# December 2011 Archives

## World Mosaics V

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If you're a logic puzzle fan (both paper-and-pencil and electronic, alike), you've probably heard of a little game called picross. It's a crossword puzzle meets number logic with an artsy twist. Fugazo brings their puzzles to you in the next installment of their popular puzzle series, World Mosaics V, where you find a familiar experience with a new storyline and, of course, hundreds of new puzzles!

You've recently been accepted to Grand Pelasgian University with the dreams of becoming a Chronology apprentice. Under the tutelage of your professor, Dr. Hartwell, you're putting all your efforts in your World Holidays class. Each of the twelve weeks of class covers a different holiday, each holiday encompassing twelve lessons. To help you remember your lessons, you'll be completing 'mosaic puzzles' based on the subject. Don't you wish you'd gone to this school?

Using just your mouse, [left] click on a block to fill it in and [right] click on one to place a spacer in the form of a thumb tack. The puzzles are comprised of a grid with numbers for each row and column. The numbers indicate how many adjacent blocks are filled in for that particular row or column. Multiple numbers mean multiple sets of blocks, each set separated by at least one empty block. With this information, you can figure out which blocks are filled in. For example, in a row that's ten blocks long, a sequence of (3 3 2) has only one possible configuration because of the space you must have between each set. Once the grid is filled in, a picture will be revealed.

Analysis: What World Mosaics offers in its selection of puzzles is a casual, relaxing picross solving time with a light story. The interesting tidbits of information that go along with the theme of the puzzles provide a neat distraction to your puzzling mind. The difficulty curve is nice and smooth, catering to beginners and the experienced alike. For those completely new to the picross world, there are tips from the main menu as well as pop ups over the first few levels to give you a hand.

What may be lacking from World Mosaics V is an offering of variety in its puzzles. Not all picrosses have to be square and monochromatic, nor are bigger grids necessarily more difficult than smaller ones. Nonetheless, this is still a solid game. It's the type of game you sit down to for a few hours with a warm cup of tea to relax. With over 140 puzzles in the regular game and 100 more in bonus puzzles, it's sure to keep you occupied over many gallons of tea.

Windows:
Get the full version

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

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How about some diversions for the last day of the year? Two games pulled from the recent Ludum Dare compo, both of which share some of the same basic ideas and gameplay directions but end up being very different from each other, Then, just to make sure you're paying attention, a totally different game! Wow!

Minicraft (Mac/Win/Linux, 1MB, free) - Created by Notch, the original developer of Minecraft, for the most recent Ludum Dare compo, Minicraft is an open sandbox crafting sort of game that basically works like Minecraft if it were released on the NES. Fight enemies, allocate resources, craft new tools, and strike out as you attempt to fulfill your goal of eliminating all sentient life so you can be forever alone! Shockingly playable and absorbing, especially for such a simple game, but considering the source, it's a wonder you won't lose hours of your life to the little diversion. You can also play Minicraft in your browser!

Incomitat (Windows, 1.5MB, free) - Another Ludum Dare entry, this one from hempuli, creator of Floating Islands Game as well as a handful of other, smaller projects. Similar to Minicraft in some ways, Incomitat doesn't have much of a purpose, it's just a little world simulator that lets you dig up dirt, cut down trees, harvest resources and use them to build things. There's a boss lurking somewhere in this low-res world, so if you can find it, you accomplished something worthy!

Void (Windows, 179MB, free) - A short but phenomenal first person puzzle game created by students at DigiPen, Singapore. Void takes place in a library ruined in a recent disaster. You're trying to find a way out, but that doesn't really seem possible given the state of things. Fortunately, time is on your site. More specifically, the past, and your ability to both see it and open pockets of the past using limited portals. For example, a platform may be out of reach because the ground beneath it has crumbled. Open a portal to the past, though, and the floor is intact, giving you a few seconds to walk across. It's a great game mechanic, and the team used it in some very creative ways, including a stint in the sewers that were once filled with water. It's a short, experimental sort of game, but one you'll be glad to have tried! Note: Void requires the Steam client, a free download, to play.

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!

## Shadow Wolf Mysteries: Bane of the Family

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According to popular myth, werewolves are pretty much all over the place, leading normal lives just like the rest of us tax-paying citizens. For the most part, they're pretty normal. Walking around, visiting Starbucks, and maybe even holding the door for you when your hands are full. But when it's the full moon, werewolf kind has a difficult time blending in. And we're not just talking about the smell! In the new hidden object adventure game from ERS Game Studio, Shadow Wolf Mysteries: Bane of the Family, you get to dive a bit deeper into the family structure of a family of werewolves, learning all about their curse and how this odd transformation travels from parents to children.

The structure of Shadow Wolf Mysteries 2 is similar to the previous game, Shadow Wolf Mysteries: Curse of the Full Moon, as well as most hidden object adventure hybrids out there. Walking around the bleak landscape (seriously, Count De la Fer, plant a flower!), you'll note a number of highly-useful items just laying around. Naturally, it's your job to gather them and keep them safe in your inventory, all the while looking for puzzles to solve using said objects. Your initial mission is to investigate outside of the manor so you can deliver a message to the Count about his daughter's "unusual" illness. Soon, you discover that illness is more like "pre-werewolfedness", Veronica is the Count's daughter, and turning into shaggy beasts of the night kind of runs in the family. So, yipes and all that jazz. What phase is the moon in tonight?

One thing Shadow Wolf Mysteries is good at is throwing puzzles in your way, and it seems like every time you take a step, a puzzle prevents you from continuing. That's a good thing, of course, as this game wouldn't be much of a game if you just walked around looking at things. Most puzzles are multi-tiered in nature, but they're logical and never too difficult to solve. Getting a light for a dark passageway, for example, might require you to find a torch, locate an oil barrel, break the barrel open with some tool, soak the torch, then light it. Mini-games are just as numerous, but hidden object scenes are far less common, giving this game a strong casual adventure sort of style.

Analysis: ERS Game Studio is well-known for its hidden object hybrids, such as Redemption Cemetery, the Dark Tales series, Haunted Halls: Green Hills Sanitarium, and a good dozen or so more. In fact, if you haven't played one of the team's games, you probably haven't played many hidden object adventures at all. With that sort of universality, you know something is being done right, and Shadow Wolf Mysteries: Bane of the Family is a fine example of that.

Here's some more good news for casual adventure fans: Shadow Wolf Mysteries: Bane of the Family is a fairly long game. Including the bonus content found in the Collector's Edition, you can expect about five hours of game time, almost twice the average release these days. The initial sections offer little challenge, but after things warm up a bit, you'll stumble a few times trying to make your way around. The hint system works flawlessly, so even if you're caught, there's always a way to get a little nudge.

The only real downer with Shadow Wolf Mysteries is the fact that it follows ERS Game Studio's formula so tightly, it almost feels like a retread for fans of the team's releases. The story is unique, of course, as are the puzzles and general setting, but after more than a dozen games, it's tough to overlook the developmental skeleton there. That's not to say the game suffers in quality, it's just a lingering sense of sameness that's always behind a corner, though you never see it straight on.

Reliably entertaining, smart puzzles, quirky horror-inspired story and a plethora of mini-games, a new ERS Game Studio release is as good as hidden object gold.

A Collector's Edition is also available. It contains bonus content, a strategy guide, soundtrack, concept art, wallpapers, 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.

Windows:
Get the full version
Also available: Collector's Edition

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

## Bunny's Room Escape 2

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The Christmas tree is still up, the bubbly remains corked, and Bunny's future is so bright, he's got to wear shades. Hmm. Isn't that how it goes? Strawberry Café must think so in Bunny's Room Escape 2, tossing a tropical hibiscus blossom in with holiday lights, champagne flutes set by rosé wine to form no clear theme at all. Never you mind why, just grab up as many cool pink sunglasses as you can hold and figure out how to escape this place.

Using mouse clicks to navigate, click on something interesting for a look-see or snag it for your sleuthing arsenal, then select it from your inventory to put it to use. You won't find many puzzles to hang you up and there's even a hipster cat to lend a hand. We're not talking a long, leisurely process here, only a brisk escape-the-room game just for kicks. So snap to it, daddy-o!

Play Bunny's Room Escape 2

## Trigger Knight

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It's amazing what just one button can do. In Trigger Knight by MINTSPHERE, your handy dandy mouse button is all you need to upgrade a cute little knight and buy her more lifespan as she charges relentlessly towards the right side of the screen in this experimental action RPG.

Play Trigger Knight

## Plexus Puzzle: A PieceFull Christmas

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Joy to the world, a new Plexus puzzle has come! Let us receive the jigsaw! It's never too late for some jolly good puzzling fun, and this latest treat from the puzzle providers at Plexus has jolly sprinkled all over it.

A PieceFull Christmas contains familiar images you might expect to see around Christmas time, including a decorated tree, presents, elves, and jolly old St. Nick himself. The puzzle plays just like other Plexus puzzles featured here before. Use your mouse to select pieces and drag them around for placement. Use the [arrow] or [WASD] keys to rotate pieces once selected, or to nudge them up or down.

Working within a smallish area may add to the challenge of the puzzle, and if you aren't bothered by that constraint you're in for another enjoyable Plexus puzzling experience.

Perhaps because this is a Plexus puzzle you can overlook the fact that it's no longer Christmas time.

Play Plexus Puzzle: A PieceFull Christmas

Thanks to Cyberjar88 for sending this one in!

## Zomblast

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Physics puzzles? With zombies? Like the world needs another one of them, amirite? Or at least, that's what the shambling horde in New Stage Studio's Zomblast keep telling me, and it's not like they could possibly have an agenda or anything.

Just click and place the grenades on the playing field, rotating to take the best advantage of the fragments that do the damage, and detonate them to rid the world of (yet another) zombie menace curiously vulnerable to this particular genre. Zomblast doesn't offer anything particularly new, unless you count freshly reanimated corpses, but the quirky charm of the sarcastic chattery ghouls who comment on life, the universe, and everything as you play makes this a silly treat perfect for a coffee break.

Play Zomblast

## Deretaraano

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Deretaraano is the latest "is this an escape game or have I sustained massive head injuries" title from Detarou, wherein you find yourself trapped with a shirtless, gesticulating man, two human stag beetles locked in grunty combat, and an oblivious couple cuddling on a couch. Among... other things.

There are three endings to uncover as you click around gathering items, and both puzzles and environment are distinctively surreal in that very special Detarou way that manages to baffle and unnerve some people as easily as it morbidly fascinates the rest of us. While they certainly lack the logical reality of, say, Tesshi-e's titles, Detarou's bizarre but imaginative games are a welcome change from the typical herd of escape titles. Just don't expect them to make a whole lot of sense.

Play Deretaraano

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Oh my stars and garters. Is it really the end of another year already? Well, you know what they say; time flies when you spend it soaking in the internet and avoiding actual productivity! Best of 2011 is right around the corner, but before that, and before you party yourself into incoherence tomorrow night on New Year's Eve, we take a look back at some of the games that took the prize in reader voting all the way back to 2004! In addition, we've got some more upcoming games you should take a look at, a new port of a recent title, and some music guaranteed to make you feel like an untalented butterfingers. (Interviews coming next week!)

On a slightly more serious note, from us to you... happy New Year. We were here in 2011 because you kept coming back for us, and it's because of you we get to keep doing what we love in 2012. Our wish for you, apart from continued warmth and laughter, is that you get to do the same, so get out there and make it happen! We'll be rooting for you, and we hope you still remember us when you're big and famous.

Retrospective: Best Titles of the Past
Samarost - It was to nobody's surprise that Amanita Design's interactive art adventure took top honors in 2004, but who would have predicted it would have gone on to become one of the most enduring bits of flash gaming on our site?... well... anyone who played it, really. Reader Zeke said of it, "The gameplay (I use the term loosely) is relaxing and engaging. And the artwork and sound are among their elements that distinguish them from other point-and-clicks. I echo Jay's comment that this is a "masterpiece of creativity and interactive art"."

Grow Cube - In 2005, it was On of Eyezmaze who took the top spot with this gorgeous and adorable little puzzle. The Grow series has gone on to become one of the most popular sets of games on our humble little site, and small wonder; figuring out the correct order of things as the animations play out before you in surreal fashion will always be a treat. Reader Vincent Anthony Lim cheers, "I saw Grow RPG then I got hooked on playing the first two games. Then I found this, it's unbelievable! It makes me want to become a flash animator-cum-game designer."

Within a Deep Forest - In 2006, esteemed overlord Jay began to split the games into categories, and nobody was surprised when Nifflas won with this game in the Free Download category. Metroidvania is still more than a little popular, but the adorable charm that offsets the high difficulty sets this one apart from even those that have come after. Reader Denny offered, ""Awesome game! The music fit perfectly (and helped dampen the IMMENSE FRUSTRATION at the two hard parts--Can anyone say Glass Ball or Underwater Lasers and not cringe after beating this?!)"

Papa's Pizzeria - In 2007, Flipline Studios proved that the way to a gamer's heart is through their stomach, and whenever pizza is involved, that's definitely took. Creaming its competition in simulation, this time management game that tasked you with specifically creating and cooking for hordes of starving customers not only was incredibly addictive, but also went on to spawn a series of its own. Reader Jujubean cooed, "This is one of my all time favorite games. I admit that I have a soft spot for cooking and customer service games, but this game is very interactive on many different levels."

Vision - In 2008, Japanese developer Neutral dominated the escape category, sweeping the win for both Best of 2008 and Audience Choice in its category to book. Even today, hearing about a new Neutral escape makes fans of the genre tapdance with giddy anticipation, and this beautiful piece of work will show you why. Reader ThemePark enthused, "Finally completed it and I have to say, this is better than their other two games combined. Very impressive."

This is the Only Level - In 2009, jmtb02's pudgy blue elephant pulled us into a world of comic puzzle platforming and we never looked back. Sharing the top spot in the Platform category with highlighted pick The Company of Myself, this sometimes comical, sometimes frustrating game eventually spawned two sequels and a whole new set of diehard pachyderm fans. Reader Vebyast points out, "Very nice game. As usual with games from jmtb02, it's great commentary on the structure of games, with metahumor."

... But That Was [Yesterday] - Just last year in 2010, OneMrBean's emotionally affecting and uplifting winner of the 9th Casual Gameplay Design Competition also won for Best Interactive Art or Experimental title. While some readers felt the game was somewhat too linear and uninteractive, others were genuinely moved by the message and clever means of story telling. Reader Mark commented, "I thought it was a wonderful, beautiful game. Is it groundbreaking as far as gameplay goes? Maybe not in the way you would normally apply that term. But it, along with things like Every Day The Same Dream, go a long way toward refuting those who say that games can't be art."

News and Previews
3DS... In Spaaaaaaace! Terry Cavanagh's wonderful and challenging little retro platformer VVVVVV can now go wherever you go... so long as you have a Nintendo 3DS! Available in the Nintendo eShop for \$7.99 USD, the game also now comes with "experience heightening 3D". I wish I could tell you how that works out, but since I don't have a 3DS, I'll just have to content myself with sitting here in the bushes and pressing my nose against the glass of your window while you play. Nice pants, by the way.

To The Sequel Remember indie adventure To the Moon? Well, you should, and not just because it hasn't even been out for two months. Despite lacking a bit in the actual gameplay department, To The Moon is one of the best and most cleverly crafted storytelling experiences you can ever hope to encounter. If you've played it, then you know the story left a few questions, and there's a big fat TO BE CONTINUED at the end, so now's your chance to pop on over to the official forum thread for thoughts and wishes for episode 2 and make your voice heard if you have anything special you'd like to see. You know, other than the game right flippin' now or something.

My Little Fight Club Whether you love ponies or just don't get it, you have to admire the dedication of the team behind My Little Pony: Fighting is Magic, the upcoming indie fighting game based on Lauren Faust's cartoon. While no significant new announcements have been made, although you can find a number of new informative posts on the work and even some voice acting, you may be interested to know that the game now has its own official Twitter right here and is taking and answering questions from the community. Perhaps most exciting, though still maddeningly vague, is the assurance that the game will be released "soon", but there's also a lot if other interesting info to be found about the game if you look.

Bonus: FUS RO Whoa... If you really want to feel like an untalented shmuck, check out this video of the supremely talented Jason Yang performing an acoustic and electric violin cover of some of the music from a little game called Skyrim. (You've probably never heard of it.) Not only is it achingly lovely to listen to, it's a great example of the inspiration and passion some games can stir in those that love them. Of course, while this is an appropriately stirring and epic tune, this actually probably hits closer to home for yours truly.

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In his continuing efforts to try out new genres, Matt Roszak, aka kupo707, brings you an action platformer in Adventure Story. It has the same set of characters as in his previous Epic Battle Fantasy titles, with Natalie being kidnapped by a big, bad guy driving a big, bad tank. It's up to you, as Matt, to travel through worlds of enemies, coins and chests galore to save her. Use the [arrow] keys to move around and jump with [A]. Your attacks come in the form of sword slashing with [S] and a list of magic spells accessed with [D]. You must defeat these hordes of slimes, bushes and bats!

Twenty levels of fun await you (perhaps along with some bonuses...), and each level contains 100 gold coins and 10 chests to find. The chests hide delightful treasures from extra experience and equipment to more mana or an increase to your maximum health. The gold coins, on the other hand, are used at the shop in the level select screen to purchase new spells or upgrade your old ones. While you can keep coming back to the same area to reap the benefits of whatever bits of health and magic defeated enemies drop, a chest or gold coin can only be collected once.

Nothing groundbreaking is introduced in Adventure Story, but it's still massively fun with Roszak's familiar cartoon graphics and the fitting tunes of HalcyonicFalconX, who has worked with him in the past. Several hours of gameplay await you before you can become Natalie's savior, and if that's too much for you, well, at least your trusty blue cat is there to greet you at the end of every level. And what would you do without him?

## You Are Games: 2011 Rewind

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Boy, what a year it's been. Here we are, teetering on the verge of having another even-numbered year. Pretty soon, we'll look back on 2011 and remember how odd it was. (LOL, math.) But why not start the nostalgia now? You've probably seen our staff highlighting some of our favorite games of the year in our Link Dump Fridays, and we'll be opening the voting for our Best of 2011 within a few weeks, but until then, we want to turn the microphone over to you!

We want to know your favorite gaming moments of 2011. It doesn't have to be a browser game, or even a game we've featured here, or even a video game. If there's a gaming moment that sticks out in your mind from this year, we want to hear it! Was it that time you solved that really tricky SpaceChem puzzle? Or that epic come-from-behind victory in that game of Words With Friends? Or that one time you were playing Dragon Age II and that huuuuuuge dragon showed up and he was all like "Roaaaaaar" and you were all "Aaaaaaaah" and your cat was like "Mrow, I could take 'em"? Tell us about it! Leave a comment below, sharing your awesome gaming memories from this year.

Oh, and be sure to stay tuned for next week, you'll never predict what's coming up...

## Dismantlement: Box Lunch 2

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It's a truth universally acknowledged that a single lunch in possession of a good screwdriver must be in want of a sequel. So it is with the point-and-click puzzle game Dismantlement: Box Lunch 2, the perfectly explosive follow up to Gam.eBB's earlier game in the Dismantlement series titled... what else? Dismantlement: Box Lunch.

You're not going to find any new revelations in gameplay or design here. It is more of the same and—as a fan of this popular series—that's exactly what you ordered. Starting out with a screwdriver, and only a screwdriver, make your way through a series of food shaped puzzles until you reveal the secret at the bottom of the box lunch: a bomb! From there you have a generous 5 minutes to work out the last solution before it blows up in your face.

As with the first, this Dismantlement is on the easy side yet still likely to cause more than a few "face palm" moments amongst its players out there. Nevertheless, it is an irresistibly satisfying bite-sized bit of point-and-click fun. Dig in and enjoy!

Play Dismantlement: Box Lunch 2

## This is the Only Level 3

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Throw your trunks in the air like you just don't care! Except in this case you do, my little pachyderm enthusiasts, because your favourite little blue buddy is back in the puzzle platformer This is the Only Level 3. Created by jmtb02 with the artistic stylings of JIMP and the Machiavellian designs of Tasselfoot, it's another silly, clever, and maddening assortment of levels to get past... or, rather, just one. That's right, there's really only one level in this game, just like the other installments.

Use the [WASD] or [arrow] keys to guide the elephant to the exit pipe on the other side of the screen... provided you can figure out how to get there, of course, since the longer you play the more oddball the playing field becomes. The level title will usually give you a clue as to what you should be doing, but you can expect it to become more and more cryptic as you go. Just remember that you've got other keys on your keyboard, mouse buttons, and a big, beautiful brain that lets you think outside the box. (But can you think inside a chimney?)

You'll definitely need to put your thinking cap on for this one, but you'll also need a little bit of platforming prowess too. While figuring out what the level title is trying to tell you makes up the lion's (or rather elephant's) share of the challenge, there are a few levels where you'll need to be fast on your feet to stay alive. Especially since dying resets any stage progress you've made. Armed with JIMP's gorgeous signature style and some genuinely smart level design by Tasselfoot, the game excels both at making you feel like a real smarty pants for figuring it out, and at the same time like a lummox for taking so long to grasp the solution. Despite the plucky banjo soundtrack, which can slowly drive you to Jack Torrance levels of madness if you don't mute it, This is the Only Level 3 is another great rowdy little game that will confound and frustrate you in all the right ways.

Play This is the Only Level 3

## Where is 2012?

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Popular developer Mateusz Skutnik wishes us all a Happy New Year with another entry in his "Where Is..." series of New Year's games! Unlike previous "Where Is..." games, which repurposed characters and artwork from Mateusz's other franchises, Where is 2012? features new design and gameplay, as players help a gnomish-looking Santa find the infant personification of the new year, who is hiding somewhere in Mateusz's slightly askew vision of the North Pole. The adventure-platforming gameplay is fun, if not particularly difficult; and the quirky character design, watercolor background art, and atmospheric music and sound are all quite engaging. The overall mood is somewhere between whimsical and just plain strange, and is very intriguing for such a simple game. Where is 2012? is a great, quick, unique way for casual game fans to start the new year.

Play Where is 2012?

## Sideroller

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Jesse Sternberg's Sideroller is a puzzle platformer, but it's not kidding when it says it has "unique mechanics" and "unique level design." Imagine And Yet It Moves with smooth world tilting instead of 90 degree shifts, and instead of being a little dude, you're a little ball, so your big choices are to rotate one way or another way, except you also have a fire charge skill and you can stick to walls and you can shoot lightning and also drag scenery... yeah, this game throws a lot at you VERY quickly. And we haven't even mentioned turning into a chicken yet.

Take your time and really get it all straight as you go through the tutorial level, because the difficulty is going to ramp up fast. The game offers customization of the controls, but let's just run through the standard option to get the idea. [A] and [D] roll you left and right, while [Q,W,E,S] send you on a fiery smash. Hit a smash key twice for an ultra smash. Hold [shift] to become sticky and cling to walls. Use the mouse to move the camera and to pick up and drag objects around. And at the bottom of the screen, an energy bar will refill slowly. You can draw from it to shoot lightning with a click of the mouse. And that's not even touching the special abilities you can get when you get a power-up.

Analysis: Sideroller wants to do it all. It's great for games to be ambitious; the only snag is that sometimes people don't want to invest quite as much in a casual title as it requires. If you're willing to put in the effort though, Sideroller will reward you in spades (and also hearts, clubs, and diamonds). Devotees of high difficulty titles jonesing for their next fix of delicious frustration will be able to indulge themselves to the utmost in this one.

The customization is impressive and helps to make the game's difficulty level more fair. You can not only choose between right and left handed options, but tweak the keys however you like, so if you're playing with a nonstandard keyboard, you can still join in the fun. The game also features additional secrets like hidden coins to collect if you're so hardcore that the normal challenge isn't enough for you. And even if you don't think you've got the skills to beat the game, you should at least try the tutorial to enjoy the excellent art.

Play Sideroller

## The Happy Escape

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If there's anything Christmas specials have told us, it's that the big man at the North Pole is notoriously bad at managing his assets. In Tesshi-e's holiday escape this year, Santa has lost ten of the Happy Coins he's supposed to give the children, and in The Happy Escape it's up to you to find them and save Christmas once again.

There's nothing particularly unusual about the setup. Just point and click around the room to navigate, pick things up, and interact with other things. When you have something in your inventory, and there'll be a lot of somethings to have, click it to highlight it, then use it on the environment or click "About Item" to view a close-up. Solve puzzles, look everywhere, collect all ten Happy Coins, and get out the door! (There's no special Happy Coin ending this time, but since the whole game is about collecting them, well...)

Once again, Tesshi-e has come through with a spectacular escape; the puzzles flow perfectly and logically, the sounds and graphics are charming, and although there's still no changing cursor, you never really have to do any pixel-hunting. There's also a save feature for when you get stuck. It's a few days late in the year to be playing a Christmas-themed game, but the holiday season always ends too soon anyways.

Play The Happy Escape

## Canoniac Launcher

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It never hurts to have a dream. Unless, of course, your dream is to be repeatedly launched into the air, crashing into various boosters and blockers, so as to earn money for the purchasing of upgrades. That might end up hurting quite a bit. But hey, who are we to deny Robot Jimmy his ambition? Canoniac Launcher is a new action launch game that is a robo-riffic blast. The game's clear inspiration is Toss The Turtle (and, by extension, perhaps the very first launch game, Pingu Throw), and while there are some areas in which it polishes the Toss the Turtle formula, other parts could stand some improvement.

It's an interesting twist that forward distance earns cash, but vertical distance triggers the ending cut-scene, this should have been made clearer in-game. Also the upgrade system is fairly unbalanced, with store cost often having little correlation to the item's in-game usefulness. Finally, Caoniac Launcher is over-generous with the forward momentum... Round about the midpoint of the game, you could probably launch Jimmy, go get a bowl of cereal, and return before he's finally come to a rest. There is thankfully a "stop" button to immediately end the launch, even it goes against every casual gamer instinct to give up free upgrade money. Don't let these caveats turn you away, though: the presentation is solid, the music is excellent, and the artwork is gorgeous, specifically all the various poses Jimmy takes as he flies through the air. There might not have been a good reason that he was programmed to feel pain, but it makes for some absolutely hilarious moments.

Play Canoniac Launcher

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What? Another Creeper World game? Oh no, this is a flash game from Creeper World 2. It's bigger, badder, and more side view-y. Knuckle Cracker's Creeper World 2: Academy introduces you to a whole new experience.

Rather than the top-down view of the original Creeper World, you're given a side view which offers an easier visual of creeper depth. Also brought in due to this new perspective is the advent of mining ore. And when is this ore used? Why, when you start producing anti-creeper. Take that, you blue substance! So, along with your trusty blasters and launchers, new to your arsenal are the makers, which produce the anti-creeper, and the nullifiers, which (gasp!) destroy emitters!

What Academy offers over the new view point and weaponry is upgraded, more colorful graphics and a storyline with a cast of amusing, if cheesy, characters. This doesn't just feel like another entry into a great real time strategy series, it feels like a stronger, more entertaining cousin. If you loved the other Creeper World flash games, you'll love this one. With both an interactive tutorial at the beginning of levels and the same mouse driven control setup (with optional keyboard hotkeys) as the previous games, it's a cinch to pick up even if you're new to beating back the creeper. Back! Back, I say!

## The Vault №75

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Whether it's gleefully ignoring your heroic responsibilities in the latest Bethesda mega title or trying to keep Edwin and Minsc from creatively murdering each other, it's hard to deny that adventuring is pretty rad. Developers have experimented with just what makes an adventure game for years now, and the result is that the internet is full to bursting with every manner of tale to explore and monster to thwart. This week's Vault takes a look at three very different adventures made by three very different developers that will take you to some very strange places. Just remember, as the Hobbits say, it's dangerous business going outside your door, but in my opinion, it's just as often worth it.

• Survivoo - The French are pretty tough, and I fully admit to basing that opinion completely on my sixth grade French teacher, Mrs Ross, who could bellow thirty resentful students into submission entirely en Français. Is it any wonder, then, the star of this surreal little point-and-click game is so superhumanly rad? After surviving being inexplicably captured, towed away by helicopter, then abandoned over an island at sea, our little Frenchman, armed with only his jaunty chapeau, manages to overcome all odds and nonsense in pursuit of... whatever. Since the scant text is only in Japanese, you're left to figure out what's happening here on your own, but though the interactivity is actually fairly low, anyone looking for a dose of charm and the sort of quirky adventure that usually only comes from Dr. Seuss after a night out with Hunter S. Thompson will enjoy this a lot thanks to the silliness and lovely, simple artwork.
• Dr. Stanley's House - This escape game is, unfortunately, mostly in Chinese, but is still more than playable if you set your mind to it. And if you're a fan of Resident Evil sound effects and an overall unsettling mood, you'll definitely want to make the attempt. You, presumably, are James, and a note brings you to a quiet house in the middle of the night where the lights are on but nobody answers your knocking. A little poking around reveals someone might need your assistance, however, so you're going to have to puzzle your way past all manner of obstacles. A lack of a changing cursor makes this one occasionally more frustrating than it might otherwise be, but Dr Stanley's House manages to craft such a remarkably engrossing little setting you'll be compelled to play 'til the end.
• Daymare Town - If you're a regular of this site and you still don't know who Mateusz Skutnik is, shame on you! Eschewing the subterfuge of Covert Front and the otherworldly mystery of the Submachine series, Daymare Town is like a vaguely unsettling children's book come to life in your browser. You find yourself stranded in a seemingly deserted town full of strange mechanisms, odd corridors... and little figures that may or may not be watching you from the shadows. The Daymare series is a personal favourite of mine, and if the superbly sketchy design and slight creepiness appeals to you, you'll probably love it too. It's amazing the sort of story and atmosphere you can convey without words. Particularly if you're willing to creep your audience out a bit in the process.

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!

## William and Sly 2

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It has stopped raining. The clouds are parting and with the sun brightening the world of Lucas Paakh's mushroom-munching, dauntless red fox, you'd think those vexatious gnomes would give it a rest and take in some sunshine. Instead, they have stolen and torn up William's journal, scattering the pages high and low. William, who is too busy working on his tan to be bothered, sends his vulpine friend, Sly, to gather the pages together. This is where your adventure starts in William and Sly 2, a stunningly gorgeous sequel to the original William and Sly from 2009.

Those cagey gnomes have blocked up many of Sly's caves, so no longer does he go blindly spelunking for treasures. Yet, it turns out, gnomes cast sloppy dissolution spells so the blockages crumble at the slightest touch revealing... treasure, which in this case refers to mushrooms (Huzzah!) Explore this surreal landscape of towering sequoias, intricately carved cliffs and mysterious caverns by using the [WASD] or [arrow] keys. You begin with a map already in your possession, which you can access by tapping [shift]; this feature comes in handy as you navigate the byzantine panorama and might even prove useful to your crusade strategy.

While searching for journal pages, you'll encounter enigmatic shrines where you can meditate to uncover side quests for new abilities, one of which is essential for completion of the game. These campaigns add significantly to the fun and require thoughtful problem-solving to complete. Happily, the fairy flies from the first game remain useful for these matters. Bring up the journal pages via the [B] key to read backstory hinting at how the little fox came to live with William, why he was dubbed Sly, and other narrative touches that round out the story.

Analysis: If you thought the first William and Sly was a feast for the eyes, fill your sights on the imaginative production values of the sequel. In both, you'll experience a fantasy realm of breathtaking scenery and rich environmental effects, a place where exploration and curiosity are rewarded with new surprises and abilities. As a result of using Blender to multilayer the sprites, the landscape has undergone a 3D-like transformation and the rich details of the first incarnation have multiplied triple-fold. Just as soothing and meditative as before, the music, also by Lucas Paakh, takes on deeper tones and a richer sound. Bird song has replaced the thunder and lightening; there is a post-storm calm and serenity in this world.

Another noticeable change (an improvement in my book) is in the ease of play. With the absence of darklings from the first title, traveling about is stress free, allowing for full enjoyment of the non-linear gameplay, and you won't find a boss battle either. If you can empathize with Sly's compulsive obsession with mushrooms, the joy of fungi accumulation persists here. On the other hand, if you expect more for your platform gaming skills, you might be initially disappointed by the near effortlessness of play, although the focus on exploration and discovery is aptly utilized amongst these superb graphics. Outside of the platforming aspect, the William and Sly games fall neatly into Azurefish's category: interactive art with puzzles and gaming thrown in.

Once again, the greatest complaint about William and Sly 2 is that it ends too soon. Yet there is certainly replay value, if for no other reason, to simply indulge yourself in a whimsical dream world of exploratory sumptuousness. Yes, that's a mouthful and a fitting description of this eyeful!

Play William and Sly 2

## These Robotic Hearts of Mine

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Interactive art has a reputation for being light on the challenge, but These Robotic Hearts of Mine, a puzzle game by Alan Hazelden definitely shows that it doesn't have to be. It's a simple game of gears and direction... one that I would love to see re-created in the physical space of a gallery. However, each solution presents another line in a story of technology, hearts and heartbreak. The puzzles alone would be fine, and the elegy is affecting. However, the combination fits like one hand into another.

In each level, there are gears surrounded by hearts, all pointing in different directions. Clicking a gear rotates it clockwise 90 degrees, along with the adjacent hearts. The goal is to rotate the gears so that all the hearts are facing upwards. Then the screen turns to pink, a heart beats, and the story continues...

Perhaps it just came along at a time that I wanted something exactly like it, but I have nothing but praise for These Robotic Hearts of Mine. Pixelated graphics have become a common gimmick in arti games, used even when they might not be appropriate. Here, thought, they work perfectly, creating an aesthetic of cold, mechanical minimalism. The moody soundtrack, with its echoing sounds of clanking cogs and thumping hearts, reinforces this feeling. However, this is alienation is balanced by the human emotion of the text, as little of it as there is. If any game has better captured the sweet ache of melancholy, then I have not seen it.

Also available for iOS devices! (iTunes link)

It doesn't hurt that the central puzzle mechanic is engaging and unique, though I don't know if it would sustain interest much beyond 31 levels. The difficulty is masterfully paced for both novices who solve through brute experimentation (e.g. me), and also the master-solver who enjoys deducing the correct sequence of moves that will achieve victory in as few clicks as possible. This makes These Robotic Hearts of Mine the perfect game for those who want a little challenge in their art, and a little art with their challenge.

Play These Robotic Hearts of Mine

## Verge

• Currently 4.4/5
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Verge is a puzzle platformer originally developed by Kyle Pulver (maker of Depict1) for a TIGSource game competition, and now ported to flash by Kristian Macanga. Its tone can best be described with the HP Lovecraft quote that was the game's inspiration: Life and Death - Death - its desolation and horror- bleak spaces - sea - bottom - dead cities. But Life - the greater horror! Vast unheard - of reptiles and leviathans - hideous beasts of prehistoric jungle - rank slimy vegetation - evil instincts of primal man - Life is more horrible than death. Contemplating the twin opposing horrors of life and death is a haunting, challenging concept, and thus it should be no surprise that it makes for a haunting, challenging game... one where death and rebirth is the only way to progress.

Move with the [arrow] or [WASD] keys, and jump with [Z] or [spacebar]. Your goal is to make it to the door at the end of each level. You might think that you should avoid those enemies and spikes walking around... and you'd be wrong, since that's often the only way to progress. This will send you to the underworld where you'll have to avoid some truly dangerous demons (or shake them off with button-mashing), until you can make it to a resurrection point denoted by an ankh. There are switches to activate and upon which to place boxes, the momentum of gravity to consider, and fairies to collect. The only question that remains is, well, "To Be Or Not To Be?"

Those who played the original downloadable version might be a little disappointed that this is well and truly a port rather than an expansion. Oh sure, gameplay is refined, and there's a couple extra story bits here, an alternate ending there, but by and large it's the game that it was when in .exe form. Of course, those encountering it for the first time should know that this is not a bad thing: Verge is quite the inspired work. Travel between light and dark worlds has been seen in games as diverse as Legend of Zelda: A Link To The Past, Trilby's Notes, and Eversion, but it's never been so confronting a mechanic as it is here. Things feel a little morbid at times, with the constant suicide and resurrection, but never so much so that it overwhelms the clever level design and sedate-but-effective special effects. It's not a game that takes time to explain its mechanics, which may be frustrating to those who don't like having to infer what the game wants them to do. Also, difficulty ramps up a couple of levels in, so you may have to have a high tolerance for block-and-switch puzzles to make it to the surprisingly emotional conclusion. That said, Verge is a highly unique game that the downloading-averse should definitely take the chance to experience now.

Play Verge

## Kingdom Rush HD

• Currently 4.8/5
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New to the iPad world is the tower defense game we all love to love, Kingdom Rush HD from Ironhide Games, a port of Kingdom Rush for browsers released not too long ago. The team had a bit of a problem when an unauthorized clone appeared on the iTunes App Store weeks before release. The knockoff was spotted and eventually removed (whew), leaving space for this excellent port of an already excellent game to wow and surprise gamers in the iOS device realm!

Here's the scoop if you haven't already fallen for this lovely little game. Kingdom Rush HD sends waves of nasty creatures stomping through your kingdom, ranging from orcs and goblins to wulfs, ogres and shaman. Armed with a dozen types of towers and a fistful more of special abilities, you have the task of eliminating them one by one, gathering gold and inflating your ego as you go.

Kingdom Rush HD is very strategy-oriented, even though the complexity is never too much for a casual gamer to handle. You won't get by with plastering buildings all over the place and kicking back with a grilled cheese sandwich while the coins roll in, however. Placing forts to send melee soldiers out to stall enemies while ranged attacks hit them from above is a good start, but enemies can also be strong or weak to your attacks, so you have to cater tower placement to keep the damage flowing. Not only that, but managing the skill tree with over 35 things to unlock takes some thought, and deciding whether to upgrade a tower versus building new ones carries more weight than in most tower defense games. No sleeping allowed, you've gotta pay attention!

Along with the usual set of towers to place, Kingdom Rush HD also gives you a helping of special powers you can summon during battle. The staple "call for reinforcements" will get a lot of use, as it allows you to bring a few soldiers in to place anywhere on the map. But then there's the "rain fiery meteors of death from the sky" spell, which, naturally, is a lot more entertaining. Abilities are on a timer, so you can't just spam them over and over again, but they do add quite a bit of strategy and a little action to the mix.

Analysis: Armed to the gills with features, options, upgrades, achievements and stages, Kingdom Rush HD has the feel of a full-fledged console or PC game crammed neatly into your touch screened iPad. You almost wouldn't believe it began its life as "just" a Flash game! This amount of content will keep you busy many afternoons in a row, and once you start seeing new terrain and big bosses, consider yourself hooked!

Kingdom Rush can be filed in the thin folder marked "games that are pretty much perfect". The visuals are superb, with excellent artwork lining every level. The units and enemies are on the small size, but when they attack in swarms, you can't really have goblins the size of your thumb walking around. The slowly building strategies involved in mastering the game are well-timed, and your hand is never held while you play, apart from a few tips during tough waves and a tiny four screen tutorial at the beginning. You're on your own to figure things out, but it's an absolute joy to do so!

If you need a game that's going to draw you in to its own little world, Kingdom Rush HD fits the bill. It's got loads of content, plenty of unlockables to keep you driven to play wave after wave of enemies, and it looks so good you don't want to peel your eyes away. The touch controls are arguably more intuitive than a mouse, making this the perfect game for kicking back on the couch and playing until well beyond your bed time!

Play Kingdom Rush everywhere!

Play Kingdom Rush (browser version)

## Mobile Monday №151

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Well, it's the final Mobile Monday of the year. It's times like this we like to take pause and think happy thoughts about all of the mobile games of the past months. We wonder things like "how many were developed by people wearing hats?" and "do you think at least one of these game's names is a palindrome?". Questions without answers, so we just nod our hatless heads and prepare ourselves for another year.

Winter Walk (iPhone/iPod Touch) - Hold on to your hats, a stiff winter breeze is coming in! A port of the browser game of the same name, Winter Walk is a one-trick experience where your goal is to walk as far as you can in the cold winter air. A Victorian gentleman needs his daily constitution, and he's not about to let a little wind and inclement weather get in the way of his idle musings. Touch the screen to hold your hat down when a breeze comes your way, and let to to continue walking. See how many steps you can go, and discover new thoughts each time! Also available on the Google Play Android Games.

Time Ducks (universal) - It's like Frogger, only you can manipulate time! Your job is to guide 15 different animals across the street, drawing paths for them that avoid the moving vehicles. But, by using the astonishingly "unpatented" finger swinging technology, these animals can reverse or speed up time, shifting cars around and allowing you to chain together combo moves to unlock some of the game's 30+ achievements.

MinoMonsters (iPhone/iPod Touch) - Neatly summarized as "Pokemon for the iPhone", MinoMonsters is a highly habit-forming game of pitting monster against monster, leveling up your creatures, and gathering more and more cute monsters for your army. The game functions like a bare-bones RPG as you move around a grid-like overworld searching for treasure and encountering randomly-generated enemies along the way. Do battle by tapping on enemies and picking up items that fly out as a result of your moves. Very engaging, much more so than a traditional turn-based experience, and the visuals are a perfect fit for this style 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.

## Q.U.B.E.

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Q.U.B.E.: Quick Understanding of Block Extrusion is one of those special games you don't get to see as often as you should. It's a first person puzzle game, which is rare enough in its own right, but then you combine that with a stark method of storytelling, creative use of environmental puzzles, and an interface that's as smooth as the shiny blocks that make up the levels. What you're left with is a thoroughly satisfying game with masterfully designed puzzles from beginning to end.

Q.U.B.E. captures you with its simplicity from the very beginning. You wake up in a brightly lit room filled with shiny white blocks. As you move around, you realize you can control the colored blocks set around walls, floors and ceiling. In fact, you kinda have to control them in order to proceed, and since you have no idea what's going on, the only thing you can do is move forward. Use [WASD] to walk around, [spacebar] to jump, and the left and right mouse buttons to raise/lower blocks respectively.

Each block color you encounter has a different function, starting with a simple sliding red piece you can move in or out. Blue blocks are small and function like springboards when you lower them, while yellow blocks move in groups of three. Green blocks can't be controlled directly, so you'll need to shove them around using other cleverly placed blocks. Most of the time you're just trying to make a path to the exit door, but sometimes there will be more lofty things to accomplish to get to the next room.

Later, Q.U.B.E. gives you more complex goals to complete, introducing sections of wall you can rotate, gray spheres that need to be colored and pushed to certain goals, lights-out puzzles, laser reflection puzzles, electrical wire puzzles, and more! The complexity just keeps getting layered on, and you'll love every minute of it.

Analysis: Getting a slight Portal vibe here? That's fine, because both Portal and Q.U.B.E. are phenomenal games with a high level of polish and puzzles you'll delight in getting stumped over. The similarities aren't very strong, just a sharing of genre and the overall sense that you're being watched, tested, and laughed at by some sort of controlling force that gets to watch you run around in a maze solving puzzles.

Q.U.B.E. is the first release that was backed by Indie Fund, a resource established for indie game developers as an alternative to the traditional publishing model. The group of people behind Indie Fund know their games, and they're picky as to which projects get the Indie Fund nudge. Q.U.B.E. was ahead of other games with its ideas even early on, but this extra vote of confidence gave the developers time to refine the gameplay and puzzles even more.

Q.U.B.E. throws some cleverly-designed puzzles at you, and the variety doesn't slack off for the entirety of the game. Some of the puzzles involving dark rooms were somewhat so-so, but otherwise, it's all pure bliss. Nothing feels recycled, and nothing tastes repetitive, even after several hours of play.

With a lovely minimalist design, void of tutorials and hand-holding, Q.U.B.E. brings with its shiny visual package a completely fulfilling game. With a few miniature level packs (or even fan levels crafted with an editor, hint hint), this release could keep you playing for a very long time.

Windows:
Get the full version (via Steam)
Get the full version (via Desura)
Get the full version (via Gamersgate)

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

## Royal Envoy 2

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Pity the poor dude who is in charge of Middleshire, one of the areas of the kingdom we first saw in Royal Envoy. First, he's late to the meeting with the king, then all he can report is bad, bad news about the region. The King is not happy about any of this, so he once again appoints someone (as in you, the player) to go and get this poor place redeveloped so that the folks will be happy in Royal Envoy 2, the latest time management amusement from Playrix Entertainment.

The oh-so-snotty King has appointed you (once again with the useless Cedric) to go to Middleshire and rebuild the kingdom. Rebuilding is accomplished by managing resources such as wood, gold, and food, tasks with a simple click of the mouse. For instance, click on an empty lot to construct either a house or a building, or click on a wooded area to cut down trees, fruit bushes to gather food, or dig up gold either in treasure chests or rocky deposits. Use the resources you gather to complete the individual goals for each level to move onto the next, either with a one, two, or a three star rating.

Along with the common time management tasks familiar to anyone who has played Build-a-lot or any of its many clones, Royal Envoy 2 has lightened things up a bit by sprinkling mini-games into the gameplay, like mazes or running a snowball tournament that plays like whack-a-mole. Each section of Middleshire has its own unique climate which creates its own hazards, such as snow, volcanic ash, killer bees (seriously) which necessitate their own solutions. Build or repair houses, buildings, decorations, and other useful things within the time limit and eventually Middleshire will once again be a rocking burgh, ready to pay taxes and other tribute to the king.

If you're familiar with the gameplay of the original Royal Envoy you might be surprised by some of the changes made this time around. For one, the tax collectors have been eliminated entirely, allowing you to directly pick up resources off the ground before they disappear. Changes to the way the Bank, Sawmill, and Market buildings work also shift your strategy, causing it to be a bit more fast and frantic the second time around. New characters also appear, some to help and some to hinder as the player struggles to get poor Middleshire back on its feet again.

Analysis: While Royal Envoy was basically a Build-a-lot clone with a more colorful skin, Royal Envoy 2 is something almost completely different. Due to the changes in strategy and the new elements, Royal Envoy 2 blows its predecessor out of the water in terms of frantic gameplay. More colorful characters and graphics, and amusing animations make this a joyful way to waste a lot of hours, especially if you're attempting to get expert on all of the levels.

With the tax collectors gone the focus on resource management shifts to you for picking up any resources. The changes to the buildings, especially the banks, alter the gameplay so much it's almost like playing a different game. And where Royal Envoy could get a bit tedious and repetitive in the upper levels, Royal Envoy 2 keeps it fresh by sprinkling in a boatload of new characters, new obstacles, and the occasional mini-game to mix things up.

Adding to the delight are the amazing music, animations, and backgrounds, which is only to be expected from Playrix, the folks who brought us the 4 Elements series. Gorgeous, entertaining, witty gameplay awaits any who dare take on the royal challenge in Royal Envoy 2. Dare to take it on, it is most definitely worth it.

A Collector's Edition is also available. It includes bonus gameplay, wallpapers, a screensaver, the soundtrack, and a built-in strategy guilde. 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.

Play Royal Envoy 2 (browser)

Windows:
Get the full version
Also available: Collector's Edition

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

## Frozen Candy

• Currently 4.4/5
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Frozen Candy, a holiday match-3 puzzler from Avox Games, looks a heck of a lot like Puzzle Bobble. In fact, if good ol' dinosaur Bub was on ball-firing duty instead of that Brian Poesehn look-alike of an elf, one could be fooled at a glance into thinking the game to be a shameless clone. Once play stars, though, the unique feel of the mechanics allow Frozen Candy to shine as it's own creation, making for something that feels both familiar and innovative.

Gameplay is of the "point and click with the mouse to fire the pieces of frozen candy, matching colors to clear them from the board" variety. However, there are some interesting twists. First off all, you have a limited number of balls to fire, something usually more associated with Snood-ing than with Move-Busting. Secondly, the physics are intentionally slippery: a fired candy will "stick" to the candy where it lands, but the momentum means that it might circle around and contact other candies. Thirdly, there is the temperature gauge: as time goes by, heat will rise, melting ice and making the candy less frozen to the top and more likely to be influenced by gravity. It's much more intuitive to play than describe, and though it takes some getting used to, these changes make for quite the enjoyable experience

Frozen Candy is a treat for the eyes, ears, and brain. If sometimes victory or defeat seems determined by the luck of the draw, or if the candy-limit feels a bit too frugal, it's more than balanced out by its cool pseudo-3D visuals, its genuine sense of Christmas cheer, and the immensely satisfying popping sound played when candies are removed from the board. Watch out for the overly-touchy shooting: holding the mouse button a second too long will fire a stream of candies, probably very inconveniently. That said, while much of Frozen Candy looks less original than it really is, all in all, it is a charming game that's perfect for a little holiday fun.

Play Frozen Candy

## Draka 2: No More Christmas

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Everyone's favourite vaguely unsettling top-hatted vampirachnid is back in Draka 2: No More Christmas, the Christmas-sy sequel to Fancycle's original physics puzzle bringer of nightmares. Draka, a fanged spider with the ability to chomp and turn other people into creepy toddling fanged spider heads, is up to his own tricks again while the rest of the unknowing town gets ready for Christmas. Unsurprisingly, the whole "turning people into freaking spider abominations" thing has probably landed Draka squarely on Saint Nick's naughty list, so he decides he might as well go ahead and turn everyone, including the Fat Man himself, into spider creatures anyway. I mean, what's to lose, right? I mean, aside from a good night's sleep as you lay awake in the dark imagining that creepy, bloated monstrosity hovering just over your face in the dark.

The object of each level is to get Draka to touch each person onscreen, thereby spreading his creepy, creepy vampirism. Click on objects outlined in yellow, and, as long as they're within Draka's reach, he'll shoot out a web and pull himself towards it. You can use more than one web to maneuver yourself into place about your hapless victims, and then click the red circles to cut a particular web, or Draka himself to sever all webs at once. Some stages require some timing and the use of balloons or fireworks to get around, but just experiment and hit [R] to restart if you get stuck. There are still just twenty levels, the Christmassy spin doesn't change much of the actual gameplay, and some levels feel at once both a little fiddly and a little dependent on luck, but Draka 2: No More Christmas is the perfect twisted antidote for anyone who's had too much syrupy sweetness and cheer.

Play Draka 2: No More Christmas

## Snow Tree

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Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow... and snow... and then snow some more in Snow Tree, this charming little arcade physics game from Alexey Izvalov. Control the snowfall by clicking and dragging with the mouse to create invisible air currents, directing the flakes into a tidy pile to form a delicate, branching, and ever-growing tree (presumably keeping the white stuff away from your front door and driveway in the process). Pile the snow as high and efficiently as you can to build your score, and snag some of those neatly wrapped presents floating high in the clouds to earn extra points and increase the maximum amount of snowflakes available to build with.

Fans of the Sugar, Sugar series will find a lot to love here in terms of the simple click-and-drag play style, though without the added puzzle element. The premise of Snow Tree is simple, the music is lovely, and it all combines together to create a surprisingly soothing and cozy wintry environment which conjures up images of roaring fireplaces, roasting chestnuts, and steamy hot chocolate.

Play Snow Tree

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Ice and fire! Hot and cold! Marshmallows! Sheep! During the holidays it's important to shout random things from time to time, just to make sure you're in the festive spirit. For bonus points, shout while playing these games. If you annoy a neighbor/roommate, achievement unlocked!

Fireplace (Mac/Win, 7-11MB, free) - Cold where you live? Hot? Doesn't matter! Fires are always cozy, as they help keep predators from sneaking up and eating you. This full-screen fireplace "game" is only interactive in the most rudimentary way, filling your monitor with a pixellated image of a fire and your speakers with the crackling warmth of gently burning logs. You can type in a few commands to interact with the fire, as well as do a few things just for fun. Sit down with it and try roasting a hotdog, then crank up the volume and walk away, letting it be the hearth of your desk!

Frostbite (Windows, 9MB, free) - Cold where you live? Hot? Doesn't matter! Running around in the icy winter is always cozy— wait, what? No, the opposite of that! Frostbite is an adventure platform game that arms you with the barest essentials and sends you out across the frozen lands, searching for your missing wife. Strange thing is, ghosts and dead bodies are everywhere, but there are no clues as to why. While you figure out that mystery, duck into caves and the like to stay out of the cold, and always warm yourself at fires so you don't die of hypothermia. Keep yourself fed and rested, don't waste ammo, and you might just survive long enough to get to the bottom of all these mysteries!

Zetanoid (Windows, 5MB, free) - Here's a little arcade game to calm your soul. And it's got nothing to do with fire or ice or anything! If Breakout were a little more 3D-ish, featuring stacked blocks that tumble when the lowest bricks were cracked, it would be Zetanoid. The gameplay is pretty standard as far as the genre goes, but the power-ups are handled a bit differently, and the stacked nature of stages makes for a more organic, less grid-based experience.

Home Sheep Home 2: A Little Epic (Windows, 650MB, \$10/€8) - If you've seen the Aardman-crafted browser games Home Sheep Home and Home Sheep Home 2, this download should perk your little sheep ears right up. Featuring Shaun, Shirley and Timmy, each a playable sheep with unique abilities you must use to work your way through each stage. Timmy can run through tiny spaces, for example, while Shaun is the acrobatic one of the bunch. Shirley is great at shoving heavy objects, but you'll have to help her move around the stage since she can barely leap. The downloadable version includes every level from the browser release, adding up to three episodes along with bonus levels, achievements, and developer commentary. The best part, though, are the high-definition visuals, which a game as gorgeous as this really deserves!

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!

## House of 1,000 Doors: Family Secret

• Currently 4.3/5
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While the claim of holding a thousand doors may be a little much, Alawar's casual adventure game House of 1,000 Doors: Family Secret is certainly packed with family secrets, not to mention a twisted plot that reveals information about as slowly as an episode of Lost. The story is the star, but the gameplay pulls its own weight, leaving you feeling confidently thrilled as you crawl through the hallways of the mysteriously vanishing mansion.

Kate is a supernatural author (her writings are of a supernatural nature), but most of the words she pens these days pale in comparison to her bestselling novel. A mysterious package containing a self-typing typewriter (shipped without paper or ink, by the way) invites her to a séance, so naturally she jumps at the opportunity to see one in real life. Nothing goes quite as planned, and Kate debunks the apparently fake gathering within minutes. But then, the ghost of her grandmother visits and instructs her to go to a location where a mysterious mansion will soon appear. Before long, Kate is wrapped up in the convoluted doings of the family that lives inside this odd little abode, and it only gets more interesting as you play!

Gameplay follows the traditional casual adventure/hidden object hybrid route, allowing you the freedom to roam a few screens at a time, looking for items that might help you solve the puzzles preventing you from going even further. The mansion you'll spend most of your time in definitely has its fair share of enigmas, and it seems like every time you solve one three more take its place. Puzzles aren't too complex, though, it's just a matter of finding the right item for the job, a task that almost always makes good, logical sense.

Apart from the exploration, discussions with family members who live in this dematerializing house, and wicked locks on the doors, you'll come across a good helping of mini-games, many of which are simple in nature but still a treat to complete. Hidden object scenes aren't too frequent, which is a smart decision since the game is so plot-driven, and when you do find one, you won't stay stumped on it for long.

Analysis: The storyline in House of 1,000 Doors: Family Secret is a surprisingly complex affair for a casual hidden object/adventure game, though it won't take the place of a good thick book. But the ideas it wraps around you while you play are certainly intriguing, especially the Flying Dutchman of mansions the game takes place in.

The gameplay is pretty much what you would expect from a casual adventure game, so no real surprises to find there. Hidden object scenes often contain sub-scenes you can investigate, like opening suitcases or shuffling pillows aside to find more objects. Mildly interactive, but with no major flaws present. Alawar knows how to assemble a hidden object game!

Separating House of 1,000 Doors from the rest of the spook-laden hidden object games out there is the story. Told with just a touch of campiness (helped along by that wacky sound effect of tossing an item back in your inventory), you get the sense the game shouldn't be taken as seriously as the storyline might suggest. Because you're not expected to be scared or anything, the enjoyment factor shoots right up. Instead of mucking about droll "scary" settings, suddenly you're just a writer snooping around a vanishing building looking for gossip behind a mixed-up family history.

A good story that knows not to take its setting too seriously, House of 1,000 Doors: Family Secret is a great experience all the way through to the end. Satisfying and of good length (four hours, including the bonus chapter), you can't go wrong with a disappearing mansion and a writer looking for her next book idea.

A Collector's Edition is also available. It contains a bonus chapter, 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.

Windows:
Get the full version
Also available: Collector's Edition

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

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Life's direction depends on choice and, in Love's Cadence, an exploratory game from 4urentertainment, decisions become turning points after two basic choices: evolve or destroy? By evolving, there is growth and the opportunity for continuance. Destroying, on the other hand, ends and aids closure. Join Cadence, the title character of this puzzling tale, in a brief hallucination about the outcomes of her decisions.

Love's Cadence is a platform game in that you use the [WASD] or [arrow] keys to move, yet it also plays like a point-and-click adventure as you use your mouse to trigger several interactive spots to engage with a sparse population of secondary characters or alter the objects in Cadence's path. What you do at these spots develops the story and also determines how or whether you progress. There are two potential outcomes based on your choices: a grim ending or a more positive one. Since it's possible to reach the final room without discovering every area, be sure to explore all possibilities using [R] to reset and reconsider your choices.

The exploration aspect of Love's Cadence contains some fun-to-discover puzzles which also involve choices. This adds to an underlying theme about life's direction making the story much more immersive for the player. Increasing this effect is the enjoyably atmospheric soundtrack; it is so much a part of the experience that music is a key component at one stage of the game.

Analysis: This is a beautiful game that plays like poetry: actions, story and eye-pleasing graphics fit together cohesively. A "To be or not to be?" existentialism is evoked and, however you look at it, Love's Cadence has the potential to elicit a variety of polemic responses from its audience. An affect like that is a laudable accomplishment in any game/poem/artistic piece.

Created in only 96 hours for Newgrounds Game Jam 6, Love's Cadence is not long and it does have some shortcomings. For example, jump is especially bouncy and surfaces are slippery, causing unwanted sliding. A few items appear as if they could be interactive but, regrettably, are not. An overly critical eye might consider an abundance of melodramatics and motif to also be flaws. Yet the talented young team behind Love's Cadence—programmer Omar Shehata (who also brought us Concerned Joe), artists Chad Lewis and Miha Petrisic, and musician Deniz Akbulut—demonstrate a harmonic collaboration that is better experienced in game than over-analyzed here. Besides, if rough edges exist, they are easily overlooked because this lyrical game works so well as a whole and any imperfections fit right into the theme.

In poetry, "cadence" refers to a balanced rhythm. In dance, it is the measure of movement. Both these definitions connect to the experience of playing Love's Cadence because of its poetic sense and ballet-like unfolding of the story. Yet the musical meaning of cadence describes the game and defines its quest perfectly: "A progression of chords moving to a harmonic close, point of rest, or sense of resolution." With that in mind, Love's Cadence is easily appreciated for how its graphics, narrative elements and gameplay coalesce into a beautiful, conversation-stirring composition. It's good to question life's choices this way; perhaps all the world's a game and we are just its players.

## Hide Snowman

• Currently 4.4/5
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We all know the life of a snowball is short and packed with excitement. But it's not all high flying arcs and battle cries, as Godvil Games shows us in the festive Hide Snowman. Much like the Cover Orange series, your goal is to use the queue of objects (or optionally the ability to delete an existing structure) to put the happy little snowman heads in a safe place to hide them from the melting, hot pellets of the flying wood stove. But it's not just about saving the good, it's about getting rid of the evil... evil, grey snowmen heads. As a bonus, there's a level editor, so if you care to create your own levels, feel free to share the codes in the comments! What are you waiting for? The snowmen are counting on you!

Play Hide Snowman

## 300 Miles to Pigsland

• Currently 4.2/5
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Farmer Vlad has built a paradise for piggies. Now, all he needs are some swine to fill every space in the waller. He sends a letter to the closest litter, inviting them to vacation in his literal hog heaven. Unfortunately, all sorts of danger lies in their path: bears, wolves, birds, UFOs... Still, the promise of an all-you-can-eat slop-buffet is more than enough to lure those oinkers into attempting the 300 Miles to Pigsland.

A platformer by VladG, 300 Miles to Pigsland takes the non-stop action of Canabalt, sends it through a cute-ifier machine and adds a sprinkling of upgrades to keep it interesting. Whether or not you enjoy the game will depend on your tolerance for three things: one, its aggressively adorable aesthetic, two, the repetitiveness inherent in retrying a single large level until finally making it to the end, and three, how the tutorial instructions interrupt the flow of play. 300 Miles to Pigsland's simplicity and reflex gameplay might appeal most to the younger side of the casual gaming audience. Still, it has a good dose of pure mindless fun to make up for its flaws, and players of all ages should especially enjoy the twists of the included puzzle levels. And hey... sometimes the pigs wear hats. What else could you possibly want?

Play 300 Miles To Pigsland

## Cube Tower

• Currently 4/5
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You know that itch in the middle of your back that you can't scratch? No, it's not a patch of dry skin, it's your need to play tower defense games. Luckily for you, Char Studio brings you a dose of relief in Cube Tower. While short at just nine levels, each of them features a different course and alien. The challenge comes from figuring out what combination of towers and "tackticks" work best for each alien type. Attack the closest enemy? Attack the weakest? That's for you to determine. Earn stars based on how many of your twenty lives you have at the end of the level. And we all like earning gold stars, right? So get building!

Play Cube Tower

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Whether you're roasting chesnuts on an open fire, lighting candles, getting ready for Kwanzaa (which I am learning all about and my goodness that looks like such a rad time!), or just vegging out, there's always time for Link Dump Friday! Two more of my esteemed colleagues join me to tell you what their absolutely favourite games released in 2011 were, and we sit down with Nitrome's Matthew Annal to talk about advice and the developer's plans for the coming year!

Cory Galligher's 2011 Picks
Xenos - My favorite game console was the Dreamcast and my favorite game for it was a little title called Bangai-O. In it, you piloted a robot and battled loads of enemies using giant screen-clearing masses of lasers and missiles. The only thing that could improve on a formula like that is melee weapons and that's exactly what Xenos offers. This is a fantastic fast-paced action game where you have to balance strengthening your weapons and unleashing powerful special moves to destroy hundreds of enemies at a time. Throw in hidden secrets and huge boss battles on top of an amazing presentation and Xenos earns a place in my heart. It's not long, but it doesn't have to be... it's a great hour-long robot-blasting romp.

Terraria - This was one of 2011's indie darlings and it's easy to see why. Terraria takes the basic structure presented by Minecraft and gives it a healthy injection of gameplay. There's a variety of enemies and bosses to fight, weapons to craft and secrets to discover. What's more, the developers continue to release hefty content patches for the game to this day, taking a game that was fantastic when it was released and making it amazing. Playing this online is one of the best experiences you can have that both costs less than \$10 and is legal in most countries. Plus you can construct giant shrines to Jay Is Games. You just can't go wrong with Terraria.

Realm of the Mad God - So first you take all the danger and excitement of Nethack. Then you sprinkle in some of the shooting action from Gauntlet. Toss in a variety of classes, each with its own unique skills and gear. You end up with Realm of the Mad God, a sort of MMO-lite that combines the addictive qualities of your favorite MMORPG with the disposable nature of a roguelike character. Pick a class and dive in, blasting away at the minions of the Mad God Oryx. Reach as high a level as you're able before you die a horrible death. Earn prizes based on your performance that can help future characters. Then dive back in and try it again. You'll lose sleep over this game, but it's absolutely worth it.

Trinn's 2011 Picks
Nick Toldy and the Legend of Dragon Peninsula - If you ever thought that a free flash game couldn't bring you quality and quantity, Nick Toldy is here to prove you wrong. He may not be the brightest or most fearless knight, but he could put MacGyver to shame with his item-mashing prowess. This point-and-click game is a heavily Monkey Island inspired adventure that gets just about everything right: it looks fantastic, it's stuffed full of hilarious dialogue, plenty of quirky inventory-based puzzles (there's literally Troll Science involved), plus it boasts a whole four chapters of gameplay. Did I mention your epic quest of peril to slay the dragon and score a date with the princess? Ah, the things we do for love.

Sissy's Magical Ponycorn Adventure - Pick up your phone and call your dentist, because this game is so sweet it will give you toothaches. Even a heart made of ice would melt at this adorably silly point-and-click adventure featuring artwork and voice acting from the equally adorable Cassie. Using the cursor to pick up items and interact with the fantastical environment, the goal is to find and rescue all of the ponycorns. Accomplishing that task and completing the game would only take you a few minutes. The real enjoyment that's sure to last comes from taking in the magic and excitement found only in a 5 year old's imagination.

ClickPLAY Rainbow - It's easy figure out from the title alone that you need to click the Play button, but it's sure as heck hard to find the little guy when its concealed by a number of deceptively difficult puzzles. Featuring the charming visual style of the previous installments, Rainbow pops the monochromatic bubble with a burst of eye-appealing color. The challenges come in plenty of varieties including word games, physics puzzles, and lots of experimental clicking. Rainbow has all the endearing qualities and addictive mini-puzzles of the other ClickPLAY installments, peppered with just the right amount of difficulty, and then served up to you by a robot waiter. What's not to love?

Your Traditional Holiday Erinaceinae As we head into the weekend, for some of us packed with presents and fattening meals, and for the rest of us hopefully filled with love, happiness, and humour regardless of the time, we leave you with this... singing hedgehogs. More interactive art than anything else, this series of YouTube videos by BirdBox Studios is simple, adorable, and very well done. No matter what you're celebrating, or even if you're celebrating nothing at all, we wish you a great weekend filled with the cute animals of your choice and more fun than you can handle.

Interview!
Want to check out this week's interview? Continue reading for an interview with Nitrome

## Rubble Trouble (Moscow)

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What better way to spend your free time than working with questionable and dangerous heavy machinery in freezing temperatures for little pay? If that doesn't sound appealing, you've clearly never played Nitrome's popular physics puzzle demolition series. After stops in Tokyo and New York, the boys are moving to chillier climates in Rubble Trouble Moscow.

Your goal on this job remains the same; to use all the tools at your disposal to destroy enough material onscreen to reach your target amount of money for the damage. Click on the item names on the bottom of the screen, then click anywhere onscreen to use them, giving careful thought to what you're using and where. After all, even the flashiest, most gloriously unsafe piece of equipment isn't going to get the job done if you don't put a little thought into your destruction. Some items have limited use, while others are best suited to clearing small, precise areas to pave the way for bigger tools. Just try not to let all that power cloud your judgement; some stages require a bit of finesse to keep from causing collateral damage to surrounding civilian structures.

And... there is something oddly familiar about that overly enthusiastic demolitions expert... wait a minute!

That explains so much.

Rubble Trouble has always been one of those games that surprises you with the amount of thought you have to put into successfully completing stages, and it's not any different here in Moscow. After some simple tutorial-esque first few levels, things get considerably trickier, requiring a lot of experimentation (and possibly explosions) before you get that "Ah-ha!" moment. Some of the new toys definitely take some getting used to, and maybe even some crossed fingers or a sacrifice or three to the physics gods. The game is exceptionally good looking, with its detailed environments and quirky characters, and if you've got what it takes to make it all the way to the last batch of levels, you'll be treated to an even bigger surprise that puts a clever new twist on the series. Which, as a whole, has always done a fantastic job of keeping the gameplay fans love while continually bringing new surprises to the table. So don your fuzziest winter socks and your very best takes-twenty-minutes-to-put-on snowsuit... we're goin' to Russia!

Play Rubble Trouble Moscow

Thanks to Chris and Noah for sending this one in!

## Greens Survive Only When Reds Die

• Currently 3.8/5
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The Greens and Reds are stranded on a hazardous world with little hope for escape. What are they to do? Band together in determination to eke out a living on this inhospitable planet and survive through the force of their companionship and will?.... Hahahaha, as if! No, in FriedPixel's puzzle platformer, the title tells you the grim reality; Greens Survive Only When Reds Die. So much for togetherness in the face of adversity.

Use the [WASD] or [arrow] keys to move, which controls both colours of astro-dudes at once. The doors on each level demand a sacrifice, apparently, because they won't open until all the Reds have nobly met their ends, so the object is to get rid of them while ensuring the Greens make it safely through. Don't feel too bad about it; if Reds and Greens come into contact, they both die, so it's unlikely they ever had a happy ending coming. (Seriously, stop letting the Drazi design space programs.) The first ten levels or so are fairly easy and function more as tutorials for the different elements like enemies and portals as they're introduced, but things quickly get fiddly after that. The concept is one we've seen before, with other games like One and One Story and FireBoy and WaterGirl also tackling the buddy-system of movement... but without the THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE twist. It's a simple but challenging little game that, despite the morbid concept, is worth checking out if that's your bag. Just keep this in mind for the future and try not to sign up for any jobs that have "potential mandatory violent death" as a clause in the contract.

Play Greens Survive Only When Reds Die

## Five

• Currently 4.2/5
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It's hard to figure out what just happened. You took a walk in the park, like you do every night. This time though, there was a man... there was a gun. Now you find yourself a dark industrial world of shadowy figures and shifting backgrounds. You'll have to rearrange every single room to have even a chance of escaping... and time's running out. Five is a puzzle platformer from Z3LF where changing reality can happen with the click of the mouse.

Using the [WASD] keys to move (no [arrow] key support sadly... Take that, left-handers!), the goal is to gather all 15 keys and escape. With every key gathered, a new room is unlocked. Hit [spacebar] to access the map screen. Click the mouse to switch locations of rooms on the map. All passages between rooms must line up for you to be able to move between them. You have five minutes. Good luck.

Five is quite reminiscent of the Continuity series of games, though with a more experimental edge in its art style. Keeping track of all the various combinations of tunnels is quite a challenge, and the ticking clock ratches up the tension, though not to an unreasonable extent. Sometimes its dedication to maintaining mysteriousness hinders play. Particularly, it's worth reiterating here that all passages between rooms have to link up for the connection to work. Five doesn't mention this, which can lead to some frustrating minutes of confusion. This might not sound like much, even a few wasted seconds can be killer when you're racing the clock. Still, with its cool music and spooky atmosphere, this is a work that's totally five-by-five.

Play Five

• Currently 4.7/5
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Before the fine folks at Conceptis Puzzles get your brain running with another edition of their Conceptis Light series, we should do a little stretching first. Ready? Stretch and hold! 1... 4... 4... Okay, now let's do it in green! 5... 7... 5... 7... That oughta be enough. Those numbers for stretching might seem like odd choices, but it's how you stretch the paths to connect the numbers that make all the difference when it comes to Color Link-a-Pix Light, as each mini logic puzzle gives you a quick picture to solve.

If you can remember back to the days when these puzzles used to be in black and white, you'd know that each puzzle is solved by clicking and dragging with the mouse to make paths that connect similar numbers in the grid, where the length of each path corresponds to the numbers you're connecting. Thus, a pair of 3s is connected by a path that's three squares long, a pair of 5s is connected by a five-square path, and so forth (remember that a 1 does not connect to anything, and can simply be clicked to connect to itself). The only difference between those old puzzles and these new ones is that your connections must be between similar numbers of the same color. The path you make to connect those numbers will be that color, and once all of the numbers are connected, you'll find a colorful picture as your reward!

This puzzle pack contains 30 brand new puzzles, in three sizes (10x10, 15x15, 20x20). These aren't the hardest Link-a-Pix puzzles out there, and they serve as a great introduction to this puzzle type if you've never tried them before. Regardless of your experience level, these path-forming challenges are a great way to spend a good stretch of time. Limber up and try them out!

## Playroom 2

• Currently 4.1/5
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It's been a while since you've escaped the Playroom, and it seems the little girl who masterminded it has set up yet another difficult escape for you. In Playroom 2, the rather aptly named sequel by Kayzerfish, you've got a new room full of colorful toys and knickknacks to solve your way out of. At least this one has an open-air balcony and a nicer bed.

Control is as before: click around to look left and right, zoom in and out, and interact with or pick up stuff. Your inventory is distributed between the two black bars on the left and right of the screen; mouse over something and click on it to use it, or on the magnifying glass to examine it. It's going to take a lot of thinking and careful analysis with a dash of trial-and-error to break out of this room, but you've got a changing cursor and a save button to help you out.

What Kayzerfish has produced in this colorful little sequel is an excellent package of puzzles with a certain charm. The sound effects and graphics are nothing to write home about, but the minimalistic effect they produce really works here. The only real issue is the effects of turning and zooming, which have left at least one member of our review team in need of a barf bag. As for the puzzles, they're excellently designed, albeit a little airy at times. When I got out the first time I was confused at a few clues I hadn't used, only to realize later that they were hints for things I'd been able to solve anyways. As a general rule, if it looks like you're supposed to do something with an object but you can't, take a good look at what you're trying to use.

If you're looking for a charming yet challenging escape that taxes your skills just enough to be entertaining, go play in Playroom 2.

Play Playroom 2

## Neutral Christmas Mini Escape

• Currently 4.7/5
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First, let's go straight to the what: Neutral's new Christmas Mini Escape! (Yay!) Now, the why: there are dozens of escape-the-room games released on a daily basis, yet few of them rise to the level of our notice. Even fewer have us climbing over each other to have the honor of presenting it to you, the ever discriminating JIG reader. That is Neutral.

If you have not discovered for yourself why Neutral is so revered, this small, unassuming banner game (yes, the game is the small banner at the top of the screen) is a perfect example of how to capture the hearts of escape fans everywhere. Don't worry, you don't need to know Japanese to complete the game. While miniature in scale, it is filled with details, clean lines and a changing cursor to avoid pixel hunting. Puzzle clues make sense but require enough deductive reasoning to make you feel as if you've earned your way out. Then, just as you think you're done, there's another layer to unwrap. The end is not a brief congratulatory phrase but a beautiful animation that leaves you feeling truly gratified.

My descriptions do such a delightful game no justice, though—see for yourself. This is a treat in any season but with all the Christmas bells and lights, it's like Santa telling us casual gamers that we've been very, very good this year!

Update: This seasonal game is currently available through the month of December only. Enjoy!

Play Christmas Mini Escape

## Pinata Hunter

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Any old hominid with a cudgel and a sweet tooth can take a few whacks at a papier-mâché dromedary and expect to liberate a sweetmeat or two. But for a real professional piñata-thwacker, a Pinata Hunter, if you will, it takes something more; something like a heavily upgraded arsenal of melee weaponry, vacuum-powered candy-hoovers, and stress-reducing wristwear to minimize the strain of repeated
papier-mâché-bashing. It's an expensive, if not overwrought, investment, but such is the cost of bringing down the ultimate in piñata prey.

Created by Yellow Bouncy Ball (Vasiliy Kostin and Marcus Hadlock), Pinata Hunter is similar in concept to Coinbox Hero; both demand the heavy waling of some inanimate wealth generator, giving you money to purchase upgrades, thereby enhancing your ability to beat the cash out of inert objects and buy further upgrades. The gameplay makes Pinata Hunter distinctive, as you swing your mouse Wii-mote style to bludgeon your quarry for tasty treats. Such physicality is a little awkward at first, but after a few upgrades it's immensely satisfying. Like squeezey stress toys, or inflatable punching bags, no one can accuse relentlessly beating on a colorful elephant sculpture for candy to be a deep experience, but you'll hardly care once you're fully upgraded and can fill the screen with flying candy after a couple of blows (older computers may be quite unable to handle the amount of candy Pinata Hunter can generate). Pinata Hunter is good, dumb fun, perfect for a few stress-relieving swings in the middle of your day.

Play Pinata Hunter

## DigiWoog Disaster

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"Winners Use Government Grants!" proclaims the opening screen of DigiWoog Disaster, a new edutainment point-and-click adventure game. Well, we should be happy that WoogiWorld and BoMToons were the winners picked by the US Department of Justice to help kids learn about mobile devices, since they've come up with something really cool. An unidentified flying object has crashed on Woogi World, and Dr. Wiggenstein knows that only Woog-Of-Action Jett Woogman has the smarts and skills to investigate. He hands Jett a brand-spanking new DigiWoog mobile device to assist him, chock full of helpful apps. And so Jett sets out to solve the mysterious mystery of the mysterious UFO... and maybe learn a little about mobile phone safety, too!

DigiWoog Disaster is played entirely with the mouse in a standard, if simplified, adventure game interface. Click on items or characters to interact or converse. There's no real inventory, but in the bottom left corner of the screen is your DigiWoog device which contains various apps. You'll use these apps to assist you in solving puzzles or discovering information, particularly the "map" app, which transports you around Woogi World. Also, please note that the dialogue "skip" button is the kind that advances to the conversation bit rather than skipping all dialogue entirely. It's not a bad thing to explain game objectives thoroughly given the educational purposes, but older players and fast readers should appreciate the option to move it along.

Digiwoog Disaster is obviously kid-oriented, but it's the best kind of kid-oriented. Like the most beloved segments of Sesame Street, it isn't at all condescending to its target audience, and is filled with enough physical comedy and non-intrusive inside jokes to entertain adults playing along. Since the purpose is to teach about mobile devices, most of the challenge comes from information concerning safety or the use of the technology. This, of course, makes much of the game a cinch for those technologically literate enough to know, say, not to give out your password information lightly (though one could think of a few tech companies that could stand a refresher course in that area.) Still, the in-game mobile device is integrated into some creative puzzles, and the game's whole presentation is so bouncy and colorful that it can't help but bring a little cheer. Digiwoog Disaster is said to be the first of many collaborations in the "CyberHero Mobile" line, and hopefully they will all be of such quality.

Play DigiWoog Disaster

## Escape from the Device-Filled Room

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Sometimes you just have to wonder about the goofy set-up scenarios in a Tesshi-e room escape game. This time around "he" has called and invited you to visit since "he" has developed a bunch of "interesting devices". You know, a person could take that the wrong way. However, we're going to take the high road and enjoy another great Weekday Escape with Escape from the Device-Filled Room. Now with 50% more whacky devices!

Point-and-click your way around the confined space, pick up objects, and solve puzzles along the way to get out of "his" house, preferably in time for dinner. Although most Tesshi-e escapes feature a strange device or two, "he" has certainly gone all out this time around, with a plethora of oddball mechanical things placed about the room.

Escape from the Device-Filled Room has everything you expect from a top-notch design, easy controls, a save feature, decent English translation, and the obligatory happy coin alternate escape. Rather unusual for this designer, though, is the absence of the goofy construction so prevalent in many of Tesshi-e's room escapes. With such fun puzzling to be had the construction is not really missed this time around. Get ready to challenge yourself with another of Tesshi-e's freaky friends and their habit of locking you into a strange house! You know, when we get out this time I think it's time we had a little chat with "him" about personal boundaries and certain laws about kidnapping and confinement.

## Anaksha: Dark Angel

• Currently 4.4/5
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Santa Lina is an old-fashioned kind of city: big, dark, ugly, and corrupt to its core. The streets are as dirty as those who run it, and poisons runs in the veins of everyone from the lowliest pixie-dust dealer at the school yard, to the tycoons who play with neighborhoods as if they were chess pieces. One of the small few willing, or even able, to take a stand and protect the helpless is Anaksha, a vigilante sniper dubbed "The Virgo Killer" by the press. Once a successful businesswoman, the murder of her best friend snapped something in her mind. And so Anaksha took to the streets, a lone huntress with a rifle, dedicated to the destruction of evil, no matter what the cost, ever-pursued by both the police and the criminal elite. But now an young girl has been found shot through the neck; killed by a very familiar kind of ammo. Anaksha must clear her name, yes, but she is not the only one with a role: private eyes with grudges, seductive women in red dresses, and a lost orphan teenager all have their parts to play on the streets of Santa Lina. Anaksha: Dark Angel is a sniping simulation adventure game by Arif Majothi, and its got atmosphere as thick as blood.

Anashka: Dark Angel has two different modes: one that features all the motion-comic story cinematics, and one that features just the sniping missions. Prior to each mission, you'll receive intelligence and mission parameters on your cell phone, and decide what kind of ammo and upgrades to use. During a mission, mouse your mouse to the place you wish to zoom, then hit [spacebar] to enter scope mode. [Q]/[P] and [A]/[L] zooms in and out to get a better shot, and a click of the mouse fires your weapon. Reload or switch ammo types by clicking the icon in the lower right of the screen. Some missions require specific kinds of shots, or certain conditions to be met before you can fire. Avoid shooting innocents. In addition to your mission target, gang-members (identifiable by their tattoos) can be shot for extra points to spend in the between-mission upgrade store, but doing so can draw police attention. Good luck!

Analysis: If one were to describe Anaksha: Dark Angel in a single word, it would be "impressive". Impressive graphics, impressive programming, impressive soundtrack, impressive plotting. There is such a mass of content, presented with such care, that it's impossible not to be impressed. Clearly every day of its 34 month development cycle was put to good use. It pushes the concept of its genre to its very limit. There are so many little details and bonuses to discover that even after completing the game (something that, if played with the cinematics, will not be done in one sitting), it feels like only the surface has been scratched. A look at Majothi's site makes it clear that he's created a whole world for Anaksha to play in, and a backstory we've seen only a glimpse of in the games and scripts he's released. The author has thought deeply about the implications and morality of his character and it shows... even in the numerous content warnings that attempt to separate the philosophy of author and protagonist.

Where the game falters is in its tone, which is quite uneven. The inspiration is clearly the neo-noir of Blade, The Crow, and especially Frank Miller's Sin City, and therein lies the problem. Like those works, Anaksha: Dark Assassin walks the fine line between the super-serious and the ludicrous, and it stumbles quite a bit. For instance, take an early scene where Anaksha tortures a low-level dealer for information. The violence is as over the top as an Itchy and Scratchy cartoon, but is played with such gravitas that it's like the game cannot decide what it wants to be. There feels a disconnect between the cinematic and gameplay sections: when the former is neon, the latter is monochrome. Where the former is tight and technical, the latter is loose and artsy. Both excel on their own, but like chocolate and mashed potatoes, it doesn't quite work together.

While this is a concern, this has little to do with the gameplay which, after all, is what matters most. In short, it's probably the best sniping game we've seen in years. Your ability to appreciate all the available effects will depend on your CPU speed, but when, even on the lowest setting, you can zoom in to see the Triforce on a random passerby's arm, it's very cool. The missions are varied and success requires close attention to detail. Each level does have random elements in it, which can be a pain when seeking out a specific achievement, but it keeps things realistic and adds to the replay value. The lack of center-mass shots goes against all the regular gaming-sniper instincts, and some mission conditions are strangely over-specific (is there really that much difference between a shot to the throat and a shot to the jaw?), but those are quibbles. You'll feel like Golgo 13 while playing, and that's what really matters.

There remains little to say: some will be turned away by the violence and mature themes, and some will enjoy the trip to the darker side of flash gaming. It's likely though, that Anaksha: Dark Angel will make it to the Best of 2011 list with a bullet.

Play Anaksha: Dark Angel

## Little Life

• Currently 4.2/5
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He's little. He doesn't have a girlfriend. And he's blue, oh so blue. Poor Kichu needs your help getting big, like in big money, so he can shed his Little Life and start living large. In this saccharin sweet platform game by Prasan Games, use the [WASD] or arrow keys to navigate Kichu through obstacles and deadly traps, collecting every diamond on each level in order to progress.

It gets harder as you go with some sections requiring maddeningly precise platforming skill, but the controls are solid and the levels short enough to help you get through. While the gameplay itself is nothing out of the ordinary, the cute factor definitely ups the enjoyment and the big reward is so worth it—you'll both be smiling in the end.

Play Little Life

## Bloons Tower Defense 5

• Currently 4.7/5
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Ah, the life of a monkey is a fabulous one, isn't it? You get to chill all day, climbing trees, eating fruit, flinging...well, things that shouldn't be flung. Unfortunately there is a downside to all that leisure, and it involves the most chillingly lethal thing known to man, the deadly balloon, or bloon for short. The use of monkeys and bloons in the opening paragraph can only mean one thing, NinjaKiwi has finally hit with their latest tower defense gem, Bloons Tower Defense 5, in which nature's most mortal enemies (i.e. the monkeys and the bloons) are once again at war.

Each type of monkey tower is unique and kills bloons in its own way, and each is upgradable in a pretty deadly way. NinjaKiwi has added two new tower types and one new bloon type since Bloons Tower Defense 4, but they have also tweaked the gameplay in some interesting ways that changes the old strategies. Each tower, for instance, can now be upgraded in 8 different ways and camouflage bloons have become more deadly. The new heart bloon has a bad habit of regenerating if not hit fast enough, and is much harder to kill. Other new things include "secret agents" which are one-shot items that can only be deployed once per round and which can be purchased with monkey money, itself earned by completing a path without getting killed. There are also the usual modes, new paths, and new experience levels which are earned by smiting a lot of killer bloons. And, if you get that far, there's a new ultimate type of bloon, the ZOMG. Be warned.

Play all the Bloons games:

The graphics this time around have been simplified a bit, presumably to alleviate lagging gameplay in later stages. While the towers, scenery, and bloons are less detailed this time around, they are also easier to differentiate. If you want to save your progress you do have to register with NinjaKiwi, which is free and can be done through Twitter or Facebook, and there are a few entirely optional microntransactions, but for the most part you can enjoy Bloons Tower Defense 5 without either registering or dropping any money if that's the way you roll. The major cost involved is not money but time. Nations need to brace themselves for a complete loss of productivity as folks all over the world once again become immersed in the major time-suckage that is a bloons tower defense game. Enough talk, I have another screen to conquer!

Play Bloons Tower Defense 5

## The Vault №74

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There's no day like a snow day! Unless, of course, you live somewhere warm like I do and haven't seen a snowflake in years. Still, wherever you are and whatever you're doing, there's no reason not to cool off and relax with these games that are not only wintry, but also invoke the sort of feel-good warm and fuzzy sentimentality we all like to indulge in when it gets cold outside and the year is long in the tooth. Our wish for you is that no matter where you are or what time of year it is, you are happy, warm, and loved... and able to play all sorts of games about tactical bears, snowflakes, and unreasonably complex puzzles.

• SnowDays - Why bother cutting up paper and dooming yourself to an eternity vacuuming little white snippets out of every crevice in your house when you can just create with this webtoy? Popular Front made this little bit of interactive art way back in 2004, but even today people can't get enough of it. Just click and drag to slice away bits of the folded piece of paper onscreen until you're left with a masterpiece just waiting to unfold. Or, if you're like me, a bedraggled looking doily with random chunks torn out you'd be ashamed to give your kindergarten teacher. But you don't have to be artistic to enjoy the simple pleasure you get from creating with this sleek little webtoy, and when you're done, you can set your flake free into the wilds for others to enjoy.
• Warbears Adventures: An A.R. Xmas - Bears with weapons and military training? Stephen Colbert was right! Except these ones are on our side! The Warbears have been around for years now, and in this Christmassy little point-and-click puzzle adventure they're dealing with the holidays in their own unique fashion. If you've never tried a Warbears title, you're definitely missing out, and A. R. Xmas packs all the beautiful visuals and silly dialogue you've come to expect. A new Warbears game is still on the horizon, but in the meantime revisiting this funny and festive little gem is never a bad idea.
• My Diamond Baby - There's nothing particularly seasonal about this escape game, but the uncommon sentiment and heart behind it makes it something you can appreciate at any time of the year, especially those times when you want to hug your loved ones close to keep warm. Of course, that's assuming you aren't thwarted by the challenging spike of difficulty that also sets this one apart from its brethren. You find yourself locked in a room, after a motorcycle accident while you were on your way to give an engagement ring to your girlfriend, and a whole lot of tricky puzzles stand in your way of escape. My Diamond Baby was one of the first escape games I played, and despite the challenge I still consider it to be one of the finest.

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!

## Wake Up The Box 3

• Currently 4.1/5
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Box? Wake up! We're at Grandma's House! Put your shoes on!... C'mon, do we have to get out the non-rotatable wooden objects and attach them to surroundings, and let the physics of the situation jostle you awake, like last time? Oh well... guess we do. Wake Up The Box 3 is the latest in Eugene Karataev's popular series of puzzle game.

It's obvious that a lot of care has been put into developing set pieces for the individual puzzles this time around, which has its advantages and disadvantages. While it keeps things visually interesting, and some are quite amusing, the trade-off comes in how there are only 16 levels to play, and how some previously introduced elements, like the "aggressive to wood" blocks and trampolines, are nowhere to be seen. Also, a couple of the levels feel out of place for the usual physics gameplay, being more suited for a pure point and click game like Monkey Go Happy... Seriously, we need to start taking a stand against random Angry Birds cameos. Still, it can't be denied that the out-of-left-field oddness of the ending makes up for a lot. Even if, at times, Wake Up The Box 3 feels a step backwards for the series, it remains a very fun coffee break kind of game.

Play Wake Up The Box 3

## Isoball X-1

• Currently 4.7/5
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More is always better, right? So when Candyflame comes out with another game in the Isoball series, it's a no-brainer that it's going to be awesome. Merging the joy of a Hot Wheels track, a Lego set and a very fragile glass marble, Isoball X-1 adds 36 levels, 18 hidden achievements, and even a complex sandbox to the player pleasing physics puzzle game. All levels are open, and you can jump to the one you want by using the "level select" icon in the upper left corner of the play screen.

As in Isoball 3, you devise a route to move the ball from start to finish. This feat is made complicated by a multifarious map, prescribed checkpoints and a limited number of building blocks. This time, the game provides a "how to" menu with clear usage instructions, keyboard shortcuts and new pieces such as energy bridges and triggers to add to the isometric fun. The challenge ramps up quickly but any frustration factor is virtually eliminated—when a level has you hopelessly stymied, just take a quick peek at the solution via the main menu.

Play all the Isoball games:

Effortlessly addicting, Isoball X-1 is perfectly built for constructive enjoyment whenever you want more of it. It's so easy to get caught up with the mind melding perplexers, the next thing you'll be wanting more of is time.

Play Isoball X-1

• Currently 4.7/5
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The chugging little car is back! Windosill, a 2009 release from Vector Park, creator of Acrobots, Levers, and Feed the Head, has wormed its way to the iPad, bringing with it all the dream-like levels of the original browser game. Windosill remains one of the most charming experiences any casual player could hope to stumble upon, and it's a perfect fit for the iPad and a great mobile game as well!

Windosill is a semi-abstract puzzle game that walks the line between interactive webtoy and full-fledged game. One day, a little toy car decides to venture beyond the shelf. It encounters all sorts of things afterwards, most of which defy a logical explanation. But in order for its journey to continue, you'll need to lend a few fingers to the cause. By tapping, touching, dragging and sliding objects on the screen, you must locate the cube on each level so you can use it to unlock the exit door.

How do you get the cube? It's different for every level, and figuring out just what you can do with everything on the screen is what Windosill is all about. The only guiding principle here is this: play around. Each object has a life of its own. Some things are bouncy, some are squishy, some are filled with air, and some like to spin. You can control the wind, the rain, knock down pyramids, make "planets" orbit, and feed a baby bird. All of this happens so organically you don't even feel like you're playing a game. You're just sort of there, looking at the screen, messing around with the things you see, and because of your curiosity, a game naturally occurs.

Analysis: Windosill (and the other Vector Park games, for that matter) is one of those staple releases that are good to show people who haven't been following the casual gaming scene for long. "Hey, what's a cool game I can play that doesn't involve shooting that I'll like?" "Oh, that's easy! Windosill!" And, inevitably, just about everyone who tries Windosill will become enamored by it. Pass the iPad around, if other human beings are near while you're playing, suddenly you're not the only one paying attention.

To celebrate the iPad release of Windosill, the full version of the browser game will be pay-what-you-want for a limited time!

Windosill isn't a very long game, and there are only around a dozen levels to wander through. But length or challenge aren't of any concern here. All that matters is the lush world that's there to play with and how intrigued you'll be with the objects within. And because it's there inside of a portable device armed with a touch screen, it feels more real than ever before. If you thought clicking things with a mouse was fun, just wait until you get to move the world of Windosill with your own hand.

A great game made even better by new technology. It doesn't get any cooler than that! There's even a bonus section containing concept art, giving a little inside peek into the creation of this lovely little game. Windosill is a fantastic fit for the touch screen iOS device world, and even if you're familiar with our little toy car's journey, it will be a new experience now that you can push and pull everything without a cursor getting in the way.

Play the browser version of Windosill

## Mobile Monday №150

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RPGs and pretty physics games and... SONIC! So much to consume on this edition of Mobile Monday. So much. Sooooo much. Hmm. Maybe too much? Yeah, a bit. Maybe just pretend these three games are two games, one of which has an unusual growth on the side that looks, acts, and plays like a different game? That's not too much to handle is it?

Ash (iPhone) - Turn-based "Japanese" style RPGs have a sort of love-em-or-hate-em reputation with gamers, but if you're a fan you'll definitely want to check out this indie title, especially if you're looking for something remarkably well-written. Ash follows a pair of mercenaries who stumble across something ancient and deadly in a mine below an unassuming country town, and wind up on a quest that will unearth their own secrets and potentially save the world in the process. Despite some repetitive grinding to the combat, Ash shines in its witty dialogue and memorable characters, and a recent update even added original art on top of extra fixes. If RPGs are your thing, you'd be silly not to check out this fantastic iOS exclusive.

Lumi (iPhone/iPod Touch, iPad) - Sporting some amazing visuals that look like they were lifted from a painting, Lumi delivers smart physics/platform action with a lot of variety. Apart from basic walking and jumping, you also have the ability to attach and throw yourself from magnetized points on the screen as well as use light to your advantage. Your job is to defeat the darkness while rescuing your friends, and even though the touch controls are a little wobbly at times, the game performs solidly and looks amazing while doing it. Lumi HD for iPad is also available.

Sonic CD (universal) - How about this for a little nostalgia? The hedgehog who made blast processing cool has another release ported to iOS devices. This time, though, it's a much bigger deal, as it's a near-flawless copy of Sonic CD, the game widely lauded as the best Sonic game ever released. Back in 1993, the game was released for the ill-fated Sega CD add-on, but even then its mix of fast-moving platform action, bright graphics, lush level design, and creative use of past and future switches that changed the gameplay radically was something to behold. The game has held up well with time, and this iOS port is an example of what every studio should aspire to when porting games from another system. It even plays well with touch screen controls!

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.

## The Flower Shop: Winter in Fairbrook

• Currently 4.6/5
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Is the weather outside frightful? Then why not indulge in a little winter warmth in Winter Wolves' visual novel simulation The Flower Shop: Winter in Fairbrook, the sequel to the original. This time, you play Natalie, a mostly well-meaning but unmotivated young college student whose parents are fed up with her lack of priorities and insist she gets a job over winter break. Her roommate snags her a position at Susana's flower store back in the tiny village of Fairbrook, and to Natalie the isolation and hard work sounds like boredom personified. Will she have a change of heart as she comes to know the people she meets? Perhaps even grow up a little... or maybe even find romance?

Gameplay is virtually identical to the first game, although Natalie spends her mornings working in a greenhouse rather than toiling away on a farm. At the start of each week, you're given a calendar that lets you choose what you want to do on each day, and different places could lead you to interact with certain people, or increase Natalie's statistics. Don't get too carried away catting about town, though; every morning you still need to weed, water, and take care of the plants in Susanna's greenhouse... or at least, you do if you want to turn a profit. You can buy more seeds from Ryan's general store if you've got the cash, but take care not to overwork yourself. Spend some time relaxing at home if Natalie's health gets too low.

Of course, at its heart Winter in Fairbrook is more of an interactive story than anything else. As you play and explore the town, you'll be presented with different choices at times that will effect how whoever you're speaking to feels about you. More than anything else, this impacts the relationships Natalie can potentially form with the eligible bachelors around town, and if she gets certain statistics up high enough, she may get even closer to them. Ryan, for example, is more likely to open up to someone he considers cultured, while Steve, as his uncle will inform you (because that isn't creepy at all), likes his women smart. Just set your sights on someone (or not!) and spread your time out around the town. You're bound to run into something interesting or life threatening. Fun!

Analysis: Heavy drama? Break-neck action? Who needs 'em! Or at least, who needs 'em all the time? Winter in Fairbrook is a sweet, sentimental, mostly drama-free little game that focuses more on coming of age and character interaction in a way that those of us looking for something warm and welcoming to curl up with in the evening will appreciate. While initially the surplus of familiar locations and faces might seem like a bit of a let down to those who played the original, Natalie and the crew provide a wholly different set of plot points and interactions that keeps things from feeling stale. Though the whole "I wub you" bit with each of the potential bachelors feels a little abrupt (even with the rather impressive 12 week vacation Natalie has here), they're a likable sort and come with minimal baggage so chances are you'll find someone to cozy up with.

The gardening aspect, unfortunately, remains identical in all but setting to the original, and is still just as uninteresting. Even though earning a high amount of cash influences the "special" ending you can unlock with each character, all you can buy with the money you earn is more seeds, and since the type of flowers or amount you grow doesn't have any impact on anything except how much money you get, it's hard to feel motivated to care about it. It feels like there was a real missed opportunity to make better use of Ryan's general store, perhaps in allowing us to buy gifts for people, or even just cosmetic changes for Natalie. Hey, how about letting us buy some of those fish sticks he seems so proud of?

Despite the identical gameplay, The Flower Shop: Winter in Fairbrook is a warm and fuzzy visual novel that will appeal to fans of the original who wanted a chance to get to know certain characters better, or even just the option to play a female lead. With the ability to save and load your game any time you please, you can navigate your way through many different endings with ease, and with the gorgeous art and professional design, this is one you'll easily want to come back to again and again. Winter in Fairbrook doesn't take a whole lot of risks or offer a lot of innovation, but it does offer up a well crafted experience with an accessible story and a whole lot of replay value. Give the demo a try, and if you ever figure out a way to talk Ryan into selling you some of those fish sticks, let me know. With a banner like that, they must be amazing.

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## The 99 Percent Bundle

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Bundling up indie games is what all the cool kids are doing these days, as is pricing them "pay what you want" while donating portions of the proceeds to charity. But here's something refreshingly different: The 99 Percent Bundle. This totally free collection of indie games aims to highlight some of the lesser-known developers out there, the people who continue to make the games they love and release them for free. It's sort of the indies of the indie community, and it's the perfect way to discover new titles you might have missed over the last few months.

The 99 Percent Bundle packs 13 games together in a single download, ranging from crazy action games to experimental releases, tower defense and even shooting games. Some are highly polished and give you a complete experience from beginning to end, while others are short and a bit crazy in design. But you know what? That's what games are all about: craziness and fun!

Here are a few of our favorite games from The 99 Percent Bundle:

• Prior (browser version) - A dark, moody puzzle platformer with tones of metroidvania games laced in.
• Diamond Hollow 2 (browser version) - A retro-inspired platform game that started as a Ludum Dare entry and grew into a lovely little experience all its own!
• Lone Boss and Cub - You have just laid an egg, and now you've got to protect it. You only have a few powers at your disposal, and those pesky humans are persistent. A nice strategy/action hybrid.
• Robot Unlock - One of our favorite logic programming-style puzzle games, featuring some deathly-difficult levels of the type you would see in SpaceChem.
• NeonPlat Adventures - A very retro-styled platform game, featuring loads of power-ups and plenty of neat-o hats to wear!

Like The 99 Percent Bundle proclaims on its message page: Games were made to be played. All of them. Get the bundle, enjoy some labors of love, and keep playing games!

## Nemo's Secret: Vulcania

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Are you ready for a light science fiction adventure with some nautical flair? Nemo's Secret: Vulcania is an adventure/hidden-object hybrid featuring just that, with a hint of Jules Verne thrown in because it's always a good idea! With some unique puzzles and animated hidden-object scenes, Odian Games' sequel to Nemo's Secret: The Nautilus offers a refreshing hybrid game without the usual murderers and supernatural spooks. It's enough to make anyone want to hop ship and have a spin at the wheel.

Your friend, Captain Nemo, is an inventor with utopian aspirations. What he didn't count on was for his partner, Dr. Dardell, to turn on him. Dardell, an antagonist from the classic era when bad guys instinctively twisted their mustaches, is intent on using the technology they've developed for his own purposes. It's up to you, Alice, to travel to Vulcania Island in the Atlantic Ocean to save Nemo, but you're not going at it alone as his flying robot friend is there to assist. If only the evil Dardell weren't one step ahead of you at every turn.

With a changing cursor at your command, explore Vulcania as you get to the bottom of what's happened to the captain. The inventory bar at the bottom conveniently hides when not highlighted but can optionally be locked in the up position. There is a large array of puzzles to solve, some are variations of what you may have encountered elsewhere, others are original to this game, and there is only one instance when a puzzle concept is used more than once, which is always a plus.

The hidden object scenes are not only interactive, but also animated, giving you the feel of searching through an actual location and not just a stale, stationary picture. You are only given eight objects to find at a time, and once you've found the objects of a particular column in the list, it will then show you the next few items. The total number is displayed to the right of the list, and if you're playing in normal mode, clicking the name of an item will display the silhouette of that object to aid you. Unlike most hidden-object games where you acquire one of the objects you have just found, in Vulcania, once you've completed the list, you are then tasked to find an additional item that requires you to interact with the scene.

Analysis: What Nemo's Secret: Vulcania invitingly offers is a fun storyline with some Jules Verne-inspired science fiction (Captain Nemo is, after all, a Verne character). Puzzles are varied, ranging from hidden-object scenes to mini-games to gathering the correct items to fix a mechanism. Vulcania is a good-sized island, but no map is necessary as the developers have done a great job of slowly giving you access to new areas, allowing you time to become familiar with where you are before moving on. This is an important consideration since you are often traveling back and forth.

Unfortunately, for a game that has you reassembling several machines, there's only a small hotspot for each part, requiring you to know exactly where the object needs to be used. To counter this, though, the hint system works very well, showing you a miniature screenshot of the location to which you need to go, as well as where to use what object.

For a game inspired by Jules Verne, they certainly have done him justice both in the story and in the writing, which is featured in your notebook. The pages are updated every time you encounter something important, so to truly experience everything Nemo's Secret: Vulcania has to offer, you'll need to read it regularly. Even without reading it, you're in for an adventure, so take a leap and dive right in!

Windows:
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Hey—hi there! Welcome! Come on it, have a seat. Would you like a warm beverage? Cold one? Just a handful of games? All right, that's fine too. Although the hot cocoa is stunning... Anyway! You asked for games, and so you get them. One game to make you scratch your head, one game where you can shoot Mecha Santa, and one game where you can learn to be a thief. Game enough for you? No? Maybe some hot cocoa would fill the void, then?

Egress - The Test of STS-417 (Windows, 57MB, free) - An imaginative point and click game that takes a cinematic approach to its design, coupled with some very fine hand-drawn artwork and multiple endings to discover. You are a member of a two man team of astronauts who find themselves stranded on a moon-like planet. Your communications barely work, and you have but a few tools that survived intact, but somehow you've got to rescue your partner and make your way back home. One playthrough will take less than 20 minutes, but you'll honestly want to go back to get the better ending once you complete it. The puzzles are excellent and really encourage you to think. And did we mention the art? Yeah, it's great. So is the music by Kevin MacLeod. This is exactly the kind of game we love to see existing in the world!

Hyper Princess Pitch (Windows, 20MB, free) - From Daniel Remar, the force behind the much-loved free metroidvania game Iji, comes a Christmas title that's all about shooting, revenge, and lots more shooting. Mecha Santa spreads cheer and presents all over the world, but Princess Pitch gets nothing. She's not about to let everyone else have stuff if she can't have any, so she sets out to put an end to all of that "giving". Blaze through the game with your three main weapons: brick, ice, and rainbow, destroying elves, toy trains, and everything else Mecha Santa throws your way. It's an intense and fast-moving shooting game with cheesy characters and so much action your face will bleed. The chip tune soundtrack by Niklas Ström (who has done music for some of Spelgrim's browser games) is available for download, and it's totally worth checking out. Also, Hyper Princess Pitch is a remake of the old DOS game Operation: Carnage, so old school gamers should perk their ears up now!

Dragon Fantasy (Windows, 17MB, pay what you want) - If you like your role playing games with fewer polygons and more four color sprites, this somewhat tongue-in-cheek game is a great place to start! Formerly only available for iOS devices, the retro-styled RPG Dragon Fantasy has worked its way to PC, carrying a "pay what you want" price tag for loads of bite-sized role playing deliciousness. Even though you're fat, bald, and retired, it's still your job to save the world. Guess you'd better take that pointy stick of yours and start stabbing enemies with it! A big and beefy RPG for mobile devices that plays like a slightly less meaty downloadable PC game, but it's still a huge hunk of retro RPG goodness.

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!

## Haunted Past: Realm of Ghosts

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Haunty spooky ghosty hidden object adventure games are as common as the dark nights they take place in, but Haunted Past: Realm of Ghosts felt like doing something different. Aside from its well-built interface and crisp visual presentation, Gogii Game's hybrid release offers a different take on traveling between dimensions and hidden objects in general. Instead of just looking for things, you must also hide them, a sort of treasure hunt you play with yourself! It's every bit as polished and intriguing as the studio's previous releases, like Princess Isabella: Return of the Curse and Robin's Quest: A Legend Born.

Haunted Past: Realm of Ghosts tells the story of Sara, a young woman who inherits a home that's filled to the brim with restless spirits. Not only that, Sara discovers she can communicate with them via mirror, allowing her to step into the ghost realm and manipulate objects before returning to the world of the living. There's something fishy going on with the history of the mansion, too, involving a murder, a cover-up, and a man who was wrongfully imprisoned. Sara will find clues all around the place as she ventures from room to room.

More of a casual adventure than a hidden object game, Haunted Past turns you loose in a series of small areas, blocking your progress with well-locked doors and other obstacles whose puzzles demand to be solved before you can continue. You'll need to do quite a lot of investigating in this game, something many casual hybrids only present tangentially, checking out everything of the smallest interest and picking up any items you can get your hands on. You'll need to move back and forth between areas to solve the puzzles, but as long as you're adding to your inventory, you're progressing!

Hidden object scenes are short and rather easy, featuring just over a dozen things to find and no crazy tricks to hide them. The hint system is very forgiving and recharges faster than you can say "Where's that other harp string I needed?!". Mini-games are short, but they're unique in that they're more than a rehash of the basic puzzle types we've been playing for years. A skip button eventually allows you to slide past each one.

Here's the real fun bit: the ghost realm. Any time Sara sees a mirror, she'll need to use it to enter the ghost realm so she can find and subsequently hide certain objects. The first one is a great, non-spoilery example. In the ghost realm, locate some bricks, find a hammer, get a fishing rod. Stash the rod in the broken fireplace, then use the bricks to seal it up. Shove the hammer in a drawer and return to the normal world where your objects will be safely kept, ready to help you out. It's a brilliantly entertaining mechanic that makes you feel like you're a part of some inside joke. How often do you get to learn why odd items are placed in odd places in a hidden object game?!

Analysis: Haunted Past: Realm of Ghosts is a snappy, well-illustrated game that screams "professional" from every screen. The artwork is drenched in gorgeous, dark shades of wine and purple contrasted with overexposed blues and whites of the ghost realm, and they're so rich you'll want to drink it all in every time you switch areas. The interface runs smoothly, never getting in your way or chugging along like it's thinking about what to do next. It may not seem like a big deal to have a smart game engine, but if you've ever played a game that doesn't have one, you'll appreciate the speed at which Haunted Past runs even more.

One problem the ghost realm mechanic presents are frequent hidden object scenes. Usually, you'll work through an object scene to find a few key items you need to progress. More often than not, you'll complete one of these scenes, enter the ghost realm, then complete it again with slightly different lists of things to find. They're short enough to not be bothersome, but having to do the same scene twice in a row is sort of a bummer when the game has so many more cool things to show off.

It may not discover new territory in storytelling or setting, but Haunted Past: Realm of Ghosts in an almost flawless hidden object adventure game from a studio that knows what its doing. The creative use of the ghost realm mechanic adds a lot of life to the experience, and the puzzles are just unique enough to inspire you to keep playing!

A Collector's Edition is also available. It contains a bonus chapter, art gallery, strategy guide, concept art, 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.

Windows:
Get the full version
Also available: Collector's Edition

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

## Lockehorn

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Nitrome gives us the cold shoulder in the chilly little arcade game Lockehorn, where you control the titular character as he races to save his tribe from the big freeze sweeping the land. On each stage, your goal is to rescue your friends trapped in ice by pushing those ice blocks around, trying to crush the snow spirits patrolling the area against the wall so you can unlock a heated pit that will thaw your allies.

Use the [arrow] keys to move around, and move against a block of ice to push it across the ground. The fire to melt the ice and allow you to proceed won't appear until all the enemies are gone, so get rid of them by pushing the ice at them as fast as you can to crush them against walls. It may sound harsh (especially when their wee little eyeballs go bouncing across the ground), but hey; they're the ones who put your pals in the deep freeze to begin with. Just avoid hazards and try not to touch the spirits directly or you'll turn into the cutest little rabbit... deer... snowman... thing you ever did see. Lockehorn is fairly simple, but wrapped up in Nitrome's gorgeous signature visuals that pack tons of little details and animations into it, it's also a fairly charming title. The sliding mechanic can take some patience with enemies in constant motion, especially in areas where you can actually lose the ice, but if you're looking for a little bit of wintry fun you might want to spend some time with our bunny... snowsuit... pronged... hero. Guy.

Play Lockehorn

## Rich Mine 2 Xmas Pack

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First you enjoyed Buagaga's Rich Mine 2 when it was featured in a classic Link Dump Friday. Now this crowd-pleasing physics puzzle game has returned revamped, lit up, decked with holly and gaily apparelled with big bright bows for the Christmas season as Rich Mine 2: Xmas Pack.

Timing your moves carefully, help the holiday gnome fill his bag with ornaments and, along the way, collect snowflakes, destroy enemies and overcome obstacles. Packed with thirty levels and plenty of challenge, Rich Mine 2: Xmas Pack is as much entertainment as anything you'd find under the tree. It's true. All those bells, tinsel and decorations really do enhance the cut the rope-style fun!

Play Rich Mine 2 Xmas Pack

## Rocket Santa

• Currently 3.8/5
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It is the year 2019. Alien war rages upon the surface of the moon. But would Santa dare forget those space marines that made it onto the "nice" list? By Kringle's beard, I say thee nay! Even it if means strapping a rocket to his back and launching himself to space, ol' Saint Nick will deliver those gifts if its the last thing he does! Berzerk Studio brings you Rocket Santa, and he's burning out his fuse up there alone. While not particularly innovative for the arcade launch genre, Rocket Santa is a solid game that makes up for its slightly seasonal pandering with its sense of humor. The look on Santa's face when he runs out of fuel is hilarious, and, call it sadistic, but one just has to laugh after seeing him in a crumpled pile after a failed lift off. It's just a small stocking-stuffer of a game, but it's sure to bring you a little holiday joy.

Play Rocket Santa

## Snoring 2: Wild West

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What do you get when you can click an owl to hit a penguin to knock over a sleeping elephant? Why, you get Alma Games' physics puzzler, Snoring 2: Wild West. Prepare yourself for some rootin' tootin' fun with cuddly animals dressed up as train robbers, sheriffs and... is that pig dressed up as Poncho Villa? Your goal is to knock over the sleeping elephant, because he's being quite loud. Each animal has different characteristics, and you interact with some of them by clicking on them. While on the easy side, it's so cute you may just have to grab the nearest kiddo and introduce them to the wonders of physics puzzlers.

Play Snoring 2: Wild West

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Scrub the sleepies from your eyes, my beloved reader (for sleepies are crusty and nasty and what are they anyway ew), because it's time for another installment of Link Dump Friday! We're still counting down our personal favourite games of 2011, and this time joye and Tricky join me at the podium to tell you all about the games of this year they loved and why. BUT THAT'S NOT ALL. We've got a very special guest for this week's edition of Friday Five... Zeebarf! (Which will never not be fun to say. All you developers, get on those amusing aliases at once.) So kick back, relax, and let us suffuse you in gaming like... like... some sort of technological... steamy... tea. Yeah. Yeah, just, like... steep in it and junk.

joye's 2011 Picks
Hungry Sumo - Free internet games can now be as immersive and sweeping as a JRPG on a console, but sometimes I just want to get back to the simple yet addictive qualities that hooked me on browser games in the first place, and Hungry Sumo has that in spades. My baby was only a few weeks old when this game came out, and sanity would say that I should have been resting any time I was not taking care of my baby. But how could I resist watching my sumos shoveling rice into their mouths and pinging off of enemy sumos until I had assimilated all of them into my sumo horde? Sorry, sanity. Arcade games > you.

Elephant Quest - I love genre mash-ups and games that try to do it all and succeed by sheer plucky gumption. I love it as much as I love using the word gumption, in fact, so you can imagine how much I loved Elephant Quest, which blended RPG quests with platform motion and shooting, all in a vast sandbox environment. Plus, skill trees. I am a sucker for them! Ever since Final Fantasy X, I have loved plotting exactly what path I would take for upgrades. And that's not even mentioning the adorable protagonist of Elephant Quest, who provides another opportunity to use the word "gumption", because by golly he's gonna get his hat back! It's a true feel-good game and you'd have to be a modern Ebenezer Scrooge not to get a smile out of this one.

Racing Comrade - It isn't so much the game play that makes this one of my top games of 2011, although don't get me wrong, the mechanics of this racing game are both novel and fun. It's the Pythonesque animated political figures, especially the multiple Marxes in the clouds; it's the strangely catchy Soviet music; it's the sounds your hapless opponents make when you shiv them; it's the quotes you get when you lose a race, which are almost worth losing the race on purpose. Comrade Hegel is right: my love for this game was historically inevitable.

Tricky's 2011 Picks
Cactus McCoy - The game so nice, it kicked butt twice! For a rip-roarin', action-brawlin', ol' western adventure, you can't do any better than Cactus McCoy and its sequel. Though nigh-perfect, I'd have to say the best par of them is the depth with which the developers reward exploration and lateral thinking: each level contains a half dozen moments where you ask yourself something like "Huh... I think that if I do this sequence of non-intuitive actions, I could juuuuust reach that platform. I wonder if there's something up there", and there almost always is. Their bouncy animations and hilarious weapon selections make them play like an interactive Chuck Jones cartoon, and their expert design puts many paid-for titles to shame. Yippie-Kai-Yai-Yay!

The End of Us - Just because something is quiet doesn't mean that it doesn't have something to say. The End of Us is a simple, artistic game about two meteors playing among the stars... and it is absolutely beautiful. Subtly presented, with a story arc that manages to be evocative while left largely open to the personal interpretation of the player, it's the kind of game that should be pointed to when defending the artistic value and possibilities of the medium. The captivating soundtrack and celestial prettiness of the visuals is but icing on the planetary cake. Two minutes of play contains so much emotion only once in a blue moon.

Lee Lee's Quest - Some works are so exceptional in one aspect that it makes up for everything else. Lee Lee's Quest would be a merely solid, if unremarkable, platformer were it not for one thing: Joshua Tomar's voice-acting. He absolutely commits to his role as the titular blue blob, and just knocks it out of the park. He voices his character like an insane combination of Doctor Orpheus, Flint from GI Joe, Gaston, and The Tick, and it TOTALLY WORKS. I want him for my GPS. Certainly the cleverness of the writing is to be given partial credit, but the joke of an oblivious hero taking on a relentlessly sarcastic world might have worn thin if not for Tomar's comedic timing and ability to wring laughs out of even the most innocuous of lines. Considering how voice-acting can be questionable in even the biggest-budgeted of releases, it's all the most impressive that it makes Lee Lee's Quest the laugh-out-loud funniest game of the year, and thus a personal favorite.

Previews!
Hop, Skip, and an Upgrade: If, like a good meaty chunk of our readers, you found Andrew Morrish's Super Puzzle Platformer ridiculously addictive, this just may be news you can use. The developer has just announced the upcoming Super Puzzle Platformer Deluxe for PC, and it's a considerable step up from the original while still maintaining all the bouncy gameplay you love. It promises not only new levels, obstacles, and characters with special powers, but also multiplayer so you can reinforce all your friendships by crushing your buddies beneath your superior bootheel. For more information, hit up the official website!

I Triple Dog Dare You Always wanted to start your game developing dreams but weren't quite sure how? Why not participate in the 22nd installment of Ludum Dare, happening this weekend? If you're not familiar with it, the competition, which is open to everyone, tasks you with creating a game based on a specific theme, all on your lonesome... in 48 hours. If that sounds intimidating, well, don't let it scare you! All sorts of talent levels and experience makes a showing at Ludum Dare, and some really inspiring stuff comes out of it. Check out the rules if you're interested in joining, or just show your support for the brave developers getting pumped up for the task!

Interview!
Want to check out this week's interview? Continue reading for an interview with Jay Ziebarth!

## Pirouette

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Pirouette, an "interactive book" by Hayden Scott-Baron and increpare (Stephen Lavelle), is an infuriating work. Gameplay, which consists of linearly walking and talking, is only perfunctorily "interactive", which might lead to the perennial discussion as to whether it qualifies as a game at all. The plot, depicting someone confronting those they loved and those they hurt, is vague and, with its frank talk of sex and toxic relationships, deliberately provocative. The prose is over-written and often unclear.

And yet... there is beauty to be found here. Pirouette straddles the line between "open to interpretation" and "completely incomprehensible", but has moments of such raw emotion that it's difficult not to be affected. Its ultra-high contrast graphics are unique for the flixel engine, and the melancholy strings playing on the soundtrack perfectly fit the mood. Pirouette will divide opinion. However, whether your opinion is positive or negative, it will be strongly so, and that must be to Pirouette's credit. If the developers were striving for the good kind of controversy, something that prompts discussion rather than argument, Pirouette is definitely a success.

Play Pirouette

## Myosotis: Chapter 1

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Mike Morin (ImpendingRiot), the creator of the Alice is Dead series, finally makes his anticipated return to the point-and-click adventure scene with Myosotis: Chapter 1. In this solemn, moody noir-esque tale, you play as Rick, a private investigator who receives a letter from Lily, the woman he once loved, begging him to come meet her at a hotel. Although he hasn't seen or heard from her in years, his heart won't let him ignore her, and he decides to head to the hotel to look for her... you know, because that worked out so well for James Sunderland.

To play, just click on objects on the screen, and Rick will move towards them to interact if he can. Narration appears at the bottom of the screen as you move around and explore. Things quickly take a turn for the weird when Rick arrives at the hotel; it seems mostly deserted, and the only employee at the elevator claims to be expecting him. Just keep your wits about you and pay attention to your surroundings and any words you find, since puzzles are self-contained in each area.

Play the entire Myosotis series:

Myosotis is definitely strange, but if there's one thing it really excels at, it's creating an air of mystery. The visuals are simple but evocative, and the music by the multi-talented Evil Dog and Hania Lee, is a perfect fit. As a first installment of a new series, while it's fairly short at around ten to fifteen minutes provided none of the puzzles stymie you, it also does an excellent job of snagging your interest and making you want to know more, especially in the final few rooms you'll encounter. Gorgeous, surreal, mysterious, and even a little bit creepy, Myosotis: Chapter 1 is more than worth the short time it'll take you to complete it, and will have you anxiously awaiting the next installment... and answers.

Play Myosotis: Chapter 1

## Robot Mom

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Home. It's the only thing E.T. wanted. And to reunite with his robot family is all this adorable mechanical youngster wants in Robot Mom, a whimsical point-and-click story from BeGamer. The unnamed protagonist (let's call him "Sparky") of this homeward bound adventure has his sights on earth but a number of obstructions bar the way—that is where you come in.

Click in the right places and in proper order to help little Sparky get on that rocketship home. There's as much fun in watching each scene unfold as in figuring out how to get there. While Robot Mom is not strange in a Minoto way, it does have an amusingly quirky quality that's hard to resist. Best yet, you won't be chased into the woods by men in asbestos yellow jumpsuits.

Play Robot Mom

## You Are Games: Letters In Boxes #26

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I mean, let's face it, accidents happen, right? This week, we were going to feature another fantastic set of Letters In Boxes puzzles, hot off the presses and ready for solving. But then, as Murphy's Law would dictate, just before our publication deadline, the puzzles got warmed up by something other than hot ink: Coffee. Whether you're a cappuccino or latte sort of person, all it takes is one coffee spill to bring two creams, no sugars, and a world of pain to a struggling puzzlemaker. (On the bright side, the donut was still delicious.)

Update: Congratulations to the following winners! :D

• ray9na ...First!
• Cooler
Both winners were given a choice of prizes. Congratulations and thanks for playing with us! Look for another Letters in Boxes again soon!

## Captain Zaron and the Trials of Doom

• Currently 4.4/5
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Life's not easy for the fearsome pirate mercenary antihero Captain Zaron, star of Studio Meristem's adventure game Captain Zaron and the Trials of Doom. His sister Elsa is to be sacrificed at the stroke of midnight as part of a doomsday prophecy that will wipe out the kingdom, and he'll be damned if he's going to let that happen unchallenged, even if it means tracking down a legendary skull in an ancient tomb, traveling to the afterlife and back, and blowing down a boarded-up door with a Molotov cocktail. (He probably cares more about his sister than the kingdom, but a motivator is a motivator.)

Controls are a fairly simple task of pointing and clicking. Click items of interest to examine them, handle them, talk to them, or use your equipped item with them, depending on which action is selected. Change that action by clicking the icon in the lower left or pressing [A]. The treasure chest icon in the lower right is where you can access your inventory screen; from there you can inspect your inventory items, switch your equipped item, or use things on each other or on yourself. You can also access the options menu from the inventory screen, from where you can adjust a variety of settings and save your game. Later you'll also get a spellbook from which you can cast a number of different spells, and even later than that you'll get involved in two or three swordfights for which you'll need to use the [arrow] keys and [D].

Analysis: Don't let the simple style graphics fool you, Captain Zaron is a game with meat. It's an compelling adventure game with logical puzzles and the perfect level of challenge. There's an in-game source of two kinds of hints when you need it, which is certainly a plus. It also has a very gripping plot, albeit slightly corny, and is filled with hilarious shoutouts to classic adventure games such as Zork and Space Quest.

Peter Lemiszki's Studio Meristem does a great job of ironing out the many frustrations that plague adventure games old and new. For example, one thing that was pretty controversial with older adventure games was how they handled actions that could get the protagonist killed. On the one hand it can be frustrating losing a lot of progress by forgetting to save before doing that risky thing; on the other, finding all the hilarious ways you can kill the protagonist off was one of the appeals of Sierra On-Line's games. Meristem has found the perfect middle ground: Captain Zaron can still die in amusing ways, but you won't lose any progress over it— you can undo your mistake and get right back to playing. There's no way to make the game unwinnable, either, so feel free to try anything.

There's no question about it, this is a game made by lovers of adventure games, for lovers of adventure games. A game doesn't need to look pretty to be a worthwhile experience, and Captain Zaron proves it.

Play Captain Zaron and the Trials of Doom

## Words and Physics

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Wield the awesome power of language in Words and Physics, an innovative physics puzzler from keybol. Click on different areas of each level and use the keyboard to change the environment, either by typing characters or deleting them, in order to remove the specified text from the screen. You can watch the text plummet by deleting the platform it's resting on, type "water" to make the text float away, or key in "fire" to ignite bombs and blast the text from the screen.

The game may be short (just 18 levels), but what it lacks in length, it makes up for with its unique gameplay mechanics. Shoving text off the screen by typing "wheeeeeeee" is a fun and surprisingly satisfying way to complete a puzzle, while figuring out where to type, what to delete, and exactly what order to do it all in can prove pretty tricky.

Play Words and Physics

## Dibbles 2: Winter Woes

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The holiday season has so many lessons to teach us. "'Tis better to give than to receive", for example. "The little people are expendable and should willingly give their lives for their betters" is another good one. What, you never heard that? Well, if you didn't learn that important moral in the original Lemmings-inspired Dibbles, The Podge is going to give you a second chance in the form of its sequel, Dibbles 2: Winter Woes. Simply place commands on a field to order the titular dibbles to create a path for their king... by killing themselves. Sound gruesome? Shhh. Look at the softly falling snow. All is right with the world. Just repeat "it's for the greater good" until it feels right.

In addition to new deaths for the hapless dibbles, the game contains some player-friendly improvements over the previous game. Perhaps most notable is the skip function, which will give you the option to skip a stage If you attempt a level several times and can't defeat it. In the level select screen, any levels you haven't actually beaten won't be checked off, but the nice thing is that this allows you to keep going and come back to a puzzle later, when you might have a fresh way of tackling it. With forty-four new levels, this is more than a simple seasonal reskin, but an enjoyable game in its own right which will satisfy fans new and old.

Play Dibbles 2: Winter Woes

## Matryoshka

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Here at Weekday Escape one of our favorite room escape designers is the Japanese Kotorinosu, who tends to bring the escaping fun in two flavors: "normal" escapes (Mirror Escape and Device come to mind) and "mini-escapes" such as Dangerous Gen-Kan Escape 2. This week Kotorinosu has favored us with another wonderful mini-escape in the form of Matryoshka, and while not as densely packed as the "normal" escapes, it is still stuffed with more puzzles than there are layers to the Matryoshka doll.

Even if you don't speak Russian you are still probably familiar with matryoshkas, also known as nesting dolls. And just like the dolls this escape unfolds in layers, each one revealing a lovely little surprise. Navigation is the usual point-and-click affair and despite the lack of a changing cursor there will be very little pixel hunting. Instead, you are faced with a logical (and amusing) series of puzzles that, once again, fit together like the nesting dolls of the title. Hmmm, are you sensing a theme here? Not unusual as Kotorinosu tends to build their lovely escapes around a single theme, like Shapes or Colors.

Despite the fact that it is called a "mini-escape" Matryoshka contains all the bells and whistles expected in a well-designed escape game: easy inventory control, great puzzles, intuitive navigation, and even a save feature. The presence of one color-based puzzle may keep the game from being accessible to all, but otherwise Kotorinosu has done it again with an entertaining way to waste time in the middle of the week. Come and give Matryoshka a try and, even if you're a macho guy, discover the joy of playing with dolls (and escaping).

Play Matryoshka

## Volcania

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Something is wrong in Volcania. A mysterious darkness has befallen the harsh, inhospitable home of a race called the Celheads, and you alone are left to unravel the mystery with only cryptic clues to guide you in this clever puzzle platformer from Koliomeno and Styxtwo.

Guide your hero using the [arrow] keys to avoid lava pits, spikes, and bullets in order to reach the exit. Not everything is completely straight-forward, however, as the control schemes shift with each level; left can be right, up can be down, or the number of moves available to complete a stage can be limited. The puzzles are shrewdly challenging, forcing you to use every tool at your disposal to progress, and the storyline is unique and engaging (though this installment does feel slightly like a prologue). There's no place like home (no matter how hostile and lava-spewing it may be) and there's no way you'll let Volcania fall without a fight.

Note: Make sure you have the latest version of flash installed for this one to avoid experiencing any gameplay issues!

Update: A new version has just been uploaded that fixes the issue with clicking onscreen objects when playing on a Mac.

Play Volcania

## Theme Hotel

• Currently 4/5
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Forget owning a quaint B&B on the lakefront. Haven't you always wanted to lord it over an entire tower, Trump-style? Well in Theme Hotel from Toffee Games you can do just that. Inspired by games such as SimTower and Theme Hospital, this simulation game puts you in charge of building a hotel from the ground up and taking it all the way to five stars.

A simple little game, Theme Hotel excels in user friendliness, from the excellent tutorial to easy options to speed the game up and change magnification, and contains plenty of thoughtful touches such as the ability to mute the game before the sponsor splash screens. Once you get your hotel up to five-star status, there's nothing more to do in-game, but it's fun to change the magnification to 150% and pan around to check out the adorably hilarious gyrations of the characters in the disco or the ball-tossing bowlers. If you're looking for something a little more bite-sized than a downloaded sim game, yet still immersive and addictive, Theme Hotel will check you in. Just... build another reception area because there's a big queue already. And more elevators!

Play Theme Hotel

## Imperfect Balance 3

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We live in slightly unbalanced times. But you know what? That's not always a bad thing, especially when Ttursas is at the helm. Imperfect Balance 3, the latest in the physics puzzler series of odes to ultimate unsturdiness, has just come out, and here, instability is nothing but awesome.

Play remains the same as before: choose, rotate, and drop shapes from on high to upset the balance of solids on the screen, earning points for each you are able to knock off. Bombs, flames, gravity-reversers, and special-property blocks are there to help or hinder your progress, and the better you do in each screen, the more levels you unlock. As with previous installments, gameplay is about strategic use of dropping irregular shapes, rather than knocking stuff over left and right. This slow pace may not appeal to everyone, but it makes for a unique experience. The difficulty is such that those new to the concept might want to start with the earlier games, though experts will be pleased to see how the physics engine has been favorably tweaked. Imperfect Balance 3 may not be a reinvention of the formula, but it's a solid level pack that will appeal to fans of the series.

Play Imperfect Balance 3

## The Vault №73

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Break out your imaginary lasers, practice your kung-fu hollering, and hone your walking-away-from-explosions-like-a-boss skills, we're saddling up for some action on this week's installment of the Vault! Of course, as everyone knows, action isn't just about Michael Bay blowing things up in slow motion. In the wonderful world of flash gaming, it can lend itself to just about any genre, and sometimes it's weird and silly too! Here are three very different games with gameplay that will keep you on your toes, and settings or styles that will make you raise an eyebrow or several.

• FoolYoo - So you say you want to be a samurai but Ken Watanabe isn't returning your calls to train you, and surprisingly the early '90's anime you watched isn't helping. Well, luckily for you this simple little Japanese game will get you on the right track with a wave of your mouse. Different demons will leap at you, and you have to figure out how best to attack them to slice them to bits before they take a chunk out of your health. And then, you get to make soup! Awwwwww yeah, we're gettin' all feudal up in here! It's an odd combination of addictive mouse-based action and surreal humour that, served up with some sleek looking watercolour visuals, makes this something that's easy to get the hang of and hard to put down. Plus, aren't you sick of fruit by now?
• Zoo Keeper Quest - Don't let the Japanese language barrier scare you away, Kiteretsu's match-3 puzzle game can be enjoyed by anyone with a soft spot for snappy gameplay and cuddly-wuddly animals. In this clone of an older DS game, the goal is to "catch" the unamused looking animals on the board by swapping them around to make lines of three or more. There's a "normal" mode that simply asks you to catch a certain amount of each beastie, and a quest mode where you, hapless zoo keeper, are ranted at in Japanese by your boss who wants you to catch specific animals while adhering to certain rules. (Karmen has thoughtfully outlines each level's requirement in the original article!) The timer is constantly ticking down, so it's a race to manipulate the board in your favour. Swapping games are always addictive, and when you throw in the fantastic little animations and cheesy retro style, you have the makings of the perfect coffee break game. Is this actually how zoo keep-ery works? Because if it is, the folks at Busch Gardens have been holding out on me whenever I watch their demonstrations in the animal pens.
• Skywire - Oh, Nitrome. How we love your zany, colourful ways. They have a knack for dreaming up unusual games, and this bizarre physics game about guiding a cab full of the world's bravest sightseers along a twisty, turny course in the sky packed full of strange hazards is a prime example. Your goal is to get everyone in the cab from one end of the wire to the other without hitting anything along the way; each time you take a hit, a passenger falls out, and if you lose them all you'll have to start all over. Just what sort of things could you run into in the sky, you wonder? Oh, just average stuff like a jack-in-the-box giraffe and a flaming sky serpent. You know, the usual. Nitrome's trademark detailed pixel aesthetics are in fine form here, and seeing the bizarre things blocking your way to the finish line is a treat.

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!

## Invertion

• Currently 4.2/5
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Fans of Portal may have their interest piqued with this solid platform game from newly emerging developers HighUp Studio, who openly declare where their inspiration for Invertion, a title about two little robots and a series of difficult challenges, originated. With just over twenty levels, Invertion plays out in a platform puzzle way with keyboard controls and an abundant array of portals to access, spikes and lasers to avoid and BFF clones that have no issues with gravity.

The game starts out with some fairly easy levels to acquaint you with the controls, but the difficulty ramps up nicely to some seriously challenging levels. While Invertion may not be an entirely unique game, it definitely offers a test of your patience, perseverance and puzzling skills with smooth controls, creepy narration and nicely detailed animation. And self-sacrificing clones. How cool would it be to have one of them at the next office function?

Play Invertion

## Mouse Quest

• Currently 3.8/5
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It's always nice to find a solid debut release by a new developer. An arcadey combination of mouse avoidance and WarioWare-style mini-games, Mouse Quest by Oiloid Productions takes two love-em-or-hate-em genres of casual gameplay and fuses them into something quite likeable.

The plot is nothing too special: the mysterious Shapemaster has transported you to his dimension and presents your cursor with various fast-paced challenges so that you may prove your worth before facing him. There are the familiar masses of flying circles to dodge and mazes to traverse without hitting the walls, yes, but the authors bring some unexpected twists and cool variations, particularly in the boss battles. Overall, the presentation has the understandable minimalism of someone new to game development, but it's very enjoyable work all the same. Player's should have just enough time during their coffee break to happily click their way to the finale.

Play Mouse Quest

• Currently 4.7/5
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Infinity Blade 2 is the reason your iOS device exists (other than all of that non-gaming stuff, of course). It's the deep, compelling, great-looking release that melds the casual and the mainstream gaming ideals together. It seamlessly incorporates a strong fantasy story with role playing elements, upgrades, exploration, and even a hint of hidden objects along with fast-reflexes action that will make you sit up straight to play.

Things start out innocently enough, picking up where the original Infinity Blade left off. Now, after defeating the God-King, you're on a quest to discover the origin of the immensely powerful Infinity Blade. First, you'll battle a few tutorial-style enemies where the game holds your hand and teaches you how to attack, block, parry and dodge. After that, the real game begins, and boy is it a doozy.

Gameplay in Infinity Blade 2 is centered around face-to-face combat. It's very visceral and shoves you right in the action, facing off against some truly nasty creatures both big and small. Every move you make will be accomplished by swiping your screen or tapping on-screen buttons. You can employ slashes in just about any direction, dodge left or right, block, and unleash power attacks or magic spells, the latter of which are used by drawing shapes on the screen. After battle, you get to manage your inventory and search for more gold to add to your stash!

Upgrading and equipping items is half the fun of Infinity Blade 2, and there are plenty of weapons and pieces of armor to locate. Add to your inventory and keep special pieces worn for as long as you can, as they gain experience each time you battle and will become more powerful with use. You can find gems to add to your weapons, imbuing them with magical properties, or dual wield weapons to turn you into a no-blocking war machine! You can even find bonus items such as gold, potions, keys and more by looking around the environment before each battle. Simply drag the screen around to look for pouches or chests and tap them to collect them!

Analysis: The original Infinity Blade was described as a fantasy-themed Punch-Out!! with swords. Infinity Blade 2 has grown well beyond that and is now something monstrous to behold. With branching paths to explore, tons of things to find, equip, level-up and manage, and combat that is as intricate and intense as any fighting game out there, this game plays like a grown up and filled-out version of the original, which is exactly what we wanted!

You'll be happy to know Infinity Blade 2 supports just about any combat strategy you can conjure. Depending on the items you equip, you can turn yourself into a heavy powerhouse, a quick and nimble stabber, a spells master, a dual wielder, or anything in-between. Allowing for player styles makes the experience so much more fun, and you'll find yourself switching back and forth between sets of weapons just to experience the massive variety of combat styles.

With all its visual and strategic perfection, there's very little to harp on with this game's release. Acclimating to the split-second timing of some attacks takes some practice, but frustration never really occurs thanks to the game's forgiving design. The branching paths and emphasis on story add a lot to the experience, but sometimes it comes across as a bit cheesy, like something from a made for TV fantasy movie.

If you own an iOS device, you want to play this game. It doesn't have the universally-friendly face of cuteness all over it, but the game is surprisingly playable for just about everyone. Even better, new features and more combat are planned for future updates, including multiplayer arena battles! Hone your reflexes, equip yourself to suit your needs, and get ready for some extremely epic rounds of combat!

## Mobile Monday №149

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Cute games seem to be the "in" thing to do for iOS releases. Why feature an ugly cockroach as a main character when you can sketch out an adorable dolphin with rainbow eyes instead? Most of our games this week are frosted in that sugary cuteness, so you might want abstain from riding on your unicorn for a few hours, just so you don't overdose on adorableness!

Sea Stars (universal) - Sharing features with games like Whale Trail and Tiny Wings is awesome enough, but build a game like that in the style of Jetpack Joyride, and you've got something seriously addictive on your hands. Tap the screen to descend, release to jump. Collect stars, avoid jellyfish, pick up power-ups... you get the drill. Only now, just about everything you do counts towards achievements, and with each run you do through the ocean, you gain coins and levels, allowing you to purchase upgrades from the store. In addition to all of that, each round you're given missions to complete, meaning you pretty much never run out of things to do! All of this and it was designed by Hothead Games, too, the creators of Kickin' Momma. A fantastic diversion with plenty of adorable/habit-forming gameplay elements to make you want to keep playing forever!

Horror Vacui 2 (universal) - Created by Shaun Inman, author of one of our most beloved retro-styled iOS games, The Last Rocket, Horror Vacui 2 is a one-trick strategy game where you and a friend (or the computer AI) take turns placing cards on a 5x5 grid. One player has water cards, while the other has earth cards, each of which may be hot, cold, or normal. Pieces transfer their temperature to neighboring tiles, so cold eliminates cold, normalizes hot, and cools normal, and the same goes for hot cards affecting neighboring tiles. The goal is to have the most normal pieces when the grid is filled up. It sounds obtuse in writing, but the game is surprisingly simple in practice, and a great diversion for you and a friend to enjoy!

Sprinkle Junior (universal) - Remember Sprinkle from not too long ago? Well, the studio behind that water-blasting fire-fighting physics game decided to simplify things a bit, creating a streamlined version perfect for the little tykes. You're still putting out fires and still have a water cannon to use, but now you simply adjust the hose's height while dealing with a few simple environmental obstacles. Easy, big buttons on the interface, and levels that require little puzzling to complete. It's designed for kids, but everyone will have quite a bit of fun with it!

Egg Punch (universal) - How about some 3D mini-golf? With a bird in an egg instead of a ball? Sounds great! The rabbits have run off with your feathers, so you clothe your little bird self in a nearby eggshell. This makes you remarkably rollable, allowing you collect feathers and knock yourself into the rabbit's lairs across dozens of stages. This brightly-colored, cartoonish game features loads of unlockables that can alter the gameplay or just make your egg look a lot cooler. It's a great excuse to play mini-golf on your iOS device, and since it's filled with lovely 3D artwork, you get a nice visual treat to boot!

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.

## Temple of Life: The Legend of Four Elements

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Temple of Life: The Legend of Four Elements is a casual adventure game dusted with a sprinkling of hidden object scenes. Unlike most hybrids out there, Temple of Life ditches the whole spooky mansion bit in favor of a classic cursed burial chamber, complete with traps and some delightfully complicated puzzles. The plot may not be anything new, but the mini-games are crisp, and the overall sense of mystery and danger are as strong as any movie where the main character runs from giant boulders and wears superb brown fedoras!

Those trickster ancient Egyptians, always leaving ancient artifacts buried deep within tombs that, as legends are wont to fortell, are cursed from stem to stern! Well, no matter, because you're an adventurous archaeology student whose professor has just uncovered some new evidence about a secret hiding inside of Tutankhamun's tomb. Off you go, Jane, to see what the sands of history have swept beneath themselves!

Temple of Life: The Legend of Four Elements relies on casual adventure-style puzzles and exploration mechanics, giving you freedom to explore, open new areas, pick up items, and manage a small inventory of goodies. Puzzles present themselves in the form of curiosities revealed by a changing cursor. Search around the area for items that may be of use, keeping in mind you may need to trek a few screens over to get what you need. Hidden object scenes provide a few key items

The hidden object scenes are spaced just about right, and because of their variety and high level of interactivity, they're actually interesting to complete. Each scene has only a dozen items or so, but some of them will be listed in blue, informing you that you'll need to do something extra to locate them. Finding a first aid kit, for example, may require hunting down items that would normally go into the kit (pain killers, bandages, etc.) and dropping them into a pouch. Only when the pouch is full can you collect it. You'll also slice open pillows, dust off bits of scenery, move things out of the way, and unlock chests with the keys you find laying around.

Analysis: Similar to but just a little different from most other casual adventure hybrids out there, Temple of Life: The Legend of Four Elements is one of those games that's just a joy to play. It's kind of like watching an action/adventure movie in that you don't really experience anything new or learn how to be a better person by viewing it, but you have a fantastic time all the same. Temple of Life gives you that same sort of thrill, allowing you to solve puzzles that involve reflecting mirrors and spinning sawblade traps while gathering clues about an ancient mystery. Chilling!

Pointing and clicking is the central focus of Temple of Life, and you'll have to keep your eyes wide to find items in this game. Casual mode (as opposed to expert mode) likes to point out places/items of interest with big sparkling stars, but even then you'll need to be inquisitive with your cursor and click on anything that seems like it might be useful.

The hint system is perhaps one of the most entertaining in the casual adventure game genre. The timer recharges on its own, but on occasion a cursed mummy will pop its head out from behind the corner, looking like he's ready to photobomb your picture. Move the cursor over the mummy and it turns into a pistol, allowing you to shoot the ancient evil and collect an additional hint. Jane's no slouch when it comes to archaeology, and she apparently spends some time at the shooting range to keep her skills sharp! Assuming they have shooting ranges in 1885...

All in all, Temple of Life: The Legend of Four Elements wins its biggest points with its puzzle-heavy design and refusal to buy in to the whole scary ghost haunted castle kind of setting. Egypt has been done time and time again, but the allure of ancient curses and traps that are thousands of years old always keeps the brain intrigued!

A Collector's Edition is also available. It contains a bonus chapter, art gallery, strategy guide, wallpapers, 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.

Windows:
Get the full version
Also available: Collector's Edition

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

## TOUKA

• Currently 3.3/5
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New from Yoshio Ishii of NekoGames, TOUKA is a short and simple game of darting your mouse all over the place. It follows closely in style and basic format as the previously-released KIKKA and OUKA, only this time around, there's less puzzle and more action, sort of like a calmer version of the Moai games. TOUKA's 16 levels are filled with moving patterns of flowers, each of which you need to light up with a swipe of the mouse. See a flower? Mouse over the flower. Can't quite get the flower? Click on the screen and give it a tug, you can manipulate the view to a small degree or alter the flowers' course, allowing you to nab those final petals. The patterns become more complex and difficult to follow in later levels, but with a little creative mouse maneuvering, you can light every single one of them up!

Play TOUKA

## Swift☆Stitch

• Currently 4.5/5
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Swift☆Stitch, from Sophie Houlden, author of some fan-favorite browser games like Linear RPG and BOXGAME, is a one button (almost) arcade game that's all about speed, direction, and crashing into walls because you got confused as to which way your ship was going to go when you pressed the "switch" button. Smart decisions and quick reflexes get you through this game, and if the 20 odd levels in the free browser demo get you excited, there's more than twice that content awaiting you in the full version!

Swift☆Stitch puts you in control of a small ship that moves of its own accord. Two dotted lines extend from the craft, each point to the directions it can travel at the moment. If you're going horizontally, holding the [control] button will make you go vertically. By running into colored barriers, you can switch the directions you can go, allowing you to move around each map, collecting shiny things as you make your way towards the exit.

Naturally, since you're limited in moves at all times, you'll have to plan your route through levels by hitting the right directional bars at the right time. It takes some getting used to, but as soon as switching "clicks", you'll cruise right along. Until you crash, of course. One very fun feature is the ability to customize the game's visuals via the options menu. Don't like yellow checkpoint bars? Fine, make them a line of stretched-out pink crosses! You can even mess with other options like turning on the "cruel camera", almost doubling your craft's speed, or engaging WTF mode!

Swift☆Stitch is a Unity game that's playable in your browser. There are 42 levels in the full version, and a few challenges to make you work for your victories. It's a fantastic game for anyone who likes to play through levels multiple times to make flawless runs, and with the hip vector visual style and great soundtrack from Aeronic, your eyes and ears are perfectly content to wait while you crash into walls and jump through portals over and over again.

Play Swift☆Stitch (Unity)

Windows:
Get the free full version

Mac OS X:
Get the free full version

## 9: The Dark Side

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Dark, grim, and filled with ghosts. Yes, that's what most adventure/hidden object hybrids seem to be these days. But that's not necessarily a bad thing, especially if it's done really, really well. There's a new developer out there, Play Favorite Games, that has taken up the challenge and done just that with 9: The Dark Side, a spooky exploration of a cursed castle and town that delivers just about every bell and whistle you could ask for.

You play the Last Descendant of the Guardians, a group that returned from the crusades in order to wrest control of an evil artifact from a mysterious organization known as The Clan of the 9. Before they could storm the castle where the nine dwelt, the nine managed to use the artifact to open the way to a mysterious darkness which wiped out the Guardians and poisoned the nearby town of Prague. Unfortunately, the nine couldn't control the darkness either and they went the way of the dodo, leaving what was left of the local population to face the darkness with tragic results. With the help of ghosts of both Guardians and (surprisingly) some of the nine, your mission is to solve the mystery of the missing amulet and seal off the dark side forever.

Point and click your way through the castle, its grounds, and then the town with the help of a changing cursor to accomplish your mission, both helped and hindered by various supernatural creatures. Included are the usual tools: a bottom-loading inventory, a refilling hint feature, and a really useful notebook which records the story and clues you find along the way. Another feature has also been added: a blazing red jewel that can be used in certain areas to discover the nine's hidden runes which can attack evil creatures or reveal hidden treasures. Along with a plethora of mini-games and puzzles there are a multitude of hidden object scenes to plow through which feature many different types of interactivity. The standard sparks, sparkles, and hints will help you along your way depending upon which mode you play.

Analysis: Play Favorite Games bursts upon the casual gaming scene with a fantastic adventure hybrid that has everything you could want and more. A stunning mix of clear, sharp visuals, intricate and involving puzzles, interesting and interactive hidden object scenes, multiple modes of play, and more. For all those flooding the market with supernatural adventures these days, this is how you do it right.

Atmospherically, 9: The Dark Side rises above the pack on the combination of visuals, sound, and animations. The backgrounds are amazingly crisp and gorgeous even in the "dark" areas. Sweeping music imbued with haunting choral pieces set the mood of every scene and are only enhanced by the incidental sounds appropriate to each locale. Animations range from benign creatures like cats, mice, birds and other local wildlife to the ghosts, many of whom are trapped by the curse, to the jump-scares provided by the less benign spirits, demons and an amazingly life-like (if they were actually real) werewolf. Rounding out the experience are some surprisingly competent voice overs to bring the various characters to life. All together the developers have created a fantastic atmosphere to set the story.

Play Favorite Games has paid equal attention to the gameplay making for a dense, challenging, interactive experience. The various twists in the hidden object scenes prevent them from becoming "more of the same", and there are a plethora of mini-games and puzzles to be found everywhere. Many are variations on the familiar, but have been ramped up with more difficulty or multi-level play. Although there is no map to help you along with your wandering (and there is a lot of wandering to be done) the standard notebook contains a helpful objectives tag to keep track of the multiple goals you encounter along the way. Three modes of play insure that the experience can be fun and exciting for a wide range of gamers.

Yes, the story has been done before, and is a little unfocused at points, but with the amazing atmosphere and engrossing gameplay on display it's a minor flaw. What 9: The Dark Side delivers in spades is a hefty gaming experience enhanced with stunning visuals that will keep you involved for hours. Can you save Prague from the darkness? It's definitely worth playing to find out!

A Collector's Edition is also available. It includes the soundtrack, wallpapers, concept art, extra gameplay, and an excellent integrated 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.

Windows:
Get the full version
Also available: Collector's Edition

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

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Ready for a nugget of the strange and unusual? Three games carved from the walls of the Cave of Indie Coolness, built with non-standard ideas and experimental concepts in mind. No copy/paste genre cloning, more like the genres wish they could copy/paste these games!

Lost and Found (Windows, 14.4MB, free) - Created by Japanese developer Kanoguti with music by Rory Viner, Lost and Found is an unusual and gleefully abstract game built around sound. Each of the game's five stages features an entirely different gameplay idea, from first person to classic arcade-style experiences. All games have something to do with music, but figuring out what to do to "win" is part of the fun. Use the [arrow] keys and [z] to play each game, but beyond that, we're not telling anything. That'd spoil it! Note: If you have trouble downloading the game, try the following links: direct download, mirror.

Six (Mac/Win/Linux, 10MB, free) - The latest interactive fiction competition, IF Comp 2011, produced some fantastic games, but one title stands on its own for accessibility and pure charm. Six is a work of interactive fiction suitable for just about everyone, no real prior knowledge of text-based gaming required. The game accepts simple commands and has a small world to explore, yet the puzzles are smart and the setting wholly enjoyable. As the young Harriet Leitner, twin sister to Demi, you are celebrating your sixth birthday in the park. It's a fancy dress party and you're playing hide and seek tip with your friends. Finding them will require exploration as well as puzzle solving, all accomplished in the traditional interactive fiction manner. A lovely and very enjoyable game, one that everyone should try out, even those who aren't fans of text adventures. Note: Download the file 'six.gblorb' after clicking on the link above. You'll need an interpreter to play this work of interactive fiction. Gargoyle works best for Six, as it supports sound and graphics.

Hyperbolic Rogue (Mac/Win/Linux, >1MB, free) - A simple roguelike that takes place on a hyperbolic plane, something very few games can claim! Move from block to block, searching for the elusive pieces of gold all around. You generate heat as you run, leaving a trail behind and melting ice blocks if you walk by them frequently enough. You'll run across yetis and wolves (represented by Y and w respectively), the former of which will follow you by the most efficient path, the latter tracks you by heat. Stay away from packs of enemies as you gather as much gold as you can! Very basic in terms of gameplay, and not much of a roguelike in the traditional sense, but unique and surprisingly fun all the same!

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!

## Binga 2

• Currently 4.6/5
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Time for another installment in the charming Binga series of games, this one aptly titled, Binga 2!

But before you click that start button, know this first: You'll have to think fast on your feet and on the edge of your seat to solve each one of the mini-games and puzzles that are thrown at you rapid fire, because with each second that passes your score gets worse. The goal of the game is to get through it in the shortest time possible. And the score that only really counts is your first pass through, am I right?

Tom Vencel's characteristic and lovely Ninjadoodle graphics abound in this game, which makes storming through the game so quickly a bitter sweet experience. Personally, I just want to take my time and enjoy each set to maximum enjoyment, so you don't want to know my score.

Play all the Binga games:

If you like mini-games and puzzles fired at you in rapid succession like that which were popularized in the Wario Ware games on Nintendo platforms, then limber of your fingas because Binga is your thinga.

Play Binga 2

## Resurrection, New Mexico

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Stranded in a dusty, limbo-like town, a freaky sheriff marching around, a little girl running around the streets, and mysterious messages telling you to stay in your hotel room. This sure is a strange part of Resurrection, New Mexico, especially when you consider the bricked-up wall with Native American symbols preventing your escape! Time to explore a bit and find a way out. This puzzle-filled hidden object adventure game from Media Art, creator of Love Story: The Beach Cottage, has a vibe that sits somewhere between an old western tale and an episode of the X-Files. Only, you know, with more ballerinas and serpent/dragon tails slithering about!

It really bites when you miss your daughter's dance recital. What's even worse is the car accident you get into on the way there. What's even worse than that is the strange hotel room you wake up in and doors that board themselves up when you walk near! As journalist Amy Walters, you're not about to sit on your hands while your daughter needs you, so you break free and start your search, sifting through clues and talking to the unusual inhabitants of this strange town.

As hybrid games of this nature go, Resurrection, New Mexico falls right in the middle of the casual adventure/hidden object category. You'll travel through the more "abandoned" side of Resurrection, talking to people and gathering items you happen to see laying around. You have a bit of freedom to roam where you please, but puzzles that require certain items to complete block your progress, so there's a definite order to things. Hidden object scenes serve up small lists of items to find, and when you're done, you'll get something new to hold onto. Your inventory is where most puzzles take place, so keep an eye on it and try using items whenever you get stuck.

Analysis: Resurrection, New Mexico walks the tested line of hidden object/casual adventure hybrid games without leaning to either side. It's exactly in the middle of the road, offering few deviations from the formula, which could be a good thing or a bad thing depending on your tastes. The puzzles are largely inventory-based and thankfully trend towards the logical, though anyone who tries fixing pliers with tape will learn a quick lesson in durability!

Resurrection, New Mexico requires a lot of searching, clicking, and, well, guesswork. If the generous hint button wasn't there, you might often lose your way because of a randomly missed fold on a piece of paper or an unusual spot on the wall. Sparkles gently guide your eye to certain places, but there's always something else to find by moving the cursor around and clicking when it changes to a hand. Trial and error are often effective as a brute force tactic, so whether or not you notice the little details usually doesn't matter!

One peculiar omission from Resurrection is voice acting. While most casual adventure games seem inclined to include it, developer Media Art decided text was enough, leaving you to read the game's sparse dialogue on your own. While some players prefer a little aural flavoring, others would rather have silence instead of half-baked actors stiffly reading lines. We're going to call the lack of voiced characters a good thing!

It's a bit quirky in the setting, writing, and presentations areas, but Resurrection, New Mexico still delivers a thoroughly engaging hidden object adventure experience!

A Collector's Edition is also available. It includes bonus gameplay, wallpapers, music soundtrack, and an integrated 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.

Windows:
Get the full version
Also available: Collector's Edition

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

## Robots Can't Think

• Currently 4.1/5
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Hello, and welcome to the RCNT new technology demonstration. We've recently developed robots which exhibit some pretty impressive human abilities... or should I say, superhuman abilities. Now, if you'll all step up to the viewing windows, we've got quite an exciting presentation for you. Our engineer here will be controlling the robot unit as it makes its way through a set of challenges. Please, everyone, take a seat. You won't want to miss a minute of this.

Robots Can't Think, Z3lf's newest puzzle platformer, puts you in the shoes of an aforementioned engineer controlling an aforementioned robot through the aforementioned set of challenges. Use the [arrow] keys to move your mechanical friend around, pick up/drop/throw an object using [up] and [down], and [X] and [C] are for using the coveted space- and time-warping abilities, respectively. But that's not all, the robot can climb along walls and ceilings too!

While this may at first seem like a plain old platformer, what's special about it is the unique abilities you have, not to mention that when you die, the system will attempt to 'rewind' to a previous safe position (similar in nature to what you can do in Braid, just not under your control). Also, in a game that requires careful planning to finish each level, it's great that you can scan around you by clicking and holding the left mouse button.

Robots Can't Think isn't just a series of challenges, it's a challenge. So don't be surprised if you find yourself dying quite a bit... I mean, if you find yourself creating a pile of scrap metal.

Play Robots Can't Think

## Androp “Bell”

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Sometimes receiving a message can be so exciting that the letters seem to jump off the page. Then those letters form into a giraffe, which will dart across the landscape pursued by snakes, sharks and Godzilla. Okay, that just might be the interactive music video for Japanese rock group Andop's song "Bell".

Developed by PARTY, the video starts with typing in an 80 character message. These words will then transform into a sprinting animal (what kind depends on message length), and off it goes. The scenery it rushes through changes along with the cadence of the song, but watch out! These wordy creatures will rush head-long into all sorts of obstacles without your direction... and all those collisions could make for quite a scrambled message. At the end, a link is generated so that you may share your message with a friend, or, for Twitter users, send it directly. With an amazing combination of typographic and charcoal art, Androp's "Bell" is so visually interesting that it makes up for the CPU-hogging and somewhat loose gameplay. The song's catchy too! There are probably easier ways to post a missive, but this is definitely one of the most fun.

Play Androp "Bell"

## Pot

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Don't you just hate when you're hungry for some lunch and when you sit down, ready to eat, you find that someone packed it in your puzzle lunch box? Or maybe you love it. Along the same lines of the Dismantlement series, Chovy Works brings us Pot, a point-and-click puzzle game where the ultimate goal is a scrumptious noodle lunch. Just click around the pot for clues, trying to find your way inside by deciphering puzzles. Sure, it's on the easy side, but any fan of the genre won't be able to stop themselves from giving it a try. It's a cute and quirky distraction during your much simpler lunch break. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to figure out how to take a sip from my water bottle...

Play Pot

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Welcome to another Link Dump Friday, and this week we're positively heaving at the seams with new content. My esteemed colleagues Elle and Chiktionary are here to tell you all about their personal favourite games of 2011, while Juicy Beast and Ironhide Games are busy as well! The main attraction, however, is the debut of a new weekly featurette... the Friday Five! Each week we're going to shine the spotlight on one of our favourite developers and chat with them about their projects. Puzzle master Bart Bonte sits down with us first to talk about where he gets his inspiration and how his mind works. Additionally, we're also taking a closer look at the upcoming adventure game My Little Investigations as we talk with first time developer GabuEx about the challenges in taking on such a huge project, and what we can expect to see.

Chiktionary's 2011 Picks
Insectonator - I actually don't mind insects. People who work with me have seen me with my hands cupped around a moth taking it down two flights of stairs to release it outside. And I'm not really a fan of shooting games, so this would seem to be a weird choice. But I LOVE the mindless blasting away of creepy-crawlies, especially when you can hear their little legs creeping around and their guts splattering on the astro-turf. Denis Kukushkin and his brothers have included upgrades that are freaking awesome, firepower on a massive scale which is so over the top when you're dealing with defenseless cockroaches and grubs. With gameplay choices and the option to randomise your weapons, this is a scrumptiously gory way to kill (heh-heh, get it?) time.

Derereba - Although this wasn't the first Detarou game reviewed here at Jay is Games, it was amongst the originals that showcased the burgeoning talents of this Japanese game designer. Detarou's games were at the time almost nonconformist and totally fresh, albeit quirky with startling humour and all in all simply weird. The puzzles are far from intuitive, there's nothing familiar or easy. But I love this point-and-click game for its unique qualities and ability to take you out of your comfort zone. Helps you appreciate the 'normal' stuff, right?

The I of It - This one appealed to my warped sense of humour and love for children's literature right from the start. Very much a unique puzzle game that tells the quirky story of a letter 'I' being separated from its mate 't' in a really, well, story-telling kind of way. Gameshothave created a game that looks simplistic and childish on the surface, yet the platform elements of manouvering the solitary 'I' in its pursuit of 't' is challenging at the very least. And the nasally yet kindly narration guides you through the process in a most disarming way. If I didn't have to use my thumb to play, I'd probably be sucking it and twirling my hair with my other hand while listening to this quaint little tale.

Elle's 2011 Picks
Westward Kingdoms - Building. Mining. Hand-to-hand combat. No, not that one. I mean Westward Kingdoms, Sandlot's popular adventure/roleplay/real-time-strategy/simulation game. I'm a giant nerd for the entire Westward series and my heart will break if Digital Chocolate (which recently acquired Sandlot) does not continue it. I love to build, ever since I was a little kid with my lego sets, and Westward Kingdoms provides the freedom to create fantasy worlds populated with princes, wizards, dragons, knights on horseback, and much more. Plus it has enormous replay value: acheivement rewards add giants and black knights to your quest team the next time you play. That's just a tiny glimpse at what puts Westward Kingdoms on the top of my alltime, er, 2011 favorites list. It's even better than Minecraft. Argh! Back, back away from me with your pitchaxes and torches! I am not a heretic!

Wonderputt - The best games blend challenge, relaxation, entertainment and art into a mochachino of enjoyment that leaves you smiling in wonder. Thus, here is Reece Millidge's Wonderputt, a physics puzzle set in a surreal miniature golf course. I'm reminded of eyezmaze's Grow series here in that each successful drop results in a fantastical animated morphing of the course. There is as much satisfaction in watching the evolving environments as in managing to sink a birdie. In a sense, by playing golf, you create heavenly architecture, therein lies its greatest appeal for me. Wonderputt's above par graphics, soothing music and addictive gameplay one-ups the other puzzle games of 2011 to land on my favorites list.

Daps - Where do I start... is it the adorably spunky protagonists, the aesthetically pleasing blend of photographic and animated art, or the compelling quest for the ultimate breakfast? Daps, a point-and-click adventure from Michael van Holker, delivers all the best elements of interactive art and manages to fair well in comparison to the likes of Samorost and Haluz. As you guide three "Graulings" through a danger-filled world, complete puzzles to help them overcome obstacles and reach their goals, they somehow charm the potatoes out of you. In this case, the surreal fantasy realm is already created yet it is so easy to become immersed in and charmed by this world that it feels like your own. I'll admit it, I'm a sucker for wee little cuties who prevail against ugly baddies. They had me at "slluurrp."

Previews!
High-Flying Minotaurs: Juicy Beast's quirky, silly launch game Burrito Bison captured confused imaginations everywhere when it hit our browsers earlier this year, following a minotaur sailing through Candyland after he escapes gladiator combat. If that sounds good to you, then you'll probably be excited to know that the sequel has officially been announced, and the developers are gleefully dangling teaser bits above our noses as we speak. The game is on the lookout for a sponsor, so release could be very near on the horizon. In the meantime, hit up the developer blog for some more info and even a comic book!

All I Want For Christmas Is Ironhide Remember Ironhide Games' tower defense title Kingdom Rush? Well, you should, because it was pretty darn awesome, and judging by the massive amount of high-scoring votes it received, every one of you guys that played it thought so too. Well, get ready to take your favourite little heroes with you wherever you go, because the title is getting an HD release on the iPad for Christmas! The actual release date has yet to be posted, but if you have one of those glorious tablets and a thing for defense games, I highly recommend you save some funds for this one. Keep your eyes peeled!

Interviews!
Want to check out this week's interviews? Continue reading for interviews with Bart Bonte and GabuEx!

## Home Sheep Home 2

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There's no place like home... unless you're a trio of sheep who can't seem to stay put. Aardman's woolly wonders are back again in the physics puzzle platformer Home Sheep Home 2, the follow-up to the original. After trying to help their farmer, Shaun and company inadvertently find themselves on the road once again, eventually winding up in London after a hair-raising road trip. Will they ever find their way back home? Or will they roam the streets forever, subsisting on fish and chips and photobombing tourists in front of the palace?

Use the [arrow] keys to move the sheep one at a time, and hit [1], [2], or [3] to swap between them... or just click on their icons. The object of each level is to get all three sheep safely to the end of the stage (marked by a white arrow) together, but this is no sight-seeing tour through Trafalgar Square. From the streets to the rooftop, London is littered with hazards and obstacles than Shaun and his pals will have to work together to get past safely. Each sheep is a different size, however, and all have their advantages and disadvantages. Shirley, for instance, is big enough that she can push heavy objects and boost her friends higher, but also can't jump as high or walk on certain objects without weighing them down. Try to keep your little flock together, and hit [R] if you need to restart. You also might want to keep an eye open along the way for sweet collectibles like... uh... socks and... underpants? Hmm. Clearly sheep have... special priorities.

Play all the Home Sheep Home games:

Not only is Home Sheep Home 2 more difficult than the original, with a bigger emphasis on timing and skill, but it also feels significantly more... well... epic. The environments are bigger and more interesting, with significantly more variation than "field" and "field with a few more clouds". Just try not to squeal at the animation and the sound effects unique to each sheep. It's like some sort of adorable vortex you never want to leave. While there's nothing particularly innovative happening here, there's also something to be said for a game that goes out of its way to excel at style and quality, and Home Sheep Home 2 definitely has both by the bushel. If you've got an iOS of your own, or can wrestle someone who does into submission, you might also want to check out the mobile version for even more levels since the web version only has fifteen centering around London. While it lasts, however, Home Sheep Home 2 is a bouncy good time for everyone, guaranteed to put a smile on the lips of the most hardened of gamers. Go on... make the little guy trot around and squeal a little. We won't tell anyone.

Play Home Sheep Home 2

## The Visitor Returns

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Are you the sort that wants it to be Halloween all year 'round? You could do a Nightmare Before Christmas marathon, or you could play the latest Zeebarf and Steve Castro gore-fest, The Visitor Returns. Going back to the point-and-click roots of the original, this installment has you, in the form of a disturbing pink grub, visiting bloody, bloody mayhem upon the hapless residents of a secluded trailer home. Not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach, but if you like your horror deaths chunkier than a can of diced tomatoes, you'll eat this up.

Look for cursor-changing hotspots with your mouse and click on them to interact with the scenes. If you get a little ahead of yourself, say by attempting to just run straight for a creature's delicious innards, your squishy alien invader might get killed, but that'll just reset the current scene, so feel free to experiment. You start out pretty weak, but as you absorb various creatures, you'll gain new abilities, and by the end of the game, you'll have six possible deaths to mete out to the final victim. All of which, needless to say, are totally gross.

If you gave The Visitor: Massacre at Camp Happy a miss because you're a pure point-and-clicker fan, this installment will be more up your alley, more akin to the Reemus series in terms of gameplay experience. Just as in previous installments, the game has you brutally killing animals and people in a cartoonishly over-the-top manner. If that doesn't sound like your thing, you'd be wise to skip this one. If your tastes are decidedly ghoulish, however, then play this game to revel with the delightful crunch of entrails.

Play The Visitor Returns

## Coins

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Dim the lights. Light a candle, something scented with ylang-ylang or jasmine. Take that tiny rake and drag it through the mini Zen garden on your knick-knack shelf. Arrange for your cat to bump the wind chimes. Then click on over to Coins, a simple and relaxing puzzle game from Monosynth Games. Slide coins around from their initial position to a goal position in forty soothingly beige levels.

Click on a coin and click where you'd like to place it. Sounds easy, right? Well, of course there's a catch. In the first twenty levels, you can only move a coin to a place where it's touching two other coins. In the second twenty, it must be touching two coins of different colors. In the twenty bonus levels on the iOS version, the coin itself changes color when it moves. As you would expect, the fewer moves you take, the higher your personal awesomeness meter.

Mellow string strumming, parchment and watermark backgrounds, and coins that look like they've been carved from wood soothe your senses while your brain cells enjoy a gentle massage. Getting the highest score (which, rather than the typical star, grants you some kind of abstract box drawing) can be rather difficult in some levels, but the passing margin is rather generous, so you'll never get stuck on a level and unable to move on to the next. This cuts down on frustration considerably while still providing a goal for us perfectionistic types.

The iOS bonus levels provide a little more of a challenge in that it's possible to get stuck and need to restart via the button in the upper right, since you can end up with no possible legal moves if you color change in the wrong way. In general, however, either version is a game that's going to relieve your stress, not add to it, and most of us could use that now and then.

Play Coins

## You Are Games: Letters In Boxes #25

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Grab your party hat and a plate of hors d'oeuvres, it's time for a double milestone! Not only is this the 25th Letters In Boxes challenge, but it also contains our 100th puzzle! In this extra-tricky bunch, you'll have to put all your word-sleuthing skills to the test, so try not to get too dizzy playing Pin the Tail on the Pinata. Oh, and everyone write your name on your cup so we don't get them mixed up. And use a coaster! And you, get off the coffee table! Where did you even get that hideous lampshade from anyway?

Update: Congratulations to the following winners! :D

• Mattbert ...First!
• snowmoon
Both winners were given a choice of prizes. Congratulations and thanks for playing with us! Look for another Letters in Boxes again soon!

## Letters In Boxes: The Basics

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Perhaps you've been wandering through the endless corridors of this website and found a "game" that seemed to be little more than a picture of gibberish text in a grid. "Surely," you think, "there's got to be more than meets the eye here." And there is! You've stumbled upon Letters In Boxes, a (usually) weekly feature here on Jay Is Games. If you love a good word puzzle with some tricky twists tossed in, you'll want to keep an eye out for new editions. But if you're new to the game and looking for instructions to get started, here's a little guide to help you out.

What is Letters In Boxes?

Letters In Boxes is a word puzzle (with the added bonus of a contest). Each week, a series of four (occasionally five) puzzles are presented in the form of image files. To play, click on the first puzzle (found near the bottom of each LIB article) to open it in a new window. When each puzzle is solved, you'll find either the answer itself, or a phrase referencing how to find the answer.

The puzzles you might find in a LIB challenge may vary from logic puzzles to crossword variations and everything in between. If you ever find yourself stuck on a puzzle, feel free to check out that week's comments section. We've got plenty of players who love working together and dropping hints for those who need them!

How do I solve a Letters In Boxes puzzle?

Since there's no strict format for any Letters In Boxes puzzle, it's hard to give specific hints for solving them, aside from this: be observant. Look at all of the elements that make up the puzzle. Perhaps its shape or layout will give you a hint. Do you see any patterns, such as repeating letters? Or missing letters? Don't forget that some weeks have specific themes tied to the puzzles.

Let's take a look at a previous puzzle as an example. This puzzle comes from the beginning of Letters In Boxes #22. We've got a 3x6 grid of letters, and no words seem to be readily visible within the grid. If you look closely, you'll notice that none of the letters appear twice. Plus, a number of letters in the alphabet are missing! Those letters are C, E, J, O, P, R, S, and T. If you rearrange those letters, you can make the word PROJECTS. If you try putting that answer into your browser (projects.gif), you'll find the next puzzle!

## Dangerous Dungeons

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You've got to appreciate those evil overlords who go out of their way to spend that extra buck for solid dungeon construction. It takes a lot of hard work to ensure those spinning saw blades are perfectly aligned, that those pits are truly bottomless, and those spikes are gleaming sharp. Now, if only they didn't leave their door keys lying around, their treasure would be safe from the local green-hooded retro-hero guild. Oh well, it's a living. Dangerous Dungeons, a puzzle platformer developed by Adventure Islands for a month-long game jam, has an old-school style and old-school difficulty to match. It's a familiar kind of work, but that doesn't mean it isn't good. The jump button is a tad too touchy and the bosses are killer, but those looking for a challenge will find this dungeons a cool place to explore.

Update: Listening to comments and criticisms from the community here at JIG, the developer, Adventure Islands, has improved the jump controls. So, if rage quit the game the first time you played, take another plunge into the Dangerous Dungeons!

Play Dangerous Dungeons

## The Wizard of Blox 2

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We all like a bit of order in our lives. Socks go in the sock drawer, cups and plates have their place in the kitchen, and that's nothing compared to your video game collection: organize by title, release date, developer? It can get complex sometimes, but Ttursas, who also brought us the Perfect Balance series, gives us the puzzle game The Wizard of Blox 2, where the rules are quite simple.

You're presented with an arrangement of different shapes in a few different colors. So what do you do? Well, using the set of blocks you're given, move them with the mouse and use one of the many keyboard sets of controls (including [A] and [D] to rotate in set amounts or [Z] and [C] for slighter rotations) to find a way to connect all like-colored pieces to get them to disappear. Simple concept but not so simple to execute. Which color to go after first? How to arrange the pieces? It's all part of the challenge. If you're looking for a physics game to make you think, give this a try and find out if you've got the goods to earn the title of Wizard.

Play The Wizard of Blox 2

## Shameless Clone

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After Star Wars: Episode II and that whole Spider-man fiasco, one cannot help but be a little wary of clones. However, leave it to Roman Gecerov and Yuriy Kurenkov to show us that just because something's a little familiar doesn't mean it has to be bad. Shameless Clone doesn't rip off anything... it rips off everything! A pitch-perfect recreation of every mid-90s arcade space shooter ever, filled to the brim with skewered references and memes, Shameless Clone is a bullet hell whose authors have nothing to be ashamed of.

First, you start by choosing your method of conveyance: Space-Pirate Ship, Cat Octopus or Dancing Cactus, each with their own special attack and a hitbox a mere pixel large. Use the [mouse] to fly around screen and hold the left mouse button to fire on all manner of Sushi Cats, Tetris Blocks, Poison Mushrooms, and Spacey Invaders. Defeated enemies release coins which, when collected, charge up your hate-bar. When full, hit the [spacebar] to launch your super-attack. Collected coins can also be spent on store upgrades between levels. Other enemies may release Bonuses: some which help your progress, some which hinder, and some which turn you into the spread-shot guy from Contra. Three cute worlds of five levels apiece await fiery destruction. Good luck, and may all the force belong to you.

Analysis: Shameless Clone is a twisted mish-mash of elements, but somehow it all comes together and works for an enjoyable time waster. Whether lasering Longcats in Nyan World, shooting zombified pixel aliens in Invader World, or skirting the very edge of copyright infringement in Italian Plumber World, you're sure to find something to smile at, however obscure. The whole thing feels like an insane lost pirated SNES cartridge, which is probably exactly what the developer was going for. Obviously, games cannot be built on memes alone, and the game of "spot the reference" can only last for so long. Shameless Clone has a solid shoot-em-up at its base, with some cool enemy patterns and bosses to battle through. Still, the game's impish sense of humor is clearly what does most to distinguish it from the pack.

There are some negatives. In later levels there are often so many enemies, bullets, coins and bonuses on the screen that a slowdown gets a little inevitable. Also, it would have been nice to have a greater variety of "hurtful bonuses": the "flip the screen" gimmick is a clever idea at first, but an overused one that breaks the flow of the game whenever its activated. Finally, there has to have been a better way to implement the in-game advertising. Yes, it's advertising that keeps casual gaming alive, but the random 10 second commercial breaks between levels are intrusive, no doubt about it.

Shameless Clone marks Gecerov and Kurenkov as developers to watch out for. Their use of memes almost seems a little like a crutch, since its obvious they have sufficient originality and talent to need not rely on Nyan Cat to bring in players. That said, it's hard to fault the assumption that online gamers have a thing for pixelated kitties. Shameless Clone might be shameless, but it's also quite fun.

Play Shameless Clone

## 3 Doors

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Introducing a new room escape designer, MyGames888 and its fun new room escape, 3 Doors. It's a respectable effort from a promising new escape game designer and perfect for the mid-week break.

3 Doors is a standard point-and-click escape game that involves a basic room with three mysterious doors and a lot of fun and tricky puzzles, mostly visual. You're faced with the usual dilemma, getting out of a locked room, and the standard "pick up everything that's not nailed down" in order to get out scenario. This is definitely an escape skewed towards those who take careful note of their surroundings and can spot the hidden patterns. 3 Doors is a pretty bare-bones effort design-wise, with a basic inventory and no music, no save feature, and no changing cursor, so there will be some pixel hunting involved. What it does include are some really nicely designed puzzles.

MyGames888 has managed the first and most important step in great room escape designing: logical flow from one puzzle to the next. Better graphics and a more intuitive control structure are hopefully the icing to come in future efforts. Despite what it lacks this is still a very entertaining way to spend a few minutes, and a designer to keep an eye on. Hey, even Tesshi-e had to start somewhere.

Play 3 Doors

## Sugar, Sugar: The Christmas Special

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Sleigh bells ring, are you listening? In the Bart Bonte game, sugar's glistening. A beautiful sight, we're puzzling tonight, playing Sugar, Sugar: The Christmas Special.

Similar in concept and execution to the original Sugar, Sugar: guide particles of sugar to several cup targets, with some complications along the way such as color-changing dyes and gravity switching buttons, and all with a Christmas theme that's as sweet and cheery as a mug of hot cocoa. Like its predecessor, it requires a decent amount of patience, so consider this a warm-up for waiting to open your presents.

Play Sugar, Sugar: the Christmas Special

## Leave Cthulhu Alone

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We've all been there... Friday night, just hanging out at your house at R'lyeh dreaming, waiting for your cult leader servant to finally complete the ritual that will grant you power over the alien geometries of the underdarkness, making the very sun of heaven seem distorted when viewed through the polarising miasma welling out from the sea-soaked perversion of your chaos. But then, all these lame-o cops, Miskatonic professors, mystics, and asylum escapees just had to show up and try to ruin your fun. Good thing your very tentacley touch brings the corrupted servitude of madness. Still, you'd think they'd just learn to Leave Cthulhu Alone! In this flashpunk tower defense game from Loserville Express, chilling with the old ones has never been so much fun!

The general goal is to keep the cultist safe from anyone who'd try to stop his ritual. Use the [arrow] keys to move throughout the four rooms of your dread mansion, or use the [1-4] number keys to teleport instantly. When your power meter is full, aim and hit the [spacebar] to mutate your enemies, then again to place them. Different enemies will launch different types of attacks. The power bar refills with time and gets a boost after a successful kill. Cthulhu fhtagn!

Backed by a unique visual style and some hilariously snarky dialogue, Leave Cthulhu Alone makes for a good hour of fun. Don't come looking for serious horror: this is a game based around dark amusement rather than scares. It takes a while for it to get going: the first half-dozen or so levels feel like an extended tutorial more than anything. Once it does, though, there's a nice difficulty curve and the multi-room indoor locale makes for a interesting variation on the genre. Gameplay could have been improved with a pause key, and Lovecraft traditionalists will wonder where Cthully's wings went, but tower defense fans should definitely try Leave Cthulhu Alone. Or should that be "LEAVE CTHULHU ALOOOOONE!!!"?

Play Leave Cthulhu Alone

## Figurines Room Escape 2

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When it's time for a break there's nothing like a soothing room escape game to calm the overworked mind, and Tomatea has just the panacea in Figurines Room Escape 2, a perfect sequel to the original. The navigation and controls are easy to master. Hovering your mouse over items that you can interact with provides a nice little glow, and moving it to the sides of the screen produces navigation bars for different views of the room. You know the routine; locate objects and solve puzzles to find your way out of the room.

You may well ask, what's so relaxing about puzzling your way out of a room? Once you immerse yourself in the surrounds of this warmly decorated room and experience the ease and familiarity of pointing and clicking, as well as solving beautifully logical puzzles, it's practically guaranteed you'll feel that warm glow of self-satisfaction and triumph that only a successful room escape artist can feel. What can be more relaxing than that?

Play Figurines Room Escape 2

## The Vault №72

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Need a giggle? Sure you do. They say laughter's the best medicine, after all. ... unless, of course, you're actually sick. Then medicine is the best medicine. Regardless, this week's installment of the Vault is good for what ails ya, providing a dose of humour in three different ways. It may be an unexpected victory against a seemingly impossible foe, a game that seems to know you're playing it, or the very pinnacle of visual design wrapped up in a satisfying dose of snark. Call it what you want, some cunning developer out there thought it was funny. How about you?

• You Have to Burn the Rope - Mazapán's platform game about a little pink dude in a bowler cap going up against the Grinning Colossus has practically become an internet rite of passage. Chances are, you've already heard of it, but if not, don't let us spoil it for you. It's strange, it's exciting, it's more than a little silly, and it comes with one of the best victory songs of all time. Simple controls and adorable visuals make this one easy to get into (and to share with just about anyone), and easy to see why this has become one of flash gaming's most enduring titles.
• Thy Dungeonman 3: Behold Thy Graphics! - Homestar Runner is practically an internet household name, but you might not remember this deliciously silly retro text adventure. You play a great hero who manages to barely escape certain death, only to have the end of your quest yanked infuriatingly away when you find yourself teleported to the middle of nowhere after touching the FLASK. There follows an extremely silly parody packed with overly dramatic dialogue, snappy writing, and, of course, THY GRAPHICS. Chances are you'll get the biggest chuckle out of this one if you were born in a time when this would have been state of the art, but even if you're a young whippersnapper you'll find plenty to appreciate in this short tale.
• Inquisitive Dave - What's a little mockery between friends? This side-scrolling adventure game knows you're playing it, and it more than happy to poke fun at your actions from time to time as you try to lead your helpless avatar to escape. You find yourself locked in a miserable little dungeon with no way out, but even once you manage to trick your way out of that one there's no guarantee you won't meet a violent end somewhere else. With a retro style and an appealing sense of absurdity, Inquisitive Dave is fairly short and best enjoyed by people who don't take their games too seriously, or have a crippling fear of antlions.

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!

## Random Heroes

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Those darn emo kids have accidentally summoned a horde of alien-zombies to destroy the city! Who should we call? The police? A dashing bandit? A Victorian-era, impressively side-burned gentleman thief? A redneck in a trucker's hat? Jason Vorhees? Well, all are options in Random Heroes, the new platformer from Woblyware. Random Heroes is a solid run-jump-and-shoot action game with a very cool aesthetic that goes very well with its parallax scrolling effects. It's a little reminiscent of the Metal Slug series, though with a much slower pacing. Gameplay is a little repetitive, and the pulse laser upgrade unbalances the challenge level, but Random Heroes definitely delivers a dose of random fun.

Play Random Heroes

## Sneak Thief 4: Fourth Find

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You can't keep a good thief down, but after the sheer amount of mishaps the star of Pastel Games' Sneak Thief series has had so far would you still consider him "good" at his job? Sneak Thief 4: Fourth Find continues the point-and-click misadventures of everyone's favourite bodysuited ne'er-do-well after he barely escapes an explosion and catches a ride on a totally not suspicious at all escaping air balloon. Will our thief finally be successful after a year and a half?... well... no, probably not, but if I were him I'd be more concerned about how his nose is getting larger and larger with each installment.

Play the entire Sneak Thief series:

This one shouldn't take you more than ten minutes to solve, provided you think outside the box a bit. Just click around, gather items, and click on objects in your inventory to use or combine them. Some of the puzzle solutions are a little... abstract... but the game is compact enough that experimentation will lead to success sooner rather than later. On the plus side, don't you think building a robot with a brain you thawed in a microwave is just perfect for the next installment of Mythbusters?

Play Sneak Thief 4: Fourth Find

## Snow Dance

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Let's sing: "Joyful faces everywhere you go (hum hum hum). There's a silent glow that fills the earth, on a snowy . . . Robamini escaaape!" Something about a snowy night: lights are more twinkly, there is music in the air and, if you look at the right time, you can spy a snowman doing the Snow Dance. It's times like this you just want to snuggle up and sip hot chocolate while playing a few light puzzles, nothing too harsh or irksome.

Snow Dance is the perfect escape game to start the holiday season here on JIG—it has all the sumptuous conveniences we escapers prefer—changing cursors, logical puzzles, sparkly music, immaculate graphics and, to top it off, Robamimi's terrific hint system. While the puzzles are far from difficult (unlike Aunt Verna's precisely wrapped presents with tenacious adhesive tape and knotted ribbons that will not come undone), they do require the right amount of thought and investigation to pull off. Follow the arrows to navigate the room and click wherever you want a closer look or an item to pick up. The requisite screwdriver comes in handy, of course. Another welcome feature is the well-organized inventory, giving clarity to examination and use of objects. One reminder before you click start: make sure you've highlighted your preferred language, English or Japanese.

As simple as it is, it's hard to find fault with this escape except to say, well, it's too short. The only reward for your exploratory efforts is a brief glimpse of the gorgeous white-blanketed world just outside the door. But it's the thought that counts and Snow Dance is still a joyful pasttime, like an early Christmas gift from Robamimi.

Play Snow Dance

## Long Way

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Yeehaw! Rustlers are after your bulls! That's like the Wild West version of someone trying to steal your Camaro! In Long Way, a new western tower defense game from Meetreen Games, your job is to get together a posse and show those rustlers what happens to dirty snakes who break the law of the West.

Long Way blends classic Tower Defense gameplay with a great upgrade system that adds a lot of longevity. You can develop your posse in a variety of ways, so even though the game can be fairly difficult there are several paths to success. Trying different strategies goes a long way toward keeping the game fresh. Long story short, hunker on down with some vittles and hit the ol' dusty trail!

Play Long Way

## Mobile Monday №148

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If you're looking for a few wild distractions, allow us to point to your left, where you'll see a tricycle riding a bear eating a hotdog. The bear isn't eating the hotdog, the tricycle is. And it's covered in mustard. The bear, not the hotdog. Also, four unique mobile games representing four different genres, each capable of stealing hours of your life away!

The King's Path (iPhone/iPod Touch, iPad) - Meet your new favorite tower defense game! The King's Path was created by Elliot Pace, author of the browser game Defend Your Nuts. It draws inspiration from a number of game types, including old school RPGs, defense games, and strategy games. Answer a few questions before the game begins to determine skill bonuses you get, then hop on in. Head out to battle and select your troops, ranging from a bomb-throwing pirate to mages, warriors, witches and archers, each with his or her own strength and weakness on the battlefield. Waves of enemies approach you, but by hiring people to stand near the path, you can clear them out before they reach the other side. Earn gold and skill points in battle, then use them to upgrade everything between fights, including skills that affect damage, gold, experience, and more. Extremely enjoyable on all fronts, and it's a wonderful change of pace to see different game types mixed in this manner. The King's Path HD for iPad is also available.

Catball Eats it All (universal) - So, did someone fall asleep in front of an open pack of markers or something? Catball Eats it All is exactly as the name states, putting you in control of a cat that is really a ball that rolls around eating it all. Nom down teddy bears, socks, and other small items, then grow a bit larger and scarf bigger things. Eventually, you'll devour the entire stage, allowing you to move on to bigger, more intricate, and more bizarre levels. The artwork was hand-drawn and looks phenomenal, and while the gameplay itself is a bit thin, it's undeniably fun to roll around and experience the surrealness that is Catball!

Mr.Oops!! (universal) - From the team behind Mr.Aaah!!, Mr.Ninja, and Do Do EGG!, Mr.Oops!! is yet another infinitely-playable quick-fire arcade game! This time around, the so-named Mr. Oops is standing on a grid, dancing like he just don't care. Then, rocks (or, later, cannon balls or lasers) start to roll from the sides of the screen, indicated by the flashing arrows. Swipe the screen to move Mr. Oops to a safe spot on the grid, then repeat wave after wave. As you play, you unlock newer, faster, harder levels to play. Just as tempting to fire up as the studio's other releases, and just as awesome to play!

Judge Dredd vs. Zombies (universal) - What a title, right? Just as the name implies, this dual stick shooter is filled with lots and lots of guns, ammunition, and general bad dudeness in the form of Judge Dredd disposing of enemies left and right. Move through each level, collecting badges and taking out zombies with your chosen set of weapons and upgrades. Shockingly, the auto-aim doesn't ruin the challenge, but instead it allows you to focus on movement and reloading at opportune times. It may not reinvent the mobile shooter, but it's loads of carnage and plenty of wild fun for a nice price tag.

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.

## KIKKA

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Feeling a little worn out from too much thinking and hard work? Here's another stress busting, eye pleasing mouse-based exploration puzzle from Yoshio Ishii of NekoGames: KIKKA. The soothing charcoal greys and enchanting chimes will remind you of OUKA, and the simple gameplay is similar as well, except this time you're looking for many-floreted, delicate chrysanthemums—petal by petal. There are sixteen levels and, while it starts out easy, that hint button becomes more and more tempting as you go along. The trick is to figure out the "rule" that gathers all the petals back to the flower's center. Like discovering a lovely vase packaged in a sheet of blossomy bubble wrap, KIKKA is both beautiful and gratifying; more proof from the creator of the Hoshi Saga series that games truly can be art.

Play KIKKA

## English Country Tune

• Currently 4.9/5
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If you've spent any time around the indie gaming scene, you're familiar with the name increpare (Opera Omnia, City of Day and Night), also known as Stephen Lavelle. Known for creating short, small, creative and artistic-type games, increpare has jumped from the realm of experimental games to the world of full-fledged releases, unleashing the fantastic English Country Tune for the world to scratch their collective heads over. The game looks fantastic and plays like several of your favorite logic puzzle games rolled into one superb, pseudo-3D package.

English Country Tune starts simple enough with a few puzzles that are not unlike sokoban. As a small blue tile, you can roll yourself over bits of the grid, shoving little balls called larva as you go. Each larva has its own rules of gravity, so depending on its location, your location, and from which direction you slap it, the ball might fall in completely different directions. This makes a huge difference because the game takes place in a 3D world, even though your movements are largely confined to flat planes. Move the larva into their targets and, if it's there, get yourself to the goal to complete the level.

After the larva world is complete, you get to head off to a new kind of puzzle: setting "whales" free! Each whale cube emits beams of light in four directions. You can't directly shove whales, but when you move against their light beams, they slide to your push. Now, try to get each one of them to the edge of the grid and push them off to freedom! Completing more worlds unlocks advanced versions of the above game types, as well as a few more that are purposefully obscure in design, allowing you the pleasure of figuring out what does what in this glowing 3D world. What's that button? What does it do? Why are those patterns copied to my tile?!

Analysis: English Country Tune is almost a collection of puzzle games built around a strong central theme. Sometimes it feels like Theseus, sometimes sokoban, sometimes EDGE, and sometimes the equally-dazzling Puzzle Dimension. All of the time, though, it feels like a coherent experience, and the challenge from the game's smartly-crafted levels never lets you drop your guard or slide through a stage without putting serious thought into the solution.

English Country Tune is a no-pressure sort of game. Your movements aren't tracked and compared with everyone else in the world, and the time you spent solving a level isn't tallied and shoved in your face to show you how awful you are after each level. For these reasons and many more, this is an excellent game to play in a casual manner. Pick it up, play a few levels, put it down and come back whenever you like. The experience is relaxing (except for a few levels) and the presentation is soft and subdued, creating the perfect atmosphere for solving spatial/pattern puzzles.

To put it bluntly: English Country Tune is an amazing puzzle game. Its construction provides variety without feeling like a collection of mini-games, and the challenge level is such that you're always thinking but (almost) never frustrated. The visual design keeps your eyes fascinated by the screen, and to top it all off, the 3D aspect really does add something to the game. If you even have the slightest interest in puzzle games, grabbing English Country Tune is a smart decision!

Windows:
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## Mystery Stories: Mountains of Madness

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Based on an H.P. Lovecraft story, Mystery Stories: Mountains of Madness is a casual adventure game set in the snowy hills of Antarctica. As if pulling a tale from Lovecraft wasn't interesting enough, the team at Cerasus Media went on to create an adventure game fused with intricate puzzles and alluring locations that beg your cursor to go searching for every item and every object it can click on. It's a quietly impressive game that walks a different path than most casual adventure/hidden object games, making it a fantastic experience from beginning to end!

In 1931, an Antarctic expedition somehow went awry and a team of scientists disappeared. Two researchers immediately fly in to investigate. What they discover chills them more than the frigid air. Beyond a hidden range of mountains taller than the Himalayas, strange creatures have evolved that seem to be neither plant nor animal in nature, and their remains indicate they are much older than life on Earth. Mentioned in the Necronomicon, these "Elder Things" left more than a few riddles behind, and as Lynn Morgan and William Dyer from Miskatonic University, it's your job to track down any surviving members of the first team and explore the mystery behind these unique beings.

Mountains of Madness takes places in short chapters that are comprised of half a dozen or more different scenes to investigate. Search each area with your mouse, clicking on interesting things and picking up any objects you may come across. Completing tasks usually requires more than one step, and getting the inventory items you need to solve puzzles might involve a mini-game or a good old fashioned hidden object scene. Not too many, mind you, as Mystery Stories is quite sure of its status as a casual adventure game!

Two very nice gameplay additions in Mystery Stories include scrolling scenes and controlling multiple characters. In a few areas, you can click the "enable scrolling" button at the top of the screen to turn everything before you into a moving panorama. It's not necessary to use this to complete levels, but it adds a nice visual kick and makes the game's world seem so much bigger. Also, a few chapters in, you'll get to enlist William Dyer's assistance as you switch between main characters, solving puzzles and leaving items for one person so both can make it through safely. A very nice touch that turns the often lonely solo adventure/hidden object experience into a team-oriented one.

Analysis: As with any Lovecraft story, you know the best bits are always just around the corner. The plot in Mystery Stories follows the original book fairly well, but having this world brought to life through visuals and interactive puzzles makes it a pleasantly new experience, even for Lovecraft fans. And as far as the gameplay goes, even seasoned hidden object and adventure fans will find something fresh and organic in Mystery Stories!

The hint system is extraordinarily well-done in Mountains of Madness, and each time your eyes flick towards it you'll smile and be happy it's there. Click the little advice box to get a vague tip on what you need to do next. Click it again for a more specific tip. And, if that fails, click the hint button to have the next move pointed out to you. It works like a charm every time, and since Mystery Stories doesn't hold your hand beyond this hint system, having it there as an option is a smart design move that allows you to customize the game's difficulty on-the-fly.

There are no real flaws in Mystery Stories: Mountains of Madness, it's a game that keeps everything simple and allows you to sit back and enjoy a great story with great gameplay. Hidden object scenes are sparse and relatively easy to complete, sparklies are rare, even in casual mode, and the small gameplay gimmicks are a welcome break from standard adventure game fare. There are five chapters to complete, each taking an average of 30 minutes, so the overall length is around three hours. Afterwards, of course, you'll want to go grab H.P. Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness and give it a good read!

Because Mystery Stories: Mountains of Madness was released the very day after Drawn: Trail of Shadows, it was easy to overlook this gem of a game. It's a shame, too, because it's got a good story and gameplay that's just outside of the ordinary. Mystery Stories needs to be played, and it's the perfect experience for anyone who's tired of the hum-drum standard of hidden object and casual adventure games out there. Visual, playable Lovecraft is never a bad thing!

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Let's celebrate this weekend like it's a holiday! An ASCII shooter/Christmas/ninja holiday! We'll all rise before dawn, steal down to the local airfield, nab a jet, and fly around all day long! Also: gingerbread men for dessert!!!

Ninja vs. Samurai (Mac/Win, 8MB, free) - You, are a ninja. You, are trapped in a tower filled with samurai warriors. How can you nab the scrolls and make it to the next floor alive? By being stealthy! Similar to Theseus and the Minotaur in some ways, each time you move, the samurai move. Stay out of their field of vision and you can march around safely. One sighting, though, and you have to start the level all over again. A smart and good-looking logic puzzle game with lots of levels to complete!

ALTCODE (Windows, 3.9MB, free) - Swarms of robotic ships from another world are attacking earth. You are a ship armed with a brand new self awareness from the hive mind of every CRT monitor humans have ever trashed (admit it, you've tossed at least one!), and you're not about to let anyone think you're obsolete! This frantic and extraordinarily stylish horizontal shmup is great for ever player under our lovely little sun, as it's just difficult enough to offer a challenge, but not so tough it's impossible. Pick up power-ups to upgrade your gun and boosters, then take out the ASCII invaders one by one!

Johnny Platform Saves Christmas (Windows, 7.35MB, free) - A game originally released for Xbox Live Arcade, now free for PC users! Johnny's adventure is classic platform fare, featuring over 100 levels and plenty of cool moves to try out, including double jumps and a nice gravity-defying rolling ability. You'll collect cups of coffee along the way (or you can pretend they're hot cocoa) for extra lives, but be mindful of the evil robots and flaming Christmas puddings. You won't be saving Christmas if you're, you know, dead. A cheerful retro romp through platforming land!

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!

## Dark Parables: Rise of the Snow Queen

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The life of a fairy tale detective must be an exhausting one. For one thing, you seem to get called in at a moment's notice all over the world whenever anything strange happens. For another, you must then spend a lot of time fighting your way through fairy tales as they were originally meant to be: dark, scary, and dangerous. However, you are again up to the task in the latest adventure/hidden object hybrid from Blue Tea Games, Dark Parables: Rise of the Snow Queen.

Like Dark Parables: The Curse of Briar Rose and Dark Parables: The Exiled Prince before, Dark Parables: Rise of the Snow Queen takes a classic tale, in this case Snow White, and takes it down some dark and disturbing paths. This is not the story of happily ever after, this is what actually happens afterwards, when Snow White has gone as loony as her step-mother before her and locked the mountain kingdom in perpetual winter, along with turning her hapless father into a raging beast. Snow, now known as the Snow Queen, has presided over this place for centuries now, and has decided to bury the nearby Swiss town in a raging snowstorm to cover her kidnapping of all the town's children. As the only fairytale detective in the area it is your job to brave the driving snow, solve your way into the frozen kingdom, and rescue the children with the help of a local guide and a few of the smarter kids. Can you save the world before Snow locks it into eternal ice?

Dark Parables: Rise of the Snow Queen plays like a classic point-and-click adventure with lots of FROG (fragmented object game) elements. Rather than the classic lists of junk to find in a junk pile, you are tasked with finding pieces (lots of pieces) of a particular item scattered throughout a scene in order to reassemble an object that will be useful later in the game. Along with the exploring comes a nice mix of mini-games and puzzles, some familiar, some unique. A changing cursor indicates areas of interest, sparkles highlight games and puzzles (at least in casual mode), a refilling hint timer gives helpful hints (and allows skipping some puzzles), and items go into a bottom-loading inventory. In a break from tradition there is not a classic "detective's notebook" to keep track of clues. Instead, you find fragments of stories along the way which go into a fairytale book. Collect enough fragments and you can get the whole story of what happened with Snow, her father, her hapless Prince husband, and the kingdom. Also along for the ride is a very handy map feature which allows you to see where you are going, where you have been, and places you might need to return.

Along with finding the fragmented objects and fairytale pieces you are once again tasked to find "cursed" objects within the scenes. These objects, reminiscent of the "morphing" objects from the Mystery Case Files games, are items that shift from one form to another. Some are obvious when you enter a scene, some will only trigger later when a specific task has been completed. The cursed objects are a nice little side quest that don't affect the main story while adding an additional layer of gameplay.

Analysis: Dark Parables: Rise of the Snow Queen contains everything we've come to expect from the Dark Parables series: an intriguing story, stunning graphics, and fabulous gameplay. What makes the Dark Parables series stand out from the crowd is the attention to storytelling involved and the depth of the characters. Dark Parables: Rise of the Snow Queen examines what happens when good people do bad things for what seem like good reasons and the fallout that results, a moral lesson that today's modern fairytales seem to have jettisoned along with any scary or creepy elements in order to "protect the children".

The backgrounds are the usual gorgeous storybook confections, enhanced by some pretty amazing animations, not only in the main characters but also in the backgrounds of the adventure and the hidden object scenes. A swooping music score, amazingly life-like incidental sounds, and some fairly decent voice acting round out the adventure, immersing you completely in the experience. This attention to every aspect of the game is what we've come to expect from Blue Tea, who also created the enchanting world of Enlightenus.

The puzzles are a nice range of difficulties and include some nice original work including a couple of multi-layered door puzzles that are once again reminiscent of the original Mystery Case Files: Ravenhearst. The other puzzles are fun variations on the familiar: sliders, mazes and the like. Puzzles and mini-games are skippable after a while except in the hard level of the game, where there is no hint feature or sparkles either. What Dark Parables: Rise of the Snow Queen contains is a fine balance of exploration, puzzle solving, and hidden object finding, each aspect in perfect harmony and not dominating the gameplay.

The third so far in the series (with a hint at the end that a fourth is in the works), Dark Parables: Rise of the Snow Queen continues the legacy of excellence the Dark Parables series established. Challenging, engrossing, and lovely, and with three levels of difficulty, you're looking at a fantastic hidden object adventure done right.

A Collector's Edition is also available. It includes wallpapers, extra gameplay, and a built-in strategy guide. Remember that Big Fish Game Club Members pay only \$13.99 for Collector's Editions (or 2 club credits), and collector's editions count 3 card punches of 6 total needed for a free game.

Windows:
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Also available: Collector's Edition

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## Star Claws

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It's the classic story of an alien invasion on Earth. They beam themselves down in a clear act of aggression, but when we fire at the tentacled beings, nothing happens! Thank goodness for humankind's need of animal companionship, because it's our feline friends who hold our salvation. Fresh from LongAnimals with lovable art by Jimp, it's the physics puzzler, Star Claws, where you can find out just how the common Felis catus saves Earth from an alien takeover. With the click of your mouse, interact with your environment to bring the aliens and cats together to create some intergalactic sashimi. Yum! It's 32 levels of hissing and cat fights toward the demise of the not-so-friendly men from above, so grab a pack of catnip and help out these brave, furry souls.

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## Level Editor 2

• Currently 4.3/5
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You're probably familiar with level editors, where you can take all the time you want to make the perfect level of your favorite game, picking out blocks and lovingly arranging them into a path. In Level Editor 2 from Sigma Studios, you have to do all that level building stuff as you platform, so not only do you have to figure out the puzzle of the path to the door, but you also need to avoid seemingly heat-seeking spike balls, plus the timer is constantly ticking down... down... down to your doom. Also, don't press [shift]. Seriously. Just don't.

In our review of the previous game, Jerrad suggested that the game should be a little more challenging, and Sigma Studios apparently heard that opinion loud and clear, because this sequel definitely requires both more precision and skill for the platforming and more brain cells for the puzzling. With a further 35 levels, people who've cut their teeth on the first game should be ready to ace this one, and those who passed over the first as too easy might want to give this one a go.

Play Level Editor 2

## NaniKono-Quest

• Currently 4.1/5
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Remember that hapless adventuring party you had to help out in Detarou's last escape game, Nani-Quest? They're in a jam again. In NaniKono-Quest, they (and you) are locked in some sort of complex with an Aztec or Mayan or Egyptian theme... it's hard to tell. The controls are the same as usual (click to navigate and mess with things, click once to highlight items for use, double-click for a closer look), but this one's a bit less quirky and a bit harder on the puzzles than its predecessor. There are a whopping five endings to discover in this one, one fatality and four escapes, and three save files to help you access them all. Word of warning: there's a slide puzzle, although it's optional if you don't care about getting the best ending. Still, who can say no to a Detarou escape to help push them through one more work day before the weekend?

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## Tasty Planet: DinoTime

• Currently 4.3/5
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What time is it? Tasty Planet: DinoTime! Mathematical! The popular action series from Dingo Games is back, and this time things have gotten prehistoric. Like always, gameplay is one part Fishy and two parts Katamari as you take the starring role in the the cutest darn grey goo scenario the ancient world has ever seen. It's eat or be eaten as you grow from pebble-size to apatosaurus-size and, eventually, maybe big enough to do something about that huge asteroid in the sky. Those who've played the previous installments of the series should know what to expect: simple fun with a low challenge-level and some cute comic-book cut-scenes. Tasty Planet: DinoTime is short but enjoyable and worth playing to the clever end. Now get out there and eat ALL the dinos!

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We're counting down the days until the end of 2011! It's been a great year packed with some absolutely stellar titles, and each week on Link Dump Friday we'll feature three games from this year that are the personal favourites of one of your humble word monkeys. But of course, mine will be the best! (What's "humble" mean?) In addition to my picks this week for my personal favourite titles of 2011, we've also got a heads up on the sequel to an extremely popular zombie shooter, yet more pony love, some pigeon love, and more.

Dora's 2011 Picks (of DESTINY)

• Humbug - This puzzle platformer about a thief who can defy the laws of reality, Loony Tunes style, won my heart almost instantly. It's one of those games that's hard to describe without spoiling anything, since the whole point of it is that wonderful a-ha moment when your brain twists into place and you see whatever bizarro logic you're supposed to be using to get past the scene. It should be confusing and frustrating, and yet it isn't; Ziggy's escape from prison, aided by amusing MS Paint style visuals and a sneaky soundtrack, is immensely entertaining and exhibits precisely the sort of sense of humour and creativity I always look forward to seeing.
• Starwish - Ready to feel like you haven't accomplished anything? This massive visual novel/RPG/arcade horizontal shooter was made by one guy. Anonymous D Studios brings us an incredibly ambitious (and mostly successful) mishmash of genres about Deuce, the leader of a group of space pirates, who one day winds up stumbling across something that will change or destroy the galaxy, and doesn't really get a whole lot of say in his involvement. While the shooter sections were somewhat repetitive, the game's story and writing absolutely shines, with a huge memorable cast (DEADEYE) and a whole lot of endings to discover depending on what you do in the complex story. Definitely check this one out, but make sure you have the better part of a day to lose in the process.
• Don't Take It Personally, Babe, It Just Ain't Your Story - If I could give an award for the game that best played with my emotions in really complex ways, Christine Love's free indie downloadable visual novel about a teacher and his teenage English class would take top prize easily. In it, you play John Rook, who's having something of a midlife crisis, and is tasked with using the school's new social networking systems to keep tabs on the kids in his class... without them knowing. It's supposed to be so you can watch out for bullying and cheating, naturally, but everyone knows life is rarely so cut and dry. You'll gain an eyeful of the very private lives and relationships of your students as they struggle with things like sex and sexuality, personal identity, and more. Christine Love has an amazing talent for creating characters you care about, and the teenagers here (and even John himself) are both immensely likable and identifiable. Readers were split on the message at the end of the game and over one particular plot twist, but if you only play one download title this year, I would personally lobby really hard for you to make it this one.

Friendship is Farm Simulation: Fan games for Lauren Faust's pony dynamo cartoon have been popping up everywhere and in every genre, and the latest should make the brony who's also a Harvest Moon fan very happy. My Little Pony: Budding Friendships is an adventure simulation where you take on the role of a new pony in Ponyville and set about fitting in and running your own farm. (Just don't try to edge in on the apple market.) You'll be able to take part in plots from your favourite episodes, and also befriend your favourite ponies in ways that will influence the game and the story. Whatever your feelings about the show, you can't deny the amazing amount of creativity and effort its inspired in its massive community, and if you're a part of it you'll definitely want to check this one out.

Zombotron: It's What's For Dinner Earlier this year, Ant Karlov's physics platform zombie shooter Zombotron captivated hearts and minds with its beautiful style, fun gameplay, and name that is really fun to say aloud in your best boxing ring announcer voice. Well... it's baaaaaaaaaaack!... almost! In February 2012 the dead will once again walk and shamble off of pits in comical fashion when the sequel arrives, and don't go expecting just more of the same. While you can look forward to typical sequel-sy stuff like new weapons and trophies that help you, Anton also promises the game is going to be "completely reworked", and will provide a deeper storyline on top of more of those explosive, dynamic environments we so loved. Hit the link to find out more, and then start counting down the days.

Dat Coccidosis Love Chances are you've probably already heard of visual novel dating simulation that's sweeping the 'net, but in case you haven't, allow us to open your eyes to the wonder that is Hatoful Boyfriend, a game where you play a human girl poorly disguised as a pigeon, attending an academy for actual pigeons. There, you may find love in the form of pictures of handsome birds, danger at the hands of a murderer, or poor grades. Not even kidding, folks. This game is 100% serious, and also strange and glorious. Once you get past the absurdity, there's a surprisingly engrossing story to be found, and even a reason for the big "WHY" you're undoubtably asking yourself. Currently, the demo is only available in Japanese, but you can download a free English patch over here, and a patch for the full version is coming eventually. Will there be a review? If I have anything to say about it, yes, absolutely, and I've already threatened to shank anyone who tries to write it up other than myself.

Back to the 64KB: Remember the Commodore 64? I mean, as something other than what your grandpappy used to talk about while you were trying to play World of Warcraft on your \$2000 custom made gaming beast. Well, Newcomer is an RPG that's trying to bring it back. You play Neil, who regains consciousness right after he's dropped on an island that's meant to serve as his prison; he vaguely recalls killing his wife and the man she cheated on him with before passing out... but what happens now? Amoung other things, Newcomer promises "thousands of puzzles", over 180 characters to interact with, and "complex, non-linear gameplay with multiple endings". Our very own John Bardinelli and I have been circling around this project like nerdy sharks for some time now, and it's high time the rest of you got excited about it too. Hit the official site to learn more!

Psssst! Confused? This is our new Link Dump Friday format! For an explanation, read this if you missed it!

## Moby Dick 2

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There's plenty of hubbub about saving the whales, but we've really got to be worrying about our own hides. Whales are dangerous, you see. They're huge, they've got teeth that are larger than your head and in Moby Dick 2, the arcade action sequel to the original from Mostro Games and La Ventanita Studio, they're even upgradable! Humanity doesn't stand a chance.

Use the mouse to steer Moby Dick around and cause chaos. Wanton carnage earns you upgrade points that you can use to become larger, faster, tougher or a bit less hungry. You'll need these upgrades to survive wave after wave of whalers and natives out for delicious blubber. Most of the strategy in the game revolves around carefully choosing what to upgrade; becoming larger is great for destroying boats, for instance, but you also become a bigger target which can be a problem without also upgrading your health and toughness.

While there isn't much different from the original game, when you're talking about whale-on-mankind carnage and silly action mixed with upgrades, that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Moby Dick 2 makes for a great, if very familiar, half-hour of destruction. It's also a great example of what will happen if we don't develop anti-whale countermeasures immediately. What happens when they develop firearms? What do we do then? We'll just have to hope Captain Ahab is around and armed with a minigun to save us all.

Play Moby Dick 2

## You Are Games: Letters In Boxes #24

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This week's Letters In Boxes challenge is like the office elevator. You see it at the end of the hallway, and the doors are opening. Nobody likes to wait for an elevator going up, so you bolt for the door. That lady from accounting and that guy with the mail room step in ahead of you, and the elevator is filling up fast. Just as the door starts to close, you leap through the door, smooshing yourself between the guy from PR and the custodian. It's cramped and uncomfortable, but it doesn't matter, because you've managed to stuff yourself into the elevator going down.

And that's when you realize you wanted to go up to the 26th floor.

Elevator action aside, this week your goal is to cram those letters into those boxes to find the magic words that could make you a winner. Rather than the usual rule of one letter per box, this week's boxes can be stuffed with clusters of one, two, or three letters. To start playing, click on your first puzzle below to open it up in a new window. When you've found an answer, go to your browser's address bar and replace the image filename (in this case, "24shoppingdays") with your answer. If you're correct, you'll be jamming your way through to the next puzzle. If you're wrong, you'll get wedged in place with an error message, but you can always back up and try again.

Update: Congratulations to the following winners! :D

• Darvan ...First!
• jamedkan
Both winners were given a choice of prizes. Congratulations and thanks for playing with us! Look for another Letters in Boxes again soon!

## Chain Sudoku Light Vol. 1

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When a work has an excellent premise, it's always interesting to find variations on the theme. Haydn knew it. Beethoven knew it. Braintonik knew it. Now Conceptis gets on board with another in their popular series of browser versions of pen-and-paper puzzles, and this time the spotlight is on likely the most popular remix of that ongoing phenom, Sudoku. Chain Sudoku Light Volume 1, presented with the same care as the others, is a twisty variant that's very, very fun.

Each puzzle consists of a square-grid of circles in which numbers are filled. Each individual circle is also connected in a chain which contains as many circles as the length/width of the grid. The object is to fill the grid with numbers (1 to 5, or 1 to 6, depending on the puzzle). so that each appears exactly once in each row, column and chain. Use the [mouse] to click on a circle and open a dial pad. Click on the dial pad for the desired number, or the X to clear the circle. Numbers can also be placed by typing. Pencilmarks to keep track of possibilities are also available. The toolbar at the top is for undoing, redoing, restarting, checking answers, showing solutions and saving.

Long-time readers may start to feel the praise is getting repetitive, but there's absolutely no doubt about it: Chain Sudoku light continues Conceptis' streak of excellent releases. The rules and general strategy should be quite familiar to any Sudoku-lover, but however small the differences in concept are, players will have to approach these new puzzles from a different mental direction. This makes for a perfect blend of fresh and familiar in the ol' noggin. Like many of Conceptis' "Volume 1" iteration, the difficulty is generous for beginners, and the included amount of puzzles (here, thirty) are over way too fast. Still, "Volume 1" implies a "Volume 2" is on the way, and, considering the quality, hopefully the authors won't be yanking our chains for too long.

Play Chain Sudoku Light Volume 1

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