June 2011 Archives


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You Are Games

Letters in Boxes #4

ArtbegottiThis week, we're dedicating our Letters In Boxes challenge to an event that occurred on July 4th, this week's contest deadline. Many Americans mark this historical date by remembering spacious skies, amber waves of grain, and purple mountain majesties above fruited plains. Of course, we all know July 4th as the day we mourn the passing of Bob Ross, who taught us all how to paint beautiful landscapes in the comfort of our own homes. We will always remember Mr. Ross and his contributions to society, including his delightfully fluffy afro. Thanks, Bob.

Right then, who's ready for this week's puzzles? Take a look at this week's sliver of a starting puzzle. If you click on the image, you can open it up in a new window. Once you think you've got the answer sorted out, redirect your attention to your browser's address bar (which in this case reads "http://images.jayisgames.com/lettersinboxes/fivealive.gif"). Change the filename (namely, "fivealive") to your answer, using all lower-case letters and no spaces (make sure you use the same extension and directory). If you're right, it's a happy cloud for you and you're off to the next puzzle! If you're wrong, you'll have to cover up some of that excess burnt sienna by going back and trying again.

Letters in Boxes #5 - Puzzle 1This batch of puzzles contains the standard four puzzles to solve. On the fourth puzzle, you'll find the email address for sending your final answer. We'll hand out a prize to the first correct entry we receive, plus ten additional randomly-selected correct entries. Please include your Casual Gameplay account display name with your entry. You must be at least 13 years of age to enter. Only one submission per participant, please. Offer void where prohibited. Your deadline for submitting your answers is Monday, July 4th at 11:59 PM (GMT-5:00). If you're fast or lucky, you could be celebrating with a prize, so good luck!

Update: Congratulations to these 11 winners! :D

  • MisterThou ...First!
  • wulph
  • m5rammy
  • dhaisud
  • sillyme2
  • Vespert
  • Nigma
  • MikuJess
  • HopefulNebula
  • bluemoose19
  • DragonDame
All eleven winners were given a choice of prizes or an entry into a GRAND PRIZE drawing to be held at the end of August! Congratulations and thanks for playing with us! Look for another Letters in Boxes again soon!

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Rating: 4.7/5 (152 votes)
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joyeRacing ComradeComrades! Muscovites! Country-proletariat! Lend me your cursors! Now is the time to prove that you are more equal than others!
Our dear frozen-dessert-in-arms Ice Cream Breakfast has released Racing Comrade for the demonstration of your socialist prowess! You must sprint, kick, and bribe your way to athletic glory! Refusal to use exclamation points is counterrevolutionary!

The game is entirely mouse controlled. What you can do in a race depends completely on what upgrade you've purchased. At first, you're limited to some basic improvements, like faster running and the ability to salute the officials. But sign a minor contract (and don't bother reading it, I mean, what could go wrong?), and you'll unlock a number of more devious upgrades, such as contraband to collect on the race course and the ability to kick, bite, taunt, and even shiv your competitors. Within the race itself, you'll have various action buttons which reload over time and can affect each other. You won't be able to sprint for a while while you're catching your breath, and biting your opponent will delay your ability to kick them. Most of these actions also cost stamina, which is measured in a bar at the left side of the screen. Lastly, the weather affects the outcome of the race. In the fog, for instance, everyone goes slower, but you'll slowly recover stamina as you run, and officials won't be able to see anything you do, good or bad.

Racing ComradeAnalysis: Racing Comrade takes a refreshingly detached approach to the racing genre. The developer claims inspiration from the fighting in World of Warcraft. Rather than requiring you to hammer away at arrow keys, your little Lenin-headed racer just plugs along while you wait for the opportunity to make him take some special action. It winds up making you feel more like a coach or even a puppeteer. The reloading periods for actions are sufficiently long that you never feel too rushed or frantic, and in fact, the game could almost be called relaxing. The repetitive propaganda music playing in the background certainly has a hypnotic effect on me.

The game's art and humor have a Pythonesque quality; the floating Marx heads in the clouds which serve as the game's officials could indeed have dropped directly out of a Terry Gilliam sketch. Your Lenin character is racing against numerous other historical figures cut and pasted over figures in skimpy running shorts. If you lose the race, the winner offers up some appropriate remark, such as Comrade Franklin suggesting you blame Hoover and Comrade Hegel suggesting the result was historically inevitable.

This turns out to be a game that is almost as good of an idea as the developer's handle, Ice Cream Breakfast. Grab a bowl of rocky road or double chocolate chip some morning and double your pleasure and/or fun by accompanying it with this game.

Play Racing Comrade


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Rating: 4.5/5 (131 votes)
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ElleEscape CastleDéjà vu is hard to define. When déjà vu overtakes you, it is an unexpected and otherworldly sensation, like a vision of some place you're meant to be or a predication of some task you're fated to do. It's enough to make you stand back and pause, musing "I'm sure I've been here before... but when?" Now experience Team Escaper: Escape Castle, an unexpected new escape game that moves beyond genre definitions. It's also the first release by Team Escaper, a collaboration of several game designers, some who are well-known to JIG fans including Strawberry Café, Tesshi-e, Cogito Ergo Sum, and some who are new to the Casual Gameplay scene (Dora Game, Dominion's Rest, Four-Leaf Clover, and more).

Best of Casual Gameplay 2011
In Team Escaper's Escape Castle, true to the spirit of team effort, not only do you need to escape the devil king's trappings, you also must elicit help from a menagerie of familiar characters, building a dream team to undertake gaming's iconic quest: rescue the fair princess from the villain's diabolical grasp. You've done it all before, but never quite like this. Use the arrows at the side of the screen to navigate by clicking on them, and a map at the top left of the screen will help you keep track of where you are and where you're facing. Items appears in your inventory on the right when you pick them up, and you'll need to make sure to save your game often if you want to take a break by clicking the "save" button!

Analysis: Playing Escape Castle will feel like a comprehensive test for anyone who aspires to be called an expert escaper. You'll rely on your experience to work out puzzle solutions that are not obvious on the surface but which seem oddly familiar. While the puzzles are not exactly formidable, it's refreshingly entertaining to see these well-known figures drawn together... and that offers a new challenge in recalling characters from games past. Do you remember Motchi's favorite dish? Nyan's best skill?

Escape CastleNovice players are not left out: Escape Castle has an Escape-the-Room 101 feel to it as well. Simple navigation, inventory items close at hand, clean graphics and a changing cursor come together to make this game accessible to everyone. Still, it's best to not underestimate the amount of cunning achieved when multiple room escape designers meld their efforts. Necessary objects don't wear neon signs and solutions are not overt so expect to employ diligence in your detective work. Regardless, leaps in logic or eclectically lateral conclusions are not a factor here; the power of deduction and a keen eye are all that's needed to successfully make your way through.

Although some puzzles may leave you feeling you've been there, done that, Escape Castle's final "puzzle" is a welcome twist on the genre, elevating it to a new level while harkening back to an age-old gaming tradition of the final boss battle. Maybe you'll even stand back and muse "What if?" before re-launching the game to try again, so fortunately the save button comes in handy here.

With all it has to offer, Escape Castle is a sure crowd-pleaser, and yet it's not without some disappointments. During main game play, there is no ambient music but the final overtures are jarringly loud to the degree where you might want keep one finger hovered over your computer's sound controls. Every puzzle in Escape Castle is well-designed and coherent, but some tasks seem too by rote; that makes for a rather quick escape despite the multiple rooms and some players might be left wanting for additional obstacles or escalating difficulty or greater risk in the end battle... yet none of that takes away from this game's echoing charm.

Escape Castle consistently defines fun. There is something for everyone to enjoy in the fusion and (if the 1 after Team Escaper's URL portends anything) I expect we'll be seeing this cast of characters again someday.

Play Team Escaper: Escape Castle


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Rating: 4.7/5 (334 votes)
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JoshCSnailiadI thought being a snail was easy. They look like they're just sitting around, getting goo on stuff, nothing to fear but French chefs, but in reality... It's no picnic. Snailing is a huge responsibility. So when the Moon Snail disappears and takes other snails away with him, it's up to Snaily Snail and his trusty thirst for adventure to depart Snail Town and go on a great journey to bring peace to the world of snails. Not so easy.

This is the Snailiad, a metroidvania style platform adventure game similar to the wonderful Robot Wants series, except, uh, snailier. The game was created by Auriplane, the same designer whom also wrote the music of the recently reviewed, Starwish.

Turns out controlling a snail is pretty simple. You'll use the [WASD] or [arrow] keys to move around, and [Z] or [K] to leap. (Snails have knees?) Being a snail, you're not constrained by gravity, and you can climb most vertical surfaces by moving towards them and holding your up key of choice. You can even grab onto the sides of objects in midair that way! Life as a snail isn't all idyllic, however, and if you're damaged (you can check your health via some Zelda-like hearts at the top left of the screen) you should nom-nom-nom some grass tufts to heal up, which can be done just by moving over top of them. The game automatically saves your progress for you at certain points, but keep your eyes open for save points! You can hit [ESC] to reach the options menu that will let you configure the keys to your heart's content. Oh, and you can also hit [M] to view the map.

SnailiadYour overall snailiness leads to some particularly unique gameplay, in that your sticky gross underside allows you to stick and crawl across all surfaces, freeing you from some of the more horrid constraints of gravity, necessary when there are so many secrets to find. As you explore, you will find new weapons, abilities and shells, not to mention the thirty helix fragments you'll need to unlock the best ending and hardest difficulty, so keep a stalked eye open for secret passages. They are everywhere.

Analysis: Sporting a retro look and sound, this snail story takes inspiration from many sources but still manages to innovate with unique power ups, imaginative and difficult boss fights, and an endearing atmosphere. Addicting and expansive, by the time I really beat the game I put in almost two hours, and there were still modes left to explore. There's really little room to complain: it's clear that thought went into every aspect of the world and the gameplay. It can be difficult on higher settings, but never prohibitively so, and the other snails in Snail Town are usually quick to point you in the right direction if you get lost. The simple art might strike some as a little flat, others might be annoyed searching for secret passages, but for the most part, it's a really solid little game. Except not that little.

About as epic as any game about snails can be, Snailiad will take hours from you, and you'll be glad to see them gone. It's action-packed and adventure-filled, completely unlike the lives of real snails, who mostly sit around hoping they don't become escargot.

Play Snailiad


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Rating: 4.7/5 (278 votes)
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DoraVillainousFeeling a little downtrodden? Forces of Goodness and Justice got you down? Then let Cellar Door Games give you a little push towards the dark side with their new strategy/ne'er-do-well simulator Villainous, that puts you in control of a growing army of evil forces that are out to ruin someone's day. Your rise to power might be a rocky one, and you might have to endure a little taunting from the Forces of Light in the beginning, but it's like my Grandma always says... all work and hellish behemoths makes a smoldering crater where a smug kingdom used to be!

Just think of playing Villainous as being on the other side of the table in a tower defense game. Instead of placing little turrets that spit projectiles at incoming baddies, it's your job to summon in hordes of evil beasties that will swarm along the path in each level to raid the village at the end in order to earn sweet, sweet infamy (cash!). Villainous is mouse driven, so you'll be doing a lot of clicking; first, you'll choose what troops you want to summon from your available creatures from the right side of the screen, and click them in the order you'd like them to appear. This is important, since only goblins can actually raid a village, but they're fairly weak and tend to need some muscle to get them past your enemy's defenses. Send a Mammoth Turtle out in front of them to soak some damage, for example, and they just may make it to the hapless villagers. As time passes, you'll also amass mana that can be spent on various spells with the click of a button.

Your goal is ultimately to survive as many waves as possible, which is easier said than done since things get more difficult the longer a particular stage goes on; each wave increases the damage towers deal to your units, which makes it even more important to be careful who you send, and in what order. Fortunately, even if a minion is blown to smithereens, their death isn't in vain; use your mouse to snag the coins and infamy they drop to be spent on various upgrades between stages. Not only will you be able to make weak units stronger, but you can also buy spells that will help your units on the battlefield, and even sway more powerful creatures to come to your aid. Turns out even giant monsters turtles are all about the Hamiltons. Of course, don't think your foes aren't going to be making some improvements of their own as time goes by either...

VillainousAnalysis: The presentation here is absolutely fantastic, largely due to a lot of little touches that really seal the whole package, like the Eye of Sauronish that follows your mouse movements on the battlefield. It's an incredibly detailed little game, which each unit and tower looking and sounding distinct. Trust me, that's a big one, and helps keep the game from feeling repetitive; a sinkhole other games in the genre don't always avoid. Besides, you've gotta admit; that soundtrack is great. Don't you feel like sieging something right now? Hold on, let me get my smartphone, and then I can submit a video of it after to Web Soup... no, no, it's cool, I'm sure you'll do great, I bet you're awesome at sieging! (Man, we are gonna be so famous... )

The spin on the tower defense genre is a clever one, and Villainous neatly sidesteps the confusion this might generate by including one of the best tutorials I've seen implemented in a flash game in a long time, eschewing the wall of text or typical "instructions" screen for some concise windows during gameplay that take you through the motions without bombarding you with information. (Seriously, developers; more helpful tutorials like this. Seriously.) But while Villainous will take some getting used to, it is entirely worth the effort. While it lacks the satisfaction one gets from really eradicating your foes off the map, it's an all around great strategy title whose increasing difficulty and varied units really requires you to think before you ultimately send your devoted followers to an untimely death. (What?! It was in the contract!... in the fine, fine, fine print... )

With a whole pack of upgrades and medals to earn, Villainous will keep you busy for quite some time if it manages to get its claws into you. Despite not having a tremendously large rogue's gallery of monsters to choose from, the upgrades, spells, and positioning manages to pull off a remarkable amount of strategic potential that can provide a challenge to veterans with a hankering for high scores, while still remaining accessible to Lords of Darkness who are just getting their training wheels. If you've ever thought you had what it takes to lead an army of monstrosities, now's your chance to prove it, and make a name and a fortune for yourself in the process.

Play Villainous


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Rating: 4/5 (101 votes)
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joyeDays of MonstersBeing a bully is a bad bad thing. You should know this already, but if you want a realistic, hard-hitting example of the bad consequences of bullying, look no further than Days of Monsters. A young boy is cruelly mocked. Years later, he becomes a mad scientist and seeks to destroy the world by breeding giant rampaging monsters. Haven't we seen it all before? Haven't we all longed to live the precautionary tale ourselves? I think we have, which makes it good that Mostro Games and La Ventanita have teamed up to produce this action simulation game.

At first you control a basic reptile model of monster, but by destroying cities and earning medals for completing certain challenges, you'll earn money to research new and interesting parts for your creature. These various parts, in turn, unlock different abilities that you can use to destroy. While in a city level, you can hit the [QWERTY] or [123456] keys to control these various abilities, from the basic tail swipe to eye beams and weather control. To turn the monster around, hit the [spacebar]. There are also mouse controls to do these actions, but you'll probably want to use the keyboard, as the you'll be using the cursor to aim certain attacks. You can't just roar in any old direction you know.

All of this activity requires energy, which you get by collecting little skulls that float up from your kills via mousing over them. These little skulls also give you cash, which you can keep even if you fail the level. You beat a level at the most basic level by flattening the buildings, and the game is won when you've, well, flattened the world.

Days of MonstersAnalysis: Like many games relying on earning money to buy upgrades, the game is a bit slow to get started. You might find yourself dying repeatedly while you refine your technique and scrape together a few million here and there to buy more powerful upgrades. The medal requirements differ in the different cities, but by far the most difficult are the requirements to kill a certain number of people. Because people are generated by buildings, you need to avoid destroying all the buildings while you rack up kills... but you only get medals if you finish the city off, which requires destroying all the structures. It's often very difficult to do this, either because you hold back too much and get destroyed by the enemies before you can finish the level, or because you hit too hard and destroy the city before you've racked up enough kills.

It would have been better if it had been explained in game what the various abilities do, rather than force you to open the monster guide in a new window. That just feels like a transparent effort to get page views. I thought the paralyzing hypnosis skill was utterly useless because I thought it was intended to attack planes and it never seemed to do anything. It was only by looking at the monster guide that I realized that it's an insta-kill button for all people on the screen. There's no reason why this information couldn't have been included in a hovertext.

However, the game has a lot going for it as well. Once you get over the early hump, the game's progress goes at a good pace, and getting all the gold medals provides a late game strategic challenge. The surfer rock really adds to the feeling of directing your own 60s monster movie, while the cartoon imagery reminded me a lot of childhood sandbox play (and of Reptar from Rugrats). If you've ever taken a Godzilla figurine and stomped it around a sandbox while providing your own terrified shrieks for the GI Joes and Barbies in your wake, Days of Monsters will provide that service while sparing your vocal cords.

Play Days of Monsters


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Rating: 4.5/5 (48 votes)
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Slitherlink LightArtbegottiLink, link! Slithering link! Link, link! Slithering link! (PLAY SOME MORE!) If you're looking for a nice puzzle to wrap your mind around, Conceptis has come through once again with the next installment in their Conceptis Light series. This time, it's Slitherlink Light, a sampler pack of the logic puzzle that will have you running around in circles.

In each puzzle, you'll find a grid of dots, with a handful of numbers thrown in. Your task in each puzzle is to make a single loop (that doesn't cross itself) by connecting the dots with lines. The numbers in the grid tell you how many sides of that particular square are bordered by a line segment. For example, a square with a 2 has two sides in the loop (they don't have to be adjacent sides), while a 0 won't touch the loop at all. Mouse over the space between two dots (you should see a small highlighted rectangle) and click to place a line, or click again to change it to mark the area with an X.

Fans of the Conceptis Light series so far will recognize the pattern of ten puzzles of three different sizes, to give an introductory taste of the puzzles. This means experienced puzzlers might be a bit disheartened by the smaller 6x6 puzzles. Perhaps surprisingly, however, the difficulty does ramp up toward the end of the 10x10 puzzles, which is a welcome twist to this series. Part of the difficulty might come from certain auto-completion features missing from this light version, so you don't have the puzzle taking care of every deduction yourself. There are also instances where you have to work out the end of a puzzle using trial and error.

Regardless of your experience with Slitherlink puzzles, Slitherlink Light offers a challenge to satisfy your logical cravings. Let yourself get wrapped up in the twists and turns of this puzzle, and you'll be slithering your way to a fun ti—BOOOOOM!!!

Link-a-Pix, Link-a-Pix, oh Link-a Link-a-Pix, oh Link-a-Pix!

(Curtain.)

Play Slitherlink Light


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Rating: 4.8/5 (278 votes)
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Weekday Escape

GrinnypMirror, Mirror, on the wall, who's the fairest of them all? When you look into a mirror do you see just the surface, or do you see deep inside? The answer depends both upon what type of person you are as well as what type of mirror that you are peering into. In Mirror Escape, the fantastic new room escape from Kotorinosu, the mirror (or, rather, mirrors, as this room is full of them) is one that looks straight into...your ability to solve your way out of this tricky room. What, you were expecting something more profound? This is Weekday Escape, not Weekday Soul Search.

MirrorEscapeMirror Escape is a classic one (well, one and a half) room escape. You wander around using the standard bars/arrows at the edges of the screen and simply click on objects in the space for a close up. Solving your way out will depend on guile, cunning, the ability to find objects, the ability to combine objects, the ability to observe very carefully, but most especially your ability to solve puzzles. And what a fantastic bunch of puzzles await the intrepid gamer!

Kotorinosu, designer of past favorites Shadow and Dangerous Gen-Kan Escape 2 has created yet another moody, terrific puzzle room. The challenges depend on color perception, spatial perception, and your ability to think ahead. This is definitely not a five minutes and out type of room, which makes the save feature very handy if you want to walk away for a while and approach the game with a fresh perspective. The graphics are lovely with a muted color palette, leaving the logic of the room to take center stage. Trust me, you'll need a lot of logic to get out of this one.

The designer is treading into Mya's Neutral territory with Mirror Escape in regard to variety and difficulty of puzzles. The game is fun, challenging, logical, and a joy for experienced room escapers looking for something fresh and new. Just remember, when gazing into mirrors it is sometimes wise not to look too closely lest you get lost inside with no hope of escape. Although, in this case, perhaps you'd better really look deep...

The mirror crack'd from side to side;
"The curse is come upon me," cried
The Lady of Shalott.

Play Mirror Escape


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Rating: 3.8/5 (162 votes)
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ChiktionaryMosquito & CowThere's more than one way to bite a cow, so the old adage goes...or was it something like there's more than one way to feed a mosquito...? I dunno. Maybe the answer lies in Mosquito & Cow, a pretty and peculiar (and pretty peculiar) point-and-click game from Petums. Here you assume the role of a wily mosquito whose main ambition in life is to subdue a cow with whatever means are available with the ultimate goal of filling that mosquito belly with bovine blood.

To help the mosquito achieve its aims, use the mouse to point and click where you want the mosquito to go, then click on and interact with objects in each scene to manipulate the environs and ultimately the cow. It may take an overdose of apples, a pit trap, or even a snowdrift to subdue the cow. Working out the "whats" and "hows" and "wheres" is more than half the fun. Scroll through each scene by moving your mosquito to the far left or right of the screen.

There's so much more to this game than is immediately apparent. There may only be nine levels, but each level requires a decent amount of puzzle solving and a degree of timing to solve. You may have to restart a level more than once, as there are what could be called false leads in that gameplay is not entirely linear. In this game you can and probably will make mistakes, but that's half the fun of discovery and exploration. There is an in-game hint system in the form of minions (worms) showing you what you need to do to gain access to the cow for a meal, but actually achieving each level's goal is not as straightforward as it first seems. There are more in-depth clues made available by clicking on the help button, symoblised by a question mark in the top right corner, but you'll need to solve a mini-game first to be able to access them, though when some of the mini-games are frustrating to the point of hindrance, that it seems easier to try and work on finding the solution.

Mosquito & Cow is not a fast paced game by any means, and you may find yourself darting back and forth across each scene to check on the progress of the cow that ambles at the speed of, well, an ambling cow. Also, having to scroll from left to right to take in each scene can feel like a hindrance, as some of the action may be easily missed when it happens off-screen. Then again, maybe this is encouragement to dart back and forth in true mosquito-like fashion so as to really get the feel of life as a mosquito. Maybe.

Beautifully rustic artwork blended with the backing sounds of Spanish guitar really give this game its character, and you can't help but feel that mosquitoes work pretty hard to earn their daily blood, no matter how stupid cows apparently are. The game's not without its minor frustrations, but there's a richness of character and appealing quality to Mosquito & Cow that have piqued this reveiwer's interest in Petums' work. Let's hope there's more to come...

Play Mosquito & Cow


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Rating: 3/5 (50 votes)
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TrickyJacob and the Magic PianoNerdook is back, and once again here to hybridize disparate game genres, this time as an entry for Ubisoft's Project Eden game contest. Jacob and the Magic Piano, a deft combination platforming, music, and tower defense gameplay, is the result. A starving artist's unknown Aunt has passed away, leaving him a cat, a chest of drawers, and a piano... a magic piano. Playing the piano releases the spirits resting within, but also the golden stars that are the key to accessing the possible riches in the chest. Can Jacob slay the spirits and save the stars? It's all up to the power of music!

The mechanics of Jacob and the Magic Piano are complicated, and a playthrough of the tutorial is required, but I'll try to give the general gist. The game consists of two main parts: a Compose Mode and a Play Mode. Compose Mode is manipulated with the mouse, where you place notes and chords on a musical stanza in preparation for the level to come. When the composition is played during Play Mode, they will cause Defender Blocks to appear in the play area based on the musical scale, lowest notes on the left to the highest notes on the right. These Defender Blocks cycle between long-ranged but weak arrow-shooting boxes, more powerful bullet-shooting blocks and burning flame blocks. You will use these boxes to attack the ghosts hoping to claim gold stars for their own. You get a view of the level before you start composing, so you can use that to make the most effective compositions... or just hit random and let the cat come up with something for you. Once Play Mode stars, you use the [arrow keys] to move, jump and double jump in range of the ghosts to damage them. If you don't take them out before they reach the stars, the level is over. Save the stars, though, and you'll be able to unlock a power-up item, weapon, or piece of clothing from your Aunt's chest of drawers. There are 64 levels to play and 64 items to get before you can even consider getting an ovation

Ultimately, I think Jacob and the Magic Piano would've benefited by a little more rehearsal time. The graphics and sound are amazing, typical for a Nerdook release, but overall gameplay feels a bit too random to be entirely satisfying. The tutorial doesn't really do all that good of a job of demonstrating how your compositions necessarily affect the battle screen to come. Unless you are particularly musically-minded (or are interested in the player-made compositions on Kongregate), it's likely that for each screen, you'll just let the engine create a random composition for you, which will probably end up working just as well as not, as you basically run towards ghosts and hope for the best. That said, the selection of customizable items for which to attire your avatar is varied and cool, and the game really is indeed fun to play, though it's staying power will depend on your compositional skill. Jacob and the Magic Piano probably won't be remembered as Nerdook's greatest symphony, but it's a fun little ditty that'll keep you humming.

Play Jacob and the Magic Piano


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Rating: 3.8/5 (1409 votes)
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ChiktionaryImagia 3: The QuarryBy now most of us are familiar with the Imagia series of point-and-click adventures that are beautifully ambient and yet seemingly aimless. Welcome to another mysterious and intriguing installment, Imagia 3: The Quarry. Kayzerfish's latest epsiode appears unrelated to the first two chapters apart from the glorious graphics and secrets to be found. There is a little bit of a difference this time around however... you find yourself in a lush but lonely valley and quarry complete with idyllic waterfall and smattering of flowers. You are going to need some special help to get away from here, and you will get a little closer to finding out who you are in the process.

Consistent with the first two Imagia games, the controls are simple and straightforward; use your mouse to click on items and to navigate between scenes. Hover your mouse and the cursor will change if there is something to be collected or an area to be explored. Clicking on items will add them to the inventory which runs down both sides of the main game screen. Some objects will need to be combined for further use, and mousing over items in the inventory will show their definitions. Your main goal is ultimately to discover a means of transportation using the items and objects around the quarry, but there are also secrets to be discovered as well as some extra items to be collected along the way. And there is a save feature which can be accessed at the lower left side of the screen.

Imagia 3: The QuarryAnalysis: The mystery, intrigue and secrets continue in this latest installment, and it's difficult to pin down exactly what is happening in the world of Imagia. But one can hardly be perturbed by the seeming lack of continuity in the story, because the gameplay and puzzle solving is so engrossing, and you can't help but feel that the open ended nature of Imagia games can only lead to more. It's also nice to have a definite goal to work towards, as you will soon discover.

The beauty of Imagia is immediately obvious with crisp and gorgeous imagery that is somehow congruent with the natural world. The delight of the sounds of bird calls and waterfalls carry us to places that are nestled in our memories yet keep us engrossed in the world of Imagia that we are exploring. And the occasional strains of peaceful and atmospheric music, reminiscent of the Myst series of games, lend a sense of comfort and joy to the whole journey. It's also especially gratifying when a game offers exploration and puzzles that really get you thinking.

So we may be left with more unanswered questions and a sense that little is resolved but these beautiful games surmount any need for resolution. Imagia 3: The Quarry may just be another tidbit to tantalise a gamer's tastebuds, but I seriously get the feeling that there will be more imaginative and delightfully intriguing Imagia to come...

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The Vault

TrickyCasual games are often derided as simplistic... but that complaint assumes that complexity is a good thing in and of itself. Certainly I've seen my fair share of bloated major releases that bring my CPU to a crawl seemingly just for the the heck of it. Reducing puzzles to their most fundamental features, without sacrificing an iota of challenge, can make for some very satisfying games. Today in the JiG Vault we have three minimalist masterpieces from our archives that show just how great it can be when developers Keep It Simple, Stupid.

  • GridlockGridlock - Gridlock, by Corwin Derkatch, is a cool mix of Rush Hour and a Piet Mondrian painting. Its pastel quadrilaterals make for a sliding work of art, and the game's 40 levels will push your spatial logic skills to the breaking point. Certainly I always felt accomplished when I made it to the exit, but oh how I cursed those gray rectangles for refusing to get out of my way. Check out the rotating Expert mode, too! You know... if you don't mind going mad with frustration.
  • UnunicumUnunicum - I may not know how to pronounce it, but I know a great game when I see it. A high point of Tonypa's impressive collection of games, Ununicum takes the familiar world of match-3 and remixes it into something fresh and new. Immediately understandable, colorfully attractive to the eye, and addictive enough to keep you playing for hours, Ununicum is the perfect game to waste time on, whether it's five minutes or an entire afternoon. Throw in a dreamy soundtrack and a competitive high score table, and you've got a true classic. Now excuse me... For some reason this game makes me want to sew a quilt
  • PlanarityPlanarity -You know the frustration you get when you're untying an extremely complicated knot? And how great it feels once you've gotten everything untangled? Planarity, by John Tantalo, starts like that. And then it gets insane. A perfect example of how simple ideas can inspire the hardest of puzzles, Planarity is a game of geometric brilliance and mathematical elegance. Nerd Joke: Even István Fáry would agree that manual planarity testing has never been so enjoyable. I think you'll agree too.

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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joyeBocciaWhen I was a kid, my extended family would frequently head up into the mountains to my grandfather's cabin, and on a lumpy, slightly sloped lawn, we would often end up playing bocce. Half-sport, half-excuse to accidentally-on-purpose beam one's older brother with the jack, bocce could be called a member of the bowling family and involves trying to get one's own balls as close to a target as possible while preventing other players from getting their balls close. I remember being good at it, although in retrospect the fact that the adults had been cracking cold ones all day may have had something to do with my relative prowess. So it was a nostalgic treat to see a Unity game made of the Paralympic equivalent, Boccia. UK broadcaster Channel 4 hired JIG favorites Preloaded to create this game to promote their coverage of the upcoming 2012 London Games.

If you're familiar with boccia or bocce, the rules and goals are pretty much what you expect, so skip ahead to the next paragraph for the controls. For the rest of you, this is a two-player game (you can play against the computer in three difficulty settings, or do local multiplayer). A coin flip determines who goes first, and that person throws a small ball (called the jack) onto the field. This same person then throws one of his or her own balls (either red or blue) on the field after it. The turn switches to the other player, who then begins throwing balls until he manages to get a ball closer to the jack than the first player did. Then the turn passes back to the first player who must try to get closer than the other player did, and so on. Turns go back and forth until both players use up all six balls. At that point, all balls of one player that are closer to the jack than any of the other player's balls count as a point. A round of boccia is called an "end", and typically there are 4 ends in a game.

The controls of this flash version couldn't be simpler: [left] and [right] [arrow] keys to change aim left and right, [up] and [down] to change the height of the throw. A low throw might be useful for knocking balls around, for example, while a high one might jump over other balls. When you've got the aim down, hit [spacebar] once to start a power meter going, and once more to throw.

BocciaAnalysis: AI is always a tricky thing to get down in games. There's quite a jump in difficulty here between easy and medium modes. My easy opponents always seemed to have been under the impression that we were playing a different game altogether, perhaps one where the idea was to knock one's balls away from the jack. I ended my first easy game with a score in my favor of 12-0. The medium opponents, on the other hand, wiped the floor with me. I was afraid to try hard mode; I didn't want to be asked how I dared to challenge a perfect immortal machine. It's too bad there isn't online multiplayer, as this seems like a game that would really be suited to it.

Boccia is a game that requires both careful planning and skillful execution. You can't just be thinking about getting this particular ball close to the jack. You have to think at the same time about what position that will put your opponent in, whether he will be able to knock your ball away, etc. All the thinking in the world won't save you, though, if you don't have the aiming skills and timing reflexes to put the ball where you want it. If you're keen on games that challenge you on more than one level, give Boccia a try.

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Joshbossbattle.jpgHe's laughing at you. Laughing! That massive, evil black space rectangle with the triangular eyes and mouth actually has the audacity to mock your presence in this part of the galaxy. Perhaps you were on a peaceful mission of exploration. Maybe you were supposed to deliver badly needed medical supplies to a remote outpost dying of plague. Ah, forget all that. It's on now! That rectangle's going down even if it takes endless rounds, thousands of bullets and missiles, and mad avoidance skills. Can you accomplish this simple task in The Final Chapters' "bullet hell" shooter, Boss Battle?

Boss Battle is a simple nod to the typical end-level encounters players face in vertical-scrolling shooters. The whole game consists of fighting a single boss across 20 rounds, with your ship getting more powerful while the boss and his weapons gets nastier. You control your small triangular ship with the [WASD] or arrow keys while moving the crosshair with the mouse. Your weapons fire automatically, but you can press [spacebar] to trigger one of your limited bombs that destroys everything on the screen (except for the boss). Powerups such as increased firepower and extra lives appear on every level, giving your ship a fighting chance.

By the way, you'll need every chance you can get in this game since the boss pulls out every dirty trick in the book. Aside from filling the screen with endless bullets and obstacles that you need to snake a path through, the boss tries to ram your ship, shoots solid lines of lasers, pulls and pushes gravity, and even temporarily reverses your controls. Thankfully you get lots of lives, and there are three difficulty levels and an endless mode, giving you time to get the hang of the game before any frustration sets in.

Despite its simple graphics and concept, Boss Battle is an entertaining break game and a nice challenge for vertical shooter fans. It's satisfying to power up your ship and pump hundreds of bullets into the nefarious rectangle, watching it deform with the damage (too bad it heals itself). There's even a bit of replayability to the game thanks to its rating and medal achievement system. While gameplay is somewhat short and can be a bit repetitive, those looking for a quick shooter fix (especially those with a vendetta against evil rectangles) should find that this Boss Battle is worth fighting.

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Continuity 2: The Continuation

JohnBThose of us adept at folding space-time (with or without the use of spice) are very familiar with the concept of moving chunks of the universe around so we can easily step from one area to another. For everyone else, there's Continuity 2: The Continuation, a sequel to the familiar Flash puzzle game by Nils Stefan Bertil, Continuity. Combining a little bit of 2D platforming and a lot of sliding puzzle logic, Continuity 2 is a unique and challenging experience made better by the battery of almost 50 new levels packed into the iPhone's tiny little screen. It's all the space-time folding you could ever want, without the blue-in-blue eyes to show for it!

continuity2.gifEach level contains one nice and clear red door you must make it to. First, you'll have to grab a key or two so you can unlock said door. Moving around the game's environments is easy enough with touch controls, simply tap the right side of the screen to move right, the left side to go left, and swipe to jump. No real hazards to deal with, just hopping around and opening doors.

But wait, what's this that happens when you double tap the screen? Continuity 2 takes place on single-screen tiles that can be moved around once you zoom out and take a far away look. Need to climb some stairs? Simply move the room with stairs that open to the bottom above the room you're currently standing in. Assuming you're not blocked by a wall, you can hop right through, as if you were bending time and space with the swipe of a finger!

Later levels introduce things like gates, keys, and switches you need to fiddle with, all incorporating the sliding mechanism we're so entranced with these days. The complexity rises on a gentle incline, slowly adding more and more to keep the challenge even as you get better at the game. Some of the later puzzles are really tough, and completing them under the par time takes multiple playthroughs.

continuity2.gifAnalysis: Sliding puzzles are old hat to us by now. As are platforming games. Combine the two, however, and you've got something very, very special. The Continuity series has established a simply enjoyable formula that's easy to grasp and wholly satisfying to execute. There's nothing like running into a wall, zooming out, sliding around the very game world itself, then continuing forward like you're the god of all things solid.

Despite its somewhat unusual concept, most players will grasp what's going on in Continuity 2 right away. The controls for the actual platforming, however, require some getting used to, especially dealing with the finicky jump swipes. Swipe right to jump right, but not if you're moving left, for example. A hard-nosed platformer Continuity ain't, but this isn't a game about hairpin jumps and quick mid-air maneuvers. It's all about the sliding, and that part, at least, is smooth as spice coffee.

Continuity 2 brings the browser formula to the touch screen without a hitch. It's a good fit for the mobile scene, providing easy gameplay that can be started, stopped, and re-started at your pleasure. Save your spice budget and go pick up this phenomenal game instead. You'll thank yourself for it time and time again!

NOTE: This game was played and reviewed on an iPod Touch. Game was available in the North American market at the time of publication, but may not be available in other territories. Please see individual app market pages for purchasing info.


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Mobile Monday

JohnBThe iTunes App Store continues to attract games of all types from developers in all corners of the globe, and we— wait, "corners" of the globe? Corners are where two lines meet, forming an angle. There are no angles on a globe, let alone the sphere that is our Earth. Corners of the map, perhaps? That'd make more sense, but those corners are completely arbitrary. We could be referring to a map of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, USA, in which case, all corners wouldn't be that exotic. Scratch the corners bit. Just play these games and have fun!

refind.gifRe-Find (iPhone/iPod Touch) - A find the difference game that's not about counting wrinkles on a crow's foot? Hooray! Re-Find is a stylish, modern art-looking sort of game that challenges you to find different colors between the two screens. Tap the mis-matched parts on each side, being careful to keep like-colored zones free from your touch. Once you've selected the differences, the level ends and you're scored based on a number of factors. Each stage gets more and more complex, with tinier areas to differentiate and colors that run together, tricking your eye into complacency. But you're a stalwart gamer, we know that, so get in there and start finding some differences!

zookeeper-iphone.gifZOOKEEPER DX Touch Edition (universal) - Aah, good old match-3 gaming. It's pretty much universally agreed that Zookeeper is one of the most finely-tuned, cutest matching games ever to be made. This iPhone/iPad adaptation of the 2003 game is stripped of some game modes, but the gameplay is still there and as responsive as ever. All you do is swap animal heads to make matches of three or more. Clear a number of each animal and you'll move to the next stage, featuring a shorter timer, higher quotas to meet, and possibly more animal types to match!

quizgameland.gifQuiz Game Land (universal) - Think you know your video game trivia? Time to put that to the test. Quiz Game Land is a retro video game-styled trivia and board game where you march across a series of landscapes and battle creatures by answering questions correctly. You'll be tested in knowledge both new and old, covering just about every aspect of gaming you can think of, so you'd better hope your information vault is wide. Audio and video questions are part of the package, too, as are multiple modes of play as well as mini-games. With three levels of difficulty, even gaming veterans will be stumped once or twice. The free Quiz Game Land Lite is also available.

drillerbunny.gifDriller Bunny (iPhone/iPod Touch) - From Flash game virtuoso Ninja Kiwi comes an arcade game that contains both drills and rabbits. And gems and bombs, too! Tilt your iPhone to control the direction the bunny digs through the earth. Aim for anything sparkly, of course, and try to grab enough gems so you can pass the level. Sometimes you'll have to dig through tough dirt or grab bombs to clear out some space. Simple, but with enough challenge and bonus features to make it a great casual kind of game.

NOTE: Games noted as 'universal' have been designed for iPod Touch, iPad, and iPhone devices alike. Any game not listed for iPad will work on the system, but native full screen will not be present. 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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Rosslyn: The Templar Mystery

JohnBRosslyn: The Templar Mystery is a captivating first person adventure game that is packed so densely with riddles, a dozen of them are staring you in the face from the very beginning and you'll barely even realize it. Taking place inside the Rosslyn Chapel (made popular by The Da Vinci Code), you have nothing but your grandfather's cryptic notes to leaf through as you wander around the chamber looking for clues. It's a challenging experience perfect for anyone who likes a good riddle!

Rosslyn: The Templar MysteryThe Rosslyn Chapel holds a grand secret, a treasure the templar knights have kept hidden for hundreds of years. To find out what that is, you must solve the temple's mysteries. Your grandfather worked on these secrets his entire life, leaving a number of notes in a diary. They're rather vague, however, and must be deciphered before they're of any use. Not only that, but puzzles in the temple can't be solved in any order, there's a specific pattern to them that you must also decipher. A riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma indeed!

Rosslyn: The Templar Mystery is a game where you'll spend more time staring at an in-game text and scratching your head than you will be actually doing thing inside game world. Standard first person controls apply, allowing you to walk in four directions using the [WASD] keys and look with the mouse. In addition, you have a number of ways of interacting with things on the screen, accessible by scrolling through them using the mouse buttons. Need to slide something up? Choose that action and click. Need to rotate something? Choose the circular arrow and click. It's simple, but, of course, that's not supposed to be the challenge, anyway.

To start, bring up the diary and flip through its pages. Read the notes. Look at the drawings. Take in the scribbles on every piece of parchment. Then, look around the temple. Don't just glance, take a good, long look. Notice a sculpture or a pattern that's similar to something in the book? You might. Now you just need to figure out how the two relate, then you can get to solving. Really cool people will love taking advantage of the online version of the diary as well as the printable PDF file. In-game content in real life? Neat!

Rosslyn: The Templar MysteryAnalysis: Rosslyn: The Templar Mystery is a fantastic blend of modern first person adventure gaming and good old fashioned riddle solving. The puzzles are flavored something like you would find in Myst or, for something less mainstream, A Fool and His Money or Fract. Those riddles are what will draw you in, and only fans of deciphering complex clues will find enjoyment in this placid game of mystery.

The Templar Mystery is a short experience (if you're handy with the riddles), and the reward for solving each of them is little more than a string of text informing you the puzzle has been solved. Not exactly the kind of fanfare most modern gamers would expect, but the reward shouldn't be fireworks, it should be satisfaction. And Templar Mystery delivers plenty of that, as every step of solution is worked out by your brain, so when that string of text does appear, it's all you, baby!

If you want a challenging game that looks good, sounds great, and is filled with the kind of puzzles that are so puzzling, they're right in front of your virtual nose and you'd never know it, Rosslyn: The Templar Mystery is definitely something you should dive into!

WindowsWindows:
Download the free full version

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


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Youda Farmer 3: Seasons

JohnBBack to save the village once more, eh? Youda Farmer 3: Seasons is a time management game from the seasoned experts of the casual genre, Youda Games. Following the original Youda Farmer and its sequel Youda Farmer 2: Save the Village, the third in the series keeps the gameplay largely the same but introduces several great features, all adding up to a healthy and robust time management simulation experience you'll enjoy mastering!

Youda Farmer 3: SeasonsA winter storm destroys most of the small town, leaving little more than your wood mill intact. The mayor panics and asks you to help rebuild the buildings piece by piece. Hopping in your trusty truck, you set out to package and deliver goods, constructing and upgrading things like the baker, the market, various farms and more, each of which both produces and requires products. And guess who the lucky delivery boy/girl is?! PROTIP: It's you!

Using the series' staple interface design, you control everything that happens in the game with quick clicks around the edges of the screen. Cards pop up at the bottom indicating when a product is ready. Click the card and the map scrolls to that area. Drag the product into a crate and your truck automatically drives to that location, ready to load! You can either chain together a few products at the same location for a bonus score, or scoot off to another area to grab some more goods. Depending on the needs of the level, your strategy will vary widely. Either way, you've gotta be efficient with your clicks!

Goods in tow, check the top of the screen to see which townsfolk need which products. Baker needs some eggs? Click his card and the map will show you his shop. Then, choose which goods you want to deliver to him and click the "deliver" button to set it in stone. You get your money, the baker gets his things, and the level continues. Simple!

There are a few upgrades you can spend your money on in Youda Farmer 3, the most notable of which include additional storage, faster truck speeds, and support services for natural disasters which, it's worth mentioning, do occur. The upgrades aren't really the central focus of the game, though, as Youda Farmer 3 is a serious time management experience where managing your time is all you've got to do!

Youda Farmer 3: SeasonsAnalysis: Youda Farmer 3: Seasons far outshines its predecessors in almost every way possible. It doesn't innovate as much as the previous two releases did, but the improvements are subtle and welcome, allowing both veterans and new players room to experience new things. It's a click-fest, for sure, but the sense of satisfaction you get from successfully stringing together deliveries far outpaces the frustration you'll feel when you occasionally fail.

Visually, Youda Farmer 3 is easily one of the best-looking time management games out there. Not only does every in-game element look great, but the interface is incredibly stylish, looking like it was lifted out of the pages of a futuristic sci-fi novel, only not in a science fictioney sort of way.

Notably new in Youda Farmer 3 is the hotel. We're all familiar with supplying pancake houses and restaurants with materials they need to produce delicious foods. But with the hotel, you can attract rich but demanding visitors who order meals and pay a premium for the service.

Youda Farmer 3 continues Youda Games' fine tradition of time management releases with a title that impresses on every front. It's a lengthy, good-looking, challenging experience that will truly test your ability to juggle a number of tasks at once!

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


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timebuilderscaveman-b.jpg

GrinnypThe Timebuilders: Caveman's Prophecy takes us back to a gentler, simpler time. A time when man was in tune with nature, a time when there were no worries about mortgage payments or electric bills, a time when humans and dinosaurs got along (ok, we're not going for historical accuracy, here). This fantastic and frantic new time management game (and sequel to The Timebuilders: Pyramid Rising) by Wendigo Studios takes you back to the days when we lived in caves, when men were men and women listened to talking eggs. Seriously, just go with it.

timebuilderscaveman.jpgThe story begins when our protagonists find a lovely large black egg with tasteful yellow stars on its shell. The egg immediately begins to give advice about building a civilization. The first step? Get out of the cave. Sounds pretty easy, but as you play you will find that there are problems, such as the large tyrannosaurus rex blocking the way out. It is up to our intrepid ancestors to figure their way out with a combination of hard work, inventive thinking, and lots and lots of advice from that egg that never seems to shut up.

The Timebuilders: Caveman's Prophecy is a time management game in the vein of Build-a-lot. That is, you have empty lots and paths connecting them and you must decide what to build on said lots in order to achieve the particular goals for that round. You begin by building small huts which house cavemen, and the cavemen pay "tribute" (a.k.a. rent) in the form of steaks for being allowed to live there. Steaks are collected by cavewomen who speak loudly and carry very large clubs. Steaks can buy things either from the pick-a-rock (quarry), the markets, or later in the game, ports. Rocks can be collected on the ground or bought or traded for to build bigger and better houses and other buildings. All pretty standard so far, but then the game throws in a few curves with things like special eggs, upgrades, and gadgets.

timebuilderscaveman2.jpgYou begin rounds with a certain number of workers, steaks, rocks, and, later, eggs. The eggs affect strategy greatly, as each egg produces a different commodity at a different pace, and each requires an empty lot to incubate. Should you use them up at the beginning to stock up or should you wait until later when you need something? The strategy changes from challenge to challenge. The game really gets going when you add in the markets (run by monkeys) where you can trade stone for steaks and the ports (also run by monkeys) where you can trade whatever the monkey wants to trade for whatever he has in stock (steaks, rocks, eggs, extra men, etc.). Then it really gets a little crazy when they add in nasty carnivorous plants that block your paths, giant venus flytraps that can be opened for treasure, and lazy crocodiles who just won't get out of your way without a little persuasion.

The strategy of what and where to build, where and how to spend your money, and which upgrades to go for first are pretty involving. Finish a level in expert ("flystone") time and you will receive a lovely bonus piece of amber with a fly in it, which helps you build up a model village for all the other tribes to admire. Keep at it and you will have eventually discovered civilization.

Analysis: Wendigo Studios has hit a home run with its combination of frantic time management gameplay, nice visuals, and hilariously historically inaccurate animations in The Timebuilders: Caveman's Prophecy. So much thought and detail has gone into everything: gameplay, backgrounds, music, and characters that make The Timebuilders: Caveman's Prophecy such a joy to play and not just another Build-a-lot knock-off.

timebuilderscaveman3.jpgThe graphics within the gameplay itself are flat-out unbelievable, from the extinct creatures who hover around your campsite and make funny noises to the cute but annoying saber-toothed kittens who keep trying to steal your steaks (and who add yet another layer to the gameplay). The animations of the monkeys who run the markets and ports, the mammoths your cavemen ride (if you upgrade to them), and the plesiosaurs who pop up to talk to the monkeys are all unbelievably amusing and smoothly integrated. The sprightly background music sets the mood and the other sound effects including the animal noises brings it all home. Basically The Timebuilders: Caveman's Prophecy is a treat for the eyes and ears.

What sets The Timebuilders: Caveman's Prophecy apart though is the gameplay. The learning curve is smooth, easing you into each concept at a nice rate that makes it easy to pick up the strategy. The twists provided by the eggs, the markets, the ports, the kitties, the carnivorous plants (who look a lot like Audrey II from LIttle Shop of Horrors) make for some frantic play in the later rounds. And with 40 regular rounds plus bonus rounds you are looking at hours and hours of gameplay, especially if you want to go back and keep trying to get expert on each level.

If there is any criticism to level on this fantastic casual game it would be in the cut-scenes. The characters there are cartoony (and occasionally just plain silly), and the dialogue consists of gibberish "caveman talk" with English text translations across the screen. Fortunately, you can click quickly through or skip the cut-scenes altogether if it all gets a bit much.

Forget the minor flaws, though. If you love time management games in the build-a-lot mode then there is a lot to love in The Timebuilders: Caveman's Prophecy. Fast, frantic, and fun this is definitely what casual gaming should be. Have fun building civilization and shaking the devil out of those mischievous kitties!

WindowsWindows:
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Weekend Download

JohnBTwo words for you this weekend: Wyv and Keep. Well, actually, that "and" should be included, so it's really three words. You don't really have to pay attention to the third word, but it really helps establishing the relationship between the two nouns surrounding it. Stop reading, go play!

wyvandkeepdemo.gifWyv and Keep: The Temple of the Lost Idol (Windows, 31MB, free preview) - The game isn't finished yet, but Wyv and Keep developer A Jolly Corpse has decided to release a free eight level preview of this wonderful co-op experience. Play it with a pal or by yourself, switching between two characters who must cooperate to solve puzzles and make it through each level. It's a lot like the classic The Lost Vikings, which shall always be the marker for sidescrolling action/puzzle games with multiple playable characters, and the artwork and puzzle design are nearly flawless. A great preview of a game that's shaping up to be a must-have once it's finally released!

siegebreaker.gifWG Realms 2: Siege Breaker (Windows, 56MB, free) - Duke Nukem Forever got you down? Longing for some old school-style Duke-like action? WG Realms 2 has that with a total conversion of Duke Nukem 3D. You don't even need the original game to run it, just download and start playing! Duke finds himself transported to a strange fantasy realm where humans are under attack by monsters. Using new weapons and some strange spell-like abilities, Duke decides to help the humans out so he can get back to his own world. Siege Breaker features big environments filled with secrets and a slight medieval/fantasy theme. It's not your usual first person shooting game, for sure, but the level design is good and requires a lot of poking around, just like those lovely old school games of yore. Give Siege Breaker a shot and soak in the retro goodness for all it's worth!

crabblaster.gifCrab Blaster (Windows, 7MB, free) - An action puzzle hybrid, Crab Blaster is a short game that puts you in a pickle level after level. Not literally, of course. Positioned on one side of the screen, you must make it to the goal on the other side, blasting your way through blocks in the process. You only have a few shots for each block type, though, so you have to conserve ammo and be creative in order to make it through. Simple, but entertaining enough for an afternoon of explosions and arcade-sounding fun!

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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joyePaul & PercyOnce upon a time, in a cozy little cottage in a wood, there lived two squat little bespectacled gentlemen called Paul & Percy. They loved biscuits. Possibly to an obsessive degree. So when the biscuits one day vanished, and their dear friend Carl told them that the evil thief had vanished through the portals, there was only one thing to do: go after him! Unfortunately the path to the biscuit thief will involve a lot of spatial puzzling and more than a little teamwork in this game from Kipper Digital. Push blocks, toggle little slug creatures, maneuver clouds and more in your quest for crumbly sugary goodness.

The controls can take a little getting used to, primarily because they go against that most ingrained of gamer principles, that up equals jump. In this game, you start at the bottom of the screen and progress vertically towards your portal goal at the top. Therefore, the [arrow] key controls follow the movement of the character on the screen. Paul is on the left and Percy on the right. [Up] walks either character up towards the top of the screen and [down] walks the character towards the bottom of the screen. [Spacebar] switches between characters. For Paul, the [left] arrow key will cause him to jump up one block level, and the [right] arrow key will make him push towards his feet on the block below him. For Percy, left and right are flopped. If you make a mistake, hit [Z] to rewind one step at a time. You can rewind all the way back to the beginning of the level if necessary. You can also hit [R] to reset a level.

Your goal is to get both characters on top of their respective swirly white portals, since these are those special kind of portals that only work in pairs. Some levels feature a bonus challenge in the delicious form of biscuits. You don't need to collect them to beat the level, but collecting all the biscuits gives an achievement, and gamers love achievements almost as much as Paul and Percy loves biscuits.

Paul & PercyAnalysis: It can take a surprising amount of time to get over the ingrained "up to jump" impulse. I was still making that mistake even as I played the later levels. It's a good thing you can rewind with no penalty to your score, because I had to rewind a lot just for that reason. It's hard to think how the developers could have avoided triggering this reaction in gamers however, since tilting the field to the side would have only allowed the player to use up for jump for one character. The other character would be down to jump, and you just don't do that to gamers. Our tiny minds would explode.

The game is an aesthetic joy, from squishy and fairy-winged Carl to the soothing electronic soundtrack that reminded me a lot of mid-90s console gaming. This soothing music does a lot to pacify a gamer frustrated with the forty-seven clever (and/or fiendish) puzzles between you and the baked goods crook. Although the game has a basic introductory tutorial, for the most part the game requires you to learn what new blocks do through trial and error, so figuring this out serves as just another challenge. The game level map follows a Super Mario Bros. type of conceit with a general path to the end of the game, with frequent branches going to the same destination. This will often allow you to bypass a level that has you stymied. Like many puzzlers requiring spatial logic and planning, this is often a game that benefits from taking a break and trying a different level and then coming back with fresh eyes, so this style of level select really suits the game.

There's a gentle absurd humor to the cut scenes, and as the title for beating the game's achievement implies, it's not a difficult ending to figure out. You won't beat this one for the compelling plot, but rather for the sense of accomplishment gained from smooth, seamless teamwork between Paul & Percy. That can be as delicious as any biscuit.

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Grim Facade

JohnBFrom ERS Game Studios, creator of Haunted Halls: Green Hills Sanitarium, PuppetShow: Lost Town, Redemption Cemetery: Curse of the Raven, and a number of other games, comes a hidden object adventure that takes place in old Italy. Grim Facade: Mystery of Venice is a dark, atmospheric game populated by empty streets and moonlit statues, strongly punctuating the shaded character you're chasing after: the man in the mask.

Grim FacadeGrim Facade begins with a wonderful bit of intrigue that will undoubtedly grab your attention. It's dusk, and two rich young ladies dressed in ornate gowns are stepping down to go for a gondola ride. Piloting the boat is a tall man wearing a long black coat and the mask of the Venetian Plague Doctor. He invites the women to come aboard. As soon as they pass under a bridge, all three people vanish, leaving the gondola empty as it hangs on the dark waters of the canal.

The next thing you know, you're being hired by the father and husband of the women to investigate their disappearance. He pays you a few coins, but you quickly realize you've been followed. The masked man peers through the gate and runs, so you follow him as quickly as you can, solving puzzles and gathering loads of inventory items in the process.

As you pursue the man through the streets of Venice, he'll sabotage your path by any means possible. This leaves you in the lovely position of puzzle solver, gathering bits of evidence here and there, solving a few quick hidden object scenes, and carrying items back and forth as you attempt to make some sense out of this strange place. Most of Grim Facade's puzzles are simple and have logical solutions, such as using a crowbar to pry a cobblestone from the ground, but finding the items you need requires a sharp eye and a bit of exploration.

Grim FacadeGrim Facade is built on a casual adventure backbone, leaving mini-games and hidden object scenes scattered here and there as diversions from the main investigation. You'll find items hanging around various pieces of scenery quite frequently, and there are lots of areas you'll need to examine, encouraging players to be stalwart in their drive to look through the game's every nook and cranny.

Analysis: Distinguishing yourself from the parade of hidden object adventure hybrid games is a lot like trying to be that one special puppy in the store window. You don't want to stand out too much or you'll risk being ignored by your potential audience (too "weird"), but if you don't try something different, you'll just sit there looking all doe-eyed and morose. ERS Studios' solution? Unique setting not usually seen in casual games. Storyline that paints a slow but intriguing mystery. Artwork that belongs in a frame on your wall. And puzzles that are tuned precisely to the level of challenge casual adventure game players seek.

Although the setting is certainly appreciated (as is the game's quiet nature), Grim Facade feels muted throughout, almost as if it were afraid to come out and play. This isn't so much a drawback as it is a fact, as you'll enjoy playing but will constantly wonder why the game is trying to hide from you. ERS wasn't afraid to take some chances with an unusual sort of storyline and setting, but the gameplay sticks to the rails a little too closely, never jumping aside to provide the exact kind of moderately innovative adventure experience Grim Facade was poised to bring.

An enjoyable and strongly atmospheric game, Grim Facade: Mystery of Venice is like a playable graphic novel filled with mystery, strange people, and a city that could be a character on its own. The gameplay is pretty much standard for a hidden object adventure game, but the presentation makes up for that lack of creativity to keep you loving the game from beginning to end.

A Collector's Edition is also available. It contains exclusive bonus gameplay, wallpapers, a screensaver, and 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


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Link Dump Fridays

DoraThis week's Link Dump Friday is for the irresponsible child in all of us. The little part of your brain that doesn't care how many people would get eaten, you would still totally own a dinosaur right this second if it were possible. The part of us that stares out the window at work and can't help but think it would be so cool if aliens were to land right now and start blowing things up. And of course, the part of us that enjoys selling milk and painting on massive canvasses in church. Here's to you, kid; stay gold.

  • Mine DropMine Drop - If you've ever wanted to drop a cross between a sheep, a hedgehog, and some swarovski crystals down a mine shaft, then this is the game for you, you weirdo. In this simple puzzle game, the goal is to remove the right terrain beneath your roly-poly friend to carry it safely to the exit without all that pesky "writhing in agony in a pit of lava" business. You know what a pain that is.
  • Dinosaur ZookeeperDinosaur Zookeeper - The best game about dinosaurs in an irresponsible zoo setting is Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis. I'm sorry, it just is. Vlambeer's little simulation is still pretty cute, though. Avoid the bloody mistakes of your predecessor by trying to juggle each new dinosaur's space and neighbour restrictions, without your guests being messily devoured (or trampled) before nightfall. It's harder than it sounds, especially since it turns out triceratops are jerks. Man, why can't you be more like Tyrannosaurus?!
  • A Dog of FlandersA Dog of Flanders - For some reason, my first reaction to playing Minoto's point-and-click puzzle was to remember both the poem In Flanders Fields and Farley Mowat's "The Dog Who Wouldn't Be". Of course, both of those works of fiction are a bit light in the "screaming, sentient balloon" department, so I suppose Minoto has them beat there. Dog of Flanders also takes home the prize for "most misleading description of a pump handle, ever", so there's that as well.
  • UFOwnedUFOwned - If you belong to the X-Files generation, you probably already have a healthy distrust of aliens, and this arcade game isn't going to help much. Using the tools at your spaceship's disposal, your goal is to cause as much damage as you can to the hapless (but not helpless) city below. Why? Because you're an alien, and that's what aliens do when they're not being boring with Mel Gibson or making Donald Sutherland screech at us incomprehensibly.
  • Rescue a Chicken 2Rescue a Chicken 2 - A friend of mine raises a variety of chickens for show and for cuddles, and I could not be more thrilled. Despite being dirty, neurotic, and generally ill-fated without constant human intervention, chickens are pretty adorable and entertaining critters. So of course I'm willing to solve some physics puzzles to help them... even if that means ticking off what looks like every ticked off crow and owl that ever lived. But I'm sure it'll be fine. I mean... it's not like owls are secretly evil... right?

You Are Games

ArtbegottiTake me out to the You Are Games! Take me out to the crowd! Bring me some captions and quirky punchlines, your quip could be featured in an upcoming comic! For it's loot, loot loot you could win if your caption tickles our funny bone, so it's one, two, three strikes you're out, 'cause that frooooooog's oooooooon fiiiiiiiiiire!

(It's best if you do not attempt to sing the above.)

jig-contest-zuma.jpgWe're back for another Babylon Sticks caption contest, brought to you in part by our good friend and colleague, James Francis. The last part, the caption, comes from you! If you think you've got a punchline that will knock us out of the park with laughter, share it with us. Post your caption ideas below using your Casual Gameplay account, and if your caption gets used, it's a grand slam for you! You'll be credited in next week's comic, and you'll also get a nice prize for your troubles.

So you don't get called out at the plate, here are a few more rules to keep in mind: Multiple entries are allowed. Please keep your captions obscenity-free and safe for all ages. Remember that we usually prefer captions with a gaming theme in them. Plus, we've also got these familiar 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.

Our deadline for entries is Monday, June 27rd at 11:59 PM (GMT-5:00). Time to step up to the plate and hit a home run!


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Rating: 4.2/5 (73 votes)
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maxploder.gifJohnBMaXploder is a brand new action exploration platform game from Ninjadoodle, creator of the ClickPLAY! series as well as One Button Bob and One Button Arthur. The president needs your help rescuing some archaeologists who have become trapped in an ancient tomb. The catch is that you have to save them by yourself with only your whip-like wits, a generous jumping ability, and an infinite store of bombs!

Run around the single-screen levels with the [arrow] keys and jump by pressing and holding [up]. You can clear some serious air with Max's leaping ability, so feel free to try hopping some of those wide gaps you aren't sure you'll make. Set bombs with the [spacebar], useful for destroying enemies or blasting away bits of loose rock. Work your way through a dozen or so screens, navigating twisted, interconnected passageways as you attempt to pick up each of the 33 archaeologists. Grab them all, then head back to the president for an important game-winning update!

MaXploder is heavy on exploration, even though the game's world is relatively small. Secret passageways are here and there, marked by indented walls, and you have to solve a few simple puzzles and hit a few switches to open doors that block key corridors. Nothing too complex, and nothing you won't be able to suss out over the course of a 15 minute play session. The game's short length and low difficulty are practically it's only drawbacks, as before you know it, you'll have every archaeologist in tow and be staring at the ending panels.

MaXploder is well-built and engaging to play, despite how brief of an experience it is. Not only does the game have an uppercase letter in the middle of its title, it's also got extremely retro pixel art, explosions, scorpions, and lava. Plus, it's an homage to classic games like H.E.R.O., for those of us seasoned enough to remember that far back. MaXploder is a win no matter how you look at it!

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Rating: 4/5 (84 votes)
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DoraLoom EntryJust when you thought it was safe to return to your weekday... bum-bum... bum-bum... bum-bum-bum-bum-BUMBUM! Bam! Surprise escape! Place of Light is more than willing to devise the most devious of traps in the most ordinary of circumstances. In Loom Entry, you find yourself trapped in an entry hall with cryptic clues and puzzles hidden everywhere amidst the neatly arranged shoes and photos of cute baby animals. It's like being a character in a more homey Dan Brown novel, only without all the terrible... uh... everything. Just click to play, keeping an eye out for different perspectives and sneakily hidden clues, and use the gray bars that appear at the edges of the screen when you move your mouse over them to navigate. It might look simple, but don't be surprised if you have to kickstart your brain, open your eyes extra wide... and grab a pen and paper to find your way out.

Place of Light has a knack for creating puzzles that has a wonderful domino effect of progression and understanding. It's not uncommon for clues to lead to clues which solve a puzzle, that nets you another clue. Clues are, literally, everywhere. But instead of annoying you, creates a sense of cohesion that a lot of other escape games lack. You'll wind up having to use your brain more here rather than simply cycling through inventory items, rubbing them against every available surface and hoping to luck into a solution. It's not "adventure game logic", it's deduction, pure and simple. It does sort of make you wonder who you're going through all this trouble to visit, though. All the comfy shoes and animal pictures give a vague sort of "Grandma's House" vibe, but after all you've gone through, Nana better have some killer cookies and milk waiting for you. Chocolate milk, straight up.

It's not perfect, however. The lack of a changing cursor to indicate a hotspot may make the game more challenging, but also more frustrating for those of us who hate pixel hunting. Perspectives can also bite you in the behind, since a few objects can only be manipulated if you're facing them from a certain direction, and you're never quite sure if you're just not looking at that umbrella from the right angle, or if you just keep missing the spot you're supposed to click on. Naturally, this is something you escapists with finely honed seek-and-find instincts will find little trouble, but relative newcomers or more casual players might find it a bit discouraging.

But if you're looking for quality puzzles and a bit of a challenge, it's Loom Entry through and through. Place of Light has hit it out of the park once again... and then promptly locked it in a box with six keys, put it inside a safe with a complex mathematical code, and hid that safe in a room you'll need a rubber chicken, a pair of bunny slippers, and some Elmer's glue to access. Hey, I'm not judging how you get your kicks. Some people juggle geese.

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Rating: 3.8/5 (39 votes)
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TrickyBattle of BritainWikipedia tells us that the Battle of Britain was a World War II bombing campaign waged by the German Air Force against the United Kingdom in mid-1940. It was the first military campaign fought nearly entirely by forces of the air, and those British that fought and prevailed inspired the famous Winston Churchill quote that "Never... was so much owed by so many to so few." And who were these few to which we owe said victory? Well, according to Black Moon Design's new real time strategy release, appropriately titled Battle of Britain, they were a quartet of quipping, heavily-accented, impressively-mustachioed flying aces, who were able to fly in such elaborate patterns thanks to the orange curvy lines drawn out ahead of time across the English countryside... Okay, perhaps a bit of history is lost in the adaptation, but it's fun.

You command a team of four spit-fires tasked with protecting ten factories vital to the allied war effort. You must use your planes to destroy all enemy bombs and fighter planes before they cross your green-striped safe zone. Should they do so, you lose one of your factories. Lose them all, or have all your planes shot down and the game is over. Your spitfires are controlled by using the mouse to draw out flight paths. To plan a flight, click on the plane you wish to control, then drag your mouse in the path you wish the plane to take, releasing the mouse button to finish the path. If you hold the [shift] key while selecting more than one plane, you can draw a path for them to follow in formation. They will fire upon enemy planes automatically when they are in range, and you can heal by flying your ship into the safe zone. Now get out there and fly through adversity to the stars!

Analysis: There is a lot I like in Battle of Britain, and some things I don't. Let's start with the good: The mouse-driven plane steering mechanic is as unique to flash games (outside of the iOS game flight control) as it is awesome. It makes controlling multiple planes easier than I've ever seen in a flash game, and instantly reworking trajectories while in motion is a breeze. Certainly I hit the pause button when I thought a defter strategic touch was needed, but that it was a rare occurrence tells me that the game has the right pace Those who usually find strategy games too technical for their liking should enjoy the ease with which Battle of Britain presents itself. What's more, I have to give mad props to the graphic design: if there was a way to animate a propaganda poster, this is it.

Battle of BritainOn the negative side, both the gameplay and writing could do with quite a bit of polish. It's very much steer-your-planes, shoot-their-planes, heal-your-planes, wait-for-a-new-wave-of-their planes, repeat ad nauseam. Those looking for a climax won't find it here. Likewise, while the voice-acting is excellent, there seems to be be a quite small pool of lines from which the game draws. Quips that were funny the first time get old round about time number seven. Also, the translation needs a spell-check. Whenever I see a "loose" when it should be a "lose", I get the same twinge that I get when I accidentally chomp down on a fork.

The main thing that makes me leery of Battle of Britain is inherent to its premise: It presents itself as a light-hearted, slightly-jingoistic recreation of a siege that was, in many ways, nothing short of horrifying. For this kind of thing to work, the humor has to be excellent, and here it was hit and miss. Don't get me wrong, It's not that I find joking about The Blitz particularly offensive: I think I gave up the right to take offense at gaming's depiction of World War II after I gleefully exploded Robo-Hitler on three separate occasions. Still, I guess I expect a little more gravitas to the proceedings when the setting is a real battle once fought by real soldiers. Perhaps I wouldn't be left so cold if the battle the game depicted was fictional. Perhaps I'm unfairly comparing it to the excellent prose of the similarly set Steambirds: Survival. I don't know. To most, the tone won't matter at all, but it does to me.

Of course, it also matters to me that the British pilots in the game yell "Your mother was a hamaster" (sic) which, even when spelled correctly, is canonically a French insult. So take what I find to be important with a grain of salt.

For those not fans of RTS, Battle of Britain might serve better as a toy than a game: the path-drawing mechanic is certainly novel enough to enjoy for at least a couple of waves. I think even dogfighting fans would want more depth after a while. That said, even if it needs to be more focused in its utilization, Battle of Britain has innovation to spare. Anyone looking for something new will find something to like.

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Rating: 3.6/5 (419 votes)
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DoraSkinnyThomas Brush wants to tell you another story and cause you to give your authority figures a suspicious glance. In the platforming adventure game Skinny, you play a gangly looking robot who awakes from what appears to be an odd fantasy to perform a series of tasks for a bossy being that calls itself "Mama" and communicates with you via electric devices. It seems a little boy named Felix is up to no good and has been going around stealing batteries from your friends, which isn't very nice at all! After all, they need the batteries to stay happy... don't they? Maybe you should track Felix down and get some answers, but you might not like what he has to tell you. What's more important to you... knowing the truth, or staying happy?

Skinny himself controls with the [WASD] keys, and uses the [spacebar] to interact with people and certain objects. As you play and finish tasks, you'll gain various upgrades that will allow you to explore more of the strange world. The first upgrade you'll gain is a hookshot that will let you grab onto certain distant objects and either pick them up, or pull yourself towards them. On each level you'll find large, translucent glass globes that you can shatter with your hookshot, which saves your progress... though only as far as the level itself, so you still can't just play a little, and then come back right where you left off.

New version now available! The updates will make those frustrating doors a whole lot easier, Arrow Keys will work, and getting stuck in certain places is less likely.

SkinnyAnalysis: Here's the basic gist of my opinion; Skinny is weird and playing it is weird, like Iwazaru should be dropping in at any minute to tell you what a tight spot you're in. It's more a general vibe the game gives off than anything else; everything from the characters to the music to the environment is surreal to the point where it crosses over in the border into Creepytown (John Waters is mayor there, you know) despite how lovely it is to look at. The silhouetted designs are at once both intriguing and unnerving, while the soft colours in the background give everything a surreal dreamlike quality. It's a strange, somewhat disorienting little game, but in a good way; the more you play, the more the bizarre things you encounter start to make sense, and the little "a-ha!" moments in the narrative make playing the game extremely satisfying.

But while the basic controls are fine, the hookshot and wall jumping feel clunky and stiff in a way that really interrupts the flow of the gameplay at times. One area features switches that operate on timers and temporarily remove coloured laser barriers, and could be more than a little annoying for people who aren't much for platforming and just want to experience the story. It doesn't help matters that in some places that silhouette design actually seems to work against you, and figuring out what you can destroy, walk through, or are blocked by winds up just being a matter of flailing against it rather than relying on visual information. Platforming should feel smooth and intuitive, and when it doesn't, the experience suffers as a result.

Without spoiling anything, comparisons will probably be made between Skinny and a flock of other titles for a myriad of issues, but it's still worth playing Skinny to enjoy on its own. It kind of feels like it's begging to have an animated film made out of it. Skinny is strange and doesn't quite succeed as a platformer, but it's a gorgeous, creepy little adventure that's well worth your time.

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Thanks to Redmug for sending this one in!


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Rating: 4.2/5 (141 votes)
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DoraThe OutsiderIt was the best of times, it was the worst of times... wait, wait, hang on... that's wrong. Once upon a midnight dreary, while I... mmm, no, closer, but still not quite right. Ah! It was the ghoulish shade of decay, antiquity, and dissolution; the putrid dripping eidolon of unwholesome revelation... There we go! The Outsider is a short point-and-click horror game by bcdefg123 and based on a short story of the same name by none other than good ol' Howard Phillips Lovecraft. You find yourself lost and alone somewhere in a dark, unfriendly environment and think only of escaping and finding your way back to civilization... but are you ready for what waits for you there? Just click on the screen to interact, and click on an item in your inventory to "equip" it, then anywhere on the screen to try to use it. Some items can be combined, so click on different things in your inventory to see what you can create.

If you're anticipating the thing that goes bump in the night leaping out at you and going YARRRRR while the music goes SCREEEEE, well... don't. The Outsider, despite some wonderfully creepy atmosphere thanks to the gloomy-yet-lovely artwork of Aigis and J-qb, to say nothing of some smartly chosen music tracks, The Outsider is largely a sedate experience. There are actually a few places where you might be expecting a jump-scare simply because it seems like the logical spot to stick one, but when nothing materialises, you'll either feel relief... or disappointment. While Lovecraft's work is admittedly a lot more vague than most authors of horror (everything is always terrifying, but unknowable and indescribable), The Outsider still feels like it might have benefited by less shadows and more fangs. Of course, considering the game was made in just three days for the Newgrounds Game Jam 5 (theme of "literature"), it's still a remarkably well designed little package of heebie-jeebies.

The Outsider will probably take you less than ten minutes to play, but if you're a fan of Lovecraft it's well worth the trip. It's not particularly difficult, with items and their use typically being extremely obvious and only one number puzzle to speak of, but since Lovecraft's strength has always been in his dreamlike narrative, maybe it's for the best that the gameplay doesn't get in the way. You can actually read the original short story here if you're of a mind, though I don't recommend doing so until you've played the game to avoid ye olde spoilers. Whatever your opinion on Lovecraft as a writer, there's no denying the huge effect he had on literature, and this little offering serves as a great snack in his memory.

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Rating: 4.2/5 (56 votes)
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DoraPipe Riders[Please note that this game may cause motion-sickness in certain individuals.]
Quick, pretend you're in an episode of Wayne's World! Wooooooaaaaah! Wooooooooooooaaaaaaahhhh! Why? 'Cause that's how you're going to feel when you fire up Oslo Albet's 3D avoidance racing game, Pipe Riders! Combining the crazy, tilty, swinging fun of an early Sonic game Bonus Stage with simple, breezy, arcade gameplay, it's a bouncy retro ride down memory lane. After selecting a difficulty and a race from the 32 available levels, just use the [arrow] keys to move around and speed up or slow down. Your goal is to reach the finish line as quickly as possible, naturally, avoiding the various obstacles littering the raceway and grab the green(ish) cubes to replenish your shield if you've been taking damage. Grabbing a green cube when your shield is full gives you a time bonus, so don't ignore them even if you're an avoidance pro! As you progress, keep an eye out for special pads that'll give you a boost of speed if you drive over them. Just completing a race is enough to unlock the next, but if you want those gleaming medals you'll need to work hard to shave precious seconds off your time.

Pipe Riders is a lot of fun, but it might be a bit too simple, and feels like it needs some fleshing out to really be a champion all its own. Split-screen multiplayer would seem like the logical step for competitive play, but even allowing us to save our races for other players to challenge our "ghosts" in a la Hell is Other People would have been great too. Unless you're motivated by high scores and medals, and not everyone is, there aren't a whole lot of reasons to go back and replay earlier levels. But if you shun the company of other players, or just enjoy the thrill that comes at hurtling at irresponsible speeds down a course peppered with things to smash into, Pipe Riders is still a solid, fast-paced way to pass the time. It's also a fairly accurate representation of how I play Grand Theft Auto, but with less screaming and bone-crunching thuds.

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Rating: 4.6/5 (188 votes)
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Weekday Escape

GrinnypWhen you think of strawberries, what comes to mind? Unctuous strawberries and cream, pink frosted cakes, luxurious mounds of red and pink and white, and of course the room escapes of the Japanese designer Strawberry Cafe. Okay, so not necessarily the last one unless you are a complete room escape junkie, which is hopefully why you're here and reading this in the first place. At any rate, the cafe is back and making us hungry all over again with their luscious new escape, Suntrap Room Escape.

SuntrapRoomEscapePar for the course with Strawberry Cafe, there's no back story involved in this fun little amuse bouche. Suntrap Room Escape is your basic one-room escape, except with two rooms. The scenery is done up in the usual mouth-watering reds, pinks, and whites, with luxurious touches here and there to rescue it from cartoony and elevate the scenery from ordinary to luxe. Navigate the space with the help of arrows at the side of the screens and with judicious clicking on certain other areas for close ups, solve some fun and tricky puzzles, use a few objects, and pretty soon you'll be on your way out, albeit probably craving something involving Fragaria x Ananassa.

Although Strawberry Cafe games are always fun and easy on the eyes they're not terribly difficult and Suntrap Room Escape is no exception. There are, however, a few tougher than usual puzzles and surprisingly enough nothing color-based. Instead you're looking at math, logic, and use of found objects to help solve your way out of this delightful space. There's no music to accompany along your way, simply chimes and clicks to let you know when you've found an item of importance or unlocked something. The control structure is pretty basic but includes both a save button and easy inventory control with the use of an "about item" button. There's no changing cursor, though, so some pixel hunting may plague an otherwise charming experience.

Suntrap Room Escape is in Japanese, but there is so little text that it doesn't really matter; pure logic is the key to escaping this comfortably furnished room. Take time to explore and don't forget to examine everything that you pick up as it may not be exactly what it seems on the surface. Not difficult but fun and occasionally challenging, Suntrap Room Escape is the perfect mid-week break, a light and airy confection as delicious as its designer's name implies. Dive in and enjoy the experience, even if it will leave you hungry for something, anything strawberry flavored.

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Rating: 4.6/5 (48 votes)
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TrickyKenKenCreated by Japanese math teacher Tetsuya Miyamoto in 2004, Kashikoku-naru-Puzzle translates literally as "A Puzzle That Makes You Smart". Hitting that exact right combination of mathematical calculation and logical reasoning, it soon became an international sensation under the name KenKen. As the story goes, "Ken" translates as Cleverness, so KenKen (or, I guess Ken^2) is Cleverness-Squared. That's an apt description for this arithmetic grid-based brainteaser. At JayIsGames, we're always on the lookout for quality online versions of pen-and-paper games, and Nextoy has provided with 6 daily, devious, and easily-printable KenKen. Why? Because they Ken Ken Ken!

If Sudoku is a number game that doesn't require math, KenKen is its second cousin that does. There are enough similarities that anyone familiar with the former should have no trouble picking it up. First, you choose a grid size. The object is to fill the grid satisfying three requirements: 1. For each row to contain exactly one of each digit from 1 to the grid width (for example 1-6 for a 6 by 6 grid), 2. For each column to likewise contain exactly one of each digit, and 3. To fill out each bold-outlined "cage" with digits that can create the specified result with the specified operation. For instance, a cage with 4 boxes and "240X" in the corner might have 2, 4, 5 and 6 in it (since 2 x 4 x 5 x 6 = 240) or perhaps 3, 5, 4, and 4 (3 X 5 X 4 X 4 = 240). Remember, a cage can have numbers repeated in it, as long as it doesn't violate the first two rules. Likewise "1-" might have 6 and 5, 4 and 3, 3 and 2, or any other combination of numbers that fits. Here's puzzle-meister Will Shortz's explanation, but really, KenKen is easier to learn by experience than explanation.

I'm not so sure whether brain training claims are all they're cracked up to be, but KenKen is an elegant puzzle that is a worthy addition to the newspaper canon. As addictive as any game and as well-presented as an Conceptis release, the six new puzzles a day hardly seems like enough, though I appreciate their range of sizes and difficulties. In short, whether you're familiar with KenKen or are encountering it for the first time, this is a fine translation to the flash medium.

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JamesSnail Bob 2Sequels are much kinder to our friend Bob. Unlike the first game, where he lost his house in Arthur Dent fashion, here he simply has to get to his grandfather and give him a birthday gift. He is a snail in a hurry in this avoidance game from Hunter Hamster - it's up to you to make sure he makes it in Snail Bob 2, a point-and-click puzzle game from Andrey Kovalishin, Maxim Yurchenko, and Dmitry Petyakin.

Bob seems to have little care for his own welfare; in most levels he will simply move forward regardless of hazards. You can stop him by clicking on his shell, will give you time to manipulate the levers, switches, buttons and slides that remove obstacles out of his way. Clicking on Bob moves him along again and once he exits the level you have to do it all over again.

Fortunately, saving this snail is a gratifying experience, which has nothing to do with whatever karmic currency you might reap from it. As with the first game, Snail Bob 2's puzzles are interesting and fun, but not terribly difficult. It escalates the difficulty slightly, and there is always the pressure of losing points for every second you play, but it's not out to drive you mad. Instead every screen has a charming uniqueness to it. The same could be said for the first game and it is to this second outing's credit that it recycles little to none of the original levels, but reuses many of the mechanics.

In a strange way this is more of the same without being more of the same at all. Then again, it's about a snail with absolutely no Darwinian sense relying on your need for a high score. Normality doesn't operate here.

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Rating: 4.5/5 (149 votes)
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DoraSuper Puzzle PlatformerAndrew Morrish must have it in for you. I mean, he's clearly trying to get you in trouble with your boss, since his new action arcade platformer game, Super Puzzle Platformer, is way too addictive. How are you possibly going to calculate all those complex, disease-curing mathematical and chemical formulas (I like to imagine all of you are super geniuses) when you know you could be running, leaping, and blasting your way through a never-ending downpour of Tetris-like blocks instead? Any other work seems boring by comparison, even if you are out wrestling bulligers (that's a bull with a tiger's jaws) to save orphanages that are also on fire. (I also like to imagine all of you are super heroic and dreamy. You don't mind, do you?)

Controls are easy; just use the [arrow] keys to run and jump, and [Z] or [X] or [spacebar] to shoot. Coloured blocks fall randomly from the top of the screen and begin to mount up quickly; blasting one block causes all the adjacent blocks of the same colour to be destroyed, which not only keeps things from approaching critical mass, but also causes little pellets to drop that will count towards upgrading the damage your gun does, but watch out; if you get trapped underneath a falling block, your power will get knocked back down. Keep moving and shooting, but steer clear of spikes... from below and above, since a single hit will end the game. Periodically, you'll get a number of spiked blocks that can't be destroyed individually and need to be eradicated as part of a chain of coloured blocks. If things get too frantic, hit the [ESC] button to pause. Of course, you're only prolonging the inevitable... you will fail eventually, it's just a matter of how big your score is when it happens.

While there isn't a whole lot to Super Puzzle Platformer's gameplay, there's just something about it that makes it immensely fun to play. From the colourful, simple visuals to the relentlessly bouncy soundtrack by Landon Podbielski it's a bright, energetic package that makes it a joy to play over and over. While it may look easy, a bit of strategy is definitely necessary to achieve the 1337est of scores, and the rapidly escalating speed forces you to think on your feet. There are, of course, a few issues; the lack of variety keeps it from really achieving instant classic status, and the controls occasionally feel almost too responsive. Fortunately, for those of us who have been craving something that's just simple, fast-paced arcade fun, Super Puzzle Platformer serves it up piping hot and all tasty-like. Give it a play or four... if you have time in your busy schedule of rehabilitating orphaned orangutan babies, of course. (Seriously, you guys are so awesome!)

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The Vault

Tricky The first adventure game I ever played was Maniac Mansion. I was in 4th Grade, and for some reason the classroom happened to have a decade-old Commodore 64 with a collection of not-entirely functional floppy diskettes that we LOAD,8,1-ed at random. We never really made much progress into saving Sandy from Dr. Fred (due largely to our lack of understanding re: the concept of "copy protection"), but it inspired a love of adventure games that has continued with me to this day. So join me for three favorites of the genre, this week in the JayIsGames Vault.

  • Covert FrontCovert Front - Dark, moody and atmospheric, the Covert Front series transforms you into a spy lost in the sea of shifting alliances and technological innovations of an alternate early-20th century Europe. There are secrets to uncover, red herrings to dismiss, and conspiracies that don't want anyone peeking in. The deliciously eerie visuals are rich with shadow, the plot is twisty without being convoluted, and the puzzles are challenging without ever seeming unfair. With the Pastel Games Facebook page having teased a fourth installment in development, this is the perfect time to reacquaint yourself with Kara and her three-game search for Karl Von Toten.
  • Sea of GlompSea of Glomp - Sea of Glomp, by Paul Kramm, is a mix of influences both old and new. The gameplay's emphasis on mazes and exploration brings to mind Adventure: Atari Style. The graphics perfectly ape Gary Larson's Far Side. The puzzles remind me of Dizzy, Prince of the Yolkfolk. And the atmosphere is Spongebob Squarepants all the way. Sea of Glomp takes no time for hand-holding, so only the most dedicated of players will recover Glomp's lost egg. However, even novices should enjoy a nice swim around the gorgeous scenery.
  • HewittHewitt - Adventure game puzzle logic gets a bad rap. Sometimes, though, I think I want my puzzles to be a little goofy and inexplicable: to use a pie to knock out a yeti, or maple syrup and cat hair to make a fake mustache. Hewitt, by B-Group Productions, may have the kind of puzzles you'll resort to a walkthrough to solve, but it works. The animation, humor, soundtrack and characters are more than enough to keep you playing, even if you do have to dress a parrot in a trench-coat at one point. Also, I want to say that I liked how, though the goal is to get Hewitt a date to the dance, that he is portrayed neither as a loser nor an automatic Casanova, and seems to have chemistry with his prospective partner beyond just giving her the right item. Adventure game romances can often seem a little mercenary, but here, it's kinda cute.

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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DoraRizzoli and Isles: The Masterpiece MurdersIt's murder most foul with Pastel Games' latest point-and-click mystery, Rizzoli & Isles: The Masterpiece Murders. Created for TNT's series of the same name, the first murder case you'll wind up trying to solve is anything but routine; people are dying, and when paintings showcasing the very crime scene you just entered begin to turn up, it becomes apparent that you're not dealing with your garden variety whack-job. Is Bob Ross striking back from beyond the grave? I never trusted that guy. Who knows how many happy little lumps were buried under those happy little trees?

The gameplay will be familiar to anyone who has played either The Scene of the Crime or its sequel, The Golden Doll. The game is played in a first-person perspective, presenting you with different scenes to explore and hunt in for clues as you tackle cases. A changing cursor will indicate an item, place, or person you can interact with, and you can make use of items that you gather via your inventory at the bottom of the screen. Gameplay is essentially split into two parts; tracking down clues across various locales, and trying to make connections with your evidence back at the office based on things you've found or new information Rizzoli and Isles have for you. You can take a closer look at certain items on your desk, but the bulk of your work will be to make connections between pieces of evidence on your bulletin board; drag items together to see if they "match", and try to form conclusions that will lead you to new locations. For example, I conclude that based on my timely write-up of this game, and how spectacularly wonderful my boss is, I will be given an all-expenses paid trip to Las Vegas. [Nice try. -Jay] D'awww...

Rizzoli and Isles: The Masterpiece MurdersAnalysis: Okay, so maybe murder isn't necessarily foul; visually, the game is as artistically striking as we've come to expect from Pastel Games, with great artwork that matches the overall theme and wonderfully detailed environments. The repetitive soundtrack does get a little old, but then that's what disabling the music via the options and playing Lady Gaga on loop is for. (Why, how do you get "in the zone"?) Considering that the game is based on a television drama, you might wish that the characters were more involved than relegated to what feel like walk-on roles, but hey... don't we all want to star in our own stories?

Investigation, unfortunately, winds up feeling like it takes a bit more guesswork than anything else. You'll spend a lot of time blasting every surface you come across with blood stain spray, then trying to fingerprint everything, then trying to swab it, just in case you missed something. Since you actually play as neither of the two lead characters (I always dreamed of being Nameless Detective #41!), it seems like allowing for an option to ask Rizzoli, who always seems to be hanging around the office, for a hint or a hunch would have been helpful. But, alas, if she doesn't have anything new to say, she just stares at you like your shirt is covered in day-old pizza sauce, leaving you to shuffle meekly back to your evidence board and bump papers together in the hopes of stumbling across a connection. As of this writing, there are also a few glitches to stumble across that might hinder your progress, which stinks since one of them (an apparently random "infinite tutorial loop") essentially forces you to reload the screen and lose your progress.

Play all the Rizzoli & Isles games:
Rizzoli and Isles: The Masterpiece MurdersRizzoli and Isles: Boston Butcher

Ultimately, however, if you stick with it and doggedly cover every scene for fingerprints, bloodstains, and belly-button lint, justice will prevail. The Masterpiece Murders isn't a particularly long game, but it's just the right size to fit a bit of prime-time mystery murderin' into your evening for those of us too lazy to do it ourselves. (Maaaaan, it's not my turn to do it this week! It's joye's turn!) If you enjoyed the Scene of the Crime series, you're definitely not going to want to miss this chance to gum up your shoes, as the pros say. That... is what the pros say, right?

Play Rizzoli & Isles: The Masterpiece Murders


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GrinnypLittleSamurai"Abbiba dawa gawa!" Thus speaketh the hero of Little Samurai as he proceeds from one location to the next. Is he proclaiming his plans for world domination? Does he want fries with that? Or, just perhaps, he is thanking you for your help in defeating the evil Emperor Kuroi in this amazingly cute little point-and-click adventure by Robin "Pencilkids" Vencel.

Find clickable areas in each scene with the changing cursor and if you click them in the right order you will have cleared the way for the littlest samurai to move forward. After clicking around in the scene click on the little dickens and he will either thank you with his unique language and waddle to the next screen or pout and refuse to move if you've not managed to arrange things just so. Picky little guy, isn't he? At any rate, he needs the help to travel to the stronghold of the evil Emperor who has kidnapped the mighty red dragon and plans to use the dragon against all the land, so picky or not the little samurai needs all the help he can get.

Little Samurai features some of the best graphics ever from Robin Vencel. It is a combination of the standard Pencilkids cartooniness crossed with some soft-focus Japanese-style scenery that is alternately amusing and breathtaking. A haunting oriental tune and amusing (for the most part) sound effects round out the experience, although the little samurai's gibberish can get a little wearing after a while. In fact, he sounds rather like a long-lost cousin to Abuba the Alien although much less understandable. Fortunately that's what the mute button is for.

What we're looking at here is a pretty short but completely kawaii little point-and-click adventure that shouldn't take more than five or ten minutes out of your busy day. The gameplay, while smooth, is on the easy side and the challenge is more about using the least amount of clicks in each scene than in any type of heavy duty puzzle solving. The itty-bitty hero himself is alternately excruciatingly cute and pretty darn fierce when combat arises. For anyone who enjoys Pencilkids games or point-and-click adventures Little Samurai is well worth the time, especially for the kicking animations at the end as our intrepid hero and the evil Emperor get their kung-fu on in a fight that spans several scenes. So travel back to an ancient Japan that exists only in fantasies and daydreams and help wipe out evil from the land. And maybe bring some fries, just in case.

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joyeElements of ArkandiaTerry Brown's development studio, Undefined, may lack definition, but it certainly hasn't been short on different methods for RPG battle systems. Enemies have been mowed down by towers in their Protector series, dungeons have been crawled in Arkandian Legends, and beasties summoned with cards in Cardian. But not until now has the glorious offensive potential of match-3 been mined by them. In Elements of Arkandia, you'll use just that to duel enemies and earn loot. Loot which you'll need to pay down the debt that your dad saddled you with while he goes gallivanting off. Wizard dads do that. Gallivant, I mean.

The game gives you a fairly good tutorial when you start out. In the main area of the game, you'll manage your spellbook and armory, where logically enough you can equip spells and armor. You start out with some basics of each and can find more by adventuring. The shopping section sells upgrades to things like your mana bank and shop space for your own shop. In your shop, you'll sell pieces of armor and reagents that you pick up adventuring and don't need. All of that coin will come in handy because you start the game thirty thousand coins in debt from dear old dad. You'll also be able to make loan payments from this main screen.

But forget all that for a moment. The real reason you're here is to go adventuring! If you've played any match-3 title, and given that you're currently on the internet it's a safe bet you have, you should know the basic drill. Swap adjacent tiles to match three or more, clearing them. In this game, clearing gems can fill your mana pool, your physical attack pool (called rage), or give you coins or loot, depending on the kind of gem. Matching four or five gems in a row grants you some extra life and an extra turn also, so naturally you'll want to do that whenever you can.

You'll use this mana and rage to cast spells and physically attack an enemy. The enemies also will be attacking you every two turns, so it's best to make quick work of them when you can. Each area has several enemies in a row which you must defeat altogether before you can claim your loot and money. The total number of treasure gems affects which item of loot you get, so be sure to check the loot tables by hovering over the chest icon in the adventure selection screen. When you finish an area, you'll return to the main screen where you can examine your loot and decide whether to equip it or sell it.

Elements of ArkandiaAnalysis: If you approach this game like a puzzle, or if you have a perfectionistic streak and want to try to get a four or higher every time, let me warn you that this game will really, really drag. Since there's no way to save mid-adventure, you could easily find yourself stuck to the computer for a half hour or more if you play that way. It might have been best if the developers had included a timer mechanism to encourage a good pace of play, but pretend that there is one and don't get obsessed with finding the best move every time, or you'll get sick of the game fairly quickly. If you play the game the way it must be meant to be played, with a certain relaxation and a good pace, there's still a ton of game here. There are 24 adventure areas and you can play the different areas multiple times in pursuit of their different special items.

The game dabbles a bit in Recettear-style shop ownership, but it feels more like an afterthought than a serious part of the game. You simply click a button, watch a clock go round, and then get told which of the items you put up for sale got sold and for how much. The game does much better with the match-3/battle hybrid. While it isn't the first game to do this, it's implemented well, and match-3 fans will enjoy the added challenge of considering not only how best to clear gems, but also how to get gems of the desired type. There's also a sprinkling of gentle humor here and there, such as the Corrupted Lumberjack, who sleeps all night and works all day. (Someone explain the reference in the comments.)

The only question now is what Undefined will tackle next now that they've crossed off match-3. I humbly suggest full contact rock paper scissors.

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Grand Prix Story

JohnBFrom Japanese developer Kairosoft, creator of Game Dev Story, comes another surprisingly deep simulation game for the mobile market. Grand Prix Story (also available for iOS devices) drops you in the shoes of a business owner trying to make it big in the world of grand prix racing. You manage everything from your mechanics and drivers to research, vehicle repairs, engine upgrades, and driver training regimens, all designed to vault you to the top of the leaderboards. It may follow the same layout as Game Dev Story and Hot Springs Story, but this release offers a few improvements that make the simulation a more balanced experience from beginning to end.

Grand Prix StoryAs Grand Prix Story starts out, you've got practically nothing. There's just one car to customize, you have a skeleton mechanic crew, and your single driver is all you have to rely on to stay in the races. That's all you need to start your career, however, and even though you won't be winning races your first dozen or so times, you'll still be glued to your phone as you tap here and select there to slowly push yourself to the top.

Start by running your driver through a series of drills to increase skills from intelligence to reaction times. The driver's stats are independent of the vehicle's stats, but they do affect each other, so don't neglect either one during your game. Eventually, you'll unlock new parts you can research and upgrade to add to your car, outfitting it to race on any terrain and in any driving style you like.

Once you're satisfied with how your vehicle runs and how your crew performs, it's time to go race. Early on you only have a few races to choose from, but eventually you'll be able to browse a number of outings that feature tougher tracks, smarter drivers, and higher cash payouts. Watch the race as it unfolds, frowning and cheering your little driver buddy as he or she does everything on his own. When the race ends, collect your prize money and head back to the garage for some more fine-tuning.

Grand Prix StoryAnalysis: Grand Prix Story comes across as dry in description, but it's exactly the sort of game you can sink hours upon hours into. It's well-designed for the mobile platform, allowing you to pick up and play for as long as you like, stopping in to adjust research directions, hire new drivers, train old ones, or just run a race to see how things go.

Compared to previous Kairosoft offerings, Grand Prix Story makes several adjustments that make the game play more smoothly in its twilight. For example, you won't win races from the beginning, and instead you have to slowly train your driver and car to get better at what they do. This inevitably leads to some sort of specialization and lop-sided research point distribution, which the game allows you to fix by running through races you aren't equipped to handle. It sounds awkward in writing, but when you play the game you'll see how intuitive and logical the system is. No farming, just a little bit of grinding and intelligent stat adjustments.

The downside to Grand Prix Story is that it does share a lot in common with its predecessors, from the look and feel to the actual design of the game. You're racing cars instead of making video games, which is different, but if you close your eyes very tightly you can imagine the two are interchangeable. Even if you were a Game Dev Story addict, this copy/paste design isn't an issue, as once you get into the experience, you'll realize they aren't as interchangeable as they first appear.

Another fine mobile offering from Kairosoft, guaranteed to keep you busy using your phone for anything but making phone calls!


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Mobile Monday

JohnBRobots make for interesting games, but do you know what makes for even more interesting games? More robots! Fighting each other! This Android game roundup features a few heavy-hitting games for your mobile phone. Only one has robots, but all three are really, really good!

robotekhd.gifRobotek HD - If someone sat you down and told you that playing a game of giant robot vs. giant robot where combat is handled by randomly-spinning slots, you'd be all like "psheh, more like boring!". Then that special someone would sit you down and get you to play Robotek HD, at which point you'd have to eat your words, because this robot battling game is quite the awesome one. Nasty 'bots have taken over your world, but you're fighting back, one node at a time. Face off against another machine and start the slots spinning to determine your attack. Get a strong roll and your moves will be stronger. Get a weak one and they'll be weaker. With that left up to luck, your strategy comes in the form of choosing which set of slots to spin: defense, hacking, or attacking. It's very much a rock-paper-scissors sort of game. Learn the symbols, play it careful and strategic, and you'll emerge victorious time after time!

infernus1.gifInfernus: Verse 1 - Who are you? Where are you? You're in some sort of old, dirty jail cell. That much is certain. But... everything else is pretty unclear. Trapped in a dark cage, you must explore a 3D world in this first installment in the Android series. Similar to Mystique. Chapter 1: Foetus, Infernus aims to recreate that room escape feeling on the mobile platform, putting the entirety of the controls in your pinch/swipe-capable hands. It's short, to be sure, but Infernus: Verse 2 has already hit and extends the experience quite a bit. The gameplay is a little rough around the edges, but the concept is solid and the visuals are top-notch.

stellarescape.gifStellar Escape - Time to run! This level-based Canabalt sort of jump and run game takes the action to a more complex level and introduces five possible moves you can unleash to deal with a number of different obstacles. Jump, slide, dive, swing, and stomp down as you make your way out of the space base on your way to the glowing green exit at the end. Everything in your way can be avoided with one of these moves, and while which move you must use is obvious at first, soon your reflexes and coordination are really put to the test. A great-looking running game that's a fantastic fit on any mobile device.

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


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Deepak Fights Robots

JoshCRobots, man. They're the worst. Always pulling you out of your workplace and forcing you to battle them in a series of psychedelic levels. Blowing you up. Killing your cows. It's ridiculous. Luckily, we have Deepak, representing the everyman in the daily struggle against robo-baddies. Deepak Fights Robots, from RunMan: Race Around the World creator Tom Sennett, is loaded with mind-bending levels, quick arcade action, more colors than a rainbow drowning in a crayon factory.

Deepak Fights RobotsDeepak is an uncomplicated sort of fellow, simply running, jumping, collecting stuff, turning super, and smashing robots to smithereens. You know, like you do. Use the [arrow] keys to steer our hero to the flashing atoms. Once he collects them all, a big power-up appears that turns you into Super Deepak, robot-fighting machine. When you're super, one hit sends 'bots flying, so tear through the screen with practically no limitations, clearing the baddies away as you prepare to end the level and move on to the next.

Analysis: Though blissfully aware of its retro-simple roots, Deepak Fights Robots is a brand new thing, to be explored and savored. Here, so much of the beauty is in the discovery, in learning how and why the robots move, learning that Deepak can do a little more than run and jump, and learning what's going on with each of the various animals and power-ups. Deepak Fights Robots's atmosphere and high score list will stick in your head and force you to return again and again to try perfect runs, to try every power-up, to save every cow...

Deepak Fights RobotsAnd then, there's the music. Oh, the music. Provided by Family FUNKtion and the Sitar Jams, Deepak's soundtrack is a thing of beauty. Catchy and eccentric, relaxing but action-ready, it perfectly paints the mood of the robot war within the game. This, the Microsoft Paint style character designs, and the flashing neon levels create a game that is wholly original, though wholly reverent of the games that come before it. The levels stay interesting, making good use of the wrapping screen, the robot strategies, and the shifting rules of the game. Though never getting too difficult, everything stays fresh and challenging to the mind and the reflexes, as well as holding up to multiple playthroughs straining for that high score.

A big part of Deepak is its status as a nostalgia piece, though its simple gameplay and innocent attitude mean it's as fun for children as it is for adults. The game's relatively short length (under an hour for a playthrough) and single game mode means that those who aren't drawn in by it's atmosphere and addictive high score table may find themselves disappointed at the end. Things like a two-player mode, a level creator, or a time-attack mode would lengthen the experience and create more game for the buck. Live updates are included in the price, but it's hard to know if or when there will be new content coming along.

Brevity doesn't mean a lack of quality, and Deepak Fights Robots proves just that. Never overstaying its welcome and providing loads of arcade action firmly rooted in retro high score-achieving roots, this is one wild ride you won't get off of anytime soon. Also, you get to crush robots. God, I hate robots.

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Chloe's Dream Resort

JohnBWhen you hear the phrase "dream resort", you immediately think of a lavish getaway locale that's so luxurious you could barely even dream of it, right? Well, that's not exactly the case in Chloe's Dream Resort, a new time management release from Fugazo. You see, instead of operating the resort of someone's dreams, you're operating the resort of everyone's dreams. In other words, when people go to sleep, they visit this resort to relax their mind, body and spirit. The problem is, the resort isn't working so well, so while Chloe slumber's on her work desk, her dream self is busily serving dreamers from around the world.

Chloe's Dream ResortThe set-up is outlandish (in a good way), but the gameplay is thankfully familiar. Dreamers arrive on the screen with a request in mind. Drag them to the appropriate location, whether that be the ski lift, hot tub, card table, or relaxation bench, then be prepared to serve their every need. Bring fresh newspapers, supply drinks and food, or simply turn up the massage function on the chair. If it's their dream, it's your job. After all, how else are dreamers supposed to relax?

Naturally, you must keep an eye on your customer's patience levels, as unhappy dreamers won't supply much in the form of monetary compensation. What's the currency of the dream world, anyway? Snooze Bucks? Dreams can turn into nightmares, too, so stay on the lookout for snow monsters or dastardly frogs who attempt to haunt the lives of the sleepy dreamers. A quick click sends them packing, leaving everyone else to relax in bliss.

Analysis: Chloe's Dream Resort is a phenomenal time management game. For starters, it looks gorgeous, with a smooth art style reminiscent of the Delicious: Emily series that's animated almost as subtly. But what really impresses is how finely-tuned Chloe's Dream Resort is. Every single detail was tended to, from the cost of upgrades to the method in which customers demand new items, and the end result shows a level of polish rarely seen in the casual gaming realm.

Chloe's Dream ResortMoving from resort to resort (there are five in all, each with a dozen levels to complete), you'll upgrade structures to provide better, more expensive, and faster service to your customers. You can choose which items to upgrade, so if you tend to be a fast clicker, upgrading Chloe's movement speed is a good idea. If you like to let customers sit while you tend to other things, consider investing in rest areas that help keep them patient and content.

Finding fault with a well-tuned game like this is difficult, but something many players will find disappointing is the lack of additional modes. Chloe's Dream Resort is a 60 level run from beginning to end. Apart from a few mini-games and vying for the expert score on each stage, there's not much going on outside of the main game. While this may seem a detractor on the surface, you'll spend a good five or six hours with the game as is, so bonus modes aren't really necessary.

Never frustrating, never under-challenging, but always a pitch-perfect experience from beginning to end. You do not want to miss this superb casual time management game!

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  • Currently 4/5
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Rating: 4/5 (29 votes)
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grinnyp_dreamland_banner.png

GrinnypThe tinny sound of calliope music echoes in your ears, intermittently overcome by the shrieks of little children and the bellowing of barkers. Wandering, leaves crunching underfoot, wafts of familiar scents evoking pleasure, buttery popcorn, spun sugar, batter coated food frying overlay an undertone of machine oil. Dizzying sights of whirling lights pierce the darkness of night as a chill wind caresses the skin, raising goose bumps; magic and mystery are in the air tonight. The coming of fall brings one of childhood's delights, the traveling carnival, but as you get older doesn't it all seem a bit creepy? The bright lights cannot quite mask the rot and decay that is noticeable close up, and cast strange and frightening shadows on the faces of workers and fair-goers alike. Underneath the surface it seems as if something lurks, something perhaps evil, and Dreamland, the latest adventure/hidden object hybrid by AstarGames captures this mood perfectly. Perhaps a little too perfectly, as you might never view a traveling carnival or circus the same way again. Or sleep really well after playing.

dreamland.jpgA quick, frightening animation sets the scene as a young man flees for his life from a carnival that has come alive, attempting to keep him inside. That boy is your younger brother, who has not escaped unharmed, and it is up to you to trace his steps and fight the evil that has damaged his soul. The malignant dwarf who runs the carnival likes to play games, you see, and the price for failure is very high. You as the player must try to beat him at his own game, solving puzzles, finding hidden objects, and navigating your way through the maze that is this evil place, while your opponent gloats via a loudspeaker system that is everywhere. Can you succeed in saving your brother's soul?

Dreamland plays like a standard hidden object/adventure hybrid, with a changing cursor, navigation arrows, and the ever-present glittering dots in the scenery. Sparkles can indicate places to examine, hidden object scenes, objects that can be collected and mini-games and puzzles. Once you solve your way past the gates (requiring a minor blood sacrifice) there is a handy map to be found that allows you to not only navigate the area but also lets you know where new hidden object scenes have triggered and allows the player to "jump" from one location to another quickly. Every hidden object scene will yield one useful object that will go into your inventory, and each scene also includes at least one item that you must "create" either by assembling pieces or interacting with other objects.

dreamland.jpgNavigation is not quite as simple as pointing and clicking, however. Areas of the carnival are protected by gates, each one a mini-game or puzzle. Once you solve your way through the gates, each attraction or ride requires a ticket, which can only be obtained by spending a special coin (found along the way) and playing the Wheel of Fortune, itself a match-3 mini-game that gets more difficult with each ticket earned. The first mini-games and puzzles are very easy, but the difficulty increases as you wind your way further and further into the dwarf's lair, hopefully attaining your ultimate goal of finding the heart of the carnival, beating the dwarf's puzzles, and rescuing your brother's soul.

Analysis: What sets Dreamland apart from the crowd of adventure/hidden object hybrids is the fact that it has all the bells and whistles of a more expensive (read: Collector's Edition) game for the price of a standard release. Gameplay is gratifyingly longer than usual for the hybrids on the market and the puzzles, while familiar, are fun and actually increase in difficulty along the way. The hidden object scenes are tough, cluttered scenes and there are even two (not one, but two) side quests to search for extra objects as well.

dreamland.jpgThe graphics are eerily beautiful, capturing both the magic and the underlying decay of the traveling carnie. Adding to the atmosphere is the unobtrusive yet creepy music, the haunting incidental sounds (creaking wood, rustling leaves, etc.) and the annoying boasting of your enemy over the loudspeakers as you progress from one location to the next. The hidden object scenes are dark and a little grainy, and very, very cluttered. A handy refilling hint timer (that fills extremely slowly) doubles as help within the hidden object scenes as well as outside, letting you know (if you dare to ask) where to go next. You also have the standard notebook which keeps track of the story and clues along the way as well as that magical map.

Ah, the map, one of the best features of the game. The map serves three purposes: it helps you keep track of the rides and attractions in this winding maze of a carnival, it allows the player to "jump" instantly from one place to another (cutting down on the "back and forthing" so common to many adventure hybrids), and it allows a player to find hidden objects scenes that have reactivated for a second (and/or third) time, cutting down on even more wandering while trying to figure out what to do next. The puzzles and mini-games are skippable after a certain amount of time as well.

The only minor downside to Dreamland is the graininess and darkness of some of the hidden object scenes, making them a bit difficult for old, tired eyes. The puzzles are not original and for the most part pretty easy, but also feature some amusing fun like a shooting gallery and an amazing evolution/progression puzzle similar to the Grow series of games. The atmosphere is spooky, the story hooks you immediately, and the gameplay is refreshingly long for a standard issue adventure hybrid. This is not a game that you will finish ten minutes after the demo runs out.

Beautiful, engaging, lengthy, difficult, Dreamland is everything that you could want in a hidden object/adventure hybrid and more. A feast for the eyes, ears, and brains, evoking that long ago distrust of the traveling carnival and showing the evil that can lurk beneath the surface of any childhood fantasy. Take the time to enjoy the experience and the thrills of Dreamland. And bonus points to anyone who can identify the closing quote.

"All the meanness we harbor, they borrow in redoubled spades. They're a billion times itchier for pain, sorrow, and sickness than the average man. We salt our lives with other people's sins. Our flesh to us tastes sweet. But the carnival doesn't care if it stinks by moonlight instead of sun, so long as it gorges on fear and pain. That's the fuel, the vapor that spins the carousel, the raw stuffs of terror, the excruciating agony of guilt, the scream from real or imagined wounds."

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Weekend Download

JohnBPolitical game starring a cat? Got that! Game with a really big title? Got that, too. How about a game made out of letters? Got that! A game that dispenses pie? Aww, not got that. Fail. Maybe next Weekend Download?

thecatandthecoup.gifThe Cat and the Coup (Mac/Win, 56-69MB, free) - In what is bound to be called "the most unusual computer game this side of Weekend Download", The Cat and the Coup is a slow-paced adventure sort of game that tells the story of Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh, the first democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran. Only, you play his cat, solving puzzles by jumping around, knocking things over, and scratching. Yes, it's a very strange game, but it's surprisingly fun and a bit surreal. You also might just learn something from it, which never hurts, either!

afrofarg.gifAFROFARG: Attack of the Fragrantly Rude Organisms From Another Reality, Golly! (Windows, 20MB, free) - Big name with lots of fun words, eh? Also, AFROFARG is a tower defense game that uses a few basic elemental concepts to add some interesting challenges. Spark, snowball, and fire turrets can be used to deal with normal, fire, and ice enemies. Bet you can guess how the elements interact! You can also upgrade turrets and slow enemies. Fairly standard tower defense for the most part, but the artwork is good and the elemental attributes give it a little extra flavoring.

splash.gifSplash (Mac/Win/Linux, 3MB, free) - An experiment in presentation submitted to an Experimental Gameplay Project month, Ascii is what would happen if the world were made out of letters that spelled what things were. The ground is made up of the letters G, R. O, U, N, D. Water is, of course, W, A, T, E, R, and if you see a C, L, O, U, D float by, you're probably floating in a balloon! Apart from the experimental visual design, Splash is a fairly standard platform game where you run and hop to collect letters scattered throughout the world. Gather them and unscramble them to spell a word at the end of the level, thus theming the next stage right before your eyes! Note: Linux and Mac users will need to download Love2D to play Splash. See the download link above for further details.

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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Secrets of the Dark

JohnBFrom Orneon, crafters of The Agency of Anomalies: Mystic Hospital, comes Secrets of the Dark: Temple of Night, a hidden object/casual adventure game steeped in legends, demons, and a town that's a little on the strange side. The game uses a creative light/dark mechanism that allows you to peer into the demon world simply by turning off or blocking the lights in a room. This morphs the scene and opens up new passageways, reveals new items and objects to explore, and disseminates new bits of story that you'll gobble up like delicious popcorn.

Secrets of the DarkYour journalist friend Peter seems to be in trouble. While staying in an almost deserted town in the middle of the desert, he sends you a message saying he's stumbled upon a demonic plot to break loose and destroy the world. They only need one more sacrifice to pull the job off, and judging by the demons hot on his trail, Peter is that one. You rush off to his rescue, only to find a ghost town filled with creaky signs, locked doors, and more demonic mysteries than a bookshelf filled with H.P. Lovecraft tales.

To save Peter and get to the bottom of this town's mysteries, you'll do what any good casual gamer does: go on a hidden object adventure. Choose between Regular and Advanced Mode at the beginning of the game, the former offering a faster charging hint timer as well as sparkles that denote areas of interest. Search the town as thoroughly as you can, stopping to read pieces of information from strange items you find.

Inevitably, you'll hit an exploration wall and will need to solve some puzzles to continue. To solve a puzzle you'll need some items, and items can be found through general nosiness as well as via hidden object scenes. With the correct item in your inventory, you can return to the scene of the puzzle, insert part A into receptacle C and be on your merry way.

Secrets of the DarkAnalysis: Orneon knows its hidden object adventure games, and Secrets of the Dark: Temple of Night is some of their finest work. The game is delicately crafted from all sides, meshing together a good story with interesting gameplay and puzzles that never rely on trite gaming mechanisms to artificially expand the experience. The result is a full, unique, and well-paced game that is genuinely intriguing to play!

Secrets of the Dark includes a number of fantastic little touches that makes it all the more immersive in nature. The most obvious of these is how many pieces of the environment shift or animate when you click on them, even though they offer nothing and add nothing to the story. Knocking signs down and pushing glasses across the table is a lot of fun! It may not seem like much, but when you feel like you can affect the game world, it becomes yours.

Story is immensely important in Secrets of the Dark, and it's told in a very exciting, intriguing sort of way. You'll find tapes made by Peter as you explore the town. Each will reveal a bit of backstory while furthering your sense of dread. Viewing certain items also fills in some information and encourages you to really explore the game with your cursor, clicking on anything and everything that catches your fancy.

If you're hunting for a hidden object adventure game that's heavy on the latter, lighter on the former, and so steeped in horror-style myth that you'll be afraid to close the curtains in your room, Secrets of the Dark is a definite win. It's well-made from every angle and offers a smart, deep adventure game from beginning to end.

A Collector's Edition is also available. It contains exclusive bonus adventures, a bonus mini-game, wallpapers, and 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:
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Get the full version
Also available: Collector's Edition

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


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Link Dump Fridays

DoraOf all the casual gaming review sites on the internet, you had to walk into mine... really, you had to. If you didn't, I wouldn't get paid, and then I'd have to get a real job, and I can't go back there, man, I can't!

  • HazmatHazmat - Ask any of the science teachers who had the misfortune of trying to impart knowledge to me throughout the course of my education, and in addition to a haunted stare you'll probably also be advised that you shouldn't let me near any sort of chemical. Well, JOKE'S ON YOU, MIZ SWITZER! Thanks to this little retro platformer I am now perfectly equipped to deal with all sorts of toxic materials, and if you play it, you will be too! Just run, leap, and try not to die in what has to be the world's most loosely "up to code" training center ever.
  • Zombie ExterminatorZombie Exterminator - Apparently, there's a blood feud going on between zombies and physics puzzle game developers, since any time the undead pop up lately they're getting crushed under elaborate physics contraptions. Man, I dunno... I think you guys need to sit down with Dr Phil and work that stuff out because it is making office parties really awkward. But in the interim, I guess, you're just going to have to settle for splattering the undead all over the place. But I want you to know, you're only perpetuating a vicious cycle!
  • MoontypeMoontype - We like the moon, even though it hasn't returned my Backstreet Boys CD I loaned it in junior high "just for the weekend". Still, the moon is pretty rad, and most of us are ready to defend it the only way we know how... by typing tiny words furiously to destroy aliens who are thoughtful enough to broadcast proper spelling as their only weakness! It's a simple, good looking little game that needs a bit more variety, but is just perfect for anyone who needs to feel like they've accomplished something today. Punk, I took down an alien armada, I think that's a little more important than "getting my work done".
  • Rocket PandaRocket Panda - Longanimals knows what you need, baby, and what you need is to stare at some furry round panda butt! Soar through unusual environments in a very Star Fox-type fashion (minus annoying bird and frog), grab power-ups, and blast... things! Adorable, bouncy, and simple to play, this game is full of that panda butt arcade action we all look for in our day. Plus, I can't help but think that Rocket Panda and Rock Lobster would make one heckuva garage band band.
  • The Adventures of Dear ExplorerThe Adventures of Dear Explorer - Despite what my name would have many, many, many hi-larious souls to suggest, I am not much of an explorer. But you can be, if you fire up this wonderfully campy arcade game full of letter jackets, cheerleaders, dark forces, and man-eating slugs! Delve deep into a cave to rescue your cheerleader, collecting souvenir t-shirts and dying a whole bunch along the way. Awkward controls and stiff gameplay are what prevented my fellow review monkeys and I from giving this its own feature, but any shotgun aficionado who harbours a secret desire to be as close to turning into Bruce Campbell as humanly possible (ie, all of you) will still appreciate it.

  • Currently 4.7/5
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Rating: 4.7/5 (1142 votes)
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joyeLearn 2 FlySummer is often a season of sequels, a season of unimaginative rehashings of proven hits, hoping that the sweaty populace will be too befuddled to notice that the movie or game they're consuming is exactly the same as its predecessor only with all the charm and surprise sucked out. That's why Learn 2 Fly is as refreshing as a blast of south pole air. It's been more than a year since the original Learn to Fly, where audiences were charmed by the plucky penguin seeking to launch himself out of the "non-flying" category in Kiwipedia. It was a stand-out in its genre despite being a pretty simple game.

It's been a year since then, but developer Light Bringer has clearly not been wasting that time. This game is better than the original in every possible way. More gameplay modes. More interesting upgrades. More customization. More secrets, tricks, challenges, and achievements. More replay value. Even the cut scenes are better, and if you remember the cut scenes from the original that's an impressive achievement indeed. The penguin has awoken from his coma and is still in sure of internet vindication of his reputation. A fool's errand, yes, but a funny one. At least this time he has the foresight to use a penguin shaped sack as his test dummy.

There are three gameplay modes: story, classic, and arcade. Story mode introduces the new twist of obstacles, such as the iceberg that was your downfall in the first game, that must be destroyed in order to triumph. Classic mode is the same general idea as the first game, that is, fly to the right as far as you can. Arcade mode provides three different set budgets and the idea is to get as great a score as you can with only that amount of money and no more.

You can choose between keyboard controls ([right] and [left] arrow keys and [spacebar] to control boosts) or mouse (move the cursor to control angle, click for boosts). Between launches, you can spend your money on a better launch pad, gliders, balloons, rockets, and other things to go faster, higher, and farther. You can also earn bonus points for completing certain challenges, which you can use in the bonus shop to buy what are essentially built-in cheats. You can lower gravity, reduce drag, even rig the calendar in your favor. The cool thing is that these bonus shop items carry over between games, so you can restart the game with them already in place.

Learn 2 FlyAnalysis: In order to maintain my disinterested reviewer cred, I ought to say something negative about the game somewhere, so I'll get that out of the way. Sometimes the link in the lower right hand corner in the shop to the mobile game or the t-shirt store partially obscures the page turning button, which is mildly irritating.

That's about as harsh as I can get. Seriously, this game is awesome. One of the main problems with the launch genre is that you hit that plateau where you're just grinding to save up for the next upgrade in the linear sequence. Learn 2 Fly's upgrades branch in different directions, so you can use those lulls to try different combinations to see which one fits your individual playing style. Do you prefer to use sheer impact to destroy obstacles, or would you rather explode them? Do you want to go fast and furious, or slow and steady? And there's a ton of challenges and medals to try for as well, from the predictable speed and distance milestones, to attempting to go backwards. Not to mention the eight secrets the game claims to harbor.

When you've already released one smash hit, it must be tempting to just rush out another sequel as soon as possible in order to keep a hold on the fickle attention spans of internet gamers. It's great to see a developer who's clearly so willing to put in the time, and also to listen to his fans (the diving challenges are a direct result of user response to the first game, for example). I hope it won't take another year to get the next game in this series, but there's almost enough goodies in this one to keep you occupied until then even if it does.

Play Learn 2 Fly


  • Currently 4/5
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Rating: 4/5 (35 votes)
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Joshnobuyuki4.jpgJust because time passes doesn't mean a sequel can't happen. The recent Tron movie? It was made over 28 years after the original. How about the Wizard of Oz? 46 years passed between it and its dark sequel in 1985. And back in December of 2006, Jay Is Games reviewed a 2003 title by Takahiro Miyazawa and SKT Products called Nobuyuki Forces 3 (NF3). Nobuyuki means "faithful happiness" in Japanese, and indeed, the faithful can now be happy since a sequel to the 2003 hit has finally emerged that's been nearly eight years in the making: Nobuyuki Forces 4.

Nobuyuki Forces 4 (NF4) is essentially a remake of the popular 2003 3rd-person rail shooter, which itself was an ode to games like Time Crisis and House of the Dead. Once again you play a wily female soldier that has infiltrated an office complex, trying to get to the top of the building to face off against a powerful enemy. Each scene begins with your character behind some sort of cover. As enemy soldiers appear, you must first hold [space] to uncover yourself, then use the mouse to aim and shoot at the enemy, and finally release [space] to return to cover. You have limited bullets in your gun, but unlimited ammo that can be reloaded by clicking the mouse while behind cover. The regular "mission" mode has unlimited time, but the unlocked time-based portion requires you to leave your cover more often to avoid running out of time.

While much is the same, this latest follow-up also includes several updates over the original. Fans of the 2003 game will notice that every location from that title is here, but whereas NF3 was presented in a stark, line-art vector style, NF4 has a more modern, comic book look with 2D and 3D elements. There's more animation, sharper environments, voiceovers, and a nifty virtual reality-like screen movement as you aim at the enemy. Collectable upgrades during gameplay are here like before, but now you can also customize your starting statistics (HP, damage, reload speed, bullet capacity, and item capacity) to suit your playing style.

There's a lot to like about Nobuyuki Forces 4. It's a fun 3D shooter with a substantial number of stages, and lots of replay value due to multiple difficulty levels, different game modes, and loads of achievement emblems to collect. It can be a tough game requiring precise mouse control, but gameplay feels rewarding. All told, NF4 is a solid break game you may find yourself coming back to, at least until the next sequel comes.

Play Nobuyuki Forces 4

Thanks to Anon for sending this one in!


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(12 votes) *Average rating will show after 20 votes
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You Are Games

Letters in Boxes #4

ArtbegottiWhat if the letters in our Letters In Boxes puzzles took second priority, after the boxes they're in? How would your view of the puzzles change? It's like trying to imagine eating a hot dog when you can only taste the bun, or driving a car while sitting on the roof (which I suppose is what riding a motorcycle is). The letters themselves are problems enough, but what about an extra layer of complexity, brought to you by the very containers they're delivered in?

In this week's Letters In Boxes challenge, your task is to tackle those puzzles from the outside in. Each puzzle is a "common" logic puzzle, although not necessarily one you might have seen before. Your first goal is to determine what type of puzzle you're facing, then solve it. Even then, you still have to sort out where to get the letters for your next clue. It's a logic/word puzzle sandwich! Which are exactly like motorcycle/hot dog sandwiches. The first puzzle might look eerily similar to something you've seen before, but after that, you're on your own. (Okay, a hint: Here is a good place to search around.)

You can spot your first puzzle below. Click on it to open the puzzle in a new window. Once you solve it and extract an answer from the spread of letters, switch your attention to your address bar (in this case, http://images.jayisgames.com/lettersinboxes/4thlibstart.gif). Change the filename of the image (namely, "4thlibstart") to your answer (be sure to stay within the same directory, and use all lowercase characters) to see if you're right. If you're successful, you'll see your next puzzle. If you're wrong, you won't see much of anything, but you can hit the back button on your browser to try again.

Letters in Boxes #4 - Puzzle 1This batch of puzzles contains five, yes, five puzzles to solve. On the fifth puzzle, you'll find the email address for sending your final answer. We'll hand out a prize to the first correct entry we receive, plus ten additional randomly-selected correct entries. Please include your Casual Gameplay account display name with your entry. You must be at least 13 years of age to enter. Only one submission per participant, please. Offer void where prohibited. Your deadline for submitting your answers is Monday, June 20th at 11:59 PM (GMT-5:00). If you can dig your way to the depths of this daunting dilemma, you might have a dashing diversion delivered to your door! (Which is to say, you could win a prize of some sort.) Good luck!

Update: Congratulations to these 11 winners! :D

  • homero ...First!
  • Ravrius
  • Chaos
  • m5rammy
  • Seraku
  • nerdypants
  • Grizix
  • han519
  • snickerless1
  • nightsoil
  • sillyme2
All eleven winners were given a choice of prizes or an entry into a GRAND PRIZE drawing to be held at the end of August! Congratulations and thanks for playing with us! Look for another Letters in Boxes again soon!

  • Currently 3.2/5
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Rating: 3.2/5 (49 votes)
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pixelexplorer.gifJohnBPixels and physics, two things just about every casual gamer is thoroughly familiar with. Pixel Explorer takes these simple ideas and turns them into a challenging and precision-oriented game of action and reflexes. Using just the mouse, you play a little pixel ball that can transform with nothing more than a [left click]. Turn yourself into a shooting ship that can blast in any direction and work your way through over 30 stages of increasing difficulty, encountering strange new types of pixels while you play!

You have a limited number of transformations to use in each level, putting a bit of pressure on you and your poor mouse hand right from the start. Pixel Explorer won't go easy on you, and you'll have to restart levels a number of times before you get things right. Fortunately, you can collect colored grid pieces to add a transformation to your queue. Getting those grids takes work, though, as you'll have to navigate some serious obstacles to pick them up.

Pixel types are the main feature of Pixel Explorer, and you can check out any block's properties by holding the cursor over it and pressing the [spacebar]. Some blocks are just there to be solid, while others are movable, will damage you, or can push you around the stage.

One neat feature of Pixel Explorer is the ability to be functionally invulnerable while in the midst of your transformation. You'll often have to use your ability to stop on a dime and aim to allow hazardous blocks to pass through you, firing yourself across the screen only when it's safe to do so. And shooting at full power isn't always the answer, as more often than not you'll need a delicate touch to nudge yourself around a tight space or two.

Pixel Explorer's name may be a bit misleading, and there's less exploration and more free-floating arcade/physics action, but don't let that small detail disappoint you. This is a challenging and satisfying game that's constructed with intelligent design at every turn. Some of these stages are brilliantly built, with small puzzles and seemingly impossible situations that require you to think outside the pixelated box and be precise while moving at high speeds. It's not a game for everyone, but if it tickles your fancy, it'll have you hooked from beginning to end.

Play PixelExplorer


  • Currently 4.7/5
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Rating: 4.7/5 (226 votes)
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DoraStarwishAnonymous D Studio's Starwish is a lot of things. Part visual novel, part RPG, part arcade side-scrolling shooter, it's an unusual hybrid to say the least. The story follows you as Deuce, part of a group of pirates that oppose the galactic Federation that's marked you as traitors and villains. Your day-to-day routine of salvage and skirmishes is interrupted when you get wind of some suspicious activity from the Federation that implies they're spending a lot of time and energy looking for something... but what? More importantly, what could it possibly have to do with you and the eclectic bunch of people who have made the pirate Mothership their home? The answer will take you places you've never imagined, and maybe even to the End of Time...

Best of Casual Gameplay 2011The basic gameplay has a few options to choose from, though I chose to go with the basic [WASD] for ship movement and mouse-click to fire. Killing enemies automatically nets you cash and experience, and blasted foes will also occasionally drop bonuses that will give you extra money, shields, and so forth if you grab them in time. You have two bars to be concerned with; your shields, which automatically regenerate, and your health which does not. If your shields are taken out, your health will be damaged, so try to avoid running into enemies, projectiles, and immovable terrain. Don't worry; if you get shot down, you'll just return to base to try again. After the first "tutorial" battle, new locations will open up for you to choose from, but the goal is always the same; The game autosaves for you periodically, but you can also choose "save and exit" from the Mothership screen if you want to take a break.

StarwishWhile Starwish bills itself as an "RPG shooter", a more accurate descriptor might be "Visual Novel Shooter With Some RPG-sy Type Stuff". Between levels, you can pop into various places on the Mothership to talk with the other crew members and learn more about them, purchase upgrades, allocate skill points, and more. You can skip the story sequences with a click of a button, but be careful; not only will you miss out on a lot, there's no way to replay any dialogue you might have missed. I accidentally closed my browser tab at one point in the middle of a conversation, and though the game kept my progress to the last area I'd beaten, it didn't let me see the rest of the scene and I had clearly missed out on a sizable chunk of dialogue. That might have been the loudest profanity Ned Flanders ever heard.

StarwishAnalysis: More than anything, Starwish succeeds on the strength of its cast and story. Surprisingly, the writing is actually pretty darn good despite a tendency to dump large chunks of exposition in your lap at a time... admittedly something that might have been unavoidable considering how complex the story gets towards the end. The cast is large, quirky, and mostly extremely likable in a goofy anime-ish sort of way. While you might not expect it, there actually are multiple endings for different characters in the game, but whether you get them largely depends on how you spend your cash and who you spend most of your time with. The downside to all this is that if all the chatter bores you to tears and you just want to "blow junk up", as the professionals say, you'll find yourself hitting the skip button quite a lot. There's no real interaction in those scenes, and the absence of decision making does make it feel like you're watching a lot of extended cutscenes more than anything else.

The actual shooty-blasty-kaboomy gameplay does feel like it could have been fleshed out more, even with the impressive array of weapons available for upgrade. There's a disappointing lack of interesting temporary power-ups to nab during battle that makes it feel like it's missing a key part of what made classic space shooters so much fun. Because of the art style, a lot of smaller enemies and their projectiles can be all but invisible on certain stages, and it might not always be immediately apparent what is background and what is an obstacle. Moreover, there's a fair amount of repetition to the point where levels wind up feeling basically identical despite their different appearances, and it doesn't help when the bosses begin to repeat. Most players probably won't even find the game much of a challenge until the third set of levels where the amount of enemies and bullets onscreen could technically be called "redonkulous".

StarwishIn an industry where microtransactions are becoming the normal in some fashion or anything, I find it more than a little astounding that a game as big and lovingly crafted as Starwish is was free, because it's something I would have happily paid for. Work began on the game in 2009, and considering it's largely a one-man show (the developer wrote everything, drew everything, and programmed everything himself, music was created by Auriplane) it's got to be incredibly satisfying to see all that effort pay off in a big way. Starwish is impressive and just plain fun, with a cheery, action-packed sci-fi/fantasy story.

While the marriage between old-school arcade shooter action and drama-heavy visual novel storytelling might not be a perfect one, Starwish still succeeds more than it fails. If I don't see a sequel at some point in the future I'm going to be very disappointed. (Starring Deadeye. DEADEYE FOR PRESIDENT.) In the meantime, however, if you like classic side-scrolling shooters and have a fondness for space opera adventures, you really need to give Starwish a try.

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Rating: 4.4/5 (39 votes)
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Test Subject Arena

Tricky Nitrome has done it again! We've guided the little blue piece of protoplasm test subject through two incredibly enjoyable series of experiments. Now it and you faces your greatest opponent yet: a person next to you at the keyboard! Yes, it's Green vs. Blue in the multiplayer-only Test Subject Arena.

Games based solely around local versus are rare in the casual gaming sphere, but should you coerce a friend into the player 2 spot, you'll have fun bouncing, blasting, and bursting each other. And hey... you can play as the Green Test Subject! He skips rope with himself whenever he scores a kill! I can't be alone in being excited by that fact.

The sudden appearance of a two player variation of a popular game about an imprisoned subject carrying out experiments under the watchful eye of a mysterious overseer may have suspicious timing. I cannot, however, fault it in execution. The portals cough cough that fill each of the 14 arenas make for a unique fighting game experience, and one that begs to be shared. This is a game that more than passes the test.

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Rating: 4.1/5 (89 votes)
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TrickyGoin UpGoin Up is a new vertical-scrolling arcade platformer by Komix. Well... when I say "new", I guess I mean "recent" more than "novel". In truth, its gameplay feels more like a mish-mash remix of the mechanics of other releases than its own creation. However, what Goin Up lacks in innovation, it more than makes up for with style. After all, if I'm going to be steering my player-character into bombs to be propelled higher for the hundredth time, those bombs had better be darn pretty. And well... they are.

Controlled with either the mouse or the keyboard, your character, the demonic Mr. Rufus starts at the bottom of a large pit. With a click of the mouse or a hit of the [spacebar], you leap into the air, with another click/hit giving you a double jump, or a wall jump should you find a place to cling. Land on platforms or bounce off of enemies to gain upward momentum, but hitting a spiked ball or a regular enemy from below will cost you health. The higher you go and the more enemies you bloodily bash, the more experience you earn and the more "skulls" you get. These can be spent at the store for various (much needed) upgrades. These include health, jumping abilities, blasting bombs, accelerating rockets, shocking lightning bolts, and invincibility stars, as well as different "skins" for the the player character. You'll probably have to play through a couple of times before getting the hang of it, but it's worth sticking to it. There appears to be no end to the game, so the only question to answer is the one that plagued Meth and Red: How High?

Goin Up is a pretty clear clone of Doodle Jump. However, it is a clone done well, with a nice touch of the launch genre thrown in for good measure. While I will say that its upgrades need to be lower in price, and that the game certainly won't win any awards for most intuitive wall-jumping mechanics, the game is enjoyable enough to play. The real attraction for Goin Up should be Gonzossm's gorgeously twisted artwork. Aesthetics can't make a bad game good, but it can make you more willing to forgive the occasional glitch. Such is the case here: I loved playing "spot the reference" for each of the characters I stomped on. Admittedly, those who don't know their creepers from their Battletoads probably won't get much from it, and some of the more esoteric creatures do require a PhD in Newgrounds lore to interpret. Still, from the stylish enemy caricatures to the elaborate backgrounds, Goin Up is a visual treat. While one may end up hoping gameplay would be as new as the art, all in all, Goin Up is goin' to give you a good time.

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Rating: 4.3/5 (130 votes)
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Weekday Escape

ElleSummer is the perfect time to escape to a tropical seaside, sip an umbrella-sporting cocktail, and—why, not?—go diving for pearls. Too bad the door to your hotel room won't budge and you're trapped, only able to gaze longingly out the window at the deep blue waters and lush palm forest, your only company being a mean-looking piranha. What kind of twisted operation puts piranhas in their guest rooms? Apparently it's the same kind of hotel that forces patrons to plunder their rooms searching for keys to doors locked from the outside. Don't trouble yourself by asking more questions because the soothing atmosphere and quiet surroundings make this scenario a happy one. So begins Pearl Room Escape, the most recent release by TomaTea who is proving to be an up-and-coming star in the genre.

Pearl Room EscapeDescribed by the developer as a "five-minutes room escape game," Pearl Room Escape is not short on pleasing visuals, intuitively logical puzzles or enjoyment. The room is decorated in relaxing aquamarine and soft peach-colored accents. Dolphin statues, jars of colorful pearls, and a cool ceiling fan add to the mood of warm-weather relaxation. Keeping with the theme, collecting pearls is counted as one of the puzzles and finding solutions requires very little note-taking as per the "five-minutes" epithet. While not all players will make their way out within the abbreviated time frame as advertised, the game is leisurely enough for anyone to dive into, providing a vacation from the ordinary milieu.

Like previous TomaTea games such as Orient Express Night and Blossom Spring Escape, the changing cursor is notably absent from Pearl Room Escape. This shouldn't be a problem, though; the environment is bright, crisp and well-designed, making pixel hunting unnecessary (although tempting at times). Usually, puzzle pieces are often obvious even if the solutions are not. Also missing is music or ambient noise, which might be a disappointment to some: the ocean view is diminished without the accompanying roar of waves crashing on the shore. Instead, sound effects consist merely of an occasional chime when an inventory item is first discovered. Door handles do not rattle and silence is the only response to an incorrectly-entered code.

Yet despite rigidly unchanging cursors, disobliging sound effects, or toothy fish who intercept players' pearl retrieval efforts, TomaTea provides assistance with the "I have no clue how to solve this" message, which goes a long way toward directing escapers toward puzzles we're equipped to solve and those that have yet uncovered clues. Inventory items are on ready display needing only a simple click to use or examine. As for other features, anyone whose first reaction upon opening a game is to click the "mute" button will be glad for the lack of background music. On the other hand, busy-types who are routinely interrupted might mourn the absence of a save button.

Initially, Pearl Room Escape may seem too short or lacking in features to garner much attention, yet this mini-escape is a true pearl of delight. It might not be long before TomaTea is ranked near such room escaping jewels as Tesshi-E, Robamini, and Neutral. TomaTea has been consistent in presenting eye-pleasing, cogent, amusing escape games and Pearl Room Escape is no small reminder of that potential. You won't want to overlook this little gem!

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Rating: 4.4/5 (138 votes)
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DoraK.O.L.M. IIAntony Lavalle and Armor Games activate their Wonder Twin Powers once again to bring us K.O.L.M. II, the next chapter in the ongoing saga of everyone's favourite forlorn, emotionally abused and eager-to-please little robot. Picking up directly where the original left off (so you should play it if you haven't already), this Metroidvania style platform game once more finds us wandering through a hostile but strangely barren environment. As our hero wonders, is he free? Or just alone? You'll have to guide him to find out. Just remember, nothing worth having ever comes easy.

K.O.L.M. is played entirely with the keyboard, using the [arrow] keys for movement, [Z] to jump (now with spicy triple jump flavour) and [X] to shoot. In the beginning, Our Hero's abilities are fairly limited, but before long you'll start finding upgrades and new abilities (maybe even new allies?) to make the journey easier. Just make sure to steer clear of spikes, beasties, and, most importantly, concentrated doses of sunlight, which as everyone knows is the natural predator of the robot. Even if you can't avoid a hazard, don't worry; at worst you'll have to worry about starting the area you just entered over again, since you'll immediately respawn at the last entrance you came through. If you need to check your map, hit [M] to bring up the menu, where you can also do all sorts of exciting robot things like setting the video quality or turning off the sound. If you need to take a break, the game autosaves for you and you can just click "continue" the next time you start it up to continue at the last room you entered.

K.O.L.M. IIAnalysis: K.O.L.M. II is a lot of things; it's sad, it's mysterious, it's creepy and lovely and lonely all at once... but it also feels like it's a little slow. You'd be forgiven for playing the first five minutes or so and thinking it's just more of the melancholy jumping robot action served up by the original. K.O.L.M. II feels almost more story driven than anything else, with even the most significant (and a-freakin-dorable) "upgrade" directly relating to the narrative. Once you do snag it, however, K.O.L.M. II actually winds up almost feeling more like a puzzle game somewhat in the vein of Fireboy and Watergirl... only, uh. More depressing.

Somewhat less endearing is the wibbley-wobbley (or is that tilty-wilty?) camera and screen angles that make a reappearance from K.O.L.M.I.A.M.. While there's no denying that the effect is... interesting... there are times when it simply feels like it's getting in the way and doesn't really serve much of a purpose except to "make things look all trippy and whatnot", to use the scientific term. You can occasionally be left squinting at the screen when the camera pulls all the way out, trying to keep track of a tiny hero on a large screen with tiny enemies, and the canting viewpoint and "graphical glitches" don't help matters. It's distracting, and in some places it really does feel like it can keep you from being fully immersed in what is otherwise a beautifully crafted atmosphere and creepy tale. The visuals have gotten a subtle upgrade that makes the whole thing look incredibly professional and slick, and the soundtrack helps create a sense of vastness that you can't wait to get out and explore. K.O.L.M. II is an absolutely beautiful game that you can't help but want to get lost in, even as you find yourself dreading what you might find.

It's rare to find a sequel that actually feels like a proper sequel, rather than absolutely changing everything that made the original great or (just as bad) not changing a single thing and offering what essentially boils down to a level pack. K.O.L.M. II is a satisfying adventure that maybe needed a bit less "style" in some places but manages to deliver on almost every level regardless. While the gameplay is still fairly standard, it's simple to grasp and easy to get lost in, and the end result just may stay with you for quite some time.

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Rating: 4.4/5 (45 votes)
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joyeFlagstaff: Chapter ThreeLaugh if you want, haters, but I say that the Flagstaff series has developed into one that truly has its finger on the pulse of horror. Oh sure, other RPG titles may have you facing sinister demons or waves of undead, but the second game in this series had four adventurers (and a king in a towel) facing a relentless array of puns. Now that you've defeated that pungeon master, the five-man band is descending into a cave with an even greater threat: humidity. Turns out putting a cave of ice and a cave of fire next to each other isn't that great of an idea. See if you can survive without your hair getting too poofy in the latest romp, Flagstaff: Chapter Three.

If you've played the other two chapters, especially chapter two, you already know what to expect gameplay wise. In fact, other than new skills and enemies, I didn't notice anything truly different between this chapter and chapter two. The game is primarily mouse-controlled, with [arrow] keys or [WASD] to assist in navigation if you prefer. When it's your turn, move your characters around the isometric, randomly-generated dungeon and use their skills to attack enemies. You start out with some skill points already to spend as you choose, and you level up as you kill enemies. Once you've exhausted your options, click end turn to give the enemies (if any) a chance, and then it's back to you. Your immediate goal is to get to the end of the level, the ultimate goal to get through all the levels. You actually don't have to kill any enemies to beat the game. You could conceivably just put all your skill points into speed, health and healing and sprint like blazes.

The good thing about Flagstaff: Chapter Three is that it's more of the same, and since the previous games were fun, light-hearted time wasters well received by many in the JIG community as well as myself, more of the same can't go too wrong. Of course, being more of the same is also its biggest drawback. While it probably would have slowed things down too much to add another party member, some new twist would have helped make the game feel more like a standalone title and less like an expansion pack. I generally don't want to be told "if you liked X then you will also like Y." I want to be told "if you liked X, you're going to LOVE Y!" Flagstaff 3 is the former, not the latter, but it's still an amusing dungeon crawl experience.

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Rating: 4.2/5 (66 votes)
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dillohills.jpgJohnBSad armadillo is sad because he can't fly like the birds. He can run and roll, though, and with your help, he can do something remarkably close to flying! Dillo Hills by Fex Labs is a browser-based action arcade game similar to the iPhone release Tiny Wings. All you do in this simple physics-centric title is hold the [down] arrow key to dive towards the hills. When you hit terra firma you start to roll, coasting along the slopes to gain more and more speed. Release the button and soar high into the sky, picking up speed and traveling to distant lands in the process!

Happiness is equivalent to hang time in Dillo Hills, so naturally you'll want to stay in the air as long as you can to keep your 'dillo smiling and content. Happy armadillos move faster, too, so the more speed you have, the more speed you'll get, the higher jumps you'll make, etc. Smacking into the ground at an awkward angle makes 'dillo unhappy, so try not to do that, k? Keep your speed up and your airtime high and you'll eventually cross to new zones, featuring more birds to smack into, more gems to collect, and tougher hills to traverse.

Oh, and wait, what's this? Unlockables? Tons of them? Yup, you know it! Collecting diamonds from the slopes allows you to purchase ability upgrades in the shop available from the main menu. Simply click your way to the store and you can increase your drop speed, decrease damage taken, and more. You can also choose different non-armadillo characters to play as, including a turtle, a squirrel, and a penguin! You can even unlock a few hats to spiffy up your dress for your romp across the fields!

Dillo Hills doesn't innovate on any front, but it does provide a genuinely good browser gaming experience. Play it for the cute animals. Play it for the intense hill-sliding action. Play it because no matter how many times you try, you just can't get the drop timing down perfectly. Or, just play it because you can make a penguin wear a top hat.

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The Vault

Tricky "Tell me what you play, and I will tell you who you are" - Jay Bibbat-Savarin

Eight years ago, a man's fantasy became a reality in a form never seen before: JayIsGames.com, a giant arena for the best of casual gameplay. The motivation for spending his fortune to create JiG was to encounter new original games which could be called true artistic creations. To realize his dream, he secretly started choosing the top games of various genres from around the world and began featuring them upon his website. Soon, it became known the authors of those games featured would win the people's ovation and fame forever. Thus, if memory serves me correctly, we look to the land of the rising sun to feature some of the best casual gameplay works from the nation of Japan. The heat is on in the JiG Vault! ALLEZ JEUX!

  • Dice WarsDice Wars - Dice Wars, by Taro Ito of Game Design Japan, feels like it should be an adaptation of a century-old strategy board game, rather than an entirely new creation. Certainly Risk is an inspiration, but with quicker action, randomly generated maps, and fewer mispronunciations of "Kamtchatka", Dice Wars has the perfect balance of luck and skill that makes it easy to pick up and impossible to put down. The fact that new dice "troops" are assigned each round based on contiguous rather than total territories is a stroke of genius that takes Dice Wars far beyond the level of a mere clone. You have the choice of the original (with a strong, but not perfect AI opponent) and the online multiplayer KDice. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages: upper-level KDice players are more skilled than a computer could ever be, but the shifting alliances of the chat window can transform the game into a more luck-based version of Diplomacy. Whether that's a good thing or not is up to the individual player, but, whatever your opponent, Dice Wars has a timeless quality all its own.
  • Lonely House MovingLonely House Moving - One of the few great action-romance games, Lonely House Moving is a work to be tried, finished, shared and love. Much is open to interpretation, but I like to think of it as the story of a man who sees the woman he loves move away before he ever got a chance to express, or even realize his feelings. When he does though, he thinks of nothing but a reunion, no matter what the obstacles. Boxes, birds, and bras impede his chasing progress, and it'll take more than a few tries for him to even come close to happily reuniting. Still, you should try as often as you need to in order to give him that chance. The only thing that could make Lonely House Moving more perfect is if author Nigoro had a more consistent hosting service.
  • Guest HouseGuest House - GUMP is very, very good at making point-and-click adventure games, and Guest House is probably my favorite. Gorgeous animations, challenging but logical puzzles, and a satisfying endgame make for an excellent room to spend some time in... wherever it is. Also, while I neither want to build them up too much nor spoil them, I really liked the twists Guest House had to offer. They make the game both a fine example of the escape genre and something just a little bit more. If the counter at the end is to be believed, over a hundred-thousand players agree that Guest House is worth finishing. I think you'll like adding yourself to that number.
  • Nest of MoaiNest of Moai - Eenie Meenie Miny... Moai! I'm not really sure why those darn Polynesian heads make cameos in so many Japanese games. Still, it's nice to see them get a starring role... an entire series, no less! Nest of Moai is the first of SKT Products' Easter Island-inspired works and it's short, quirky and fun. It's also untranslated, but I think the language barrier only improves the experience: Why am I mousing over all these statues? Why is that Japanese man yelling at me? Why are we on the moon? If you've got 90 seconds to spare, you can have quite a good time coming up with an answer

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: 3.8/5 (67 votes)
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joyeLabscapeWhat goes through the head of a scientist head that makes him think, "I will experiment on someone to give him awesome powers beyond the ken of mortal man, and I will treat that someone extremely poorly and keep him locked up! Surely nothing will go wrong with this plan, right?" I mean, scientists are former geeks, right? Didn't they play video games when they were kids? If the villains behind Labscape, a physics puzzle platformer by bart99, had done their gaming homework, they would have realized that spinning blades on trampolines just don't cut it as a security system. But since they didn't, you're going to have to help the blocky-headed hero escape.

The platforming end of things has pretty standard controls. Your choice of [WASD] or [arrow] keys to move and jump, plus the option to use [spacebar] if you desire. [Down] or [S] is used to drag things backwards. On the physics puzzle end of things, there's a toolbar in the upper right with the option to draw rectangles and circles. You select the kind of object you want to draw, then draw it on the level with the cursor. Once drawn, you can move it around by dragging and double click to turn it into a solid object that affects things in the level. You have a limited number of objects to have out at one time on a level, but you can delete objects that you drew incorrectly or simply don't want anymore by selecting the delete button and then clicking on the object.

In each level, you want to get from where you are to the white door. There are a number of mysteriously floating vials in each level which you can collect, but you're not actually required to get all of them to exit.

LabscapeAnalysis: Labscape skews more towards the platform than the puzzle end of the spectrum when it comes to its challenge. While the level designs are clever and frequently charming, with my personal favorite being what I might call "razor blade surfing," it doesn't take more than a little thought to figure out where the missing pieces are that you have to draw. In fact, some levels don't allow you to draw anything at all, falling back on pure platforming.

Therefore, this is more one for the platforming fans who like a little spritz of puzzling. Puzzle fans who aren't very good at platforming will find that it will do better for their blood pressure to skip this one altogether. A few levels seem designed to separate the rage quitters from the real gamers. For example, you finally manage to get across a difficult area to the platform on the other side. Safety! You pause to bask in your triumph for a moment... and the platform drops down, killing you and sending you back to the beginning of the level. It's not quite Unfair Platformer, but you'll be forgiven if you're momentarily tempted to make your mouse a projectile weapon.

After playing through this one, the impression I had is that maybe the scientists aren't trying to keep the hero locked away after all. Maybe this is actually some kind of super harsh training ground for circus performers or Olympic gymnasts. That's the only possible explanation for all the levels involving running atop a large ball like a trained poodle and trampolining around red death lasers, while the aforementioned spinning blade of death surfing could be seen as merely an extremely high motivation training for the balance beam. Completing this game won't necessarily turn you into a lithe athlete, but it will provide a fun little break for your day.

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Rating: 4.5/5 (369 votes)
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MikeDibbles: For the Greater GoodFor the Greater Good! By which I mean my good. For I am Greater; greater than you, my fellow (though inferior) bipedal arthropods. You can tell because I'm the one sporting the jeweled crown and the purple-and-ermine cloak. Seriously, do you know how hard it is to find ermine in my size? Clearly the one who can wrangle such sartorial finery is the one who must survive the trek from one perilously located toadstool hut to the other, even if that means that all of you lesser creatures must smash, break, and contort yourselves to provide the means for my safe arrival. I recommend you play Dibbles: For the Greater Good, a puzzle arcade game from The Podge Studios, to accustom yourselves to the idea of your noble sacrifice on my behalf.

Anyone who has ever played the classic PC game Lemmings will recognize the gameplay in Dibbles. In each level, a troop of marching ant-like critters (who I suppose are the eponymous Dibbles) must be ferried to the exit point with as little loss of life as possible, taking special care to spare the life of the chief monarch Dibble, who always enters the game last. To do this, select one of a limited number of commands available each level. This will tell one Dibble to perform one of several tasks; to turn into a bridge, springboard, or bungee chord, or to dig through terrain or block the path of other Dibbles. This sacrifices the Dibble in question, but allows for the survival of others. So far this is almost exactly like Lemmings, but there is one difference: While you issue commands to Lemmings by clicking on them, you order Dibbles about by placing the command where it should be executed on the screen. When any Dibble comes across a command marker, they carry out the command. To me this is a great improvement over the standard Lemmings formula, as my frustration was always with the unnecessary difficulty in clicking on the fast-moving Lemmings at the proper time. The Dibbles method seems so obviously better that I'm surprised it wasn't used originally.

The presentation in Dibbles is merely fair. Music and sound effects are rote, though they are easily muted. The artwork is cute and whimsical, but it's also a little crude. That said, I did enjoy the animation, particularly the various twisted ways your Dibbles off themselves as they carry out your orders. For most levels, the difficulty is mild, though there are a few challenges; and you can fast-forward through levels once you have all your command markers set, making each level pretty quick. The fun in Dibbles is in breezing through the levels and seeing what other gruesome tasks you can set your Dibbles to executing. All For The Greater Good, of course.

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Rating: 4.1/5 (54 votes)
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DoraSpeed RunnerBomb squads are for suckers! Double Dutch Games knows that when danger strikes you don't call the professionals, you call a guy who can run fast!... like... really fast! Speed Runner is a timed arcade platformer about the titular hero's goal to track down and dismantle the bombs planted all over the city and deal with the villainous mind behind it.

Use the [arrow] keys to move, and [Z] to jump. Every stage except "boss battles" has a time limit related to a bomb planted somewhere in the area; your job is simply to avoid hazards and reach the bomb in time to dismantle it (even a split second is enough, so don't stress) before you get blown to that great Fortress of Solitude in the sky. Make sure you avoid any hazards, since Speed Runner is apparently super fragile and a single hit forces you to restart the level. Speed Runner is initially only able to do one thing; run really fast. However, as the game progresses, grateful scientists will provide you with more equipment to let you use different abilities, like a grappling hook to swing past danger (controlled with [X]), or a special glove that lets you cling to walls and leap off them. During boss levels, you'll have to use all the tools at your disposal... to... um... run away. Uh... you're my hero, Speed Runner? *sigh*

If you don't do well under pressure, Speed Runner is not going to be for you. Your jumping height largely depends on how much speed you build up, and sometimes all it takes is a hesitation or missed step to mean the difference between hitting your target or falling onto the bed of spikes below. It was enough to make me wish in a few places that the game would simply let me skip a level if I died too often on it. Especially during the boss levels. Which, speaking of, sort of makes me wonder why a super villain is bothering with easily disarmed bombs when he has giant death vehicles the size of covered with buzz-saws lying around. (Bro, Dr Octopus thinks you're overcompensating.)

The whole thing has a wonderful Golden Age comic book vibe to it, however, from the character design and cutscenes to the gameplay and missions themselves; remember the days when every other super villain would just plant a bomb under an orphanage and call it a day? The gameplay is fast, breezy, and easy to pick up despite the challenge it represents across its handful of levels, and I can't help but feel it should have a narration throughout from Adam West or Townsend Coleman. While there's admittedly only so much you can do with a superhero who relies heavily on gadgets without turning him into a sprightlier Batman, Speed Runner is a concept I'd love to see expanded upon and developed more in the future.

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Mobile Monday

JohnBThis edition of Mobile Monday is so full of awesomeness, we had to evade the government agents chasing after us for breaking awesomeness laws in 42 countries! PROTIP: The old Groucho Marx glasses/moustache/nose mask doesn't work as well as it does for Bugs Bunny.

bumpyroad.gifBumpy Road (universal) - The creator of Kosmo Spin has released another cute, simple game you'll want to get your iPhone-owning paws on. While the happy little vroom car putters along above, your job is to use your finger to bulge the landscape, knocking the car up or simply nudging it closer to the items you want to collect. The physics are spot-on accurate and allow you to affect the vehicle's speed, direction, and make it jump almost anywhere you want. Several tracks are available with varying difficulty, making it the perfect physics game for just about any casual gamer looking for a cute slice of entertainment bliss!

mightyfin.gifMighty Fin (iPhone, iPod Touch) - Similar to Tiny Wings, Mighty Fin is a great-looking physics racing game with just one method of control. Tap the screen to make Fin sink underwater. Time your moves to gather all the orbs, and release your finger to send Fin up, splashing out of the water to make some impressive leaps over boats, rocks, and other land-based obstacles. The coolest part is being able to change your costume, with unlockable outfits ranging from bunny ears to the coolest pair of sunglasses ever crafted on this Earth. work your way through each level as you master your fine, fishy controls. From Launching Pad Games, the creator of the iPhone adventure game, Scarlett and the Spark of Life.

7littlewords.gif7 Little Words (universal) - From the creator of Moxie comes another simple word game Best of Casual Gameplay 2011you won't be able to stop playing. 7 Little Words is sort of a simplified version of a crossword puzzle. Seven short clues are at the top of the screen alongside a number showing you how many letters the answer has. Look at the letter chunks at the bottom of the screen and see if you can assemble something of an answer. In-app purchases extend the life of the download by massive strides, allowing you to nab packs of 50 puzzles for practically nothing. A fantastic casual word game that's great to play with friends, too!

cubetastic.gifCubetastic (iPhone, iPod Touch) - What if a Rubik's cube went all crazy and decided it needed to involve color matching like a casual puzzle game? It would be Cubetastic, and it would be brain-achingly difficult at times. But in the cool way, of course. Rotate, slide, and shift the cube so you can make a path from your orb of light to the goal. Different cube sizes, power-ups, multiple colors, and over 150 puzzles make this one an essential purchase if you're even remotely interesting in playing a logic puzzle game that will turn your hair gray. The free Cubetastic Lite is also available, as well as Cubetastic HD for iPad.

NOTE: Games noted as 'universal' have been designed for iPod Touch, iPad, and iPhone devices alike. 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.


(16 votes) *Average rating will show after 20 votes
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Super Space Rubbish

JohnBYou like Dino Run SE, right? And Nanotube? Well, imagine a game that's nothing like either of those games but co-created by the makers of each. Imagining that? Now stop and check out Super Space Rubbish, a game that satisfies the wildest fantasies you've had since starting this review, and does so with a fantastic retro style. Super Space Rubbish looks a lot like the classic Asteroids game on the surface, but really it's a mining/upgrading sort of experience where you customize your ship using materials extracted from asteroids smashed with your turret.

Super Space RubbishThe game is as simple as this: steer your Griffiths BX-7 Material Recovery Vessel using the [arrow] keys, thrusting forward and in reverse and turning your ship to control direction. The screen doesn't scroll, so you can fly off the edge and wrap around the other, just like the asteroids and enemy ships that float by do. Tap [c] to fire your weapons, and use [x] to activate your shield. Moving and using your equipment costs energy, so you can only do so much before you have to pause for a fraction of a second to recharge. Don't worry, you won't have to conserve energy in this game. Just don't go mad with the turrets and shield and you'll be fine!

Various chunks of rocks float through your little patch of space, and you can shatter them to tiny bits with your guns. You want to break them down as much as possible, both to minimize the chance you take a hit and to extract more compounds from the debris. Floating support drones will occasionally stop by, allowing you to dock and exchange your payload for cash and upgrade your equipment. The upgrades shop is a strong part of the game, as there are plenty of things to bump up a notch, all of which have a serious affect on the rubbish harvesting you'll spend most of your time doing.

It's not all asteroids and compounds, though. Lifeforms often pay you a visit, bouncing around the debris field and causing general havoc to the area. Many can be absorbed by your shield, while some visitors will require different measures to deal with. Oh, and there's big ships. Comets will visit you, too. And they're neat!

Super Space RubbishAnalysis: Super Space Rubbish has the feel of a nice, casual browser game in many ways, but its ability to call you back for more and more sessions is what makes it so deliciously special. We all love mining games, and we love games that let us upgrade things out the wazoo, too. Super Space Rubbish combines both, wrapped lovingly in a retro arcade shell and coated with the nicest of electronic soundtracks that can be surprisingly awesome to listen to outside of the game.

Adapting an arcade experience into a game that includes strategy-like elements isn't always successful, and one of the problems you can run into is repetition. Super Space Rubbish avoids this by introducing new events every once in a while. It's often a long wait between upgrade drones, leaving you all by yourself to beat up asteroids and avoid their debris. Events like comets flying by or aliens paying you a visit keep things new and interesting, breaking up the monotany of black and white fields of asteroids to boot.

In what could very well be an indie gaming first, Slakinov and PixelJAM are selling Super Space Rubbish packaged along with its soundtrack via Bandcamp, a site traditionally reserved for music. Really, you can think about Super Space Rubbish as a bonus you get for grabbing a great five song electronic soundtrack, all for, as the official website accurately puts it, a "disgustingly reasonable price". There's even a DinoRubbish bundle that includes Dino Run SE, Super Space Rubbish, and soundtracks for both games, available for barely more than Super Space Rubbish alone!

Glowy neon artwork, simple gameplay that gets so much better the more you play, asteroids that go "BOOM", and high-tech spacecraft that can upgrade handfuls of equipment and dock with futuristic geometric shapes. Yeah, it's safe to say Super Space Rubbish is a big pile of awesome.

WindowsWindows:
Play the browser demo
Get the full version (includes soundtrack)

Mac OS XMac OS X:
Play the browser demo
Get the full version (includes soundtrack)

LinuxLinux:
Play the browser demo
Get the full version (includes soundtrack)


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Stand O Food 3

JohnBMmm, delicious time management games. If slinging burgers, serving tacos, or making cakes doesn't get your appetite going, you probably need to play a little longer! Stand O'Food 3 is a new time management game that puts you in the chef shoes of Ronnie, a mega-talented restauranteur whose skills at making eateries popular rivals that of every other time management game hero! Now it's your job to run a series of burger joints that, apparently, sell burgers the size of a couch cushion. Business is booming, though, and you'll have a great time serving food and pleasing customers in this casual game!

standofood3a.jpgStand O'Food 3 gives you fewer things to worry about than many time management games, and the main focus is on getting the order done in the correct order. Customers saunter in your cafe and display a picture of what they want. Most orders are things like chicken burgers with a drink, or some ice cream with a bacon burger. Later restaurants change the food around, but the concept is the same. The conveyor belts at the top of the screen seem to know exactly the ingredients you'll need to serve the customers of the day, so all you have to do is build the orders one by one and Ronnie will take care of the rest!

Doing things in the right order is the key to success. So, for example, you can't put mayonnaise on top of bacon and slide the bun on top of that. Customers simply won't accept a botched order, so you've got to use recycling bins and queue plates to your advantage. Swap food and get everything right to send each customer on his or her way. They have limited patience, so pay attention!

Between levels you get to spend some cash in the upgrades shop. Refill your sauce jars, buy new and better french fry machines, soda fountains, jukeboxes and queue plates to make your daily life a little bit easier. It's up to you what you purchase, but at the beginning of the game your options will be pretty limited, so grab what the game suggests.

standofood3b.jpgAnalysis: Stand O'Food 3 aims for simplicity, and that simplicity is what gives it such a wide appeal. You don't have to perform every little action in the game to win, so let customers order their own food, pay you on their own, and sit down of their own accord. You just focus on the food! At first it's all about burgers, but later you get to serve different kinds of food such as chocolate, lasagna, and pie. Mmm, pie...

One nice feature in Stand O'Food 3 is the option of choosing between three difficulty levels. Switch it to "easy" if you really don't want a difficult time at all, and pump it all the way up to "difficult" if you're a time management veteran and area ready to get your burger building skills put to the test.

There are plenty of restaurants to complete in Stand O'Food 3, each one with four levels to work through. That adds up to several hours of gameplay, more if you're playing on the highest difficulty and have to trudge through each challenging stage. The gameplay remains largely the same, which is a bit of a downer once you hit your stride, as nothing really comes along to break the late-in-the-game monotany. But by this time you'll already be hooked, so new gimmicks aren't as much of a concern.

Stand O'Food 3 aims to be an accessible, challenging (or not!), and unique time management game based on the simple concept of food order. It pulls this off without a hitch and provides a great experience from beginning to end!

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


(17 votes) *Average rating will show after 20 votes
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hoteldash2-b.jpg

GrinnypEven in these tough economic times there is one thing you can count on: the drive of a tough little lady named Flo, determined to single-handedly revive every service business known to man. Flo (the familiar heroine of the vast Diner Dash series) has taken leave of her diners and is once again helping resurrect the hotel industry in Hotel Dash 2: Lost Luxuries, the new time management blast from Kef Sensei.

hoteldash2a.jpgUnfortunately, Dinertown is in trouble, all thanks to the mayor (Mr. Big) having spent an inordinate amount of money to build the perfect convention center in order to attract the prestigious French Fry Festival. The good news is that the festival committee really wants to pick Dinertown this time around to host the festivities. The bad news (and isn't there always bad news) is that part of the contract specifies five luxury hotels to house the participants, and Mr. Big has already wiped out the town's budget for the year on the convention center. Enter Flo and her lovely side-kick Quinn to save the day!

The game begins with one decrepit tree motel which Flo and Quinn (mostly Flo) must run and upgrade until it becomes a five star palace. Guests soon arrive and Flo must bring them their luggage, provide room service and housekeeping, and eventually help them check out. Money earned in each round can be used to upgrade the rooms, beautify the hotel, or add much needed necessities like a cart so Flo can handle more requests at a time. Extra points can be earned if you have Flo "chain" tasks like serving room service several times in a row, rather than having the poor woman run back to the lobby each time someone wants something. Star upgrades on a room earn you stars which can be spent clearing away debris and uncovering hidden trunks which contain map fragments. Why map fragments? Because, unlike in Hotel Dash: Suite Success, you don't really know the location of the hotels that need to be upgraded, so you need to find those map fragments to suss out your next locations.

hoteldash2b.jpgEach site is a fantasy hotel of epic proportions: a tree hotel, an underwater marvel, a Swiss chalet carved into a mountain, a gorgeous winter wonderland carved out of ice, and a desert oasis hotel made of sand. There are ten rounds in each location in which you need to meet certain goals and earn enough money and stars to restore each place to its former glory and locate your next objective. Every hotel will house a unique set of characters as customers, each with their own specific wants and needs. Some will be recognizable returns from the first Hotel Dash (the business women, the annoying dog people, snotty celebrities, etc.) and some are new to this game, like clumsy snowboarders and hungry sea captains. Each round becomes more frantic as Flo must deal with more rooms, more customers, and more demands. Keep the customers happy, see to their every need, and they will leave a big tip as they go on their merry way. And if all of the customer interaction wasn't frantic enough, Flo and Quinn must also deal with the evil mayor of Donutville, the normal site of the French Fry Festival, who is determined to sabotage the efforts of Dinertown and bring the festival back home.

Analysis: Creating a sequel to a successful time management game is a tricky business. Some series rest on their laurels, simply repeating the same old gameplay over and over without adding anything new (not to name names, but their initials are FF). Kef Sensei has definitely not done that this time around. Although the basic gameplay remains the same as in Hotel Dash: Suite Success, they have created subtle changes here and there which alters the strategy the player takes and definitely ramps up the difficulty. Kef Sensei has also cranked the graphics and each hotel is a visual delight.

hoteldash2c.jpgA new method of moving around the hotels has been added, ramps. These allow Flo to occasionally bypass the elaborate elevator and stair setups and quickly descend from the upper floors to the lobby. In each hotel the "ramps" have a different shape, whether they be swinging vines, iced slides, or magic carpets. The elevator setups are also more elaborate, so that the strategy of moving Flo from lobby to room to room must take into account the intricacies of the travel. Flo's trusty cart now comes with attachments, different ones for each hotel. The attachments unlock at different rates and you can only use one at a time, so another part of your strategy becomes which will be the best to use in a given situation. Do you want the fruit basket attachment which allows automatically putting a complementary basket at each room, or do you want the cell phone attachment, allowing you to make wake-up calls on the fly without having to knock on doors or use the lobby phone. Other attachments include a food warmer (yes, room service food starts out hot and can get cold if you wait too long to deliver it) a mop (for those levels with the clumsy snowboarders and scuba divers), an ice bucket (to help chill out angry guests), and a nifty nitro rocket which give Flo and her cart amazing speed. Choose wisely, young padawan.

Perhaps the biggest criticism of Hotel Dash: Suite Success was the ease of the game. Most players could blow through the 50 levels with an expert rating on the first try and finish the game in a day. The subtle changes to the transportation routes, the cart attachments, and a shuffling of the upgrade prices means that Hotel Dash: Lost Luxuries is a much tougher game. You may have to go back several times if you want to achieve the trophy for perfect levels. Kef Sensei has also dropped the "endless" mode of gameplay, allowing the gamer to concentrate solely on the epic story of Flo, Quinn, Mr. Big, and the French Fry Festival.

Hotel Dash: Lost Luxuries is time management done fantastically well, challenging, amusing, beautiful, and frantic. Take a few minutes and get sucked into the world of Flo and Dinertown. The gameplay is easy to pick up, the learning curve is gradual, and the action is frantic, causing the gamer to want to try to expert a level just one more time...

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


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Weekend Download

JohnBJust because a game isn't technically finished doesn't mean you can't play it. Or that it isn't fun! This edition of Weekend Download features two games that are still works in progress. They may have some rough edges, dusty corners, and missing bits and pieces here and there, but you can still experience the core of what is shaping up to be a great game. And just think: when the games are officially released, you'll feel all cool and stuff because you already knew about it!

vexedhedgehogs.gifVexed Hedgehogs (Windows, 9.7MB, free) - An entry in the March/April Experimental Gameplay Project with the theme "cheap clones", Vexed Hedgehogs does exactly that, shamelessly cloning just about every popular casual gaming genre from Angry Birds to Peggle. Fling hedgehogs with the slingshot to take out the EVIL cloners who steal unique indie game ideas and market them as their own. Get points for destroying objects, and— wait, let's face it. You're not in it for the gameplay, you're in it for the laughs. More parody than a Mel Brooks film collection, Vexed Hedgehogs will give you a laugh or two along with its surprisingly fun gameplay.

boxguy.jpgThe Adventures of Box Guy (Mac/Win, 8MB, free) - A work-in-progress demo for a spiffy little platform game, Box Guy puts you in control of a guy who looks sort of boxy running around a world made out of boxes. Didn't expect that, did you? At its heart, this is an adventure platform game that takes place in a 2D world, though you'll note the visuals are rather 3D-ish in nature, and with some fine lighting effects to boot! Use [WAD] to move and jump, keeping in mind you can wall jump and mess with a few bits of scenery along the way. This is a demo of the game that's still being worked on, but the current release is very playable, lots of fun, and includes a level editor! (Note: The absolute latest build of Box Guy can be played in your browser, but it often isn't as stable or smooth as downloading the game.)

nikkiandtherobots.gifNikki and the Robots (Mac/Win/Linux, 13MB, free) - An early public alpha release, Nikki and the Robots is still an incomplete game (no sound, few levels, story mode and many features not yet implemented), but it's shaping up to be an exciting single player co-op puzzle platform game. As Nikki, run and wall jump around the level collecting batteries and stepping on switches. When you see a terminal you can switch to control the robots. Robots can fly with jetpacks and hit some switches Nikki can't, allowing them to work together to press all the switches to complete each level. There are only a dozen or so stages at the moment, but there's some serious promise here for a very good game. Plus, there's a level design contest using the included editor going on, so you could get your creation upgraded and integrated into the main game when it's released. How cool is that? Answer: very!

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


  • Currently 4.4/5
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Rating: 4.4/5 (22 votes)
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Dracula: Love Kills

JohnBVampires are the new "it" thing, for reasons we shall not name, and recently they've become quite the item in casual games. Dracula: Love Kills goes back to the roots of the legends and casts you in the role of the non-sparkling Count Dracula, the original vampire that no teenage girl would ever want to date. It's a hidden object adventure from Waterlily Games that's heavy on story, atmosphere, and puzzles, and there are plenty of unlockables to get your cold, vampiric hands on, too!

draculalovekills.jpgDracula: Love Kills starts with the Count waking from a long sleep to find his castle has been ransacked, his coffin destroyed, and crosses fill the path leading to the village. The vampire queen seeks to undermine Dracula's authority, and the Count is still weak from his previous battle with Van Helsing. Seeking to restore the fear inspired by his presence, he sets out to annihilate all who challenge his supremacy. It's time for Count Dracula to rule the night once again!

A puzzle-driven adventure game at its backbone, Dracula: Love Kills plays out in small areas of half a dozen screens or so, each featuring a number of items to find, puzzles to solve, and hidden object scenes to complete. You'll begin by poking around and clicking certain items that seem interesting or out of place, receiving a bit of information when necessary or even adding things to your inventory. Hidden object scenes also produce items which can be used to solve pressing puzzles in nearby locations. When you're done with a spot, a handy "location complete" sign appears, letting you know you can scour the pixels in another place with confidence!

Igor, Count Dracula's trusted servant, tags along in the adventure, providing hints and a bit of commentary from time to time. You also have to make the occasional choice whether or not to feed from certain citizens you find, an action that has real consequences in the game. Filling your blood meter to the left allows you to use special abilities such as Vampiric Vision, so to bite or not to bite becomes a bit of a quandary!

draculalovekills2.jpgAnalysis: Not a standard hidden object or casual adventure game, Dracula: Love Kills builds a bridge between genres and provides a puzzle-centric experience that plays less like a hidden object game and more like a puzzle game with a narrative. The number of achievements you can unlock is also impressive, adding to the puzzle focus of the game and encouraging you to play through with gusto.

Storylines in vampire-centric games aren't known for being terribly interesting, but Dracula: Love Kills manages to weave a varied sort of tale that dips and bobs while you play, introducing new twists that keep you honestly interested in what happens. There's even backstory you can read from the book you pick up at the beginning of the game, which should delight anyone enjoying the story quite a bit! It may be a love story involving vampires, but Dracula: Love Kills manages to do it right.

A good length from start to finish, plenty of things to unlock/achieve, a story you actually want to take part in, and puzzles built around a hidden object/adventure core, Dracula: Love Kills is an excellent addition to any casual gamer's library.

A Collector's Edition is also available. It contains exclusive bonus content, 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:
Not available.
Try Boot Camp or Parallels or CrossOver Games.


  • Currently 4.2/5
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Rating: 4.2/5 (61 votes)
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DoraSuper Goblin War MachineWell, you had to go and do it, didn't you? You stinky humans had to keep stealing goblin inventions, snubbing the romantic advances of goblin queens, and generally looking down on them. Now they're mad... really mad... and really, really armed, with a huge, configurable machine designed to rampage through human towns and armies and show you just who the puny ones really are! But it's not too late for you, and if you're willing to help out, the goblins might just forgive you. So score one for the little guy in Super Goblin War Machine, a action shooter with physics from Big Block Games that improves on the original in almost every possible way with more weapons, more carnage, more areas, and most importantly... more flaming cows!

Control is still relatively simple; use the [WASD] or [arrow] keys to move around, hold [shift] to get a boost of speed, and the mouse to aim and shoot. The goal is to wipe out as many humans as you can on each level, causing as much destruction as is humanly, sorry, gobliny possible, and make it to the end without losing all of your goblins located at the bottom of the screen. You might think a giant rolling death construct is impenetrable, but even tiny human soldiers can be trouble if they appear in big enough numbers... to say nothing of giant eagles, cannons, bombs, defensive towers, and much more, of course. If you need to, hit [R] to immediately restart a level, or [ESC] to bounce back to the main menu.

As you unlock more areas of the map, you'll also gain access to different shops that sell different things, but keep your eyes peeled for floating packages on certain stages; if you can shoot them down before they float away, you'll get one of these sweet items for free! After buying an item, you'll be able to configure your war machine to your liking; experiment with different parts and combinations until you find what best suits the stages you're trying to conquer. Big heavy main things, for example, are only a good idea if you aren't trying to roll approximately five tons of rock and steel across a rickety peasant bridge over a chasm.

Special Notice for Friday June 6th 2011: While the Dwarven Campaign normally costs 4.99, as a special promotion this weekend only, our readers who follow this link will gain access to the full game free of charge! (You need to register a free account with their site to do so.) Special thanks to Big Block Games for this great gift to our audience.

Super Goblin War MachineAnalysis: Compared to the original, Super Goblin War Machine feels like it moves a lot faster, with levels generally being packed full with a lot more squishy humans, helpless cows, fragile structures and more so that you actually feel like you're going on a genuine rampage. There's just so much to destroy and so much happening onscreen that it's almost a disappointment when the levels end so quickly; the first time you cause an enemy bomb to explode and cause panicked cows and nearby civilians to burst into flames, I defy you not to cackle maliciously. It also doesn't feel quite as easy (or fated) to flip yourself over like a turtle on even the bumpiest terrain; it'll still happen occasionally, but without the depressing frequency of the first game, and it seems to be a lot easier to right yourself when it does.

But what's really new? Well, for one, you'll be able to play various optional minigames like Boulder Bowling or Crowning Distance to unlock new items for use on your war machine. You'll need to attain a high enough score on certain levels to actually partake in these activities, but some of the items you can win are entertaining enough that you might want to make the effort. Big axe thing? Fiery rock thrower? I am so there! Furthermore, while the first batch of towns might not offer much new to players of the original, the farther you play, the more challenging and tricky the game becomes, with harder terrain and deadlier enemies... look, I don't care what sort of magical fantasy creature you are, a cannon blast to the face is still bad news, so just be careful, okay? Your dad is going to kill you if you put the war machine back in the garage all dinged up again.

Super Goblin War Machine is a fantastic improvement over the original, while keeping everything that made the original awesome intact. The silly text that bookends each level, the beautiful shadowed aesthetics and animation, all of it blends together to make a beautifully destructive experience that the budding (gender neutral!) Dark Lord in all of us will appreciate. So strap yourself into the main thing with your goblin entourage, make ready the weapon of your choice, and get ready to cause some property damage. Hey... you deserve it!

Play Super Goblin War Machine


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Link Dump Fridays

DoraEach day we shovel fuel. Each day we work in silence!... wait, wait, no, that's only during the boring old work week! It's Friday, baby, and we're going to party like it's a year of some sort where you would party with free games on the internets!

  • Plimpton's Video FalconryPlimpton's Video Falconry - While a healthy fear of large birds with fathomless eyes and beaks that can cut bone has kept most of us from taking up this sport of kings, now, thanks to Tom Fulp and his band of merry men (including dubious historical narration by none other than master of nerds and Things We Can't Unsee, Chris Hardwick), we can finally experience the glory that is falconry. In this arcade game. Simply master your grabs and your claws and you'll be the terror of helpless, soft-skinned mammals in no time. Make sure you watch the backstory video at least once; that thing deserves some sort of award.
  • Hacker vs HackerHacker vs Hacker - Chances are, if you're on the internet, you've felt the clinging burr that is a virus at some point; infuriating and frequently difficult to dislodge. Maybe you'd like a little... payback?... what?! NO, not like that! Put down that hatchet, you psycho, sheesh. No, I was thinking of a little digital warfare, and in this good looking little defense strategy game you'll have to think on your feet and make the best use of your contagious little army to bring down an enemy hacker before they have the chance to do the same to you.
  • BlinkzBlinkz - D'aw. D'awww. D'aaaawwwwwwww! I can't help it. This little physics puzzle game is just shooo cyooot! Your goal is to reunite two blocks by clicking and removing the other (equally cute) blocks that sit in your way, without making the block you're aiming to get to the bottom topple off as well. It's a simple concept, and definitely fairly easy, but the kid-friendly presentation and cheery visuals make this one a keeper. I heart you, Blinkz, I totally do!
  • Feed the MooksFeed the Mooks - I love strawberries pretty hard, but while I'm not normally much for sharing (I defy you, Sesame Street!) I might make an exception for these adorable Mooks and this physics puzzle. The goal is pretty simple; feed like-coloured fruit to like-coloured Mooks to remove them from the pile, while trying not to make any of them fall off the carefully constructed Mook towers in the process. Simple, fun, and if you're easily entertained like me, you can lose quite a bit of time just giggling and waving your cursor over all the mouths on each level.
  • It's Dark In HellIt's Dark in Hell - We've all been there; you're minding your own business by mining, when you accidentally topple into a dangerous underworld lit only by some exceedingly goofy looking tiki torches. It's insufferable!... if not for the gold, of course. In this platform game, your goal is to light torches to keep back the darkness on each level, while grabbing the requisite amount of gold, all before time runs out and you meet a grim fate. The controls are somewhat clunky, however, and I have to honestly say that if I were trapped in a world full of lava, encroaching darkness, and unsettling tiki torches, gold would probably be low on my list of priorities.

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Rating: 4.2/5 (61 votes)
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BugTunnelDefenseGrinnypBugs are really icky, aren't they? Some people fear spiders (yes, technically not bugs, I know, but creepy crawly nonetheless), some hate roaches, I even know one person who is freaked out by moths of all things. Granted, yes, there are those few (those strange few) who love insects and collect them and keep them as pets and whatnot, but for the most part those tiny things that crawl and fly are not our friends. In the newest tower defense game by John Blackburne, Bug Tunnel Defense, they are in fact our deadly enemies after an atomic war has laid waste to the rest of civilization, and the bugs are coming for what is left of humanity. So, not much different from the present day, really, minus the radiation and the end of civilization.

The aforementioned bugs (probably irradiated and definitely hungry) will wipe out mankind unless mankind manages to build some sort of defense against them. Unfortunately, these nasty little creatures have some tricks up their sleeves, such as the ability to tunnel below the hapless humans' defensive weapons, making them even harder to wipe out. It is up to you, as the defender of humanity, to figure out how to wipe out the insects before they wipe you out.

Bug Tunnel Defense is a free-form tower defense game, similar to Desktop Tower Defense or Bubble Tanks Tower Defense. The bugs will enter from one (or more) areas, and will head directly for the exits. The player can place various types of towers which have different ranges and abilities and which can cause more or less damage or shoot faster or slower depending on the type of tower and the upgrades you can get along the way. So far this sounds like, well, a lot of other tower defense games out there. You can use the towers to force the creepy little things to take certain paths and to hopefully wipe them out before they escape and demolish what's left of the human race. What Bug Tunnel Defense adds to the mix are those darn tunnels.

Ah yes, the tunnels. If the bugs manage to get into those tunnels they cannot be shot at until they come out the other side, which may or may not bring them closer to their goal of world domination. The addition of those tunnels (different for each level) is what adds a unique complexity to your basic tower defense strategy. Do you keep them from going into the tunnels? Or do you herd them into the tunnels and create a wall of fire at the other end, creating mass havoc and slaughter? Part of the fun is figuring out which strategy will serve you better.

You start with a basic amount of money for towers, and can earn more for every six-legged menace you squash like a...well, bug. The extra money can allow you to build more towers as the waves of insects keep coming and coming until a level is over. Between levels you can choose upgrades for your various towers, increasing their range, their damage points, or their rapidity in shooting. Each level is composed of a unique area, entrances and exits, and those annoying tunnels along with waves of insects that are slow or fast, strong or weak. You start each level with 25 "lives", losing one each time a bug gets through. Lose all 25 lives and you've lost the level.

With 5 levels of tutorial and 40 levels of gameplay Bug Tunnel Defense is short but pretty entertaining. You can go back to previous levels to try to get a perfect score, or to try out new and innovative strategies based on the tunnels, or just to watch the bugs get wiped out over and over again (presuming you're not one of those "bug lovers"). The graphics are simple and colorful, and the bugs are suitably creepy. If tower defense is your thing then try out Bug Tunnel Defense with its fun new twist on an old classic. And for heaven's sake, get those darn bugs before they wipe us all out.

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Rating: 4.6/5 (22 votes)
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You Are Games

Letters in Boxes #3

ArtbegottiIt's time once again for Letters In Boxes, the word puzzle game where Letters appear in Boxes. Crazy, ain' it? We've featured two puzzle challenges so far, featuring all sorts of literary twists and turns, and those 26 characters we all hold so dearly. It's nice to know that there's nothing that can ever disrupt their lexiconical harmony... OR IS THERE?

Here's how to play: Below, you'll find a puzzle to solve. Click on it to open it in a new window (and see it full-sized). When you think you've found the answer, take a look at your window's address bar (in this case, http://images.jayisgames.com/lettersinboxes/lib3start.gif). Change the filename of the image (namely, "lib3start") to your answer (note that we've switched to using .gif files, so be sure to use that extension and stay within the same directory, and use all lowercase characters) to see if you're right. Success means you're on your way to the next puzzle in this series, while incorrect guesses result in error screens. But you're more than welcome to back up to the previous page to try again!

Letters in Boxes #3 - Puzzle 1This batch of puzzles contains four puzzles to solve. On the fourth puzzle, you'll find the email address for sending your final answer. We'll hand out a prize to the first correct entry we receive, plus ten additional randomly-selected correct entries. Please include your Casual Gameplay account display name with your entry. You must be at least 13 years of age to enter. Only one submission per participant, please. Offer void where prohibited. Your deadline for submitting your answers is Monday, June 13th at 11:59 PM (GMT-5:00). Until then, we wish you the best of luck tackling the toughies in this tantalizing task!

Update: Congratulations to these 11 winners! :D

  • zxo ...First!
  • ReverendTed
  • Chaos
  • ajikeshi
  • angelsixteen
  • Chewraco
  • Wildflower12
  • LaserGhost
  • raddaya
  • TruEmerald
  • hhii8888
All eleven winners were given a choice of prizes or an entry into a GRAND PRIZE drawing to be held at the end of August! Congratulations and thanks for playing with us! Look for another Letters in Boxes again soon!

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Rating: 4.2/5 (75 votes)
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GrinnypRegrebluliIf you were going to take over the world, how would you go about it? Would you be obvious and take over the most powerful country on earth then unleashing devastating weapons against the rest of humanity? Or would you go a sneakier route, say founding a company that takes over the economic power of all that exists. There is, perhaps, a third way to go about it. What you could do is create amusing, simple, yet addictive games that spread across the globe, enslaving everyone in their path to play over and over and over while you quietly took over. Hey, does that mean that Tonypa is secretly plotting to rule the world? Judging by his latest effort, Regrebluli, it would appear so.

Regrebluli is another of Tonypa's fiendishly simple and highly addictive arcade games based on a simple idea. This time around you are dealing with colors. Bad colors. Evil colors. Colors that will kill you. Lines of colored light begin to streak across your screen and it is up to you to block them using a simple device: a double-lined force field of the same color as the line, controlled by circles at either end creating a flexible shield that can be moved anywhere in the playing field. There is a catch, however. You can only block a colored line with a force field of the same color. Use any other color and the line will proceed along its path until it reaches the other side and then, well, you're toast.

The game begins, simply enough, with two colors, red and blue. Red and blue lines will begin to streak across the playing field, and you will have both a red and a blue force field that you can move around to intercept the little buggers before they can do any damage. Sounds pretty simple, doesn't it? The problem is that the colored lines come randomly, and you cannot stop a blue line with a red force field. The blue line will turn gray, and then it can't be stopped unless you move the red force field out of the way and move in the blue one. Presuming, of course, that you can do that without letting yet another line get through from another direction. The first level, though, is pretty easy. That's the last time you can say that about Regrebluli.

By the second level your two force fields (red and blue) are joined at the hip and you must learn to maneuver them in tandem to block those nasty single lines. As each level progresses the manner in which your blocking fields connect become more and more elaborate, requiring a lot more moving around, especially as more and more lines attack. Then, level five happens. In level five a third color, green, joins the party, and it really becomes a free-for-all.

RegrebluliPoints are accumulated by stopping those evil lines directly in their tracks, and the game keeps going with increasing levels of difficulty (more elaborate connections between your fields, more and faster lines attacking) until eventually one gets through and you're talking game over, man. Is there a limit to the number of levels? Only Tonypa knows.

Analysis: Once again Tonypa hits it out of the park with gameplay that is both simple in theory and massively complex in execution. You can spend hours (and hours, and hours) playing over and over again, trying to get a high score or just trying to pass a certain level. The design is beautifully stark, simple red, blue, and green lines on a black background, with another haunting music clip by Kevin MacLeod which will stay with you long after you've stopped playing.

People of a certain age (and yes, I am among that number) might look at Regrebluli and think, "Man, this looks a little like Missile Command, if Missile Command was played in four dimensions and didn't include any shooting. And there were no cities. Or Satellites." This is a type of gameplay that goes back to the very early days of computer games, the simple concept of keeping an enemy (albeit a very abstract one) from reaching your home base, if your home base was just the edge of a screen. The concept worked then and it certainly works now, so be prepared for some serious time suckage to occur as you try to master the increasing complexity.

As per usual with Tonypa games the difficulty curve in Regrebluli is pretty steep, but that's about the only complaint there is with this addictive, entertaining game. The one thing we can always count on with Tonypa is a simple idea (plain stark graphics and elementary gameplay) done exceedingly well. It's time to embrace Regrebluli and lose a few (or several) hours of your time. Trust me, it's worth it. Now excuse me, I need to go back and play again to see if anyone has beaten my high score.

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Rating: 4/5 (137 votes)
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steampunk.jpgJohnBIn a day when physics puzzles are as common as tax collectors, you can't just set a square block on top of an orange block and let your game loose on the world. Enter Steampunk, a simple sort of phuzzle game whose goal is to provide a sturdy challenge through 30 levels of puzzles while painting everything with a gorgeous steampunk art style.

Your goal in Steampunk is very simple: get the good guy safely to the ground and knock the bad guy off the stage. You can remove wooden blocks with the click of the mouse, and blocks marked with a bomb do exactly what you think they'd do when clicked. Soon, you'll have to deal with rolling steel balls, falling crates, hanging contraptions, and loads of other obstacles that can both help and hamper your progress.

Level construction walks a tight balance between precision and puzzle solving, often shifting firmly to the former with some stages. That means you'll be doing things like dropping blocks from the top of the screen, then timing an explosion to knock that block to the side. You won't always succeed on the first try, but that's why the reset button is there, big and bright and waiting for you to click it!

The best thing about Steampunk it its length and overall challenge. Puzzles may be simple in construction, but the solutions require some work to accomplish. Level design is always interesting, and you'll get to see some neat steampunk-style contraptions throughout your 30 level journey. There's also an editor that allows you to create your own puzzles and an option available on the main menu to play tons of user-made stages!

A little visual polish and a lot of levels go a long way in today's phuzzle world, and Steampunk shows it's not afraid to deliver a straight-up good experience without attempting to throw gimmicks in your face.

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Rating: 3.6/5 (35 votes)
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DoraDreamsong CatcherThe next time you wake up confused and baffled because you just dreamed about getting married to an apple aboard a ship made of pants, you now have someone new to blame. Dreamsong Catcher, an arcade game created by Nerdook, is about the Apprentice, who wants nothing more than to be a fully fledged Dreamsong Catcher. To do so, he needs to prove his worth by collecting seven Dream Creatures, a feat achieved by visiting sleeping dreamers and collecting the imagination notes that appear around them as they sleep. Control is simple; just click on the lit keys (or type the letter if you're quick enough) to send a blast flying that collects green notes, trying to avoid any wrong keys or red notes. You need to reach a target score by morning or you'll fail and have to try again. The more you play, the trickier the game becomes, with more demanding score requirements, keys that change more swiftly, and purple horrors that swoop around trying to steal power from you, and even "bouncers" that redirect your missiles. And don't think your work is done when you've made all the beasties you need...

While the first batch of levels isn't particularly challenging, even if they are a little chaotic, the Worlds of Nightmares might present a harder fight. Literally, since instead of creating creatures your goal becomes gathering power-ups to try to bash a nightmare's health down to zero before he can do the same to you. In an interesting twist, the higher a score you get in the corresponding Dream World level, the higher your health will be in the corresponding Nightmare World level, making it worth your while to go back and get a high score. (That's right, Point Junkies... your time is now.)

Dreamsong CatcherAnalysis: Dreamsong Catcher is one of those games that makes you go "huh", but in a good way. Combining procedurally generated music with surreal visuals and a cute concept, Nerdook delivers a strange but appealing experience. The music changes as you play, and so do your surroundings, serving up a randomised smorgasboard of dreamlike strangeness. The descriptions of the dreams themselves seem a bit odd, but admittedly I'm probably not qualified to speak on that since I once woke up angry at my husband because I dreamt he took us on a vacation to a moldy slum house because "the acoustics are perfect to practice pig calling". (Don't pity him; he knew how crazy I was when he married me.)

The gameplay itself is simple and easy to grasp, but a bit chaotic, and often winds up giving the impression that how well you do is a bit more down to luck than anything else. Later levels lose some of the dreamlike appeal of the first batch, since the "fights" are less about carefully picking your attack and more about hammering on the keys to grab an attack before your opponent can. Still, it's a creative concept with more to it than you might expect from the first level, and one I was happy to play. (If only to give the weirdness that my brain gets up to on a nightly basis a bit of context.) Give it a try even if you don't particularly relish the idea of a Tim Burton reject with black eyes hovering over you and siphoning off your dreams while you sleep.

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Rating: 3.7/5 (59 votes)
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DoraThe PocalypseWhen robots, vampires, mutants, and blood-thirsty plants start adding to the undead menace, it's time to face facts; this isn't just apocalypse, it's the pocalypse! In The Pocalypse Defense, a action defense shooter game from Green Pixel (the combined talents of Rich Halliday and Joe), you're in charge of protecting the city of New Hammerston and its survivors against the incoming waves of creatures who would love nothing better than to do various painful, fatal things to your fragile human flesh. Fortunately for you, several of these survivors ain't your ordinary Joes... well, uh, one of them is Joe, but he's certainly not ordinary. In fact, he's a superhuman, of sorts, and on his side is Jess with her heavy weaponry, genius and sniper Bernie, and robotic wonder Harry. If you want to know more about them, you'll have to see the animated comic the game is based on of the same name (The Pocalypse, which is, suffice it to say, a bit too bloody and swear-y for children), but you don't have time for that right now... you've got apocalypse of your own to deal with!

The only character you'll control directly is Joe, who begins the game armed with his fists and a simple gun. Use the [W] and [S] or up and down [arrow] keys to move him back and forth, [A] and [D] or the left and right [arrow] keys to cycle through his weapons, and click on enemies to fire/attack as they approach. Bernie and Jess will provide support from the rooftop, while Harry has a score of useful abilities you can activate as long as he has enough energy for them. Joe has a limited number of hitpoints, but even if he gets knocked out, he'll be back on his feet swinging again after a brief recovery. The gate, however, is another matter, and if enemies break through, it's Game Over; do your best to hold the line during waves, and use whatever cash you earn for repairs.

Between waves, you'll be able to visit several large upgrade stations within New Hammerston and spend cash on repairs, enhancements, or new weapons and abilities. Most of these can be unlocked with cold, hard cash, but some of them need a little manpower; during waves, survivors will run towards the gate. You can click on a survivor to heal them a little as they approach, and if they make it inside safely, they'll add to the population. Be warned, however; the game does not save progress, and if you close the window or exit to the main menu you'll have to start all over the next time you pick it up.

The Pocalypse DefenseAnalysis: There are a lot of zombie games out there, but few of them are as cheery, silly, and outright weird as the overall vibe presented by this little gem. With so many zombie games taking gray, morbid approaches to the end of the world, The Pocalypse's bright, energetic mood and over-the-top gameplay is like a breath of fresh air. (Air that carries the stench of blood and rotting flesh, but I digress.) The design and animations are fantastic, the soundtrack is bouncy and fun, and the dialogue is funny enough to make you wish there was more of it. While the game lacks any real sort of an end, the sheer amount of upgrades on hand will keep completionists busy for a while.

Still, the Pocalypse feels like it needs... more. More monsters, more integrated story, and certainly more variety. A few "boss fights" would have livened things up and eliminated the sense that the game turns into a grind after a few levels. There were also a few times where the controls felt a little awkward; being unable to move and shoot might be realistic, but it's also frustrating, and when enemies get too thick shooting becomes erratic and unreliable, perhaps because it became difficult to target monsters when they were piled on top of each other. Of course, once you manage to save up enough for the laser and dump a few upgrades it, the game becomes significantly easier... turns out the natural predator of the zombie is a superheated beam of destruction to the face. Who knew?

The Pocalypse Defense is practically screaming for a bigger, badder sequel, but what's there is still fun and incredibly well presented. While this is Green Pixel's first game, it's pretty clear they've got a massive amount of talent and are definitely developers to keep your eye on. In the meantime, get out there and dust-ify/spatter/expolode some enemies. (And then make sure to check out the comic the game is based on.) And remember... spinning is the most effective means of attack!

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Rating: 4.6/5 (146 votes)
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Weekday Escape

GrinnypIt's vacation time for a lot of people. Time to visit friends and/or relatives and to just get away from the madness for a while. It's also time for that particular friend you are staying with to lock you into an odd-shaped room until you make them breakfast. Not your usual summer break? But this is Weekday Escape, your mid-week break, and that odd setup means that it's time for another amusing room escape from Tesshi-e. This month's fare is Escape from the Hexagonal Room, and it is pretty tasty fare indeed.

Escape from the Hexagonal RoomYes, once again you are presented with a setup that only Tesshi-e could provide, namely another friend/relative/boss/total stranger locking you into an unfamiliar space until you solve your way out, although in this case it's not so much a case of unlocking a door but calling said friend once you've made them a tasty and nutritious breakfast. Yum, but also, what? Although it presents as a classic room escape, the twist is that not only are you not worrying about a key for the door, but you must also wander around something that is not your classic box-shaped four walled room.

You move around this gorgeous six-walled wonder of a room using navigation bars at the sides of the screen, simply clicking on items against the walls to examine things closer up. As per usual you need to combine logic, puzzle solving, object finding, object using, and a few culinary skills in order to call your friend to let you out so you can enjoy the lovely breakfast you just slaved over a hot...hot-plate to create. Some of the puzzles will be quite familiar to any fan of Tesshi-e's design (gee, the wobbly picture puzzle, again, some more) and some are new and creative. Although there will be a lot of use and combining of certain objects you won't really see the usual staple of Tesshi-e's designs, i.e. construction, this time around.

What's not to love about this Tesshi-e escape? The puzzles are logical and flow nicely from one to another, the space itself is stunning to look at and fun to explore, the controls now have all the bells and whistles you could want (the ability to save, the ability to mute the very familiar music, the ability to turn on the fantastic English translation by Idahhh, easy inventory control, etc.). And as always, there's a regular and a happy coin escape to keep the gamer happy and problem solving. Time to brush up on your culinary skills and get cooking!

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Rating: 4.7/5 (718 votes)
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DoraMike Shadow: I Paid For It!The age old struggle of man vs vending machine is about to get a whole lot more brutal thanks to Tanoku's ridiculously over-the-top arcade game of man-on-machine that just sits-there-and-takes-it violence, Mike Shadow: I Paid For It! After being stiffed out of a tasty beverage that was rightfully yours one too many times by the callous, uncaring vending machine, you (that is, Mike Shadow) have finally had enough and are going to unleash one heck of an unholy beatdown on its smug, plastic buttons. Your available skills and powers appear as buttons at the bottom of the screen, and all you need to do is click on one to activate it; using these uses patience, which also begins to tick down after your first strike, and when that runs out you'll have to quit, but if you can build up your stress level enough with each hit you'll be able to activate special moves that really bring the pain. Try to last as long as possible and you'll earn high scores and cash that you can spend on the extensive upgrade shop to unlock bigger, badder, and weirder abilities. Maybe there's even a special Anger Management Therapy mode you can unlock! Because, well... it's a vending machine.

I Paid For it is weird, no doubt about it, but it's that weirdness that helps it stand out from the pack. There's no real goal other than to get the biggest high score you can, and the game provides you with an impressive stable of upgrades to do it in the most spectacular fashion possible, with some top-notch animation to carry it all through. The downside is that it can be fairly repetitive and take a lot of grinding to unlock the most interesting stuff, especially since cash can be so infuriatingly random to appear even with the chance upgraded. It wouldn't be so bad if you could chain moves together, but since you have to wait for the attack animations to end before you can click a new skill, you'll be doing a lot of thumb twiddling that interrupts the flow of gameplay. (And if you played Final Fantasy 8, you're probably having Guardian Force flashbacks right about now. Look, we know you're the earthly manifestations of infinite, unknowable magical forces, but would it kill you to move with a bit of expediency?)

While Mike Shadow: I Paid For It! at times feels a bit more like a webtoy or spectacle than an actual game, as a means of catharsis for anyone whose Kit Kat has ever been withheld by the cruel machinations of the snack industry, it's virtually unmatched. It's also stylish, weird, silly, and entertaining, and chock-a-block with a staggering array of weapons and special abilities designed specifically to help you indulge your taste for vending machine carnage. Keep your eyes peeled for the upcoming movie directed by Quentin Tarantino and starring Kiefer Sutherland as a man on a mission and Gary Oldman as the vending machine who wronged him.

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Rating: 3.9/5 (82 votes)
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TrickyLaser Cannon 2While jetpacks are the futuristic invention people traditionally desire, my choice has always been a laser cannon... for entirely peaceful purposes, of course. I mean, they just have so many uses around the house: hedge-trimming, apple-coring, and causing the cartoonish demise of annoying critters. It is the latter that Laser Cannon 2, the new physics puzzler from Max Derevyagin and team (formerly of Sigma Studios), focuses on. A shade sadistic in concept? Perhaps, but if the creatures didn't want to be laser-blasted, then they shouldn't look so much like Furbies.

Played best with a combination of mouse and keyboard inputs, in each level of Laser Cannon 2 you must shoot, squash, fry, or destroy each of the monsters using the titular cannon. Move the cannon into position with [WASD] or the [arrow] keys, then aim with the mouse then click launch a blast. The laser blasts can do quite a few things: they can fry critters directly, slice through chains, explode barrels, knock out force-field power-plants, bounce off of metallic surfaces, or splinter the support beams of an unstable structure. Should your cannon have enough juice, you can hold the mouse button down for two seconds for a charged shot that's great for destroying walls. Firing upon an energy icon will refill your power gauge. There are 30 levels to play, but you'll have to pick and choose your shots to get a three star ranking on all of them.

Laser Cannon 2 is simple, satisfying and fun. None of the levels will be too taxing on the old noggin', but the game's sense of humor sets it apart from the more technical entries in the physics genre. While it did seem each level was designed with only a single "right" solution in mind (causing the strange situation that firing fewer shots than what the developer expected ultimately penalized your score), said solutions are designed well and it was wonderful to see each plan come together. There are a few concerns: the music quickly became repetitive, I would have preferred it that the qualifications for each star ranking were explicitly stated, and the whole thing was over way too quickly. Still, the pros outweigh the cons for a charged-up little time-waster.

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The Vault

TrickyTis brillig and the slithy toves are gyring and gimbling in the JiG Vault. All mimsy are the games from the past, and they're so good, they'll make your mome raths outgrabe. Yes, today we are beamish to present three of the more surreal entries from our game archives, and I'm sure they'll make your day quite frabjous!

  • HotelHotel - Told in ten parts, this masterpiece of interactive animation from Han Hooggerbrugge has a plot just coherent enough to keep you puzzled until the very end. It is the closest thing I've come to experiencing another person's dream, and it has all the hilarious and disturbing qualities that implies. The titular Hotel hosts quite a varied cast ranging from the menacing Dr. Doglin's (and his research into freak accidents), to the goofy customers at the restaurant, to... the clown. The disturbing smiling naked clown. Good ol' fashioned Nightmare Fuel. Yes, this isn't one for kids, both in theme and content. Still, any adult who is a fan of the fantasically weird, and doesn't mind more questions being raised than answered should book a trip to the Hotel and come up with an interpretation for themselves. Be sure to read the ancillary comics as well!
  • HaluzHaluz - Now this is surrealism that's fun for the whole family! Haluz is a point-and-click adventure with puzzles similar to the Samorost series... and it's a similarity which extends to its graphic and audio aesthetic. Haluz is more homage than a rip-off however, and Springtail Studios is going to borrow, you can't blame them for borrowing from the best. Depicting a small mouse-like creature's search for its missing satellite-dish, Haluz has beautiful scenery, inspired bits of physical comedy, and enough psychedelic creatures to make you wonder if the developers haven't indulged in some of the landscape's suspicious-looking plants themselves. Some of the puzzle solutions are decidedly odd, which is both a good thing and a bad thing: either your mind will be attuned to the designer's, or it won't. Whether or not you end up resorting to a walkthrough, you should have a wonderful time exploring the foresty world of Haluz. The sequel is work a look too!
  • KafkamêstoKafkamêsto - Some games are truly meant for a mature audience... not in the sense that there's gore or nudity or swearing, but that the ideas it tries to explore requires a certain level of dedication to understand. Kafkamêsto is one such game. Your enjoyment of this adventure from Smoking Gun Productions will probably be determined by whether you think the adjective "Kafkaesque" is a good thing. A game that effectively pastiches the ideas and themes that ran through Franz's career is certainly that. Unsettling, absurd, anxious, and indifferent in equal measure, Kafkamêsto's voyage though 1920s Prague shows the alienating side of surreality in a way that few games have ever attempted. There are characters, but none seem to like you. There are puzzles to be solved, but solutions only lead to ever-more vexations. There are multiple endings to be found, but it's questionable whether one is better than another. Kafkamêsto isn't afraid to be mentally taxing, and yet, it is so well-crafted you'll keep on playing. So get to it! For all you know, you could turn into a cockroach tomorrow!

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: 3.4/5 (66 votes)
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zombus.jpgJohnBZombies are everywhere. And all you've got is a heavily armored bus that can be upgraded with shields, zombie-crunching bumpers, guns, and other equipment! Guess you'll have to do some reckless driving in order to rescue the survivors. Zombus is a top-down driving game from Game Launch Project, creator of Bunny Flags. The game features loads of blood, plenty of angry zombies, and a healthy dose of more blood. But, for a browser-based driving game, you'll be surprised how spot-on the controls (and overall sense of dread) are!

The last survivors of the human race are holed up in tiny safe houses scattered throughout the city. With your crafty little school bus, it's your job to drive around and rescue them, fending off hordes of zombies in the process. Your main weapon of choice is momentum and a strong bumper, as zombies are surprisingly vulnerable to being hit by 20 ton vehicle. Squash the baddies that chase after your bus with a good swipe, using the [WASD] keys to steer and pick up speed.

What kind of self-respecting zombie apocalypse survivor heroes would try to save people without some sort of weaponry? Zombus includes an upgrades store that allows you to equip guns, bus upgrades, and more by assigning them spots using a limited number of points. You can equip things like stronger bumpers, shields, and various types of roof-mounted guns that are used for, naturally, mowing down zombies that escape your wild driving techniques.

Analysis: Level design in Zombus is one of the game's many strong points, as it's rather open-ended and allows you to take on tasks as you feel brave enough to do them. You start off on a piece of road with arrows pointing in multiple directions. Yellow arrows tell you where survivors are, while the green arrow tells you where the end of level safe zone resides. Pick up survivors for more points and awards, as long as you get to the goal, you'll be fine. The roadways aren't straightforward, so sometimes you'll have to do some creative driving and backtracking in order to make it through.

Another design success are the controls and general feeling of driving the bus. Controlling a massive vehicle is rarely represented with any semblance of accuracy, but Zombus obviously tries, as moving the huge hunk of metal feels like it's an effort, even though all you're doing is pressing a button on a keyboard. Turning, slowing, smashing into cold zombie bodies all comes across as very visceral, which is something you rarely see in a casual browser game.

Zombus gives away a lot of great gameplay for a simple click of the mouse. With its upgrades you're allowed to customize things to suit your playing style, and with the difficulty level slowly increased you're challenged just enough to make you want to continue. Couple that with some excellent visuals and the always-popular zombie theme and you've got a great action game that will hook you right from the start.

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Rating: 4.7/5 (424 votes)
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JamesShell Shock LiveWhat happens when you take a few players, give them all over-the-top weapons and drop the lot on a 2D landscape that can be blown to bits? Total mayhem, obviously. If the formula rings a bell, it's most likely because you are thinking of Worms, the artillery genre's poster invertebrate. Bonus points if you conjured the memory of Scorched Earth, godfather of dropping cluster bombs on some hapless nitwit on the other side of a hill. There have been many imitators to that classic, but none have ever come as close as the multiplayer bomb-fest Shell Shock Live, the strategic action arcade game from Kyle Champ.

The game controls much like Worms did: you are represented by a tank, which can be moved forwards and backwards on the landscape (limited each turn by fuel, which depletes as you move). You aim and fire with the mouse: point the aiming cone at the best angle, then determine the power of your shot by pulling the cone towards or away from the tank. Once set, hit the [spacebar] and watch your shot curve beautifully over obstacles and right on top of the enemy... but most likely witness how your misjudgement of wind, power and accuracy lands a whopper of explosives in the middle of nowhere (or the ultimate insult; it leaves the play area, never to be seen again).

There is a nice selection of exotic weapons to fire, many which hail from the Scorched Earth stable. Multi-shots, splitting rockets, bouncing bullets, airdrops and more are all present, while additional bang can be unlocked through gaining experience or via weapons packs for sale in the game store. The setup is simple: there are two teams, players split evenly in groups of 1, 2 or 3. Nobody can be killed; instead the goal is to do as much damage as possible to the other players. At the end of a certain number of rounds the scores are tallied and the winners announced. Everyone gets experience, while winning adds bonuses. Experience gathers slowly, but each step up unlocks new weapons, features or maps. The weapons for each round are assigned randomly, pulling out of the pool you have available.

Getting in to play is as simple as owning a browser and email address. To gather experience, you need to register an account (requiring a working email address), though guest accounts let you test-drive Shell Shock Live. A neat in-game chat system lets you send messages to players and you can maintain friends lists, as well as host invite-only games.

Shell Shock LiveAnalysis: Shell Shock Live is fun. Lots of fun. Firstly, it is easy to play and anybody will be comfortable after a round or two. But that doesn't mean they will be good at it - becoming a master at this type of game takes time and patience. The makers of Shell Shock Live know as much, which is why the game neatly exploits a micro-transaction system that gives you a leg up on gaining experience (if you sign up for an elite account), delivers more powerful weapons in the assortment of packs, and offers cosmetic changes in new maps, themes and tank packs.

While the words "micro transaction" or "registration" will send most players running, both are implemented painlessly. You can play as a guest and certainly won't find yourself at a massive disadvantage when only employing the free armory. Even when playing for free you can reach a very high level and access some pretty devastating weapons. Above all, though, it's about accuracy; something no amount of money can buy. The weapon packs generally just add more variety, but some of the whoppers have rightfully been reserved for paying customers.

Since it is all a team-based title, the lobby is easy to figure out. Joining a game is simple and getting friends together for a few rounds is a matter of sharing a generated code. When a player leaves a game, others in his team can control his tank (though this still leaves that team at a distinct disadvantage) and the in-game chat system is eloquent, simple, intuitive and (a plus for parents) has an optional profanity filter.

There have been some performance issues over the weekend, but this appears to have been remedied with more game servers. With battles constantly appearing, it is possible to jump in for a quick ten-minute game or spend a whole afternoon shooting projectiles at each other. Gather a few friends, run Skype in the background and you can have a regular LAN-style party for the night.

Addictive, demanding and fun; the hallmarks of a great artillery game. And Shell Shock Live is a great artillery game. Maybe even one of the best...

Play Shell Shock Live


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Mobile Monday

JohnBHungry for some more Android games? We've got you covered with puzzle, action, and role playing genres represented with mobile games you're guaranteed to love! And if you don't love them, then you're not guaranteed to love them!

deadlydungeons.gifDeadly Dungeons RPG - Role playing games on mobile platforms have traditionally been hit and miss. Deadly Dungeons is a hit, and it accomplishes that by sticking to the genre's retro roots, focusing on still screen first person gameplay, and layering old school charm on top of every pixel. Exploration and item management take center stage in this grim fantasy world, and even though you won't find anything groundbreaking in Deadly Dungeons, you'll be marvelously happy it doesn't try to break the mold. Intuitive interface, lots of items to fuss around with, simple combat and an all-around great mobile RPG experience. The free Deadly Dungeons RPG Demo is also available.

xmen-android.gifX-Men - If you were of video gaming age in the early 1990s, you probably spent as much time as you could lining your coins up at the local arcade. And if you visited an arcade after 1992, you probably saw this gorgeous X-Men beat-em-up game that had you and your friends transfixed for ages. Konami has made this classic sidescrolling fighting game available for Android phones, and even though it doesn't hold the same "wow" factor as it did almost two decades ago, the gameplay is still solid, the characters still recognizable, and the action as tense as ever.

alberi.gifAlberi - When picross meets sudoku, it's this bare-bones but fantastic puzzle game. The goal is to find the location of the trees on the grid. Each colored zone, each row, and each column contains only one tree (or more, in later levels). Trees also cannot touch other trees on any side or diagonal. Place trees by double tapping a square, and mark a box as empty by tapping it once. Use logic to solve each level, and progress through the dozens upon dozens of levels at your puzzling leisure!

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


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tearstone-b.jpg

GrinnypTearstone, the new adventure/hidden object hybrid from newcomer DragonsEye Studio, is a fantastic tale of an epic quest that involves an absent-minded professor, goblins, floating islands, and sheep, amongst other things. Answer the professor's call for help and find yourself embarking on a long and involved journey that will end with you becoming the only one who can save the mythical land of Tearstone, mostly by solving a lot of puzzles.

tearstone.jpgYou play a hapless homebody who gets a letter one day from his friend Professor Haise, asking the player to come at once and help with...well, the letter is rather vague on that point, really. So off you run in the Professor's old car (is that a Studebaker?) to help him excavate a ruin that leads to a fortress which leads to an infinite stair (hidden in a tree) which leads to a testy guard goblin which leads to a loooooong elevator ride which leads to a bucolic countryside which leads to...you get the picture. Eventually you'll be traveling to floating islands, talking to ghosts, and attempting to become the "Chosen One", whatever that may end up being.

The first chapter of the story where you get the call from your professor friend plays out as a helpful tutorial, which is good because the gameplay of Tearstone is probably quite different than what you may be used to with the standard hybrids on the market today. To begin with, you will not be facing any classic hidden object scenes (with a list and a bunch of random objects to be found). In Tearstone, every item you find has a use and a purpose, everything you pick up has a function, and there are no random skateboards or gramophones to be found. Instead, the bottom of your screen serves as both your item list (with a picture of what you are looking for as well as a description) that becomes your inventory once you find the item or items. Sometimes you will be looking for a single thing, sometimes you will be looking for multiples of a thing, and sometimes you will need to combine two items together to create a "mix", a third item that is needed to accomplish a task. Fortunately you have a handy mixer machine to the right of your inventory that allows you to combine and create to your heart's content.

tearstone2.jpgWandering around the increasingly bizarre world of Tearstone is as simple as the point and click of a mouse. The cursor will become (of all things) a weathervane to indicate areas that you can travel to. Look also for a changing cursor that becomes gears (puzzles and areas that need an object(s) added) and a hand (indicating that you can pick up and use an object but not put it in your inventory). Backtracking along your path is even easier and accomplished with a handy "back" button that is part of the inventory control structure. Also along for the ride is a handy notebook that records vital information and goals and a refilling hint timer that is very useful for both finding objects and figuring out what move to make next.

Analysis: Despite the holes in the storyline Tearstone is quite frankly a breath of fresh air in the crowded field of adventure/hidden object hybrids. Although you will be finding some objects along the way Tearstone has ditched most of the conventions of standard hidden object finding: no lists, no finding random objects, no stumbling into "scenes" of piles of junk, etc. What Tearstone does instead is emphasize the exploration and puzzle solving aspects to the point where you could say that the game has become almost pure point-and-click adventure.

tearstone3.jpgThe backgrounds and graphics are beautiful and the deeper you get into the game the more fantastical and stunning they become. Adding depth to your adventures are some fun, interesting, crabby, or just downright creepy characters that you will need to interact with along the way (that fortune-teller is going to give me nightmares for weeks!). Adding to the gameplay is the atmospheric music provided by Xtruist. Best of all are the puzzles, a mix of conventional games (jigsaw and slider puzzles) and more original puzzles. The fact that you must figure out where and when to use your items means that you are looking at a lot of logic and problem solving. Well, mostly logical, although at one point you, as a guest, get to tear apart your hosts' house while they stand there and smile at you. And although you have a pretty satisfying ending, the possibility is there for your adventures to continue (DragonsEye Studio tells us that Tearstone is the first in a planned trilogy).

If there is a downside it is the length of gameplay, which is short, as are most of the adventure hybrids on the market today. The story is also lacking a bit in detail and could stand to be fleshed out a bit more. Folks might be a bit split about the amount of help available in the game: those who are not used to classic point-and-click might be a little lost as to what needs to be done next, while more advanced and adventurous gamers will appreciate the lack of hand-holding and spoon-feeding available. This means that in places Tearstone can be seriously challenging, which only adds to its appeal for those who miss the good old days when adventure games were king.

Tearstone is a fantastic first effort by a new designer on the scene. Despite the flaws in the length of gameplay and the storyline DragonsEye Studio has come up with a fantastic, challenging, fun, and entertaining point and click adventure of the old school, with a few hidden object conventions thrown in. Get excited about adventuring again and help the professor and the land of Tearstone (even if you're not sure exactly why you are doing so) and enjoy a rollicking good time.

WindowsWindows:
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Mac OS XMac OS X:
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Avadon

DoraIn Avadon: The Black Fortress, the new turn-based RPG from Spiderweb Software, you take the role of a warrior from the Pact, a group of five nations that stands together for strength against the Farlands, the untamed parts of the world that don't want anything to do with the Pact and would prefer to see it broken. As the story begins, you've just begun your work as a Hand of the fabled fortress of Avadon. Redbeard is your new leader, a man older than he looks who inspires as much terror as he does loyalty in his innumerable soldiers and servants. There are rumours of traitors at work, and dissent seems to be spreading through the land as Avadon begins to show cracks in its facade of power. Will you become a new hero to uphold the ideals of the Pact... or will you find yourself clashing with your superiors as you begin to question the things you've been told? They say the only way in Avadon is Redbeard's way, but if you're cunning and careful, and know who to trust, you might just uncover more than a few pitfalls in that road.

Avadon: The Black FortressAvadon is played entirely with the mouse, give or take a few hotkeys for ease of use, and combat is turn-based. You'll have your choice of four character classes to play as with varying skills and abilities, but don't worry about your decision that much; before long you'll be joined by four other Hands of Avadon that will provide whatever spell or sword power you lack. While most of your time will be spent doing the will of Avadon and serving the Pact, you shouldn't expect this to mean you'll be stuck behind a desk filling out requisition forms and taking complaints. No, your method of work is a bit more on the stabby/looty/even-more-stabby side of things, and we wouldn't have it any other way.

If you've played any of Spiderweb Software's earlier titles, a lot about Avadon's gameplay is going to feel very familiar. Despite taking place in an entirely new world with a new storyline, Avadon plays nearly identically to Avernum, with a noticeable facelift and some other changes. As you level up, for example, you'll spend points on a talent tree to get the skills you want, or to make one more powerful. You'll also be able to sneak by enemies if you're careful, and make use of the game's strategic turn-based combat if you're not. You can save anywhere, and you're probably going to want to, in multiple slots, since there are a lot of painful ways to die, and just as many ways that the fate of the world can change based on your decision. So which is it, hero... Coke or Pepsi?!

Avadon: The Black FortressAnalysis: Sometimes, all I want is to play a Spiderweb Software game. They have a knack for crafting massive, open-world adventures, and Avadon is no different. Ignoring your vital quests and striking out to see what treasure and terror lies in the opposite direction is a ton of fun, especially because there is a staggering amount to see and do. There are an enormous amount of purely optional sidequests, large and small, and just exploring in any direction is enough to bring some sort of excitement your way, usually in the form of something that would like to wear your face as a mask... with a big fat treasure hoard behind it. The downside is that the realm here does feel a little generic as far as fantasy goes most of the time, which is a bit of a disappointment compared to, say, the flea-ridden pesky unicorns in the Avernum series, but Avadon still never feels dull. The political intrigue, the freedom of choice, the enormous cast of characters, all of it mixes together to create a mammoth adventure you can lose yourself in for days.

Like its predecessors, Avadon is one of the few RPGs that can actually claim strategy is everything with combat. Sometimes all it can take is a single mistake to wipe out your entire party, but on the other hand, a little thought and tactics (not to mention liberal use of save files) can make any battle go from monstrous to merely satisfyingly challenging. Where in other titles combat is something to be endured to get to the next piece of the story, Avadon's battles feel like they're a vital part of the whole experience and rarely seem like tedious busywork to pad the gameplay. Avadon hasn't made many changes to the formula its predecessors decided to stick with, but for my money the most irritating aspect are the cooldown timers applied to skills; admittedly, it does force you to be even more tactical in combat, but when a single healing spell could mean the difference between victory and messy defeat, it's hard to see the value after you've reloaded a battle for the umpteenth time.

Avadon: The Black FortressCompared to previous Spiderweb titles, however, the level of customisation at hand for both character creation and skills/attributes is extremely low. I'd be lying if I said I didn't miss all the different races and traits/flaws that let you feel as if you were actually creating your own hero. The four classes are very balanced, but not even being able to choose your own gender kind of hurts the whole "role playing" thing. How big of an impact this is largely depends on what kind of role-player you are, and whether creating your entire party from scratch is an essential. The four classes On the one hand, the small amount of options means you can't tailor-make a group that covers all your combat bases, but on the other, it does give Spiderweb a chance to tell a noticeably more character driven story.

The four potential companions all have personality and backstory, and listening to their input in the story and taking part in the conversations they strike up really helps to make you feel invested in them and the story. It's a far cry from earlier Spiderweb titles, where it often felt as if you were battering yourself against walls of text that had little to do with what you actually wanted to be doing. Having Shima voice his displeasure over a town's strict code of laws or Sevilin ask your opinion on his code as you travel goes a long way towards making the world feel more real and important beyond a series of roads and encounters between one quest reward and the next.

While some of it may feel a little familiar, Avadon: The Black Fortress is a significant step forward for Spiderweb Software in virtually every way. In addition to the enormous main storyline with its multitude of different endings, you can get lost in the world just doing odd jobs; investigating a mysteriously abandoned house, tracking down wretch infestations, doing a little "harmless" espionage, and much more. While it takes a while to really get rolling, Avadon is an enormously fun adventure with an impressive amount of replay value and a ton of love and hard work behind it. Fans of the genre will definitely want to give the demo a try, while fans of the developers will be happy to spend some time with yet another high quality creation packed full of danger and treasure in equal measure.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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

LinuxLinux:
Download the demo
Get the full version


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Rating: 4.5/5 (32 votes)
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LandGrabbers

JohnBFrom Nevosoft, the team that's no stranger to casual strategy or simulation games (see My Kingdom for the Princess 2, Paradise Beach 2, and Farm Craft 2 for fine examples), comes a quirky, lighthearted game that takes inspiration from the likes of Galcon and Risk, LandGrabbers. In a land filled with castles and knights and crusades, it's own or be owned. You are a brilliant military strategist (but you knew that already!) who has decided to show your prowess by taking over the land. One building at a time. Send units, fortify your homeland, and set out to conquer the medieval world the only way you know how: casual strategy gaming!

landgrabbers.jpgTaking over the world, as it turns out, is a simple matter of mathematics, risk, and smart decisions. You start with at least one property that slowly stocks itself with units. Click on your piece of land, then click on a neutral (or enemy) property to send half of those troops out to attack. If your warriors outnumber the target's defenses, you win that piece of land and immediately start to gather troops there. Keep the new building well-defended, as the more you expand, the more vulnerable you are!

Later on, you'll get to use more than just soldier-generating houses. Watchtowers, for example, don't create units but instead house them and can quickly dispose of invading troops with, of all things, lasers. Not bad! There are also cavalry units you can train who are faster than standard units and are able to swarm watchtowers, giving each building and each soldier a strength and a weakness, just like any good rock-paper-scissors strategy title. Buildings can be upgraded at the temporary cost of half your units, a risk you must often take in order to hold more troops, thus increasing your defenses and possible attack strength.

It isn't all about troops and numbers, though. Nevosoft has spiced the gameplay up a little by including artifacts of the ancients, spells you can cast that do massive damage to your enemy. Not too massive, of course, as they don't give you an overbearing edge, but it's enough to help you out in a pinch, and it comes with a price tag. Good for feeling more like a god than a mere military genius!

landgrabbers2.jpgAnalysis: Good looking, easy to play, and fun to conquer, LandGrabbers is exactly the kind of game you want when you go looking for a Risk-like strategy title. Games of this ilk tend to be overly serious, devoting much of their time creating complex stat screens, a thin but dour storyline, and in-game technology that is realistic within the confines of the game's world. Here, though, you find lasers and knights riding alongside each other, "Bright and cheerful" is how the developers describe it, and that's exactly what LandGrabbers is!

Apart from the reliability of the genre and the inherent depth of strategy games, LandGrabbers does take a few steps to make things more interesting. New building types are fun and add a different sort of slant to your conquering techniques, though they won't change the outcome of any battle on their own. In the end, it's up to you and your plotting and scheming to get things done, so don't be afraid to experiment and try now ideas early in the game.

One obviously absent feature is multiplayer, as Risk games tend to be more fun with, you know, other people. The game's AI is pretty good, however, and manages to be aggressive without leaving its own territory undefended. There's no shortage of challenge, and the length and variety of the included stages is more than enough to keep you entertained.

Nice visuals, an easy interface, and a pristine presentation of the casual strategy genre we all love, LandGrabbers is a great way to get your Risk fix without breaking out the actual board game and trying to hunt down some friends to play with who aren't watching Doctor Who.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


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Weekend Download

JohnBIf you follow world news events, the weekend is a good time to catch up on what's been going on around our planet. That's pretty boring, however, whereas a 2D platformer, a Lemmings-like action game, and a game where you carry coal to feed a chugging train is much more exciting!

questling.gifQuestling (Windows, 4.3MB, free) - When The Lost Vikings meets Lemmings, many awesome things occur. One of those thing is Questling, a game by flyboy created for Ludum Dare 20. Place markers on the screen to guide three characters through the dangerous dungeons above. Make them jump when they need to jump, make them disarm traps, pause and wait, or use their special abilities, all with a few simple commands. Each character can do something different, making each level an exercise in teamwork. Some of the puzzles require more timing than cranial calorie burning, but the concept is solid and more is on the way!

australopithecus.gifAustralopithecus (Windows, 7.2MB, free) - It's frustrating. It's minimalist. It will kill you unfairly a number of times. And it will make you replay sections of a stage over and over again until you memorize the pattern. Ladies and gentlemen, Australopithecus is an old school platformer that wants you to fail again and again. And you will, of course. You'll also keep playing despite the mega-deaths and cheap shots the game continuously throws at you. Why? Is it the chiptune background music? The two color visuals? The... dinosaurs?

theyregoingtoblowup.gifThey're Going to Blow Up the Train! (Windows, 1.5MB, free) - A one-trick game that seems more like an LCD handheld concept than anything. But that doesn't stop it from being pretty darn fun! Bandits are trying to blow up the train, but you can keep it safe by feeding the burner coal. Walk back and forth in the cabin, carrying coal to the fire as quickly as you can. Avoid the bombs dropped by the bandits, and be sure to leap over the snake that's slithering around the floor. Keep the train going above five miles per hour and you'll be fine!

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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Love Chronicles

JohnBLove Chronicles: The Sword and the Rose, a new casual adventure game from Vendel Games, creator of the Magic Encyclopedia series, flings you into a gloomy world of alchemy, spells, sleeping trees, frozen puddles and glowing rose petals. As a prince who is on his way home from an adventure, you encounter a strange island filled with mystery. And ice. Lots and lots of ice. Your boat becomes trapped on the shore, so you set foot to sand and investigate the island's strange sights.

lovechronicles.jpgLove Chronicles plays very organically, allowing you the freedom to roam around, explore, gather items and solve puzzles that aren't slammed in your face. The game is focused more on inventory items than hidden object scenes and mini-games, though there are plenty of the latter to be found. You begin wandering through the woods, watching your cursor as it highlights different parts of the screen you can interact with. It seems like everything is a puzzle waiting to be solved, but you need to do some more walking before you can start solving the riddles at hand!

Story plays a big part in Love Chronicles, and it's told through a series of short cutscenes at key points during the gameplay. The style in which the plot unfolds is very much like a fantasy movie, with poignant facts dropping in your lap when you least expect them.

An interesting inclusion in Love Chronicles' gameplay is the red rose by your inventory. Your overall goal is to reclaim the enchanted petals so you can return the rose to its owner and break the curse of the witch. The petals are frozen in ice, however, and you must thaw them out before you can collect them. Click the rose, then click the ice and you'll melt just about anything frozen that's on the screen. It's a bit of immersion that makes you feel strangely powerful as well as giving you an effective role in this strange world.

lovechronicles2.jpgAnalysis: Love Chronicles inflates the sense of mystery by refusing to hide puzzles from your view, preferring instead to sit everything in plain sight while you fumble to solve the riddles at hand. This is a bit overwhelming at first, as you'll come across half a dozen pieces of scenery that need your attention and you'll be powerless to investigate further, but the more you play the more you discover, and when that magical inventory item comes along that solves an earlier puzzle, you'll recognize it immediately!

Even though the game seems open, Love Chronicles is just as linear as any other hidden object hybrid. You must have certain items to gain access to certain areas that will give up other items you'll need to progress. So, naturally, things play out exactly as the developer planned them to. But because you can hop back and forth, moving around a dozen or more screens at once, you feel like the world keeps growing larger and more intricate, even though the game never gets too complicated for you to handle. It's a careful illusion, but it was pulled off quite well.

The only real down side to Love Chronicles is its habit of holding your hand, then letting go at the strangest times. The hint system works well, until it fails you when you need it most. If you miss an item, something random you just neglected to pick up, but can somehow continue, the game often fails to recognize this, leaving you backtracking as far as possible, scouring the landscape for signs of a missed object. You're never stuck for more than a few minutes, of course, but since you begin to rely on the game telling you what's needed next, you're suddenly left out in the cold when it just... doesn't.

Love Chronicles: The Sword and the Rose is a great-looking, magic-filled casual adventure game with great puzzles and an imaginative setting. It isn't as filled with doom and gloom as most hidden object hybrids tend to be, it's more of a fairy tale adventure on the darker side of things. Good length, satisfying inventory riddles, and plenty of bonuses to keep you coming back for more!

A Collector's Edition is also available. It contains a strategy guide, concept art, wallpapers, and bonus gameplay content. 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: 4.3/5 (103 votes)
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corygalliherNecronomicon: Book of Dead NamesIf there's one thing I've learned through the years it's that one shouldn't mess with dark forces that they don't understand. One example of this is when I sneaked onto Jay's editing console here at JayIsGames. Suffice to say we're still getting emails from people who had seizures from my horrific site redesigns that included fluffy pink ponies and cherubs. Another example is when I played Necronomicon: Book of Dead Names, the card strategy sequel to the original Necronomicon by Games of Cthulhu.

Much like the original, your goal in Book of Dead Names is to deplete your opponent's Life points while preventing them from doing the same to you. You'll accomplish this by unleashing the power of the Cthulhu Mythos in the form of creatures, spells and mystical artifacts. You need to beware, though; more powerful abilities and items come at a cost of your Sanity! If your Sanity runs too low, you run the risk of losing the game instantly. You'll need to keep track of several other stats as well. Your Taint level acts as a sort of poison; you'll take damage equal to your Taint every turn. You can defend against your foe's attacks by boosting your Elder Sign level and you can power up your own attacks by boosting your Arcane level. There are a number of roads to victory; I found that I did best when I focused on boosting my Arcane and using attack spells to deal damage.

Creatures are the primary way that you'll deal damage to your opponent, and one of the main changes from the original game is the ability to have more than one creature summoned at a time. Instead, you can have two creatures on offense and two on defense. This goes a long way toward adding more strategy to the game and helps add variety to creatures by making some better at attack and some at defense. Another change deals with the game's upgrade system. You'll grow more powerful between duels depending on the rankings you earn. Each time you achieve an S rank in a duel, you'll gain two points of Life and one point of Sanity; later you also gain one point of Arcane. Your foes will also grow more powerful as you play so it becomes necessary to get S ranks to keep up - this also means that the game in general is much more difficult than the original since you can become more powerful with practice.

While it's fairly similar to the original, particularly because a lot of the art assets are recycled, Book of Dead Names helps update the Necronomicon formula and add a lot of much-needed depth. The difficulty might turn some players off, especially since as a card game it's possible to lose matches by simply not getting the cards you need, but it's still worth a look for card game and Lovecraft fans alike. Just try not to unleash any dark powers. It's a pain to clean up after that kind of thing.

Play Necronomicon: Book of Dead Names

Thanks to Jeremy for sending this one in!


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Link Dump Fridays

DoraInternet! I call upon you to cast aside your memes and your chat roulettes, your Yahoo Answers trolling and your firsts, to take up this most noble of quests, this most urgent of endeavours, and play these games or... or... uh... hm. Well... nothing will happen, I guess. Huh. Should've... should've checked that out to make sure before I went ahead and commissioned your adventuring party. But, hey, I'm sure it's cool. After all, how much can a level 16 dwarven berserker with 19 strength and a level 18 Thayvian wizard with a staff of power cost, right?... right?... hey, can I borrow a couple priceless artifacts?

  • Tiny BlockmanTiny Blockman - Sometimes, you wake up in the morning a second before your alarm is due to go off, and you stare at the ceiling, and you think, "I wish I was a tiny orange dude with super flatulent jumping powers." And then the alarm rings and the spell breaks and you heave yourself out of bed with a sigh for another day of working for the Man. Well I say to you NO LONGER! Just fire up this little platformer and live out your little orange dude bein', mega jump doin' fantasies.
  • Ninja PainterNinja Painter - There are a lot of skills and powers I would probably use irresponsibly if I had them, which is one of thirteen reasons on the bullet-point list Superman read me about why I'm banned from the Super Friends. However, if you must use your ninja bamf-zip powers for good and not flipping out and killing everyone, painting seems as good a choice as any. In this adorable little puzzle game your task is to speed around the screen, gathering the proper paint colours, and then painting the corresponding areas. It's simple and maybe a little too easy, but oh so ninja responsible.
  • Tube CrisisTube Crisis - I've never been on a subway train, because if Fear Net and Chiller have taught me anything it's that they are the exclusive domain of creative murderers and sociopaths (thanks a lot, Clive Barker, Franka Potente), but apparently the truth is much ickier. In this short, silly point-and-click puzzler, it's your job to get the girl crammed in with other travelers a bit of much-needed breathing room by figuring out the correct order to click on things to get people to leave. If only real life were true to fiction, I would have found traveling by Greyhound much more palatable.
  • The God of PovertyThe God of Poverty - I can't help but think Wang Lung's farming would have gone a bit better if he had starred in a point-and-click title like this. There would have been less tear-stained pages if all he'd had to contend with when poverty came a'knockin' was a pair of ninja playing catch on his roof. Yes, it's another surreal set of screens from your friend and mine Minoto, where it seems like every day is a nonsensical wonderland of visual stimuli and anything that isn't adorable isn't allowed. (Which is apparently what half the people I meet think Canada is like.)

  • Currently 4.1/5
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Rating: 4.1/5 (100 votes)
| Comments (20) | Views (44)

joyeHungry SumoSumo wrestling, as everyone knows, is a noble and ancient Japanese art where a rotund man bounces around like a ping pong ball, occasionally careening into other sumo wrestlers, and shoveling rice down his gullet as quickly as possible to increase his size and convert all adversaries into clones of himself. At least that's what I've learned from Hungry Sumo, the newest title from perennial JIG favorites NinjaKiwi. Fifty Sixty levels of addictive arcade goodness await.

The controls couldn't be simpler: click anywhere on the "ready" screen to start a level. When you hover over a sumo that you control (the jolly-looking fellows clutching red rice bowls), he will start chomping down rice like a college student at all you can eat sushi, and begin to grow in circumference. If you bump into an enemy sumo while growing, your sumo will immediately "pop" and be turned into a baby sumo of the enemy sumo's type, so avoid bumping into enemy sumo while growing. You can bump into your own sumo while growing with no damage.

Recently updated with 10 NEW Levels!

Every time your own sumo hits an enemy sumo (except the statue sumo), both sumo will take damage relative to the size differential between the two. In general, a big sumo is going to cause a lot of damage to a small sumo, the exception being the oni sumo, who hits harder the smaller he gets. Your object is to leave no enemy sumo remaining on the level. While you start out facing only simple blue ninja, you're soon dealing with many more difficult challenges, such as the fiendish poison sumo. Don't be fooled by his "durrrr" expression and Frankenstein-ish friendly monster looks; a sumo that hits him will continue to shrink for a while, a horrible condition in a game where yes, size matters.

While the game play is completely different, Hungry Sumo has a lot of the jazzy Japanese charm that made the Sushi Cat series such a success. Even the music has that same kind of catchy funk. At first glance the game might seem to be unfairly luck-based, since you're at the mercy of the physics engine when it comes to where the little sumos bounce to. But in order to get far, you'll need to figure out that there's actually a lot under your control. You can influence trajectories by which sumo you choose to grow, for example, and in certain levels you may wish to make controlled sacrifices in order to gain an advantage elsewhere.

So loosen your belt, grab your industrial-strength chopsticks, and jump into Hungry Sumo for seconds. Or tenths. Or fiftieths. Yum.

Play Hungry Sumo


  • Currently 4.1/5
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Rating: 4.7/5 (26 votes)
| Comments (90) | Views (11)

You Are Games

Letters in Boxes #2

ArtbegottiJust when you thought it was safe to go back to regular ol' crossword puzzles, a wild Letters In Boxes appears! We received such a warm response to last week's puzzle that we thought we'd follow up with another set of puzzles for your solving pleasure. This week, we've got a bit of a sideways challenge for you, with puzzles to play on a slight tilt. Can you keep your thinking straight as you solve this set of stumpers?

In case you missed it last week, here's a review on how to play: Below, you'll find a puzzle to solve. Click on it to open it in a new window (and see it full-sized). When you think you've stumbled on the solution, redirect your attention to the window's address bar (in this case, http://images.jayisgames.com/lettersinboxes/lib2start.jpg). Change the filename of the image (namely, "lib2start") to your answer (remember to keep it a .jpg file and within the same directory and use all lowercase characters) to see if you're correct. If you're right, the next puzzle pops up and you're on your way! If not, try tweaking your answer and try again.

This batch of puzzles contains four puzzles to solve. On the fourth puzzle, you'll find the email address for sending your final answer. We'll hand out a prize to the first correct entry we receive, plus four additional randomly-selected correct entries. Please include your Casual Gameplay account display name with your entry. You must be at least 13 years of age to enter. Only one submission per participant, please. Offer void where prohibited. Your deadline for submitting your answers is Monday, June 6th at 11:59 PM (GMT-5:00). Take on this troupe of tilted teasers and you could triumph with a trophy! (There are no actual trophies, it just fit with the alliteration.) Good luck!

Update: Congratulations to these 11 winners! :D

  • SirNiko ...First!
  • saytn
  • zxo
  • scoi007
  • Zac
  • Candyman
  • amanda
  • physkid94
  • SilvorMoon
  • nerdypants
  • kdausman
All winners were given a choice of prizes or an entry into a GRAND PRIZE drawing to be held at the end of August! Congratulations and thanks for playing with us! Look for another Letters in Boxes again soon!

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Rating: 3.9/5 (56 votes)
| Comments (9) | Views (51)

TrickySpace ArcadeI appreciate the specificity of Space Arcade: The Game's subtitle. I was seriously worried for a couple minutes that I was going to have to deal with Space Arcade: The Hit Broadway Musical. However, as much as I crave toe-tappin' hits and elaborate choreography, I enjoy Galaga-inspired pixel shooter action even more. This appears to be music-meister Matt McFarland's debut game release, and it's so much fun that maybe he should consider quitting his day job.

There are a fair number of controls, but the basics are clear: [arrow] keys to move, [Z] to fire. Holding down [left shift] gives you an unlimited speed boost, while [X] and [C] raise and lower your base speed. There are thirty levels to play, all unlocked from the beginning. Shooting enemies releases gold to collect, the tougher the enemy the more the gold. Between levels, gold can be used to purchase new weapons, upgrade your shield, or improve your ships gold-attractor. During levels, a screen-clearing smart-bomb can be launched with the [spacebar], initially for 100 of your collected gold, adding 50 to the cost for each additional bomb. Play well, and you'll soon be recruited by the Rylan Star League.. or at least get your name on the high score table.

Analysis: Space Arcade lives up to its name with a perfect recreation of old-school action... and all the brutal difficulty that implies. Oh sure, the first couple of levels looks easy enough, but once its gotten your quarter, it'll chew you up and spit you out. Don't expect this to be a game you can just blast through blindly without any strategy: this one is packed to the brim with shielded enemies that will return two bullets for every one you shoot at it, and knowing when discretion is the better part of valor is a must. The game doesn't grant you upgrades nearly as quickly as you need them, so I guess its a testament to Space Arcade's quality that I kept playing to the end.

Space ArcadeThe game also has some features that I hope become common-places in other casual shooters: 1. The ability to play all levels in any order. That might be a sticking point for some. However, in my mind, since each requires a slightly different methodology, that you can skip ahead at any point to switch things up severely limited my frustration. 2. An actual reason not to hold down the fire button. Here, your ship's gold attractor gets a boost whenever you aren't firing. This might seem like a little thing... and it is, but considering how, for many, aiming strategy can be reduced to "keep thumb firmly pressed on fire button", it adds a dose of timing balance to the action. 3. The option to boost change your ship's speed with a press of a key. Not only does it ease the more difficult intergalactic maneuvers, but, as silly as it sounds, it made me feel a little bit more like the pilot of a pixelated spaceship. Ship speed can often be arbitrary in a shooting game, and giving the player more freedom in how they can beat the game is always welcome.

There are a few nitpicks. For one, I didn't like the sound design. To my ears, the modern techno of the background music clashes with the chip-tuney bleeps and bloops of the effects. Both were individually fine... just not together in the game. I eventually just set the whole thing on mute and found I enjoyed it a lot more. Also, I wish your ship's hitbox was much more obvious. It was quite difficult to tell when a shot was going to damage me or not. Considering how hellish the screen gets with bullets (to almost a motion-sickening level), it was annoying that I never quite knew how close a shave was too close. Finally, while the flurry of enemies that was level 30 was quite intense, I would have preferred a massive final boss for a climax. That's just might be personal preferences, however.

Space Arcade isn't perfect, but its willingness to shake up the traditional retro-shooter mechanics is definitely a plus. McFarlands's inspirations may clearly hail from the past, but he clearly has a sense of futuristic innovation that will serve him well. I can't wait to see more from him.

Play Space Arcade: The Game


  • Currently 4/5
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Rating: 4/5 (44 votes)
| Comments (6) | Views (44)

joyezOMTBeing a god is awesome! Worshiped by multitudes, unlimited powers, able to just reach out and smite someone anytime you like, right? Well, in the new Preloaded game for Adult Swim UK, zOMT, you indeed get to be a god! But your number of believers tops out at six. Okay but still, awesome powers right? Well, yes, but you have to wait for them to be unlocked, and also they take some time to reload, and you need to wait for your believers to offer up some green gems in order to use them at all. Okay but... still, instant smiting, right? No one beyond your mighty arm? Well, actually your godly power is limited to that torch-thing over yonder. And the waves of enemies come from beyond that. So... yeah. If you were looking for a game that gives you a taste of omnipotence, zOMT leaves something to be desired. But as a defense game, it's a great deal of fun.

You start out with at least one worshiper on each level. Enemies will approach and attempt to kill them, and if they all die, it's game over. The believers may seem rather helpless because all they do is bow and scrape before you, and won't fight back against any enemies. However, every so often a believer gives off a little green gem which wafts up from them. Clicking on these gems gives you points which you can spend on summons to defend your believers, everything from a suicide bomber to a rampaging bear to the intriguing "bouncy cloud", which can be drawn in the sky by clicking and dragging and used to bounce projectiles away from yourself, and if you're skilled with trajectories, even to bounce back at the enemies. You can use either the left and right [arrow] keys or [A] and [D] to scroll back and forth, and you can return to the center at any time instantly by hitting up arrow or [W]. You beat the level by destroying all the enemies. Enemies also release green gems as they die, for a quick pick-me-up.

As you get further up, you have to deal with enemies coming from both left and right, and your believers are quite fragile, so keeping the enemies at bay can become frantic. The most difficult aspect to master is the use of bouncy clouds. Using them to defend your believers is simple enough, but getting the angle right so as to strike back at whatever is hitting you can be very difficult, because you can't see the entire field at once. Another tricky piece to use is the suicide bomber, because while you're using him you can't click to pick up any gems on the way (since clicking causes him to explode). Since gems disappear after floating up to a certain distance, it's possible to lose out on needed points this way. It might have been better to assign the suicide bomber a key instead, so that the player could have continued to click and pick up gems while deploying him.

I really enjoyed zOMT's great flat paper-puppet aesthetic and sense of humor. Being told that my godly might was at the level of "holy toast" was certainly a spur to keep playing. Conquer all fifteen levels and your power will be unquestioned! At least from here to that torch-thing.

Play zOMT


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Rating: 4.5/5 (150 votes)
| Comments (26) | Views (2,672)

TrickyInsectonator: Zombie ModeA couple of months ago, we featured Insectonator by Denis Kukushkin and family. I thought it was a fine shooter, and going by the site ratings, it seems that many agreed. However, I did have a small problem with it: as fun as it was to blast various anthropods into lymphatic chunks, the whole thing did seem just a shade cruel. I mean, most of those scarab beetles were just minding their own business. If only the developers came out with a version that featured enemies for which the average gamer had no compunctions eviscerating... something like, oh, I don't know, the stalking legions of the undead. Well, guess what, Insectonator: Zombie Mode is here, and with it comes new weapons, new arenas and new achievements. And zombies. Tiny, tiny zombies.

As I like to say with many an expansion pack, unbroken gameplay isn't fixed: Using the mouse, you take aim and blast zombies, starting with darts, then moving on to knives, fire-arms and others. You may also use the [arrow] keys for more pinpoint accuracy. Weapons can be switched with a a click of the mouse, the [Z], [X] and [C] keys, or by setting the options to switch randomly after a clip has been unloaded. Bonus points are awarded for quick kills, head-shots, and consistent accuracy. Some zombies require an extra bullet to destroy the corpse. Between each round There are four basic types of selectable gameplay rounds: ones where you must clear the area of all zombies, ones where you have to shoot a certain amount of specific varieties, ones where you must shoot certain zombies in a certain order, and one where you must protect your rubies from being dragged away.... Zombies love rubies. Over time, various conditions will be met and new and crazier weapons will be unlocked.

Whether you were a big fan first Insectonator or not, there is enough overall new content for this to be worth playing. I can't pretend that I don't see the inclusion of zombies as a little bit of blatant meme-pandering, but the graphics and atmosphere make it work. After all, you have a lot of options in the "killing zombies with various weapons" genre, so you might as well go with the one that lets you chuck anvils at them. The main complaints of the previous installment have been addressed (especially the lack of autosave), so what are you waiting for? There are skulls to be cracked.

Play Insectonator: Zombie Mode


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Rating: 4.3/5 (56 votes)
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Grinnyp10GnomesinLiegeLet's just get this out of the way from the beginning: gnomes freak me right the heck out. No, I don't think they're cute, not even a tiny little bit. Those "amusing" garden gnomes? Evil. So evil. Plotting to kill you in your sleep and take over the world evil. And don't even get me started on the Travelocity gnome...So you can just imagine my utter delight at the news of Mateusz Skutnik's latest point-and-click Gnomes adventure, 10 Gnomes in Liege.

But seriously, if you're not familiar with this amusing yet creepy series of hidden object finding adventures the objective is simple: search through a bleak cityscape, in this case the city of Liege, and find the lurking gnomes. Finding can be accomplished by clicking on areas that the changing cursor indicate are interesting, and you can click closer and closer and closer until you find...well, either a gnome, another creature, or nothing at all. As implied in the title there are 10 of the little critters, hiding in nooks and crannies all over the place. You have 10 minutes to explore and find the little devils, and maybe a troll or two, before the timer runs out. What happens then? I'm thinking the "taking over the world" scenario will play out. Maybe. If so, this is about the fourteenth time they've tried to take over the world, so we can suspect that, for all their evil ways, they're pretty bad at actually doing anything other than lurking... and waving to you if you find them.

10 Gnomes in Liege is pretty short, as you might have guessed by that ten minute timer. That doesn't mean that you'll only spend ten minutes playing, however. Try it and you might get hooked, going back over and over again to admire the stunning black and white photography of the city whilst you try to ferret out every last gnome before time runs out. Although this is a gorgeous game it is by no means cute in any way shape or form, despite the cool, trendy, shades-wearing gnomes of course. The scenery looms, the accompanying music chills, and despite the lack of anything overt with no jump scares to be had here, you can't help but get more and more frantic to find those nasty little gnomes as time begins to tick down and anxiety levels shoot through the roof... Okay, maybe not, but still take the time to check out 10 Gnomes in Liege and maybe you'll begin to understand why gnomes really, really freak me out.

Play 10 Gnomes in Liege


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Rating: 4.6/5 (201 votes)
| Comments (17) | Views (150)

Sym-a-Pix LightArtbegottiDid you hop in your computer chair this morning to see what new puzzles the folks at Conceptis have launched? Before we tell you about it, spin your chair around! Things probably look different when you've spun halfway around, but what if you spun around and found another computer just like the one you're sitting at right now? Rotational symmetry is the name of the game in Sym-a-Pix Light, the next entry in the Conceptis Light series of logic puzzles.

A Sym-a-Pix puzzle is solved by dividing the grid into a series of boxes with rotational symmetry, which is to say that they look the same when rotated 180 degrees (like an hourglass, or the letter S). These boxes may be a simple square, a longer rectangle, or a weird shape with arms branching out all over the place. Each of the colored circles in the grid represents the center point of one of those boxes. When you finish creating a box, it fills in with the color of the circle. When you've divvied everything up correctly, that spotty grid has been turned into a colorful picture!

Click on the gridlines to mark out the boundaries of the box. If you've got a relatively steady hand, you can click and drag to mark out large boundaries in one swing. You can also click direcly on a square in a grid to mark it with an X. These Xes are helpful for marking out the potential path of a box. Xes will automatically disappear when you complete the box they're in.

As the second-newest puzzle type available on Conceptis's main site, Sym-a-Pix is a unique take on picture-logic puzzles. Like most of the Conceptis Light line, this edition features a selection of easier puzzles in three different sizes, to give you a good grasp of the concepts for solving these puzzles. However, also with the Light series, some of the features available on the Conceptis main website (such as auto-completion and automatically marking incorrect boxes) are missing in this Light version, which could be an irritating setback for those who are used to them. If you're looking for a different logic puzzle challenge, give Sym-a-Pix Light a spin. You never know what will turn up!

Play Sym-a-Pix Light


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Rating: 4.8/5 (301 votes)
| Comments (40) | Views (920)

Weekday Escape

GrinnypDon't let the title fool you, Hermit Rabi and Wonder Fountain is not an adventure comic featuring the twisted duo of a reclusive Torah teacher and an architectural water shooting superhero, although that would be pretty radical (call me, Stan Lee!). Instead, we're talking about the latest and greatest room escape game from Robamimi, one of the best designers in the business, although perhaps not as good when it comes to English translations...

Hermit Rabi and Wonder FountainHermit Rabi and Wonder Fountain (alternate title: Spring Bunny Hermit and the Curious Donkey Ears, which makes slightly more sense) tells the story of a lonely bunny, wasting away in his hidey hole, pining for fresh carrots and locking hapless folks in his strange underground bunker until they bring him some orangey carrot goodness or figure their way out, or both. At least, I think that's what this game is all about, I could possibly be horribly wrong. What looks at first like a classic one room four wall escape quickly turns into something quite different and somewhat bigger (and stranger). Featuring a lot of fun puzzles (including some color-based) there's more than first meets the eye in this delightful escape.

Hermit Rabi plays like a standard room escape with navigation bars at the sides and bottom of the screens, an inventory of items that you can pick up, take, examine, and use, and many of the features we like to see in top-notch room escapes like a changing cursor, a save function, a lovely sliding volume on the easy-listening music loop, a strange life-sized bunny, and even a hint feature. Well, if other designers can't be bothered to have Harvey in their games it's their loss, isn't it? Other than the somewhat creepy rabbit we're talking top-notch controls which make for a fantastic gameplaying experience.

Robamimi doesn't just put all of their efforts into the control structure of the games, though. Hermit Rabi is a satisfying little adventure chock-full of puzzles, logic, use of found objects, combining objects, and communicating with imaginary rabbits. And, of course, the graphics are first-rate as well, especially the animation of our furry little friend with the carrot fetish. With this designer you get the whole package: fantastic gameplay, intuitive and easy to use controls, and gorgeous visuals, making Robamimi one of our favorite and go-to room escape designers.

So get ready for a perfect mid-week break with Hermit Rabi and Wonder Fountain. Logical, amusing, fun, and tricky, we've found one fantastic room escape for you to tackle. Just remember, if you think real large rabbits are locking you in a bunker in order to obtain their precious carrots, perhaps it's time to get up and walk away from the computer for a little while. Just saying.

Play Hermit Rabi and Wonder Fountain

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