in and create your own complex jobs. Making puzzles is about as complicated as solving them, but this goes a good ways to extending the game's lifespan.

Pragmatic is very captivating and polished, despite a few minor interface hiccups. The programming sequences are not tough individually. It's the number of them, coupled with the number of groups you have to run, that brews a hearty challenging broth. In a way Pragmatica scales beautifully, if a bit mercilessly, but with more than half of the levels unlocked at the start, you are never really stuck. It's a fiendish puzzle game that you won't be able to get way from!

WindowsWindows:
Download the free full version

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


(14 votes) *Average rating will show after 20 votes
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Margrave: The Curse of the Severed Heart

JohnBHer parents spent their time searching for an artifact called the Severed Heart. Now, Edwina Margrave is driving through the dark woods to a remote village where her mother and father were last seen. Probably not the brightest idea she's ever had, but Ed knows a thing or two about the supernatural realm. The hidden object adventure Margrave: The Curse of the Severed Heart opens up with our heroine arriving at a dimly-lit cottage in the woods. She is seeking answers, but naturally she'll find many more questions as things begin to unravel in a most peculiar way. Ghostly animals haunting the realm of the living, anyone?

margrave.jpgMargrave: The Curse of the Severed Heart begins predictably enough, but as soon as you get a taste of the gameplay, you'll realize how deliciously perfect the game really is. Just like most casual hidden object games, the mouse and your cursor will guide you through just about everything, changing shape to point you to areas you can explore further, items you can pick up, or directions in which you can travel. In addition, Margrave features a neat twofold inventory system that includes key items as well as keepsakes, small objects you find or sketches that Edwina takes down of things that could be important later on.

No hidden object game would be complete without hidden object scenes, and while Margrave doesn't focus on them very heavily, you'll find more than your fair share of laundry lists to complete. Items are extremely well-hidden in this game, blending in with the background so you have to stare at every other pixel to find many of them. The hint button becomes your best friend very quickly!

margrave2.jpgAnalysis: Margrave: The Curse of the Severed Heart is all about the story and setting, and it paints such a wonderful picture with both that the gameplay comes in second. In fact, sometimes the actual "game" parts of Margrave seem like an intrusion, as all you really want to do is explore the surroundings, make sketches about unusual symbols or items you've seen, and discover new things about the occult world just beneath the surface. Margrave has depth, layers of intrigue piled on top of each other. It's like watching an episode of Lost, sans polar bears.

Another high point in the Margrave experience is the Dream Card mini-game. Each time Edwina encounters animal spirits, she uses these cards to divine the animals' former names. To use them, you must place four cards on the screen so that the shapes on the sides form the figures shown at the top of the screen. It's a unique sort of diversion that's different from the usual mini-game fare. And it's steeped in tarot artwork and mythology, so naturally you'll feel a bit like a psychic yourself each time you name a spirit.

With fantastic locations to explore, a great storyline to follow, and an interface design that never gets in your way, Margrave: The Curse of the Severed Heart is the kind of hidden object game everyone wants to play. If you were to line everything up that makes a good hidden object game, tag it and rank it in order of importance, Margrave would mirror that list almost perfectly. It really is designed that well, almost as if the people who made it actually play casual games themselves!

A Collector's Edition is also available. It contains a bonus chapter to play along with an in-game strategy guide. 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


(7 votes) *Average rating will show after 20 votes
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Insider Tales: The Stolen Venus

joyeYou might think that if a large, priceless statue is stolen in a cruise ship the police would simply prevent the ship from docking and conduct a thorough search until they find it. But where would be the fun in that? Where would be the opportunity for hidden object searching for clues in tourist locations across the Mediterranean? Maybe Italian police really do handle things differently. In Insider Tales: The Stolen Venus 2, a new adventure game from Intenium, Detective di Porta indulges in a little pizza making and even surreptitiously enters a Greek archaeological site on her leisurely course towards nabbing the culprit.

Insider Tales: The Stolen VenusYour cursor is your friend here. Sparkly areas might be hiding hidden object scenes, where you'll be given a list of objects to find. Sometimes you'll have to manipulate the scene by using an object on an area in order to uncover more hidden objects. You'll usually receive an inventory item from a successful hidden object scene, and you can also pick up inventory items in regular scenes. Watch out for your cursor's shape changing to indicate if you can pick something up or zoom in on it. Most of the puzzles are solved entirely by left clicking with the mouse, but occasionally, usually for tile swapping and assembly puzzles, you may need to right click to rotate pieces.

Analysis: If you're getting sick of hidden object adventures where it's always midnight, the crimes are disturbing and probably occult, and the "happy ending" is stopping the serial killer at his seventh human sacrifice, this light and frothy cruise ship romp might just lift your spirits. True, it doesn't have the big budgets of many other series, but it's done pretty well in prioritizing. The art is clean and crisp and easy on the searching eyes. I've played enough games with horrific voice acting not to feel like I'm missing much by that missing feature. The length is fairly decent as well, between three and four hours, depending on how much you use skips and hints.

Insider Tales: The Stolen VenusThe game's big drawback is some sloppiness with the writing or perhaps the translation, with some glaring mistakes. Not only is this unprofessional, but in a few cases it actually causes confusion. At one point, the detective is presented with what appears to be some boxes under a tarp. I tried clicking on it. "I can lift it with my bare hands" said the detective. But nothing happened. I tried clicking again. She said the same thing. I was worried I had hit a bug and consulted a walkthrough. From context, she should have been saying "I can't lift it with my bare hands" and it ought to have been a clue to find some other method of lifting the tarp. The game also is fairly light on instructions for solving puzzles. If you're the kind of person who considers figuring out what to do to be part of the fun, this will be a feature and not a bug, however.

Insider Tales: the Stolen Venus 2 doesn't do anything Earth-shattering. You're not going to be rushing to write about this in your diary or kept up at night by dreams about it. In fact, in some ways it's a nice trip down memory lane to the kind of hidden object game that got me hooked on the genre in the first place, before success brought the big budget hits that aimed to tell huge, sweeping stories with gorgeous art, amazing soundtracks, and often, huge amounts of creepiness. It's nice to know there's still a place in gaming for a humble little stress reliever like this one. (Although the identity of the villain is a little bit creepy... did not see that one coming.)

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


(5 votes) *Average rating will show after 20 votes
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Weekend Download

JohnBEven in the small-ish indie world, there are superstar game creators whose releases always turn a head or two. Two of our games this weekend are from some designers who have released heavy-hitting titles before. Check out the goods below!

iconoclasts.gifIconoclasts (Windows, 15MB, free) - Another tragically abandoned game from sidescrolling action platform virtuoso Joakim Sandberg (a.k.a. Konjak, creator of Noitu Love and Legend of Princess), this one follows a similar set-up as the similarly abandoned Ivory Springs. Climb across some seriously good-looking terrain as you dispatch enemies with your smart-targeting cannon. Charge a blast and fire to deal extra damage or clear rocks out of the way, and be on the lookout for materials contained in treasure chests. It's the same Mega Man-ish/Metroidvania sort of game we love to devour, and this project shows just how alive and kicking the genre is.

viriax.gifViriax (Windows, 2.7MB, free) - From Locomalito, creator of Hydorah, L'Abbaye des Morts, and 8-bit Killer, comes a great little shooter with loads of retro charm. Take part of the viriax infection as you try to take over a human's body one organ system at a time. Work your way upwards, collecting cells to keep your health full and dispatching enemies with a downward thrust move. Your health is decreased each time you move, encouraging you to actually take it slow and strike when strategically sound. Reach the organ to infect it and gain access to the next level! A fantastically built game that keeps a healthy balance between action and planning, and the retro look/sound is to die for!

pathfindmania.gifPathFind Mania (Windows, 4.8MB, free) - A stark-looking casual strategy game with a simple premise and a surprising amount of fun. Each level in PathFind Mania features a number of houses, apartments, and shops scattered throughout the landscape. Your job is to connect buildings to paths so that people can come out. Each section of path costs money to build, so in order to get more cash, you must connect paths to shops. Drain water in your way and construct your roads to pick up cash and time bonuses, then try to beat each level before the timer hits zero! If your favorite part of Sim City was laying roads, this game is so your thing.

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 (23 votes)
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Empress of the Deep 2

JohnBEmpress of the Deep 2: Song of the Blue Whale is a brand new adventure game from Silverback Productions, creator of the original Empress of the Deep game. The sequel picks up where the first game left off, dropping you in a lushly-rendered world filled with mythological entities, puzzling pieces of machinery, and just a dab or two of fantasy magic.

Empress of the Deep 2After more than a century of being trapped in a crypt below the waves, Anna has finally awoken. Her memory is, to put it lightly, spotty, but something about her twin sister Pandora discovering she wasn't the true empress and attempting to destroy both herself and Anna rings a bell. You barely escaped a watery death, and climbing out of the tomb on the salty sea shore, you quickly learn you must travel to the Temple of the Clouds and restore the Elemental Sources. But first things first: time to repair your balloon!

Just like its predecessor, Empress of the Deep 2 is built around a solid casual adventure game core littered with hidden object scenes, puzzles, mini-games, and a few inventory items to discover. Everything is mouse-driven, right down to the journal that helps you keep track of locations, important items, and the story as it unfolds. It's finely-tuned to guide you on your quest without holding your hand, allowing you the freedom to explore without the dangers of getting lost or frustrated.

Once you're in the Temple of the Clouds, Empress of the Deep 2 streamlines itself into four main zones, each accessible by gaining the appropriate medallion. You'll have to do some mild backtracking to solve many of these puzzles, but the game's hint system is generous and intelligent, always pointing you exactly where you need to go. And besides, with cursor changes, "area clear" signs, and sparkling points all over the screen, you aren't likely to lose your way any time soon.

Empress of the Deep 2Analysis: Empress of the Deep 2: Song of the Blue Whale continues right where the first game left off, picking up both the storyline and the gameplay set-up. More of the same is definitely a good thing, especially seeing how the series is so young and crafted with such care. It's one of those games that grabs you right from the start. And, fortunately, there's enough content and smartly-built gameplay to keep you enthusiastically solving puzzles all the way to the end.

By far the strongest part of Empress of the Deep 2 is its storytelling ability. Combining a playful but detailed art style with a mythical story is always a recipe for win, but it's especially poignant when coupled with hidden object gameplay. Too often studios attempt to write a serious, true-to-life story and pair it with a casual game. What do you end up with? Adventurous uncles, missing family members, headstrong teenage detectives, and that whole lot. Here, under the cloak of myth, Empress of the Deep 2 is free to spin whatever tale it pleases. No matter what happens, you're interested because you know it's a story. And a good one, at that!

As far as length is concerned, expect between three and fours hours with Empress of the Deep 2: Song of the Blue Whale. The difficulty never really sets in, so you won't be stuck looking for one item or one button you missed three screens back (especially with the in-game strategy guide included with the Collector's Edition). Instead, you'll move from location to location, gathering items and solving puzzles with pleasant, relative ease.

Empress of the Deep 2: Song of the Blue Whale hits all of the high points for a casual adventure game, sprinkling just the right amount of hidden object scenes and tricky puzzles to provide a varied and engaging gaming experience.

A Collector's Edition is also available. It contains exclusive hidden object scenes, a gem-matching mini-game you can play to compete for trophies and top scores, an in-game strategy guide, and more. Remember that Big Fish Game Club Members pay only $13.99 for Collector's Editions (or 2 club credits), and collector's editions count 3 card punches of 6 total needed for a free game.

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

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


  • Currently 4.3/5
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Rating: 4.3/5 (343 votes)
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TrickyUpgrade CompleterTwo years ago, Antony Lavelle released Upgrade Complete. A mix of shoot em up and Space Invaders, the games main purpose was to unsubtly parody one of the more obnoxious aspects of modern gaming: the inclusion of unnecessary and convoluted upgrade systems. Everything came at a price and had to be bought: weapons, graphics, music, buttons... even the pre-loader. However, if Upgrade Complete was meant to be scathing indictment, then it was kind of a failure: it turns out that watching a game reconstruct itself from amateur-level to professional was quite engaging and, combined with the solid gameplay, made for an experience voters found worthy of a 2009 Best of Casual Gameplay award in the shooter category. However... it turns out that the developers weren't quite done... After all, what is an upgrade system without a sequel that requires you to start your progress from the beginning? Thus comes Upgrade Completer a game that advances the original's premise as much as its technology, no joke.

Upgrade Completer plays much the same as the original: using a combination of the [arrow keys] and the mouse, you speedily guide your plane across an enemy landscape, blasting everything in your path and collecting the credits that are released from the wreckage to upgrade the fighting power of your ship... and everything else in the game. And I do mean everything. Backgrounds. Weapons. Clouds. Flash Quality. Copyrights. Dead Pixels... everything is up for grabs. Want the interface to be nicer to you? We can arrange that. Want some voice acting from the likes of Egoraptor? You've got it. Want access to the even-more-satirical Indie or 3D modes? Sure. There's a hilarious amount of stuff to unlock, and it's all yours... if you have the credits.

Upgrade CompleterAnalysis: I think it was Dolly Parton who said, "It costs a lot of money to look this cheap". Well, Upgrade Completer clearly puts a lot of effort into looking as bad as it does at first. It starts as a clunky, slow, nearly-unplayable mess... which is exactly as it should be and it's terrific to behold. Never let anyone tell you that graphics, grammar and music don't matter in a game... they do and you'll want to be sure to upgrade them to a competent level as soon as possible. Upgrade Completer's developers clearly know all the newbie mistakes of game design, and are ready to demonstrate that they know what not to do (albeit by doing it as much as they can.)

However effective, If it was only a parody, Upgrade Completer wouldn't be worth a second look. However, there is quite a solid base underneath its initially terrible exterior, and its wonderful to see the reinvention of an interface with a click of a button. It's like going through a history of the possibilities of flash gaming from the primitive MSPaint works of years past to the artistic and technical glories of the near-future. Of course, most of the upgrades you buy do quite little: after all, this is still a game that parodies needless unlocking and arbitrarily hidden content. But by the time all the upgrade boxes are filled though, you'll marvel at how far the game has come, and as such, how far flash gaming has progressed as a whole.

In the end, however Upgrade Completer may be based around a single joke, it's a good joke and remains humorous even as the concept is taken to its absolute limits. I do have some general nitpicks about the specific mechanics of the shooting interface and the ship editor, but they almost seem beside the point. You shouldn't approach this game as a shooter, but as a commentary on upgrade systems, and how often they serve only to make a game easier just as you become skilled at it. Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got some premium JiG content to upgrade.

Note: Please be warned that upgrading BPM causes the game to release a flashing "screamer"... i.e. loud noises etc. that will indeed cause the heart to pump faster. Though I generally enjoyed UC, I consider this to be a nasty joke, and think it fair to warn people in advance.

Play Upgrade Completer


  • Currently 4.7/5
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Rating: 4.7/5 (253 votes)
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TrickyTic Tac ToeThough I am not usually a fan of turnbased strategy games, occasionally one comes along which is able to engage me with surface simplicity, and, before I know it, has me in the throes of complete addiction. Tic Tac Toe, created by Paul Neave as an apparent advertising tie-in for the popular breath-mint line, is one such game. A work that manages to reward cautious planning while retaining its power as a grim reflection on the nature of aggression, Tic Tac Toe presents an intense challenge along with questions that cannot be easily dismissed.

Much of the back-story is implied, rather than shown (and indeed, the game's lack of documentation is a strike against it). As far as I can tell, two warring nations are seeking to create a line of defense across a divided piece of disputed territory: one force represented by a militaristic cross, the other by a more open, welcoming circle. Using the mouse, each round you click to place your forces on the game board, and your opponent (either the computer, or a fellow human) responds in turn. The first to created an unbroken line of forces across the area grid, whether as a line, a bar, or a slant, is granted control of the board, and a point. If no one opponent is able to accomplish it, neither team is left with an advantage on the filled board: a poignant invocation of how advantageous territory may be rendered uninhabitable through the horrors of a perpetual stalemate.

Despite it's simplistic graphics and music that is just a bit too chirpy for the gravitas of the subject matter, Tic Tac Toe is quite intriguing: as a game, yes, but also as a work of art. For instance, while the first player to make a move clearly has an advantage, the player who makes said move must do so unprovoked. In other words, even to play the game, one must come to a reckoning with the international relations dilemma so famously explored by Waltz and Mearsheimer: Is a country justified in starting a war for no other reason than for the security of the power it may achieve? What if their leaders believe another country is about to do so? Heady stuff, considering that the game has not even started. Once it inevitably has, however (sidenote: is this a peak into the author's views on human nature?), the questions of philosophy are replaced by strategy, and are no less complicated for it. Does one belie their intentions by aggressively claiming the center of the map? Or should one start with a defensive posture from the corners? Would beginning from an apparently disadvantageous side positions possibly signal peaceful intentions? How should one respond to each of these positions? How many short-term gains must one sacrifice for a long-term victory that is ever-uncertain? And so forth.

If there is one drawback to Tic Tac Toe, it is that victory or defeat does not come until you, the player, admits it does. This works well as a philosophical interpretation of the futility of the constant search for domination, but it seems incongruent in the face of the gameplay, which demands some sort of ultimate goal. If the idea was to take a stand against conflict in general, then it doesn't quite succeed, if only since the mechanics of play are implemented so enjoyably. That said, I can only say that if you do not wish to lose hours to Tic Tac Toe, the only winning move is not to play.

Note: Before playing Tic Tac Toe, please make sure that you have downloaded the most recent version of Flash Player, that all other programs are closed, and that you have submerged your CPU in a cooling mixture of salt and liquid hydrogen.

Play Tic Tac Toe


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Link Dump Fridays

JoshDoraHello dear readers, and welcome to yet another episode of Link Dump Friday. It's me, Dora. Yep, that's right. Dora. And today I'd like to... wait, what's that? You don't believe me? An imposter, you say? Curses! I was sure the hair and glasses were the perfect disguise. Well, even though you're sharp enough to see through my clever ruse, perhaps you'll still take a gander at this wholesome portion of Link Dump goodness I have in my satchel right here...

  • Goo-BobGoo Bob - Goo's been a popular subject for casual games in recent years. You can build towers out of it, sling balls of it at things, and in Goo Bob, you can send it along on its merry way, rolling over a landscape filled with various structures, flora, and fauna. This physics-based side scroller has you relying on momentum and gravity to carry you to the end of each level. With its bubbly soundtrack and easy-going pace, Goo Bob just oozes with casual gaming charm.
  • Under-the-Star-NightUnder the Star Night - It's Friday, and that means it's time to relax after a long, hard week. What better way to do this than with Under the Star Night. While the game's Puzzle Bobble concept should be quite familiar (shoot colored bubbles to form matches of 3 or more), its nifty graphics with particle and blur effects aplenty feels new. Couple this with a chill guitar and piano soundtrack, and you've got a refreshing game to get you into the weekend mood.
  • PathosPathos - How many games can YOU make in 48 hours? Bit Battalion accomplished this feat with Pathos, an experimental game that puts you in the mind of a young boy who simply wants to get back home. This mostly point-and-click adventure is a bit slow moving and quite short, but has a nice atmosphere, soundtrack, and storyline. While the game feels somewhat like a teaser, perhaps Pathos is a hint of more substantial things to come.
  • Black ThingBlack Thing - Many developers like to make games with traditional heroes. Some are big and burly, toting huge weapons, while others may be lean martial arts experts, resplendent in their outfits and impressive with their skills. Then there's a black glob of mucus that spits parts of itself at walls. Yep, that's you in Black Thing by Karma Team. This alternative platformer uses a concept popularized by the Unfinished Swan where you reveal hidden parts of a level by shooting black globs at it. Find different parts to your giant robot by moving and jumping your mucus across numerous levels. You can also use the included editor to experiment with your own levels. Overall, Black Thing is an interesting, stylized challenge.
  • EvilbotsEvilbots - Robots can be so misunderstood. Then again, they can just be pure evil, like they are in this retro-style platformer by Vartagh. Evilbots is a standard jump and shoot title filled with tile-based backgrounds and numerous enemies. Try to collect the coins and zap the robots on your way to collecting the secret blueprints to stop the worldwide robot invasion. One-hit kills add to the game's challenge, while secret weapon upgrades give your character more muscle to take on the robot menace.
  • Rapunzel3Rapunzel 3 - No Link Dump Friday would be complete without a new Minoto Escape, so here's his latest point-and-click game, Rapunzel 3. Bizarre? Of course. About Rapunzel? Well, maybe not so much. This adventure will, however, have you encountering all sorts of strange characters from drunks and witches, to golf-playing birds and appendages growing from the ground. All par for the course in another short and enjoyable offering by Minoto.

Hope you enjoyed these Friday offerings - Dora should be back with another Link Dump Friday next week. Guess I'll have to take off my disguise before she returns...

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