May 2012 Archives


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Rating: 4.8/5 (399 votes)
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ElleA Grain of TruthThe Endless Plains may seem unremarkable from the distance, with nigh nothing but grass for as far as the eye can see. Yet look into the clouds and you might find great wisdom, as some say you'll see the thoughts of gods. Myosotis, the witty heroine of the Rudowski brothers' (Marek and Marcin) A Grain of Truth, isn't too sure of that, but as she journeys onward to meet with the Wiseman and hear his stories, she encounters the Cloud Catchers and begins to see the grain of truth in the fairytales of old. You are invited to join her journey, embarking on a marvelous adventure filled with fantastic creatures, breathtaking scenery, and, of course, captivating stories.

Continuing along the same vein as Bell's Heart, the first in the Big Old Tree that Dreams series, point and click your way through the landscape, solving small puzzles and gathering objects that will aid your passage. Watch your cursor; the leaf turns from green to orange when hovering over interactive areas. Clicking will then provide options that vary according to context, including "go to," "examine," "take," and "talk." To be sure you haven't missed one of these areas, click on the eyeball icon to spot more. Reading and paying attention to the dialogue is necessary; not only should you click on blue-highlighted words to delve deeper in the conversations, each word you click on is collected to gain more stories.

A Grain of TruthAt the center of A Grain of Truth is a lyrical and entertaining narrative just as you would expect from this series. Departing from the affability of Bell's Heart, though, A Grain of Truth's puzzles have been ramped up in challenge. You'll explore, gather and make sense of items plus enjoy a mind-boggling game of mahjong or arrange a complex tile puzzle. There's little assistance given in game for completing these tasks, calling on you to do the mental footwork in the true spirit of adventuring. That also makes A Grain of Truth longer and more involved than its predecessor. Even so, after completing the map making mini-game, you'll have a smart map to travel by, adding greatly to the ease of navigation; just click where you want to go, provided you've been there already.

This installment is created in HTML5 and makes extensive use of Javascript and jQuery for smooth transitions and effects. You won't be caught up with intrusive mechanics, even the inventory takes you to the back of Myosotis' wagon rather than jar you out of the moment. It's a remarkable implementation for a truly lovely game.

Play all the Big Old Tree that Dreams games:
Trader of Stories: Bell's HeartTrader of Stories: A Grain of Truth

While you may find yourself stumped and baffled at times, it's well worth pushing through as the quest for answers has never been known to be easy. A Grain of Truth is an overall amazing creation that merges the talent of the storyteller with the art of good gaming. Whether you'll find wisdom or god-like dreams from the experience will depend much on your perspective; either way, the journey is anything but unremarkable.

Play A Grain of Truth


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Rating: 4.3/5 (194 votes)
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TrickyStickman Murder MysteriesThe story you're about to hear is a fib, but it's short. The names are made up, but the problems are real. Stickville is like many other towns. It has churches, two car washes, three movie theaters, bike paths, sparkling beaches, a synagogue, fishing spots, and the best darn doughnut shop in the tri-state area. However, scratch off a little of the MS Paint, and you'll discover its seedy underbelly: murders, drownings, corpses, arson, manslaughter. When a crime happens, the town's innocents may rest assured that the Stickville Police Department will stop at nothing to bring the perpetrators to justice. You're a homicide detective, working the day watch at the SPD. Right now, the inbox has five open cases to solve in Stickman Murder Mysteries, a series of point-and-click mystery adventures by Norm and Company.

Apart from the first chapter, which has been remade into flash, the Stickman Murder Mysteries are done entirely in HTML, though they run fine on modern machines. Use the mouse to click on objects to examine them, doors to travel to them and, when on the map screen, buildings to travel to that location. There will be times where you will be prompted to enter addresses or other information to continue your investigation, so be sure to take notes. If you're stuck, taking a nap or checking around the precinct might help you head in the right direction. Once you have collected all the evidence, go to Da Chief's office, and he'll ask you a series of question to make certain that you have the correct culprit. Good luck, detective!

Analysis: By the standards of the internet, the five Stickman Murder Mysteries are old. Like, more than ten years old, and from a time when people thought the ability to display a .gif of a dancing rodent was the height of web design. It's certain that its relative primitiveness will turn some away. Those who stick with it, however, will be glad they did, because this is a fun little collection that every lover of mystery games (and Scene of the Crime in particular) should appreciate.

Stickville Murder MysteriesThe graphics may be crude, and the programming kludgey by modern standards, but where Stickman Murder Mysteries shine is in its plotting. Chapter 1 starts with a relatively straightforward case of murder, but as the series goes on, the crimes get ever more devious, and the investigations ever more complex. Don't let those smiley stick-people fool you! These are some serious crimes being investigated, with criminals that mean business. The content may not be to the level of Law and Order: SVU, but it definitely reaches Law and Order classic (CHUNG CHUNG). That said, a sense of old-school internet wackiness is present throughout, which keeps the tone light. There are a ton of little touches, easter eggs, and red herrings to find, for no other reason than to be goofy, and will keep a pleasant half-smile on your face as you play.

Besides the overall MS Paint-iness, some downsides are worth mentioning. The few times that you must type an answer in are generally forgiving, but there are quite a few things to keep track of. Clever investigators might want to open up Notepad before heading on in. Likewise, the medical examiner sections where you use the CDX machine is a little unintuitive to work with, which is a shame since it is often necessary to discover a vital clue. Finally, it's worth noting the site from which we have hosted the games had some ads and links to questionable content, so, in the words of Sergeant Esterhaus, let's be careful out there.

The five chapters of Stickman Murder Mysteries will keep you puzzled and entertained for quite a bit, and saddened that the promised sixth chapter never quite materialized. Still, while they are oldies, they are definite goodies. So play through them, and earn your place in the Stickville PD hall of fame!

Play Stickman Murder Mysteries Chapter 1 - Murder in Stickville

Play Stickman Murder Mysteries Chapter 2 - Drowning at Stickville

Play Stickman Murder Mysteries Chapter 3 - Cadaver at Stickville Dump

Play Stickman Murder Mysteries Chapter 4 - Arson in Stickville

Play Stickman Murder Mysteries Chapter 5 - Manslaughter in Stickville


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Rating: 4.4/5 (177 votes)
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DoraEnigmata: Stellar WarRoshan Gamage's popular shooter gets an extreme makeover in Enigmata: Stellar War, a flashy new tower defense action game with more enemies, bigger bosses, more skills and explosions, and more lasers than you can shake an Illudium PU-36 Explosive Space Modulator at. The story?... uh... something about... a guy... who's angry... and some dudes... with... hair? Maybe it's a war for hair product? Look, that's not important. What matters is that this is your chance to single-handedly destroy an enemy interstellar army!... well... single-handedly apart from all the many, many, many ships you'll deploy that will be destroyed in the process. They might help too. A bit.

Your goal is to protect the Core from a continuous onslaught of enemy fighters and eventually bosses by building ships of your own with varying types of fire and abilities. Just click on a ship's icon in the sidebar, and then anywhere onscreen within the Core's radius to place it. Building ships is free, limited only by your unit cap, and by spending the gold you acquire from defeated baddies you can unlock even more varieties with bigger bangs for your bucks. Additionally, if you click on a deployed ship, you'll get access to a bunch of upgrades you can purchase for it to make it even better. Ships will attack anything that comes within range automatically, and you can freely drag the ones you've placed around the map to better deal with threats as they appear. If things are moving too slowly for you, click the little arrow icon beneath the lock button on your sidebar and then find some Benny Hill music on Spotify to play in the background.

If you want to get a little hands-on, click anywhere on the map to open a menu that will allow you to deploy some fancy special attacks with cool-down times that can seriously turn the odds in your favour... especially if you spend the cash to buy new ones or upgrade! Perform well, and you'll be able to get special upgrade options between levels, though sadly the option to "play Ride of the Valkyries while you recline in an enormous leather armchair and watch the carnage" doesn't yet seem to exist. The upgrades you purchase and the ships you deploy persist between levels, so don't be afraid to put a little strategy into your spending.

Considering the shooty arcade roots of the series, Stellar War's defensive gameplay comes as a bit of a surprise. For the most part, it's a good one. Though shooter fans are going to be doing a little lower-lip-quiver over this, tower defense fans will be thrilled to welcome another title into the fold, especially one as shiny and slick looking as this. The design is simply beautiful, with detailed little ships zipping around and lasers in particular having some gorgeous visual effects. On the downside, gameplay can sometimes leave you fumbling, with clicking through numerous different ships to apply upgrades one at a time getting tedious in later levels. Fans of more orderly defense titles might also find this one a bit too chaotic with so much going on in so many different directions. With a gorgeous visual style and an easy to master control scheme, Enigmata: Stellar War is still a clever spin on the tower-defense genre that's well worth losing a few explosions to.

Play Enigmata: Stellar War


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Rating: 4.2/5 (115 votes)
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CluelessGrinnypOne of the great challenges of a classic four-wall one-room escape game is to keep the puzzles fresh and interesting while working within such a confined format. Designers can rise to the challenge in a number of ways, from creating a themed room to inventing new types of puzzles. Or they could just do what Tomatea does with their latest room escape, Clueless, and simply cheat by folding seven rooms into one.

The first thing you might notice while navigating around Tomatea's usual beautifully decorated room is the presence of so many doors. Seven doors, in fact, and only one of them is the actual way out. Although navigation in the main room (or foyer, really) is the usual bars on the sides of the screen, which changes when you finally solve your way into one of the six "side" rooms. Each of these rooms is a simple face-on scene, no navigation necessary. Tomatea's usual gently glowing changing cursor indicates areas of interest and once again puzzles cannot be solved unless the clues to them have been discovered, preventing you from "cracking" a code by random chance. It's all done up with Tomatea's usual lovely visual style with soft colors to match the gentle background music.

Clueless provides an easygoing escape challenge that is sure to appeal to anyone who loves the genre. Logical, pretty, and challenging, here's a bonus escape for those who love solving their way out of locked rooms. Or, in this case, into six locked rooms and out of a seventh.

Play Clueless


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Rating: 4.6/5 (102 votes)
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Weekday Escape

GrinnypOne of the favorite all time room escape designers here at Weekday Escape is the inimitable Tesshi-e, and one of the favorite things they like to do is hide a "lucky coin" inside a room to offer a second, alternative escape scenario to most of their games. Once in a blue moon, however, Tesshi-e likes to change things up and give us room escapers a bonus and an overabundance of riches by making the escape less about getting out of a room and more about finding as many lucky coins as we can. That means that Tesshi-e has favored us with a sequel to The Happy Escape and produced The Happy Escape 2 just in time for the mid-week break.

Happy Escape 2Join us, will you, for one of Tesshi-e's classic strange scenarios. "He" has invited you to visit and has offered coffee and cake, but in order to get the treats you must scour the locked room for happy coins, and of course you end up not only solving your way out (hopefully), but you end up being the one who provides the treats as well. It makes you think that the designer has had some bad experiences somewhere down the line, because what kind of host makes you provide your own food to escape? Yes, in a nod back to Escape from the Hexagonal Room you simply cannot get out until you brew the coffee and plate up the cake. Hey, at least this time you don't have to make a full breakfast.

There is only one escape scenario in this little charmer that features the standard gorgeous Tesshi-e visuals and a jazzy little tune to help pass the time while solving a nice selection of logical puzzles. Once again the wobbly picture puzzle is back and once again the designer has thought up yet another new solution, so even that shouldn't cause many complaints. The usual stellar controls and competent English translation round out the perfect mid-week Tesshi-e experience complete with a lovely treat at the end. Time to get happy!

Play The Happy Escape 2


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Rating: 4.4/5 (135 votes)
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JeremyGamer MomMany great browser games lack a thought-provoking or even coherent story, and you sort of shrug your shoulders and overlook it because everything else works so well. But then an interactive fiction game like Gamer Mom, by Mordechai Buckman and Kyler Kelly, comes along and you see what you've been missing all this time.

The goal of the game is to bring your family closer together by convincing them to play World of Warcraft with you. But it won't be easy; your daughter hates you and only wants to text on her cellphone all day and your husband is a workaholic who doesn't want to spend anytime as a family. Each scene gives you a few dialog options to try and every choice takes you down different avenues that will surprise you with each replay. The most interesting aspect of Gamer Mom is the way the Mom character reflects back on you. You can't help but think of yourself when you're making choices. Your first reaction will likely fit your personality type, whether it's a cautious "wait and see" or a go-in-with-all-guns-blazing approach, and the realization can be startling or even uncomfortable at first. Buckman is clearly a close observer of people's personalities and, while many similar games give you interesting choices to pursue, few are so perceptive and well thought out as this one.

Gamer Mom is also quite hard and it will seem that it's some kind of postmodern, everything-is-relative game at first, but it isn't. There is a clear path to get your family to spend time together, but the game doesn't end there and you might be surprised at what happens next. Gamer Mom is a short, but lasting, experience that manages to be sad, poignant, and even funny... just like real life.

Play Gamer Mom


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Rating: 4.3/5 (98 votes)
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Reprisal

BryanWhen everything you once loved and cherished is scattered across your archipelago homeland by war and greed, your only course of action as the once proud leader of a indomitable tribe is ... Reprisal. In homage to EA's classic strategy game, Populous, Reprisal is a Flash-based real time strategy game where you gather your prized totems and tribesmen to use against the fools who arrogantly cast them asunder. The totems allow you to manipulate the elements of earth, wind, and fire to shape, burn, and drown the earth. It's kind of like a kid playing god to an anthill, but the ants have their own water hose and magnifying glass to retaliate with. Reclaim your tribe's history through sweet, sweet revenge.

ReprisalThe developers across the pond at Electrolyte Games made the control scheme simple so any person, no matter their RTS prowess, could play. The mouse and the left-click button are used for all game input like selecting places on the map, changing totems, or placing totem powers. Selecting earth squares with the Terraform totem by left-clicking, for example, will raise the earth into mountains or lower them if you are pressing the [SHIFT] key and clicking. The number keys [1], [2], and [3] can also be used to toggle between the various totem power types you have if clicking on them is too bothersome. The [arrow] keys or [WASD] keys change the game camera's map view point so you can move around the island and get a better view of the crafty AI plotting their next move.

As you move along the islands in each level, your NPC tribesmen will follow three simple commands. They will make settlements to increase your army's fighting strength/size and mana regeneration rate, move to waypoints you set, and look for fights by invading the enemy territory. You will also see a fourth button with rest of them at the top of the screen, but it only locates the position of your leader unit, which is created once a NPC reaches a waypoint you create. The mana regeneration mentioned before is needed to cast all the totem powers you have so expand quickly if you like spamming your godly powers. Timing your totemic magic and army's invasion is part and parcel of demolishing your foes when their time is nigh.

Destruction and recovery are your main objectives in this game so the levels switch in between them as your journey of redemption treks on. The size of each tribe in a level is shown by the meter around the tribe's symbol in the top left corner of the screen. The only way to lower influence is to capture their buildings, burn the earth so settlement is impossible for a short period of time, or change the earth around them. A building needs a lot of open, even ground around it to grow and become powerful so damaging the land or altering it makes it significantly easier to capture. Also, larger buildings require more soldiers to capture it so keep that in mind unless your almighty totem-enhanced Hero is ready to crush some evil.

ReprisalAnalysis: Despite its lack of varied units and building types, Reprisal really shines with its isometric grid level layout, tons of game changing powers, and a retro pixel art style that gamers find so attractive these days. The game's progression does well to teach you the ropes of elemental strategy warfare so everyone is lax at your progressive rise to full strength and becomes more aggressive to quell it. The AI lulls you into a false sense of security early, letting you take over like its is nothing, and the WHAM, they harass you until there isn't a camp left. This AI can leave most casual players in the dust if they don't adapt to different play styles quickly enough. Sadly enough, there isn't choice in the difficulty if the going gets too rough.

Although there isn't a multiplayer component to the game, choice of difficulty, or level editor like most RTS games out there, Reprisal will keep the player invested in protecting his pixel peons from danger and battle for glory with an innovative environment-centric combat. The earth is both your weapon and defense so the focus of gameplay is on building up the terrain around you. The game's settlement building mechanic is remarkably dynamic in calculating the size and open land to determine what buildings can and should be built. It takes less grey matter to micro manage your tribe so fighting and totem power usage is easier for those newbie RTS players.

The visuals make this 8-bit isometric world enticing, but the choice between an artistic mode and basic mode makes it even sweeter. The artistic mode adds better textures to the world, a depth of view filter, and extra little effects that push more pixels to the screen while basic does not. It showcases Electrolyte Game's dedication and strive to put the best quality work into their games so the solid gameplay is matched with high quality graphics. It is understandable that some might not appreciate depth texturing with artistic mode so basic mode is there to keep the game fun and prevent squinting to see if those blurs are enemies or trees.

A polished, well-developed game made for long-timer players to the genre, but accessible to anyone willing to learn. Plenty of button shortcuts and a clearly defined UI to increase your APM (or actions per minute) while dedicating enough screen space to the real time action. It is sure to become one of those go-to time wasters that you won't feel bad about putting off your household chores to play.

Play Reprisal


  • Currently 4.2/5
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Rating: 4.2/5 (66 votes)
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JeremyRambo: Last BloodSome games fit into nice, easy categories, others are just...bizarre. Case in point: Peter Javidpour's surreal puzzle game, Rambo: Last Blood. Cryptic much? That's because the less you know of the story behind Last Blood, the more fun you'll have.

To move Rambo use the left and right [arrow] keys, and [spacebar] to interact with characters and objects. Oh, and it wouldn't hurt to brush up on your 80's pop culture knowledge. Rambo: Last Blood is another in a series of games based on tweets by Peter Molydeux, and, like many of the others, is funny and even a little poignant. Let's hope this is a trend.

Play Rambo: Last Blood


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The Vault

DoraThe game is afoot! Or rather... akeyboard? I guess? Is that like a thing?... whatever! Not important. The point is, this week we're filing aboard the Mystery Machine for some of our favourite sleuthing escapades. While sadly not as popular as anything involving zombies or ponies or tears, mysteries still provide a remarkably robust experience for the would-be gamer gumshoe. Maybe after playing a few of these titles, you'll be able to solve the Mystery of the Missing Free Time. As if we didn't know.

  • Alice is DeadAlice is Dead - Mike Morin and Hyptosis unleashed a fantastically twisted and bizarre interpretation of Lewis Carroll's classic tale with this point-and-click adventure series. Waking up as a faceless mystery protagonist in a locked room with a very familiar corpse, it's up to you to follow the trail of macabre clues and discover the truth of what's rotting in Wonderland. Mixing a swank sense of off-kilter style, clever puzzles, and memorable characters and situations, Alice is Dead delivered an engrossing, creepy, and top-notch mystery that's still well worth checking out today if you don't mind having your rose-coloured childhood altered a little.
  • CyberpunkCyberpunk - Straight from our very first Casual Gameplay Design Competition, Ray Gazu manages to make you feel like a bonafide cyber detective in this clever little hacking game. You're trying to retrieve a "datacore", and you'll have to summon up your inner decker to get into the system. Blending subtle and clever puzzles with an authentic looking interface, Cyberpunk isn't necessarily a mystery in the traditional sense, but the way it forces you to figure out each step of the process with minimal instruction makes it a great tool for you to build up your powers of deduction. Plus, now you're fully qualified to be a hacker on a primetime television cop drama. THEY'RE HACKING YOUR MAINFRAMES AND EXTINGUISHING ALL YOUR FIREWALLS WITH THEIR VIRUS NODELETTES.
  • The Scene of the CrimeThe Scene of the Crime - Pastel Games has always been great at telling stories with imagery, and this sleuthing point-and-click adventure pulls it off again with a sleek noir atmosphere that will have you tugging your imaginary fedora down over your eyes. You're solving a murder this time by slinking around an ominous apartment, trying to find all the pieces of evidence needed for a conviction as you make use of the various tools at your disposal. Aided by Kamil Kochansky's heavy, ominous style of design and a fantastic soundtrack, this one is short but simple and provides a great little exercise for your fledgling forensic abilities. You'll be ready to solve such crimes as "The Mystery of the Vanishing Crueller" and "The Case of the Smell In the Gas Station Bathroom"... just as an f.y.i. though, there is no happy ending for that last one.

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


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LostWinds2

JohnBGently wafting down from the world of Wii Ware games, LostWinds2: Winter of the Melodias is an iOS port of the 2009 sequel to LostWinds, a game that also recently made its way from console to mobile marketplace. Frontier Development has created a fantastic sequel to an adorable and easily lovable game, translating the same sense of awe and wonder that made the original such a pleasure while adding new elements (literally) to toy around with. It's a platform adventure ("metroidvania") like few others, and once you get a taste of the richly animated world LostWinds2 has to offer, you'll sit down and absorb the entire game without hesitation.

LostWinds2LostWinds2 controls surprisingly well for being on a device that lacks physical buttons. You can choose between a virtual d-pad for movement or stick with the tap-to-go method the game defaults to. The former is much more precise than the latter, and as such we recommend you switch to it right away. But, you know, follow your bliss! Toku hops up small ledges on his own, but for bigger gaps, you'll need to break out some wind power. Swiping the screen activates gusts of air courtesy of Enril the Wind Spirit. You can use these gusts to manipulate things in the environment, both for fun and for profit, or to toss Toku around like a paper bag in the wind.

In addition to using the wind as a glorified springboard, you also have a few special abilities you can activate. Pinching the screen captures objects in mid-air, allowing you to hold them in place so you can send them flying with a big gust of air. In areas where snow falls, you can even craft snowballs in mid-air, using them for breaking ice barriers or just making heaps of snow on the ground. And finally, the wind vortex plays a strong part in the game, allowing you to funnel other elements like fire and water around the screen so you can use them to, say, light torches, burn flammable objects, make plants grow, or deal with enemies.

LostWinds2This is just a small sampling of the things you can do in LostWinds2. The list of environmental interactions keeps growing the longer you play (like being able to switch between seasons), and no matter what you're trying to accomplish, you'll always be convinced there's more than one way to do it, whether it be a creative wind ride over a ledge or a series of vortices that just manages to melt a block of ice. LostWinds2 gives you a lot of freedom, both in terms of what you do and where you go, as the level design is open and encourages backtracking once you get new abilities. Metroidvania to the core!

Analysis: For those of us who first came to LostWinds2 on the Wii Ware platform, the first question to ask when eyeing the iOS release is this: how well does it control without physical buttons? The answer is "quite well", though purists will still narrow an eye from time to time when little hiccups in the game would have been prevented with solid controls in your hand. Still, for the generation that didn't grow up with joysticks and NES controllers in their hands, nothing will feel amiss in this smartly-built port.

While the story isn't anything to speak of, the level and puzzle design is definitely a high point of the game. The world is filled with high ledges, secret tunnels, and non-essential items hiding just out of sight or just out of reach. To collect everything, you'll need to do some backtracking, picking up new abilities and returning to earlier areas play clean up. But since moving around in this game is so much fun, you won't be frustrated in the least by going backwards to go forwards. And with intricate, creative visuals like these, there's always something lovely to look at.

There's a lot to do and a lot to experience in LostWinds2. It's a big, gorgeous game created with luxuriously imaginative visuals that often look like they were taken from an animated feature film. The sense of wonder you'll feel while exploring the game's world and using various elements to interact with the environment is priceless, a feeling so few games manage to convey these days. LostWinds2 is easily one of the best platform adventure games on the iOS market, no matter the player's preferences or skill level.

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


  • Currently 4.6/5
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Rating: 4.6/5 (150 votes)
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The Sandbox

JohnBThe Sandbox is a creative elemental puzzle game for iOS by Pixowl. It mixes puzzles and challenges with good old fashioned elemental interactions, exactly the kind you would find in classic browser games like Sand Sand Sand or Powder Game 7. Guiding the all-powerful element dropping utility that is your finger, you can mix dozens of unique elements to create fantastic reactions, functioning machines, crazy Rube Goldberg-like devices, or just paint pretty pictures on your screen. There's plenty of room for creativity, but also a fair amount of thoughtful challenge as well!

The SandboxIn The Sandbox, you play a god-like character with the power to paint with the elements. By dragging your finger across the screen, you can drop stones, bits of earth, water, even create batteries, lava, heating elements, and more. Not only that, you can also toy with the lighting, weather, and temperature settings, creating conditions ripe for just about anything your brain can cook up.

Starting with the game's story mode, you'll gradually unlock new elements as you progress through a series of challenges. They're pretty simple puzzles to start with, but as you progress, they get more and more intricate and require actual thought to complete. Hints are always available, so if you get stuck, you can easily get un-stuck! You earn new elements by completing challenges, but in order to actually use them, you'll have to spend mana points to unlock them.

After capping off some of the two dozen story mode levels, you can head over to free mode where you get to play with the elements however you see fit. There are challenges to unlock here as well, but the real focus is just messing about with an empty environment, old school style. Once you have the full arsenal of elements and climate controls at your disposal, you can settle down and do some real creating.

The SandboxAnalysis: The Sandbox does a great job translating the intricate, elemental reaction-heavy environment seasoned browser gamers have been toying around with for years to modern devices for modern gamers. It isn't quite as stark as games like Hell of Sand, though, and even in free mode you always get the feeling there's more going on than just a blank screen and your penchant for mucking about with elements. In other words, The Sandbox has a hidden motive, and while most of that is simply the interface and the puzzle challenges you can complete, another portion is the broken in-app purchasing system.

The Sandbox may say it's free on the surface, but it gives you ample opportunity to spend real cash, usually to purchase mana points so you can unlock necessary elements. In fact, it's almost required after a dozen or so levels, as the mana you earn over the course of the game doesn't add up to what you need to unlock everything. Many players insist you can get by without dropping real cash, you just have to be extra creative. That may be the case, but The Sandbox feels like it's true purpose is to be a mobile elements/extras shop, not a creative sandbox. The developers crossed that delicate line between in-app purchases for fun, and in-app purchases as an in-your-face annoyance. Not enough to ruin the game, but enough to make you raise an eyebrow.

Apart from its awkward IAP takeover, The Sandbox does play like a well-tuned game of elemental shenanigans. You can even use it as a pixel art creation kit! The visuals have a distinct style that looks great no matter what you've got burning/melting/boiling. In some ways, it's an evolved modern version of classic browser-based sandbox webtoys, and for that alone, it's worth giving a shot!

Play The Sandbox (browser)

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


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Rating: 4.5/5 (34 votes)
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Triple Town

JohnBBushes and huts, grass and trees, churches and gravestones, and bears. Dangerous, dangerous bears. Triple Town from Spry Fox (yep, the SteamBirds team) is the kind of mobile game you'll love to carry around with you at all times, firing it up for a few quick rounds and putting it away when you're satisfied with your progress. It combines city building with a good ole match-3 puzzle game in a manner you're probably not used to seeing, allowing you to work with individual elements to build a great empire, one match at a time.

Triple TownTriple Town works thusly: tap the grid to place the set piece you're handed at the beginning of each turn. By placing three or more pieces next to each other, they combine and form a new piece, something more complex and ostensibly better. Tufts of grass morph into bushes, bushes into trees, trees into huts, and so on. You can even set up combos by forming a new item with a match that, in turn, settles into yet another match with pre-transformed pieces nearby. Your goal is to create the most advanced grid town you can, all by making matches and chains with these unassuming little tiles.

Oh, and then there's the stuff that gets in the way. Namely, bears. Bears appear just like other set pieces, but instead of building more complex/cool things, they just take up space. By blocking them in, however, they transform into gravestones. Three gravestones morph into a church, three churches to a cathedral, so bears aren't just a nuisance, they can be made useful like everything else in the game. Just wait until you get the wild card crystals, bots and ninja bears, then the fun really begins!

Moves in Triple Town require strategy, otherwise you'll be staring at a frustratingly full grid that will end before you get to anything really entertaining. The game does feature an in-app purchasing system, allowing you to spend real money for in-game items as well as additional turns. You're given a generous amount of coins to spend the first time you play, and since you have hundreds of turns, there's no real pressure to pay until the game gets you irrevocably hooked. Which it just might, as Triple Town is a volatile mix of short-term strategy, long term success, and instant gratification rolled into a neat, visually adorable package!

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


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The King of Shreds and PatchesDoraYour life in London is unremarkable, right up until the day a letter from an old friend leads you to the discovery that the world is a far darker and more mysterious place you could ever imagine. Murder, disappearances, strange sigils, and stranger occurrences combine to pull you into a horrific supernatural Lovecraftian mystery in Jimmy Maher's enormous interactive fiction title, The King of Shreds and Patches. Available both as a free download and as an enhanced edition for Kindle Fire or even (my personal choice), Kindle Keyboard (or Kindle Touch), it'll take a keen eye for detail, perseverance, and the ability to pilot a sinking rowboat to get to the bottom of things. But at a whopping 12 to 15 hours of play, don't expect to finish this novel length adventure in a single sitting unless you have buttocks of steel to match your nerves.

If you've never played an interactive fiction title before, dry those sweaty palms since the game boasts an extremely thorough tutorial that walks you through the basics quite nicely. (The general mechanics may change depending on what you're playing the game on.) Standard commands such as "look at", "pick up" and "inventory" persist, as well as shortcuts if you don't feel up to the arduous task of writing each word out. The game takes place in what the author assures us is a historically accurate London circa 1603, and what you need to know is that means big. Really, really big. There are a lot of places you'll need to go, but you won't be without direction. Provided you're in a place our hero, Robert, is familiar with, you can type "map" to get a large map showing all your available destinations, and then "go to placename" to start heading in that direction. Not sure where to go next? Just type in "think" and the game will clue you in on what you should be looking into. (Sadly, the option to "call authorities and ignore all this ghastly occult business I'm vastly underqualified to handle" doesn't seem to be available. Maybe in an expansion?)

Explore, but don't dawdle. The King of Shreds and Patches is as close to a living, breathing world as you can get. Time passes, characters will make requests of you, and, of course, murder is afoot. You can be in very literal danger, and it's important to save frequently and in different slots by typing "save" whenever you get the moment. In addition to conversing with a varied cast of characters with their own hidden agendas, you'll find yourself faced with a huge variety of challenges, some simpler than others, and even some situations that call for action. If you're really stuck, there's an in-game hint system you can access at any time... just type "hint", select the area you're stuck on, and typing "H" will reveal more and more explicit details about that scenario until you're given plain directions.

The King of Shreds and PatchesAnalysis: Adapted from a scenario written by Justin Tynes for the Call of Cthulhu tabletop RPG, The King of Shreds and patches looks and feels like the massive labour of love it is. It's huge and labyrinthian, packed with memorable characters who look, feel, and act distinct in ways that help engage you in the plot. Interactive fiction has always been better at this than other genres, but the cast here feels far less like actors and NPCs and more like allies and enemies than many other titles ever pull off. The amount of detail and freedom can be a little overwhelming at first. Fish markets! Jugglers! Street urchins! Unspeakable murders and ancient symbols! Ale!

Where the game slips up lies in the way it's structured. Most interactive-fiction fans are used to a format that goes something like, "The room is smelly and dark. There is a trout on the radiator. The exits are south and southwest." Description, items of interest, points of entry or exit. While Shreds and Patches occasionally follows this formula, more often it simply lumps everything together in a descriptive paragraph that allows the game to retain its story feel perhaps more effectively, but can make it more difficult to extract important information from your surroundings in a pinch. You also really do need to save frequently, and in multiple spots, and the complexity and challenge might be off-putting to casual fans or newcomers even with the magnificent tutorial. It really is a game you need to relax and think about, really let yourself sink into the way the story wants you to, in order to absorb all the details.

The parser is one of those things that feels smart until it doesn't. By and large you can go a while before you encounter any hiccups, as long as you don't get too fancy with your language. (Apparently trying to "launch" rather than "push" a boat is putting on airs.) You will probably wish the game was a bit smarter, since having it rather snootily inform you that "use" isn't specific enough when the use for the item in question is extremely obvious can be frustrating. Seriously, what did you think I wanted the knife to do to the rope... coo sweet nothings into its fibers? But by virtue of a rapidly moving story that never leaves you without a lot to do and a variety of clever puzzles, Shreds and Patches will still manage to keep most players hooked. After a while, you'll come to know what the game will accept, and commands will become second nature.

I played it on a Kindle Keyboard and was extremely impressed at what a natural fit it was; through the device's modest capabilities do demand you type slowly, the numerous shortcuts soon feel like second nature. Combined with the generous hint and navigational systems, it really feels like Shreds and Patches is going out of its way to be as accessible as possible, and fans of the genre looking for a huge, meaty beast to sink their fangs into will definitely appreciate it. The culmination of more than two years of work, The King of Shreds and Patches is an imposing and challenging but captivating adventure that's more than worth checking out. Standing head and shoulders above many other titles by sheer bulk alone, it delivers an eerie mystery told with style and flair that players with the time to invest will love to meet head on.

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


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Squids

JohnBOne part physics-based slinging game, one part RPG, and one part tactics, Squids from The Game Bakers is a many-layered game that gracefully passes gameplay elements back and forth, creating a dynamic but cohesive experience. While it starts out with a little Sling-like action, it ends up playing more like Ogre Battle, all without adding too much complexity or foregoing its casual roots. To top it off, Squids looks as good as it plays, featuring top-notch visual design and a storyline and characters that are legitimately fun to engage with!

SquidsThe basic mechanic of Squids: click one of your party members, pull back on their rubbery tentacles, then release to send them flying. The farther back you pull, the more ground (er, water?) the squid will cover. Slinging characters around is how you move through each level, how you attack enemies, and how you loot stages for all sorts of treasure. It's a solid, well-implemented mechanic that's both exciting and tactical, as it's great to see what happens when you ricochet off of three walls, but at the same time, you can't just go flinging these guys anywhere due to pits and other dangers.

Once you get this down, which takes all of a few seconds, you get to see what Squids really offers in terms of lasting gameplay. For starters, each character in your team has certain abilities, so choosing which order they make their moves requires some thought. Each level also has different goals and missions to work towards, from gathering stars to defeating enemies to just making it to the exit alive. Not all missions are a requirement, but the better you do, the more you'll have to work with when it comes to power-ups and team bonuses.

SquidsAnalysis: Squids oozes entertainment from the very start, introducing three characters and showcasing their unique personalities. The story is genuinely interesting, something most games put little focus on in the modern market of fast-paced game development. The graphics are simply stunning, and even if you opt for the smaller-screen mobile version of the game, your eyes will love what they're seeing.

Squids features an in-game store that lets you purchase everything from new items to new squids, all by using pearl currency you pick up through adventuring. Characters also level-up and get stronger with more experience. The mobile versions of Squids play a little more naturally than the mouse-based Windows and Mac versions, owing to the more hands-on approach touch screens take to controls. The desktop versions look much better, though, as this is definitely a game to experience on a large screen.

Squids is a game that displays its creators' dedication to a fun, meaningful experience conveyed through a combination of instant gratification gameplay and slow learning-style strategy. It covers just about every base you could want it to cover, all while looking fantastic and keeping you smiling along the way!

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Mobile Monday

JohnBHey, you person with that sexy little mobile device! Uh... how... how are you? Oh gosh, we didn't prepare anything beyond that slick opening line. Time to bail? Or maybe it's time for another TACTICAL MISDIRECTION?!!!! *flashes a laser pointer and runs away*

fieldrunners2-p.jpgFieldrunners runs again - One of the early mega-hits on the iOS platform was Fieldrunners, a luscious tower defense game that got everything absolutely right. Updates have kept the game alive for a few years, but in June, Subatomic Studios has announced Fieldrunners 2 will hit iPhone/iPod Touch, with the iPad version shortly afterwards. Expect more of the same formula that made the original game such a cross-platform hit. Check out a few screenshots on the official page, and hope more information is released soon!

bagit-p.jpgBag It! bags big update - Hidden Variable Studio's Bag It! is one of those delightful puzzle games you never want to stop playing. It's got fun characters, it's got challenging puzzles, it's got food items, and it's essentially a training simulator for bagging groceries in real life! The latest update introduces a new character, Fizzy the exploding soda bottle, along with 16 new levels, new achievements, and three revamped endless modes! To make things even neater, the game is on sale for a limited time, so do yourself a favor and check out one of our favorite mobile puzzle games. Do it!

kingscanfly-p.jpg3D puzzle game, with airships! - Mobile game developer Firedroid has released details about its upcoming game, Kings Can Fly for Android devices. This lovely-looking title utilizes wind-based puzzles to push airships around 3D rendered stages, using fans to affect the current and watching out for spiked gates, mountain ranges, and other environmental obstacles. The first peek looks fantastic, and with more than 50 levels to complete upon launch, this is one we're going to keep a close eye on!

applefreegame.jpgFree game, every week! - And finally, anyone interested in weekly free games? Apple seems to think so, and last week it started the Free App of the Week promotion, giving away a different iOS game for free every single week. The inaugural game is Cut the Rope Experiments, setting the bar pretty high for future giveaways! Time to fill your phone with more stuff!

Got some delicious info on an upcoming mobile release, current event, or other tasty news tidbit? We want to know! Send an e-mail with "Mobile Monday" in the subject line to johnb AT casualgameplay DOT com. We'll sift through the submissions and feature our favorites on a Mobile Monday article! Keen!


  • Currently 4.6/5
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Rating: 4.6/5 (36 votes)
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The Sea Will Claim Everything

DoraCan you foreclose on a cave? It seems the goons who invaded Underhome, domain of the Mysterious Druid in the Lands of Dream, think so. With Underhome, itself a living, thinking thing, Best of Casual Gameplay 2012in chaos and the druid Niamh missing, it falls to a stranger from another land to help set things right... you! In The Sea Will Claim Everything, the latest story-driven adventure from Jonas and Vera Kyratzes, go on a surreal introspective journey packed with magic and memorable characters as you strike out to save the biotechnological dwelling of Underhome on the Fortunate Isles.

To play, just click. Everywhere. Nearly every object in the game has a little something to say and the best way to enjoy the game is just to explore and let it all wash over you. You can navigate around by clicking on doorways, or by using the big green arrows in the top-right corner of the user interface. Below that is the stone tablet that lets you, save, load, or Weird Sound. The map will let you travel to other locations once you're out of Underhome. The Sea Will Claim EverythingThe scroll keeps track of all your current objectives. Lastly, but not leastly, the backpack contains your inventory where you can better examine things you're carrying with the typical adventure game commands like Touch, Smell, Taste, and Mouse. When you're talking to someone, you can click on the list of topics that appear in the top-right corner of the screen to find out more about that particular subject.

It goes without saying that your quest to restore and save Underhome from foreclosure is going to be anything but straightforward. Just finding your way outside its walls is going to take some clever thinking. The Lands of Dream, it seems, aren't exactly the lands of plenty these days... at least not for everyone. There's some political unrest simmering as economic problems begin to spread across the land... and naturally nobody can find the guano or potions of Jellification they want either. You'll have to grease a few palms and sail around the sea to get to the bottom of things, and maybe even think a little bit about the things that are important in life in the process.

The Sea Will Claim EverythingAnalysis: The Sea Will Claim Everything will appeal to you if you prefer something you can sink into a lose yourself in for a long time, like a hot bubble bath with a good book. It's that rare sort of story that pulls on its own rich mythology as much as it does your own imagination, and weaves a captivating experience that can be hard to step away from. It's chock full of humour both subtle and silly, and a whole bucketful of references to all things nerdy, but more than that, it's also packed with the same heart, thought, and emotion you've come to expect from Kyratzes' titles. Rarely has a fantasy locale been so aptly named as Kyratzes' enchanting and baffling Lands of Dream. I don't know about you, but my dreams are rarely logical or coherent, and the strange but inviting world Jonas has created with the help of his wife Vera's gorgeous illustrations perfectly mimics that sense of surreal displacement and overload of odd details.

In fact, for some people, that's going to be the downside as well. If you're an impatient or simply logical player, then the sleepy rhythm and outright odd puzzles and plots in this game might be a bit much. With so many things made clickable, and so many puzzles simply revolving around fetch-quests, it's easy for the mood to take a detour into the frustrating when you're not sure if you're missing an item. There's just so much to see, and so many tiny details that unless you really take your time you can get a bit lost. What? What am I missing? Was it that spider? He's just a Bob fanboy! Did I forget to combine the Poo with the Essence of Derek? Is it the mushrooms? Which one? The jocular one? The subtle one? The one pondering the rights to freedom and ownership as they relate to the kingdom?! What do you want from me?!

The other issues that make this dream occasionally bumpy are largely technical ones such as a clunky and cumbersome user interface that makes inventory management and the like a little obnoxious. It also would have been nice if crafting ingredients in the labs displayed their named before you clicked on them, or let you swap one out if you made a mistake instead of automatically adding it. From a literary standpoint, there are also some times when it feels like the message being conveyed isn't quite as subtle as you might like, occasionally soap boxing a bit in contrast with the story's more deft, cleverly woven notes of emotion and thought that crop up throughout.

Those, however, are minor problems, and if you love Kyratzes' earlier adventures in the Lands of Dream, or even if you just want a rich storytelling experience, you're going to love this one too. Best enjoyed sunk as low in your chair as you can get with a glass of your favourite beverage and no hurry whatsoever, The Sea Will Claim Everything is the best possible way to enjoy an evening. With a variety of unusual settings you'll want to spend your time exploring and a cast of characters memorable for more than just their strange designs. There are times when it really feels like everything from the setting to the dialogue is speaking directly to you, and for those brief windows the Lands of Dream becomes as tangible as the world outside your window. Highly recommended.

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


  • Currently 4/5
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Rating: 4/5 (22 votes)
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Final Cut: Death on the Silver Screen

elleWhen a loved one is in trouble, drugged and held captive by a crazed, vengeful extortionist, there is only one thing to do. Call the police? No. The FBI? Nope. The Navy SEALs then? Pfft. Why would you when you are aptly skilled at decoding enigmatic riddles, deftly spying shrewdly concealed objects and piecing together a multitude of clues thereby overcoming every obstacle contrived to prevent your rescuing him? That's the way it works in the world of hidden object adventure games. Of course it's logical to drive through a thunderstorm to a secluded mansion-slash-movie studio upon learning your father is dead and your brother has gone missing; you'd never blink an eye to see every door barred by elaborate locks or threatening notes from an unseen antagonist.

Final Cut: Death of the Silver ScreenAnd so, here you are, giddily sleuthing through Eipix Entertainment's Final Cut: Death on the Silver Screen, seemingly in the grasp of a lunatic who has watched one too many murder mysteries without learning smart villains should never confess their nefarious plans. Is all this fun? You bet! Roll up your sleeves and jump right in to mini-games galore, hidden objects everywhere, Art Deco designs, over-the-top characters and B-movie antics. You're tasked with finding all the pieces of your father's physics-defying, army-coveted secret invention—and reassemble it—before the kidnapper goes even more berserk and offs your bro.

To help you along, the cursor changes to indicate items to grab or puzzles to interact with. When you pick something up, it lands in a very well-designed pop up inventory bar which quickly disappears to not obstruct your view of the superb scenery. It's not long before you're packing around oodles of tools, trinkets and pieces while making sense of a multitude of puzzles—you'll need a very organized mind or somewhere to store all this information. Lucky for me, then, there's an interactive diary to store clues and a map of the spacious premises. In the relatively few search scenes, you're presented with the standard list of objects: some easily spotted, others more obscure, and a few to be reconstructed before pick-up. Those sensitive to flashing lights should avoid the mis-click penalty; only a rapid succession of willy nilly clicking seems to activate it, though. Regular or expert game modes determine the presence of sparkles, the refill speed of hint/skip timers, and whether tasks are highlighted on the map.

Final Cut: Death of the Silver ScreenAlong with large assortment of mini-games, plenty of detective work awaits you outside of the standard hidden object searches. Earn achievements by finding and turning on all the lights (not as simple as it sounds) or collect all of your father's cards (no changing cursor will help you there). There's even an achievement for finishing the game in less than five hours yet that task might mean non-experts will skip through some puzzles (thus losing other achievements) to do it.

Analysis: As you watch the credits roll, a grin still spread across your face after that cheeseball ending, what you suspected is confirmed: the creative team at Eipix Entertainment not only has a great sense of humor, they had a blast making this game, which helps account for why it's such a blast to play. But, if you start playing Final Cut: Death on the Silver Screen without checking your Detective Charlie Chan stoicism and are unwilling to rifle through piles of movie props, eschewing that handy telephone (which has a perfectly working "9" and "1" on the dial) in order to grab a makeshift lockpick, then you're coming at it all wrong! Here is a hidden object adventure that is all about having fun, especially when your idea of a good time is hours of solving clever puzzles and exploring a labyrinth of imaginative settings. Despite some of the strangeness involved, the effect is amusement not creeps, although I couldn't help jumping a little each and every time I walked into Father's study (you'll see what I mean).

Final Cut: Death of the Silver ScreenAre there cliché plot devices and the usual story twists? Yes and yes. Tongue is firmly planted in cheek and corniness ensues, but it's a riot to not only watch but be a part of this awkward suspense dramedy. Perhaps the production would not stand up to George Lucas' standard, but it's not meant to. The graphics show skillful artistry and a keen eye for design but too much seamless polishing in the story scenes would spoil the B-movie effect. Quality emanates everywhere it counts here: the puzzles are fun, not all too mentally taxing but quite a few will make you work for your reward; there's a wide variety of locales to explore to stave off boredom; plus, all the gameplay mechanics (even an overly-springy inventory bar) function intuitively so you can stay engaged with the adventure and not with fumbling controls.

You'll know before you begin how it's all going to turn out, yet Final Cut: Death on the Silver Screen will have you happily strung along, engaged in a battle of wits against a certifiable nutcase—more than enough to keep you on your toes. With all this set before you, it's no wonder you wouldn't want to turn over the glory to the authorities. Ready to get your hidden-object-finding, puzzle-solving and loved-one-rescuing game on? Then your walk-on role in Final Cut: Death on the Silver Screen is just a little ways down this winding, rain-slicked road.

A Collector's Edition is also available. It contains bonus content not found in the Standard Edition. Remember that Big Fish Game Club Members pay only $13.99 for Collector's Editions (or 2 club credits), and collector's editions count 3 card punches of 6 total needed for a free game.

WindowsWindows:
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Also available: Collector's Edition

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


  • Currently 4.7/5
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Rating: 4.7/5 (26 votes)
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Tyrian 2000

TrickyThough the reach and convenience of the internet has rendered them obsolete in all areas but the nostalgic, it's hard not to miss the jam-packed shareware CDs of old. Each one was filled to bursting with demos, previews, and the First-Of-Four-Episodes-The-Rest-Of-Which-Can-Be-Yours-For-The-Low-Price-of-$19.99. Considering Circuit City would sell them in the $3 range, that was a heck of a deal. When it came to shareware publishing, one company was king: Epic Games (alternately known as Epic, Epic MegaGames, Potomac Computer Systems, and The Warehouse Where Tim Sweeney Kept All Those Old ZZT Discs). Sure, nowadays they're best known for Unreal and Gears of War. But for my Check Or Money Order, they were at their peak in the shareware age with such games as Jazz Jackrabbit, One Must Fall: 2097, and, of course, the game we are here to discuss today, Eclipse Productions' Tyrian 2000.

Tyrian 2000Let's not mince words. Tyrian 2000 was the best PC shoot-em-up of the 90s, and it still holds up remarkably well today. Players star as Trent Hawkins, ace terraforming pilot working under the command of shady multi-global corporation MicroSol. While scouting the planet of Tyrian, you and a friend come across a deposit of a newly-discovered mineral, Gravitium. You don't get long to enjoy your discovery, however. The next day your friend is shot in the back by a MicroSol hoverdroid. In his dying message, he reveals how MicroSol has begun to hunt down anyone with knowledge of the strange mineral... a mineral that will allow them to construct a nigh-unstoppable fleet of warships. Realizing you will soon be targeted, you secure a small fighter and head off to safety, a reluctant entanglement in the anti-MicroSol rebellion, and the battle that could decide the fate of the entire galaxy.

Tyrian's gameplay should be familiar to anyone who's plunked a quarter into a vertical-scrolling arcade game: use the [arrow] keys or the mouse to move. The game is happy to let you designate your own keys, but you can always revert to the standard [crtl] or clicking to shoot, and the [spacebar] to change firing modes. Destroy everything in your path, collect credits to upgrade your ship between levels, data-cubes to move the story along, power-ups to give your ship that little bit more of awesomeness, and always be on the look out for secret paths and easter eggs.

Tyrian 2000Analysis: Really, it's not what Tyrian 2000 does that makes it special, but how it does it. The amount of customization you can put into your ship, with its front and rear weapons, left and right sidekicks, shields, generators, and engines to choose from, is truly impressive. The difficulty is forgiving for beginners on Easy, and Touhou-like for those experts who dare to unlock Lord Of The Game mode. The levels are gorgeous VGA set pieces, with a wide variety of mooks to blast, and end bosses that are truly terrifying. The writing is hilariously snarky, but with a satirical edge wielded with a clear love for the genre. Throw in the gorgeous soundtrack, the hidden Scorched Earth mini-game, and the old-school ASCII order screen displayed upon quitting, and you have a classic of PC Gaming.

Tyrian 2000 (which, for the record, is an expansion, not a sequel to the original Tyrian) has been released as freeware by its authors, and is available for download from GOG along with the soundtrack in MP3 form (which is about ten times larger than the game itself!). Considering that it's going for for the low, low, price of "Two Minutes Fiddling With DOSBox", every fan of space shooters owes it to themselves to lose a couple hours to Tyrian 2000's charms.

WindowsWindows:
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Mac OS XMac OS X:
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Ib


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Rating: 4.5/5 (485 votes)
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DoraIbWhen you think about it, art galleries can be pretty creepy places. They're quiet, they're filled with unusual visions, and after all, one person's art is another person's nightmare. In Ib, a free horror adventure made by Kouri and translated by vgperson, a little girl out on a day trip with her parents suddenly finds herself trapped in the gallery after dark. Which might be spooky enough, if not for the fact that it's a most unusual darkness, and it happened all at once and seemed to take all the other people away with the light. With no choice but to follow a strange message begging her to come come come, Ib ventures deep into the gallery and tumbles into a surreal world where art, humanity, and safety are largely open to interpretation.

Though Ib was made with RPG Maker 2000, you won't find any battles here. Use the [arrow] keys to move around, [Z] to interact with things, and [X] to open your inventory. You can save your game at writing desks, which you should do frequently since it turns out art galleries are unfriendly places when the lights go out. Shortly after the game begins, Ib finds a red rose that represents her health and is always displayed in the upper-left corner of the screen. As Ib takes damage, petals fall away and the rose begins to wilt. Luckily, you can restore your rose (... or anyone else's... ) by placing them in water vases found throughout the game. Just stop and think a little about the decisions you can make and the responses you can give... Ib may need to forge a bond if you want the best ending, and, well, let's just say the gallery reacts poorly to people who break the rules.

IbAnalysis: Ib is kind of an odd duck. Though the visuals can occasionally make it hard to tell what you're looking at, the game still packs some surprisingly scary moments for its visual style. Jump scares? Sure, but some really effective subtle creep-outs like a ball slowly bouncing down the stairs towards you or increasingly irate messages scrawled on the wall as you go do wonders for the mood. There's also one extremely tense scene with a room full of dolls that... ugh! What makes Ib stand out is this decision to go for the more surreal scares and strangeness rather than relying on gore or ultra violence. There are a lot of unsettling scenes that creep you out far more than a lot of other games manage with a lot more blood and guts, and Ib manages to be more memorable as a result.

There are good endings and bad endings to get depending on your choices throughout the game and Ib's bond with the people she meets, and a playthrough will probably take a few hours if you take your time. Ib isn't a particularly difficult game, apart from a few "chase" sequences, since the developer intended it to be able to be finished by players of any skill level, and most of the puzzles are actually pretty solid. Weird, but solid. Since you're always moving forward, backtracking is kept to a bare minimum over each new area, and figuring out what you need to do is just a matter of remembering to investigate everything... multiple times. Ib has her flaws, but with a fantastically freaky sense of fright and design combined with likable characters an unreal environments, this is one great little free horror adventure that is far and away creepier and more effective at times than its big budget peers. Highly recommended.

WindowsWindows:
Download the free full version

Mac OS XMac OS X:
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Thanks to Noodle for sending this one in!


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Rating: 4.2/5 (21 votes)
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recluse.gifJohnBRecluse is a short, cute, and creative metroidvania-style platform adventure game from chambers that tied for eighth place in the most recent Ludum Dare compo. Centered around the "tiny world" theme, you play a snail who has never left its shell and is now ready to emerge into the world. While much of the gameplay is standard platform fare, there is a unique mechanic that makes Recluse worth experiencing: screen shoving!

Wrapped up in the vaguely spiral world of the shell, you begin in a tiny room where you learn your first few moves, including simple walking and jumping. Then, you notice there's a little open spot on the right side of the wall. You don't seem to be able to walk through it, though. If you push against the edge of the game window for a brief moment, you'll actually resize the window from within the game. Not only can you enlarge the window by pushing it horizontally, you'll also use your noggin' to expand it higher and smash down to expand it below. It's simple, but it's pretty neat in practice, and it totally makes the game more interesting than your standard platform adventure!

In addition to the window shoving mechanic, Recluse also stashes a few powers around the shell, including things like a ground pound and double jump. There are enemies, save points and hearts to collect, too, but you'll be so focused on where to go and which part of the window to move next you won't pay as much attention to these as you would in a similar game. Apart from the items and abilities mentioned, there isn't much more to Recluse. It's a short and very sweet experience, good for a distraction and a few smiles!

WindowsWindows:
Download the free full version

Mac OS XMac OS X:
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LinuxLinux:
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Rating: 4.5/5 (22 votes)
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DoraThe ElevatorIndie developers and story tricksters Cyanide Tea continue to make a name for themselves with their newest free visual novel, The Elevator. In the (fairly) distant future, David Carmichael is a taciturn, middle-aged private detective who can't forget the worst case of his former career as a cop... in spite of the memory modifier implanted in his skull. Elena Cormack is a bright-eyed and inquisitive young woman working for a travel agency. The only thing they have in common is a long elevator ride each morning to their respective jobs in a massive old building. Well... and problems, of course. Everyone's got issues, right? But some troubles go deeper than others. Secrets, too.

To play, just read the text and choose the option that sounds best to you. There is no real "right" option, but the game has a two endings that depend on the choices you make, and one of them is more enlightening than the other. Luckily for you, you've got the digital equivalent of keeping your finger on the page of a Choose Your Own Adventure novel... the freedom to save anytime, anywhere. Just right-click to open the save menu and make use of the save slots however you like.

Like Cyanide Tea's previous title Ristorante Amore, The Elevator is a bit light in the interactivity department. The handful of choices you can make have a big impact on the ending, but are very far apart. On the short side, it's a game you can expect to finish inside twenty minutes or so depending on your reading speed, and you'll definitely enjoy the time you spent with it. It's a beautifully written game that manages to switch from eerie and tense to even a little touching at the flip of a switch, and David makes for an extremely empathetic protagonist. The design is great as well, with beautiful expressive artwork and a soundtrack that perfectly fits whatever mood the scene calls for. On the down side, most players will probably see the twist of the "true" ending coming, and will be a bit disappointed at how little real closure there is. It just feels like the story drops a bomb and then goes, and as such The Elevator winds up feeling more like a prelude to something than a full title in its own write. Still, as a free visual novel, it's a beautifully designed and cleverly executed little break from your day, and fans of mystery thrillers will definitely want to give this one a look.

WindowsWindows:
Download the free full version

Mac OS XMac OS X:
Download the free full version

LinuxLinux:
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Rating: 4.5/5 (137 votes)
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MeaghanWake Up the Box 4The life of a box is a rough one with all that being carried around, having things put in you to hold, being made into forts for screaming children. It's no wonder the beloved Mr. Box is still giving Sleeping Beauty a run for her money. Unfortunately, he may not get to enjoy that peaceful slumber for much longer since Eugene Karataev and artist Artem Popov have returned the lethargic Box to us in the physics puzzle game Wake Up The Box 4! And in this new Box installment you get to prove your artistic prowess by drawing anything from circles to ramps.

To draw hold down the left click and draw a shape; however only within the striped area can your creations come to wooden existence. To make a perfect circle hold the [space] bar while left-click and dragging in any direction. Drawing around the small bearings will make whatever you draw rotate one way or the other depending on which side is heavier. If your crafted item doesn't work you can double click on it to have it disappear.

Play all the Wake Up! games:
Wake Up the BoxWake Up the Box 2Wake Up the Box 3Wake Up the Box 4Wake the RoyaltyWake the Royalty Level PackWake Up the Box 5

This new addition in the Wake Up The Box series is a breath of fresh air after three previous games that had you simply place an item in the correct spot. While some of the levels will put your brain in a metaphorical headlock that's part of the allure. Yes, there will be shapes that you need to draw that you may never have considered a shape and the old see saw mechanism may be a bit rusty but those aren't drawbacks so much as challenges that even Barney Stinson would accept and suit up for. Plus, after years of being the one abruptly woken up isn't it nice to finally exact your terrible revenge? Yeah, I thought so.

Play Wake Up The Box 4


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Rating: 4.4/5 (127 votes)
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TrickyBeing One: Episode 5 - InfectionWe thought we had seen the last of Being One. But here he is again puzzling his was through another mysterious space station. Here though, the stakes are higher: It's a race against time to cure himself of the disease he's been infected with, battle the station's other inhabitants, and move one step closer to his revenge. But nothing is as it seems in Being One: Episode 5 - Infection, the newest in Psionic's series of horror adventure games.

As in previous installments, Being One: Episode Five is very much a cross genre work. The framework is point and click adventure, where you use the mouse to examine and pick up items from around the station. Your inventory, accessible in the upper-right corner of the screen, has a number of tools you'll use in your investigation: a microscope for examining biological samples, an autohacker used to access terminals around the station, a multi-tool for disassembling mechanical devices, and, of course, a gun for use on any hostile creatures. These tools will often prompt minigames of all different kinds: shooter, arcade, puzzle, and so forth, all controlled with the mouse. The story is told through datapads and evidence collected hidden-object style around the station, and the plot is sure to leave you twisted.

Play the entire Being One series:
Being One: Episode 1 - Escape the LabBeing One: Episode 2 - BloodbathBeing One: Episode 3 - Dark MatterBeing One: Episode 4 - MoonriseBeing One: Episode 5 - Infection

Franchises that release new installments several years after a supposed finale are usually met with skepticism. We're looking at you, Indiana Jones. Fortunately, Being One had enough dangling plot lines and questions that the transition to a new episodic is relatively seamless. It may be a little convenient that the first place Being One goes to after his escape is another atmospheric space station, but let's face it, it's good atmosphere, and it'd be weird if this game took place on a farm or something. The graphics are as gorily beautiful as ever, with some CGI bits that are almost aggressive in their "check out what our animators can do!" awesomeness. The game could have used a little more hand-holding, especially in the use of your new inventory devices. There is a logic behind all of them that is satisfying to discover for yourself, but it's hard to do that when bullets start flying. Also, the game ends rather suddenly, which is good in the sense that an Episode 6 must certainly be in development, but man, let's hope we don't have to wait another three years. All in all, though, fans of the series and of scifi horror in general will be happy to spend a little more time in the skin of Being One, and will definitely be eager for more.

Play Being One: Chapter Five - Infection


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Rating: 4.4/5 (87 votes)
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TrickyCappuccino Under The Leaves Finding a good cup cup of coffee, late at night, is difficult enough for us mammals. For this here frog, it's an epic adventure! Cappuccino Under The Leaves, a point and click puzzler from Japanese developer Karabina-7, shows how the desire for a caffeine fix will drive even the smallest of amphibians through the most devious of obstacles. Just click around to solve puzzles. Your cursor will change when you place it over an interactive area. Cappuccino Under The Leaves is kind of a bizarre experience, but its puzzles are logical and are very satisfying to plow through. As a whole, the work is an interesting spin on the "player character figuring out alien machines" theme so often found in the escape genre: here, the machines are just human enough to be recognizable, but, when seen through the eyes of a frog, seems like things those trapped in the Submachine probably have to put up with whenever they want a little java. In short, Cappuccino Under The Leaves's cuteness and challenge forms an excellent blend that's good to the last drop.

Play Cappuccino Under The Leaves


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BenScore RushWhat do you get if you cross a rainbow with an overhead shooter? Now we know... it's Score Rush, bursting through your monitor in a glorious avalanche of colour and sound. Xona Games describe their game as a retro 'shmup', but a better name for the genre, at least based on this evidence, would be 'Bullet Candy'.

As is customary for overhead shooters on the PC, you navigate with the [WASD] keys, and aim and fire with the mouse. Eight bosses, plus minions, are out to destroy your little spaceship... or maybe you're out to destroy them. Either way, your sole aim is to blaze a path through the lot, using only your gun, 3 lives, and a limited selection of screen clearing bombs. Power-ups regularly appear to add to the torrent of bullets you can fire, and once maxed out, subsequent pickups trigger a small shockwave that clears bullets around you, giving you a much needed moment of respite. But that description doesn't do justice to the colorful assault on the senses that defines Score Rush. As the action intensifies, it feels more like a playable light show, accompanied by a fittingly guitar-heavy sound track, although you get barely a split second to take it all in before brightly coloured bullets begin raining down at you.

Score Rush requires registration before you can play, which may seem like an unnecessary frustration. It's also missing a preloader, so expect a blank screen here and there before the game starts. But it's a free port of a game that costs real money on the Xbox, and it's worth playing for the sights and sounds if nothing else. Shooter fans will find that behind the dazzling spectacle of the graphics there's a smooth, solid, and very playable game as well.

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Rating: 3.9/5 (77 votes)
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BryanNightmare RunnerYou thought it was all in your head, just a horribly grotesque dream, but the horde of fiendish, floating octopi from your recent slumber are closing in and are still out for your life! As the Nightmare Runner, you sprint and jump through this hellish, two color landscape in a run and jump action game from Clockwork Monster. If you want don't want your blood staining the ground, you will kill any enemies in your path with your trusty machine gun to escape the bowels of hell. Like a bat out of said hell with a heavy trigger finger, aim your gun with the mouse and jump (double jump when available) with either a left mouse click, [spacebar], [W], or the up [arrow] key. Running into power-ups along the way will help to increase your score and make surviving the unholy masses less taxing and even more enjoyable.

Nightmare Runner is far from the typical run and jump Flash titles out there and shows through its level-based upgrade system, in-game power ups, shooting mechanics, and entrancing background music. While some player mights prefer an upgrade store after a trip down a bottomless hole, the system implemented works well and adds more emphasis on building a high score through constant collection of power orbs to level. The acquisition of these orbs and aiming your ridiculous super repeater at the demented demons makes paying attention to the jumping aspect much more challenging for those who cannot multi task. Whether you want a casual game dodging hell spawns or ramp up the danger with Hardcore mode, Nightmare Runner might be what you were dreaming of.

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Link Dump Fridays

DoraWallets everywhere are quivering in fear of the big sales going on this week. It seems like indie developers are gunning for your free time with a vengeance, and if you take advantage of all these deals as well as the upcoming titles planned for release this year, you're not going to have much time for the basic necessities like work, sleep, cleaning, and seeing the Avengers again. (Which Avenger was your favourite? TRICK QUESTION. They all are!) So kiss your productivity good-bye this week, but after indulging in some of these games, we bet you're not going to miss it that much anyway.

To The MoonThe Prize is Tears Freebird Games' powerhouse of indie story-telling To The Moon is one of the finest experiences you can have on your computer. The game follows two doctors with equipment able to alter memories, who visit a dying man who wishes to have his mind changed so that he falsely remembers having accomplished his life's wish... to go to the moon. Naturally, however, the job proves more complicated than that, and the journey you'll go on to discover the truth is by turns frightening, funny, and emotionally potent. So we're giving you a chance to win one of three free copies! To enter, just leave a comment here telling us what your personal favourite story in an indie game is. Winners will be chosen at random and receive an e-mail alerting them when they are selected. Contest rules: Entries must be submitted by May 31st, 11:59 p.m. EST (GMT-5). Winners will be announced shortly thereafter. One entry per person only. You must be at least 13 years of age or older to enter. No purchase necessary. Void where prohibited. Bring your own tissues and epiphanies.

Bundle in a BoxAdventure for a Song Indie developers love you. If the consistently high-quality and complex games that they put out isn't proof enough for you, you also have things like the new Bundle in a Box, whose debut Adventure Bundle allows you to get up to seven stellar adventure games for a low minimum price. In addition to the latest game by Jonas Kyratzes, you can also snag Gemini Rue, Ben There, Dan That!, Time Gentlemen, Please!, and more. All of them are exceptionally high quality titles you should be proud to pour into your entertainment feeding trough, and if you do snag this bundle, we encourage you to consider the value of the games and the time, effort, and money the developers put into making them for you when setting your price.

Because We MayThe Newest Indie Gaming Holiday is Apparently Maymas Look at you, with that wallet all burdened with that disgusting... cash. Let's do something about it, shall we? From May 24th to June 1st, you can pick up a huge amount of fantastic indie titles on the cheap. The Because We May sale event organised by Ron Carmel offers up games from a staggering 180 developers who have agreed to discount their titles. In addition to PC/Mac releases, there are even a ton of games for iOS and Android on sale as well, with the option to purchase direct from the developer or on Steam for many titles! With games like Defender's Quest, World of Goo, Dark Scavenger, Costume Quest, and many, many more, this is one sale that is seriously gunning for your free time and spare cash, and you should definitely check it out. If you're a developer who wants to join the promotion, it's not too late! Just hit up this page for more information.

OwlboyFeather-Brained He Ain't, But Feather-Headed... Ever have one of those moments where someone produces something of such amazing beauty and creativity that you know you need to eat their brains to gain their powers for yourself?... no?... uh, no reason. If you're into action-adventure games at all, then you seriously need to check out DPad Studio's upcoming Owlboy, which puts you in the shoes of a little owl lad named Otus who sets out to defend his village from sky pirates and gets wrapped up in something even bigger. The game is due out this year, and the trailer should get you excited enough as it is. BUT WAIT! There's more! Windows users can even download a playable demo to check out the gameplay! This one looks like it's going to be something special, so be sure and keep your eye on it.

The CaveTeamwork, Spelunking, Ron Gilbert, and Dragons Ron Gilbert knows what you need, and what you need is side-scrolling, puzzle-solving adventure in the upcoming Sega-published title, The Cave. (No official site as of this writing.) The game follows a bunch of playable characters searching for treasure in the titular location... which also serves as narrator for the whole experience. That's right... the Cave talks to you. Each different character class has different abilities, and you'll need to utilize them to get around different hazards and solve puzzles with teamwork. The official announcement trailer is absolutely gorgeous, and should more than get you excited for the game when it hits in early 2013. Come on, caves are fun! Nothing terrible ever happened to anyone in a cave! It'll be fine.

The Journey of EkoKids Today, Savin' the World and Whatnot Admit it. You've always wanted to go on a really big adventure and discover something amazing, but unfortunately, unless you're rich and backed by a huge research grant (or willing to risk some fun infectious jungle diseases on your own) there's not too much opportunity for that on a grand scale these days. New indie developers Pixel Cows want to change all that with The Journey of Eko, an upcoming 2D action RPG about a young boy in a huge open world packed with dangers, treasures, quests, and a whole lot more. It's extremely ambitious to say the least, but it looks and sounds great. Check out an alpha demo video here, or the developer's 3rd place winning Ludum Dare entry Tiny Shards which is billed as "some kind of miniature version of The Journey of Eko".

NaGaDeMo30 Days of Lunatic Absurdity Hey, game developers! You're big. You're bad. You're talented! And now's your chance to feel the crunch of a deadline with the debut of NaGaDeMo! In the spirit of National Novel Writing Month, June has been declared as National Game Development Month and the challenge has been laid at your feet. Can you create one finished game in a month? If you're willing to throw your hat in the ring, you have from June 1st to June 30th to give it a shot, and the official website is there to help you with a great community, resources, and more. Unity 3D has even offered free licences to participants, so make sure to register if you want to take part. A month might not seem like a lot of time, but judging from the jaw-dropping awesomeness that Ludum Dare has birthed in the past, we might just see some really amazing stuff come from this one.


Do you know an upcoming indie project or some community gaming related news you think deserves some attention? Send me an e-mail with LINK DUMP FRIDAY in the subject line at dora AT casualgameplay DOT com with the info, and we'll judge it with the all-seeing glare of our own self-importance for inclusion in a future Link Dump Friday article!


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Snark Busters 3: High Society

elleElizabeth Hughes is a photographer, and she's good at it, too. There's something else she's good at, as she discovers the day Duchess Daffington accuses her fiancé of stealing. Naturally, Elizabeth sets right out to clear her beloved Nicolas of the crime—by climbing through second story windows, rifling through wardrobes and other, um, means of obtaining evidence of his law-abiding nature. She's very skilled at it such things you see. As it turns out, these are just the skills to earn the savvy female protagonist a very prestigious invitation—the offer to join Snark Busters: High Society.

Snark Busters 3: High SocietyLucky for you, you get to tag along for the soaring third installment in Alawar's unconventional hidden object puzzle adventure series. Catching the Snark is nice but catching Olivia Daffington in her lie is even nicer. To do so, travel through backwards worlds and interesting locales to get the picture that proves Nicolas did not steal that vile vixen's silly locket.

Navigation is a snap: follow the arrows to exit one scene and enter the next. It's not all about searching, though. There's the fun of adventuring, discovering and a balanced mix of mini-games—sometimes easy, sometimes tricky—to keep gameplay dynamic. Interactive areas will glimmer only after you discover them the first time. Or, select the "expert" level to forgo sparkles and to slow down the hint/skip timer significantly. Outside of the photo focusing puzzle, all mini-games have a skip function. A user friendly hint button will nudge you where you need to go if you get stuck and the true widescreen—both in full screen and windowed modes—lets you better delight in all the sights.

Because the Snark is such a mischievous little bugger, dashing around disassembling all that he touches, there's plenty to search for here just as in the first and second Snark Busters games. Yet this time, except for an occasional broken mirror or frayed rope, the sought after objects are whole and in good condition. When you pick one up—or when you click on an interactive area—a circlet will open up displaying the objects needed before such somethings as a doorway or useful tool is completed. Most of the five chapters involve separate subplots about various spirits of Snark Busters past; do a ghost a favor and he'll help you out, too. These side stories make each chapter more purposeful and lengthy, to result in about 5½ hours of game time.

Snark Busters 3: High SocietyAnalysis: If you're looking for a game that's bright, cheerful and a heck of a lot of fun, you're in for a special treat! In an industry that is glutted with the same ol' same ol' time and time again, Snark Busters: High Society happily brings unique to the table. I know, loved ones in trouble is an oft-used plot device, hidden object games are fertile breeding grounds for ghosts, and the "circlet" form of search, while not common, has appeared already in games such as The Mystery of the Crystal Portal series and Depths of Betrayal.

What is unique is the way Snark Busters: High Society keeps the story upbeat, engaging and smart without dropping into inanity or triteness. It doesn't second guess its players' intelligence by pretending we don't already know the secret to this mystery or by offering up artificially contrived plot twists. Instead, characters are well-rounded and likeable (you'll even like disliking the villainess), and the story is kept fresh by a new subplot in each of the five chapters. The task of finding objects never feels arduous or strained because it fits naturally into the adventuring element of the game.

Fresh does mean change, though. While I was glad to forgo the eyestrain of seeking barely recognizable fragments, I'll admit some might be disappointed in the change from little pieces to whole objects. The crisp, clear details of every scene made the switch necessary: odd-shaped fragments would stand out too much against the lovely backgrounds. Then, because no fragments means a bottom-of-the-screen display of pieced objects is impractical, the circlets allow for a wide array of items to seek without fumbling through a cumbersome side-scrolling inventory bar.

Snark Busters 3: High SocietyAll this fabulousity is tinged by two tiny flaws. One is Elizabeth's disconcerting yet chuckle inducing Milli Vanilli moments. It's a good thing, then, that all of the voice-overs are marvelous listens, paced perfectly and sprinkled with snarky witticisms (Newscaster Jessica Marrey, for example, is spot on hilarious!) A pricklier thorn is a photo development puzzle that begins the first chapter; the red lines are misleading and the controls are not explained well enough. Confusing at first, once you figure out the trick (or take a peek at our walkthrough), this puzzle is enjoyable and much easier the next go around.

Snark Busters: High Society emanates high quality and superb design down to the smallest detail. Love gorgeous aesthetics in your games? You'll love the visual artistry of the steampunk-esque fantasy environments. It starts off with a couple blemishes but soon develops into an entertaining, casually challenging and smirk-filled experience. The colorful worlds and humorous story provide a much needed departure from the standard fare's woeful tales of gruesomeness. So give it the chance to win you over. It's easier to catch a Snark by its tail than to be not beguiled by this fanciful seek-and-find romp.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


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Because We May

JohnBOne of the cornerstones of indie game development is, if you'll allow us a moment on our soapbox, freedom. The freedom to make the game you want exactly how you want to make it. While this doesn't always pan out to be as glamorous as it may seem, creating and releasing indie games is an art mixed with a science tempered by the cold hard realities of business. And in a world where distributing your game across multiple platforms is commonplace, there's some very real competition to tangle with out there.

BIT.TRIP RUNNEREnter Because We May, an indie game anti-sale dreamed up by Ron Carmel that celebrates developer freedom. Freedom that includes the ability to promote and price your game as you see fit. Not every distribution platform allows this, but for the several hundred games featured on Because We May, you will see serious price slashes right alongside price increases. Why? Because we may, that's why!

Yes, it's an anti-sale with a price increase or two. With so many bundles and pay-what-you-want schemes choking the intertubes every week, the speed at which game prices are racing to the bottom threatens to devalue the honest work indie game developers put into their products. So, why not charge 300% extra for your game this week? This is how some people pay rent!

Because We May runs from May 24 through June 1 and features several hundred games for Windows, Linux, iOS, Android and Mac, sold either directly or through distribution portals like Steam, Desura, and Indievania. Most games are actually on sale for a lower price, but either way, all games are made by indie developers who have the pleasure (and the responsibility) of selling and promoting their own games. It's one of the best ways to support the people that make the things that make you happy!

Here are just a few of the games you'll find on Because We May, many of which are available on multiple platforms:


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Rating: 3.2/5 (43 votes)
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BryanMabel and the AlphamitesIf you're like us you've played many a platform game and word puzzle games, but what about one that brings them together for some high-scoring vocabulary action? Mabel and the Alphamites combines these two challenging and brain-teasing genres of casual game into an experimental one that gets you grabbing letters from the air or on top of the platforms to make words and turn them into more platforms. Who would have thought that all those grade school vocabulary classes would come in handy for saving your life in a flash game like this? Not me.

You get scored for each word you make based on the letters used, if any letters were combo multipliers, and how long the words are. Mabel will keep jumping and stringing words together as long as you do not fall off your bottom platform or get blown up by a pesky 'letterbomb' (which are apparent due to a timer above them). A casual word puzzle/platform game that gets you thinking not only about the words you create, but also where to place platforms sound like a recipe for an addicting and mind-stimulating good time that gets your brain working twice as hard. The controls are easy to learn so they won't hinder your word crafting while the oddly charming Mabel and alphamites are pleasant to watch as they scuttle hither and thither along your word platforms. Whether you open it up for an hour at home or during a snack break at work, make sure you have a dictionary at hand to help you out when you can't think of enough words to spell out.

Play Mabel and the Alphamites


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Rating: 3.7/5 (52 votes)
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Kyhkyh_tempninja_title.pngHe jumps! He climbs walls! He... makes copies? In Games Northwest's high difficulty platformer, Temp Ninja, you control the daring and acrobatic office worker whose only goal is to attain the elusive report through each of the 20 levels. Move around using [WASD] or [arrow] keys, with [spacebar] as an alternate jump command. Sprinkled through the levels are gravity defying coffee cups which help unlock other characters you can play.

Along with the 8-bit music and graphics, between each set of levels you'll get to watch a fun cutscene à la Ninja Gaiden. Temp Ninja offers a meaty, nostalgic distraction from whatever work you should be doing. And while deaths are to be had, the short length of the levels helps deter you from rage quitting. This is an experience worth going through, after all, how often do you get to spend time in an office with the threat of spikes around every corner?

Play Temp Ninja


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Rating: 4.7/5 (186 votes)
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JeremyKeeper of the GroveLike gems? Yeah, well so do the big bad uglies coming up the garden path. And, not to point fingers, but someone forgot to close the gate. Luckily, in Keeper of the Grove, a ferociously cute new tower defense game from Booblyc, you'll have a whole cornucopia of plants, rocks, and water elementals to throw at 'em.

You have three choices of base towers. Sprouts are cheap, but fast and can shoot far away. Aqua towers are more expensive, but worth every penny in upgrades to slow the creep onslaught. Most expensive and powerful are rock towers, but you'll have to wait awhile before you can upgrade these bad boys. After a few levels, you'll unlock the ability to research better towers, which you'll have to do again at each new map. Sounds simple, right? Not even close. From these three base towers you can research 9 more, creating a lot of strategic possibilities with a load of replay value. But, without a doubt, your best weapon is the [spacebar], which puts the game in slow-mo and gives your addled nerves a breather.

Don't be fooled by Keeper of the Grove's Sunday afternoon Candyland exterior; underneath all that cute lies a monster of a tower defense game that will keep you up at nights... unless you remember to choose Normal difficulty on the opening screen, which is what you'll want to do if you are just looking for a nice walk in the park.

Play Keeper of the Grove


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Rating: 4/5 (46 votes)
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TrickyFirebug 2The Podge's cute, cuddly, and ever-infernoey insect is back to set the world on fire yet again in Firebug 2, a puzzle platformer. As before, Firebug wants nothing more than to bounce about levels and add to his collection of yummy jelly beans. Sadly, his incendiary nature means that all the wooden platforms he touches will catch on fire and quickly disintegrate. This can be quite a problem considering the icy ocean lurking beneath. Of course, there are other creatures, switches, and actuators that will help (or hinder) you in your quest, but they seem pretty darn flammable too. You'll have to think quick and tread lightly if you hope to blaze a trail through all 33 levels.

Firebug 2 takes all the best aspects of its predecessor and builds on them. Though, like the first, speed is a larger element than in most puzzle platformers, here there is a greater emphasis on timing and careful fire placement. Firebug 2 isn't afraid to let you lose a level a few times, so you may discover its tricks. The first time you hit a switch, and realize it closed a door you really wanted to keep open, will have you cursing The Podge for his equal brilliance and apparent sadism. Some other refinements, like a more fluid double-jump and the larger number of hats and sprite skins just waiting to be unlocked, only add to the belief that this may be the definitive firebug experience. Whether already a fan or new to the series, Firebug 2 is a great way to burn through a coffee break.

Play Firebug 2


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Rating: 4.6/5 (129 votes)
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Weekday Escape

GrinnypAimlessly walking can lead to many discoveries as you wander down the byways of whatever city or town you happen to be in. Ambling without purpose you might find your feet leading you through a plain, bricked alleyway to a mysterious door as a plaintive tune tickles on the ivories of your mind. It was with one such imaginary journey four years ago Tesshi-e made their debut upon the room escape scene, and as the anniversary looms it is time once again to visit that strange alley and door in Mild Escape 5.

Mild Escape 5Every year that strange room that the door in Mild Escape leads to gets sparser and stranger. This time around Tesshi-e appears to have taken some design hints from other room escape mavens such as Robamimi with a set of puzzles that are more difficult and more elegant, including some items providing the solution to more than one puzzle and even an interesting new twist on the dinosaur of room escaping, the wobbly picture puzzle. The room in Mild Escape 5 has even less furniture, decorations, and clutter than usual, giving the gamer a space that while appearing empty is actually chock-full of mysteries. The usual two escape scenarios (featuring the happy coin, of course) give way not to a night on the town, or a nice meal, but heartfelt thanks from the designer to those of us who have hung on for the room escaping ride of a lifetime.

There's really nothing to complain about in Mild Escape 5. The puzzles are tricky and satisfying with some neat solutions, the construction is at a minimum, the English translations are terrific, the controls are top notch, and the color puzzles come with text making them solvable even for the colorblind. With more minimal decorations than usual there is virtually no pixel hunting to be found. Who needs a changing cursor, anyway? It's time to raise a toast in celebration of Tesshi-e's 73rd astonishing room escape efforts and once again enjoy the tricky, twisty, mistily nostalgic mind of Tesshi-e.

Play Mild Escape 5


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Rating: 4.2/5 (97 votes)
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ArtbegottiBig-Time Butter BaronAnother day, another dollar, another forty units of butter to ship. Working can be hard, but at the offices of the Big-Time Butter Baron, there's no shortage of puzzle fun. In this Tetris-like action puzzle game by Megadev, you've got to arrange boxes of butter on the shipping room floor, covering as much space as you can.

Use the mouse to move the next buttery block around the grid and click to drop it in place. You can also click the arrows on the right-hand wall to rotate a piece, or dump it in the garbage bin on the left. In every level, your goal remains the same; you've got to place forty units of butter on the grid. The more butter you can plot, the better, because the level ends when you can't place the next block. Any open spaces are filled in with junk boxes that disappear over time, but don't count toward your quota.

How long can you keep building bold, buttery bases before being bombarded by a blow-out of blocks?

Play Big-Time Butter Baron


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Rating: 4.5/5 (76 votes)
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KimberlyRune RaidersThe king has lost his precious Golden Bottle, and you have just the team of mercenaries to retrieve it for him! Start your quest at the inn with Rune Raiders, an easy to pick up but hard to put down turn-based strategy game by Retro64. What begins as a simple quest for a bottle turns into a fight for the kingdom. You have what it takes to defeat the Dark Master, right?

You start with three heroes for hire and just enough money to recruit them all. Once you've selected your team you'll head to the playing field, an area packed with rows of tiles. Use the arrow buttons on the bottom of the screen to move the entire group in that direction. You can also order them to stand in place, or drag and drop each character to change their formation. Step forward and you'll run into a wide variety of enemies, each with unique abilities that will slow you down and, well, try to kill you. Solution: kill them first!

Luckily each of your characters, none of whom would be out of place in a Saturday morning cartoon series, has unique abilities as well. There are heavy armor creatures, who like to be up front to take the damage. There are long distance attackers, who deal death from afar. Each one has a different attack range and damage. Many can be upgraded with special abilities such as knocking an attacker back, or crushing walls that hinder your progress. Upgrades are essential as they also provide longer attack range, better armor, and more attack power. The key is to get the right mix of abilites that will allow you to easily dispatch the enemies in your way.

After each move, if an enemy is in range, your heroes will attack. This is followed by an enemy attack. Click an enemy before moving close to check its attack range. Note also that every time you move forward, your team regains a bit of health, even if you are playing without a healer. Despite this, occasionally a hero will fall in battle. If you think you can live without her or him, carry on. If, however they are essential to you finishing the level, you can use your accumulated cash to ressurect the fallen. Each enemy you kill drops a sack of money. Make sure you click on them all so you have enough gold to fund your next expedition!

Rune Raiders is also available as an iOS download. The iOS version features two additional heroes and five more levels, but otherwise plays the same. Both include survival mode which doesn't involve gold. Just select your team and fight until everyone is dead. The humor in the game will have you smiling all the way through, and each hero has a distinct personality which adds to the overall charm of the game. The soundtrack, while well made, gets repetitive after awhile, as do the sound effects. If they start to bother you, you can turn one or both off in the options menu. It would be nice to have some input into which monsters you attack when multiple ones are in range, but the game usually does a good job of judging what should be hit. With three difficulty levels, Rune Raiders is a well made game, with solid strategy elements, which is sure to please.

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The Vault

DoraWhether you're rolling d20s, soloing a paragon Ancient Wyrm, or reminding Kefka just who's boss, you can't deny it; fantasy is just awesome. But it doesn't all have to be fair elven maidens, forth-with and prithee, or even involve a THACO table. After all, it may be easy to forget, but there are a lot of games out there that can let you get your fantasy fix and aren't RPGs. Shhh, we're a little scared too, but just take our hand and we'll crack open the Vault together this week for a batch of our favourite fantastical journeys.

  • How to Raise a DragonHow to Raise a Dragon - You should already know Gregory Weir and his talent for weaving unusual narratives into even more unusual gameplay, but this simple adventure game managed to plug deep into the squealing twelve year old girl who has always wanted to be a dragon that lives inside all of us. (Yes, even you, Dudely Reader.) In this story that takes you from hatchling to mighty beast, the choices you make determine everything from what type of dragon you are, to whether you're feared or reviled, and even the ultimate outcome of the inevitable confrontation. But what sets this one apart is that the choices aren't simple "do you want to eat the orphanage Y/N" decisions, but rather circumstances that come about because of the way you play and treat the world around you. It's short, but smart, and a great way of allowing the player to have a much more honest hand in their character's destiny than a karma system.
  • KnightfallKnightfall - Take a puzzle and an RPG, then smoosh them together while making kissy noises, and you'll eventually get something like this gorgeous and clever little hybrid from Megadev. You play as a knight with a mighty drill lance in a world where the devil (yes, really) has stolen your princess and you must smash your way through a series of unique match-3 levels where you flip and rotate the board to bust through enemies and other hazards to collect treasure and do battle. It isn't quite as streamlined as it could be, with the lack of an in-game tutorial being a bit of a disappointment, but if you have the patience to get the hang of it, Knightfall is a vibrant and decidedly addictive little gem that will be hard for some players to put down.
  • Barbarian Onslaught: The Secret of SteelBarbarian Onslaught: The Secret of Steel - Turns out it's entirely possible to make mass murder and cartoon levels of violence adorable. Just check out this over-the-top hack-and-slash action game and prepare to squeal in macabre delight as your enemy's head and torso go pinwheeling in entirely different directions. Control one lone barbarian hero in a bloody, sidescrolling massacre against hordes of enemies, bosses, and barrels packed with meat. While it's true that the morbid spectacle of it all is a big factor in Barbarian Onslaught's appeal, the snappy, easy-to-grasp action and breakneck pace makes it the perfect choice for a little bit of midday mayhem.
  • php Zorkphp Zork - While this incarnation of the cult classic interactive fiction title has a few dings and scratches from a somewhat unwieldy implementation, it's hard to deny that this '70s text adventure is iconic for a reason. You begin west of a house with little instruction, but a bit of poking around will soon reveal that the house is hiding some very big secrets... like treasure, danger, traps, and grues. If you've never experienced Zork before but are willing to put your thinking cap on, Zork is still well worth experiencing for a bit of challenging gaming history. Just remember not to go into the dark.

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


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Rating: 4.6/5 (133 votes)
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MeaghanMonsters' Den ChroniclesMonsters' Den Chronicles has come to save you from the grips of boredom and misfortune! Go, worthy knave, and crawl through some dungeon! The adventurous at heart will be thrilled to see Monstrum Games has released the sequel to their very popular Monsters' Den: Book of Dread, and this installment leads the dungeon crawler RPG turn-based strategy pack. If you're looking for a brief respite from your own waiting, for whatever it may be, I'd recommend taking a jaunt into this enchanting tale of heroes.

Starting a campaign requires you to choose four out of ten characters. There are five different classes and two separate specializations of that class. However you set up your party, navigation and adventuring is still a snap. Just click around on the various rooms to advance. If there is a room connected to the one you're, in it will be revealed and you'll discover some villainous group, gold, a treasure chest, or a much needed restoration shrine. But... probably monsters. It's not like the game is called "Accountant's Den" or "Bunny Rabbit Chronicles".

During battle you'll choose the placement of your four fighters, range being more proficient when in the back and melee being effective toward the front. Each player starts with three basic moves. Some are actual attacks, and others are defensive boosts to different powers. If your attack requires mana, you'll be glad to know it regenerates over time... faster depending on what you have equipped. Each character gets three different auras to choose from and the aura is available to be changed with each new turn. Pick wisely based on how many foes are on the field, what their health is, and which move you plan to use to defeat them. You can choose between four levels of difficulty and you even have the choice of choosing the penalty for losing a battle. Word to the wise, it's more convenient in the long run to lose items than it is to lose experience... especially when playing in any mode higher than beginner.

Monsters' Den ChroniclesAs you gain experience and level up, at the bottom right of your screen your characters will have small up arrows on their portraits. Click on these to bring up the three different spells you can choose from to add to their repertoire as well as adding points to talents like intellect or dexterity. At the bottom left of your screen you have character, inventory, emporium, achievement, and options buttons. Use the character button to view your players' armor and switch it out with that which you've acquired and stored in your inventory. In the emporium you can buy and sell items, though once you run out you have to spend your gold on research to restock items. This is especially necessary with potions.

Chronicles is refreshing in the fact that it's one of those sequels that doesn't conform to the idea that being exactly the same as the original is a good decision. While the game carries over many of the good qualities of the first game, it also improves itself with new features like fully viewed characters, more character options, sleeker dungeons, new spells and abilities, and even a more efficient inventory and store. If you're a good strategist and you've built your team with precision then you will have less issues defeating the enemy as you delve further into the dungeons, but it still won't be some simple task.

This game isn't a stroll in the forest where you're the monsters you encounter are little blobs to be knocked over in one hit. That's part of the greatest appeal of the game. You actually need to think and pay attention to the abilities your four champions bring to the table. Should you choose a cleric, a mage, a warrior, and a ranger? And if you do, which specializations of those should you pick to benefit your battle plans? Whether you're supposed to be doing something or you've got time to spare, you'll find yourself glued to your computer screen battling skeletal guards and trying to get proof of cultist activities. Go forth and, to put it simply, destroy!

Play Monsters' Den Chronicles


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Rating: 3.1/5 (22 votes)
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Waste

JohnBFrom long-time casual game creator Terry Paton, Waste is a simple but highly-polished puzzle game featuring every child's two favorite things: monsters and goopy green sewage! The undeniably cute release combines quick-action puzzle solving along with a little bit of old fashioned error-driven pressure, forcing you to make decisions that are not only efficient, but economical, too. It's an easy game to pick up and play, no matter what mood you're in or how long your "coffee break" happens to be!

waste.jpgWaste features a cistern at the top of the screen that contains a bit of sludge. Below is a 5x6 grid of pipes, each of which can be rotated with a simple tap. You can also drag rows and columns in any direction, adding another layer of complexity to the strategy. The goal is to line up the pipes so everything drains out the bottom of the screen. The catch is that each move you make causes the cistern to fill a bit more, forcing you to think before you start wildly flopping pipes all over the place!

Waste has a classic sort of feel to it, drawing design elements from arcade games and early browser games we fell for so many years ago. The simple dynamics play off each other brilliantly. You can't drain waste without making moves, but making moves creates sewage. The solution? Be smart, be thrifty, and make heavy use of the "bulging" pipes that hold more waste than regular pipes. By playing a steady game, you can keep the sewage at a minimum and the tiny monster at the top of the screen happy! A fantastic casual mobile game that's a perfect fit for any device.

Play Waste

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


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Stunt Bugs

BryanLadybugs and gentle-mites! Bring your larvae and hatchlings to see the spectacular Buzz and his friends become stunt rider legends in Stunt Bugs! Ride and flip across 48 high flying levels to collect star balloons and coins to hire new trick performing dreamers in this bike-riding physics adventure game. This bunch of feat performing pests have special moves to wow their fans and make grabbing extra points so much easier. It is a cutesy game with a wonderful cartoon visual style that the whole family can enjoy on most major mobile devices. Maybe these little critters' antics will keep those young, impressionable children from being dare-devils themselves. No promises, though.

Stunt BugsNo handlebar peripheral needed to control these airtime enthusiasts; just tap and hold the virtual throttle button on the device's bottom right corner to start moving. The star button in the screen's bottom left corner activates the bug's particular stunt move and is quite handy for grabbing those out-of-reach balloons and coins. As you jump and soar through the air, you can tilt the device to rotate your rider for sweet flips or direct their flight if they are floating on air currents. Your goal is to hit the big time at Bugopolis, but you need to pass each level with at least one star to hit your next action venue. Everything you run into gets the player points, but coins are only for employing new stunt bugs and the balloons are for increasing your star rating for the level. Its got the high score beating fun of Angry Birds with a child-like charm that makes reminisce of the classic cartoons of old.

Stunt Bugs takes the combo-scoring stunt games away from the norm and puts loads of thoughtful game assets that these games typically lack. The standard Hero's Journey plot structure, if a bit overused, gives Buzz and the gang a reason to achieve their dreams and they look good doing it with the delightful game art for all the riders and environment. Random House Digital made a quirky casual title that will put a smile on your face with its mild difficulty and adorable little insect friends to cruise around with.

The game has some great riding tunes for each different area that ranges from a barnyard hoedown to some city-slicker rock 'n' roll. I still wait at the main menu just to hear the buzzing theme song every time I open up the app. Can you reach the legendary status of Weevil McNeevil and become the next big star of Bugopolis? It will take a few friends and a lot of determination to figure it out.

NOTE: This game was played and reviewed on a iPod Touch 3rd Generation. Game was available in the North American market at the time of publication, but may not be available in other territories. Please see individual app market pages for purchasing info.


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Mobile Monday

JohnBPorts galore! Mobile markets are a great breeding ground for new and interesting game ideas. They're also ripe for ports and remakes, since almost everybody loves taking their favorite games with them wherever they roam.

realmyst-p.jpgrealMyst for iOS - Myst for iPhone has already happened, as well as Riven for iPhone. With iPad support for both games still in some sort of strange lymbo, CyanWorlds has released a teaser video for realMyst, the fully-3D remake of the original Myst game (read: no still screens, you can actually walk around). realMyst has been around for a while, but the mobile port should spark some renewed interest in the classic series. The release date is still listed as "spring 2012", so, you know, that could be any time now!

trainyard.gifTrainyard does Android - Fans of the phenomenal iOS logic puzzle game Trainyard by Matt Rix have had a monopoly for long enough! Just a few days ago, Trainyard was released for Android, sporting 100 levels and half as many extra-difficult bonus puzzles. The game features a draw-your-own-solution puzzle mix where you guide trains from spawn points to stations, mixing colors and switching directions as they pass. It's a brilliantly-designed game from top to bottom, sporting a hefty level of challenge and a robust community of users who are just as stumped over certain puzzles as you are!

linuxtycoon-p.gifLinux Tycoon mobile bound - Fans of Linux are everywhere, as are fans of tycoon sims. Combine the two and you get Linux Tycoon, the "premier Linux Distro Building Simulator game". If you've ever wanted to design and release your own version of Linux, maintain it, streamline it, and get the world to download it, but were too afraid to, you know, actually do it, this is the game for you. It's already out for Windows, Mac and Linux, but Android and iOS versions are also in the works, which is a pretty geeky and exciting thing to look forward to!


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Rating: 4/5 (67 votes)
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ChadBlockstachioFans of Metroidvania style games, rejoice, and put on your virtual sneakers! SubMu Entertainment's latest release, Blockstachio, incorporates quirky, blocky graphics, and a soundtrack that solidly consolidates retro bleeps and bangs over the top of the heroic theme music that will drive you towards your goal. More importantly, it also packs enough platform action to keep you happily satisfied, while running and jumping your way through each level, in your pursuit to save the world.

Use the [WASD] or [arrow] keys to maneuver around and jump on the heads of your enemies, and to avoid the obstacles and traps that you will encounter, and [spacebar] to fire once you obtain the ability. Keep your eye out for upgrades and powerups, as some will allow you to explore new areas, and others will toughen up your character, to turn you into a more finely-tuned killing machine. Expect to encounter bosses along the way that are tough, but not unbeatable, especially as you refine your strategy while you play. Finish the standard game to unlock the impossible level, or store your progress at one of the many in-game save points, and attempt the challenge level, if you are feeling particularly ambitious.

With its perky graphics and easy to conquer style of gameplay, this is pure platform fun. The world needs saving, and it is up to you and your cubic hero to do it. Are you up to the challenge?

Play Blockstachio


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Rating: 4.7/5 (209 votes)
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TrickyJelly EscapeLet me tell you. You might not be ready for this Jelly Escape, a puzzle-platformer by Taw Studio... but you'll have a lot of fun with it. The goal is as simple as moving and jumping your jelly through each level with [WASD] or [arrow] keys, collecting bonuses, and avoiding death either by flame, or, more insidiously, your rival jellies. You'll find many of the standard platforming elements herein: springboard to hurtle you through the air, triggers that will shift the gravity, lasers that will destroy blocks of the appropriate color, screen edges that will transport you to the other side, unstable blocks that will crumble once you've landed on them, portals to teleport you around the levels, and so forth. It sounds like a lot to take it, but each new concept is presented quite naturally.

Games about anthropomorphic blobs making their way through dangerous obstacle-laden settings are nothing new, but Jelly Escape is a quality interpretation, with a fluid progression of 60 levels, a comprehensive checkpoint system that allows the game to be challenging without ever feeling too tough, and a hilariously whimsical sense of humor. The Pro-Jelly propaganda posters that are displayed between levels is a great touch, as is the unexpected cameos from other flash gaming Blobs. It's not perfect: the pace your Jelly moves at feels quite sluggish, especially when hit with CPU-lag. It can be really frustrating when you can see all the moves you're supposed to make, but have to wait for your Jelly to catch up with your mind. Even if it doesn't quite break the mold, Jelly Escape is a nice slow-paced time-waster. U Jelly?

Play Jelly Escape


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Rating: 4.8/5 (24 votes)
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Dinos in Space

JohnBDinos in Space is, apart from being a very cool thing to draw in your notebook while ignoring the math lecture going on in your class, a cerebral flow-based logic puzzle game from John Saba. Using arrows, switches and teleporters, your goal is to send dinosaurs from their dispensers into the appropriately colored satellite elsewhere on the grid. Sure, it sounds simple on the surface, but get your head wrapped in this game, and when you take a break, you'll still be solving puzzles in your brain.

Dinos in SpaceEverything is laid out nicely on a grid, with mouse-based controls and keyboard shortcuts to make everything flow as smoothly as possible. Levels begin with the dinosaurs safely in their hold and you staring at your inventory of colored arrows and other items, wondering where to put things to get the dinosaurs where they need to go. Use [Z] to cycle through your inventory, the mouse to place and rotate tiles, and tap the [spacebar] when you're ready to launch.

Different dinosaurs need to go different places, and they get there by different methods. Red dinosaurs, for example, need to make it to the red satellites and are the only ones who are affected by red directional arrows. Same goes for blue, yellow and green dinos with their respective tiles and goals. Gray items will affect all dinosaurs, meaning any dinosaur can trigger a gray switch or be guided by a gray arrow. In addition to sorting the dinosaurs into their respective satellites, many stages contain delicious snax that can be collected for the dinos when they get the munchies.

Dinos in SpaceAnalysis: Dinos in Space shares some similarities with a few other games, including the mega-challenging mobile puzzle game Trainyard and the underappreciated downloadable indie game Pragmatica. It has a distinctly more casual slant, though, presenting a streamlined interface and fewer inventory elements to worry about. Don't mistake "casual" for "easy", though. Some of the later levels are larger and wickedly complex, so if you're worried the difficulty has been scaled down, well... don't!

Here's a great bonus: a puzzle editor! Dinos in Space ships with a full-featured editor you can use to make levels just as complicated (or more so) than in the game. It doesn't take too long to get the basics down, and with a little planning you can pull of some great tricks. There's even support for playing user-made levels, which adds a nice bit of replayability to the 40+ level strong main game.

The interface in Dinos in Space is retro, to put it succinctly, and it almost feels like a classic C64 or DOS game from a few decades ago. It isn't clunky or awkward at any moment, though, so don't let the simple looks scare you. Even if you're frightened of keyboard shortcuts, everything in the game can be accomplished with the mouse.

A surprise puzzle game with a budget price, casual-friendly learning curve, internet-approved sense of humor, a beefy demo, and smartly-built levels. It's pretty much everything you could want from a logic puzzle game, including dinosaurs and snax!

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


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Rating: 4.2/5 (59 votes)
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BryanMonsterland: Junior vs. SeniorDealing with a hyper youngster all the time can really take the wind out of a parent's metaphorical sails, but when your kid wants to play, they REALLY want to play. Monsterland: Junior vs. Senior by Alma Games has you helping Monster Junior to reach his father's exhausted back and stir him from slumber. Sadly, there are mean monster blocks in the way, and the only means to get rid of them is by left-clicking on them. Junior will fall, roll, and slide in this tumble drop physics game so he can get the attention he wants and you have a fun time that you were craving.

The game captures the feel of child-like wonderment with its bubbly soundtrack and colorful monsters that never cease to ... *gulp*... stare right into your soul. Monsterland learned a few life lessons from its brother-from-another-mother, Red Remover, to bring physics puzzle gamers a quick, fun experience without adding anything really new to the tumble drop genre. You may find it familiar, but playtime with Junior and his papa will last 32 solid levels of moderate difficulty that any casual player can waste a half an hour on. After all his son's shenanigans, Monster Senior could use some relaxation away from Junior.

Play Monsterland: Junior vs. Senior


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Rating: 3.7/5 (67 votes)
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JeremyBilly the PilotWhy does negligent parenting get such a bad rap? If it wasn't for bum parents, we'd never have this lovely launch game, Billy The Pilot, from Erik Sombroek, about a little boy who just wants to fly, and who has a mom and dad that don't seem to notice he's building a launchpad in the backyard, right in the path of the family flower bed.

To control little latch-key Billy, just use your mouse to adjust his launch ramp and release to send him flying. [WASD] and arrow keys guide his flight, while the [spacebar] initiates booster rockets once you've bought them. The backgrounds and animations are impossibly cute and the upgrades a lot of fun, especially the ability to build a pet dragon! But the gameplay is repetitive and the in-flight controls are clunky. It also isn't very hard. Really, Billy the Pilot is just an excuse to explore a beautifully drawn and colorful Never Never Land where kids are kings and parents nowhere to be found... as it should be.

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LexcavatorJohnBLexcavator is a wonderfully chirpy word-based puzzle game by Adam Parrish that combines elements of Dig Dug with spelling games like Bookworm. Your goal is to bash away letter tiles by spelling out words, clearing the way so the protagonist can hop further down the level. It requires a lot of careful thinking to prevent capturing yourself in a corner, so enter only if your vocabulary and tactical skills are up for a challenge!

You control a cute little @ as the main character in Lexcavator, moving with the [arrow] or [AD] keys and jumping with [W] or [up]. Use the mouse to click on letter tiles and spell words. The minimum length is three letters, but naturally your goal will be to snake your word chain around as wildly as you can. When you make a valid word, those tiles disappear, clearing space for @ to move around. Green tiles drop power-ups when cleared, adding a nice bit of oomph to the game with abilities like blast, erode, and alchemize. Be careful, though, as power-ups can leave you stranded if you don't use them carefully (just like everything else in the game!).

There's a careful sort of strategy involved with this curious hybrid game. On the one hand, you want to spell impressive words so you feel like a smarty pants. On the other, digging down is just as important as the words themselves, so you have to keep in mind the blocks that will be cleared with each word and where @ can move after each match. It's an unusual balance you have to strike between wild word creation and platform gaming, but it's one that works wonders once it finally clicks.

Lexcavator features a short tutorial to introduce the game's basics, as well as three modes of play that include time trials, arcade, and the timer-free quest mode which offers a series of challenging tasks you must complete in order to progress. There's something for just about every type of gamer, and its premise is just unusual enough that even casual fans of puzzle or word games should give it a shot!

(Note: Lexcavator is available as a pay what you want game, which includes paying nothing. If you really enjoy it, no one will be sad if you help the developer out by chipping in a coin or two!)

WindowsWindows:
Download the free full version

Mac OS XMac OS X:
Download the free full version

LinuxLinux:
Download the free full version


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Climb to the Top of the CastleJohnBEver wanted to do something, found out how unbelievably overwhelming the task would be, then decided it'd be a better idea to stay home and have a sandwich? Our hapless knightly protagonist in Climb to the Top of the Castle knows that feeling all too well, only in his case, sandwiches probably haven't been invented yet, and he's got a king breathing down his neck pretty much forcing him to haul his armored rear to the top of the castle and save the princess. Did we say "castle"? Because really, it's pretty much a mountain!

A few simple controls are all you'll need in Climb to the Top of the Castle. Jump with [X] and slash your sword with [Z]. You can switch weapons with the [C] key once you get something other than your blade. You can jump from, grab on to, or walk on most of the surfaces in this vertically-oriented game, allowing you to hop up platforms, hang from ledges, grab onto corners, and just generally feel like your own modern-day Prince of Persia.

Climb to the Top of the Castle draws a lot of inspiration from classic platform adventures, but it's got a distinctly active and humorous style to it. You never really stop moving, as between sliding down chutes and dealing with mechanical spiders and rhinos you've got your work cut out for you. But the levels are tightly woven to create a clear path from one end to the other, and you'll usually have to deal with lots of enemies as well as a few levers, switches, and other creative modes of transportation in-between.

Climb to the Top of the CastleNow for the even funner bits: mini-games, hidden items, and challenges! Climb to the Top of the Castle has a strong arcade slant, stocking you with ten lives and giving you opportunities to earn more by completing level specific challenges, such as beating the stage without dying. When you do kick the bucket, you start again where you left off, so beyond the extreme retry limitation, it's actually a fairly forgiving game. You'll also want to pick up the junk you see while exploring the castle, as there's a market you can spend it in that has some nice unlockables. There's even a few booths that let you spend your "cash", like the 1UP machine or the in-game platformer mini-game.

And yes, there's that lovely hand-sketched visual style. It looks fantastic in still screenshots, and unsurprisingly it looks just as good in motion. The graphics in Climb to the Top of the Castle help push this charming platform game over the top, making it a sure-fire hit with anyone who wants to save a princess, investigate an unusual mechanical castle, and swipe a sword to destroy everything you see along the way!

(Note: Currently Climb to the Top of the Castle is available for free via Indievania. To download it, you will need to click the "buy" button, select the free option or choose a donation amount, then receive the download link via e-mail.)

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Download the free full version

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


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BryanChain ChampYeah, the conservation of endangered animals is a worthy cause, but some interstellar vagrant is going the extra mile, or parsec in this case, to bring this crusade to a deteriorating avian planet as the Chain Champ. Since he can't run with his legs and these birds cannot fly with their wings, he feels a deep kinship with them and wants them saved. Due to his physical impairment, the heroic gentleman must grapple his way through various tunnels and caves to recover these vulnerable birds in true action adventure fashion.

With only a grappling hook arm at his disposal, aim shots with the mouse, fire by left-clicking, and left-click again to release Champ from the chain and jump. If your mouse control skills aren't too strong, you can switch the control scheme to use the [arrow] keys for aiming and the [Z] button for firing/releasing. The angle at which your mighty hook shot arm attaches to a surface determines how much Champ will swing and his momentum once you unshackle the chain. The farther the chain travels to hit a surface, the longer it will be for you to hang from and the more movement speed you will get. It takes a certain amount of finesse and timing to successfully maneuver this hapless hero across lakes of lava, grab a precarious zip-line block, and land safely so you can reclaim the fearful birdies. This green Samaritan won't stop until your grappling prowess is top notch or you, well, want to take a break from the plight of the flightless.

The dynamic duo of Todd Luke and Shelby Smith cranked out a top notch indie grapple adventure that mixes a noble theme with a retro pixelart art style you can't help but love. The eighteen small, pixel levels may seem a little lacking for most adventure platformers, but the slowly increasing difficulty will have you re-materializing because you couldn't stick that epic swing past the falling lava. Champ never really learned that you can fire your grapple in midair, but it adds another level of complexity some players will probably have mixed feelings over. The game makes sure to combine all the obstacles thoroughly as you progress so the gameplay never gets stale and fizzles out your immersion into the game. If you don't want to see these birds scorched like a rotisserie chicken, oil up that hook chain arm for some swinging casual excitement.

WindowsWindows:
Download thefree full version

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


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Rating: 4.1/5 (39 votes)
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DoraCave Chaos 2Pop culture has taught us that caves are horrible places, literally packed to the brim with horrifying monsters, bat poop, and certain other hazards. Nitrome's first spelunking session was no walk in the park, and now things are getting even trickier with Cave Chaos 2, a platforming challenge where the hazards are bigger and the monsters are grosser.

Use the [WASD] or [arrow] keys to guide your furry little miner through a series of increasingly elaborate caverns chock full of explosives, beasts, minecarts, and crumbling platforms. As you move, new platforms will fly up for you, carried by helpful bats. Certain levels will tempt you with golden power-ups, like the double-jump, or a butt-bash that will allow you to crush enemies beneath your mighty hindquarters, or even the ability to "glide"... which should here be translated as "flail frantically around in the air with your feet like a Yoshi". Move with caution, but not with slowness, since the terrain will gradually crumble away to nothingness behind you. Most levels have at least one checkpoint you can activate, however, so even if your nice, shiny rocket-propelled minecart takes you on a nosedive into a cliff, you won't have to start the whole level over.

Cave Chaos 2 definitely lives up to its name, with frantic, chaotic levels that are packed full of action and surprises. There is a lot going on here, and all of it rendered absolutely beautifully. The downside is that there are times when the game expects you to take leaps of faith, and there are also times when it doesn't always seem like platforms trigger when they should which can lead to a few frustrating reloads. As a result, the game might require a bit too much trial-and-error for some players, but those of you with nerves of steel and twitchy fingers will prevail as long as you balance cautiousness with expediency. If you played the original, you'll definitely appreciate all the new hazards and elements here, from the addition of checkpoints to the new monsters and other environmental obstacles that overall makes it feel a lot more varied, but perhaps a lot slower, than its predecessor. So the only question remains... are you miner enough?!

Play Cave Chaos 2


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Rating: 4.2/5 (33 votes)
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BryanBryanYou remember the little piggy who went to the market? Well, that pig had to walk while the piggy in Eliot Pace's anticipated physics puzzle game Pigs Will Fly could... you get the idea. The potion-guzzling pig is back for more time distorting fun as it needs your help to realize its dream of flying once again. It may need a liquid stimulant to get this slothful swine off the ground, but the challenges it faces to get the potion are more formidable than it has faced before.

For those familiar and unfamiliar with this high-flying ham, each level you need to get the pig to somehow reach the rainbow potion and it can get its wings (no, not with Redbull). You are given certain colored potions each level that, when left-clicked on, allow you to manipulate any object of the same color. It records any actions and movements made with that color and lets you enact different opreations with the next color potion you choose. The actions of each color will remain intact and animate as long as you do not select a color you have already used. The timing and synchronization of each color's actions is where the player's difficulties lie and is what really brings home the bacon in solving these puzzles.

Since April when Pigs Can Fly was reviewed here, Pace took what made it such an excellent casual hit and tweaked the problem areas some people might have found bothersome. The user interface loses its messy row of buttons and upgrades to a more pleasing pop-out menu, while the in-game art gets revamped with sharper sprites. The game screen is larger this time around so there is more room for large scale and complex puzzles that require precise commands. Although there are five less levels in this iteration, the improvement in challenge more than makes up for that, and the mobile (iOS) version has ten more levels than its browser counterpart. What isn't there to like about ten extra levels and the FREE price tag? The game claims that pigs WILL fly and it delivers, so get to work! The pig won't move itself you know!

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Rating: 4.4/5 (80 votes)
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JeremyBoss SlayerIn Sergio Alonso's shiny new
bulletheck shooter, Boss Slayer, Ten alien starships have entered the solar system and you have 12 days to destroy these bad boys before they make their final approach to Earth. Why would Earth trust their entire defense to one measly little ship, you ask? Well, stow it, soldier! The Homeworld's in danger and there's no time for logic!

You can control your ship with the mouse or the keyboard, using the [arrow] and [WASD] keys. Each boss you destroy will drop a ton of health and money which you can use for
upgrades after you've died. This is the real strength of the game; each upgrade is perfectly balanced, just the right cost, just the right effect. Each upgrade has a clear, immediate effect and it can be a lot of fun to watch your weak little ship transform so quickly into a beefy alien antagonizer. Of course, if you die, you'll keep the upgrades but will have to start all over on the bosses... you need to defeat them all in one go to save the world.

Boss Slayer isn't an innovative game, but it understands the genre perfectly and serves up a smooth, streamlined experience. There's not an ounce of fat on it, which is more than you're going to be able to say about yourself after the day you've spent playing this addictive little game. Just remember to hydrate, okay?

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Rating: 4.6/5 (99 votes)
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DoraIncrediboxIf you need a way to mellow out, what better way to de-stress than to be serenaded by So Far So Good's digital human beatbox? The musical webtoy Incredibox lets you drag and drop vocals, beats, and more onto a group of cartoon performers to arrange your own oh-so-funky compositions. It's simple, fun, and a stylish way for talentless schlubs like yours truly to live vicariously through more musically inclined individuals.

Originally created in 2009, So Far So Good's catchy little device has achieved web-wide recognition for its innovation, and also for being generally just cool as all get-out. There's not a tremendous amount of complexity to it, but Incredibox's style, vibe, and remarkable creativity make for a great way to kick back and relax with some hands-on musical ingenuity.

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Rating: 4.4/5 (40 votes)
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DoraKumihoCreated for the recent "Tiny World" themed Ludum Dare competition, Kumiho by Fedor Jutte and Christina Antoinette Neofotistou is an absolutely gorgeous little bullet hell shooter with an... unusual concept. According to the developers, a Goddess has transformed the world into a speck of dirt and all creatures into vicious machine entities and only your ship, originally a nine-tailed fox, is capable of stopping her. Use the [arrow] keys to steer, hold down [Z] to fire, and press and hold [X] to teleport a short distance in whatever direction you're hitting with the [arrow] keys. You'll want to use this Nightcrawler-esque BAMF! ability quite a bit, since enemies will use themselves and entire walls of projectiles to block you, and a single hit will kick you back to the last checkpoint you passed.

Kumiho is simple, but hard. The one-hit K-Os can wind up intensely frustrating later in the game as checkpoints come farther apart and some of the attack patterns require split-second mastery of your warping power to dodge. Fortunately, Kumiho is also exceedingly lovely, and has a rich, unique watercolour style that makes you wish the story and setting had been better expanded upon in the actual game so we could see more of it. If you're up to the challenge, it's a beautiful and fast-paced little shooter that we'd love to see developed further in the future.

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Link Dump Fridays

DoraWhoever said there are no new ideas clearly never crossed paths with an indie game developer. They're a crazy, rowdy, creative bunch, and they're delivering a whole bunch of amazing projects from towering robot centerfolds, to twenty second explosion defusing, and even time-travelling adorable (yet bloodthirsty) monsters. In addition, we've also got another giveaway for one of our favourite indie titles to help you stave off productivity a while longer, and even more great ones in the coming weeks. Why, it's almost as if we like you or something!

MacGuffin's CurseMacGuffin's Giveaway Brawsome's stellar off-kilter comedic sokoban-style puzzle adventure MacGuffin's Curse about a would-be thief stuck with a cursed transformation is definitely unique and definitely awesome. So we want you to get a chance to play it, too! We're giving away five digital copies of this great indie title for PC and Mac, and all you have to do for a chance to win one is to leave a comment on this entry telling us what you would use your werewolf powers for if you had Lucas's cursed Lupine Twine Amulet. Winners will be chosen at random and receive an e-mail alerting them when they are selected. Contest rules: Entries must be submitted by May 24th, 11:59 p.m. EST (GMT-5). Winners will be announced shortly thereafter. One entry per person only. You must be at least 13 years of age or older to enter. No purchase necessary. Void where prohibited.

The Adventures of ShuggyI Love it Already Smudged Cat Games's platformer The Adventures of Shuggy is finally making the trip from XBLA to your PC on June 13th, and we couldn't be happier. Shuggy is the hero, an adorable vampire who discovers his newly inherited mansion is packed full of all manner of evil spirits he needs to defeat. With bosses, comic-book style cutscenes, over 100 levels, and optional co-op stages, it looks like a fantastic treat for fans of old school platformers. The Adventures of Shuggy will set you back a modest $8.00 USD if you buy it during its release sale on Steam, and $10.00 USD thereafter. Hit up the official site to learn more and check out the official trailer! Spike McFang is old news... Shuggy is now the adorable cartoon vampire of my heart.

DreadlineMore Like AWESOME Canal... Wait, is That Weird? Eerie Canal, will you be my Special Somepony? The developers have just released the first teaser trailer and information for their upcoming twisted RPG/real-time-strategy game Dreadline, and it's crazy, creepy, and even weirdly cute. I might be a little smitten. You control a group of blood-thirsty monsters who can travel through time to historic calamities and run amok with your freakishly adorable horde slaughtering those already doomed to die. If it sounds morbid, well... that's because it is, and it won't be everyone's cup of tea, but the oddly delightful art style and off-the-wall concept is sure to win a few admirers. Dreadline is scheduled to hit in the first half of 2013. Hit up the developer's site for more previews and a link to the mayhem-strewn teaser trailer.

McPixel20 Second Hero What can you accomplish in twenty seconds? Sos Sosowski's upcoming indie point-and-click puzzler is going to push your limits if you don't want to explode. McPixel, available this June for Mac, Windows, Linux, iOS and more, features over 100 levels where the titular hero has just twenty scant seconds to figure out how to keep things from blowing up using just the tools available. It'll also have free DLC, a level creator, and more! The official website has all the information you need, including a free browser demo of six bizarre levels to try to conquer. It's strange and more than a little twisted, but if you can think out of the box and under pressure, it might just be for you.

Drunken Robot PornographyJetpack, Meet Wish Fulfillment Officially winning for "best jetpack game title ever", Dejobaan Games's newest venture, Drunken Robot Pornography, is set to hit later this year for PC and Mac. The concept? You have a jet-pack, and you're trying to strike down multi-story robots called "Titans" while a crowd cheers you on. You can even build your own "robot pin-ups" to unleash on other players, from the finish right down to the fuel and the actuators that make the joints move. If that sounds good to you (of course it does), then head on over to the official site to browse the information, screenshots, and get ready for some chaotic but undeniably fascinating robot/laser/jetpack action.

Farm FortressWho Says Gardening Ain't Hardcore? Combining a multiplayer shooter with otherworldly farming and defense, the currently ALPHA version Farm Fortress by Pontus Lundvall and David Hagström might be weird, awesome, or just awesomely weird. Plant and harvest to earn cash and build defenses around your humble plot of dirt to keep out mutants or even other players... who you can help or sabotage. It's free to play, with the option to buy extra lives over the three you start with, although you will respawn automatically after 12 hours, and is something you should definitely check out if you're looking for a slightly more action-packed version of Farmville.

Tex Murphy Project FedoraThe Case of the Post-Apocalyptic Kickstarter Love Tex Murphy? Well don't count everyone's favourite hard-boiled post-apocalyptic P.I. out just yet. Big Finish Games knows he's still got a few cases to solve, and they've just launched a Kickstarter for the first Tex Murphy title in fourteen years, currently named Project Fedora. They're looking to get a whopping $450,000.00 USD to fund their project, and for just $15.00 USD you can help them along and get a downloadable copy of the adventure game when it's complete, estimated late this December. This is big news for fans of the last game, Overseer, which notoriously ended with a big fact cliffhanger, since Project Fedora promises to pick up right where that left off. For more information, head on over to the Kickstarter page and do some sleuthing of your own.

A Debate On Free To PlayBetween Two FernsIMEAN Gamers So what's your thought on the increasingly popular free-to-play gaming model? Once the domain of Facebook apps and iOS titles, it's begun creeping more and more into mainstream gaming as a whole. Gamesbrief's Nicholas Lovell and Positech Games's Cliff Harris have been talking about free-to-play and how they feel it helps or harms the industry, and the results may surprise you. A Debate on Free-to-Play is an interesting read as both Nicholas and Cliff have vastly differing opinions on the concept and are both considering a lot of different factors. As Nicholas points out, gaming is STILL a business, and "if it is hard or impossible to make a living from making games, fewer talented people will make fewer great games." Cliff argues "that the game is no longer a shared experience or level playing field. I can now be shot by someone with a gun I didn't buy, or outrun by a car with engines I haven't bought". As microtransactions start popping up everywhere, it's great to see two people with two different positions talk about this, and something you as the player and part of that equation should be thinking about too.

Do you know an upcoming indie project or some community gaming related news you think deserves some attention? Send me an e-mail with LINK DUMP FRIDAY in the subject line at dora AT casualgameplay DOT com with the info, and we'll judge it with the all-seeing glare of our own self-importance for inclusion in a future Link Dump Friday article!


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Rating: 4.6/5 (49 votes)
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Nightmares from the Deep: The Cursed Heart

elleThere was a day when the mention of pirates didn't immediately connote Johnny Depp in dreadlocks and eyeliner; it actually brought goose bumps along the spine and many a salty utterance amongst lawful sailors. Then, the pirates of the Caribbean were to be feared and hated, not queued up for in hours-long lines at a theme park near you. The tales of murder and mayhem along the high seas always titillated and intrigued, nevertheless, which is just what you can expect from Artifex Mundi's spectacular thriller, Nightmares from the Deep: The Cursed Heart.

elle_nftd_thecursedheart_image3.jpgYou begin this adventure hybrid game as the director of a well-appointed nautical museum buzzing with excitement over its newest exhibit: the mummified remains of the notorious 18th century blackguard, Captain Remington. In a twist of the supernatural, you soon find yourself aboard his ship, bargaining with skeletons for a map and listening, enthralled, to an undead dwarf's recounts of an unlikely romance.

Navigate by following your cursor—it will change to indicate new paths and interactive areas. Nightmares from the Deep: The Cursed Heart does a top notch job of explaining all this when you first begin; an optional tutorial is offered to those new to the genre while those who want absolutely no "hand holding" can select expert mode which stiffly penalizes mis-clicks while eschewing the glimmering active areas and a quick-filling hint/skip timer of regular mode. In both modes, a number of convenient implements make playing frictionless, so you can focus all your attention on plot and puzzle rather than mechanical issues. These include a journal to record clues and story development, a bottom loading inventory keeping tools near-at-hand, and a smart map that helps you stay oriented. In regular mode, the map will also display where to find interactive areas.

elle_nftd_thecursedheart_image1.jpgGameplay is a bountiful blend of exploration, mini-games, and a choice between hidden object searches or mahjong solitaire. Aye, a perfectly piratical game of mahjong! When entering a hidden object search scene, choose mahjong instead if that's what suits your tastes. Then, you won't be searching for twelve objects to earn the coveted prize, you'll be matching pairs of symbols until all tiles are gone. What this means is you can finish the entire game and never once bother with traditional hidden object scenes. Well, a few miniature search scenes pop up; in these you must find a few parts to assemble a whole item. Yet you won't be bombarded by extraneous hidden object searches, mahjong or minigames. The focus is on adventuring and unwrapping layers of stories, both of Captain Remington's life and love as well as your quest to rescue your daughter.

Analysis: Artifex Mundi, known for hidden object adventures brimming with atmosphere and in depth story development, such as Enigmatis: The Ghosts of Maple Creek, has reeled in a treasure trove of all things good in Nightmares from the Deep: The Cursed Heart. Every scene exudes high-quality production values along with the talented art and craft of storytelling. Many of the visuals are so distinctly rendered and layered in dimension, it looks as if you could reach a hand out and actually feel the smooth wood paneling or squishiness of a sea sponge. The plot is a mixed bag, though. The cursed pirates scenario is nothing new and holds no real surprises and, although the narration tries to steer you in that direction, it's hard to sympathize with Remington's plight; he's no innocent victim here! Nonetheless, the way it's done will keep you just as enthralled as if you've never seen a pirate in your life.

elle_nftd_thecursedheart_image4.pngBesides a fantastic presentation, Nightmares from the Deep: The Cursed Heart comes as close as possible to the best of all worlds, something to satisfy everyone. As shown by the inclusion of a match-3 option in their Time Mysteries: The Ancient Spectres, Artifex Mundi understands not all players are enamored by the great search. Similarly, the choice between mahjong or completing a list of hidden items in Nightmares from the Deep: The Cursed Heart is beatific news to those who have tired of conventional hidden object adventure games. Search scenes are standard fare but they are improved by gorgeous graphics, orderly composition and the addition of fragmented items. You'll run into the typical array of minigames yet they're redeemed by how well the puzzles merge with the story and theme, so you are never pulled out of the moment, which is good because the excitement and urgency continually build depth into the experience. With so much going on, this results in a longer than average length of play.

It is truly an experience to play Nightmares from the Deep: The Cursed Heart. It's likely you'll be so impressed by the ambitious production values that nothing seems ordinary, not even the oft-used story. It's one of those games that's better seen than read about. Take a dip into the demo and you'll know what I mean; it's less a nightmare and more an adventurer's dream.

A Collector's Edition is also available. It contains bonus content not found in the standard edition: an extra chapter, mini-game access, wallpapers, strategy guide, and more. Remember that Big Fish Game Club Members pay only $13.99 for Collector's Editions (or 2 club credits), and collector's editions count 3 card punches of 6 total needed for a free game.

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

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


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Rating: 4.4/5 (291 votes)
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DoraTeddy's Excellent AdventureI'll be honest. I don't know much about kids, and I tend to assume that if you just leave them a can of some meat paste, something to poop in, and a cardboard box to mess around in they'll be fine. (Or is that cats?... eh!) But it doesn't take a parental dynamo to recognise that Jimp and Gary Smith's utterly adorable kid-oriented game Teddy's Excellent Adventure is something children would presumably enjoy. Part platform, part puzzle, and even a little point-and-click adventure-sy, it tells the story of a teddy bear trying to find his way back home to the little girl who lost him. Use the [WASD] or [arrow] keys to move and jump, and the mouse to click and interact with certain objects. If Teddy falls off a platform, he'll have to start over at the last screen he entered, but you'll also have to solve little puzzles in different areas by figuring out what to click and in what order.

It goes without saying that this is, by and large, a fairly easy game. A few of the later areas require a smidgen of platforming skills, but by and large this is simply a quick, colourful game meant to engage the young or young at heart. A few of the areas have some scenes and action that might be a little intense for really little'uns, and bigguns might be mildly annoyed at the way you have to keep moving with moving platforms or they'll slip right out beneath you. But with its sweet story, gorgeous cartoon and fabric style, and accessible gameplay, Teddy's Excellent Adventure is a warm and cuddly little treat that is just the right size for itty-bitty gamers to grasp, and for bigger ones to relax with while it lasts.

Play Teddy's Excellent Adventure


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Rating: 4.7/5 (398 votes)
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JeremyPaladogIn FazeCat's everything-but-the-kitchen sink strategic defense game, Paladog, Critterland has been invaded by zombies, witches, skeletons, and just about every evil little thing you can imagine, including television sets! It's up to you to fight them off, but are you dog enough to take them on? Move Paladog back and forth with the [WASD] and [arrow] keys, use your number keys to choose and build different units, and [J], [K], and [L] to use special attacks. Units cost food and special attacks cost mana, both of which are generated automatically, while money for upgrades comes from killing bad guys.

While you've probably seen most of the gameplay concepts before, the game does feature a ton of content, from nine different units to a whopping 120 levels, including special mini-games. Also, the artwork is great and the enemies so cute you almost don't want to bash their brains in with your mace...almost. It's such a hybrid, juggling so many elements that it takes on a little more than it can chew. Though many of the elements it tries on aren't as fleshed out as they could be, Paladog's sense of style and ambition helps keep it fresh in a way that other defense games might wind up as one-note. You'll find that the upgrades can be pretty expensive, but this is one puppy that spoils you for choice with tons of weapons and magic rings to liven things up. Paladog isn't quite perfect, but is a big, cuddly, newspaper-fetching machine, that brings back the Sunday paper... and slobbers all over the funnies. And you love it anyway.

Play Paladog


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Rating: 3.9/5 (41 votes)
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JeremyPutt More BaseHey, did you know that mini-golf games are, like, a thing? Yeah, me neither. But if there is one title that will warm you to this slice of gaming life, it's Putt More Base, a relaxing new addition to the genre by Jayc Santos.

Simply click the golf ball, then hold and glide your cursor up and down to adjust the force of your swing. There are direction arrows to let you know where your ball is headed and lots of creative bumpers and boosters that you can place most anywhere on the screen to achieve the perfect score. But you'll have to avoid some traps, of course, like sand and water, but also...mines! If you get into trouble, the reset button is never far away. The game will even remember where you placed your bumpers and leave them there for you to keep or change.

Putt More Base is much more streamlined and casual than its predecessor, making it a mellow rather than frustrating experience. It has its share of challenges, too, but isn't a hard game. If that sounds like your kind of thing, then, by all means, take a swing.

Play Putt More Base


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Rating: 4.3/5 (74 votes)
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TrickyRecursionEver since Pac-Man first escaped off the right side of the screen to magically appear on the left, players have had a certain thing for games that skew traditional notions of spatiality. The Village Blacksmith offers another wonderful take on this kind of teleportation in Recursion, a cool little retro puzzle platformer. Having crash landed on an alien planet, you must make it to the flag in a series of single-screen levels. However, you had better be ready to start thinking with portals, as falling from bottom will drop you from the top, heading to the left will transport you to the right, and so forth. Throw in the enemies, the collectible stars, the flag activators, the bubbles and balloons to bounce off of, and some good old fashioned gravity manipulation, and you're in for some crazy fun.

Recursion's mechanics have the clever feel of a stripped down Continuity, and, for the most part, it never feels too simple or too overwhelming. New aspects of gameplay are introduced a little haphazardly, but they feel natural fits, and the game has a good challenge curve right up to the end. The overlay on the pixelated graphics does cause a strange sense of flatness, and yes, expect a little over-precision in the jumps you'll need to make. Still, Recursion is a fun time waster that, despite its name, never gets repetitive.

Play Recursion


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Weekday Escape

SonicLoverChikarou. Chikarou. Chikarou. Heh, the name of Chikarou 5 is fun to pronounce. Chikarou chikarou. Chika-chika-chika-rou-rou-rou. Rou-chika-chika-rou. Oh yeah, I'm supposed to tell you about the game, aren't I?

Chikarou 5What Chikarou 5 is is a bite-sized escape puzzler from Dghgbakufu (a name that's a bit less fun to say), whom you may remember for Chikarou 3. The game drops you in the middle of a cross-shaped five-room dungeon and dares you to solve its puzzles and escape to the surface. Chikarou. (Chikarou is apparently Japanese for dungeon, by the way.)

Bakufu shies away from the complicated clichés like using screwdrivers to pry open panels and finding power cords to plug in computers. All the keys and doors are symbol-coded, and there's no pixel-hunting, either; what little challenge this developer's games contain—chikarou chikarou chikarou—lies in deciphering the simple yet clever little clues to open the safes, which is fine for someone wanting a quick and easy escape but not so much for a challenge-seeker.

Are you ready to escape from the dungeon? Go ahead; I'll stay here and keep saying "chikarou"...

Play Chikarou 5


  • Currently 3.5/5
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Rating: 3.5/5 (36 votes)
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ChadForget-Me-NotIn the mood for some good, old-fashioned, retro arcade fun without the need of a roll of quarters? Brandon Williamson's Forget-Me-Not, which was originally a popular mobile game, is now ported over to your browser! It takes the classic concept of Pac-Man, and adds a shooter to it.

Your little hero needs to find the exit on each increasingly difficult level, and in order to do that, you use the [WASD] or the [arrow] keys to navigate yourself towards the key, which will drag behind you when you get it. Collect all of the flowers, while enemies spawn randomly around each maze. If you can get enough shots into an enemy and kill them, then they will convert themselves into a cluster of food that you can chomp up for extra points. Additionally, you should be aware that your own bullets can hurt you, so be careful when using the lateral and vertical tunnels that take you from one side of the screen to the opposite, and try not to shoot yourself in the back. You've only got a finite amount of lives on hand, after which point you'll have to start all over, so caution is advised.

Strategically, you will want to attempt to collect as many flowers as possible in an unbroken string, in order to maximize your score. You can also "grind" against the wall in order to charge you up, increase the speed of your firing rate, and speed up your hero. Use the appropriate [arrow] key which is opposite one of the walls you are cruising down. In other words, if the wall is on your right, hold down the [left] arrow key. When you start to flash silver, you are fully charged, and you can then run right through your enemies and crush them. Be careful not to over charge yourself when your icon flashes red, because your hero will explode! There's also a huge ghost which will randomly appear on the screen. Avoid it, because it can instantly kill you, and put you in a tiny pixellated grave.

If you've ever thought to yourself that a game like Pac-Man could be conceptually improved with bullets, then this is your lucky day! Quickly addictive, and perfectly frustrating, Forget-Me-Not is old-school fun at its finest.

Play Forget-Me-Not


  • Currently 3.6/5
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Rating: 3.6/5 (51 votes)
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ElleFancy WizardHey, wizard man, that's a pretty fancy wand you got going on there. So, it makes dummies, eh? Well, let's see what you can do with it, Fancy Wizard, in this eighteen-level puzzle platform game by Aizat Haibulin.

Show your stuff by magicking up dummies to do your bidding and use [WASD] or [arrow] keys to move them around. Stepping on buttons and lowering gates is just one of their useful purposes. A few clobber-happy golems and cantankerous warlocks pop up on occasion, so it won't be too easy, yet reaching the exit door is never a strenuous feat. Fans of the genre will enjoy elements similar to The Company of Myself and Pursuit of Hat, even if Fancy Wizard never quite conjures up the same innovative intricacy. That's hardly a drawback during your mellower spells, when a mild challenge and a charming design will suit your fancy just fine.

Play Fancy Wizard


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The Vault

DoraJust one more turn. Just one more level. Just one more card battle. Just thirty more random encounters. We've all been there. We've all found that game that scratches our particular itch so we can't put it down, even when we have other things we really should be doing. Here are a few games we've found hard to walk away from over the years... I mean, except for me. I don't do game addiction. *elitist, condescending nerd snort* And now if you'll excuse me, I have to go wade through the tall grass another thirty or a hundred times until I get a shiny Meowth.

  • Robot Unicorn AttackRobot Unicorn Attack - We probably don't need to tell you that Adult Swim can be a little weird, but check out this glorious jump-and-run arcade game and you'll see they're more than a little wonderful. Combining a ridiculous premise with fast, snappy gameplay and the musical stylings of Erasure, it's as silly as it is sensational. You control a unicorn, that is a robot, racing across a fantasy landscape, and tap keys to jump and dash through obstacles for as long as you can. If you keep it up long enough, you get magical robot dolphins for accompaniment. It's since spawned several successful themed spin-offs, but you know what they say; you never forget your first.
  • PhitPhit - Phit! I do so love it when a game is as fun to say as it is to play, and Jeff Wofford's massive tangram/sliding block puzzle is definitely fun. All you have to do is find a way to slip and fit all the Tetris-style blocks at the top of the screen into the yellow space at the bottom... preferably in as few moves as possible. It sounds easy, and its fast moving, vibrant presentation is exactly the sort of devilish formula that draws in cocky can-do'ers and keeps them up late into the night. Phit is a perfect example of a simple concept taken and polished to a beautiful shine. And given a catchy name. Phit. Phit. Phitphitphitphit...
  • BowMaster PreludeBowMaster Prelude - LostVectors knows that deep inside each and every one of us is a glorious Legolas yearning to break free, and few games plugged into that urge as neatly as this action-packed defense game. You are an archer, tasked with defending a castle, and as you shoot down incoming enemies you gain gold and experience you can use to purchase upgrades to make your life a little easier. By packing in a variety of troops, enemies, and even arrow types to use, BowMaster gives you great incentive to keep playing, and while mastering the aiming will definitely take a little practice, by the time you've done so you'll be hard pressed to put the game down. So go ahead. Indulge your inner Orlando Bloom. The kingdom needs you.
  • KavalmajaKavalmaja - No discussion on addictive gaming is complete without mentioning the best secret Pokemon of them all; Tonypa. Kavalmaja is a tile-based exploration adventure that offers up puzzling maze gameplay but not a whole lot of hand-holding. You're simply dropped into an odd minimalist little world, and it's up to you to explore and figure out the rules. Figuring out why you died or how to get around an obstacle without much feedback may sound frustrating for some, but for others it represents another puzzle to crack, and it's definitely worth spending some time trying to suss out the mechanics on your own. If you die, you have to start all over, but for some players the curious mystery of this unassuming little game is going to be worth coming back to again and again to try to conquer.
  • CraziestCraziest - Finally, a bonus... an animation about a lady who really knows something about game addiction. Specifically, Scrabble. Liz Dubelman delivers a bizarre narrative about a young woman obsessed with letters and numbers, and the lengths she goes to uncover their true meaning. By turns funny and freaky, it's a superbly well-told little tale with a hypnotic delivery and beat-poet style of narration to it that makes it worth watching. Just a little something to keep in mind the next time you get a little too excited about that triple-word-score.

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!


  • Currently 4.2/5
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Rating: 4.2/5 (355 votes)
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Swordigo

elleAs you pass by, the village elder's words of encouragement still ringing in your ears, a citizen calls after you, warning against the lower road. Who knows what malefic danger lurks there? Or anywhere else for that matter? With your majestic blue hair and green jerkin, you present quite a picture to your enemies (or so you might hope), but this is Swordigo, you are the hero, and nobody can kill the hero in his own game. Er... right?

SwordigoPutting all worries aside, continue on your way in Touch Foo's nostalgia-inducing RPG platform adventure using the supremely handy and very well functioning on screen controls. As your left thumb adroitly negotiates left and right movements, employ your right to hack, slash, jump and cast spells. As you rise in level and acquire a wealth of soul shards—earned in battle or from cutting down grass (sound familiar?)—your character customization opportunities also increase. Health is monitored via red red hearts on top of the screen while a blue mana bar traces your magical abilities. If all this seems like homage to popular platformers of days gone by, it probably is!

Analysis: The road starts out mellow, yet soon dexterity and practiced maneuvers are called for. This multi-quest journey is long, more than ten hours to reach every corner of the complex map and richly varied landscapes, including a number of platforming puzzles. The deadly fail from a missed move is inevitable from time to time, but teleporting portals/checkpoints lessen the sting. Your efforts to trudge on are repaid with the delight of boss battles, treasure chests, weapon and armor upgrades, and spelunking through intricate caverns.

SwordigoResponsive controls aid well-timed jump maneuvers through serpentine cave passages and spell-triggered switches give another way to burn off magic energy, something you'll want to conserve for boss battles. Sword combat with tougher baddies and bosses is less reliable. Combos are not an option and mobility is limited during melee fights. If you're looking for an easier battle, devote time to grinding and leveling up your magic ranks to best use all four spells.

Touch Foo, creators of the equally charming Soosiz, knows how to please with elements that matter most in a mobile game. Some games are all gorgeous retina displays but awkward controls. Swordigo's on screen button controls work very well, on the other hand. You may have occasion to slip up once or twice at first but soon the intuitive interface transports you back to an earlier time, happily playing Zelda on your Game Boy. Swordigo has beautiful environments to behold as well, especially when seen through the warm tide of nostalgia and the immense enjoyment of hack and slash platforming. It's the quintessential epic adventure. Can you, the hero, succeed in this quest? There's only one way to find out!

NOTE: This game was played and reviewed on an iPhone 4S. Game was available in the North American market at the time of publication, but may not be available in other territories. Please see individual app market pages for purchasing info.


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A Long Way Home

JohnBA Long Way Home is an arcade physics puzzle game from Jonathan Mulcahy. Stranded 100 light years from Earth, you play an astronaut whose only companion is a wrist-mounted computer who offers bits of advice. Using a sharp eye and impeccable timing, trot around asteroids and planets and jump from their surface across the screen, the goal being to collect dark matter so you can open successive worm holes that get you closer to home. Along the way, you'll encounter exploding asteroids, comets, teleporting dark matter, and more. Not exactly a leisurely walk in space.

A Long Way HomeAlthough the description sounds like an action movie, A Long Way Home is more of a calm, thoughtful puzzle experience than a fast-riding explosion fest. That's not to say there's no excitement, but your navigating will be based on careful observation and obtained skill, not button tapping or mobile device shaking. Using a variety of control mechanisms (we prefer on-screen buttons), simply move around each spinning asteroid and jump when you line up with a piece of dark matter. Make sure you land on solid ground, though, as one false move and you'll be adrift for the rest of your life!

Later levels introduce new objects to contend with, but the basic premise remains the same. You'll dare countless long jumps, narrow misses, and lucky breaks, all while mastering the art of asteroid jumping. A Long Way Home is a very beautiful game, sticking to minimalist roots and providing a simple but incredibly enjoyable gameplay experience. It manages to evoke actual emotion, which can't be said for most action/physics games, though it's never sappy or emotional itself. In short, this is a fantastic casual mobile game that is slow enough and challenging enough to be entertaining while tugging at a few heart strings along the way. Grab it, kick back, soak in the soundtrack, and have a good time!

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


  • Currently 4.4/5
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Rating: 4.4/5 (20 votes)
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Wind-up Knight

BryanOh no! The king of the realm needs you to save the princess from the evil clutches of the Dark Knight! Go figure, right? Wind-up Knight is a mobile run and jump adventure very similar to Canabalt HD except you get a fancy sword and armor to fight enemies while dodging traps to make your way to the princess. Convenient items in adventuring, yes, but it won't save you when the Dark Knight starts getting really serious about stopping you. A knight's mettle will never be more tested and neither shall your timing skills as pits, enemies, and environmental dangers stand in your way.

Wind-up KnightAll your little toy knight's actions like shielding, jumping, rolling, etc. are activated by using the virtual buttons on your device's touch screen. Run through grabbing coins and finding hidden cards to get secret items and notes (a.k.a. money) to spend on new levels and items. The knight runs along the level automatically but needs to keep grabbing wind-up tools to continue chugging along, so the timing of your actions is important. The journey only gets harder as you complete more of the 52 levels, but fear not, for your reflexes and timing will be well trained to handle anything. Plus, you will repeat levels a lot because it is very easy to fail. Trust me.

Wind-up Knight improves upon the genre standard with more complex obstacles and added combat mechanics other similar games generally lack. The challenge level is also quite high, as you must collect almost all of the notes to unlock new levels. It's tempting to give into the in-app purchasing system just so you can see more of what the game has to offer. If you're serious about perfecting a great arcade game, or you just want a challenging distraction for the long bus ride, don't hesitate to grab Wind-up Knight so you, too, can show that Dark Knight who is boss. Just don't get burned, stabbed, bitten, drowned, impaled, scratched, or crushed in the process!

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


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brainsss

KimberlyEverybody wants to rule the world, and zombies are no exception. In Brainsss, a wild sort of mobile game by Lonely Few, you get to help the zombies start their plot for world domination. Part strategy, part action, part brains, you must lead and grow your zombie horde to complete the goal for each level. Humans just don't get it. Life is so much simpler if all you need are brainsss.

BrainsssBrainsss is divided into phases, each with several stages and the first serving as a tutorial. Each level starts out with a few zombies to get you going. Simply draw a circle around the number of zombies you'd like to control and they'll outline in red. If you've selected too many, or want to divide your group evenly, you can de-select half of the currently selected group with the tap of the button. Once you've chosen the number of undead you'd like to control, tap anywhere on the screen and your mob will shamble along, ready for brains!

Your objectives change depending on the level, but more often than not, your main goal will be to turn every human into a zombie, prevent humans from escaping a building, or stay alive until the timer reaches zero. The humans you have to catch are varied, ranging from super fast scientists to firemen who can stun you and chop you to bits with their axes. Examine the level, then plan your attack accordingly. You get to decide if it's better to split your forces and trap people or if there is safety in numbers.

When you clear a stage, you are awarded stars according to how well you did. Not only do stars unlock more phases, they also earn you coins to buy level specific power-ups if you get stuck. Don't worry, you'll always get at least one star for making it through alive (or dead, depending on how you look at it). One handy thing to know is how the rage meter in the upper corner works. When you convert humans to your side (and also as you destroy their desks, garbage cans, etc), the rage meter goes up. When it is full shake your device or tap the meter to give your zombies a boost in speed and attack power.

Even with rage activated, it can be difficult to overcome the humans who want you dead. This can be frustrating, as the only way you lose a level is if every last zombie dies. It can also be aggravating on the bigger maps to switch back and forth between groups if you've split up your horde. However, there is a nice, (almost too) happy, soundtrack to accompany you, along with funny quips from the humans as you chase them down. Add on the amusing comics that unlock between phases, and the promise of new levels coming soon and you've got a game that is nearly impossible not to enjoy. Now get out there and use your Brainsss to start making zombies!

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


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infeCCt

BryanWhen you look at a word like 'infect', it brings to mind the Black Plague, zombie viruses, and a whole mess of disgusting things you would rather not think about. Just add another 'c' in there and you get the brain-training logic puzzle game infeCCt that affects you for the better. You must lead a growing vine through temple ruins so it covers every tile on the board without using the same one twice. Backed by research in cognitive and memory physiology, Handy Games put together 300 levels of mind stimulating challenges that will put your powers of foresight and creative problem solving to the test.

infeCCtVines aren't going to cover the floors of ancient dilapidated structures by themselves, so tap and draw lines on the screen and they'll follow right along. You might not have picked the right path in your puzzling quest, so you can delete previous moves by tapping on older sections of the vine. Be conscientious in your moves because you lose points if you undo steps. If you finish quickly, though, you'll earn extra. You only get one chance to get a good outcome (you can't redo stages for a better score), so just take a deep breath and concentrate, one move at a time.

The puzzles in infeCCt are well done and designed with scientific data behind them to be as thought intensive as possible. The timer, however, detracts from the experience by throwing anxious energy on the player to finish fast and precise. While the scoring does show your solving prowess to the world in online high scores, it is unnecessary when the main attractive point of the game is its lack of gimmicky puzzle mechanics and focus on pure logic solutions. These minor distractions do not detract enough from the game to the point where you will want to stop, however. The game is simple to understand, but so demanding that you won't quit until all 300 puzzles are accounted for. It is an ideal casual title for its pick-up-and-playability because you can work your brain out for a few minutes a day and save the rest for another time. Improving your intelligence has never been so much fun!

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


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FlipPix Art

JohnBFlipPix Art is a series of picross logic puzzles created by GabySoft for mobile markets, including Android tablets, iPad, and NOOK Color/Tablet. The games are designed for ease of use while on the go, employing a rather unusual control mechanism that, surprisingly, makes mobile picross easier and less error-prone. On top of that, each of the games in the series features a different visual theme along with a large number of puzzles, making it one of the best ways to get a picross fix while on the go.

FlipPix ArtThe idea is very simple: complete a series of pictures in sets of themed levels by solving grid-based picross puzzles. Using the number clues on the top and left sides of the screen, you can determine which blocks need to be filled in and which need to be removed. Simply tap and drag to mark individual squares or entire lines, then choose the paintbrush or the hammer icon on the right to mark or destroy tiles respectively. It's a little different than the usual "touch to act" controls most picross games utilize, but because your actions are only counted when you hit the side buttons, you're far less likely to make an error. It makes you solve puzzles in a different way than you might be used to, as it's more cumbersome to switch between marking styles on the fly, but the adjustment is a small one and won't affect your picross prowess in the end.

Each of the themed FlipPix Art games features a unique theme and its own set of puzzles. At the time of writing, GabySoft offers about half a dozen FlipPix Art games, including Zoo (nine puzzles), Model Plane (39 puzzles), Home (136 puzzles), Nature (over 50 puzzles), Castle (219 puzzles), and Kids (easy picross for the young ones). Prices vary between marketplaces and versions, but there are both paid and free games for every device, with a small download to initiate after you get the app.

FlipPix Art comes across as a bit inelegant in its visual design, but it's nothing that really detracts from the experience. The challenge level isn't too high, either, considering the small puzzle size (5x5, 10x10, 15x15) and relatively simple design of each grid. Still, despite not being the most perfect picross game around, the amount and variety of logic puzzles available makes any FlipPix Art game a great way to scratch the logic puzzle itch while you're out and about!

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


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The Island: Castaway

JohnBThough it's a scary (if distant) thought in real life, being stranded on an island where you have to fight for survival isn't high on anyone's to-do list. Place it in a casual game, though, and we're tripping over ourselves to start the download. Sahmon Games' simulation series The Island: Castaway has been perplexing players for a few years now with its superb blend of quest-based item hunting and character managing, spawning The Island: Castaway 2 not long after the original was released. Now there's the mobile version of The Island: Castaway, and it manages to bring every pixel of entertainment from its PC cousins to the portable touch screen. Be prepared for the addiction to begin all over again!

The Island: CastawayThe Island: Castaway is sort of a mix between Virtual Villagers, Wandering Willows, and an RPG. You play the role of Tom who finds himself trapped on a tropical island. Other people are there, too, and the mystery of how everyone got there and how they're going to get home is a big one. By speaking to other characters, you'll embark upon missions that range from the small to the large, running around to find food, gather supplies, or help solve some of the many mysteries in the vicinity. There are tons of things to do apart from completing story missions, too, like working with recipes to build your own meals, hunting, fishing, planting things, finding new tools and much more. It seems like the discoveries never end!

The mobile version of The Island: Castaway is essentially the same as the PC/Mac version released in 2010. The biggest difference are the controls, as on portable devices everything must be handled with a touch screen. It's an absolutely flawless transition, though, and after a few minutes of running around you'll likely prefer touch controls over a mouse and keyboard set-up. It's more personal, and arguably more convenient. Also, a game as intricate as this plays better on a tablet device. The screen real estate makes for a much richer experience.

Whether you're curious about the series or you just want a portable addiction to carry with you on the bus, The Island: Castaway is a phenomenal release that will keep you busily scurrying around the island for hours on end. Seriously, it's dangerously captivating!

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


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Spongebob Marbles and Slides

DoraBikini Bottom is covered with a noxious green ooze after a blinding light fills the sky, and everyone has gone missing!... well... except SpongeBob. He's around. *snicker* Get it?! A-round?!... forget you guys, he would love that! SpongeBob Marbles and Slides by Gilded Skull Games for your iOS or NOOK Tablet is that rare breed of tie-in game that gets almost everything right, from the all-important plinky-plonky soundtrack and beautiful style to the most important ingredient... fun. A physics puzzle game with pinball elements and its own quirky storyline, this is one top-notch casual mobile title fans of the series and the genre alone will want to check out.

Spongebob Marbles and SlidesSomething weird is afoot (or aflipper) in SpongeBob's beloved hometown... everyone has turned into a marble, and a vast network of underground pipes has appeared. There's only one itty-bitty megalomaniacal genius that could have caused all this... but SpongeBob and crew are going to need a little help getting around if they want to get to the bottom of things and restore the town. In each level, your job is to guide all (or a specific number) of marbles safely to the drain leading to the next level. Draw paths on the screen with paint to direct the marbles as they roll, tilt your device to guide them along, and make use of other devices like time-stopping buttons, super-magnets, and more. If you lose your marbles (literally) by allowing them to fly offscreen or fall into the toxic goo, you'll have to restart the level. Sounds daunting, doesn't it? You can do it! Come on, say it with me... I'm ready, I'm ready, I'm ready, I'm ready...

Spongebob Marbles and SlidesAnalysis: SpongeBob Marbles and Slides is one of those rare games that give you hope for affiliated titles as a whole. Despite its cartoon roots, it doesn't feel cheap, rushed out, or insultingly simple. It is, actually, pretty darn great. Loaded with the show's signature style from the visuals to the music and packed with creativity and charm, it manages to balance being both true to form while serving up something genuinely unexpected. The fact that they actually went ahead and wrote up an appropriately bizarre storyline to explain the game concept is great, and so is the chatter between the characters at the beginning of levels. (I appreciate you Squidward.) More importantly, however, the gameplay is unique, fun, quirky, and even a little challenging at times, though kids will certainly be able to master it with a bit of determination.

The different elements introduced across the many, many levels help keep things fresh and interesting as well, though you'll doubtless has a few you'd rather see more of, and even some you'd rather see a lot less of. The physics are, for the most part, reliable in a way that generally means any difficulty you encounter is probably because you're going about solving a level the wrong way. The achievements feel a little random and token, but the real reward is seeing even more of the beautiful, clever design as you play and uncovering more of the oddball story. SpongeBob Marbles and Slides will doubtless be enjoyed most by fans of his cartoon adventures, but thanks to some genuine heart and effort by the talented folks at Gilded Skull, this is one physics puzzle adventure that's easily recommended to everyone. It's pure goofy, joyous fun, and sets a new standard for media tie-in games that will be hard to surpass in the future.

NOTE: This game was played and reviewed on an iPad (1st gen). Game was available in the North American market at the time of publication, but may not be available in other territories. Please see individual app market pages for purchasing info.


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Mobile Monday

JohnBDogs and worms dominate the latest edition of Mobile Monday, an entirely unintended coincidence, we assure you! To balance out the slight "ew" factor, have a taste of a cute robot and a new game from the creators of Angry Birds. That should balance things out nicely!

machinarium-p.jpgMachinarium on Android - If Amanita Design's latest release Botanicula hasn't kept you busy long enough, Android owners will be happy to know the studio's last big release, Machinarium, is now available from Google Play! The Android port unfortunately requires a hefty bit of hardware to run, so if you've got something beefier than a three year old Android phone laying around, get ready for mobile steampunk goodness!

deathworm-o.jpgDeath Worm eaten by 5M - In late 2010, PlayCreek released Death Worm for iOS, an official enhancement of the classic browser game of the same name. Barely 18 months later, Death Worm has been downloaded over 5 million times, almost as if every person in Denmark bought it! We're pretty sure the phenomenon isn't localized to Denmark, but PlayCreek has decided to celebrate all the same with a ton of new content, including a new ice stage, 20 new enemies, a massive boss battle, and a brand new mini-game!

amazingalex-p.jpgNew physics game from Angry Birds creator - Rovio recently unveiled its upcoming new game, and the biggest surprise of all is that it's not another Angry Birds expansion! Instead, Amazing Alex is a building-based physics game similar to The Incredible Machine where you construct contraptions to accomplish various tasks. The game is actually an enhanced version of the iOS game Casey's Contraptions, which the company purchased outright not too long ago.

offtheleash.gifNew toys for Off the Leash - If giant worms aren't your thing, perhaps freely cavorting puppies are? The tilt-based avoidance game Off the Leash is as cute as it is addictive, allowing you to control a pack of dogs running from the police while you work to go as far as you possibly can, increasing your pack size to gather more power-ups and switching your running formation to creep through difficult obstacles. New in this update is a new track to run on and a new character that you might not expect— a man dressed like a dog. That, alone, makes it worth checking out!


  • Currently 3.8/5
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Rating: 3.8/5 (130 votes)
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elleBox 19 EscapePresented for your code-breaking pleasure, Box 19, a neatly packaged little escape-the-room by Tateita. Although the name sounds more like a trendy new nightclub down by the pier and the exact number of boxes is not verified, it does have something we love to find in an escape game—fun, logical puzzles. Also a plus, its stark, clean design means pixel-hunting is nonexistent.

With five walls and no furniture, gameplay is stripped down to the basics: click either on the edges of the screen to navigate or on a box to inspect it. Then, ponder clues and employ deductive reasoning to open locks and obtain the exit key. It's disappointingly short yet enjoyable while it lasts. So, if you have a moment to spare, open up Box 19 to see what's inside.

Play Box 19


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DarkScavenger

KyhIt's been said that people create because they're not satisfied with the way things are; they feel that the world needs more of 'them'. Well, if Dark Scavenger is any indication of what Psydra Games 'is', then I am eager to have more! In the team's darkly-humored point-and-click adventure game, you are an alien who has to forage through a planet looking for a source of energy to power your failing ship. With combat and mystery at every turn, this game will have you humorously pointing and clicking your way through the storyline.

kyh_darkscavenger_screen1.pngYou find yourself floating through space when you meet a strange entity that threatens you. This creature seems very alien, though who's to say you yourself aren't more so. After your interaction, you awake in a ship with three companions. One of them informs you that you're a dark scavenger. What exactly is that? Well, you scavenge for energy... and I suppose you're darkly colored? With the ship running low on power, it's up to you to venture out onto the nearby planet in search of a mysterious force that should be able to help you and the other three aliens to continue to travel. Of course, leave it to you to walk into the middle of a multi-faceted war with all sorts of strange beings.

Dark Scavenger is completely controlled with the click of your mouse, from navigating the menus to exploring the environment and carrying out the turn-based combat. Each scene is a top-down view of the area and hovering your mouse over a hotspot highlights it in red. Clicking such areas gives you a brief description which can lead to a multiple choice interaction. Make a decision, and if you're lucky, you'll not only come out alive but also with some loot. Exiting a screen sends you to your ship where you can choose which companion you want to turn your item into something valuable. Each one does something different, and deciding which option for which item is part of the fun. No matter what, though, you can only repurpose one item per visit, forcing you to strategize based on your current needs.

kyh_darkscavenger_screen2.pngAnalysis: If you're not already in a good mood when you start playing Dark Scavenger, it's sure to put you in one within minutes. Whether you're giggling at the silly inhabitants of the planet or shaking your head at your cuckoo-for-chocolate-cereal shipmates, it's a game you can't take too seriously. What makes it even better is how well Psydra Games was able to seamlessly weave a point-and-click interface with open item creation and combat that, while increasing in difficulty, never creates a situation where grinding is necessary (or possible, for that matter).

Where the game seems to falter is in the storyline. After being thrown into a crazy situation through the prologue, you then have to explore a strange world with many different unfamiliar peoples and creatures. It starts to become work keeping up with everyone, and that can prevent you from really connecting to the protagonist and, ultimately, the game as a whole. Thank goodness for the funny, recurring side characters (Come on, a giant, grinning snake who's wrapped himself around a poor soul so he can hop around?) who remind you to just laugh once in a while.

Dark Scavenger is a dark, funny game that isn't afraid to use an NPC's pain for your chuckling gain. With five lengthy chapters and dozens of rooms to explore, this game is sure to keep you occupied for hours, if not days. And with so many possibilities in how you can handle a situation or the many items you can craft, replayability is definitely high. To repurpose the exit dialogue box for my own use: Are you sure you won't try the demo? You're really close to a fun game!

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  • Currently 4.3/5
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Rating: 4.3/5 (57 votes)
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JeremyDisaster Will Strike!They say you have to break some eggs if you want to make an omelet, but did you know you could use bees?! In Anton Koshechkin's inventive little physics puzzler, Disaster Will Strike!, you'll finally get your chance to wipe that arrogant smirk off some smug, cantankerous little cage-free eggs. But instead of the usual fair of bombs and projectiles (yawnnnn), you get to use mother nature itself to achieve your objective, from hurricanes, comets, and yes, bees! You get a set number of disasters to use for each level and will have to economize your mayhem and choose the right act of god for the right situation. But, this being light and casual entertainment, you can always just restart the level at anytime. And really, Disaster Will Strike! is not that hard, so those wanting a serious challenge should look elsewhere, because this game is anything but... in fact it's quite funny. So, go crack some eggs already and maybe a smile while you're at it.

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Meteor Mail

JohnBAcross the universe, no matter the time period or location, delivering the mail is a rough job. Take the poor sap in charge of the space-based mail delivery station Meteor Mail, for example. (That's you, by the way.) That lonely technician has to fire packages from one end, then tweak the exact position of gravity orbs to thread each delivery through worm holes, asteroids, roving pirates, and other obstacles. But, if it were easy, we wouldn't have the delightfully challenging puzzle game that is Meteor Mail, so from adversity comes entertainment!

Meteor MailYour job in Squirrel Tech Enterprise's Meteor Mail is to deliver a mail sphere to its destination by placing and adjusting gravity generators to curve its flight path. Simply drag the globe-like structures from your inventory on the left, place them on the screen, then hit [space] to fire the package. The path will be drawn in red as the delivery is being made, and if it crashes (let's face it, it probably will crash), the action pauses and you can make some adjustments. By fine tuning the location and strength of each sphere, you can get the mail to where it needs to go. How else is anyone going to get the orange and yellow wool cap their mother knit for them?

Not all levels are so free with their gravity orbs. In many stages they have already been placed on the field and are locked down. All you can do is adjust their strength by clicking on each one, holding down the right mouse button, and nudging the mouse wheel up or down. Stronger values pull mail packages more fiercely, while weaker ones tend to be more forgiving.

Meteor MailAnalysis: Meteor Mail is the sort of puzzle game that presents a streamlined front but still lets you geek out on some of the details. You only have one item to worry about placing — the gravity orbs — but you have to be precise in where they go and what strength they're set at. Having the previous shot's ghost path available while you adjust is quite helpful, but really it all comes down to developing a good feel for gravity. After some time, you'll just sort of "get" where the package will go based on the orb locations. Trial and error slowly erodes, leaving your honed skills to carry you through the last levels.

What's a shiny space puzzle game without a few extras? You'll spend most of your time in Meteor Mail staring at a 2D map of the environment, dragging and adjusting gravity orbs and using the hand-holding hint system if you get stuck. When you fire a package, though, you can switch on the Mail Cam option for a little visual treat. Instead of the flat map, you get to watch the mail as it flies through space, following it up-close in a 3D view of its twisty journey. You can't get as much done watching like this, but hey, it's cool, and that counts for something!

Meteor Mail is a simple but challenging puzzle game that falls on the casual side of the complexity fence. It's easy to get into, but it takes a certain amount of mastery to carve delicate paths later in the game. Good honest space-based fun!

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Alan Wake

DoraIf you've ever tried to write something, you know how rewarding and challenging the creative process can be. When it comes naturally it's the best feeling in the world, but if you try to force it you can feel like you're fighting something that hates you... figuratively speaking, of course. Renowed writer Alan Wake knows that feeling better than anyone, and with his agent and his fans breathing down his neck two years after his last book, writer's block is starting to feel more like writer's noose. But sometimes the stories we tell or find ourselves in aren't always up to us, and Alan's vacation to the idyllic mountain town of Bright Falls with his wife Alice takes a nightmarish turn for the surreal in this action adventure game from Remedy.

Alan WakeWhen Alice vanishes after an argument, Alan regains consciousness to find himself alone and bloodied in the middle of nowhere, with no recollection of how he got there, or where Alice is. Things get even stranger when he starts finding pages to a manuscript... one bearing his name that he doesn't remember writing. Especially when the things within those pages start coming true. With everyone doubting Alan's sanity, including Alan himself, will the truth be stranger than fiction? Or will Alan even survive to discover it as the darkness in the sleepy little burg of Bright Falls and its inhabitants begins to grow? Only Alan and the one person who believes him, his sidekick Parka McNot-as-Good-as-Zeke, can find out.

Use the [WASD] keys to move around, and the mouse to aim and fire if you've got a gun equipped. Holding [shift] will let you sprint for a while until Alan runs out of breath, and using [shift] in conjunction with one of the directional keys will cause him to dodge that way. [E] interacts with objects, while [R] reloads, and you can tap it to speed up the process if you're feeling the pressure. Along the way, you'll find a variety of firearms and flares you can swap between using the number keys or mouse scroll, and I'll tell you right now you can ignore those finely honed shooter hoarding tendencies I know you've got. Since the game is set up in a series of six episodic chapters, Alan typically finds a way to contrive losing most or all of the weapons and ammo you have stockpiled between each one, so don't be afraid to spray hot shotgun death when things get hairy.

Until Tuesday May 15th at 06.59 AM EDT, Alan Wake is 50% off at GOG.com! Includes both DLC episodes "The Signal" and "The Writer".

Most enemies you'll encountered can't be harmed until you deal with the protective darkness shrouding them, but luckily for you, you have history's deadliest weapon at your disposal... and you're packin' double As. Aiming a flashlight at an enemy slowly burns away the dark, and holding down the right mouse button boosts the beam to speed up the process at the cost of faster battery drain. When the light has beaten them down, you'll finally be able to put them down for good with whatever weapon you have on hand. Alan's health is displayed around the radar in the top-left corner, so you'll want to avoid getting hit whenever possible and seek out safe places in light for faster health regeneration. Of course, if you do take one too many whacks, it's not the end of the world; the game operates on a checkpoint system, so you'll just be kicked back to the last one you passed. Checkpoints are typically fairly frequent, fortunately, so even if you take an axe to the face you won't lose that much progress.

Alan WakeAnalysis: Alan Wake is, first and foremost, a great story. Invoking everything from the works of Stephen King to classic schlock like the Twilight Zone or Tales from the Darkside, and even modern day thrillers, it's a scary and engaging wild ride. While it delivers its share of predictable jump scares, a lot of the fear in Alan Wake comes from the unknown as it melds the supernatural with the everyday to create the downright bizarre... like the ax-wielding maniac chasing you through the forest shrieking about non-refundable deposits or keeping your pets leashed at all times. It's a wonderfully weird and intriguing story, and even if some elements feel familiar, it If you go hunting around, you can even watch short episodes of a little show called Night Springs that delivers a different little scary story each time... some of which make more sense than others, but hey, most mountain cabins don't even get cable, let alone haunted cable, so show a little gratitude.

The game is, as a whole, pretty darn good looking. Environments are stunning with some of the best light effects you can hope for. You will spend rather a lot of time running around in the forest with a flashlight, but the stunning attention to detail that packs the woods with atmosphere and foreboding makes it hard to be bored. Characters are likewise well modeled, though watching them talk is about as realistic as watching a pair of sock puppets jaw at each other. Voice acting is sort of hit and miss in that some actors seem a bit more into it than others, but the Taken people you encounter can be flat-out terrifying with their bizarre ramblings and worn-out tape recorder voices. Sure it would be nice if most enemies were varied beyond "guy with a sharp thing" and "slightly bigger guy with a sharp thing", but by and large Alan Wake is so good at creating tension and panic that more set pieces will be the last thing on your mind.

Alan WakeSince Alan Wake originally started on a console, the biggest issue a lot of PC gamers might encounter is the odd, over-the-left-shoulder viewing angle the perspective takes. While you'll get used to it, it's sort of like being drunk on a cruise ship, only the cruise ship hates you and is trying to kill you. The light as a weapon mechanic isn't really that new, though Alan is at least better at it than ObsCure ever managed to be. Combat in general has an appealingly frantic feel to it, but what it lacks is a fluid feel. Okay, granted, Alan is a random schlub and not Leon Scott Kennedy, but come on... who plays video games to be reminded of their own inept fumbling? The shoulder-mounted camera works fine for exploration, but in combat situations with multiple foes where you're trying to stay light on your feet, it just feels dizzy and disorienting, especially combined with that drunken dodging.

Alan Wake isn't exactly a perfect game, but it's still a very good one. Despite a strictly linear progression and action sequences that occasionally drag on for too long, it still manages to keep the story roaring along thanks to a likable cast and plot twists aplenty. It has an extremely cinematic style, and it definitely has potential for a lot more beyond even the upcoming PC port of the standalone title Alan Wake's American Nightmare. If you're big on thrillers with supernatural twists, Alan Wake's story will likely keep you glued to your chair 'til the end. If you want to visit Bright Falls again, you can check out the short, six-episode live action web series that acts as a prequel. It's also a great way to find out if you're interested in the tale the game has to tell. If you've ever tried to write anything yourself, you'll probably sympathise with Alan's own creative frustrations. But even if you haven't, Alan Wake is a solid and exciting horror thriller that's well worth checking out.

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  • Currently 4.7/5
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Cherry Tree High Comedy Club

DoraPeppy, cheerful Miley Verisse wants nothing more than to start up her very own club in her school, but her former friend and now student council member Octavia Richmond is carrying a grudge a mile long and has no intention of making it easy. Miley just wants to follow in the footsteps of her idols and become one half of a new comedy duo, but the rules state that new clubs require a minimum of five members to start. With a deadline for the end of April just a month away, are Miley's dreams of comedic greatness over before they even begin? Cherry Tree High Comedy Club is a unique, light-hearted game from 773, Nyu Media, and Capcom that delivers a blast of ultra-high energy sweetness to your day. Part adventure, part visual novel, part simulation, and all beautiful, light-hearted fun.

Cherry Tree High Comedy ClubMiley needs three (or more!) new recruits by April 31st, so it's time to hit the pavement and track down likely candidates. Gameplay is split into three time periods, and during each one you'll be able to decide where to go and what to do. Potential members are all over town, but a winning smile will only get you so far. You'll need to buddy up to them and increase their Friendship Level to 5 to win them over to your cause, so make sure you spend time with them. Miley has the gift of gab, so you can participate in activities to boost her chat capabilities and charm people faster. Of course, different people are different things, so it's important to make sure our heroine is well versed on a variety of topics, from video games, to history, to travel, and much more. You can check out how suave Miley is by viewing her Repertoire in the menu when you hit [esc]. Additionally, you can perform a variety of part-time jobs to earn cash to spend on items to increase Miley's knowledge, or even just to pass the time. Just remember, you can only discuss each topic with a character once, so it might be a better idea to wait until Miley is stronger at a particular subject to get the most out of it.

During regular gameplay, use the [arrow] keys to move Miley (hold down [spacebar] to run) and press the [up] arrow in front of buildings to enter and [spacebar] to talk to people you're standing in front of. From the town map, you'll be able to travel to different locations where you can encounter different characters and story events. At Miley's dormitory, you'll be able to chat with her friend Harriet to save the game, but also work on... ugh... homework. The pencils represent the number of assignments she has left to complete. In addition to keeping her grades up, you'll also want to keep an eye on Miley's fatigue at the bottom of the screen and make sure she isn't running herself ragged. Just don't forget to keep an eye on the date; as new potential recruits become available, you'll want to prioritize winning them over. But don't give up! If Miley can't achieve her dreams, who knows what horrors the comedic world will have to make do with instead?

Cherry Tree High Comedy ClubAnalysis: If you're trying to find a game more aggressively energetic and cute than Cherry Tree High Comedy Club, well... good luck. From the vibrant presentation to the cheerful, wonderfully light-hearted story and concept, it's just the sort of game that makes you feel happy. It looks absolutely beautiful. Each of the potential recruits Miley can interact with have their own stories and personalities, and Miley herself makes for a particularly... dynamic lead, but it's nice to see how unexpectedly perceptive and caring she can be around her friends. The goofy jokes and overall tone of exuberant silliness won't be for everyone, but sometimes all you really want is to play a game that's trying its hardest to make you smile. It's chock full of anime and pop culture references, jokes, likable characters, and a whole lot of colour. If I could give some sort of award to this game for being like a shot of rainbow sprinkles in the eye, I would. It's very refreshing compared to some of the heavier titles around.

Cherry Tree High Comedy ClubIn a way, Cherry Tree High Comedy Club is structurally (and even rather stylistically) similar to Atlus's Persona series, specifically the two most recent titles. Only, uh. Without the deep soul searching, demons, and murder. If you've played Persona, then the relationship building mechanics will feel very familiar to you, and What this means is that Cherry Tree is at once both simple and yet surprisingly engrossing; the time can fly by before you realise it. In a way, this is also a bit of a curse. While the short game time demands you spend all your time interacting with people in a way that staves off repetition, it also makes the skill and homework mechanics feel a lot shallower and more like busywork. Especially since only being able to talk about something with any given person a single time is silly, even if the skills only serve as a boost to the standard chat option. The game's simple mechanics aren't necessarily a bad thing since it makes it a lot more approachable, but on the other hand players who crave deeper experiences will feel like there's some missed opportunity going on for it to be even bigger.

Light on drama but heavy on style and charm, Cherry Tree High Comedy Club is a gorgeous, peppy gem for people who are looking for something different and friendly. While it definitely feels like some aspects of its mechanics are underdeveloped, it's still a perfect casual introduction to the genre and excellent relaxing gaming. At around three hours or so, it's a bit on the short side, although if you want to get all of the potential club recruits you'll probably want to play again. It does end on a bit of a cliffhanger, of sorts, or at least a strong implication that there's another installment coming somewhere down the road. Cherry Tree High Comedy Club is a lot of fun while it lasts... a light, occasionally unexpectedly touching treat that's perfect to brighten your day.

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youhavetowin.jpgJohnBIf you grew up in an age where dithering was a a common graphical trick to get around color limitations and were excited when CGA was succeeded by EGA which gave way to VGA, just seeing a screenshot of Kyle Pittman's You Have to Win the Game will turn you mad with nostalgia. The exploration platformer shares a lot of design elements with Terry Cavanagh's VVVVVV, Lyle in Cube Sector, and Celestial Mechanica, though its main trick is emulating the computing environment of a decades-old PC. But even if you don't get excited by 16-color CRT monitors, You Have to Win the Game is a thoroughly enjoyable ride!

Run and jump, explore and backtrack, activate switches and avoid enemies, ring bells and gather cash. That's pretty much the gist of what you'll do in You Have to Win the Game. The environment is filled with twisted passageways, forked tunnels, and seemingly impassable spots marked by platforms and moving lifts. You'll need to find a few switches to activate or deactivate certain blocks, much like the colored switches in another practically ancient favorite, Super Mario World. Along the way, you'll ring bells to activate checkpoints and pick up tiny bags of cash you come across, all in the name of turning that little exploration percentage number into a full and healthy 100%.

You Have to Win the Game leaves some of the less-desired classic gaming conventions behind, so no worries about cheap deaths, limited lives, or corrupt floppy discs (hey, that used to be a real problem!). You do, however, have to deal with a lot of backtracking, something that can grate on you after you've conquered new territory only to step off a ledge and find yourself back at the beginning of a one-way tunnel. But, despite this, you'll have a pleasurable run through You Have to Win the Game, and since persistence will be your key to making the title come true, all you have to do is stick with it and you'll conquer this deliciously classic platform game!

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DoraMy Little Pegasus - Kizua DoPonyPachiIf your typical garden-variety bullet-hell shooter just isn't magical enough for you, then Giest118's free indie download My Little Pegasus - Kizua DoPonyPachi might be just what the doctor ordered. Provided, that is, your doctor is in the habit of prescribing you with aggressively colourful, completely nonsensical games with pony motifs.

Choose from Fluttershy (yay) or Rainbow Dash in your mission to... uh... it's not really made clear, but presumably the angry flowers and eels and such spitting lasers and bullets are a danger to Equestria, so you can probably surmise it's a good idea to put them down. Fluttershy is slower, but has a wider shot range, while Dash is quicker and has a narrower, but more powerful, range of attack. Use the [arrow] keys to steer, and [Z] or [X] to fire. Both pegasi have a special attack you can activate with [C], but be careful; you only have a limited number of these "bombs", and if you don't use them, they can absorb a single hit per bomb for you.

Inspired by Cave's classic arcade shooters and a love of all things pony because why not, My Little Pegasus doesn't make a lot of sense, but it's a surprising amount of fun. The lack of upgrades or power-ups makes this a fairly simple example of the genre, but even if you haven't picked up on the pony phenomenon, it makes a great, exhilarating blast of shooter action for your day. Although... if you don't know ponies, you probably won't get as big a laugh out of stage three's mini-boss. With a snappy soundtrack and bullets galore, this is one fast, fun little trigger-finger exercise. I'm sure you'll be able to handle it. After all... you rock. Woo-hoo!

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And Then There Were NoneBryanAnd Then There Were None... an old English detective book that has been adapted for the stage, silver screen, and radio has given inspiration to an indie platform game. As you quest through the blanketing snow and eerie white noise, the game follows a man known only as Hughes as he tries to defend himself from a roaming serial killer. Tensions rise and fear sets in as danger lurks around every corner, tunnel, and platform. Your only glimmer of solace is the voice emanating from a radio, leading you along and aiding you in your struggle until... it's too late.

You can rely on the old standard platform controls for this nerve-racking game: [WAD] or the arrow keys for general navigation, [ctrl] to create a radio wave, and [space] for using bombs when you get them. You don't need the [down] arrow or [S] keys because crouching can not and will not save you from falling icicles or deadly spike traps. The radio waves trigger pixel-clustered blocks to form on blinking comm towers when they are hit to help you through the snowy landscape. It is the primary platforming mechanic and it takes some time to master since the blocks fizzle out after a few seconds. If you aren't careful, your feeble attempts at stopping the killer will mean nothing and all that will remain is silence and a worn, torn body

Made for a small Russian competition called Gaminator, the one man development team Digital Synthe.sis (yep, there's a period there) created an entrancing game with plenty of spit and polish that shows in its wonderful level design and solid gameplay. With multiple levels of difficulty and three different ending scenes, you can jump back into the static-filled setting to test your platforming mastery and see how Hughes' story can change. A well developed suspense story intertwined with an ominous narrating voice gets your pulse pounding with anxiety to find out who this mass murderer really is. The radio's white noise, which inspired the game's world, narrative, and even unique two color pixel art, complements the music and enriches the game's creepy overall tone. Heed the call of the forlorn broadcast for free as it takes you on a journey in which you have no choice but to accept.

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Fabled Legends: The Dark Piper

GrinnypOf all of the creepy fairy tales we tell our kids — and there are some supremely creepy ones indeed — one that stands out is the Pied Piper of Hamelin, in which a town that doesn't like to pay its debts ends up losing all of its children to a dude who charms rats with music. This haunting tale seems ready made to become both a childhood nightmare and a casual adventure hybrid, so it's just as well that Blue Tea Games has taken up the challenge with Fabled Legends: The Dark Piper, a hidden object finding adventure that features lots and lots of rats, both in vermin and human form. Rats, why'd it have to be rats?

Dark Strokes: Sins of the FathersThe action begins as you, an unnamed inspector, rush to a town that usually celebrates the story of the Pied Piper and how he saved the place from rodents. The Pied Piper appears to have come back for revenge, however, and rather than stealing the children he has simply brought the rats back with him. Dark, red-eyed, savage, plague-bearing rats, which have overrun the town and sent the population away screaming. The few town officials left have begged you to track down this mysterious man and help save the town before the plague can spread across Europe in a modern-day version of the Black Death. Solve the mystery using the clues that can be found around town, some help from the few characters left, and dodging a lot of animated rats..

Fabled Legends: The Dark Piper is classic hidden object finding fused with point and click adventure. The hidden object scenes are the standard "list" type, which feature one or more objects that must be manipulated before they can be found. There are also some mini-games and puzzles scattered about the place, along with the usual adventuring tropes involving gathering items from every locale.

Dark Strokes: Sins of the FathersGameplay features the standard controls seen in most hybrids these days with a changing cursor to indicate areas of interest and navigation, a bottom-loading inventory, and a journal to keep track of the story. The journal also helps you keep track of a list of running goals which lengthens as time goes on. A handy little map feature is also present, which allows you to keep track of areas and indicates whether or not there is still something of interest to be discovered. Unfortunately you can't use the map to instantly transport yourself from one location to another, which would have been helpful. There is a timed hint system personified with a beautiful animated cat who, while recharging, amusingly turns his back and ignores you with supreme disdain until the timer fills up again. A plethora of glints and sparkles indicate all sorts of interesting areas, at least in the easy mode.

Analysis: Blue Tea Games is one of the leaders in the hybrid field, and it's easy to see why with Fabled Legends: The Dark Piper. The designers who brought us the Dark Parables series and the joyful Enlightenus games have once again brought their A-game to the design of this dark little adventure, with an engrossing story, stunning graphics, and entertaining gameplay. This is an already dark fairy tale gone even darker and it makes for engrossing gameplay.

Dark Strokes: Sins of the FathersThe stunning visuals are expected as all Blue Tea Games are gorgeous. The animations are, well creepy since they are mostly of evil villains and lots and lots of rats. The presence of vermin runs so strongly throughout the game you might be tempted to shower afterwards to feel clean again. Background music, incidental sounds, and even the dialogue fuse the experience together into a delightful mélange. Fabled Legends: The Dark Piper is a pretty immersive experience from first to last. Puzzles and mini-games range from easy to difficult and the three modes of play (casual, normal, and hard) cover a wide variety of experience with adventure hybrids.

Fabled Legends: The Dark Piper is a stand-alone story which pulls together all of the elements needed to make a really entertaining adventure hybrid. Gorgeous on the eyes and ears, gameplay that is adjustable to a wide range of talent, and an engaging story guarantee that once again Blue Tea Games has a hit on their hands. If you can stand the creepy factor of thousands of rats then Fabled Legends is the game for you! Then, to cleanse your pallet, perhaps go watch something a little less rat-ridden, like "Willard".

A Collector's Edition is also available. It includes concept art, an integrated strategy guide, and extra gameplay. Remember that Big Fish Game Club Members pay only $13.99 for Collector's Editions, and collector's editions count 3 card punches of 6 total needed for a free game.

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  • Currently 3.9/5
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JeremyBlockHopperUp for a challenge? In BlockHopper, an innovative puzzle platformer from GreenPixel, you control an adorable little robot named Bit across 35 different levels and landscapes to ultimate victory. But here's the twist: this isn't just some run-of-the mill, jump over already-placed platforms to victory kind of game. Instead, you control the placement of platforms in the form of many different and ingenious blocks, each with their own separate logic and mechanics. Even if you do manage to beat the entire game, Blockhopper comes with a level editor, making the possibilities nearly endless.

The controls are straightforward: move Bit with the [WASD] keys. Press [spacebar] to stop time and enter block mode and click anywhere on the screen to place a block. Scroll through the blocks with [Q] and [E] and hit [S] to activate a goal or switch block. Thankfully, the game features one of the best flash game soundtracks in recent memory, by Starship Amazing, that will help sooth your frazzled nerves as you progress into the double digit levels. Because, let's not kid ourselves. This game is hard. Very hard. Many players will become frustrated by level eight and give up completely. BlockHopper is not impossible, each level has a clear solution, but you'll have to think outside the block to win.

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Rating: 4.1/5 (159 votes)
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BenJohnny UpgradeWith only a 3 second timer, use [A] to run left and [D] to... time's up! Back to the upgrade store. May we recommend you take a couple of timer upgrades and some coin multipliers with you this time? That's better. As far as superheros go, Johnny Upgrade doesn't start with much. Gameshot's cartoony stab at the 'upgrade everything' genre gives you... well, a 3 second timer, and nothing else. Grab all the coins you can in those few seconds and you'll be given a chance to spend your hard earned money on anything from a double jump to ammo and power-ups for Johnny's gun, although you'll probably want to start by buying the ability to walk. The gun itself is lost somewhere in the bright, colorful level ahead of you, and while it's helpful against the occasional spiky robot, it's really for what lurks at the end of the level: a powerful flying behemoth of a boss.

Even with a weapon, it will take a few more trips to the store before Johnny is powerful enough to knock his nemesis out of the sky. Of course, without the upgrade system, the lone boss wouldn't take long to topple at all, and the game would be very short, though well presented. But unlike Upgrade Completer, Johnny Upgrade plays it straight, with every upgrade helping you progress through previously impassable areas, and there's something compelling about gradually making progress in this way. Simple but engaging, Johnny Upgrade is a little treat for platforming fans, or anyone who really likes upgrades.

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Rating: 3.5/5 (73 votes)
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BenBlipRemember that time as a kid when your skateboard hit a bump in the ground and sent you flying into the air? That was physics at work. In BLiP, you'll be using the same momentum-based mechanics in place of a jump ability, and although Blip isn't the first game to come to mind when you think of physics puzzles, that's arguably the best way to describe this clever little platformer from SquareBear Games. Using the left and right [arrow] keys to move, your goal is to collect three stars on each level, which unlocks the exit and allows you to progress.

Of course, there are obstacles along the way, mostly of the sharp and pointy variety, which deduct a life for the slightest of scrapes. Your glowing square 'character' can't jump over these hazards, and that's where the carefully modeled physics come in, allowing you to flip and spin over low walls or across gaps. Platform games without jumping usually feel restricted, but here the physics react exactly as you'd expect to give the character a surprising range of movement (for a box). The limited lives you're given to beat all 60 levels with feel like a step back, though extra lives can be collected for completing bonus stages, but if you're tired of the usual physics puzzle fare, Blip is a fun, playable, and completely fresh take on the genre.

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Rating: 3.9/5 (49 votes)
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BenPixlePixle (not to be confused with Pixle) is an artistic one button game that was probably inspired by Helicopter, but alters and improves on the formula to create a beautiful, if coffee break sized, experience.

The game's author, Stellar-Ø, describes the main character, Pixle, as "a mysterious multi-form shade", and as he flies through a beautifully drawn forest, it's up to you to help him find those other forms. Pixle never stops moving or changes his speed, but the actual steering comes down to you as he flies at the same height as your mouse pointer. To keep Pixle flying high, soar over seeds for a boost of energy, and left-click to nab crystals that unlock new evolutionary forms more advanced than your humble beginnings. At full power, you can hold the left mouse button to trigger a fast and powerful Overdrive Mode, but don't get cocky; miss a crystal at any point in your flight and everything from Pixle's combo and speed to his evolution will be reset.

The game doesn't last long, so your time with Pixle will be like the character's time in his world, and indeed, the game itself: short but beautiful.

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Link Dump Fridays

DoraWe love you! And not just in a platonic, help-you-move-your-furniture type way, but in a have-some-free-stuff way! That's right, because you're so awesome we're now going to be doing weekly giveaways here at Casual Gameplay with copies of some of our favourite old and new indie digital games! Check back each week for a new chance to win a piece of gaming greatness, and check below for this week's contest. Additionally, ponies are finally playable on your computer, London is creepier and more fascinating than ever, you can't keep adventurers off your lawn (or out of your volcano) and more!

My Little InvestigationsMy Little Demo The game is afoot! Or, uh... ahoof, I guess, which just sounds weird. Regardless, the Case 1 demo for the adventure game My Little Investigations has been released! It's on the short side, which is why it isn't getting its own article just yet, but it is free and available for all platforms. In it, Twilight Sparkle, fed up with the incompetence and slowness of the only investigative team Ponyville can call on, decides to go looking for Rarity's stolen gem and cat herself. The gameplay is very similar to the Phoenix Wright titles, and you'll need to talk to everypony you can to get to the bottom of things, as well as track down evidence. Fully voiced and with beautiful graphics, it's a stunning example of fan dedication and the perfect itty-bit of gaming to help tide you over until Season 3.

Defender's QuestGiveaway Quest There's a lot to love about Level Up Labs' addicting, funny, and engrossing tower defense RPG Defender's Quest. Trust me, I know; I can't shut up about it, I can't put it down, and I'm very excited for the upcoming GOLD edition. And to help you get excited, we're giving away five free copies of the full game! To enter, just play the free flash demo and leave a comment using your Casual Gameplay account with valid e-mail address about it on the original review. We'll select five winners at random to journey with Slak and Wrenna, and a bunch of other heroes who aren't Slak and Wrenna and thus not as important.
Contest rules: Entries must be submitted by May 17th, 11:59 p.m. EST (GMT-5). Winners will be announced shortly thereafter. One entry per person only. You must be at least 13 years of age or older to enter. No purchase necessary. Void where prohibited.

Cursed Treasure 2Cursed Productivity You might remember a little game from 2010 called Cursed Treasure. If not, let me tell you about it briefly. It was a tower defense game, and it was stupidly addictive. Well, prepare to have your work load suffer once more, and get your excuses ready for your boss because Cursed Treasure 2 is on the way! At the moment, the only thing we've got is a brief teaser trailer, but if the original devoured your time like it did ours, it's enough to start getting excited. For more news, you should keep an eye on developer IriySoft's Facebook page. You kids these days and your Facebooks.

The Journey DownGet Your HD On Hey there good lookin'. Whatcha got cookin'? Well, in this case it's the stunning HD release of SkyGoblin's luscious and intriguing point-and-click adventure The Journey Down, which focuses on Bwana and Kito as their ordinary life is disrupted by an unexpected adventure that might lead them to the truth about their father. We rather loved the game in our 2010 review, but on May 18th Chapter One will be re-released for PC and Mac (iOS and Android to follow) with more than just a shiny new style. In addition to full voice acting, you can expect a lot more content in the form of more story, characters, locations, and even puzzles. If you're interested, you really should think about pre-ordering to support a talented indie developer. Of course, the original version is still free to download and play!

Fallen LondonFallen Echo London Bazaar If you haven't made the trip to Echo Bazaar in a while, you might want to do so, but don't be too surprised if it looks a little different these days. Rechristened as Fallen London a while back, the multiplayer RPG with the air of sinister yet bizarre gentility is just as richly engaging as ever before, though tweaked to feel more streamlined and packed with more stories to engage. If you've never played it before, there's no time like the present to sign up for a free account (old members will, of course, recall that making a stock Facebook or Twitter account solely for gaming like this is a great way to keep your privacy if you're concerned about that). Get back on the streets and see what Fallen London has for you to experience. Which is to say, quite a bit, and if you're Persuasive, Watchful, and even a little Dangerous, you might just survive it all.

Do you know an upcoming indie project or some community gaming related news you think deserves some attention? Send me an e-mail with LINK DUMP FRIDAY in the subject line at dora AT casualgameplay DOT com with the info, and we'll judge it with the all-seeing glare of our own self-importance for inclusion in a future Link Dump Friday article!


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Rating: 4.3/5 (76 votes)
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TrickyNina NueveJonathan Whiting has quickly a favorite Ludum Darer of mine... Dare-taker? Dareista? Whatevs. Between LD22's Craequ and Niña Nueve, his entry interpretation of the "Tiny Worlds" theme of LD23, he has proved to be a master of wonderful vagueness. A top-down puzzle arcade game that takes place in a nine-by-nine room (or does it?), Niña Nueve leaves it to the player to determine its mechanics, even as they grow ever more complex. There is no hand-holding, but really, there doesn't need to be. There's a lot of charm in Niña Nueve's chunky old-fashioned enemy sprites and its minimalist-but-jazzy score, and the world is very satisfying to explore. Niña Nueve is a short game that will be run through pretty quickly. Still, it is a heck of a ride.

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Rating: 4.7/5 (176 votes)
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Cube MayhemBryanIt's time to see if your brain is up to snuff and solve some tough isometric programming puzzles in Kevin Gu's Cube Mayhem. The cube does only what it is programmed to do by the tiles you place along its path towards the exit portal. The game's focus is all about the cube's safe travel and brings the mayhem later so you can get shown the ropes of the different programming tiles and how to use them efficiently. Don't worry though; there is plenty of chaos and brain-bending challenge to make you grind your teeth at a few puzzles for quite some time.

The cube is your friend and key to winning, so left-click with your mouse on the particular programming tile you want from your inventory and place it on any white tile. You can press the "done" button when your tiles are all used up and it will release the cube onto the map. Whether your cube makes it successfully to the end, gets stuck in a loop of teleporters, or plummets off the map, it will follow your path blindly until you stop it or it fails. You can re-edit your tile positioning by left-clicking on a used tile to send it back into your inventory. The limited number of tiles you start with restricts the creative freedoms in your programming, but this constraint produces a degree difficulty and element of fun that attracts most logic puzzle gamers.

Cube Mayhem has a simple premise, but makes you muster up all your problem solving knowledge to utilize each of the various tile pieces effectively in a small level. You wouldn't think that moving a cube around is mentally stimulating, but when thirty minutes pass by for one level, your tune will change. A lot of the time spent on the game grid will be testing out your tiles' location and adjusting when necessary. The twenty two levels of changing difficulty introduce unique, new tiles for a few levels and then throw you into challenge levels to test your new skills out. They will boggle your brain and turn the map into a colorful mess of every tile you have seen up until this point. If you can crunch these puzzle solutions out in one sitting, congratulations! The more casual gamer would rather solve a few and save the puzzle pleasure for another time. Let the sharp graphics and single click interface draw you into a wonderful hexahedron hysteria of a game.

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Rating: 4.5/5 (292 votes)
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DoraWolfenstein 3DWOLFENSTEIN! Now there's something that feels like it should be cackled gleefully while backlit by dramatic lightning flashes. Bethesda Studios brings back Id Software's classic shooter for its 20th anniversary... in glorious HTML5! Wolfenstein 3D stars you as Captain William J. Blazkowicz, deep in Nazi territory with no other option but to blast your way out in the manliest, gunliest way possible. Use the [arrow] keys to move, [spacebar] to interact, and [X] to fire your weapon. You can hold down [shift] to sprint, and holding [Z] while pressing the left or right [arrow] key will allow you to strafe sideways rather than turn around. Take down enemies before they fill you full of holes, keep an eye out for delicious floor chicken legs, and above all... keep that eyebrow arched, soldier!

It goes without saying that Wolfenstein 3d's subject matter is somewhat controversial, but anyone who's played the game knows it's more or less the great, great grand-pappy of the 3D first-person shooter, and all other titles are just toddlers staggering around at its feet. For a lot of people, being able to play it in their browser is going to be a terrific blast from the past, while still more of you will make me die a little inside by pointing out you weren't even born in 1992. The default control scheme feels a little awkward if you're used to being able to aim with a mouse, though once you're in game you can customise the controls to something more to your liking under the options menu by pressing [esc]. Loaded with secrets, weapons, and battles galore, it's a good idea to play Wolfenstein 3D not just because it shows you how far we come, or what HTML5 can do... but because it's still just as entertaining today. Besides, who can deny the important lessons it taught us... namely, that anyone worth their salt has at least three secret rooms in their place of residence, and eating chicken off the floor is not only good but good for ya.

Play Wolfenstein 3D (HTML5)


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Rating: 4.3/5 (93 votes)
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elleAs the Village TurnsMihail has been sick for as long as he could imagine. He has a skin condition which forces him to avoid the sun; he suffers during the day but the day is when Mihail can visit friends, family and fellow villagers. While sunlight saps his energy and drains his life, these connections to others heal his spirit. Digital Dreams' experimental As the Village Turns presents a philosophical dilemma: is it better to have strong relationships or longer life?

Part narrative adventure, part interactive art, As the Village Turns is played using the [arrow] keys to move Mihail around the village and pressing the [spacebar] to interact with the other villagers or, if he's in front of his own house, send Mihail to bed. There are over 1,400 lines of text and each day Mihail's energy bar grows shorter while every conversation shrinks it further still. In order to see all conversations to full fruition, when the game is over, you'll want to start again. There are two general endings yet many more possible paths for conversations (and relationships) to go, almost in a Groundhog Day sort of way.

While it's probably not as controversial as Loved, As the Village Turns does broach some touchy topics about religion, life, and the choices we make. Unfortunately, it lacks a strong sense of achievement and one of the endings tends to meander overly much. That's made up for, though, by the unique style, superb artwork and intriguing premise. Plus, there's much to ogle and enjoy in As the Village Turns—layers of nuance, story and graphical artistry work together for cogent effectiveness. It's a different game to all who play it—much like each day of our lives.

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Rating: 3.7/5 (87 votes)
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Ricochet Kills 3BryanA true marksman must not only be precise and quick on the trigger, but capable of thinking outside the box and using their environment to their advantage. Don the black trenchcoat in Ricochet Kills 3 to eliminate any and all sharp dressed people in the third installment of Mibix's physics shooter game. You use some unusually bouncy yet deadly bullets for each of the seventy levels that test your trick shooting aptitude and grade school geometry skills. With metal beams, wooden boxes, and explosives to help you in your shooting rampage, a successful mission is only a few gunshots away.

As the silhouetted gunslinger, you do not move from your position on screen and fire your pistol by left clicking with your mouse. Taking aim on a target is as simple as moving your mouse cursor to the point on screen you want your bullet to fly. Luckily for you, as the title might imply, your bullets will ricochet off surfaces a few times for disappearing, so success becomes a matter of plotting your trajectory to set off impressive chain reactions. A professional killer and sharpshooter doesn't need a lot of ammunition so you must get rid of all the targets with a limited amount of bullets. The more ammo you use, however, the lower your score will be and it will be more difficult to unlock those extra levels. It will take a keen eye and true grit to master your ricochet shots in this refined physics-based puzzle shooter.

This well-done sequel made small additions to the original's slick experience that made it both more challenging, and more addictive. The added physics of hanging platforms, wrecking balls, and user activated explosions give you more crazy means to whack your enemies. With all of these extra little incentives, you are tempted to get the best scores just so you have enough to unlock the twenty secret levels for more bullet bouncing madness. The rather plain, black enemies you face are complemented with detailed and gritty backgrounds to keep you interested along with the smooth and well implemented physics gameplay. If you were a fan of the first two games, then polish off your old pistol and get ready to waste faceless enemies and a good chunk of your free time.

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Rating: 3.4/5 (59 votes)
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JeremyThe Bear of LoveLook up "bear hug jokes" on google and you'll get the following quote from an old British politician: "Once the bear's hug has got you, it is apt to be for keeps." Keep that in mind when you play The Bear of Love, a new tongue-in-cheek action game from LeBrancher and rzafael, inspired by a tweet from a fictitious British dude, Peter Molydeux.

In this zany little simple idea game, you play a bear who needs to hug people in order to breath, creating a form of photo-hug-synthesis that will have scientists baffled for decades. But there's a catch: you tend to come on too strong and end up killing those you hug when you don't pull away in time. Press [Z] to lay on your bear hug, [X] to open up the upgrade shop, where you can buy more friendly outfits and signage to be less scary to your potential hugees. While in the shop, you can press [Z] to buy an item and [X] to close the window. But, be careful! Your oxygen levels will continue to drop while you are in the shop, so if you aren't careful, you can die.

Bear of Love features some great 8-bit pixel art and the funny upgrades and animations will have you chortling to yourself long after the five or ten minutes it takes to finish, but it was made in 48 hours for a Molyjam competition, so it has some flaws. It feels repetitive after a few minutes and there isn't a lot of strategy involved. But, really, the game isn't meant to be anything more than a funny way to spend a few minutes, ideally on a Monday morning, five minutes after coming into work.

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Rating: 4.4/5 (128 votes)
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Weekday Escape

SonicLoverOkay, pop quiz. Which of the following is the correct definition of the word Abacus? Is it (A) a contagious disease that causes high fevers and itchy backs, (B) a line of undergarments for men, (C) an ancient device used for counting and mathematics, (D) an escape game by Otousan, author of Libra and Bird Escape, or (E) both C and D are correct?

If you answered E, then congratulations—you got it right! (Don't get a big head, though. It's always the "both C and D are correct" choice.) Now, on to the subject at hand...

AbacusIf you're familiar with Otousan's work, you know what to expect from Abacus: a four-walled room with simple, gradiented graphics and plenty of puzzles, most of which center around a particular theme. In this case, the theme is the blue enigma machine over on the cabinet there and the circular tumblers that it uses. All you need are your brain and your mouse: click around the room to navigate, particularly the bars with the arrows if you want to change what you're looking at. Pick up items and use them (click to select, click to use), or use the "About item" button to get a good look at whatever you've selected. Solve puzzles all around the room, get everything figured out, and eventually get that door open.

Is it a good game? Indeed it is. The puzzles show a bit more variation than Otousan's games typically do, and the game as a whole is a bit longer and more substantial (it must be, there's a save feature this time!), which is good for those of you who found the developer's past games too easy. The graphics and audio, as usual, are non-intrusive but clear, and everything flows logically. The only real downside is that one or two of the puzzles can be a bit too frustrating; if you don't know the tricks you can be shuffling those tumblers until your hair turns gray.

So if you're looking for a little mental challenge to help you through the week, Otousan delivers as always. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go lie down; my temperature reads 105 fahrenheit and my back itches like crazy...

Play Abacus


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Rating: 3.7/5 (39 votes)
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JeremyDN8: PulseA good story is great, but sometimes you just want to blow stuff up. In DN8: Pulse, a new shooter game from
Squize, you are the commander of a puny little fighter who has to fight off swarms of enemy vessels if you want to live to make it to the next space port.

Your ship fires constantly, but you have three options for moving your space hulk around: [WASD], [ZQSD], or the mouse. Most players will want to use the mouse to exercise the most control over their craft. If you survive the initial waves, you'll have the chance to upgrade your ship with extra shields, weapons, and even support pods. There are two upgrade paths, defensive and offensive. Veterans of the bullet hell genre will be at home with offensive, while newbies and more casual pilots are advised to take the defensive route. You are only hit when a bullet touches the red center of your ship, a concept that can take a moment to get used to. There's also a concept called "grazing", where if the red core of your vessel slinks past a bullet, but doesn't get hit, then your "graze bar" fills up, and you get points towards an extra life, and later experience points for upgrading.

The clear selling point of DN8: Pulse are the graphics, done in Stage3D, which are unlike most anything you've seen in a flash game. The visuals are in a word, stunning, and it's a lot of fun to play a shoot-em-up that leaves the conventional, retro pixelated setting and dares to take it to the farthest reaches of the universe for a truly immersive experience. Upgrade junkies will also find plenty to satisfy them here, and the way the authors built the difficulty settings into the upgrade path is also creative. However, while the biggest draw to the game is its boundary-pushing graphics, it is also its biggest drawback, since certain computers might not be able to handle it. It's possible to change the graphics to minimum, but this alters the game dramatically, and they will be better off playing the prequel. The game is a near clone of the original with upgraded visuals, so those expecting new mechanics will be disappointed. But while there is no story to anchor yourself to, the graphics are so good, you can almost feel the bullets zipping by your cockpit as you play.

Play DN8: Pulse


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Rating: 4.1/5 (97 votes)
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TrickyNuclear OutrunNot to fall into the trap of attempting to psychoanalyze an author by the content of their works, but boy, doesn't Nerdook seem a little apocalyptically-minded? Whether the threat is zombies, demons, robots, or an insane AI, it's hard not to picture him developing his games from inside some kind of bunker, surrounded by packs of D-Cell Batteries and 72 oz cans of beans. And we love him for it! Nuclear Outrun, a physics-driving-shooting hybrid, may be another trip to the end of the world as we know it, but hey, it plays fine. You play as a cadre of twenty monster truck drivers, attempting to outrun the trajectory of a nuclear missile by speeding through the derelict landscape, blasting every undead obstacle to dust with a variety of weapons. An interesting combination of Cyclomaniacs gameplay with Nerdook's trademark style of combat action, Nuclear Outrun lacks depth, but makes up for it in mindless fun. It has zombies. It has explosions. It has a gun that shoots sharks. What more do you really need?

Play Nuclear Outrun


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Rating: 4.2/5 (123 votes)
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Kimberlykimberly_chancealot_screen.pngLooking for a leisurely way to make you feel a little... knightly? Look no further than Chance a Lot, the latest point-and-click game by BeGamer. You play an intrepid knight, striving to take over the conveniently advertised kingdom for conquer. If only finding work were always that easy. With brave music to accompany you, or not if you employ the mute button, simply use your mouse to click on objects in the correct order to progress. Your goal in each of the 14 areas is to find a way to beat the evil red towers... second cousins to Sauron, perhaps?The puzzles are not too tough as many of the objects or areas meant to be clicked are made obvious by arrows. If you are looking for a challenge, Chance a Lot probably won't satisfy. If you're looking to be king for a day by means of catapults, horses, lances and axes, then sally forth!

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The Vault

DoraSo there you are, minding your own business being fabulous while you indulge in a little casual gaming on your favourite game review site (you flatterer, you) when it hits you. Feelings. What the heck? You were enjoying a perfectly good bit of simple digital entertainment! What are you supposed to do with all these feels?! Gamers have been talking for years now about how games can be used for more than simple instant boom-boom-pow gratification, but it's not just your Persona 4s or your Silent Hill 2s or even your Lunars or your Suikodens doing it. (Yes, I'm feeling nostalgic.) Flash developers are surprisingly adept at playing with our hearts and minds when we least expect it, and here are just three of our favourite examples.

  • LovedLoved - Few games have sparked more unexpected and intense debate in the community than Alexander Ocias's simple little platformer about choice and confrontation. Your goal, as a tiny little figure, is to obey (or disobey) the orders given to you by a disembodied voice, and see the way the world changes around you as a result. In a lot of ways, Loved's utter lack of in-game explanation or clarity makes it all the more powerful, allowing you, as the player, to project your own feelings onto it and draw your own conclusions from the short experience. While some people found it too easy and more weird than anything else, for others Loved delivered an unexpectedly potent dose of introspection which makes it one of the more polarizing, but still one of the more successful, experimental pieces of interactive art around. After all, if just one person is made to feel something, isn't that art a success?
  • ComaComa - Thomas Brush took us on a stunning exploratory adventure in this short but effortlessly engrossing experience. It's eerie, it's beautiful, and you kind of wish it wouldn't stop. You control a tiny little creature named Pete in a world that seems dark and foreboding, and set out on a journey with your friend Birdie to save your sister, who has been locked away somewhere. The controls can be a little awkward, but trust us when we say; it's worth it. Coma might just be one of the most beautiful and powerfully atmospheric games around, and showcases just how gorgeous and chilling Flash games can really be.
  • You Find Yourself in a RoomYou Find Yourself in a Room - Escape games have an enormous and dedicated fan base, but it's hard to deny that developers rarely try anything new or more complex with the genre beyond "you're in a place and you have to solve puzzles to get out". It should surprise nobody who knows him, however, that Eli Piilonen's deceptively simple interactive fiction adventure turned that basic concept on its head in a startling and entertaining new way. As the title suggests, you find yourself in a room, but as you put more and more of the usual commands into the game you'll notice that the tone of the text begins to change. Drastically. How can you find your way to victory in a game when the game itself gradually begins to realise it hates you? It's funny, it's strange, and it is without question something anyone who doesn't offend easily should check out.

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


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Rating: 4.8/5 (27 votes)
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Waking Mars

DoraYour iOS is about to take you beyond the stars and deep within the belly of the red planet in the rich and atmospheric action-adventure game of puzzles and scientific exploration, Waking Mars from Tiger Style Games. Best of Casual Gameplay 2012Guide Liang deep beneath the surface of Mars in a beautifully moody and jaw-droppingly beautiful science-fiction journey that will force you to master the alien ecosystem you discover and ultimately decide the fate of an entire planet. Now available for PC or Mac from Good Old Games!

Playing is relatively simple; just hold your finger anywhere onscreen to move. If it's on the ground, Liang will run to it, and if it's in the air, he'll activate his jetpack, allowing you to fly around and safely navigate hazards. As you explore, you'll gradually gain access to different types of seeds that will allow you to manipulate the planet around you. Certain plants react differently to one another, tipping the ecosystem in ways that can open paths or otherwise help or heal you. Just tap the icon in the lower right corner, select a seed from the menu that pops up, and tap anywhere onscreen to through it in that direction. If the seed lands in appropriate soil, it'll quickly grow. Waking MarsDifferent plants and lifeforms can interact with each other in various ways, so you'll have to pay close attention to their behaviour and your surroundings to figure out what you need to do and where in order to manipulate the area's Biomass enough to get you through each place.

Of course, the deeper you go, the more you have to contend with. Not all of the life forms you'll encounter are stationary, and not all of them are friendly. Your health is displayed in the top left corner of the screen, and depletes whenever you take damage. You can, fortunately, make use of a certain plant with a certain seed to heal yourself. As you explore, your map will be updates with waypoints, and you can tap these to travel to them instantly. (Samus is jealous.) The whole planet is a mystery waiting to be unraveled, but as you delve farther below the surface you might not be prepared for what you find. Remember, every action has a consequence.

Waking MarsAnalysis: Waking Mars is one of those games that can not only suck you in, but literally change your whole mood. It's rare for a game to be able to so perfectly manipulate its atmosphere as to make you forget what's going on around you as you play, but Waking Mars does it with enviable ease. The alien life you encounter is at times both beautiful and unsettling, while the unobtrusive soundtrack weaves its way subtly through everything you do and experience. It combines to create a truly cinematic experience, and one you instantly want to know more about. The way the story expands and reveals itself the farther you play is really impressive, and watching the characters develop into people doubly so. Plus, come on. ART is the best computer.

Waking MarsThe ecosystem mechanic is what really sets Waking Mars apart from other adventure games, however, and the way it gets you thinking in ways most other titles don't is kind of spectacular. Especially considering the way it weaves into the storyline. Discovering new life forms is always thrilling, and sometimes even a little scary, and if you give it a chance to get going the plot can really snare you. For the most part, the movement and physics feels comfortable and natural as long as you don't get carried away and try to zip around like a drunken Rocketeer. The exploration can also be really exciting with the unstable terrain and can even set your heart pounding a little at times. Figuring out what you need to do to progress can be challenging, but as long as you pay attention to ART's research and are willing to experiment a little, you shouldn't have much trouble. It's an odd combination of elements, to be sure, but fans of games that marry story and gameplay will find a lot to embrace here.

Waking Mars is one of those games that took me a while to get around to playing, and I'm sorry that was the case. You don't often find games that make you want to shut out all distractions, but through it's incredibly engaging story, rich design, and clever gameplay Waking Mars does just that. It's creepy, it's beautiful, it's one of the most stunning and original games available for iOS, and really needs to be experienced by as many people as possible. Take a trip that's out of this world and get ready to think about life, the universe, and everything. You'll be glad you did.

NOTE: This game was played and reviewed on an iPad (1st gen). Game was available in the North American market at the time of publication, but may not be available in other territories. Please see individual app market pages for purchasing info.


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Orbital Defender

JohnBOrbital Defender is a great looking planetary defense game from Addictive Zone that has been acutely tuned for ease of use on mobile devices. As a lone satellite orbiting a single planet, it's your job to keep the rock safe from asteroids, comets, UFOs, and more nefarious dangers as you circle the planet over and over again. You can't move, only shoot, and since firing at your home world is a very bad idea, you have to play a little game of strategy as you blast foes each time you swing by.

Orbital DefenderOur first stop on the orbital defense tour: Mercury. The tiny planet isn't under that much danger, so the first few levels serve as a good introduction to the game. Simply tap the screen where you want to fire and the satellite sends shots in that direction. You have to predict where targets will be when your weapons make contact, and you can't fire through the planet without damaging it, giving the game a smart slant as opposed to a "tap all the spaces and win!!!" sort of mentality.

Floating amongst the enemies, you'll find power-ups that repair the planet, allow you to move faster, or boost your weapons with sets of missiles. Planets also have some defenses you can utilize, such as the dust cloud which you can drag into space to slow down oncoming foes. Unlocking and using these powers really ups the coolness factor of the game, and they're provided at a decent pace so you're never in want for a pick-me-up when you need one.

There are currently around 20 levels to play, five for each planet from Mercury to Mars. The larger gas giant levels are teased in the game's menu but promised for a future update, which at the time of writing has yet to arrive. It's a bit shorter than you'd like, as the action really gets going towards the end and the game gets even more enjoyable, but it's a great start, and one you'll blaze through without thinking twice. And before you start wondering, no, it doesn't seem Pluto was counted as a planet. Sorry.

A great fit for a mobile game, Orbital Defender makes touch screen satellite-based planetary defense an attractive and awesome experience. Set your device down, place both hands at the ready, and defend our solar system!

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


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Twitch Arcade

BryanFrom Munsie Games comes an impressive collection of mobile arcade games packaged together in one robust release: Twitch Arcade! Featuring a dozen games for the price of a single app, Twitch Arcade has everything from avoidance games to puzzle, defense, and shooting games, all playable from a single interface with easy to learn controls. No matter when you buy this tablet-optimized app, you get every new game added in future updates for free. And what better feeling is there than getting tons of games for one tiny price?

Twitch ArcadeEvery game in this fun little bundle requires just your finger and the touch screen, tapping targets to attack, or just swiping, dragging, and pressing the device in a mad quest for a high score. Each of the twelve games has its own simple set of rules, but they're all easy enough so you can jump right in without a lengthy tutorial. Games like GemClix Blitz is hybrid puzzle mix of Bejeweled and Tetris where you tap a consecutive set of same-colored gems that fall from the top of the screen while utilizing bombs and other power-ups. Another fun game, Ballies, puts you as a single 'ballie' that must bump into other ballies that are the same color as the background. As the background changes and enemy ballies surround you, avoid the wrong colored ballies, double tap for bombs, and grab the power-ups to rack up more points.

To bring some shooting excitement into the mix, Mator Command takes a page from the classic Missile Command to get you squashing invading tomatoes with your rocket ships' blaster cannons. When you are tired of space tomatoes, Kid-N-Zombies brings you back down to Earth to tap zombies out of existence so your kid can make his way across the screen. Whether you are a child or pretty experienced casual gaming adult, the bundle doesn't fail to impress any demographic. The main appeal, apart from the inherent charm of having this many games in your hands, is the online high score board for each game. The need to outshine your old score or prove that user 'mike' isn't such a hot shot at MatorCommand is enough incentive for most people to keep playing.

While some of these casual titles can become stale with repetitive play by themselves, a grouping of these arcade games helps to break the monotony with multiple options of easy fun. Without any convoluted game mechanics or insane time commitments, this app is perfect for kids, but in no way restricts it to a younger audience only. Any penny pinching gamer looking for mindless fun and loads of free time shouldn't pass up on this deal.

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


  • Currently 3.9/5
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Rating: 3.9/5 (21 votes)
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Cargo-Bot

SonicLoverBeing a robot isn't always fun. Whereas other robots get to chase after pets and use grappling hooks to navigate flashy environments, Cargo-Bot is stuck picking up and putting down colored crates in a nondescript warehouse. Ah, well. Such is the life of a robot.

Cargo-BotAs a neat little puzzle game by Two Lives Left, Cargo-Bot's premise is simple: program a robotic crane to rearrange crates so they match the layout at the top of the screen. The method by which you do so is similar to our old favorite Light-Bot 2.0: drag and drop instructions on and off the four command bars on the left until you've got something good, then hit the play button at the bottom to see how she runs. The fewer instructions your program uses, the better your star ranking will be if it works. Suffice it to say that you'll have to worry about a handful of subroutines, conditional instructions (e.g. only move the crane left if it's holding a yellow crate), stacks of recursive calls, and many clever combinations of the above throughout the game's 36 levels.

The clever and brainteasing puzzles, adorably minimalistic soundtrack, and clear yet non-distracting graphics are more than worth the price of admission alone (it'd have to be, the app is free), but what really makes Cargo-Bot special is that it's the first game to hit the App Store that bears the distinction of having been created entirely on an iPad, using Codea. Codea is another iPad app from Two Lives Left, a programming utility designed for creating games and simulations. The gameplay, music, the cool physics effects when the crane crashes into a wall—it was all done on Codea.

Cargo-Bot is a first, and it's a really good first. If you've got an iPad, grabbing this game will be the best decision you made since you started to read this review!

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


  • Currently 4.7/5
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Rating: 4.7/5 (40 votes)
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Hero Mages

McVeetyDo you have what it takes to be a real Hero Mage? This turn-based, tactical strategy game from D20 Studios brings the feel of tabletop RPG combat to your mobile device or browser. Take control of a small group of heroes on their battle-ridden path to victory over darkness in the realm of Papillion!

Hero-Mages.jpgYou begin each battle with three units: a Mage, and two Guardians. The Mage unit is capable of casting spells and summoning monsters to help you fight. The Guardians are less gifted warriors such as barbarians, rogues, and paladins, but each has unique abilities and benefits. You and your opponents take turns moving, casting spells, and attacking on a grid map until only one team remains.

Combat takes inspiration from the d20 system: 20-sided dice are rolled to represent attacks. If the result beats the opponent's defense rating, damage is dealt. Stronger units get to roll more dice for each attack. Mage units can also cast spells from five schools or magic to damage, buff, or debuff units, and otherwise change the playing field. Spells are represented by cards that are drawn each turn and require mana to play.

Fans of tabletop games like Dungeons & Dragons, Mage Knight, or Magic: The Gathering will find the gameplay mechanics familiar and compelling. Likewise, turn-based tactics fans won't be disappointed. The base game includes six classes of units and 50 spells, and expansion packs including six other heroes are available for purchase. Expansions are tied to a universal username, so it doesn't matter if you're at your computer or on your mobile device: the content will always be available to you. The learning curve is a little steep due to the amount of content, but the tutorial is thorough and after some practice it's not too difficult to develop more complex strategies.

The fantasy setting is well represented in both the game's content and art style. The simulation of the tabletop gaming atmosphere is so true that publisher Game Salute has signed on to create an actual board game! Hero Mages includes six story-driven tutorial levels, but gameplay really shines in multiplayer and quick matches. Battles can be either random or customized with different heroes, maps, and rules. The multiplayer is cross-platform, so it's more likely that players will be online, but the community is still growing.

Hero Mages provides a massive amount of tactical options and exciting combat situations, and D20 Studios has already started releasing new content. This one is sure to become a favorite for fantasy fans and strategists alike.

Play Hero Mages (Flash Demo)

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


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Spirit

BryanLet's face it folks; fewer people these days are spending their pockets full of quarters at arcades. Instead, everyone's saving them up for apps or games they could just play at home. The spirit of classic arcade gaming is slowly being sucked dry, but Spirit is keeping that retro arcade action feeling alive and re-imagining it on the mobile game space. With the help of English producers Jakyl Games, Marco Mazzoli brought a game to you where you control Spirit to send the enemies into another dimension with the swipe of your finger. Your goal is to banish all enemies on screen, build up an impressive high score, and survive until either you or the enemy spirits are all that is left.

SpiritA game as simple and free-flowing as this could not be any easier to control. Put your finger to the touch surface, drag it around, and Spirit will follow your finger across the stage. You guide the friendly white creature so it can surround and enemy or groups of them with its trail. Anything caught inside its walls will be distorted and sent hurtling into another dimension for points. One movement too quick or being overzealous in capturing enemies can cost you a life if you cannot avoid them. Your journey across the 2D neon plane will end once you run out of lives and your high score will be preserved on the device.

Spirit may seem like a one trick pony to some, but with three different game types, uniquely generated enemy waves, and an ever increasing difficulty scale, the heart and soul of a classic arcade game is improved upon greatly. Classic mode introduces the enemies progressively and is the easiest mode while Extreme and Pulse mode present quite a bigger challenge to overcome. Extreme mode takes Classic and injects it with steroids to mix more enemies into the levels than you can deal with OR maneuver around. The wonderful world of Pulse mode takes away your trail capturing ability and makes you grab pulse circles to make the space distortions. Every mode requires a hefty amount of dodging skills to survive longer, but the latter two are for the nimblest of finger flickers.

There is an interesting mechanic built into the chaotic gameplay called "relative movement" where you can press any spot on the screen, but Spirit will move without moving to your finger's position. It is quite helpful on smaller screened devices since the screen gets hectic quickly and your BIG fingers might hide one pesky little enemy from sight.

SpiritAnalysis: Spirit takes you back to the older days of gaming where the only things that mattered were the highest score and showing up your friends. Swiping through wave after wave of abstract art enemies just to rack up loads of points is the main appeal to the 2D world of Spirit. It becomes really easy to put hours of time into this beautifully done mobile rendition of a classic retro experience without even noticing.

A game with such free-flowing and smooth movement can really put you in a relaxed state, but it won't last for long with how fast the enemies start pouring in. It may not take much to play, but if you aren't careful and exact in your movements then do not expect to last very long. Spirit will give you an excellent way to spend some free time while training your hand-eye coordination even more.

As is with most mobile games, Spirit is quite an easier and more enjoyable time on a bigger screen since it provides more room to navigate. Luckily, it is available on most mobile devices that have a tablet if the price isn't too big for your budget. There may not be any new features or additions being planned for the next update, but with all the hordes of different enemies and uniquely generated waves for each wave, you won't die in the same way very often.

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


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Mobile Monday

JohnBOne of the big controversies surrounding mobile games these days is social media integration. On the one hand, it allows people to share games with friends while helping to promote them, but on the other, we're perfectly capable of telling our pals about good games on our own! One of the games below took a step in the social media direction, and while it certainly added value to the existing experience, it also stirred a bit of controversy amongst its fans.

Mobile MondayInfinity Blade update, sale - The giant armored monster takedown action RPG continues to roll along as Chair Entertainment's phenomenal Infinity Blade series gets another little update. This time, the original Infinity Blade is on sale for next to nothing, while Infinity Blade II gets a number of bug fixes and improvements. If you haven't followed the fun, Infinity Blade II also received ClashMob, a feature that allows asynchronous global challenges to be issued, met, and completed for some nice rewards. If you don't mind sharing your Facebook information, it's a great way to extend the life of the iOS killer app!

Mobile MondayLostWinds finds its air - In early 2012, LostWinds made its way from WiiWare to the iOS platform, bringing with it some delightfully creative elemental gameplay with heaps of exploration. Our review said it was nearly perfect, and our only complaint were the controls which have since been fixed via update. Now, the next chapter in the LostWinds chronicles is on the iOS horizon with LostWinds: Winter of the Melodias. In short, it's everything that made the original good, but more of it! No word on when it will hit, but if Retina Display support is included, be prepared for your eyes to cry with joy!

Mobile MondayPizza vs. Skeletons vs. Updates - It's a concept too insane not to check out: giant pizza pies crushing skeletons. They're natural enemies, you know. Anyway, we mentioned the game when it was originally released, citing its awesome concept, insanely varied action, killer visuals, and customizable pizza costumes as the major selling points. Now, there's even more to love! A brand new update has added ten new missions to roll through, including skeleton rabbit fights, a city in the clouds, a World War II biplane stage, and skeleton-based cricket. Seriously, play this game now!

Mobile MondayThe Journey Down coming to iOS - It was late in 2010 when the excellent retro-styled adventure game The Journey Down: Over the Edge was first released. After its success, development team SkyGoblin decided to bump up the visuals and release a remastered 3D version. That time is fast approaching, and along with the gorgeous PC version an iOS release is also on its way. It's got a fantastic sci-fi futuristic setting, pitch-perfect writing that rivals the depth and humor of classic adventure games, and, naturally, a great visual presentation. Look for it sooner rather than later!


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Tiger Eye: The Sacrifice

JohnBTiger Eye: The Sacrifice is a new casual adventure game from PassionFruit Games, creator of Tiger Eye: Curse of the Riddle Box. The story is based on the book by Marjorie M. Liu, who also had a hand in writing the games, and picks up right where the first one left off. The gameplay departs from the usual hidden object adventure formula, though it still provides ample challenge and plenty of puzzles to solve as you try to keep Dela and friends out of trouble!

Tiger Eye: The SacrificeIn the first Tiger Eye game, protagonist Dela Reese unleashed the ancient warrior Hari who was trapped in a riddle box. Thousands of years old and bound to serve the owner of the box, she quickly sees the humanity behind his weathered eyes and sets out to free him from the curse. Her actions gained the attention of an evil wizard, though, and as The Sacrifice begins, Dela finds her car enveloped in a strange purple light as it crashes into a tree. Soon, she learns her friend Kit has been kidnapped, and it appears the same shady group could be behind it all: the Magi.

Tiger Eye: The Sacrifice plays out in a series of chapters that are seamlessly woven into a single continuing narrative. The game is strongly centered around puzzle solving, item finding, and clever mini-games, leaving you free from standard hidden object scenes with lists of items to find. Instead, Tiger Eye encourages you to organically explore each area, clicking on items you see and trying to solve whatever puzzles you encounter. The bottom of the screen holds a handy tasks bar that tells you what you should be looking for, whether that be levers to complete a mechanism, statues with wings, or pieces of newspaper.

The mini-games really make The Sacrifice shine. Not only are there dozens of them, but each one makes it a point to be more than just a rehash of a familiar mechanic, incorporating new concepts and creative visual designs into each theme. Best of all, the instructions aren't spoon fed to you, allowing you to figure out what's going on through experimentation. Sure, hints are available at the top of each puzzle, but where's the fun in that?

Tiger Eye: The SacrificeAnalysis: Tiger Eye: The Sacrifice will surprise you with its high quality visuals, attention to design, and refusal to fall victim to most pitfalls casual adventure games succumb to. There are no text lists of items to find in crowded scenes, just exploratory-based object finding, which feels so much more natural than staring at a single screen for ten minutes trying to find a hot dog in ancient Egypt. And the puzzles play directly into the plot, all of which is wrapped in gorgeous hand-drawn artwork.

The story, while perfectly entertaining and even a bit intriguing, does fall on the side of the paranormal romance genre, so you can expect a fair number of cheesy moments, hunky protagonists, B-movie villains, and last minute saves from Dela's psychic powers. Not quite the epic tale some players might be hoping for, but then again, have you seen what most of these other casual adventure games pass off as plot?

Tiger Eye: The Sacrifice is an extremely well-made game, a fact that shows in the gameplay, the visuals, the writing, and the puzzle design. It provides a sturdy three hours of play time, more if you choose the higher difficulty level or decide to save up to unlock expert mode.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


  • Currently 4.3/5
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Rating: 4.3/5 (89 votes)
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elleCat Around the World"I want chicken, I want liver, meow meow meow, please deliver!" If that tune is now stuck in your head, here's a good way to get it unstuck and have a jolly good time at it. This adorable little feline wants no more boring cat food; it's a taste of the world's culinary delights that he craves. Travel with the furry foodie, Cat Around the World, in this easy yet entertaining physics puzzle from Alma Games.

Easy doesn't mean overly simplified, although the gameplay is about what you'd expect from a get-a-round-object-to-the-goal type physics game; just click to remove obstacles, selectively avoiding hazards. While not entirely innovative or challenging, there's some nice features—such as an extra-wide game map, a nice variety of well-utilized props, and a very charming character—to keep things interesting throughout all 30 levels. The Jetsons fans might enjoy (or feel disconcerted by) a sound effect here but the music is cheerful and pleasing, discouraging the use of mute. So when you're looking for a light physics snack, join Cat Around the World on this playful circuit.

Play Cat Around the World


  • Currently 4.8/5
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Rating: 4.8/5 (310 votes)
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TrickyParametersIt's always great when Japanese developer Yoshio Ishii gets experimental, and his RPG, Parameters, is certainly that. It looks like an Excel Spreadsheet, and plays like a computer hacking scene from a 1980s action movie. It has no real graphics or story to speak of, and its focus is on the most often derided parts of role-playing games: grinding, farming, and stat-managing. But this simple game of mouse clicking and movement is strangely charming, and hard to stop playing.

It won't be for everyone. It takes more than a little abstract thinking to figure out what's going on. But much of the joy in playing Parameters comes from determining the mechanics for yourself. While not for the easily frustrated, Parameters is a hidden gem of a game that should be quite compelling to those in the mood for something a little strange or experimental.

Play Parameters


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Gardenscapes: Mansion Makeover

GrinnypBack in 2009, Playrix Entertainment — those purveyors of wonderful time management games —created a hybrid between time management and hidden object finding. Three years after Gardenscapes debuted, its lovely sequel has finally landed: Gardenscapes: Mansion Makeover! And this time, it's personal! Or, at least, indoors.

Gardenscapes: Mansion MakeoverFor those who have never played Gardenscapes before, let's get you up to speed. Through a lot of hard work you (with the help of your dear butler Austin) managed to bring the grounds of your late grandfathers' mansion back to life. The decision to move to the country turned out better than you could ever hope for, didn't it? Between the regimented flower beds, the lovely paved walks, and the killer miniature golf course you made your garden the envy of your neighbors and the winner of the local garden of the year award. Now it's time to sit back, relax, and invite a few friends over to enjoy the fruits of your labors. Oh, except you spent all your time on the garden and the interior of the mansion is a bit, well let's say run down, shall we? Okay, run down is not the word. The mansion rooms are still full of junk you haven't gotten rid of and the great hall is a mess, and your friends are due soon. Time for more yard sales!

The basic mechanism of Gardenscapes: Mansion Makeover is the yard sale hidden object scenes. In each room of the mansion is a pile of junk just waiting to be claimed by its rightful owner. Customers appear on the left of the screen five at a time, asking for items that can be found in the room somewhere. Find and click the items, take their money, and help the next customer that appears until you have cleared the level. The faster you find and sell the items the more money you make, money which can then be used to purchase furniture and repairs to the main hall of the mansion, decorating until it reaches a point where you would not be embarrassed to host an intimate gathering of your closest pals. Along with the items for sale each room also harbors a few secrets such as coins scattered about the place which you can collect for extra cash, and several varieties of hints from thermometers (to play the classic "hot-cold" game), cameras (which highlight wanted items) and question marks (which you collect for the standard hint feature).

Gardenscapes: Mansion MakeoverMost scenes involve different customers coming and going, interspersed with special one-item scenes in which a customer would like you to find 20 of a single item. These one-item scenes don't pay in money, instead the customer will gift you with something that will help spruce up the place like paintings or statuary. Everything else you need to make the foyer look like "The Bronson Pinchot Project" can be purchased with the cash accumulated in each standard hidden object scene. Each item you purchase offers a choice of three or five different models and colors so the mansion can be personalized to your tastes. Once you've bought everything a party will erupt with some surprise guests, characters from other Playrix games like Royal Envoy, who have come to enjoy your hospitality.

Analysis: Gardenscapes: Mansion Makeover has been designed to appeal to two widely divergent casual customers: hidden object fans and those who love time management (these are their stories). This give the game wide appeal across a broad field of players, and each element is spot on. For hidden object purists who disdain the adventure trappings of today's casual hybrids Playrix features an untimed "relax" mode which keeps the hidden object goodness constantly coming. For those who like more of a challenge there is the timed mode where a room must be cleared within a certain number of minutes, and customers start getting cranky if they don't get their items right away.

Gardenscapes: Mansion MakeoverThe graphics are strong, clear, sharp, and beautiful in both the hidden object scenes and the main hall. Amusing animations of Austin the forgetful butler, the pet dog, the pet bird, and other items bring the space to life. The hall itself with its plethora of animations can become a screensaver to amuse even when the game is not being played, and you can spend a lot of time just enjoying watching the place come to life. An additional bonus is your ability to interact with the scenery by clicking on it, directing Austin to play with the dog, feed the bird or the fish in the aquarium, clean various items, or sit down and watch the big screen TV which shows clips of various talking heads interspersed with promos for other games in the Playrix stable such as 4 Elements II or Royal Envoy 2.

Perhaps the best aspect of Gardenscapes: Mansion Makeover is the fact that the game never really ends. Even after the star-studded party is thrown you can continue to hold sales and use the money to change the decor at your whim, meaning lots and lots of hidden object finding for those who really enjoy that aspect of the game. There are amusing details wherever you look, from lamps that actually turn on and off with the click of a mouse to the outside weather (glimpsed through the upper balcony and other windows) which can be randomly sunny, cloudy, or raining from moment to moment.

Although the time management elements are not quite as engaging as they could be that is a minor criticism in what is otherwise an overwhelmingly entertaining game. The sim elements of the mansion hall are a nice break in-between the frantic hidden object scenes, and Gardenscapes: Mansion Makeover is a game that you can return to time and again to satisfy the craving for more amusing gameplay.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


  • Currently 4.6/5
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Rating: 4.6/5 (192 votes)
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ElleMemento XIIWhat triggers memory? For 12 years, a shabby cell is the only home an old man knows, but a special Memento fills it with vestiges of his former life. Finding that magical souvenir becomes complicated for someone who's so forgetful, though. Play this point-and-click adventure game by utilizing an assortment of functions to explore his limited environment and answer the questions: Why am I here? What have I forgotten?

Creating Memento XII in just 48 hours, game designer Sébastien Bénard made full use of Ludum Dare 23's theme, Tiny World, in both the miniature scale of the game field and in the small confines of the protagonist's room. It could take a moment to get accustomed to the controls—alternately experimenting with "remember," "pick up," and the list of other options to puzzle your way to the end—yet this feature adds extra dimensions to the game and gives it heart. Reduced size doesn't equal less impact, either; graphics, story, and gameplay are full of minute details to make the experience richer, more thoughtful and, honestly, memorable. Memento XII helps you appreciate the memories you can cherish as well as your ability to remember how you got here... by clicking the JIG man on your favorites bar, of course!

Play Memento XII


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Professor McLogic Saves the Day

ArtbegottiLet's alternate telling true statements and lies in this paragraph! I am twenty-two feet tall. Sometimes, it's hard to tell when someone is telling the truth. Other times, you stick your head in a bucket of ice water until goldfish swim up your nose for warmth. Professor McLogic Saves the Day is a logic-based puzzle created by Gibmaker in RPG Maker where you have to sort the people you encounter into categories based on the truthfulness of the statements they give. You get to fly around on the back of a dragon and play a magic bassoon to lure the woodland creatures to the mini-golf parlor. This game also features robots, vampires, and rabid sheep.

Yes, believe it or not, that last bit is true.

Professor McLogic Saves the DayIn each of ten diverse worlds, you encounter a series of inhabitants who possess certain qualities. These qualities often impact whether or not the statements they make are true or false. For example, in the first world, Gunhold City, you'll run into faeries who always tell the truth, vampires who always lie, and mortals who alternate between telling the truth and lying. As you walk around (using the [arrow] keys) and interview each inhabitant (using [space] or [enter]), you might want to keep a pen and paper on hand to note down what everyone says. Your job is to determine the combination of roles that allows each character to make their statements without contradicting themselves or the rules set for the world. Sometimes characters will be outright lying or spouting gibberish, but so long as you assign them the right label that acknowledges such, you're on your way.

In other levels, you'll run into honest philosophers who always tell the truth but only speak in vague if/then statements, politicians who insist on talking about political affiliations despite their potential corruptness, and creatures that only tell you the truth if the moon's phase is just right. Each world consists of ten stages which contain more characters to solve as you progress (three stages with two characters, four stages with three characters, three stages with four characters). As each scenario is randomly generated, you've got plenty of opportunities to put your deduction skills to the test.

Analysis: There's no beating around the bush with this: Professor McLogic is a very complex, difficult game for logic puzzle lovers. In addition to the complexity of the conditions for each world (such as one where rock crushers lie about scissors-grinders, scissors-grinders lie about paper millers, and paper millers lie about rock crushers, but they otherwise always tell the truth), the statements made by the inhabitants themselves become equally perplexing, as you're required to assess the truthfulness of a certain character's remarks about another character's truthfulness. Certainly in the world of mathematics, there exist techniques and symbols to help process these sorts of truth/untruth statements quickly, but it helps to make up your own system of note-taking and write down the given information in the way you're most comfortable with.

Professor McLogic Saves the DayThere are perhaps two major drawbacks to this game. One is that the game provides save slots for reloading after every world you've finished, but no such luxury exists for saving in the middle of a ten-scene world. This means that when you attempt to clear a world, you're in it for the long haul, all ten puzzles or naught. Depending on how long it takes you to wrap your mind around the devious logic puzzles provided, this could mean that you're committing yourself to half an hour or more of poring over letters and symbols and truths and untruths (or perhaps longer if you screw up, as an errant solve forces you to play another round at the same level). Sure, you could just pause the game and walk away for a bit, but not having the option to save at a comfortable midpoint is an irritating negative.

The other major drawback, which is perhaps a compliment in disguise, is that RPG Maker is probably not the best engine for producing something of this nature. This game is far from a traditional RPG, as you don't collect items or rank up, you simply interview everyone that you find and give them a label. There is effectively no plot to this game, aside from the stories that help to set up each world's twisted rules. That having been said, it's probably for the better that Professor McLogic was made to begin with, because logical conundrums of this sort are a rare treasure, and having so many possible scenes available thanks to a unique puzzle generation engine is a true treat.

If you can brave the complex web of truths and lies and truths about lies and lies about truths referring to truths about lies and pretty much every other combination of truth and lies that you can imagine, Professor McLogic Saves the Day is a fantastic, no-frills logic bonanza. And that's no lie! OR IS IT? (It's not a lie.)

WindowsWindows:
Download the free full version

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


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miniaturegolftranquility1.jpgJohnBMiniature Golf: The Tranquility Course isn't a game you probably pictured yourself playing. On the surface, it's a simply-made 3D mini-golf game with nine basic holes to run through and an easy, intuitive interface. Just beyond the thin film of golfing, though, you'll find a game world that presents you with more than enough reasons to run around and explore.

The controls are much like any standard first person game: [WASD] to walk in the four main directions and the mouse to look around. Here, though, since golf is the main purpose, you can press and hold the [spacebar] to focus on the golf ball, then press and hold the right mouse button to charge a shot. Holding the [spacebar] while the ball is moving around keeps the camera trained on it, allowing you to check out the bouncing action as your shot does its thing. Your goal is to make it through all nine holes under par, a task that's probably not as difficult as it is when playing real world mini-golf.

Here's the most intriguing part: exploration. You have full control over where you go in this game, meaning you can strut around the course and check everything out instead of swinging the club. When you're ready to golf again, simply hold the [spacebar] to zoom to the ball's location. To really sweeten things up, Miniature Golf: The Tranquility Course features 15 achievements, many of which involve doing some creative and unusual things. Without spoiling too much, you'll be rewarded for exploring the course, looking around the area, using your golf clubs for more than just playing the game, and for getting into spots of trouble with your shots.

Miniature Golf: The Tranquility Course does one thing very well, and that's exactly why we love it. It's a little more than just a mini-golf game, and the two layers interact well with each other. The game's author, Follomania, crafted Miniature Golf in under 72 hours for GMC Jam #6 and plans to release more content in the future. Until then, it's time to go back and see what else we can do in the rectangular world of Tranquility Course!

WindowsWindows:
Download the free full version

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


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The Ultimate Celebration

JeremyThe best games are ones that make you believe you are a part of one story, while another story plays out quietly behind the scenes. In The Ultimate Celebration, a poignant indie platformer from Brian Soulliard, you play a jolly little Party Dude who's only desire is to throw a party for all 20 of his friends. In the real world, you would just call them up on their cell phones and invite them, but where's the fun in that?!

The Ultimate CelebrationPress the [arrow] keys to make Party Dude jump and run around this beautifully designed pixelated world. Be sure to dodge the bees, bears, and piranhas that couldn't care less about your party plans, and make good use of the jumper platforms, which can be really fun to get lost on, jumping up and up seemingly forever, a la Sonic the Hedgehog. Likewise, there are water currents that will send you in any direction in the blink of an eye. There are tons of other obstacles, none of which are fatal, and the worst they will do is push you out of the way, a nice little innovation to the fall and die trope of most platformers.

The 8-bit retro graphics are charming, as are the different locales — from castles in the sky to laboratories full of bees. But what makes this game really stand out is the story that plays behind the scenes, on the edges of your awareness. The music, a pitch-perfect score by the talented Filippo Beck Peccoz changes note for note with the background scenery. But don't think this is just some artsy concept game. Story or no story, this is a genuine platformer with lots of well-placed challenges that will having you coming back for more, if only to beat your pathetically low previous score, of which you can be assured you will have. Also, speed freaks will be happy to know that the game was designed specifically for speed running.

Intrepid Jigsters will now be cracking their knuckles, ready to fire off a flaming screed in the comments saying that this game is a blatant rip-off of Tanaka's Friendly Adventure, a game we featured back in 2009. But you would be wrong! While the opening premise of the game — finding friends for a party — is the same. The ending, set-up, and themes are like night and day.

Not everyone will be wowed by the ending. In fact, the most likely response for most the first time around will be, "Huh? What just happened?", but this is a game that, like a good movie, gets better with each play through, even if it's just in the inner reaches of your own mind.

WindowsWindows:
Download the free full version

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


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Secrets of the Dark: Eclipse Mountain

GrinnypMuch like the protagonists of today's game, Orneon has just sauntered into town with a thrilling sequel to Secrets of the Dark: Temple of Night, unleashing a stunning new adventure/hidden object hybrid with Secrets of the Dark: Eclipse Mountain. Once again light and dark clash in a suspiciously empty small town denuded by yet more demons. Are you sensing a theme here?

Secrets of the Dark: Eclipse MountainThe adventure begins as you and your intrepid friend and reporter Peter leisurely wander towards a picturesque little Thai village. However, due to the fact that Peter seems to be the demon equivalent of catnip, the journey is interrupted by ravenous demonic servants who — you guessed it — kidnap Peter as part of a nefarious plan to unleash evil upon the world. Yes, again. Seriously, this is the second time you will spend an entire game attempting to rescue poor, put upon Peter and, quite frankly, dude needs to get a talisman or something so this doesn't happen a third time. It will be up to you to explore this dark region of Southeast Asia aided only by four monks who have unfortunately gotten themselves stoned. No, not high on dope, or executed biblical style, but turned into actual stone. Fortunately they are still helpful even in their statueified states.

As you explore deeper and deeper into this obscure village you will encounter a plethora of challenges that include a nicely balanced mix of traditional hidden object scenes, "reverse" hidden object scenes, and mini-games and puzzles. Collect useful items as you explore, including some that may not seem useful at all but are actually blessings in disguise. Find a particular animal skull, for instance, and if you can offer it to the correct stoned monk it will transform into something helpful, like a hammer. Other useful items can be found hanging around each scene, in both types of hidden object scenes, and lurking beneath dirt or debris. A changing cursor is helpful in distinguishing areas of interest along with a variety of sparkles, at least in the "Regular" mode of play. Many areas also incorporate the wonderful "light/dark" mechanism from the first game, where a scene is actually two different scenes depending upon whether it is light or dark when you walk into the room. Explore, solve, sneak, and sometimes brute force your way towards saving your friend and the rest of the world from the all-encompassing evil. And then dump the guy because, seriously, two demon kidnappings are enough for anyone to live through.

Secrets of the Dark: Eclipse MountainSecrets of the Dark: Eclipse Mountain offers three modes of play, Regular, Advanced, and Hardcore, each with its own difficulty level. A bottom-loading inventory helps you keep track of the multitude of items you will encounter and your journalist notebook keeps track of the story as well as the clues scattered about the place. The refilling hint timer doubles as a skip function for the mini-games and puzzles and is useful inside the hidden object scenes as well as within the larger adventure itself. All the bells and whistles of a classic adventure game are here to be discovered, along with some nice twists thanks to the fact that many rooms and locations harbor a second, secret side that expands the gameplay exponentially.

Analysis: There are now thousands of these hybrid adventure games out on the market now, and it is becoming harder and harder for one game to distinguish itself from the rest. Fortunately Orneon is one of the best designers around and they have once again brought us an adventure that is both gorgeous and fun to play with a delicate balance of exploration and gameplay that is difficult to achieve. Pacing is what makes the gameplay in Secrets of the Dark: Eclipse Mountain sing, with each hidden object scene and mini-game coming at just the right time to feel organic and move the story along, rather than feeling like roadblocks to slow down and frustrate the player. This juggling act is one of the most difficult to achieve in a hybrid and Orneon once again nails it.

Secrets of the Dark: Eclipse MountainThe mini-games, puzzles, and hidden object scenes are top-notch, a nice mix of familiar and challenging. The "reverse" hidden object scenes are especially nice, featuring the challenge of placing items back into the scene rather than pulling them out. The mini-games and puzzles are based on many familiar tropes such as gear puzzles, pipe puzzles, hidden match-2s, and multiple variations on sliders. Don't let the familiarity of the mini-games and puzzles put you off, for they highlight some interesting new twists that certainly change up the gameplay and make what is old seem fresh again. Nicest of all is the fact that many items needed to continue the adventure are not just strewn across the landscape like so much random junk. Instead items can be hiding under a fall of leaves, or lurking in pools of water, or just be magically transformed into something else that disguises its potential, adding another layer to the adventure aspect.

Orneon certainly knows how to set the stage for its adventures, from the lush, tropical scenery in its predominant greens and blues denoting both the place (Thailand) and the time (mostly in the dark), to the incidental sounds, haunting music, and variety of small animations that make the world of Secrets of the Dark: Eclipse Mountain come alive. Practically every game these days has bugs or other vermin scuttling across the screen, but how many also feature the rustling of leaves blowing in the wind, the haunting chirps of cicadas and other insect fauna, and the sound of water dripping, gurgling, and rushing around with accompanying animations, making for an amazingly immersive experience.

Some might complain that the "Regular" mode is too easy with its quickly refilling hint timer and cascade of sparkles and glints to point out areas of interest, but for those who like tougher adventures there is always the Advanced mode (with no sparkles and slowly refilling timers) or the Hardcore mode which, as advertised, is pretty hardcore with every hint and tip feature turned off, including the opening tutorial. There's not much else to complain about here as Orneon has produced a fantastic, fun, immersive trip that should delight adventure fans everywhere. Well, you could complain about "demon-bait" Peter, but then, hey, you're the one hanging out with him.

A Collector's Edition is also available. It includes wallpapers, a built-in strategy guide, the ability to replay certain mini-games, and a bonus adventure. Remember that Big Fish Game Club Members pay only $13.99 for Collector's Editions, and collector's editions count 3 card punches of 6 total needed for a free game.

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

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


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BryanTony Robinson's Weird World of WondersYou know how early 90s kids shows always had a group of parentless children traveling throughout time and space for adventure and education? Well, another gang of intrepid lads and lasses in Tony Robinson's Weird World of Wonders are bringing you strange tidbits of history through a quick physics adventure game. Historical highjinks ensue with Pee Wee and Nits as they search for the missing Curiosity Crew members, solve puzzles, and hear Mr. Robinson's comical commentary along the way.

Pee Wee and Nits need a helping hand through their adventure by guiding the boy with the arrow keys and his canine with mouse clicks. Aardman Digital, who has quite a presence on the virtual space now, brings a well-known British actor and his quirky book series to life in a very casual platformer. While the game is quite short at 24 levels and little challenge from the puzzles, the nonsensical and excellent voice over of Mr. Robinson brings out your smile and gives you colorful insight into some history. Using your cute little pooch and the nimble Pee Wee together to solve puzzles is the bulk of your challenge in grabbing keys and dodging historical figures. While you muck about in history, grab any treasure you can find and keep man's best friend at your side to complete little side quests. The game is suited more to a younger demographic, middle school kids perhaps, but that is no reason for anyone to miss out on admiring the sketch-style art and solving easy puzzles when you need a nice respite during the day.

Play Tony Robinson's Weird World of Wonders


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Rating: 4.1/5 (93 votes)
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Kimberlykimberly_jewelanche.pngJewelanche is a pretty match-3 game by Myrmeleo Games and FR Games. The controls are simple: just use your mouse to click and drag across at least three adjacent gems of the same color to make them disappear, and click once on your powerups to use them. Depending on the level, you will either need to clear a certain number of gems, or clear all the starred gems to pass the board. Your progess is tracked by a jeweled snake on the right side of the screen. If the game board fills with gems, the level ends and you will have to try again.

Clearing gems becomes more difficult as you progress, as you will encounter obstacles such as stones which can't be matched, and frozen jewels which must be matched twice. Luckily there is a gift shop, where a mysterious man with a pipe is always willing to help...for a price, of course. Earn coins as you play (you still get coins even if you don't pass the level) to buy upgrades and powerups in the shop, which are indispensable in later levels. There are pickaxes to break stones and ice, and a mage's glove that allows you to match stones and non-touching gems, among other things. You can also obtain powerups by means of random Pandora's Box gems. But beware! They are just as likely to hurt as they are to help. While the ability to go back to previous easier levels to gain more coinage would have been nice, any fan of match-3 games will enjoy losing themselves in this avalanche of jewels.

Play Jewelanche


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Rating: 3.8/5 (49 votes)
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JeremyDummy CrusherWho knew that crash test dummies were so...squishy? In Dummy Crusher, a sadistic little physics game from Alexandr Porubov and Ekaterina Saburova, you're a contestant on a Hunger Games-like TV program where you're given all the explosives and projectiles you could ever ask for and have to make the audience happy by knocking the stuffing out of poor, defenseless crash test dummies. Like all good physics games, the controls are simple. Just left-click anywhere on the screen to drop tires, firecrackers, remote controlled bombs, and even safes flying down on the always smiling dummies. The aim of the game is to cause the most destruction possible and to max out your points bar before moving forward. Take your time and be creative, or the audience won't be happy and you'll need to start again. You can also skip ahead to the next level if you don't feel like going on. Another cool feature are launchers, which you can place to send objects hurtling in any direction you like.

The different setups are not that original, and sometimes it's a bit counter-intuitive trying to understand how to get your bombs past the odd platform setups, But, really, the game isn't about skill, and the whole point is just to go nuts crushing test dummies. Don't be surprised if you find yourself playing the same level more than once just to see if you can max out the carnage. There's also a running point total as you play, of course, but most players will be having too much fun to even notice it. Dummy Crusher is not game-of-the-year material by any means, but at 20 levels, there's plenty here to fill up a long lunch break.

Play Dummy Crusher


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Rating: 4.1/5 (73 votes)
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TrinnDeteruyoThroughout all the bathrooms, balconies, bedchambers, and any other room that can fit a puzzle of the escape game universe, one name is whispered that is known to summon strangeness incarnate. A name so unusual, we here at Jay is Games aren't allowed to speak it without donning a scarlet bathrobe, drawing on a pencil mustache, and doing our best Vincent Price impersonation. That name... is Detarou! dun, Dun, DUNNNN!! As soon as you're done shivering in your boots, perhaps you can check out Detarou's (dun dun dun!) latest surreal escape game Deteruyo.

It's not a typical feat to take elements of the incredibly bizarre and somehow turn them into a series of coherent clues, but Deteruyo is anything but typical. Detarou fans will be pleased to find healthy doses of obscure cultural and anime references (who wouldn't enjoy a Sailor Moon-esque derrire transformation?) and a handful of pleasantly challenging puzzles. It should be noted that some of these puzzles are color based, which will likely present additional difficulties to the colorblind. Other minor quibbles appear, such as the unpredictable uses of some peculiar items and a boatful of red herrings. Fortunately, players are assisted by the familiar clean design, simple navigation, and the helpful feature of a changing cursor to indicate active areas. Lovers of the logically odd and oddly logical can expect the entertaining and rewarding feeling after breaking through each of the three endings in another incarnation of Detarou's signature flair.

Play Deteruyo


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Link Dump Fridays

DoraThis year, May is coming in like a lamb and going out like a huge, monstrous, emotionally scarring lion if Edmund McMillen has anything to say about it! But that's not all. There's a lot happening this year, and not all of it involves children being forced to battle hideous monstrosities somewhere dark and unfriendly. Such as...

Hot Air JrDemonstrating You're Full of Hot Air Nitrome's latest online playable demo has arrived in the form of Hot Air Jr! This is your chance to see the creative process behind one of the most popular developers around and see the game evolve. Nitrome says that the game is being created with the complaints about difficulty in the original games, and they're also looking for feedback on the game's engine and concept as a whole. It's great to see developers reaching out to their community in an effort to keep growing and honing their craft, so make sure you check it out and then drop them a line of encouragement!

The Wrath of LambSoon Even More Hilariously Traumatic! A special thanks this week to eagle-eyed reader MKcyborg who graciously e-mailed me to remind me about the upcoming expansion pack for The Binding of Isaac, the twisted roguelike action-adventure from Edmund McMillen and team. Titled The Wrath of Lamb, it's due in late May for the low price of $3.00 USD and promises 80% more content including new characters, new enemies and bosses, and a ton of new items to name just a few things. This announcement was made a few months ago, but with May just now poking its sleepy head above the covers, it's time to start getting really excited. The Binding of Isaac only costs a measly $5.00 USD on Steam, and if you've got a strong stomach and enjoy challenging, disgusting action, you definitely want to check this out if you haven't already. You can even play the free online demo right here!

PoacherTED Does Games If you don't already know about TED, the conference that features talks from people of all walks of technology, entertainment, and design, you really should get familiar with it. In November of 2011, Brenda Brathwaite made an appearance and spoke about games as a means to convey messages and emotions, and the video, called Gaming for Understanding, is finally available online to watch here. She talks about making a game for her daughter to more fully understand slavery as it happened, and how games can have a much deeper and profound connection to us than people suspect, which is something a lot of you probably believe in. Her nerves seem to be getting the better of her in that she's speaking a little fast and unsteadily, but it's always great to see people discussing games from a deeper perspective, so check it out! Maybe now people will realise games aren't just about mindless violence and instant gratification. Now, if you'll excuse me, Tommy Vercetti and I have to go steal a semi and drive it down a crowded beach.

The Mysterious AphroditusLove as Art My fellow Canadians! I miss you so, and I implore you to visit Ontario's TIFF Nexus exhibitions to see the Comics vs Games Jam. Everyone's favourite sneakily introspective scribe Christine Love has partnered with stunning artist Kyla Vanderklugt to create The Mysterious Aphroditus. Christine says the game will likely eventually make it online, but if you're a fan of art in games and indie work in general, you should definitely make an effort to go play it and the other innovative new titles this weekend in Toronto at the Toronto Reference Library. (And then at the Toronto International Film Festival in September!) Tell me... is Tim Hortons coffee still as delicious as I recall? I miss you so much, Canada.


Do you know an upcoming indie project or some community gaming related news you think deserves some attention? Send me an e-mail with LINK DUMP FRIDAY in the subject line at dora AT casualgameplay DOT com with the info, and we'll judge it with the all-seeing glare of our own self-importance for inclusion in a future Link Dump Friday article!


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Rating: 4/5 (84 votes)
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JeremyTinysastersTinysasters is a short city management simulation from the most recent Ludum Dare competition. The theme was "tiny world," and this little gem by Volute certainly fits the bill.

Ecological disasters spawn randomly, destroying precious arable land and mineral deposits until you build a city and a shrine to stabilize the situation. Each tile except desert can be improved by building a workplace to gather resources. Wooded tiles give you wood, grassy tiles food, mountain tiles minerals, and sea tiles water. Cities also generate electricity and crafts, while shrines collect mana and help stabilize nearby land. Got that? Good, because to beat the game you will need to build a level 4 shrine and a level 3 city. Easier said than done, as each disaster will destroy or rearrange tiles, and erase whatever you've built there.

For such a small game, Tinysasters manages to feature some complex gameplay and even a pleasant soundtrack to boot. Taken together it feels like a rough draft of a more fleshed out title. Here's hoping for Tinysasters 2.0.

Play Tinysasters


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Rating: 4.3/5 (198 votes)
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JeremyPredicamentThe Ludum Dare gravy train keeps on rollin'. Predicament by Orangepascal is a back to basics escape-the-room game with lovely pixel art and a story with an unexpected ending. You are a lone survivor who has fallen into a cave and must find their way out if they want to live. But, if you are the only one here, why are there objects already in this cave? Simply move your lone survivor with the [arrow] keys and press [X] to interact with objects.

One of the cool things about Predicament is its minimalism. All the graphics were done in the open-source image editing software, Gimp, which, along with the Ludum Dare competition in general, shows that there is some great under-the-radar talent out there on the interwebs. That being said, there are a few caveats. There are only a few puzzles, and the entire game won't take more than ten minutes to complete, but anyone with a need for a quick escape-the-room fix and a love for stories with ambiguous endings, there is no predicament... just play and enjoy.

Play Predicament


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Rating: 4.4/5 (40 votes)
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TrickyThe Organ TrailThe internet loves nostalgia! The internet loves zombies! What do you get when you mix these two great tastes that taste great together? The Organ Trail, a parody of a certain retro edutainment adventure simulation, developed by The Men Who Wear Many Hats! It tasks you with the familiar goal of safely leading a party across the US to the west coast. However, this time your Conestoga is replaced by a station wagon, there are no buffalo, and, oh yeah, there are legions of the undead just waiting for a good ol' fashioned brain chomping. You'll need all your wits and luck to successfully ford the river of monsters out there, but with your shotgun by your side, you just might make it.

The play of The Organ Trail will be very familiar to anyone's who has played the original. Using, [1-9], [enter], and the [spacebar], you'll start by putting together your party and scavenging for supplies in Washington DC. Soon, though, you'll set off for the trail, reaching a series of landmarks before getting to Safe Haven, 3000 miles away. You must manage your speed and your supplies, balancing a quicker trip against the health of your party. Random events will help or hinder your progress, though, in a pinch, you can pull over to the side of the road and hunt for canned goods with [WASD], fending off the undead by shooting with the [spacebar]. Naturally, the presence of zombies affects gameplay, especially in how you can use medicine kits to boost your party's health, but they can get expensive... especially if someone gets bitten. There's rumors of a cure at Safe Haven, but if things get too bad before you get there, you may just have to shoot them. Lord knows that's an option MECC never thought necessary to include.

Undoubtedly, The Organ Trail is the flash gaming equivalent of junk food: something that will be easily played and enjoyed, but not particularly filling. That said, junk food can be tasty, and The Organ Trail is very entertaining. It manages some striking, even evocative, Apple ][ depictions of the apocalyptic landscape, a genuinely eerie background music, and a number of hilariously esoteric shout-outs to the original game (including the "peperony and cheese" grave marker that shows up in the most commonly pirated version of the original.) The game suffers by sticking too close to its inspiration, especially in the mid-game where, like the original, there's not a whole lot to do but wait around and hope you don't get cholera. It's worth playing all the way the climactic finale, though. There's not much beyond what you'll see in a single play-through, but The Organ Trail has horrific charm aplenty.

Play The Organ Trail


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Rating: 4.1/5 (59 votes)
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JeremyGem Cave AdventureImagine an entire game built around the opening scenes of Raiders of the Lost Ark and you'd have Rastatronics' Gem Cave Adventure, a bare-bones platformer that puts you in the role of a jewel seeking adventurer, exploring your way through 50 caves, dodging obstacles using the [arrow] keys, swinging past treacherous falls by pressing [spacebar] to deploy your whip. and activating ancient switches using the [S] key. The only problem is that, once you've taken your treasure, ancient traps activate and you'll have to make it past them all if you want to cash in your find.

There are also lots of side quests and extra gold chests, that, along with your gems, add up to money you can use to construct a town above ground from the caves where you do your adventuring, but this feels a bit tacked on, and most players will only be interested in the straight platforming challenge of it, which is a nice, smooth curve of difficulty that will leave you impressed, but not frustrated, even if you can't beat the last levels, which are quite difficult. Gem Cave Adventure doesn't do anything new, but what it does do, it does perfectly.

Play Gem Cave Adventure


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Rating: 4.6/5 (121 votes)
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Escape from the BarGrinnypIf you're an escape fanatic looking for a fix, look no further than the latest bit of fun from popular designer Tesshie, Escape from the Bar. Although, frankly, looking at the stash behind the bar, you might wonder who would want to escape this place!

A bar that you used to frequent (probably the place from Escape from the Small Bar) has moved to a bigger space, and you've been invited to come and be locked in with all the booze as well as the comfy furnishings. And why are we escaping again? Oh, yeah, because we like the challenge, that's why, although most might be tempted to linger a bit and enjoy the lovely views and the libations before trying to unlock the main doors. It's all pretty standard Tesshi-e: lush surroundings, amusing puzzles, and a "friend" who likes to lock you into enclosed spaces, along with a clever mix of puzzles depending on logic, reasoning, and the use of some strange found objects. Find the happy coin, find your way out, and enjoy Tesshi-e's usual solid gameplay.

Although some of the puzzles may seem a bit "samey", and that wobbly picture puzzle needs to die a horrible death, there are still some fresh, new, and fun puzzles to be found in Tesshi-e's 72nd room escape effort. Enjoy the gorgeous decor, the logical puzzles, and a virtual drink or two as you solve your way out of tonight's second escape.

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Rating: 4.1/5 (76 votes)
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DoraDash'n KnightWhen people tell you that you have to tackle your problems head on, they're not usually being literal, and it's probably not said with the assumption that your problems are actual bloodthirsty monsters. Tempa Labs shows us that sometimes it's okay to try to go through obstacles rather than around them in their unique turn-based RPG strategy game Dashn' Knights. Control a troop of tiny bouncy, ballistic heroes out to save their kingdom from Ye Olde Monstere Invasione the only way they know how... by running into them really, really, really fast and sending them ricocheting around the screen.

The concept is simple; instead of just clicking on an enemy to attack, when it's your hero's turn, you choose a direction to move and he or she will dash that way. If there's an enemy in front of you, the push meter will pop up, and the higher it is when you hit the button, the farther back your foe will fly after you attack them. Manage to perfectly nail a push force hit and you'll get another strike, allowing you to chain up big combos. You can make use of objects on the battlefield to bounce into enemies, or even send them flying into each other for more damage. Between battles, you can spend any level skill points you've earned, as well as purchase upgrades and new heroes. You can even replay levels on higher difficulty settings to earn more rewards.

If there ever was a game that felt like it was designed to shoot Cupid's arrow straight into the heart of your Super Nintendo-ensconced childhood, Dash'n Knights is it. The bright colours and character sprites are just about perfect, especially combined with the energetic, if somewhat repetitive, soundtrack. The issues with it mainly stem from its repetitiveness, and lack of real variety in its upgrades and heroes. Having the game automatically spend points when you click on something can also be frustrating if you do it accidentally. However, that said, Dash'n Knights is still a gorgeous, creative little game that's easy to have a lot of fun with. Chaining big combos through strategic placement is very satisfying, and the gorgeous design coupled with the simple concept means it's the sort of game that's very easy to pick up and play over and over. Dash'n Knights is a great concept that would be ever better fleshed out a bit more, but as it stands, you'll find no better way to briefly satisfy your need for smashing into things with murderous force.

Dash'n Knights


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Rating: 4.6/5 (151 votes)
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Weekday Escape

GrinnypBreath deep, the gathering gloom, watch lights fade from every room... Rooms look different in the night than they do in the day. Artificial lights highlight areas and cast shadows that can change perception as the darkness creeps in and evoke moods. Using the differences between day and night are what makes Switch, this week's room escape adventure by Robamimi such a joy and a challenge.

SwitchSwitch takes place in a standard, stark four-walled room with very minimal furnishings. A table here, a cabinet there, a window, and a door, yet as you look closer you find much hidden in plain sight. Puzzles abound everywhere and the more you explore the more you find. Wander around using the left/right arrows and bars at the sides of the screen as well as the handy changing cursor to highlight areas that invite a closer look. Solving your way out involves a nicely balanced mix of use of found objects, logic, visual cues, and yes, some math. Although the "day" and "night" in the room are created artificially, the usual elegant solutions to Robamimi's puzzles involve both, once again taking the basic one room escape to a higher level.

Robamimi is one of the favorite room escape designers here at Weekday Escape and Switch once again shows why, with the simple, non-cluttered space, the elegant puzzles, the soft music, the wonderful built-in hint system, and all the other bells and whistles that any escaper could want in a game. What this charming room lacks in theme or decor it more than makes up for with engaging and amusing challenges, a perfect mid-week break.

Note: If you have trouble connecting to the game try Robamimi's alternate site.

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Rating: 3.9/5 (77 votes)
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DoraRoar RampageEver heard the saying, "Let your fists do the talking"? Well, turns out that when you're a dinosaur, what your fists are saying is "SMASH PUNY HUMAN ARCHITECTURE, HOR HOR HOR HOR!" In Neutronized's reptilian destruction simulation Roar Rampage, you control a towering green beast with a fondness for boxing gloves and massive property damage.

Your goal is to rampage through towns where city planners probably never thought to add "giant dinosaur fisticuffs" to their emergency preparedness seminars, causing as much damage as you can and reaching the big red button at the end of the level. Move with the [A] and [D] or [left] and [right] arrow keys, and just swing the (mouse) cursor to swing your fists, punching and smashing your way through 15 levels of buildings, construction sites, and the army as you search for your kidnapped son. The more damage you do, the higher your score (which is all that really matters in life), but those puny humans won't just sit there and watch you; as you progress, everything from helicopters to snipers to wall mounted machine guns will be out to ruin your fun, so make sure to keep your dukes up and use your fist to block incoming fire. You gotta protect the face; that's your money maker.

Roar Rampage is one of those beautifully simple little ideas that's both a great stress relief and a lot of fun. Neutronized is by now known for creating slick bits of flash gaming, each one more creative than the last, and the design in here really shines. If there's any strike to be made against Roar Rampage, it might be that it feels a bit too simple at times, with its short stages and small stable of power-ups and weapons that seems to be begging for upgrade capabilities. The destructo-physics also feel like they're fighting you more than they should, with swinging your fist turning downright awkward in close quarters and getting hung up on a tiny piece of un-rampaged building is frustrating. Laptop users may also struggle with the amount of mouse movement required.

That said, however, there's still a lot to recommend here. Roar Rampage would not be out of place in an arcade somewhere, and the basic concept and premise is both weird and appealing in a way that keeps you coming back to it. It isn't particularly deep, but it is a great big, stompy, monster of an experience that is a fantastic modernization of the classic Rampage gameplay and a loving homage to retro gaming. Oh, and when you conquer the city? I suggest you name it "This Land"... and then brace for the sudden and inevitable betrayal.

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Rating: 3.9/5 (85 votes)
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JeremyExposedNeed to travel back in time, but your DeLorean's transmission's cracked and your flux capacitor's on the fritz? No problem, how's 1993 work for you? In Exposed, a short old-school style point-and-click puzzle adventure from Procedural Activity (01101101, with music by Mathieu Hallouin and artwork by Carduus), you play a bored teenager with a Fonzie-esque pompadour who gets himself into a bit of trouble when he runs afoul of the local mad scientist. The part of this game that will have you feeling like you've gone back in time is the retro pixelart, fun animations, silly music, and irreverent humor, all of which is reminiscent of the classic adventure game, Day of the Tentacle.

You're given a special orb that evolves based on what it interacts with. Your goal is to help your orb become a fully formed creature with hair, eyes, ears, and the rest. Left-click on any object in the room and have it interact with your orb. The trick is to find the right combination of objects in the room, since the wrong combination will evolve your orb into a ghoulish freak of nature. To check your progress or kill any deformed orbs, just click the microscope.

Exposed is not Day of the Tentacle, of course. It was made in under 72 hours for a recent Ludum Dare Jam, and some players will be annoyed by the amount of trial and error involved in getting the right combination, or the lack of a mute option. Still, it offers some great retro fun and for 10 minutes, you'll be transported back to your childhood den next to your Sega Genesis and glossy back issues of GamePro. And, while we're on the subject, I have some pog slammers I could sell you...

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Rating: 4.6/5 (382 votes)
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JeremyBattle PanicJust what are orcs exactly? Are they demons from the deepest depths of h-e-double-hockeysticks, trolls that live under bridges quizzing all those that wish to pass, or are they just a figment of some British guy's imagination? In any case, you don't need to be a Tolkien scholar to know that when a orc is a comin', you best start a runnin'. Unless, of course, you're feeling all brave and stuff, and want a challenge.

In Battle Panic, a new strategy defense game by Ninja Kiwi, your kingdom has been overrun by the orcish horde and it's up to you to take back what's yours and bring the fight to the enemy's homeland. In each level you begin with basic defenses and some starting resources. You have about a minute to mine or build buildings and units before the orc army approaches.

It's a familiar concept, but what makes Battle Panic stand out is its controls. To build, heal, destroy, and mine, just place your cursor over the object you want to interact with. No clicking required, except to summon reinforcements or buy resources. You can join in the fight by placing your cursor over an enemy and watch as it turns into a big sword that does deadly damage. It can be upgraded along with your three basic units—foot soldier, archer, and cavalry. You can also play medic by placing your cursor over your own troops and watch as a pleasing golden aura surrounds and heals them. This is where the strategy comes in. Your cursor can only be in one place at a time, so you'll need to decide where your energy is best spent—on the battlefield, in the gold mines and forest, or at home shoring up your defenses. The basic idea behind Battle Panic is nothing new, but the game is polished, with good graphics and sound effects, tons of upgrades, and, at about a dozen levels, will provide you with all the blood and orc guts you can handle for an afternoon.

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Rating: 3.4/5 (51 votes)