September 2012 Archives

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Little Gardens

elleOn the surface, you see a simple little block-fitting puzzle game where you place pieces on a grid. But it's also adorably cute with bunnies and grasses and snow and stuff. If that was only description you needed before knowing Little Gardens, a whimsical and clever creation from Michael Todd, would charm you out of your seat, then skip immediately to the download links at the bottom of this review. Otherwise, read on!

Little GardenYou begin with an undeveloped grid and blocks of various shapes, sizes and types. Pick a piece up by clicking and holding, turn it with [space], drag it into place and release. You can also right click anywhere on the screen and drag to rotate the scene 360° and use the mouse wheel to zoom in and out. These features not only aid puzzle solving, they turn the experience into a tactile one. Meanwhile, ambient sounds, soothing music and weather effects make it beguiling and relaxing.

As you strategically arrange each puzzle piece, your tiny gardens slowly come alive. Careful planning is awarded with wildlife such as foxes, rabbits and birds, who romp around your garden as flowers bloom and waters flow. Success leads to a gorgeous picture of richly hued pastels filling your entire screen for a moment of happy satisfaction before you continue forward. Or, hit [escape] to quit back out to the menu. Select available levels by clicking on them or skip ahead with [control+click].

Little GardenAnalysis: While the initial levels are rather easy, they're still quite thinky. As you progress, more block types and maps are introduced—fences, immovable rocks, color specific blocks, and larger, more complicated pieces—a single puzzle can become rather time consuming. You can put it all together thinking you have this one in the bag only to wind up with a single odd piece, leaving you to have to take it apart and try again. Yet it's a pleasure to do so, to have the time to sink into the petite environments you're creating and let go of all other thoughts.

Little Gardens is so charming and unique, there's very little to critique. The difficulty progression is a bit uneven, though; occasionally after a few particularly intricate levels, you'll come across one that's just a snap to put together. But rather than feel like a flaw, it makes for a nice intermission before a greater challenge. I found only two things about Little Gardens that could be called disappointments, firstly, that it ends after 32 levels. Nevertheless, unless you're a whiz kid at these types of games, you likely spend upwards of twenty or thirty minutes on most puzzles and much longer on the later challenges, so Little Gardens is a good value in terms of playing time and enjoyment. I was a wee bit saddened, though, that I couldn't take off my shoes and run around in the finished gardens, what with their looking so cute and welcoming.

Little Gardens is enchanting and sweet and much more than it appears to be at first glance. Not everyone will be instantly enthralled by this type of gameplay, but if any of what I wrote above sounds appealing to you, then you're sure to love Little Gardens as much as I did. It has that bit of magic and heart that makes a good game a true delight to play.

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Super Amazing Wagon Adventure

JohnBWhat... the heck is going on here? At first glance, you probably think Super Amazing Wagon Adventure is some sort of Oregon Trail-related simulation game. But then you see words like "arcade game" and "side-scrolling shooter" and you suddenly think "Maybe I'm going insane? Maybe I've forgotten what words mean and I've just started seeing random flan horse topple red maneuver?". You can relax, however, as we're here to promise you that Super Amazing Wagon Adventure is everything the title suggests, and it manages to be fast-paced, crazy, and entertaining all within the first five seconds.

superamazingwagonadventure.gifIn the middle of the 19th century, hundreds of thousands of Americans hopped on wagons and migrated west to populate a great expanse of land that offered seemingly endless opportunities. It also offered bandits, starvation, disease, wolves, and according to this game, giant squid. Super Amazing Wagon Adventure puts you in control of a party of settlers as they fight the forces of nature throughout their journey. As the days go by, you'll deal with random events as your characters hunt for food, shoot rampaging buffalo, and make crucial decisions. Most of this takes place in a shmup-like environment where you move the wagon and fire at oncoming swarms, but if Super Amazing Wagon Adventure does anything well, it's variety!

The action in Super Amazing Wagon Adventure frequently shifts to side quests that help keep your health, food and ammo supplied. Or help you to die, depending on what you run into. You might, for example, be riding along when the game informs you one of your settlers went out to pick berries. At that point, you'll control that person picking berries. Then, a bear might attack. And when that bear attacks, a mob of squirrels might also attack. Or zombies. Afterwards you might get the chance to leap over a river (in the wagon, yes) or meet with some traders. You really never know what's going to happen next, and that element of surprise is just one of the game's many tricks to keep you glued to your keyboard.

superamazingwagonadventure.gifAnalysis: It's almost a fair comparison to say Super Amazing Wagon Adventure has the same frantic, laugh out loud appeal as games like Wario Ware or the Four Second series of browser games. That would, of course, be ignoring the game's main shooter-like mode and storyline it constructs with each passing event, not to mention the strange bond you form with your settlers as both you and they try to survive everything wacky mother nature throws in their path. But still, it's the same level of crazy action and entertainment, which is what counts!

Super Amazing Wagon Adventure is more than just a wild parody game. It's actually a deep, engaging arcade experience that weaves in some elements of trade, weapon and wagon upgrades, unlockable survival modes, and neat-o things like time travel. You'll likely survive only a few minutes the first few times you play, but the desire to see what could possibly be thrown at you next will keep you going back for more. Again and again you'll attempt the quest, and again and again you'll see things no pioneer ever laid eyes on. Or actual human being in any time period, for that matter.

So yeah, that's Super Amazing Wagon Adventure. It's heaps of awesome in every way possible. It's funny, it's filled with action, it's challenging, there's stuff to unlock, and there's a giant squid. Go play it!

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TrickyTwelve OTick tock on the clock, but the party won't stop, because Ozzie Mercado has just released another wonderful simple idea puzzle game! In Twelve O, the goal is to get the hour hand of each clock to point up, all at the same time. To move a clock hand, first click the clock, then move the mouse. The hour hand of the selected clock will follow your movement. However, and here be the rub, so will the hour hands of all clocks directly connected to it. Move a hand one unit clockwise, and all connected clock hands will do the same. A couple of variations are also present: in the Counter level set, clocks without color behind them will move their hands in the opposite direction of ones with, and in the Revolutions set, bigger clocks will have more units to rotate through than smaller ones. Only expert clock-watchers will make it through all 27 levels.

Thinking spatially is difficult enough, and thinking rotationally is even more mind-twisting. But with the sleek, iconic presentation that is quickly becoming Ozzie's trademark, Twelve O demonstrates that keeping it simple ain't stupid at all. While a keyboard input option would have been good, as the mouse controls take a little getting used to, Twelve O is great for when you have some time to waste, and is just the thing to help wind down a coffee break.

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God of Blades

JohnBGod of Blades is an endless running/combat game designed by White Whale Games. Instead of focusing on jumping around like a little grasshopper, you are given the ancient and epic powers of sword combat, dispatching foes by unleashing various swipes and abilities as you take the stream of enemies that sands in your way. It's all about the artwork and aesthetic in God of Blades, and the development team absolutely nailed the look that will remind you of fantasy novels and prog rock album covers from the 1970s. Even if you weren't alive and kicking back then, everyone needs a little unabashed sword combat now and again!

God of BladesYou control the Nameless King, a human-like being woken from his slumber and given the quest of destroying everything that he runs into. The King runs on his own, pausing only to swing his sword when you so command it. Enemies dash in from the right side of the screen with their own weapons and attack styles. By swiping in the four main directions on your touch screen, you can unleash different attacks to deal with each enemy's moves. Upswings, for example, are short ranged and fast, allowing you to poke enemies for a little damage and possibly interrupt their attacks. Forward swings are slow but devastating, and you can even parry by swiping backwards. Basic moves that translate into a lot of strategy once the game gets rolling.

As you work through the campaign mode, you'll unlock new sword types to equip, each with different strengths, weaknesses, and best of all, power abilities. A little icon hovers at the bottom of the screen while you run through each world, and tapping it unleashes some very helpful spells you can incorporate into your attacks. Battles form their own sort of rhythm, teaching you to watch enemy movements, react without thinking, and attacking only when there's a clear opening. Surprisingly intense, but also pleasingly dance-like in nature.

God of BladesAnalysis: God of Blades is a game that thrives on style. It doesn't try to create a new genre or impress anyone with a great list of gameplay facts and figures. It sticks to the basics, offering slightly more complex rock-paper-scissors combat, straightforward upgrades, an unlockable endless mode, and a few more extras. After that, it's all about artwork and setting, two elements that carry almost as much value as the gameplay itself.

God of Blades' gameplay may not be immediately captivating to every player. It starts off a little slow with enemies who are essentially pincushions ready to accept your sword to their face. That's fine for a level or two, but only after that does the real challenge set in. In a way, God of Blades is like Canabalt crossed with Punch-Out!! set in a 2D world built from the dreams of a 70s sci-fi/fantasy artist. Every part of that idea is awesome, just in case you couldn't tell, but it's certainly not construct that's going to be universally loved, especially for modern mobile gamers.

In the end, you might feel God of Blades' combat can be a little unreliable at times. Everything has a floaty sort of feeling to it that can take some time to get used to. Once you do, however, some real challenge actually sets in, and the game manages to communicate a sense of epic combat that is only heightened by the artwork and setting. This may not be the endless combat game that will gather all gamers together to sing its praises, but if it hooks you, you'll quickly become one of its many devotees.

NOTE: This game was played and reviewed on the 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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TrickyTwelve OBinga, Binga, ready your fingas! Ninjadoodle has just struck from the shadows with a new installment in his awesome Binga series of rapid-fire mouse-driven puzzle games, Binga 3. Prepare to guide balls into crates, enter codes, inspect sock monkeys, and befuddle a few turtles, while the timer just keeps tick-tickinga away. Some will test your wits, others fast-clickinga, and still others require a healthy dose of lateral thinkinga.

Make no mistake, even though these games may be mini, they're no pushovers, especially since you're racinga the clock. But with the hilarious graphics and pulse-pounding music, you won't care too much even if certain challenges stop you in your tracks cold (...friggin' dice!). No matter. There's a logic and a rhythm behind all the puzzles that makes it really satisfying to hear that affirmative DINGA once you've chanced upon the solution.

Play all the Binga games:
BingaBinga 2Binga 3

So crack your knuckles, warm up those metacarpal ligaments, and get playinga!

Play Binga 3

TrickyThis Is Not An EscapeYou wake up in a field. You have no memory of who you are or how you got there. How cliche. It's a nice enough place. There are trees, a pond, a road... and a fellow on a bike coming down that road. Maybe he'll have some answers. Maybe he won't. But you know you just can't stay here... This Is Not An Escape is an interactive movie adventure by Something's Awry Productions, and an entry in our escape-themed Casual Gameplay Design Competition #10. It's a slow paced, artistic kind of work that uses YouTube as its medium, as much as film or gaming.

Competition second place award winnerWatch each video, exploring the suburban environment, until you are prompted to make a decision. Select a choice by clicking the designated annotation, which will take you to the next video in sequence. Occasionally, clues in the video will lead you to various pass codes to enter by clicking, and, when prompted to, it should be done quickly, as the annotations are quite time sensitive. Also, the More Info tab in the upper right of the imbed will often reveal extra bits of information or commentary.

Analysis: The worlds of games, especially escape games, are often empty places. Indeed, in many of the genre, the only motivations as to why you want to leave the place where you are trapped, is that it is lonely, and that getting out is what the game wants you to do. The emptiness of a world where fellow human beings are missing, replaced by codes and contraptions designed to who knows what purpose, is sinister enough in itself that few games take the time to question why we're in such a friggin' hurry. This Is Not An Escape is one that does.

This Is Not An EscapeMake no mistake. This Is Not An Escape is not a deconstuction of the genre. Parody is not its aim. Rather it is an examination of escapism, and the creative processes behind those avenues in which people escape. Perhaps it is a little too self-aware of its own clever meta-techniques, but it is also self-aware about being too self-aware, so it all works out somehow. Clearly, the creators of the work approached This is Not an Escape as a film as well as a game. Interactive movies have been derided for being neither very interactive, nor being particularly great movies. This Is Not An Escape shows what can be accomplished when a creator has the proper grasp of both cinematic story-telling and form. Particularly, the whole thing would have fallen apart if it wasn't for Nik Theorin's fine work as the protagonist. The character by definition needs to be a bit of a blank slate, so that any player feels comfortable escaping with him, a thankless task for any actor. But he gives off the right kid brother mix of vulnerability, inquisitiveness, and exasperation that, if played less subtly would have doomed the work to cheesiness. In the end, though, it's the creator's willingness to lay out both his talents and his manipulations, that makes This is Not An Escape such a breath of fresh air.

This Is Not An EscapeThe game's flaws are mainly the result of attempting to construct complex input on a platform that was never intended to be used for such. This Is Not An Escape uses so many annotations to make its puzzles work, and while it's certain that it was more than a little tedious to put together, it's kludgey all the same. This, coupled with complex puzzles designed by a first-time gamemaker with limited playtesting time, definitely hurts the flow. But then again, what is an escape game without puzzles that you must consult the walkthrough for?

This Is Not An Escape approaches CGDC 10's "Escape" theme in a way both novel and familiar, and it makes for a mind-twist of an experience. Clearly this entry was a labor of love for its creator, and the result is something well worth watching, and well worth playing.

Author's Theme interpretation:

"The game incorporates Escape in two ways. First the main goal of the game is to escape the place you are in. Second, the game also examines the idea of escapism. The game constantly draws attention to the fact that the person who is playing it is "escaping" into the game. So while the character tries to get out, the player is trying to get in. I thought that this would be an interesting idea to base a game around." -Something's Awry Productions

Pastel Games' feedback:

"Well, you said it. :D"

"But joking aside - this is a game and this is an escape (of sorts). I have to admit, on the first playthrough I clicked that I don't want to escape and the game ended. So I should base my review on this part alone. But then played again to be fair."

"I think it might be a good idea to somehow alter the color in the movies, to give them some ethereal feeling. As it is - they're just home videos, if you know what I mean. Just small changes in hue and saturation might do the trick."

"I hate letters that show up on the screen one after another. Most people read faster than they appear, so we have to wait for them. Much better and smoother solution would be to just make the whole block of text appear at once. The simplest solutions are usually the best."

"The puzzle level was incredibly difficult as for a youtube game where we just click through videos. I'm not sure if that's good or bad. Probably could use simpler puzzles for the beginners. Like multiple choice puzzles where the answer is given in some other chunk of the video."

"There are some other gameplay issues, but those are caused by the youtube environment, not the game itself, so I won't hold that against you."

"This game gets a bit boring after a while. Again - not sure if it's the medium, or the "gameplay" was a bit too slow."

"Anyway - what seems to be a nice simple concept - is actually very complicated work of putting all the links and annotations in the right place. Kudos." -Mateusz Skutnik.

"I really like the idea but... this game is designed for someone who really likes waiting. Just a few puzzles and a lot of scenes which I just wanted to skip quickly. It was hard to understand what it's all about... So, I like the concept and appreciate the effort, but it wasn't fun (especially when the ads came out of nowhere in between the movies)." -Karol Konwerski.

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DoraTurnamentYou've always wanted to be a big, bad knight, right? Well, uh... hope you didn't have your heart set on the whole "big" thing. Nitrome need a little hero for a big challenge in their turn-based micro puzzler Turnament, which is just 50x50 pixels like J-J-Jump before it. You play a red knight, and though there's no story given, we're going to say you're on the great journey of Ow, My Eyes, because seriously... ow, my eyes. Luckily, if squinting isn't your thing, you can trade in Itty-Bitty-Vision for a blown-up (but distorted) view by clicking the expanding arrow icon in the options menu. Use [WASD] or the [arrow] keys to move around. Each move counts as a turn, which means that enemies don't move until you do, so try to lure them in closely, since you're both vulnerable to a single hit and you'll be booted back to the last checkpoint you touched if you get slammed. Simply moving into an enemy counts as an attack, which means I like to pretend you have an enormous, icon-clad belly, maybe with some spikes, that you bash into things. What?! It's how I'd roll if I were knighted. Your Majesty, are you paying attention? I would defend the butts out of you. Call me!

The goal is to gather all the coins on a floor and keep proceeding upwards. The father you go, the more complex and deadly the tiny castle becomes, so plotting a course of action several moves in advance is extremely important. For such a small game with such a simple concept, Turnament can be remarkably tricky without a whole lot of bells and whistles. The amount of detail and challenge they can squeeze into such small confines is impressive, though Turnament isn't exactly what you'd call exciting. It's a careful, clever little title, however, and is just the ticket from some truly bite-sized puzzling... enough so that I'd actually love to see this expanded more into a big, full-size release packed with even more Nitrome goodness and madness. In the meantime, though, conquering Turnament won't be a small feat... even if our hero's feet are small. Eh? Eh?!... ahhh, I got nothin'.

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Colour Bind

JohnBTake one color-coded multipurpose vehicle, add a variety of shapes scattered all about, then throw in the ability to mess with gravity in just about every way possible. The result? Colour Bind, a brand new physics-based indie puzzle game from Finn Morgan. Controlling a simple little car (two wheels on a chasis, basically), you have the pleasure of working through dozens of levels as you flip switches and change gravity so you can reach the exit. Best of all, Colour Bind was built with old school sensibilities in mind, meaning you'll be rewarded for exploration and challenged with difficult levels from beginning to end. Hooray!

Colour BindUsing the four [arrow] keys, you'll utilize an array of simple commands that let you accomplish everything in Colour Bind. The [left] and [right] arrows spin the wheels and move you in that direction, while [up] enlarges your wheels (thus allowing rudimentary jumps) and [down] puts on the brakes. Getting the hang of moving about as early as possible is essential, as just a few levels in you'll have to put those maneuvering abilities to the test.

And now for the puzzles! Colour Bind makes extensive use of physics, especially when it comes to gravity, as well as color. Working in tandem, the game can do some pretty tricky things with these simple elements, like create different blocks that adhere to different laws of gravity simultaneously, make switches that move only a certain color, or even set up blocks that, when shifted, change gravity for the entire screen. These unique set-ups are what make Colour Bind really stand out as an engaging game, and beyond the simple drive to make it to the exit, you'll be insanely curious to beat each level just so you can see what oddities are thrown at you next.

Colour BindAnalysis: Colour Bind isn't the iOS game Colorbind from a few years ago, nor is it Colour Blind or even Color Bind. Now that that's out of the way, don't you feel better? We sure do! Jokes aside, the game's name is actually a very descriptive phrase for this particular release, as the colors of your car, the blocks, and certain other environmental factors are all bound to different rules, and it's those rules you'll try to manipulate to reach the goal. Don't mistake Colour Bind for "yet another" physics-based gravity puzzle game. Oh no. This one is creative, challenging, and filled with content to absorb.

Speaking of content, beyond Colour Bind's set of 50 single player levels, you'll also notice 20 co-op levels that allow you to play split screen with a friend on the same keyboard. Or, heck, play along with yourself if you're up for a mad challenge. There's also a level editor as well as the ability to play the creations of other Colour Bind players via Steamworks. So even if the included challenge isn't enough for you, there's always the possibility of making your own or nabbing a user-created level for the ultimate in punishing puzzle solving.

Colour Bind does gravity puzzles right, and it does them with a gleeful kind of creativity you don't often see in games these days. It's obvious a lot of attention went into making this game as engaging as possible, and when you start to uncover a few of the game's secrets (or, even, look through the options menu to see the color blind-friendly settings), you'll realize this was a labor of love.

Get the full version (Steam)

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ArtbegottiFarshThere's no need to roll out the red carpet, we've already got the fanciest rug in town with Farsh, a Unity puzzle by Mahdi Bahrami. Your goal is to roll the farsh (from the Persian for "carpet") to the red box in each level. However, just as a carpet can roll smoothly like a wheel, it can unroll if you push it the wrong way. Here, unrolling is just a part of the secret to navigating your way to the exit.

The carpet is rolled [left] and [right] with the arrow keys, and the carpet can be rotated with the [up] and [down] arrows. As you quickly discover, the ability to rotate is a crucial part of solving each level. If you partially unroll your carpet so the roll lands on one of the special colored tiles, you can rotate lines of tiles underneath your rug. If you can rebuild your path to the exit and roll the entire rug into the red target area, you'll fly through to the next level. Can you roll to success, or will you be flat-out puzzled?

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Legend of Fat Ninja

JohnBWhen martial arts and food combine, the result is something far more epic than that time you tried to slice through a cabbage in mid-air. Legend of Fat Ninja is a physics arcade game from Zephyr Games that tells the tale of Best of Casual Gameplay 2012Kureijita, the ninja chef who just graduated from the legendary Iron Skillet Academy. Along with fellow graduate and sidekick Kaminoha, he's out to prove he's the best chef in the land. All he needs are a few good recipes, and he knows just the food masters to take them from!

Legend of Fat Ninja takes a very familiar physics formula and expands it into something much more interesting. Instead of knocking down objects in a horizontal plane, you have quests to complete, ninja moves to unleash, and impressively well-stocked and open levels to explore. It's kind of like a cross between Angry Birds, a pinball game, and a launching game like Nanaca Crash... with a fat ninja chef.

Legend of Fat NinjaThe goal of each level is to knock out the rival chef so you can get a look at his secret recipe. The obvious first step to accomplish that is to jump in a giant slingshot and fling yourself across the city. Kureijita moves through the air with surprising grace, and each time he crashes into an object he bounces off and earns points. Tap anywhere on the screen to direct a ninja dash in that direction, an ability you'll use as often as you can to attack food thieves and avoid hitting the ground. Once the rival chef makes an appearance, do your best to move towards him and unleash a few of those kicks. Eventually you'll gain his recipe and move on to the next level, thus taking one step closer to ninja chef perfection!

Analysis: Legend of Fat is one of those games you can pick up and enjoy right away. Better than that, though, is its ability to keep you hooked later on. Far from having one simple trick up its chef's coat, it'll take time to master the nuances of controlling a careening ninja as he flops about through the air. Because the game requires a modicum of precision, success doesn't always happen on the first try. Or maybe even the second. But keep at it and soon you'll taste the sweet soy noodles of victory!

Legend of Fat NinjaVariety is what makes Legend of Fat Ninja really stand out. That, and how odd the concept is from the get-go. With many physics games, you get a slingshot and some stuff to destroy, then you sit back and see how efficiently you can get it done. With Fat Ninja, you have a specific goal to complete and the destruction is simply a means to that end. Each level's construction is completely different from the last. Your starting point might even be on the other side of the map! The desire to see what awaits you in the next level is strong, so between that and your unquenchable thirst to master the game, you'll have plenty of reasons to stick with it for weeks on end.

Familiar in some very basic ways but undeniably unique in others, Legend of Fat Ninja has all the ingredients for a great mobile game. There are around half a dozen levels to complete and plenty of room to go back and fight for a high score. It's easy to play, takes time to master, has some genuinely strange characters, and features ninja chefs. That last bit alone is worth the price of admission!

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.

Haunted Halls: Revenge of Doctor Blackmore

JohnBThe continuing horrors from the casual adventure developer ERS Game Studios have returned, and this time it's more horrorey than ever. Haunted Halls: Revenge of Doctor Blackmore is the third game in the Haunted Halls series, picking up where the previous games left off and not stopping to let you gather your wits. It's a psychologically intense game for a point and click puzzle adventure, but it's carried out with the usual grace and flair we've come to expect from ERS. Ready to descend into madness again?

Haunted Halls: Revenge of Doctor BlackmoreThe Doc is back, along with his slimy tentacle and mechanical tentacle legs, and as you probably guessed, he's still up to no good. This time around, you wake up in his laboratory and are turned loose to wander about in its halls. Oh the sights you'll see while here, including a kangaroo reading a newspaper, a pirate mask that smokes cigars, and the giant tentacles creeping out of the floor. Once you realize you've gone mad, the doctor appears and mentions the little fact that he's kidnapped some rather important people (including your fiancé) and stashed them throughout time and space. You've got to get them back, of course, and you'll do so by solving some of the weirdest puzzles in any casual adventure game.

The set-up is very much like an adventure game, with a series of rooms to explore each stocked with puzzles and riddles and items. Gather everything you can, examine everything you can, check out the pheasant that lays an egg half the size of its own body, then figure out what to do next! Most obstacles can be cleared by using a few inventory items, and the hint system does a great job of pointing you in the right direction if you get stuck.

Haunted Halls: Revenge of Doctor BlackmoreAnalysis: At this point in ERS Game Studio's existence, we can almost say "ERS made this, you know you'll like it". And it's true, of course, if you don't mind a samey sort of formula carried between the studio's various franchises. But even if you're an ERS junkie, Haunted Halls: Revenge of Doctor Blackmore will still hook you. The puzzles are logical in an unhinged sort of way, almost making a parody of the genre as they play out. An ostrich egg that hatches and grows to adulthood right before your eyes? Sure, why not?!

The pacing of Haunted Halls 3 is superb, and even when you repeat a puzzle you never feel like it was done to pad out the length. Hidden object scenes really don't exist in the game, replaced by the far more interesting mini-puzzles that function like a tiny, self-contained casual adventure of their own. Along with that you'll also make use of a portable laboratory that will come into play for certain key items. It's almost like a little alchemy shop, complete with instructions and the resounding feeling of success you get when you make a potion that does something cool!

Another great release in a great series created by a proven casual adventure development studio. If you're ready for some truly "what the heck?!" mini-games and situations served alongside a smart series of puzzles, you've come to the right place!

A Collector's Edition is also available. It contains extra gameplay, an art gallery, strategy guide, soundtrack 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.

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

GrinnypSubmachine 8: The PlanLiz: You can create dimensional portals while being inside of such portals?
Murtaugh: Yes, I can.
Liz: And when you do, what happens then?
Murtaugh: change direction.
Liz: Direction of what?
Murtaugh: Of everything.

If that opening snippet of dialogue caused shivers to run up and down your spine then congratulations, you are at least somewhat familiar with Best of Casual Gameplay 2012one of the most well-known and revered, episodic, point-and-click adventures of all time, the Submachine series. You are also one lucky camper because after a delay of almost 2 years Mateusz Skutnik is back with his latest installment, Submachine 8: The Plan, jam packed with more mysteries while advancing (somewhat) the story of ...well, whatever the heck is going on in the Submachine universe.

Yes, as advertised in the opening dialogue, Murtaugh is back and has created portals within portals, opening up a world of multi-layered madness. Navigation through each layer (using the customary changing cursor) depends upon your ability to visualize and move between levels to jump blind alleys and other obstacles. The changing cursor also indicates items that can be taken and used elsewhere which is pretty much the entire game dynamic.

Submachine 8: The PlanAnalysis: What's to criticize? It's a new Submachine! Seriously, though, Submachine 8: The Plan is a fantastic addition to the series with its multi-dimensional layout and continuation of the whole mythos. Each new dimension you jump to has its own beautiful graphic style, accompanied by the haunting music and incidental sounds that create such a chilling atmosphere.

The game comes in two "flavors", a regular free flash game playable in your browser, and a special downloadable and gorgeous HD full-screen version that can be purchased from Pastel Games for $2. The only downside is that the free browser version will not save your progress, meaning a ragequit will cause you to have to start over from the beginning. A bonus for buying the HD version includes the soundtrack for the game consisting of 9 mp3 files for your listening enjoyment.

Play the entire Submachine series:
Submachine 1Submachine RemixSubmachine Zero: Ancient AdventureSubmachine 2Submachine 3Submachine 4Submachine 5Submachine 6Submachine 7Submachine FLFSubmachine FLFSubmachine: 32 ChambersSubmachine 8: The Plan

Creating more questions than answers, it is still fantastic to see this continuation of such a beloved series. Let's just hope we don't have to wait 2 more years for the next installment. Portals within portals? This changes everything.

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Play Submachine 8: The Plan

We've been here covering the entire Submachine series since the very beginning with reviews and walkthroughs for all of them...

Outside the main storyline, and yet still another great Submachine, is a game created for the band Future Loop Foundation:

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Link Dump Fridays

DoraWe're creeping closer to October, true believers, and it seems like our indie developers are feeling the nearness of all things spooky with some upcoming scary games. But it's not all monsters and nightmares on this week's Link Dump Friday!

AnodyneA Little of the Ol' 2D Terror Using both Yume Nikki and Zelda to describe your game might sound odd, but Jon Kittaka and Sean Hogan's Anodyne, an upcoming commercial release for PC, Mac, and Linux, may just be able to deliver. It's all about exploring someone's dreams through 2D top-down dungeons, but you really should play the newly released demo to get a proper feeling for it. It's a surreal experience, at once both creepy and delightful because so much of the atmosphere is unsettling, and yet it perfectly captures that old-school Zelda gameplay. If you like mysterious narratives and classic dungeon-delving with freaky twists, then this is definitely one you'll want to keep an eye on for when it releases later in the Fall of this year. Having played the demo myself, I can tell you I think it's pretty darned neat indeed.

Slender: The ArrivalOh Good, More Sleepless Nights Get ready for a whole new wave of hilarious reaction videos to horror as Slender developers Parsec Productions combine with Blue Isle Studios for Slender: The Arrival. There's little information so far apart from the word that it will be for PC and a commercial release, but Parsec is calling it the next installment in the saga, and promises more levels, improved visuals, and, perhaps most intriguingly, an engaging storyline. I'm personally of the opinion that the less you know about a thing the scarier it is, so I'd hope Arrival doesn't put too big a spotlight on every aspect of its horrifying star, but this could be the bigger, badder, more fleshed out game you were hoping for. Plus, I had a dream last night that it included "Jellyman Mode", which was about a gangly guy in a white suit whose eyes wept clotted blood and he would hug you to death with his long rubbery arms. So, uh. Whatever they have planned can't possibly be weirder than that. More details as they develop!

OlvandBuilding With Buddies If you have some friends you would like to play something that doesn't involve headshots with, you might consider the upcoming multiplayer PC RPG Olvand by the mysteriously named Woseseltops. Together with your pals, you'll get to build towns and go on adventures, including playing a whole bunch of minigames like King of the Hill, racing, or even fishing together. You'll even encounter randomly generated plants, and animals you can tame... including Allie Brosh's infamous Alot. This looks like exactly the sort of thing that would be perfect for light, cheery fun at the end of a long day or on a lazy weekend, so if it sounds like your thing, head on over to its official IndieDB page for more information.

OozengardSlimes and Stories on the Go Mobile gaming keeps growing, and so do the creative ideas developers keep having for it. Take, for instance, Oozengard, a planned open-world adventure game up for Kickstarter funding by Cranial Acid for iOS and Android. The game is about a city under attack by a strange ooze that mutates everything it touches, and it's up to you to find out the cause, save the city, and survive. You can rescue people, build safe houses, and try to complete the story as you explore the city. Each playthrough will only last sixty minutes, after which you'll be rewarded and can start over. The decision to force a time limit on a game that offers so much open exploration seems strange, but also sort of fits with the mobile gaming concept of providing pick-up-and-play entertainment whenever you have time to spare. A donation of as little as $1.00USD gets you a copy when it's released, so check out its Kickstarter page for all the details.

The Big List of PostmortemsLike Autopsies For Funsies Making a game is a long, complicated process, and usually the developers have more to say about their own work, and more critiques, than the players and reviewers themselves. Pixel Prospector has assembled The Big List of Postmortems, and it's a fgreat read through for anyone who really loves games. The Postmortems cover both indie and AAA releases, and the insight (and hindsight!) the developers offer on every aspect of their work is fascinating as they talk about things like what they would do differently, what they felt contributed to their success (or failure) and more. I've always felt that understanding creators and the work they put into the things you enjoy provides some much-needed perspective for players, so give the list a look through today!

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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Bad Piggies

JohnBMmm, delicious eggs. As we've learned from the Angry Birds series, round, legless piggies love nothing more than a good egg. And they'll do anything they can to get their snouts on one! In Rovio's latest physics game Bad Piggies, the tables are turned and you're working to help the pigs get what they want. Instead of slingshots and breakable forts, though, you're building rickety contraptions box by wooden box. It's a little bit of construction, a little bit of action, and a whole lot of crashing. Exactly what you need in a casual mobile game!

Bad PiggiesThe pigs have a plan, but unfortunately that plan was outlined on a map that has been torn to shreds. Collecting each piece going to take some work, but since you're here to help, the piggies won't have too rough of a time. As long as you consider being thrown down a hill into a crate of TNT "not too rough". Each level starts out with a grid and a number of items in your inventory below, things like crates, wheels, propulsion accessories, helium balloons, and so on. Drag objects into the grid and place the pig inside, constructing a roughshod contraption that, with any luck, will survive the terrain ahead and deliver the piggie to the mappie.

Fortunately it's not just up to gravity and luck once you set your contraption in motion. Using various forms of propulsion (shaken soda bottles are our favorite), you can actually exert some control over the movement of the piggie, knocking it back and forth using the controls that appear during action. Where you place these propulsion accessories really matters, and you can performs some really crazy stunts by changing up the construction. Later in the game, this portion of play takes on a much bigger role, so you'll probably have to resist the urge to build a piggie Death Star in favor of a sensible machine that will actually accomplish your goal.

Analysis: Bad Piggies is very different from the Angry Birds series, the only real connection being the artwork and the characters. The game itself is a fair combination of Rovio's previous effort Amazing Alex with some arcade physics thrown in and casual-ified. The puzzle elements of Bad Piggies are quite strong, and even though later levels focus on timing and reflexes, you still have to be able to build a stable contraption before you can pilot it. And even if you fail, the results are usually pretty funny.

Bad PiggiesScoring adds a lot of replay value to Bad Piggies, and instead of being numbers based, it's directly related to the actions you take and the stars you earn. Each level has three goals you can aim for, ranging from simple things like grabbing the map within a certain time to the more complex like not using an apparently vital piece of equipment in your contraption. This intensifies both the action and puzzle elements of the game, and since it's completely optional whether you shoot for perfection or not, Bad Piggies is only as challenging as you want it to be!

Currently, Rovio has included 90 levels in the initial release, with the promise of more listed right there on the level select screen. The difficulty is a very gradual curve, starting with handfuls of almost too-easy stages and ending with massively challenging puzzles that require brains as well as pitch-perfect reflexes, especially if you shoot for the three star goal. If there's any shortcoming to Bad Piggies, it's that the first dozen or two levels are too easy and end up feeling a little repetitive. Stick with it, though, and the meat of the game proves its worth.

Rovio has managed to create something familiar but still unique and engaging. It's massive amounts of fun, too, and you can get into some crazy scrapes with the machines you build out of wooden wheels and makeshift bellows. Plenty of challenge, plenty of personality, and plenty of eggs for all to enjoy!

Download the demo
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Mac OS XMac OS X:
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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.

elleDeep SleepIt begins with a Nietzsche quote. Next, you're eased into a Deep Sleep, a time of peace, rejuvenation, a chance to dream and to escape from the stress and workaday world of reality. Or, so you thought before the dream dissolves away and a nightmare intrudes, trapping you in. You are not alone here in your dreams, something lurks in the darkness... Something in the depths of your own mind wants to pull you even deeper and now the only escape is to wake up. But how?

Explore the dark, mysterious world of sleep in this escape-themed adventure created by Scriptwelder for Casual Gameplay Design Competition #10. Here you must do two things. One, move from room to room, seeking out answers to the riddles and puzzles set before you. Competition first place award winnerTwo, literally escaping by "acting fast and running away" as you're "chased by your own nightmare." Along the way, use keen observation to obtain the needed clues and tools discovered in the surreal, pixel art settings. You succeed when you've defeated the nightmare and wake up safely but here's also another, less-than-optimal way to end Deep Sleep: lose the chase.

In any case, use the click everywhere method of navigating through numerous locations, clicking the sides or bottom of the screen, a doorway, stairwell or window to continue into the next scene. Anything that can be picked up will automatically be stored at the top of the game screen when you click it. Hold and drag an item from this inventory to where you want it used; you can combine some items this way as well. An unchangeable cursor creates part of the difficulty as certain items are hiding in shadows. You can improve visibility by playing at night, in a darkened room. Or utilize the brightness adjustments and sound controls through the options menu; access it by clicking the tool icon in the top right corner.

Along with the talented artwork, subtle music and eerie sounds complete the mood. Exploration also reveals easter eggs and other interesting discoveries which build up the creep factor and make the story more dynamic. The game automatically saves your progress, which is a nice feature since it's slightly more lengthy than most escape games. The auto-save is also handy if you need to exit before you're done, say, taking off in fright or some such thing.

Deep SleepAnalysis: Scriptwelder based Deep Sleep on the concept of lucid dreaming and asks, "What if something goes wrong and instead of full controll, the dreamer gets a terrible nightmare?" Although little within the game's context suggests lucid dreaming as an intention of the player character, Deep Sleep is incredibly effective at convincing us we belong to this dream state. Awake, we experience and interact with it as lucidly as possible while the impressive ambiance—visuals, sounds, and game actions—takes hold of our senses and convinces us we're actually inside a dream. Even players who usually avoid horror games couldn't help but enjoy this effect, a good indication of remarkable game design and why Deep Sleep garnered so much positive attention during the competition. Making an escape from reality that you must then again escape through waking is an effective and clever interpretation of the theme as well.

There are some trade offs to creating a potent ambiance in a smaller scaled, pixel art game. The world of deep sleep is a dark one. A dark world is one in which exploration is stymied by, well, darkness. That it is too hard to see the objects requisite in puzzle solutions is a reasonable complaint here. Some of this is mitigated by turning the brightness all the way up, but that workaround could lessen the heady thrill of delving into murky shadows. The limited time puzzles help meet the innovation criteria and do a great job of leaving you out of breath, heart racing, yet they're unexpected in this genre (which is good) and can lead to some frustration (not as good). Yet even while the lack of a changing cursor is often a drawback in escape games, maybe this one time pixel hunting has been forgiven because it melds so well with a sense of insecurity and helplessness that are normally found in nightmares.

However it affects you, Deep Sleep will impress anyone who appreciates the art and craft of a game as much as the fun of playing it. Deep Sleep stands out amongst its competition, compensating for occasional straining to see clearly, by providing artistic visual effects as well as a truly enjoyable, thrilling ride. Even with its rough edges, it's beautiful how a collection of tiny pixels can provoke such strong feelings, and there's empathic poignancy in the concept of escaping sleep. It hits home. Because we all have to sleep sometime.

Edit: The author has updated the game to add a changing cursor and other improvements based on Pastel Games' feedback, making Deep Sleep now even more effective and remarkable.

Author's Theme interpretation:

"Dreams - an escape from the reality. Some want to escape from the reality so much that they desire to control their dreams. It is possible - lucid dreaming is a known phenomenon. But what if something goes wrong and instead of full control, the dreamer gets a terrible nightmare...? What if the dreamer can't wake up?"

"In Deep Sleep the player faces this situation. Trapped in their own dream, the player has to escape the nightmare his mind has created. And as he or she explores the dark, mysterious world of sleep, it slowly turns out to be something more than just a nightmare. Something lives there. Something that also wants to escape to the real world - and it needs a lost lucid dreamer like the player to do it."

"The player has to escape: sometimes figuratively - by solving riddles and progressing from one room to another... and sometimes literally - by acting fast and running away, chased by their own nightmare."

"Someone will escape this dream for sure. The question is - who is that going to be?" -Scriptwelder.

Pastel Games' feedback:

"Yes, I got the initial joke. While most of point-and-click escape games begin with "I woke up in a room" this one actually takes place inside a dream."

"I'm not a fan of games that don't have hand cursor over active areas. I know most of pnc gamers hate that as well. Searching and finding stuff is fun, clicking everywhere to find it - is not."

"Great graphics, great ambient and sounds - hence great atmosphere. It's not annoying at all, and makes me WANT to spend more time here, good job. I also love the smallest touches, like the sound of footsteps is changing depending on the surface."

"When I pick up item from my inventory - I want to hold it in my hand - it shouldn't go back to inventory after one click on stage. I should be able to click it around all I wanted and then put it back to inventory by myself."

"So I'm at the "close the door before the monster gets through" and it's practically impossible to do on a laptop touchpad. I have to get the mouse from my PC. Did it really have to be 14 clicks? I understand the premise, but too much of a skill puzzle might throw some players off."

*goes gets the mouse*

"Alrighty, it's not better with the mouse. Did you really throw in an annoying out of the context and out of the genre skill puzzle in the middle of the otherwise flawless escape game? Sure looks like it.... Let me try again...."

"Making me open that damn door again and again after each death is sooo annoying. You should have the save point by the door with the axe. I click the axe, monster appears - that's a good checkpoint."

"The hitTest areas are crazy in this game. Too small, and probably done by the actual outline of the objects. You should widen that margin of error, players want to fly through the game, items be used, levers switched and buttons pushed. No one wants to sit there and TRY to click a pixel."

"So, all in all - very good game. If not for the skill annoyance in the middle this would be a strong winner contender."

"And yes - I got all the submachine shoutouts. Thanks! Unfortunately I'm not the judge in this competition..." -Mateusz Skutnik.

"Great Atmosphere, great plot with some really wonderful puzzles. It reminds of Subbmachine but it's not a copy! Honestly I was scared! I really love the mixture of great plot, appropriate graphics, and tension. It's not something you often find in point-and-click games. Only one thing I can complain about: The darkness sometimes made it hard to see things." -Karol Konwerski.

Play Deep Sleep

DoraSecond WindMixing humour with classic dungeon-crawling adventure and a liberal sprinkling of roguelike RPG flair, Squidly's Second Wind is snarky, silly, strange, and actually kind of awesome. Choose a class and descend into a dungeon packed with weirdness, from angry newts that can only be appeased by a magical flute to lazy mimics and political orcs. The game randomly chooses events to present you with as you play, and they can be anything from enemies that will play out turn-based style and reward you with experience and gold, or deities who will bless you for some gold, opportunistic potion sellers, blacksmiths, challenges, and more. Though initially you only have five classes available, successfully completing certain events can unlock even more until you have twenty different classes to choose from. If you die, it's game over... but as you might guess from the title, you'll have one more shot at glory. Before you die. Again. Look, it's a roguelike. You knew what you were getting into. You can't save manually, but if you leave the game and come back to it later, it will give you the option of resuming your character from wherever you were when you last played.

Second WindIf you're not a fan of roguelikes, then permadeath, even with the second chance, will be a nail in the coffin. Similarly, being unable to see your inventory so you can keep track of potions and items is annoying. As is the fact that the amount of health randomly restored when drinking said potions can vary drastically. I get the feeling that this might be because some of the Infirmaries you can buy potions from are better than others, but it's hard to tell since the game treats all potions the same, and, again, you can't look at an inventory to see you just bought a "Potion of Stanky Lameness" or something. Which in my case apparently happened a lot. For that matter, so did going missing attacks and clicking through endless repeated encounters before I finally found the single one I needed to progress. It's the sort of thing you expect with any game that uses a random generator, but it still rankles, and makes you feel like the game often comes down to blind luck.

Fortunately, Second Wind has a very Kingdom of Loathing-esque vibe to its tongue-in-cheek style and writing, which is never a bad thing, though it does clash somewhat with the serious tone the end encounters take. This is where the game's breezy "aw, c'mon, just one more try" addictiveness really shines through, and since the different classes have a surprising amount of variety and strategy in their strengths and abilities, it takes some of the sting out of starting all over. There's just so much to see and encounter, and with four possible endings, some better than others, you'll have to experiment a lot, and probably die a lot, if you want to see all of it. Though heavily reliant on luck and patience, Second Wind is a witty and addictive retro dungeon crawler you can spend five minutes or an hour on without really realising it.

Play Second Wind

elleEscape from the Pool BarOne of the reasons escape-the-room games are enjoyable has to do with being at a place in which we'd actually like to spend time, gaze about, soak in the atmosphere. The primary goal is titular: leave. But since you're trapped there, solving puzzles, until you can get out, you want it to be as pleasant an experience as possible. This is why you'll enjoy Escape from the Pool Bar by Jan's Room.

The Pool Bar is a convivial spot, especially for players who don't mind searching out every viewable corner and clickable area without a changing cursor to help. Looking around for clues and puzzles to solve, use arrows on the sides and bottom of the screen to turn or back up. Collected clues and objects are accessible in the side bar. "About Item" brings it up to examine; a single click to highlight it readies an item for use. Most puzzles involve entering codes and pressing buttons so all the challenge comes from trying to find clues and then interpreting them.

Gameplay can feel pixel hunt-y at times—especially when, for example, you know an ashtray is hiding somewhere, but can't find it. Then again, ashtrays aren't objects normally seen lying about any odd place. An absence of the cursor's hints and no English translation of Japanese messaging are drawbacks. If you'd rather focus energy on the puzzles themselves, not on uncovering some needed tools, your positive opinion of the game could be lessened. On the other hand, if exploring unaided is a delightful challenge instead of a frustration to you, you're in for extra fun in this regard.

Beyond feelings on mechanics in detective work, there's plenty in Escape from the Pool Bar to please escape fans of all ilks. With the right bit of difficulty and enough to do in the puzzles to make us feel we've earned our way through, leaving from the Pool Bar is just as enjoyable as being there.

Play Escape from the Pool Bar

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Game Design Competition #10

JayThanks to everyone who entered our 10th Casual Gameplay Design Competition. Again we were humbled by the response from the community, both in terms of developer support with their unique and innovative game entries, and by the players and judges who make the time and effort to judge the games and to leave their praise and constructive feedback for the participants. This time we asked for games designed around the theme of "ESCAPE", which resulted in 14 creative entries from all over the world.

Deep SleepToday marks the end of the competition, and we are here to honor all of the games that were entered, as well as award a few prizes, too. Thanks to our kind and generous sponsor: Armor Games for their continued support (Thanks, Dan!), and to Pastel Games for providing feedback to all of the participants (Thanks, Karol and Mateusz!). Karol Konwerski is the story writer of Covert Front, The Fog Fall, The Great Escape Games, Rizzoli and Isles, Aurora and so on; and Mateusz is, of course, the creator of the Submachine series, Daymare Town, 10 Gnomes, among others, and helps to produce all the Pastel Games creations. Their feedback will soon be published on each respective game discussion page. It is due to the efforts of these people that we have the following prizes to award, so please show them your kind support as well.

CGDC10 sponsorsArmor GamesPastel Games

The judging for our competitions is carried out by the JIG community at large, and all the games were scored based on theme, appeal & fun, innovation, composition, and technical merit. We appreciate the effort everyone put into judging the entries fairly and objectively. The results of your efforts are presented below.

And now, to the game designers who have made this, our 10th, competition a success. We appreciate and applaud your efforts and your dedication to the art of game design and to the pursuit of fun and enjoyable casual gameplay.

Once again, congratulations to everyone who submitted an entry! Just being able to complete a game within a short development period is quite an achievement, in and of itself. Moreover, your continued participation in these competitions makes future competitions like this possible, and we can't thank you enough. We are very fortunate to even be able to hold these competitions and share your works with the world at large. The entire collection of entries are all quite deserving of our praise. Look for reviews of the top games here on in the coming days and weeks.

Following is a list of the top 10 games by score:

  1. Deep Sleep
  2. This is Not an Escape
  3. The Freewill Cycle Volume 2
  4. Somewhere in England, 1928
  5. 40xEscape
  6. ...As I Drift Away...
  7. Locker Escape
  8. The Grimoire
  9. Interlock
  10. Risk Subway Escape

We have published the community scores in a spreadsheet showing the average scores in each category for each entry.

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The Haunt

JohnBA house, in a field, looking about as haunted as haunted can get. Why not step up and take a closer look? The Haunt is a mobile point and click puzzle game from Furious Apps that plays (and looks) like a casual adventure/hidden object game you might download to your desktop computer. Instead of a mouse and keyboard, though, you get to investigate a haunted house with your own two hands, finding items, managing your inventory, and solving mini-games while a paranormal presence follows you from room to room.

The HauntSoon after beginning the adventure, you find a note from Mayor Riddendorf thanking you for accepting the town's request to rid the area of strange spirits. Apparently many have tried to dispel the dark forces, but none have succeeded. And you're next on the list! No reason to think you'll fail as well, right? Positive thinking and all that? Either way, this is your goal, and you'll accomplish everything by using the touch screen. Inspect objects, collect items, move throughout the map and open your inventory with a simple tap.

Inside the house you'll run across plenty of strange things, and we're not just talking about the decor (which really is odd, once you look at it). Puzzles are all over the place, taking the form of mini-games, inventory riddles, and so on. Inspect everything and explore every room to find the items you'll need to proceed. You'll also find a healthy share of clues you'll need to remember for later use. Also a part of the game are finding bonus items like puzzle pieces, coins and moths, the latter of which serves as hints for those inevitable moments when you get stuck.

The HauntAnalysis: The mobile market has so far been home to mostly puzzle games and quick reflex-based time wasters. To see a game as attractive and content-rich as The Haunt is a rare thing! It has all the qualities of a beefy PC/Mac download squeezed into a portable package, and since it was built from the ground up for the touch screen, you won't find any awkward control conversions or objects too tiny for your finger to point out.

The Haunt ditches a lot of more modern control methods in favor of the straightforward, infallible tap. There's no need to wonder about rotating inventory items to look at the reverse, no cause to shake your device around, swipe weird parts of the screen, or try barking into the microphone (don't judge me!). While a part of you will be disappointed The Haunt doesn't utilize the cutting edge of point and click interaction, another, much larger part (possibly the liver, since it's so big) reminds you none of that matters. The Haunt plays perfectly and never turns the interface into a puzzle, leaving you alone in the haunted house with riddles to solve.

Can't get enough of The Haunt? Try The Haunt 2!

Big adventure in a small package, The Haunt is worth several hours of solid puzzle solving entertainment. There's also plenty of secret items to find, which should satisfy the hidden object fan we sometimes don't like to admit we're harboring. You might even get a good spook or two while you're at it!

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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demondecimator.gifJohnBDeath is out to do his job, and instead of going after cute things like bunnies or people who think aliens aren't real, he's hunting demons! And you get to help! Demon Decimator is a great little puzzle game from Pixelulsar uses the sliding block concept to craft 20 levels of smart planning, testing, executing, and the other kind of executing, all in the name of tossing demons into pits of lava. Neat!

Click on the box-like demons to select one, then tap the [arrow] keys to slide around the screen. Demons continue to move until they bump into a solid objects, so in order to position them for a clean slide into the liquid hot magma space, you'll have to knock them about the stage first, using the walls to your advantage. Later levels introduce things like movable walls, buttons to retract barriers, and keys that must be collected in order to open the lava grates.

While you're doing all of this sliding, your moves are being counted. You're also being timed. And if you mess up and have to restart the level (press [R]), that's recorded, too. Once you fight your way to the end of the game, you'll be shown a final tally. There's no high score board or anything to compare your results to, which is a micro-sized bummer, but then again, maybe it's best to keep that embarrassing final count a secret.

Good for half an hour or more of challenging but not frustrating fun, Demon Decimator is the best way to kill demons without getting black demon blood all over your monocle. Plus, it's a good puzzle game, too!

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Weekday Escape

GrinnypOnce in a blue moon a fantastic room escape passes us by without notice, but sooner or later in our efforts to bring you the best of the best we eventually get a clue and present it on Weekday Escape. This week's game is by one of our favorite and most popular designers, Petithima, and we are proud to finally present Mugcup, their latest effort, for your mid-week break.

MugcupA gentle tune wafts in the background as you explore the lovely pastel colored world of Petithima in their latest effort. The changing cursor and navigation bars aid you, the player, as you explore the lovely space and the usual quirky Petithima objects and puzzles. Petithima designs are delightfully minimal in style and execution, which makes the gameplay stand front and center as always. The logic flows nicely from one puzzle to the next, drifting on the currents of the mellow music as you solve your way out of yet another amusing escape. With an easy to use inventory, a mute feature, and a save feature, Petithima's games, although short, feature everything we like to see in a room escape.

The one color-based puzzle has an interesting clue, a piece of paper that not only shows the colors but the order that they appear when a particular button is pushed, making the game more accessible for the colorblind. The only complaints you should have is that (a) the game is still shorter than it could have been, and (b) it's been a while since Petithima has graced us with one of their lovely designs. Well, they're here now, so sit back and enjoy the mellow escaping.

Play Mugcup

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Rayman Jungle Run

JohnBSurprised to see Rayman in a place like this? Time to reconfigure your expectations, as our limbless hero is making a run for the casual mobile market. Quite literally, too! Rayman Jungle Run from Pastagames brings the platform star to a new genre that feels quite at home on the iOS screen: endless running. Instead of randomly generated drab worlds, though, you can expect some startlingly lush visuals paired with challenges and abilities that gradually evolve as you play. It's such a good jump and run game, you'll probably wonder why more titles haven't adopted a similar layout!

Rayman Jungle RunReady to play? Good! Just tap the screen! Each level in Rayman Jungle Run starts you at a steady sprint, and all you have to do is tap the screen to jump. Leap over gaps and try to collect every floating Lum and coin you see, as the game is quite resolutely focused on perfection in this area. The more you grab, the closer you'll get to unlocking each world's bonus level, not to mention extras like wallpapers and achievements.

Rayman Jungle Run twists things around a bit with creative level layouts, adding swings and vines, trampolines, air lifts and reverse wall jumps, all designed to keep you guessing about what comes next. Guess you shall, and fall you shall, but get back up and keep running you also shall! The game isn't really about losing or winning, it's about running and coin collecting. It ends up feeling like Fancy Pants Adventure or a classic Sonic the Hedgehog game, which is exactly the right pitch to hit for this genre.

Rayman Jungle RunAnalysis: Two words to reach out and nab your interest, just in case it isn't already captured: ukulele music! Rayman Jungle Run doesn't just play well, it looks and sounds amazing to boot. Gorgeous artwork fills your screen at every moment, including background and foreground illustrations that really make you want to stop and take a look at things. You won't, of course, because you're on a mission, but it's still a treat for your eyes. And is it just me, or does some of that music sound like something Bugs Bunny would have played?

Here's another smart thing about Rayman Jungle Run: levels are divided into four categories, each centered around a basic ability. In World One, it's straight-up jumping. Complete those levels and you'll get a little hovering ability. Work through that and you'll suddenly be able to wall jump. And after that? Punching! All very standard Rayman abilities any fan of the series will recognize, but seeing them in a new setting like this is obviously a little exciting.

It's a bit shocking to see a mainstream character perform so well in a genre usually reserved for smaller names, but when the game is this good, we certainly won't complain. A fantastic arcade game with a phenomenal audio/visual presentation. Can't get enough of Rayman Jungle Run!

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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TrickyInfectonator 2Nail some boards across the door, pick up your cricket bat, and get ready to face off once more with the scurrying dead. It's Infectonator 2 by Toge Productions. The latest in the popular series of zombie action-strategy games, Infectonator 2 thrives on frenetic chain-reactions, awesome sprite art, and the pure adrenaline rush of infecting the world, continent by continent. It may be mindless fun, but that just means you can keep going even after your brain's been chomped on. Also available for iOS and Android!

Best of Casual Gameplay 2012Infectonator 2 is controlled with the mouse, though keyboard hot keys for various actions are available. First, on the world map, you select the city to wish to attack and are taken to an overhead view. The goal is to kill or zombify a certain amount of the population in each city. Clicking a location in the city will release a wave of the virus that will infect nearby humans and turn them into zombies. These zombies will then attack nearby humans before collapsing. A certain percentage of humans bitten will become zombies themselves, but watch out: some humans will fight back. A killed or converted human will release coins, collected by mousing over them. Extra coins can also be earned by completing different level objectives, or by completely destroying the population of a city. Coins are then used to purchase various upgrades: longer life, damage resistance, a higher chance of infection, a wider spread of the initial virus and so forth. Also available for purchase are weapons like grenades and land mines which will aid in the melee. In some cities will be special humans that, when defeated, will unlock a new type of special-attack zombie that can be used once per level. The game isn't over until the whole world has fallen to your legions of the undead.

Infectonator 2Analysis: The previous releases in the Infectonator series were solid, but hampered by stereotyped character design that weren't funny enough not to be offensive. In Infectonator 2, however, the developers make the wise choice to present the same general selection of human sprites in each level. Indeed, the new research Toge Productions has done into their locales makes for some hilariously informative level descriptions and some killer background art. Of course, it might be argued that putting in such geographical detail is unnecessary in a game where you can call up a zombie Ronald McDonald to take on Justin Beiber, but it does make for a stronger work. After all, the streets of Rio should look different to those of Moscow. All that's missing is a little Carmen Zombiego. Another nice touch is the different languages the humans' dialogue comes in. Yeah, it's the same collection of chatter put through Google Translate, but if you're set on making "arrow to the knee" jokes, you might as well do it in Farsi.

Gameplay-wise, Infectonator 2 maintains the fun of its predecessors, while adding new features, achievements and upgrades. Particularly cool is the selection of barely-not-copyright-infringing special zombies you can place in the levels. This adds another layer of strategy, and is particularly useful for when there's only one puny human running around behind a dumpster on the other side of the map. Certainly, it can get grindy, and some of the mechanics should definitely have been streamlined... you'll end up going to the lab/store much more often than you probably will want, simply because of poor button placement. Still, Infectonator 2 has a surprising amount of depth.

Infectonator 2 doesn't feel so much a sequel as a leap to a new console: the A Link to the Past to the original's Legend of Zelda. The graphics are cleaner, the jokes are funnier, and as the map screen slowly turns from green to red, you can't help but release your evil laugh. If your computer can handle the madness of the 200+ creatures in the later levels, Infectonator 2 is a world tour you'll be happy to take.

Play Infectonator 2

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DoraPheus and MorPheus and Mor, a puzzle platformer from Dmitry Nikolaev and Anton Velmozhniy, is here to give you a case of the feels in this gorgeous but oddly foreboding little game about a boy, Pheus, and his dog Mor. Using the [WASD] keys to control Pheus and [arrow] keys for Mor, you'll have to have them work together to push switches, open doors, and overcome other obstacles on each level to get through to the door together. Pheus, for example, is faster and can jump higher but can't swim, while Mor is heavier, stronger, and can doggy-paddle just fine. By working together, they can journey through a surreal, gorgeous sort of dreamland... but between levels, you might get hints that not everything is as idyllic as you might hope...

Pheus and Mor is a stunning little game, and a fine entry to the library of similar titles like Home Sheep Home, Fireboy and Watergirl, and even, to a lesser extent, classics like The Lost Vikings. The artwork and overall atmosphere is fantastic, full of dreamy imagery and saturated colours, which makes the more ominous bits all the more stark. You don't see a whole lot of attempts to tell stories like this in puzzle platforming, and simple though that story may be, Pheus and Mor is pretty effective at pulling you in without saying a word. On the other hand, the controls can get a bit frustrating, with Mor's movement feeling perhaps overly sluggish at times and Pheus's jumping not being as fluid as it really should. These control issues may seem minor, but for players used to (and demanding) more reliability it might mean the game asks for more patience than they're willing to give. Which is a shame, since the game's beautiful design and story are really worth experiencing... you know, provided you don't mind little tearing up and a bittersweet ending.

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The Vault

DoraI've been with this site for almost four years now, and you don't really realise it as the days go by... but man, there's a lot of really neat stuff in the archives. Like, a lot a lot. Sometimes it's a game that offers an incredibly innovative way of storytelling. Sometimes it's a game that knows just the right level of challenge versus gratification until suddenly it's three in the morning. And sometimes it's just a game that you just, y'know, like, and there's no real need to explain anything more about it. So here, for this week's Vault, are four of my favourite games from ages past. See, it's like I'm a Dickens ghost, only way less effective, and when you're done I still loiter around hogging the remote and cluttering up your shelves with pony figurines!

  • WindosillWindosill - By now you should probably already know Vectorpark makes cool stuff. If you didn't... Vectorpark makes cool stuff! Only the first half of this stunning little interactive art-sy point-and-click game is free, but don't let that stop you from experiencing it. You, as a little blue toy, journey through a world that gets increasingly more strange and dreamlike as you go along, interacting with your environment in its own peculiar way in order to progress. Windosill has a gorgeous, distinctive style, but what makes it really worth checking out is how effortlessly it sucks you in, creating an atmosphere of wonder that can make you smile as you experiment with the way things work the way few other games can manage... when they even bother to try.
  • Every Day the Same DreamEvery Day the Same Dream - There comes a time in everyone's life, however brief or long, where you feel trapped by routine. Paolo Pedercini's bleak but effective narrative experiment illustrates that point to the extreme as you guide a faceless drone of a man through the endless rhythms of his life, from home to work and back again, desperately searching for any sort of variation or meaning. This is one of those games that has sparked a lot of debate, which means it's one of my favourites, and the interpretations players have given of the ending range from sad to optimistic to surreal. Stylish and swanky in addition to strange and cerebral, this is one of the more unique experiences around, and worth the short time it'll take you to complete.
  • Flash Element Tower Defense 2Flash Element Tower Defense 2 - A good tower defense game combines just enough complexity to keep things interesting without getting in the way of that "one more round" addictive quality, and Novel Concepts seems to have figured that out quite handily. With cute critters, challenging waves, and varied towers, the game offers a solid difficulty curve that welcomes newcomers to the genre without letting us oldsters feel like it's a walk in the park, and the bright presentation somehow makes it even easier to forget time is flying by. It's the sort of thing you really don't mind grinding on because it's so packed with personality, and proves you don't need a lot of bells and whistles if you've thought your gameplay through.
  • Today I DieToday I Die - Daniel Benmergui's simple but incredibly effective little piece of interactive art is something that has come to mean a lot of things to a lot of people. You begin as a girl sinking to the bottom of the ocean, and the way you move things around and change her environment gradually shifts the narrative, and the tone, until the message is delivered to the player. Optimistic and sappy? Absolutely. But this experimental means of player interaction and storytelling is also exceptionally clever, and somehow manages to make you feel like you have more control over the outcome of the game (and your own life) than some of the more complex titles out there.

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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The Room

elleYour correspondent predicted correctly. Your curiosity would get the better of you. You would arrive at The Room, sparse but for an unusual safe, seeking answers. In order to protect it from lesser minds, a box, something they said could never be built, is secreted inside the safe. Best of Casual Gameplay 2012Your first task is unlocking the mysteries of the safe. Once you do, like your epistolarian host, you're irrevocably imbibed by an eagerness to know more, fingers drawn to a tiny panel to unlatch, an oddly-placed contraption to wind up, or an arcane design in gold. Thusly, you are subsumed by The Room, a splendidly surreal, 3D puzzle adventure from Fireproof Games.

The Room consists of four chapters. You begin in view of a small side table, upon which is an envelope. To angle yourself within reach of it, tap and swipe the screen. A couple more slight gestures let you slide a letter out of the envelope and turn it over to read. "I have every faith in you solving its mysteries," you're told of this unique box. "You always were the smart one," and "The stakes are higher than you could possibly imagine," proffer further enticement to carry on through dexterous puzzles and clever riddles, seeking yet another key to another latch or one more clue to just one more coded lock. Stopping at this point appears to be much more difficult than the current quandary that befuddles you.

The RoomThis is because The Room's touch controls make immersion as natural as scratching an itch. A briefly worded tutorial initiates you in all the controls and soon they are intuitive. For the most part, you'll make use of your tablet's multitouch functions, tapping your way around all sides of the beautifully appointed constructions which make up the safe, the box, and all the devices, knobs, drawers and secret messages therein. The distance between you and the game's completion is paced out by a need to explore every interactive area—some conveniently obvious and others much more well-hidden—correctly deciphering a puzzle then activating the next sequence of requirements.

While your lateral thinking and deduction skills will be put on trial, puzzles are usually solved through manipulation, either through a deft swipe or, occasionally, tilting your mobile device, so most the challenge is mitigated by how observant you are in your explorations. There is an amazing amount of interesting cachés and designs to examine and they're multiplied by a special eyepiece received early on. Gameplay is similar to the Dismantlement series of games, even if the look and scope is much broader. Rather than escape, you are pulled further inside.

In those occasions your progress deeper into the box is stymied, tapping the "?" icon will provide a hint. Hints are scaffolded so that the first usually states what you already know, then, after a few minutes, the next should prove more helpful. Often in that time, your diligence in exploring will uncover the solution before more hints are needed. Progress is punctuated by more correspondence from your host. Each letter continues a narration about the device's incredible powers and explains its origins. As you read, you partake and empathize with his inability to let go. Chapters end by opening the next stage, taking you deeper toward the center and more revelations.

The RoomAnalysis: There is very little to displease in Fireproof Game's remarkable creation. My biggest complaint is its being too short. "Too short" being operative for "I want to never stop playing with this gorgeous, gadget populated box!" and thus we can only impatiently wait for an update or another installment of the game. Yet, as far as value goes, this was perhaps the most fulfilling app I've purchased to date, affirming every good reason to possess an iPad. The exceedingly astute player might complete his or her adventure in under ninety minutes but most of us will spend over two hours in downright awe, especially those who enjoy lingering over lovely visual effects and whose latent compulsiveness to observe every detail is ignited by the intricate artistry.

The Room is remarkably well-constructed and designed, to the point that immersion overrides any sense of your surroundings beyond the box's apparatuses. That leads to the next small blemish on this beautifully imaginative game—an incomplete 360° navigation. Well, it's not a flaw, really, except the wealth of imagination crafted into layers of contraptions and architecture transmute to the player's increased desire to play and assay. Which precipitates frustration when we're only allowed certain views of the box's details or only certain hotspots are active. From distant angles, you can fully circumnavigate the box; once you zoom in, though, you cannot move freely around the box. It's a complaint that wouldn't and shouldn't exist, that only arises because of the superior way Fireproof has made this room appear so real and this box feel as if we're actually moving our hands and eyes along every side.

Here is a box, blooming at your curiosity and to your delight, furnished with copious amounts of magnetic fascination and little else. You'll learn "the truth of your predicament" soon, but it's never enough to regret the experience. Myst-like in its ability to evoke a mesmerized state of engagement, The Room is eye candy for the mind.

NOTE: This game was played and reviewed on the iPad 2. 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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DoraShadow DrifterWhen we covered Marsh Games' stealth physics puzzler Shadow Game back in 2010, we kind of loved it a little, but it was more a prototype than anything else. Well, now you dreams of being a shadowy little stealth bot can finally come true in their entirety with the release of the full game in the form of Shadow Drifter. Using the [WASD] or [arrow] keys, move through levels collecting stars and nabbing bonuses on your way to the exit. The catch? If you get caught in the lights, then the automated defenses will do their best to bring them down, so you'll need to push crates to block light sources (and push switches) in order to make it safely through. You'll need patience, fast reflexes, and faster thinking to proceed through the levels, and an extremely high tolerance for being riddled with bullets upon failure.

In concept, Shadow Drifter is simple. Avoid light, get to the exit. In actual practice, however, it's a remarkably clever little game. Pushing crates around will only get you so far and is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to sneaking around. You can use the shadows of the enemies themselves to creep along behind them, chance a dash into illumination to try to direct the fire to blast the source away, and even make use of machinery to carry things around to block shadows for you. The result is a simple little stealth game that actually explores its core concept in some creative ways to deliver a fun experience that gets its players thinking beyond "push switch, get star".

It helps that Shadow Drifter has considerably more levels than the original's eight, and each stage's design gets increasingly elaborate in that satisfying "there's a simple solution to all this madness" sort of way that only bullet-spewing deadstacle (that's deadly obstacles) course can provide. Controls are smooth, though the physics occasionally mistake anything other than slow, careful pressure for "OH, DID YOU WANT ME TO THROW THIS ACROSS THE ROOM? OKAY." at times. It's always wonderful to see developers make good on their original projects, and Shadow Drifter is relief for another reason too, since it avoids the trap of going overboard on new elements that would have overcomplicated what made the original such a joy to play. Clever, challenging, and fun for fans of stealthy action, Shadow Drifter is a great final product evolution that's a great little game to boot.

Play Shadow Drifter

[Thanks to Peekay for sending this one in!]

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TrickyRot GutYour friend deserved a better end than this: Either asleep in his bed thirty years from now, or in a blaze of glory. Not at the end of the bottle of the tainted poison that the syndicate is trying to pass off as hooch. There's a reason why that drek was prohibited in the first place. You may be just one man, but one man with a gun in his hand is often all you need to find some answers. Rot Gut is an action platform shooter by test84, set in a pixelated depiction of 1920's big city gangland. It's as gritty as cigarette ash, and will hit you like a quick shot of whiskey.

Move with [WASD] or the [arrow keys], and jump/double jump with [up], [K] or [X]. [Spacebar], [L] or [C] will fire your weapon at the waves of henchthugs, and you change your weapon with [down] or [S]. Shooting baddies and bonus crates will spawn coins, used to purchase health and ammo for your more powerful weapons. Explore each level to find the exit, and stop these bootleggers once and for all! Rot Gut has style to spare, with a jazzy sort of atmosphere that's really unique in modern games. It's noir to be certain, but more the proto-noir of gangster movies like Little Ceaser and White Heat, rather than of hard-boiled private eyes. It's a stunning world for your senses to play around in, with a lot of cool details like the clink of shotgun shells as they bounce on the ground or how your fedora pops up from your head as you jump. Gameplay is solidly enjoyable enough, though the somewhat generic level design and play mechanics don't quite live up to the promise of the aesthetic. Still, Rot Gut is a romp-and-a-half to gun through, and its charms owe as much to the console games of the 80s as the speakeasies of the 20s.

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BenWith the success of music games on every platform, it was inevitable that iOS devices would see a few as well. While the range in quality is as variable as ever, Cytus from Rayark is on the high end of the scale. With clear, fantasy-futuristic graphics the game catches attention from the title screen simply by looking different, and gameplay doesn't disappoint either!

Similar to other rhythm games in basic design, the idea is to hit notes in time with the beat of the track. In this case, a bar moves vertically on the screen, and as it passes over glowing markers, you need to tap, hold, or drag them, according to their icon. The full width and height of the screen is used for this, giving you more to do than just staying in time, and on the harder difficulty, your screen will be full of markers needing attention.

CytusThis can feel a little ambitious on the iPad versus the smaller-screened iPhone or iPod Touch. At times the size of the screen left me feeling like I needed comically huge hands to reach all the buttons, and the optimal way to play, with the iPad flat and both hands used above it, is probably the least comfortable. That said, it's not impossible to play more comfortably with practice, and there's always easy mode if you need to relax a little. The choice of music is also debatable, with a distinctively J-pop theme. Fans may recognize a few of the artists, including Miku, but it's not a well known genre outside the Far East. Extra music packs are being added for free every 10,000 sales of the game, which is a great idea by the developers, so hopefully the variety will improve as more content is included.

Regardless of a little hiccup here or there, Cytus is a great game, visually appealing and inherently playable. The board shimmers and shines as you play, light rippling across it with every beat. It's responsive, and the tracks are generally well synced, each one having two difficulty modes to keep the replay value high. Included in the asking price are 30 tracks, with up to seventy more on the way should sales keep pace. If you're a fan of J-pop, or can at least tolerate the synthesized vocals and light dance style of music, Cytus is highly recommende!

NOTE: This game was played and reviewed on an iPad 3. 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

JohnBIt's an Android love party! As the free Google-made mobile OS turns four years old, several novel casual games make their way to the Google Play store, including one of our all-time favorites, Pocket Planes! And since the green robot is doing so well, developers are working to release even more ports and original games, ensuring you'll never use your phone for phone calls (whatever those are).

questlord-p.gifQuestLord still looks awesome - If olden games like Eye of the Beholder and Bard's Tale have always gotten your blood flowing and recent releases like Legend of Grimrock give you reason to live, you probably ask yourself every day "Why aren't there more retro-inspired first person RPGs?" Well now! QuestLord from Eric Kinkead is coming to save your mobile device, providing turn-based role playing with a too-awesome pixel art style and easy touch-based controls. We're salivating over this game ourselves and can't wait for it to reach the iTunes App Store, so keep an eye out for more gushing news as soon as it hits!

pocketplanes-p.gifPocket Planes on Android - Hey, ever heard of a little NimbleBit game called Pocket Planes? It's only the most crazy-captivating simulation ever released in the history of everything. We reviewed it, we wrote a guide for it, we even set up a trading post for it. And now, we're telling you to pick it up for Android, because it's free, it's fun, and it's simply sublime.

darknebula.jpgDark Nebula goes Android - The Dark Nebula games have long been at home on iOS devices, but Free Lunch Design is now in the process of bringing both games over to Android. In fact, the first episode is already available, and the second will be released within the next few months! In case you're unfamiliar, the Dark Nebula series will make you re-think tilt control arcade games, as it features some amazing level design along with sci-fi visuals that look fantastic on the mobile screen. It's more like an adventure meets a precise motion game, making it captivating for short sessions as well as in the long run.

superhexagon.jpgSuper Hexagon to spread from iOS - Not so very long ago, Terry Cavanagh released Super Hexagon for iOS devices. The game is punishingly difficult, featuring arcade levels that practically aim to make you fail. But we love it, thousands of other mobile games love it, and so it has been decided this is a good thing. Another good thing is that Terry plans to bring the game to both Android and BlackBerry devices! Hey, why not, right? Everybody needs a reason to get angry at their phones. No word on when this transformation will take place, but we'll definitely keep an eye out!

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KimberlyAs far as final projects go, setting out in search of interesting flowers doesn't seem that bad. New indie developer BitMonster Games brings us Lili, a charming adventure role playing game for your iOS device. As you explore the island of Geos, you'll find there's more to discover than the vegi-magical specimens you're searching for.

LiliLili has arrived on the island to research the interesting flora and fauna found there. Time to explore! Tap once to walk, or double tap to run. While moving, touch and drag to change the direction you are going. Tap once to stop moving. While standing still, touch and drag to take in your beautiful surroundings. You'll soon meet the island's inhabitants, called Constructs, and it wouldn't be an adventure game if they didn't want your help.

The Constructs are wooden robots created by the tree-like Spirits. Spirits treat their Constructs as slaves and get rid of them in unspeakable ways once they've outlived their usefulness. As it happens, the most interesting flowers on the island grow on the backs of the Spirits. You can get your flower specimens, and help chase away the Spirits for the Constructs. This win-win situation is what brings about the unusual self described "non-combat" system. When you spot a Spirit, easily identifiable because of their masks, catch up to it and you will automatically leap onto its back. Your goal is to pluck out the appropriate number of white flowers before you lose your grip and fall off. Avoid thorns and bombs as they will cause you to fall off more quickly. During your adventures you will find items and can upgrade stats to help you battle more effectively.

Lucky for you flowers are not just for looking at on Geos. Lili can trade in flowers for cash to buy helpful items, or for keys to open locked doors around the island. There are in-app purchases to help you do this faster, but with the amount of flowers around the island, I never felt like I was hurting for cash. Other in-app purchases include different outfits for Lili and a map pointing to every treasure chest and locked door.

LiliAnalysis: At its heart, Lili is a game of exploration and discovery. You are given a beautiful world to explore, and though I haven't experienced it myself, the game is supposed to look even more amazing with retina display on newer devices. As the story develops, you are given access to various parts of the island, all with a map so you don't get lost. A large part of the gameplay is tracking down all of the collectible items found in treasure chests around the world. After all, it wouldn't be an RPG if you didn't go into every house you see to loot their treasure. The whimsical style, soundtrack, and the myriad of treasure chests give it a definite The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker vibe.

Though this is BitMonster's first game, the folks behind the scenes are very familiar with the gaming industry. All of them were formally with Epic Games, the company who brought us Infinity Blade. If Lili is any indication, they've got a bright future ahead.

My only complaint with the game is the control sensitivity. At times it can take several taps to get done what one tap should do. However, that is just one flaw in what is otherwise an excellent gaming experience. The unique combat system is just plain fun, and the fun facts about each Spirit you defeat are highly entertaining. Although you can run in the game, you'll often find yourself walking, just so you have more time to take in the scenery. If you ever find yourself out and about on an unfamiliar island, here's a pro tip: Don't get involved in local politics.

NOTE: This game was played and reviewed on an iPad 2. 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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JayIf you tried to visit us between Friday (09/21) evening (11PM Eastern) and Today (09/22) morning (8AM Eastern) then you probably received an alert from Chrome, Firefox or Safari indicating that was listed as an attack site with malware.

The problem was discovered on Friday evening and we shut the server down immediately so that we wouldn't infect anyone until we fixed and cleaned the site. If you visited us late Friday evening, before we brought the site down, you should do a virus scan of your computer to be sure you weren't infected. We worked all through the night Friday and brought the site back online about 11AM Saturday morning, confident that the problem had been resolved and the site clean and safe for our visitors. We requested a review from Google at that time to remove the warnings.

Unfortunately, Google took their time and didn't remove the warnings until just this morning, so the warnings were up on the site for a much longer time than necessary.

If another attack happens to us I can promise you that we will act immediately to take the site down until we can address the situation, like we did this time, to protect you, our visitors. There just isn't anything more important to us, and we want to assure you that we work very hard to protect that relationship as well as maintain a safe browsing experience for everyone, but there's really no way to ensure something like this will never happen. All we can do is try our very best, and to resolve any situation that arises as quickly and efficiently as we can.

Thank you for your continued support and for your visits, your comments, and your enthusiasm for what we love to do here at Jayisgames.

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Pygmies Hoglet EX

DoraIf you've ever wanted a game with that special blend of "what the heck am I playing" and "wasn't it Tuesday when I started playing this?" then maxmobile's iOS and Android RPG sim Pygmies Hoglet EX might just be for you. An enhanced and expanded version of the original game, it puts you in charge of a lonely little hedgehog trundling around the world looking for spiky friends. Your quest might take a long time as you travel to distant lands, but is you can handle cuteness wrapped in a whole lot of brightly coloured weird, this might just be the addictively engaging little pick-me-up you've been looking for.

Pygmies Hoglet EXJust tap the directional buttons in the center of the menu bar and your hoglet will start walking in that direction until you stop him or change the way he's facing. The minimap in the bottom-right corner displays your position and any events you can encounter, which range from swapping gifts with Santa, to tracking down gems for the Jewelery King, or just straight-up fisticuffs with things that want to eat you. During battle, your opponent's action bar will fill up as yours does. You'll attack automatically, but though holding the big exclamation mark button will halt your action bar, it also curls you up into a protective ball that will reduce the damage you take and deal a bit in return. For successfully completing miniquests or defeating enemies, you can earn EXP orbs you can either use to buy things from certain characters, or spend on increasing your own stats. You can even earn badges that grant bonuses if you're lucky. Just keep an eye on your health and food points... health can be restored by hitting the pause button during normal gameplay to sleep, but food can only be restored by chowing down on items you find throughout the land.

Make no mistake, Pygmies Hoglet EX is an extremely simple little game, only a few steps above your basic Tomagatchi-type toy. Gameplay is very slow, largely due to how long it takes your hoglet to move around the map, and resting as well as grinding for EXP orbs takes up even more time... unless, of course, you want to pay for more orbs through an optional in-app purchase. Despite that, it's still weirdly hard to stay away from for very long. Pygmies Hoglet EX is like addictive sunshine and off-kilter charm delivered straight to your eyeballs. The easy, "just one more encounter" style gameplay is something even young kids will be able to grasp quickly, but adults will find a lot to love in the relentlessly cheery design and quirky sense of humour. Pygmies Hoglet EX lacks a great deal of depth and creativity, but offers boundless vibrancy and silliness for players looking for something they can pick up and fiddle with anytime, anywhere.

NOTE: This game was played and reviewed on an iPad (First 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.

The Golden Years: Way Out West

GrinnypAh, the romance of the old west. Cowboys, cattle drives, the pony express... Also brush fires, coyotes, droughts, greedy land barons, and bandits who ransack towns and kidnap the population for ransom. It might not be as romantic as John Wayne movies would have us believe, but things were still pretty adventurous, a side of the times that Alawar chooses to represent in the time management adventure game The Golden Years: Way Out West.

grinnyp_thegoldenyearswayoutwest_screenshot1.pngGertrude had such a lovely life, married to handsome and hardworking Samuel and raising her son Jacob. Samuel got ambitious and bought the local general store, though, and soon the family was on their way to success. Then, disaster struck in the form of a suspicious fire which burned down the store and all its stock. Deeply indebted to the evil Mr. Van Der Horn, Samuel has been thrown into jail and Gertrude must, with the aid of young Jacob, earn a fortune to pay the robber baron back and get poor Samuel sprung. Fortunately, Gertrude is pretty competent, as she works her way from Appalachia to the great plains, then to California and beyond in her quest to reunite the family.

Gameplay in The Golden Years: Way Out West is a combination of building sim and time management. Each stage has several levels with their own sets of goals. Build homes, municipal buildings, commercial buildings and the like in order to accomplish both short term and long term goals. Starting with a decrepit locomotive given to her by her friend the kindly Professor David, Gertrude moves from town to town building and mining along the way. Houses and other buildings can be constructed using wood obtained either from scattered supplies that block paths or from a sawmill (if you can afford to build one). Homes and commercial buildings can only be built within the shadow of municipal buildings, and each building covers a different series of land plots.

grinnyp_thegoldenyearswayoutwest_screenshot2.pngAccomplishing each "stage" of a level in a certain amount of time earns a gold star, and if you earn 50% or better gold stars in a level you can upgrade Gertrude's rickety locomotive into something sleeker and faster. Along with natural hazards like gullies that need to be filled in and wood and other blockages you can run into obstacles in the form of town drunks, wild animals, and of course the ruthless bandits who will demand lots and lots of gold to go away. Can you help Gertrude accomplish her goals in time to rescue poor Samuel from the pokey?

Analysis: The Golden Years: Way Out West plays like a nice combination of Build-a-lot and My Kingdom for the Princess, with lots of frantic action and story along the way. What really makes it stand out are the requirements for municipal buildings, as each covers a different number of plots and without that coverage you can't build necessary housing or commercial establishments. Trying to maneuver that coverage to your best advantage is a bit like fitting Tetris pieces together which add a nice puzzle challenge to each level.

grinnyp_thegoldenyearswayoutwest_screenshot3.pngThe graphics are amusing as are the animations, although they can be a little lost on the small screen of an iPhone. Best of all are the characters that you run into in every level, from the lazy town drunks to the greedy bandits, and the helpful Native Americans. Each level has different challenges and surprises around every turn. The music is a lively and appropriate accompaniment and the voice acting is competent and helps move the story along.

There are a few minor problems in scaling down a game this size to the iPhone, so if that's the version you're going with, take note. Managing to differentiate which areas need to be highlighted takes a deft touch at first as in the smaller scale things can be a little too close together. And although the story is engaging you certainly have to put up with the somewhat un-P.C. portrayals of the First Nations characters, pretty par for the course in any western themed game.

The Golden Years: Way Out West delivers a fantastic punch of time management and puzzle gameplay. With 48 levels, each more complex than the last, you are looking at hours of fabulous casual gameplay with some pretty interesting characters. So hike up your skirts, tie down your bonnet, and get ready for some frantic fun. Westward Ho!

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Torchlight 2

DoraThe Alchemist has gone mad and is leading an army of monsters across the land, leaving devastation and suffering in his wake. Old heroes don't seem up to the task of defeating him, and things are looking bleak, but salvation might lie in the form of a messenger with a destiny... and a yen for smashing things to bits in the most satisfying manner possible. Runic Games delivers a stunning, rip-roaring indie action RPG experience Torchlight 2, a game that improves on the original in virtually every way while still maintaining the addictive gameplay that made it a hit. Now with added multiplayer options, fuzzy-wuzzy friends, classes, and dude-dudette possibilities for each!

Torchlight 2At the start of your game, you'll choose a class, gender, appearance, and, most importantly... a pet! Each class has its own advantages, so choose the one that most appeals to you. Perhaps the steam-laden engineer with a zest for heavy weaponry? Or the twitchy, feral berserker with the crazy eyes and penchant for random screams? Like its predecessor, Torchlight 2 controls primarily with the mouse. You'll navigate through the game world and decimate your foes all with the click of a button. Combat is real time and enemies are frequently both numerous and big, so you won't want to stay still for long, and give some real thought both to your equipment and inventory as well as the points you allocate in your skills and stats.

In your quest to stop The Alchemist and reduce all who oppose you to quivering chunks, you'll have to put in a lot of footwork. Unlike the original game, Torchlight 2 takes place topside and in a wide variety of environments for you to travel through, and you'll be traveling all over the world. From a secret underground slaver's camp, to the remains of a haunted pirate ship and beyond, and deal with everything from cult blood rituals to assassins, slime monsters, and giant bear clans. Plus, with multiplayer now an option, you can adventure with groups of your best friends, or even open up your game to newcomers over the ol' intertubes. Enemies scale in strength and damage depending on how many players are nearby fighting, so don't expect more friends to mean a cakewalk.

Torchlight 2Analysis: With the controls and gameplay essentially identical to the first game, playing Torchlight 2 feels familiar, but less "more of the same" and more "what you always wish the original was". It's one of those rare sequels where you can tell the developers both listened to and strove to incorporate all the feedback and wishes from their players. The best word to describe it this time around is variety. Its huge outdoor environments are a welcome change after endless crypts and tunnels, and the amount of different enemies is pretty impressive. While you'll encounter redesigned foes from the first game, there are a lot of new and unusual critters in each area... including some pretty exciting boss-battles with huge monsters and screen-shaking special attacks. The new classes are welcome and a blast to play with right out of the gate, and though an admittedly small change in the grand scheme of things for players, allowing us to play as male or female for any class is definitely appreciated... especially when you consider it meant extra work for the team.

Other changes aren't as big, but just as welcome. Most quests will allow you to select from your choice of rewards, which is nice. Further, some sidequests are even randomised as to when and where they appear. Your pet can now run back to town with a shopping list of supplies instead of just selling off excess junk. Weapons and armor now have two different requirements, stats and level, so you can wield more powerful stuff at a lower level if your skills are high enough. Items will also be identified for you automatically if you're at a certain level, which means you won't need quite as many identify scrolls. You can even find people who can reset your skill points for a fee, so you can change your character's setup later in the game if you feel like shaking things up.

Torchlight 2Of course, while there's a lot to do, it all ultimately comes down to killing things, since a bodycount is essentially your sole contribution to the story. Go here, smash a guy, story proceeds. But despite this and how ridiculously huge some of the areas can be, Torchlight 2 never really gets boring. Sidequests, challenges, and even secrets are sprinkled absolutely everywhere. It helps that the game is even more gorgeous, of course, but with so much to see and do it kind of puts the first Torchlight to shame. The scope is really impressive, and you can't play the game without really getting a sense of how much midnight oil the development team must have burnt to make the game grow so much.

Torchlight 2 is a massive improvement over the original in almost every way, despite not bringing many major gameplay changes to the table. It's still the same explosive, action-packed RPG experience you loved, only now they've let you outside of the box and given you a whole world to play in. The game is long and, depending on your chosen difficulty setting, can be a pretty big challenge if you're playing by yourself... I went for "Veteran" (*elite snort*) and find the game to be a steady, satisfying uphill climb. With more classes to experience with their own unique abilities, there's a lot of replay value to be had. Especially when you consider multiplayer allows for both LAN and internet options, so you can play with close friends or open up your game and find some new ones, bonding over the corpse of a slain behemoth while you both drip with chunks. Aw.

Big, beautiful, and more fun than ever before, Torchlight 2 is a remarkable achievement. If you love action-RPGs, be sure to check out the demo for this one. If you played the first game you'll appreciate the massive strides its taken, but even if this is your first rodeo, Torchlight 2 will deliver one heck of a ride.

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Oh Hi! Octopi!

JohnBA strange name for a strange game, Oh Hi! Octopi! is an arcade/puzzle release from the creator of 1-bit Ninja, kode80. Combining single-screen levels with matching-type gameplay and purposefully obtuse controls, it can be a maddening experience trying to learn to play the game, let alone actually accomplish something. But once you do, it's a great feeling, and you'll finally be able to say a hearty "hi" to those little octopi as you smash them with a hammer.

Oh Hi! Octopi!The two sides of your device's screen are all you need to control the main character. Tap and hold the left side to go left, and tap the right to go right. To jump, alternate tapping the left and right side of the screen (see what we meant by "obtuse"?). You'll notice that each time you tap to move your character swings a little hammer. The goal of the game is to use that hammer to remove octopi from the screen. Once you remove ten, you'll progress to the next round with faster foes that are harder to corral.

Removing octopi isn't as simple as whacking them, however. To clear a group, you first must have three or more together (preferably dazed with a hammer strike) and of the same color. Then, head to the plunger and hit it a few times to blow a paint bubble. Chase the bubble to your stunned crowd and watch them collide. The bigger the group you clear, the more points you'll get. Wandering octopi can cause lots of problems when you have a sturdy little bunch collected, so keep moving around the screen to monitor everything that crawls!

Oh Hi! Octopi!Analysis: Unusual. Very unusual. But also simple, challenging, rewarding, and intricate. Oh Hi! Octopi! occupies a lot of your brain with just a couple of gameplay elements, and the combination of action and puzzle styles can satisfy just about any game craving you might have. You'll almost feel like a little farmer sorting sheep as you bring them back from the pasture. Multi-colored sheep, I guess. For all of you who love organizing things, this game will definitely please.

The controls are really the only issue Oh Hi! Octopi! has, but one is lead to believe the button economy was a purposeful design choice, not an oversight. Using just two different taps to move, jump, and swing a mallet puts a lot of pressure on each side of the screen, but it also frees you up to think about the octopi and what they're up to. Wouldn't you rather pay attention to the game instead of fat-fingering on-screen controls in a futile attempt to issue the correct command? Also, it adds to the sense of arcade insanity having to overplay two little buttons for everything you do.

Oh Hi! Octopi! is a highly enjoyable mobile arcade/puzzle game, one that has the ability to polarize players given how easy it is to both love and hate. Spend some earnest time getting the smack-fueled controls down and you'll quickly appreciate what kode80 has given you: a crazy, nigh-uncontrollable arcade game that allows you to tame monsters and organize everything into neat, color-coded groups. It's the stuff some of the best puzzle games are built upon!

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.

Dark Parables: The Red Riding Hood Sisters

elleIt is a tale familiar to everyone. Little Red Riding Hood went to her grandmother's house in the woods, carrying a basket of goodies. Instead of being greeted by her dear old granny, the poor frightened girl met a hairy, long-toothed predator who wanted to gobble her up. Fortunately for the helpless child, a nearby woodsman heard her cries and slew the beast. Not exactly a lighthearted, gentle story to begin with, is it? Well, put such a fairytale in Blue Tea Games' talented hands and it becomes something much more... dark. Dark Parables: The Red Riding Hood Sisters is a lushly gorgeous and dramatically entertaining hidden object/adventure hybrid about femme fatales who are anything but helpless, banding together to battle evil, to the death if need be.

Dark Parables: The Red Riding Hood SistersYou enter the scene as a detective, sent to investigate a town that has been lost to the rest of the world. Before you can arrive at your intended destination, your carriage is attacked by a pack of mist wolves. That would've been the end of the story if not for a daring rescue by Ruth, who now herself is injured, poisoned, and in need of your intervention. Your search begins as a quest for the remedy and soon turns into much more. Exploring the woods, the sisters' base camp, and the ill-fated town will lead to a plethora of fragmented object search scenes, thinky-yet-affable puzzles and mini-games. Even with all of that, the overall emphasis in Dark Parables: The Red Riding Hood Sisters is adventure and cinematic storytelling.

This action-filled, oft times violent adventure involves a good amount of back-and-forth as you need to gather together lovely pieces of art that found either scattered about within the main environment or from searching for fragments of objects in the hidden object search scenes. There is a good number and variety of these search scenes but you will never find the traditional "junk pile" style of hidden object searches, which will be a relief to anyone who has grown tired of that formula. Better yet, this style of fragmenting means your explorations, searches and puzzle solving is completely logical for the story; it all works together to support the feel of adventure.

Unless you choose "Hard" mode, a map and hint system circumvents any confusion that might arise from all the traveling about needed to complete the tasks. Tasks are also listed for you although the story-driven design of the game keeps it clear just what is needed next. While you complete your main quest, you can can also uncover parts of the parables which you can access through your notebook. Again, like others in the Dark Parables series and in some Mystery Case Files games such as Escape from Ravenhearst, you can challenge yourself to find all the cursed/morphing items. A top-notch soundtrack keeps the mood while still remaining in the background and the rich hues and deep brush strokes of the oil-painted fantasy world add to the entertaining experience.

Dark Parables: The Red Riding Hood SistersAnalysis: It's hard to not compare this installment to its predecessors. In many ways, The Red Riding Hood Sisters is a much improved production in a continuing line of high quality games. The artwork alone is a joy to discover and interact with. The story is dynamic with superior writing and voice acting. More notable is the timing and delivery of the cut scenes or movies; in other games, the cut scenes can interfere with gameplay, become an unwelcome intermission from the joy of puzzles and adventure. Not here. Even with a few instances where they seem made by different hands, the movies are high points in the game, propelling you further into the violent, twisted world of mashed-up fairytales and the ultimate battle of good versus evil.

Some players will be disturbed by this, though, as the enemy in this case uses wolves—furry animals that many people care about and sympathize with—to carry out her murderous deeds. It might be some relief to consider that these wolves are not actual sentient beings but products of dark magic. This heightens the plot complications, too, since no ordinary weapon like a simple woodsman's ax can overcome them. For those who enjoy high drama and lots of action, The Red Riding Hood Sisters is full of "wow" effects.

Dark Parables: The Red Riding Hood SistersBut those who have an especially fond reverence for the preceding Dark Parables title, Rise of the Snow Queen, this tale possibly won't measure up. The mini-games are less challenging than in Rise of the Snow Queen and the story, because of a number of subplots and a wide cast of characters, is not as focused. The evil Snow Queen was a much more subtly insidious villainess, as well. All other Dark Parables knowledge aside, though, and you can't help but be impressed. This is a can't miss game for any fan of the genre.

The main gameplay of Dark Parables: The Red Riding Hood Sisters is a little on the shorter side—or maybe it just feels that way as you are so immersed that time slips away unnoticed. An extra chapter in the collector's edition is a stand-alone but related story, The Boy Who Cried Wolf. It, along with extra puzzles and other bonus content, do round out the experience and I recommend, for those who can, getting the collector's edition for this reason. On the other hand, the game strategy guide for the collector's edition is helpful yet somewhat redundant considering this game's superb hint system and map.

The best reason to play Dark Parables: The Red Riding Hood Sisters is to indulge your love of detail-rich, fantasy artwork while enjoying the fragmented object searches and putting together magical trinkets and emblems to discover new areas. Although you can still see the etching of plot formulas gratuitously-bent toward the genre's demographic base, it's evident the designers put much pride and passion into crafting this creation by how well it transmits to the players' own enjoyment. This is a story we heard before yet it is never dull. How fun to take part in this daring sisterhood of strong lead females (Yay! Go girl power!)

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

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Link Dump Fridays

DoraIs anyone out there? With Torchlight 2 finally releasing this week, we expect dust to be gathering on everything that isn't monster-slaying related, but that doesn't mean the news stops coming!

xkcd: Click and DragThe World is Just Awesome Though not actually a game, webcomic xkcd's homage to the vastness and complexity of our world is too cool not to share. Titled Click and Drag, you need to do just that on the last panel, and in doing so uncover an absolutely massive map filled with tiny details that range to the ordinary, to the sublime, to the frightening, and even the heartbreaking. Scrolling through it all will take you a long time, and if you like, you can check out this fan map to save time, but it really is worth going through and checking out all the little details. Remember, gang. The internet and video games are great, the world is just awesome. Boom-de-a-da!

Loren the Amazon Princess: Castle of N'marEven More Amazons and Adventures If you enjoyed the lengthy visual novel RPG adventure Loren the Amazon Princess from Winter Wolves, you've got another excuse to play it again with the recent release of The Castle of N'Mar, an expansion that adds more quests, romance, and even some vampire excitement! You do need to own Loren to play, and the content unlocks past a certain point in that game, but if you're a fan of text-heavy adventures with strategic battles, you'll definitely want to do yourself a favour and check this one out. I haven't played this yet myself, but I personally enjoyed Loren the Amazon Princess a great deal, and am still looking forward to that heavily implied sequel that's far off on the horizon!

Superflat's New GameHey, You Got Your Dungeon Crawling in My Platformer! Lone Survivor creator Jasper Byrne has a new game in the works... so new it doesn't even have a name! It wants to combine elements of dungeon-crawling, science-fiction, and even "whimsical" platforming... or, as he puts it, "Zelda/Demon's Souls". Further details are still sketchy and vague, but given the creativity and talent of the creator, you can bet this is going to shape into something special. More details as they come!

SealarkSet Sail For Awesome Coming July of 2013 for PC, Mac, and Linux, Clairvoire's sea-exploration simulation adventure Sealark is already funded on Kickstarter, but looks so neat we'd be remiss if we didn't tell you about it. Inspired by Earthbound, Homestuck, Cave Story, and even Harvest Moon, it follows a girl named Dove who is one of the last fishermen in the world, and discovers a strange boat while out at sea one day. In addition to sailing the seas, fighting bosses, shaping the evolution of the story through the friends and rivals you make (or even date!), and, y'know, fishing, the game also wants to include seasons and such that will impact the game at various times. It looks and sounds absolutely captivating, and if you love quirky simulations, then this is a project you need to keep your eyes on.

NevermindYour Heart Can Kill You Up for funding on IndieGoGo, Erin Reynolds' proposed horror adventure game Nevermind is at once both a great idea and a hard sell. As an employee of the Neurostalgia Institute, you go into the minds and memories of traumatised patients to try to help them, while confronting and trying to make sense of the nightmares inside. The kicker is that the game asks you to wear a device that monitors your heart rate, and as that speeds up, the game becomes more difficult and nightmarish, so controlling your stress and fear is key to survival. Sounds neat, right? Well, considering that you'll need to buy both the GARMIN device and its USB connector yourself for around another $70.00USD total on top of the cost of Nevermind itself, it kind of requires a financial commitment beyond just having a computer. It's a great idea, though, and a creative use of technology to help immerse you in the game, so if you want to know more, hit up the official website.

Project EternityAll That is Good and Pure About Role-Playing Games Ask any RPG fan over the age of 25 about their favourite games, and chances are they might trot out Planescape: Torment or Baldur's Gate or Icewind Dale with a dewy gleam in their eyes. So you'll have to forgive us for being a tiny bit excited about the upcoming Project Eternity on Kickstarter by well-known developers Obsidian. It promises to be a return to classic Dungeons & Dragons-style RPGs, and considering much of the team behind it were responsible for those very games, they can probably pull it off. The project is already completely funded to the point where it will be available for Mac as well as PC, but for more information or to help contribute, you should check out its official page. (And, yes, it will also be available on Good Old Games DRM free when it launches in 2014.)

Baldur's Gate RemasteredFALSE ALARM Well, that's a bit of a buzz-killer. Originally due to release earlier this week, the release of the Baldur's Gate Enhanced Edition has been pushed back to November 30th. While we'd obviously rather have the game be the very best it could be and it isn't the end of the world, it's still a bit of a downer, especially considering the announcement came so close to the original release date. Oh well! They say time waits for no man, but I'm pretty sure the world will still need saving when November rolls around. Mostly because Imoen can't do anything by herself.

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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TrickyVivirionVivirion, an arcade avoidance game by Mortar Games, has you controlling a small. fragile creature, attacked on all sides by a hostile environment. But with your guidance, the little guy is sure to triumph over every adversary, and thrive in his evolution. By the way, did we mention that said creature is a virus that has infected a human host, mutating into ever more deadly pathogens? Yeah. In retrospect, that's actually pretty central to the premise.

Direct your chosen virus with the mouse, gaining health by consuming smaller enemy cells, and avoiding the larger cells which will take health away. Turning on the "Cell Size Assistance" option will mark smaller cells with OK and larger cells with an !, but generally it's easy to eyeball the diameters. Also, watch out for the white blood cells, which will actively try to hunt you down. Collect bonus cells to gain a temporary ability boost. At the end of each level, you'll upgrade your attributes and mutate into a stronger form. Overall, the gameplay is reminiscient of Fishy, though the circular sprite designs make it much easier to distinguish the different sizes. It's a little slow going at first, but the eerie atmosphere and a surprisingly affecting (even slightly nightmarish) final level make Vivirion worth playing until the very end.

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Escape from the Room with a Strong DoorGrinnypLong before pretentious hipsters and others got hold of them, tapas were basically bar snacks, small, salty bites meant to simultaneously soak up a little alcohol while making you thirsty for more. Small bites is what we're talking about here, little nibbles meant to whet the appetite. When it comes to room escapes, the tapas master (metaphorically speaking here) is Hottategoya, and they are here to tease our palates with a refeshing little bite called Escape from the Room with a Strong Door.

Yes, Escape from the Room with a Strong Door is the perfect equivalent of a bowl of beer nuts, an addicting little nibble that makes us hungry for more. The game is pretty stripped down, involving a stark room with the aforementioned strong door, one piece of furniture, a wastebasket, and two pictures on the wall. Using the usual bars to navigate the room you must solve the three puzzles contained within using only your wits and the two (yes, just two!) inventory items you can find. Even for Hottategoya (Escape from the Room with 3 Medals, Chikarou 5) this is pretty bare stuff, yet pretty entertaining.

The downsides, aside from the too short length are that the puzzles are all in color which can make life difficult for certain segments of the population if they find themselves locked into this quiet little room. Despite the shortness, Escape from the Room with a Strong Door is a well-designed and delicious appetite stimulator, leaving the gamer hungry for more.

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KyhWith constant talks of companies copying games from other companies, it's nice to see one actually ask permission first. Such is the case with NIAsoft and their authorized remake of Christian Steinruecken's The Alchemy Game, originally released back in the late 90s and still available to download and play. Now Alchemy Classic comes along, updating the Doodle God-like gameplay without tooling with the original too much. There is one major difference, though: you can combine more than two elements at a time! This added aspect of difficulty combined with a slick interface and the low-low price of free makes Alchemy Classic a must download for Android users.

kyh_bunibon_screen.pngYou start the game with just four elements: air, fire, water and earth. Simply touch and drag them around the screen, placing them on top of each other to attempt a combination. If they mix, a new element will appear, automatically stashing itself in your inventory for later mixing. Once you have enough elements you'll have to use the column sorting tabs to choose the element group you're looking for, then drag them around to find the right combinations (and, yes, sometimes the right order as well). Your progress out of the 462 elements to discover is listed at the top as well as the number of hint points you have. Hint points allow you to buy valuable information on the make up of an unlocked element: either the group a particular component comes from or (at a higher cost) what the element actually is.

What NIAsoft has done with Steinruecken's game is wonderful. They didn't just take the game outright and publish it, they polished its look, gave it an intuitive smartphone interface, and added extra content. While Alchemy Classic plays well and is entertaining, it's unfortunate that many of the elements are locked and only available through outright purchase with either 'real' money or an in-game currency. If you're not willing to go through that to unlock everything, this game can still give you hours of free entertainment, and it will certainly have you feeling like a god with a chemistry degree. Just don't be surprised if you find yourself dusting off your old high school chem notes.

NOTE: This game was played and reviewed on a Droid Razr. 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 Story of a Band

DoraHey little rocker! Turn that frown upside down. Just 'cause you don't have any talent... or fans... or fame... or job security... doesn't mean you can't turn into a musical legend! To those about to simulate... Hot Byte Games salutes you with A Story of a Band for Android. If you thought Game Dev Story was good but needed a bit more of a Tenacious D sort of vibe, then this power ballad's for you. You may start out as a bunch of tone-deaf nobodies, but with a lot of practice, a lot of schmoozing, and the determination to not only rock and roll all night but also party every day, you will rise from obscurity to be the sort of star all the little flannel-clad YouTube bands want to emulate years from now. To win, you're going to have to defeat all the bands who rejected you in glorious rock battle... but you've got a long long way, baby, before you can even attempt that.

A Story of a BandStart by selecting your five bandmates from the pool of available candidates, paying careful attention to the skills and perks they bring to the table. Someone might be an amazing songwriter, for example, but also greedy and demand more pay than anyone else. After that, it's time to decide what genre you want to play as... some types are more popular than others, while some allow for more creativity or a more aggressive style of music. Most of the hard work takes place in your training house (which I suspect is somebody's mother's garage) where you can decide what to do with your band. This can be anything from working on a new album, going on tour, battling another band, or manipulating your style and image. Money talks, so some options, and the tiers within, are more expensive than others, and since you also need to be able to pay everyone's salary it's important to balance your spending with your earning. Somebody's going to have to pay for all those champagne pool parties and televisions tossed out hotel windows. You're professionals after all.

Sure, you might not have much when you start out and have all the musical talent of a half-asleep cat having its paws moved over a keyboard, but hey, quitters never prosper! Don't let the poor reviews you'll be subjected to at first by magazines discourage you. As your band hammers diligently away at their music, their skills will go up, and you'll earn two types of points to spend, skill and development. Skill points are generated automatically and used to purchase new abilities and genres, while development points are earned from battles and producing albums, and should be sunk into your band to level them up. It may be hard and require a lot of dedication, or even a bit of luck, but you'll be a rock legend in no time... though I sincerely doubt you'll ever be able to match the runaway success of my band's tender power ballad, Everybody Farts. Stop looking at me like that.

Make no mistake, A Story of a Band is heavily inspired by Game Dev Story's gameplay structure (if not as easy to jump in to), but it would be a mistake to call it a clone. It's definitely going to be familiar, yet it adds enough new options over just the different theming to be considered its own beast. You can expect a lot of failure in the beginning as your band struggles to learn which side of the guitar to play, but the quirky tone and goofy, vibrant visuals will do a lot to keep you playing if rock is already your thing. Since the game relies on a lot of silly musical in-jokes and parodies for its humour, you do kind of need to be at least a passing music fan to get the most out of it, and also be willing to tolerate the more eye-rollingly immature stuff. There's no mistaking that there was a huge amount of effort put into A Story of a Band though, and if the trial version manages to get its hooks into you, you'll find it hard to put down.

NOTE: This game was played and reviewed on the HTC One S. 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.

DoraBit DungeonReady for an entirely mouse-controlled dungeon-crawling experience? KintoGames delivers with the delightfully roguelike-sy retro Bit Dungeon, which piles legions of bloodthirsty monsters on you, a hapless lone knight. Click anywhere on the ground to move there, and click on nearby enemies to attack. Hold down the left mouse button briefly to block, or keep holding it to eventually release a pulse that damages and briefly stuns foes by blasting them back. Slaying all the enemies in the room will net you a key you can use to open a door, but also occasionally treasure in the form of equipment you can swap out your old weapons and armors for, or one of three permanent stat bonuses to choose from.

Each dungeon floor has a boss hidden behind ye olde ominous red door, but while killing it will let you proceed deeper, you may want to scour every room before you go on ahead since there's treasure to be found everywhere. You can only have one piece of each type of equipment at a time, so think carefully about its attributes, as any treasure or discarded equipment vanishes once you leave the room you found it in. If you're low on health, you can consider going back to rooms you've previously already cleared to kill some of the low level carrion fiends and ghosts that appear and often leaving healing potions when slain. And since death is permanent, forcing you to start a new game, you really want to be searching everywhere for things to keep your health up, including within the breakable containers you can find in each room.

While Bit Dungeon suffers from a lack of any sort of in-game tutorial beyond the most basic of elements needed to play, what will wind up hurting it most for some players will be the decision to make it entirely mouse controlled. It's the sort of thing that not only will be awkward for players who insist on trackpads for their laptops, but even feels clunky and weird for those of us with mice to use. It's the sort of game that's practically begging for a sequel, or even just an "expanded" version that would let you choose your control scheme to something with a bit less click-click-click-click-click-click-click. Which is a shame, since it looks fantastic and its decidedly old-school gameplay with its plethora of monsters and equipment is immensely satisfying if you want a quick dose of almost arcade-style action. Despite its frustrations, Bit Dungeon is still a gorgeous little monster mash packed with bosses and baddies that will bring out the roaring, giblet-covered warrior inside you.

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Weekday Escape

ElleIn the time we've known TomaTea, we've had the opportunity to play many lovely escape games by this developer and have come know Tomatea by the serene House Beautiful settings and pleasingly logical puzzles. In Chess Wroom, we're once again issued an invitation into the entertaining, puzzle-filled lifestyles of the clever and elegant.

Chess WroomLike the game of chess, this neatly-ordered, well-mannered environment hides some swarthy puzzles which are heavy in mathematics. Explore the room by following the glowing cursor to gather up clues, puzzles pieces and other handy objects. The side-bar inventory makes using and combining items easy while you'll want notepaper or a screenshot program to keep track of numerous clues and complete needed calculations. You'll find no unfair trickery or leaps in logic, but you will have to do a lot of back-and-forth and thoughtful deductions.

It's so nice to see how far TomaTea has come since we first played Orient Express Night back at the beginning of 2011. Mechanics and design are well-tuned to work together and provide a superior escape-the-room game. There isn't a single missed beat as you move about, gathering a clue here, solving a code there and opening a door somewhere else. This symmetry makes gameplay a peaceful, relaxing experience even as the chaining of puzzles feels too stuffy and constrained. TomaTea's ability to make theme and mood fit together perfectly is well illustrated in Chess Wroom. Logical puzzles and scenic interior design are always a satisfying mix, even if extra Ws leave us guessing. Let's just say it means "wonderful."

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TrickyCommit.5A topdown arena shooter by Daniel Twomey, Commit.5 is a game that's going to make it hard to stay in one place. As the little blue thingy in a world of other-colored thingies, you must survive as long as you can. Move with the [WASD] keys, and blast enemies either by clicking the mouse or by tapping the [arrow] keys for that ol' dual joystick feel. The more black dots an enemy has around its center, the more shots will be needed to take it out. To progress through the game, you must stay within the boundaries of numbered rings for a certain amount of time. Staying within the ring will add to the wave's completion percentage, and moving away from it will reduce it. Later waves will require you to "tag" padlocked rings to unlock the numbered one, or avoid stepping on orange poison rings. There are 25 waves in all, and while, in each, only a certain number of enemies will spawn, faster completion makes for a higher score multiplier.

The flaw of many arena shooters is that strategy can end up being reduced to "Run wherever enemies are not, and fire at the nearest clump." By giving players an incentive to stand their ground for bonus points, Commit.5 has a subtle defense game vibe, and is all the better for it. One life, and restarting from the beginning when you lose it, is probably a little harsh, difficulty-wise, but Commit.5 would fit in perfectly nestled next to the Robotron: 2084 and Smash TV cabinets at Flynn's Arcade.

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MeaghanWatermelon's AdventureIf I had to take a guess of who would be the first to create the magical elixir of life, my bets would not be on some bizarre creature with a watermelon for a head. Alas, it appears I may be wrong; as evidenced in the OK Interactive point-and-click adventure game Watermelon's Adventure. Unfortunately for the melon headed hero, an evil witch has stolen his elixir for her own gain and must be tracked down to regain it or else be the unwilling victim of not making a patent.

Clicking around is the name of the game and you'll be aided by a changing cursor when hovering over items that can be picked up. You'll use the taxi to go from one area to another, and as you find new items different locations will become available. Talking with people is a necessity and will provide items that will help further your adventure. Much like Where's My Cat, Watermelon's Adventure has a pretty comical plot with some even more humorous dialogue. Sometimes you'll find you need to double click on an item instead of clicking once, and some of the scenes seem a bit grainy but these are minor things that don't detract from the overall gameplay. This is the perfect game for winding down no matter what situation.

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The Vault

DoraThe Casual Gameplay Design Competitions aren't just to help us figure out which developers are the most talented for when we want to assemble them into a creative hive-mind with brains in jars that will continually churn out amazing games we can profit from. It's for seeing the way developers will take an idea and run with it, taking it in new and usual directions! With the judging currently under way for the 10th competition, what better time like the present to examine some of the entries of competitions past?

  • Factory BallsFactory Balls - When you're looking for clever puzzles, always be sure to give fun maestro Bart Bonte a call... it's like he has some secret factory beneath his house that churns out cleverness and daydreams on command. Created for the 4th Casual Gameplay Design Competition, this smart little gem asks you to create balls with various colours and patterns using the tools at your disposal... which includes your logical brain! Though opinions differed on how well this implemented the ball physics theme of the competition, everyone could agree that it was a remarkably smart and engaging concept, and it's no wonder it's gone on to become a successful series.
  • SproutSprout - Jeff Nusz has done some cool things, but his entry into the "grow" themed 2nd Casual Gameplay Design Competition is something spell all on its own. It's a puzzle adventure about a seed on a journey who can learn to grow into various plants to get past obstacles. It looks absolutely fantastic, with a standout sketchy style that gives the whole thing a storybook feel, and it's not surprising the game took home top prize in the competition both from the judges and the audience award, which is arguably harder to win. Unless you have Reese's Pieces. I know what you guys will do for Reese's.
  • Liquid ColorsLiquid Colors - For our very first Casual Gameplay Design Competition, Ddams gave us something short but very sweet with this creative puzzle about colours (yes, with a "u", you can't stop me, Americans), blockades, and planning ahead. Changing a box to a specific colour sounds like a simple idea, but when it involves colour that moves and mixes with other hues unless you direct it, it becomes infinitely more challenging as you place walls to move and mix your liquid colours to (hopefully) get it where you want it, as you want it. The game has a clean presentation, but what really makes it shine is that it shows challenge can be wrung out of the simplest of concepts if you bend your brain to it creatively.

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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Adelantado Trilogy: Book One

KimberlyChop! Chop! Chop! What's that sound? The sound of timber being harvested in Realore Studios' Adelantado Trilogy: Book One! The creators of games like All My Gods and Roads of Rome have done something special with this casual simulation/resource management game, adding some role playing elements and throwing in a good helping of originality. The Queen of Spain has appointed you, Don Diego De Leon, as adelantado of the new world, and it's up to you to find out what happened to previous expeditions that were sent out and never seen again. While you're there, find treasure to send back to fill the the country's coffers and best your rival Pablo Rodrigez to the gold and riches that surely rest in this unexplored land!

Adelantado Trilogy: Book OneThe first thing any good expedition needs is to be able to feed its workers. A handy tutorial gets you going in this game, starting with building a garden. The game is played entirely with the mouse, just click to place buildings, control your main character, and collect resources. With the exception of a few renewable resources that you must command your workers to retrieve, villagers will go about farming, mining or chopping on their own. You just need to make sure the workers have the buildings they need and that there are enough peons to attend the tasks. This gives you time to explore the map and achieve the goals for each level. There are various side quests to accomplish aside from keeping each community running smoothly. These generally consist of helping the natives, collecting gold, or rescuing survivors.

Analysis: The unique thing about Adelantado Trilogy: Book One that makes it stand apart from similar games are the RPG elements. Your character Don Diego has three stats that can be upgraded throughout each level by finding the corresponding magical stones. These are usually found by talking to characters on the maps and completing quests for them. You can upgrade speed, strength, and your oratory skills. Often, parts of the map are locked until you have upgraded your stats enough to enter a new area. It's fun to have a quest line to follow rather than just focusing on amassing resources!

Adelantado Trilogy: Book OneAdelantado Trilogy: Book One isn't about micro-managing, as in so many sims. It's more about macro-managing. Instead of controlling your workers down to every sneeze and cough, you're in charge of optimal building placement. Instead of clicking furiously to pick up resources, you're searching the world for secrets and treasure hidden around the map. It really adds focus to the sense of venturing forth into a new world as a theme of the game.

As with any game there are a few drawbacks, such as if you exit the game in the middle of a level your progress is lost. Saving only happens after level completion, so you'll need to be prepared to spend at least 45 minutes at a time to get through the large-mapped levels (which isn't necessarily a bad thing!). Similar titles have a mid-level save, so it's disappointing that it's not available. Also, during gameplay there's no way to knock a building down, so if you place it in the wrong spot, you're stuck with it. This can be worse than just visual incongruity, as resource output from buildings decreases over time, so you need to stick buildings close together to make sure you have room for the new ones.

Adelantado does a great job making you feel like you are among the first to set foot in a new land. The quests make it feel like you aren't just exploring for the fun of it, but are there for a reason. And the Spanish-inspired soundtrack is a delight! There are difficulty settings ranging from relaxed to hard, and ten huge maps to explore, plus a bonus map if you can complete the rest of the levels with a gold rating. Have fun treasure hunting!

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Pakkuman's Defense

JohnBYou've got a few minutes before you have to be at work. That means it's time for a game! But what to play, Pac-Man or a tower defense game? How about both? From Tametick, the creator of Cardinal Quest, comes Pakkuman's Defense, a surprisingly superb melding of the classic arcade game Pac-Man and a modern tower defense game. There are ghosts. There are dots to eat. There are towers to place. And yes, you're going to have a blast with this unusual hybrid!

Pakkuman's DefenseHere's what's going on: you are Pakkuman, and you find yourself in a series of levels strewn with dots leading down a number of twisty paths. Ghosts spawn and follow their own behaviors (giving chase, methodically trolling the corridors, etc.), and since ghosts are the natural enemy of anything Pac-related, you need to avoid them or face a Game Over. Use the [spacebar] (or the on-screen tower button on mobile devices) to build a tower on the wall, placing it so it automatically fires at any ghosts passing by. This helps keep their numbers low, but even with a few smartly-placed towers in position, you'll need quite a bit of cunning to gather the dots and move on to the next level.

Pakkuman's Defense occasionally drops power-ups for you to grab, such as speed boosts, items that freeze or confuse ghosts, or money to increase your score. In the end, it's all about staying alive as long as you can, trekking through as many levels as you can, and getting your score as high as possible. You'll hit a curious zen sort of state once you get the hang of the game, and before you know it you'll be placing towers without a second thought, moving through the mazes like a certified Pac-TD master.

Play Pakkuman's Defense (browser)

NOTE: This game was played and reviewed on an HTC Incredible. 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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joyeThe browser version of Wonderputt, the most whimsically beautiful golf game you've ever played, has won a number of awards, including Best Physics Game of 2011 right here on JayIsGames. Now Reese Millidge of Damp Gnat has ported the game to iPad 2 and newer devices! The best reason to pony up the cash, though, is so you can experience the stunning animation on the retina display of the mobile device. Stunning.

WonderputtTouch controls really suit the game's mechanics. Simply drag and release to fire a ball over the course of 18 quirky holes. It's a lot easier to finish the game under par than in the Flash version, but that doesn't mean the game is lacking in challenge. Collecting all 72 pieces of "wonder" in order to complete the rainbow is still a task that's going to take you weeks of trying, if you ever manage it, and for the truly insane completionists amongst you, you can try for a perfect 10,000 points on every hole. But for the less ambitious, with its gentle soundtrack and soothing visuals, a round of Wonderputt is a perfect, relaxing break. And a perfect fit for the iPad as well.

Play Wonderputt (browser)

NOTE: This game was played and reviewed on a third generation 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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Mobile Monday

JohnBHD this and updated that! Back in my day, we had to play the game as it was released and like it. Game-crashing bug? Deal with it. And we did. Why, sometimes we had to reprogram our own games while we were playing them. And did I mention we didn't have hands then, either? It's true...

tinybang-ios.gifTiny Bang Story on Android - The Tiny Bang Story is back! After securing a place in our hearts with an award in our Best of 2011 feature (Best Puzzle or Simulation, in case you were wondering), the PC/Mac download made its way to an iPad version and an iPhone version. Now, Android owners who happen to be fans of smart point-and-click puzzle games are in luck, as the game is finally available for Google's happy little OS. Resembling Samorost, Hapland, or Machinarium in basic design, The Tiny Bang Story challenges you to re-assemble a broken world piece by piece. The artwork is hand drawn and the puzzles involve a little thinking and a lot of hidden object finding.

dooors-p.gifDOOORS gets more doors - If you're one of the many humans who has a healthy addiction to point-and-click-style puzzle games, you've probably already thrown yourself at the mobile game DOOORS. The simple one room at a time formula is extra inviting on mobile devices, allowing you to focus on a few puzzles at a time as you climb your way through room after room. The original release a few months ago featured 50 levels to play, but since then, 25 new levels have been added, all for free! Go check out our DOOORS review and walkthrough for the full scoop, then get to downloading the game, 'cause you know you want to.

fieldrunnershd-p.jpgFieldrunners 2 goes HD - A few short months ago, Subatomic Studios released the highly anticipated sequel to an early iOS tower defense hit, Fieldrunners 2. Naturally, the game blew everybody away with its... well, its wealth of towers, its great gameplay, and its utter perfection. The only drawback was a lack of an iPad version, which has now been rectified! The separate version of the game features five new towers as well as iCloud support, developer commentary, and a higher resolution for newer iPad owners to enjoy. It's impressively polished and impossibly addictive, and even though it's a bit on the pricey side, Fieldrunners 2 HD on a tablet is a smart buy.

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!

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JohnBGateways, an exploration-based platform game from Smudged Cat Games, can be quickly summarized by saying it's like Portal, but in 2D. That's leaving a lot out of the equation, though, as Gateways goes to great lengths to provide a different kind of experience, one more akin to a metroidvania-type game than that other portal-making adventure. You'll realize that as soon as you start to explore the chunky pixel laboratory, smashing the glass domes over monkey's heads and wondering how on Earth you're supposed to climb over the next ledge.

GatewaysMeet Ed. Ed is a scientist, quite possibly one of the "mad" variety. While working in his lab late one night, some of his more interesting experiments get loose. Ed knows the best thing to do is just get the heck outta there, and so he does, running through a labyrinth of corridors and collecting gateway guns to aid in his escape. Each gateway gun you equip has its own special ability, but they all possess one great use: the ability to place two portals you can hop through. Use the [left] mouse button to place one portal, the [right] mouse button to place the other, then hop through whenever you like! Later, you'll find new gateway guns that do things like place multiple portals, shrink Ed down to size, or even travel through time. Yes, Ed keeps himself quite busy in his laboratory, it seems.

Gateways plays out in one huge map with natural barriers preventing your progress. As you gain better gateway guns and pick up other items (flashlight, anyone?), you'll be able to solve puzzles that allow access to new areas. Strewn across the lair are help consoles that can clue you in on whether or not you can solve the current conundrum or if you should come back after obtaining another item.

GatewaysAnalysis: Let's address this right up front: don't walk into Gateways expecting it to be a lame (or not-lame) Portal knockoff. If you do, you'll miss out on a legitimately challenging and entertaining indie game. Instead, sit down, clear your head, and watch the professor make his escape. Keep an eye on the map and always note your surroundings while you travel. Many of the backgrounds feature little posters to help mark your way, a nice touch that often breaks the fourth wall.

After you spend some time with the game, you realize that Gateways incorporates a lot of the most time-tested game mechanics from the history of video games, such as laser reflecting puzzles or the old fashioned button-pressing lighting fiasco where each switch turns a number of the lights on and you have to figure out which order to press them. Ok, so it's a minimum inclusion at best, but it defines the aesthetic Gateways shoots for, which is retro-new and addictively absorbing.

Making a successful leap from the Xbox Live Indie Games marketplace to the PC world, Gateways is a natural fit for keyboard and mouse control. It's got a great world to explore, riddled with secrets and traps and puzzles, and the quest for more items is one you'll never get tired of. Another thing you'll never get tired of: destroying those blasted hovering monkey things.

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100 Lights

JohnBWe've worked our way up 100 Floors, maybe opened a few DOOORS along the way. So... now what? How about turning on some lights in here? A new point-and-click mobile puzzle game from Smarcle (which isn't officially related to either of the games above), 100 Lights, is all about bringing some illumination to dark situations, challenging you to turn on the lights in each level. The best part is the solutions are never spelled out for you, and you'll have to shake, twist and swipe your screen to figure out how things work!

100 LightsUtilizing many of the iOS platform's unique features, 100 Lights drops level after single-screened level in front of you, each with some sort of light that needs to be turned on. Maybe it's a fire that needs to be kindled. Maybe it's a lamp, a torch, or a non-burning tree that's ready to be set ablaze? All you have to do is figure out how to use the on-screen elements to create a brighter situation. Tap, drag and swipe the screen to see what moves, and don't forget to use the device's accelerometer to bring some real-world movement in to play.

100 Lights really encourages you to think outside of the iPhone, and that's the kind of creative construction we love to see in our mobile games. The ads can be a bit annoying at times, but you can opt for an in-game purchase to remove them, so if they get too frustrating, there's a way to get rid of them. At the time of writing 40 levels are available, but the team at Smarcle seems to be releasing more at a steady pace, so that number should increase in the near future. Until then, ignore the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and turn on the lights!

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.


GrinnypPity the poor royal court of the 18th Dynasty of Egypt. The exhausted souls just finished uniting Egypt in order to keep the gods happy and now they are faced with a new challenge: travel down the Nile and rebuild temples before the gods start getting all explodey on their butts. And all of this must be accomplished while the royal architect is severely under the weather and the royal cat has gone AWOL. Pharaoh Touti and company are back in BlooBuzz's (formerly Wendigo) latest time management strategy The Timebuilders: Pyramid Rising 2.

grinnyp_timebuilderspyramidsrising2_screenshot1.pngThere is an actual story here but what's important is the strategy in the game rounds. You begin each scene with a particular set of goals to complete and a certain amount of time in which to complete them. This town might need some new housing, another town might need a port, or perhaps one of those damaged temples needs to be repaired. As you enter each new area one thing will be clear: get it done quick and right.

Gameplay in The Timebuilders series is very much in the mold of Royal Envoy or Build-a-lot, with blank lots that can be turned into housing or commercial buildings depending upon the need. Houses generate rent which enables you to buy materials to create more housing for other buildings, and each house can be upgraded three times. Commercial buildings include a quarry to produce building materials, a market in which to trade, and a bank which can earn interest on rental income. Other sources of income include flowering plants and trees that can be harvested for market and ports in which all sorts of items can be bartered.

grinnyp_timebuilderspyramidsrising2_screenshot2.pngAs with the first Timebuilders: Pyramid Rising, there can be obstacles in the paths between building plots, including bandits who need to be bribed, merchants who insist on a trade, and crocodiles who just want some sweet, sweet flesh and won't budge until spit upon by a camel or trampled by an elephant. Rounds can also feature hidden bonuses including golden sarcophagi which can be opened for a helpful prize (money and materials) but which can also hold a mummy which will interfere with your workers and rent gatherers. Buried treasures (if you can spot them) are even more helpful if you can reach them. The scene is complete when all goals are accomplished and the quicker it is completed the more bonus points earned. These bonus points can be spent on one-time use bonuses at the beginning of each scene like extra money, rent increase, extra speed, etc.

Analysis: BlooBuzz has produced a fast, furious, satisfying mesh of real-time strategy, simulation, and time management which gets more frantic the further into the game you get. For those who like this type of strategy gameplay then The Timebuilders have once again delivered with fun gameplay, cool graphics, and amusing little animations everywhere, including the "Walk Like an Egyptian" chorus which concludes each scene.

grinnyp_timebuilderspyramidsrising2_screenshot3.pngThe Timebuilders: Pyramid Rising 2 seems to be a continuation of the first story, which might be confusing if you've never played the first, but not terribly so. Fortunately the story scenes are a very small portion of the gameplay, leaving lots of time for strategizing. Unlike last time where you either got a golden scarab or not (depending on the completion time of each scene), this time there is a gold, silver, and bronze time, each earning more of those precious points for the bonus goodies available at the start of each round.

Gameplay hasn't changed much, just a few tweaks here and there to liven up the play. The buried treasure and the wandering mummies add a nice touch, as do the one-time use bonuses like the spyglass (which allows you to peek into all closed boxes, chests, etc.) or the freezer which suspends the playing clock for a set amount of time. Very similar gameplay, but not too much so. If there is a downside it is in the rather dreadful cut-scenes that tell the story. There is no way to click each bit of dialogue to go quicker unless you skip the entire scene altogether, which is not a bad idea considering that they are static, flat cartoon panels. An odd choice for a game that bursts in the gameplay rounds with amazing animations packed into every inch.

Despite the flaws, The Timebuilders: Pyramid Rising 2 packs some fantastic time management gameplay, including multiple rounds and bonus rounds. If you don't care about the story just skip it, and enjoy the architectural madness as you once again build your way through ancient Egypt. And hey, maybe this time that annoying royal cat will stay lost.

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JohnBScrumbleShip is an in-progress sandbox-style game of ship construction and combat simulation, all accomplished using a massive list of building materials and a surprisingly smart heat simulation model. Built around simple block placements, you have complete freedom of movement in this game, allowing you to jet yourself in any direction so you can construct the most accurate (or most hilariously inaccurate) piece of space-faring machinery you've ever seen. Want a tiny escape pod all your own? Done. How about a massive star base? Orbital station? Or maybe even a Death Sta— er, moon?!

ScrumbleShipIt'd be easy to say ScrumbleShip is Minecraft in space, but that's a horribly truncated statement that doesn't begin to capture the essence of ScrumbleShip. Sure, you have blocks and you get to build things, but instead of focusing on mining or crafting or biomes, you're floating in space with an absolute arsenal of materials to work with. A short tutorial clues you in on the basics of the game, teaching you how to move, how to place blocks, and how to read the game's heat- and suit-specific dials. Apart from that, the universe is yours to create!

When it comes to construction materials and solid objects, ScrumbleShip doesn't hold back. There are over 60 components to build with (blocks and interactive elements to place) and a palette of around 40 materials to choose from. There are parts for life support, ship propulsion, energy production, ship control, and the all-important storage of lasguns, not to mention purely visual construction pieces. Just about everything in the game can be placed using the long list of material types, from practical things like steel or plastic to crazy stuff like water, flesh, and... butter. Materials aren't just decorative choices, either, and as the game's heat dispersion becomes more and more integral, you'll have to think twice about that butter hull you were so eager to construct.

ScrumbleShipAnalysis: Creativity in action! In space! ScrumbleShip represents the next grand step for sandbox-style games: functionality. Instead of building things "just because you can", you get to build things because you want to see interact with the world. Imagine constructing your own space station, stocking it with your own design of combat ships, and using them to protect your very own solar system, all in real-time multiplayer bliss. That's where the ScrumbleShip roadmap leads, and it's showing all the signs of getting there with style and perfection.

Apart from a slight learning curve (which is to be expected), the only downside to ScrumbleShip is that it's still in alpha. A large number of the most exciting features are still in the works, so for the time being, you're mostly confined to building your own ship and testing out the various components and heat-resistant materials. A free demo is available that gives you this functionality, but you can pre-order for access to the latest builds as well as some of those new features as they're released.

ScrumbleShip is a very exciting idea, and even though it's still in the early stages, there's a lot to love. It's already building a great community that's both active and creative, crafting ships and mods you can download from the official site. As ScrumbleShip grows in size and features, the creative possibilities expand exponentially. Get in now so you can watch this superb sandbox game grow to be one of the most accurate space sims ever!

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FTL: Faster Than Light

TrickyIt's cold outside. There's no kind of atmosphere. We're all alone, more or less: the last survivors of a Federation force nearly annihilated by the Rebels. We possess vital intelligence that must be delivered to the nearest Federation base. Best of Casual Gameplay 2012But that's seven sectors away, and the Rebels are expanding their search for us by the hour. But heck, crews have faced worse odds before. Not survived them, mind you, but faced them. Let's see how we do. Described as a "spaceship simulation roguelike-like" by its developer, Subset Games, FTL: Faster Than Light hopes to recreate the nuts and bolts atmosphere of a spaceship exploring the void of space. You'll be spending less time boldly going where no one has gone before, and more time directing crew members to fix the oxygen re-circulators, because even if the engine room is on fire and the sensors are blocked by the nebula outside, there's no way you'll make it to the next supply outpost if you aren't breathing. And it will be awesome!

FTL: Faster Than LightThe general goal of FTL is to guide your ship through each sector of the galaxy, making it to each sector's exit beacon before the pursuing Rebel catch you. When your FTL drive is ready, you'll consume a unit of fuel to "jump" from beacon to selected beacon, coming into contact with trading outposts, distress signals, alien civilizations, rebel ships, space pirates, asteroid fields, nebulas, solar flares, and other potentially beneficial or deadly encounters. Improving your chances are the various systems on board: shields, engines, weapons (both missiles and lasers), sensors, oxygen suppliers, drones and other ship functions. You must manage the limited power of your ship's reactor, and designate crew members to fix and man the various stations throughout the ship. Your ship can be upgraded by collecting scrap from victorious battles, or from successful completion of side-missions. Lose all hull strength, run out of fuel, or kill every crew member, and the game is over. Such a description, however, only scratches the surface of FTL's mechanics, and a play through the tutorial is a good idea.

FTL: Faster Than LightAnalysis: FTL's gameplay has a number of competing influences. Obviously there's a lot of Star Trek in its presentation of a varied galaxy, filled with various species and groups competing for influence, with your ship just a small window into the wider universe. The emphasis on supply management and constant travel likewise gives it an Oregon Trail-by-way-of-The Cold Equations feel. But more than anything, a central conceit of a perpetually understaffed spacecraft, only one step ahead of deadly pursuers, a goal in mind, but taking whatever job you can get because bits are falling off your ship, the crew hasn't been paid, and you've got a powerful need to eat something this month? Yeah, FTL is pretty much the best Firefly game that was never made. Sure, there's no Whedon-style snappy banter or moral quandaries, but as you find yourself under attack by a rebel ship that outclasses you in nearly every way, the shields barely holding on, but the FTL drive finally manages to powers up for one last desperate jump... Well, the ship may be in tatters, but I don't care, I'm still free, cause, if only for another five minutes, they couldn't take the sky from me.

Functionally, FTL doesn't deviate much from its central premise of (with all due respect to Schlock Mercenary) traveling the galaxy, meeting fascinating lifeforms, and killing them. It is a game solely about confronting a hostile universe, from the confines of your tiny ship, for better or worse. Your opinion on the "better" or "worse" question will depend largely on your expectations, particularly when it comes to the games Rouge-like-like elements. Graphical simplicity keeps play streamlined, but Randomly generated worlds mean a new experience every time you play, but limits plot and characterization opportunities. Permanent death raises the stakes of every game and makes victory all the sweeter, but can punish strategic experimentation. You'll die a dozen deaths before coming close to delivering your first piece of intelligence, but that is standard for the genre. Really, what it comes down to is that FTL has an solid core, but could use a little more fluff.

FTL: Faster Than LightThe various enemies you encounter have different ship designs and general attack strategies, but they often feel indistinguishable. So many of FTL's choices boil down to "fight" or "flight", which will inevitably get a little repetitive. Certainly, this is not a 4X game, and isn't trying to be, and, in the long run, the specific philosophy of the creature trying to blast you out of the sky is irrelevant. Still, one wishes there was a little less stat management, and a little more diplomacy. It may be too much to ask for a two-person team to come up with Star Control II level dialogue and alien personalities, but surely you should be able to talk your way out of a battle every now and then. Even James Tiberius Kirk famously noted that space battles were as much poker as chess, and it would be nice to be able to fool a few aliens with a corbomite maneuver of your own.

Keeping all the above in mind, it's worth mentioning that FTL: Faster Than Light is utterly addictive, and will keep sci-fi RTS fans playing until every ship is unlocked and every random event triggered. As one of the site's first major success stories, KickStarter could not have asked for a higher quality work to be its standard bearer, and all those who supported it should feel they've gotten their money's worth. And should you decide to spend a few of your hard earned imperial credits on it, so will you.

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Soul Jar

TrickyYour life was a simple one, eking out a meager existence on your farm while trying to avoid choking on the storms of dust that regularly sweep across the landscape. But this morning, the bright lights of an explosion burst in the sky, and now you've found this sparking mechanical creature in your front yard. Is it friendly? Is it hostile? Or, perhaps scariest of all... are you teaching it what to do? A Ludum Dare 24 game jam entry by Paul Greasley, Soul Jar is an adventure platformer that tasks you with directing the evolution of a robot companion, for good or for bad.

Soul JarMove with [left] and [right] arrow keys and jump with [Z]. Pick up objects with [up] and either use them with [X], or drop them with [down]. Early on, you will encounter the robot who fell to Earth, and he will be a valuable ally as you trudge across the landscape, trying to figure out what exactly just happened. First of all, he can dig items out of the ground, when you stand by him and press [down]. Second, and more importantly, he'll learn behaviors from you. Constantly blast your way through enemies, and he'll do that as well (though too much, and he'll just start randomly firing at everything, even you.) Protect him from the health-depleting dust storms, and he'll figure out ways to protect you. Be stingy with the power-ups you find, and so will he. There's a lot of possibilities, and they'll lead to several different endings.

Certainly one of the most ambitious of LD24 entries, Soul Jar is visually stunning, with a killer premise. It demonstrates both the creativity the Ludum Dare format can inspire, but also its limitations: in implementation the controls are clunky, and the initial vagueness of premise makes one think that, as a game, Soul Jar could afford a little more "tell" along with its excellent "show". Such is the life of a game with limited play-testing. However, Soul Jar's atmosphere is so evocative, and the evolution theme represented so well, that it is certain to score well in the competition, and should be enjoyed by all fans of Limbo-style platformers.

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The Agency of Anomalies: The Last Performance

MeaghanNote to self: don't become a detective for abnormal goings on. Instead, anytime that desire for something paranormal rears its deceptively alluring head, watch an episode of X-Files to get the same thrill, but a safer one. Or take a crack at the new hidden object puzzle adventure game The Agency of Anomalies: The Last Performance, the third in the series by Orneon. And maybe for a brief trip to Nostalgia Lane put on the Great Mouse Detective in the background. Seriously, the peg legged bat always freaks me out.

The Agency of Anomalies: The Last PerformanceAfter a long day of ridding the world of anomalies, you finally get to clock out, go home, and maybe finish reading that book you've been working on. As you walk by a poster on your wall depicting a famous group of performers, an eerie message suddenly appears: "help us". You drive to the theater to figure out what exactly is going on, then you nearly crash into someone. As it turns out, those poster people are in trouble. They've all got super powers, you see, but those powers are destroying their bodies. With the help of your sarcastic comments, some deductive reasoning, and a creepy guy in a monocle, you'll traverse the area and attempt to out-think a brotherhood of evil dudes known as the Seekers. See why X-Files may have been a bit safer?

After arriving at the gates, you'll pick your way across the landscape, using just the mouse to grab items and solve puzzles using your handy inventory. If you get lost, a help button and a journal at the bottom of the screen can give you a nudge or two. Between your adventuring streaks you'll encounter three different types of hidden object scenes: the normal scenes where you follow a list, a reverse scene where you must put the objects in the inventory bar back into the scene where they belong, and a shadowed scene where you're given the shape of the object you must find instead of the name.

The Agency of Anomalies: The Last PerformanceThe best carry over from the previous game in the series is the addition of powers that you will acquire as you help out each individual performer. Astral projection, the ability to extend your limbs, underwater breathing, electricity, and biochemical creations are at your disposal for the more complicated of tasks. When you can use a power the properly, a colored orb will appear as you hover over the target. Click it and you'll play a mini-game, the successful completion of which makes the magic happen!

Analysis: Paranormal detective adventures are always a thrill. There also seems to be far less violence in a paranormal crime scene, which helps out those too squeamish to play something like a CSI game. In Last Performance, Orneon takes what they've done right in the previous games and keeps the ball rolling. The addition of powers is a nice bonus to keep the game interesting and allows for some pretty nifty mini-games. The scenes are visually stunning, though that's not surprising with the standards of greatness Orneon sets itself for the products it puts out. One of the less noticeable but entertaining additions is the sarcastic comments of your detective. "Of course this door is locked. Why wouldn't it be?" It's nice to see that even the detective knows how ridiculous it is for every door you encounter to be sealed shut!

There are, however, a few weak links in the game overall. The absence of a map is surprising because the grounds you'll be uncovering are rather extensive and there's plenty of backtracking. This isn't overly concerning because the game is fairly linear and tries to localize where you need to be once you acquire certain tasks. The other misstep is that once again the powers aren't able to be used on just any object. This one still makes as much sense as the previous game because if you could constantly use the power of electricity or astral projection then there would really be no game, you'd simply grab everything instantly and possibly barbecue the whole place with your powers. If everyone is in the hospital because of appearing to be struck simultaneously by lightning then the case is solved right?

If you're already a fan of the Agency of Anomalies series, you won't be displeased with the latest release. And if you're looking for something new to sink your teeth into, this is definitely a game that is worth your while. Great artwork, logical dialogue, and a nice peppering of hidden object scenes and puzzles alike!

A Collector's Edition is also available. It contains extra game play, concept art, extra mini-games, and more. Remember that Big Fish Game Club Members pay only $13.99 for Collector's Editions (or 2 club credits), and collector's editions count 3 card punches of 6 total needed for a free game.

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JohnBCryptica, a sliding block puzzle game from Pixibots, is like being stuck in the trap-filled tomb of some pharaoh whose devious riddles were designed to keep you busy until the end of time. And, well, that's pretty much what it is, although according to the official backstory you're hunting for lost relics by solving puzzles in crypts. Either way, there's a lot of amazing challenge to be found in this game of symbol matching and stone sliding!

CrypticaYour goal in Cryptica is to move stone blocks onto corresponding tiles placed on a grid. All stones move at once, so when you swipe the screen, everything that can move does so. This creates some familiar sliding block-style puzzles where you have to move blocks around, using them as barriers so you can position other blocks to make your final swipe the solving stroke. Lining up the symbols solves the crypt, and depending on how many moves you used, you'll be awarded with a rank at the end of the level.

Beyond looking nice and sounding like you're standing inside a stone crypt (that's based on personal experience, of course), Cryptica is an intelligently challenging game with some difficult puzzles to solve. Even easy mode has some head scratchers, so once you get to the tougher crypts later on, you'd better settle back for some serious figuring. There are 120 hand-designed levels to complete, spread across four worlds with several hidden items to find. You won't want to poke your head out of the tomb until those relics are yours!

NOTE: This game was played and reviewed on an HTC Incredible. 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.

elleCreatively ComplicatedLeft Brain, Right Brain, we need to have a talk. Some issues have come up that require your cooperation. So put down the pizza and start a crackin'. It's gotten Creatively Complicated around here and only your clever resourcefulness can sort it out. What kind of complications, you want to know? The damsel held captive by an ugly, big-fanged monster (and so you have to solve some puzzles) kind.

The easiest part of B-Group Productions' sprightly point-and-click puzzle game is, well, pointing and clicking around the screen. It's a bit more tricky to finagle handy tools and manipulate a short list of problems until you can perform the heroic rescue. Want to slip over to the next screen? Just click near the left or right edge of this one. To tell the truth, it's not all that complicated. Yet the whimsically unassuming sketch art in a simple color palate is rather charming. By the end, you should be feeling rather proud of your creative accomplishments here.

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Link Dump Fridays

DoraWhat do you get when you cross a bear with a cocker spaniel and an espresso maker?... well, you get an angry mob on your doorstep with pitchforks and torches for creating such an abomination, you monster. But if you cross creative indie developers with upcoming projects and new updates, you get Link Dump Friday! Which is much nicer and probably won't mess up your house as much as the Bearspresso Spaniel would. Uh... we hear. Theoretically. ... please don't check our shed.

Legend of GrimrockStaff of +20 Level Crafting If the score is any indication, you fine folks loved the dungeon-crawling RPG Legend of Grimrock. Enough so that you might just shake yourself to pieces with excitement over the upcoming release of the long awaited level editor to craft your own adventures. Well, the wait is almost over, but if you have a Steam copy of the game, the developers are asking for your help beta testing it. Once the beta period is over, the level editor will be made available to everyone no matter where you bought it, so if you can't pitch in with feedback, now's the time to get started scripting your tale!

SlenderNothing Bad Ever Happens in the Forest! Your free indie horror keeps getting more horrifying as Parsec Productions continues to work on and update Slender. Now in version 0.9.7, the game has had a host of changes made to how it plays, including bug fixes and getting a new subtitle, "The Eight Pages". Personally, I think that's a rather inaccurate description since "NO NO NO NO NO NO NO" is both more indicative of content, and canon to boot! If you haven't experienced Slender and made your own hilarious reaction video, there's no time like the present to cure yourself of ever sleeping again, ever.

The Year of the GameYou Told Them to Shut Up and Take Your Money So, uh. It turns out you guys really like video games. Well, alright, everyone probably already knew that, but who could have suspected so many of you were willing to reach into your own pockets to help fund the development of them? Kickstarter is calling 2012 The Year of the Game, and not without cause, since so far you have donated a whopping $50,330,275.00USD to gaming projects on the service. This year alone. That's incredible, since last year saw only $3,615,841.00USD in gaming contributions. More and more developers are turning towards crowdfunding as a source of getting their projects off the ground, and while this does involve a certain amount of risk on your part since there's no refunds for failed (or abandoned) projects, it does mean we're seeing more and more creative games creep out into the open when they might not ordinarily have seen the light of day. That's awesome! So, uh... when are you guys going to crowdfund me that limited edition Derpy Hooves figurine?

TerrariaChoo-Choo! All Aboard the Fan Rage Train! Ordinarily the news that your favourite game would be getting more content would be cause for celebration, but for fans of the hit indie sandbox RPG Terraria it's a bit of a mixed blessing right now. Back in February, the developers announced there would be no more updates, which was disappointing... though probably not quite as disappointing as the discovery that the big announcement the team had been teasing recently wasn't the renewal fans had hoped, but rather was revealed this Tuesday to be that Terraria is hitting XBOX and PS3 early next year. While there's the typical hurt feelings you might expect from people who have lost exclusivity over something they love, all the anger isn't necessarily completely unfounded since the announcement also said the console versions would have new content... but has yet to announce whether PC players would get any of it. We don't yet know the whole story, but keep your fingers crossed and at least try to show some support to the creators of your favourite game until we know for sure.

Baldur's Gate RemasteredTick-Tock, Bhaalspawn So... um... I just wanted to remind you guys that time is running out to pre-order Baldur's Gate Remastered for PC! Not only will you save two dollars off the launch price of $19.99USD if you do, but you'll get that warm, fuzzy feeling that comes with supporting projects like this. The game releases on September 18th, which is practically right now, and Mac and iPad users will soon be able to join the fray as well. Remember, however, that if you're purchasing the game for iPad, the game will be $9.99USD, but you'll need to purchase the two new characters separately as in-app purchases.

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!

DoraTiny Evolution AdventureTake up your mortar and pestle and grind together a liberal dose of Fishy with a smattering of E.V.O.: The Search For Eden and you might just wind up with something like Jussi Simpanen's Tiny Evolution Adventure. Made in just 48 hours for the evolution themed Ludum Dare competition, it combines action and avoidance gameplay for a retro-tastic romp up the prehistoric food chain.

Using the [arrow] keys to move and the [spacebar] for chompin', devour creatures that are smaller than you while avoiding bigger ones who'd like to take a bite out of you. Eat the required number and you can evolve to the next stage, but if you get bitten (or if you fall off the screen in certain areas), you'll have to start the current level all over again. Tiny Evolution Adventure is both simple and simply cute, with a great colourful style and all-around cheerful feel. The lack of any sort of checkpoint, even though the levels are admittedly small, can be frustrating if one ill-timed jump or unforseen hit forces you to start all over one or two creatures from the goal, and in a lot of ways its relatively unvaried gameplay is simply crying out for a bit more depth. In some places once platforming becomes a factor, figuring out what's decoration and what will actually keep you from plummeting into an abyss isn't always apparent. But despite a lack of variation, Tiny Evolution Adventure plays smoothly and is aggressively adorable to boot. If only we could all get ahead in life by biting other people on the face. Imagine how much less stressful things would be! Aaaaaa...

This version differs slightly from the Ludum Dare entry, as it contains a variety of bug fixes and improvements. The original version can still be played at Stencyl.

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elleGlue EscapeWe welcome good escape games of all shapes and sizes here at JIG, especially when they're well-designed, delivering logical puzzles in a neat environment, with enough nooks and crannies to explore without the frustration of pixel-hunting. My sincerest gamer esteem goes to every game author who even attempts such a feat. Tateita delivers a sample of this deed, cementing the enjoyment of escapes into a nifty little dollop of Glue.

As both an up and a downside, there is nothing especially innovative nor recondite in the gameplay here—you just point-and-click around the room, piece together clues and use found objects to open locks until you make your way out. Glue is just crafty enough to provide mental busywork while easy enough to not leave you frustratingly stuck. Although Japanese characters are found in some parts, any information an English speaker needs is well at hand. It's quite short—more like an escape demo than a full game—yet that brevity makes it fit well into a 5 minute intermission. As a bonus, this Glue doesn't drip on everything and leave your fingers all goopy when you're done.

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DoraKodachromeMost every kid has excuses to try to get out of chores or errands, but "I fell down a tunnel into a platforming world where they made me explore the land for magic gems" has to at least earn you some points for creativity. In MNWS's Kodachrome, all you need are the [arrow] keys to move, jump, and double-jump, and the willingness to hurl your tiny body into dangerous situations. Initially, you can't do much else, but as you travel, you'll gain access to items that can help you track down all the gems you're looking for and a map to keep you from getting lost. Just make sure to use any save points you come across by hitting the down [arrow] while standing on top of them, because with your fragile limbs and the spike-and-monster-riddled landscape this isn't going to be easy.

Kodachrome is kind of a strange little game, with an oddly surreal vibe to go with its old school sense of style, and largely, that's okay by us. The vaguely off-kilter sense that comes with exploring the strange world you find yourself in serves as a great incentive to put up with the challenge of the trickier platforming bits, since you want to know what's going on. Are you hallucinating? Or does getting to the store really involve cannons, pools of what is apparently acid, and a copious amount of spikes in the landscape? The game plays smoothly, though to nail some of the jumps you're going to need to be almost annoyingly precise with your double-jump, and picking out the many many many instant-death spikes littering the floors and ceilings will take training (and maybe straining) your eyes a little. But if you're up for the task and quick on the keyboard, channel your inner Daring Do and take the jump. Just remember "I couldn't do my homework because I was dodging cannon balls in a cavern filled with spikes" only works once.

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KimberlyRailroad Shunting PuzzleFulfull your childhood dream of being a train conductor in Romamik's puzzle game Railroad Shunting Puzzle and its sequel Railroad Shunting Puzzle 2. Both games share the same gameplay, which tasks you to get the correct train car to its matching station. Drag the engine along the track to automatically connect it with any cars on the track. Click on track junctions to change the direction you'll travel, which is indicated by an arrow. Click between train cars to disconnect them.

Your score in the first game is calculated by how far you moved the trains on the track, but in the sequel it depends on on how many times you change the direction the train is headed. The second game is more than just an additional level pack, adding several more puzzle elements, such as trains that cannot disconnect from each other, and cars that can only be joined from one side. While the controls are easy to pick up, the puzzles start to bend your brain before too long... especially if you're going for the gold on each level. And if you can't get enough, there's a level editor to create your own puzzles. The only thing it's missing is a button for blowing the train whistle. Choo choo!

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Weekday Escape

elleIt's a story almost as old as time. You know the one. You enter a café to meet a date and are kept waiting for him. Before you know it, you're somehow accidentally locked inside. What the what? Okay, clumsy you, time to escape. Again. Yet while the story, music and scenery in Aries Escape: Episode No.005 sound and looks so familiar, this blithesome escaping venture comes from someone new to Weekday Escape: Libertechno.

Aries Escape: Episode No.005Navigation and gameplay are as usual—click around the room looking for puzzles to solve and the clues to help you solve them. Your successful exit from this cleverly-designed eating establishment means ordering up the correct series of codes—as well as finding the place to input them—to unlock the café's door. That feat is slightly aided by a changing cursor, which isn't found in a Tesshi-e escape even if everything else looks same-y. Still, some of those hotspots are a tad small, so move about more purposefully, keeping a careful lookout for explorable areas. Click an inventory item to use it, double-click to view it. Use the disc icon to save and the tool icon to access sound controls. Although the prologue and messaging are only in Japanese, all the hints and codes are readily accessible to an English speaker.

Be wary of misdirection caused by too much familiarity with other escape-the-room designers. Except for an English translation of the background story, a diverse menu of quality features are herein—Aries Escape: Episode No.005 is not just a poor copy. You might spy a family resemblance but this amusing jaunt has its own merits and worthwhile qualities and is so tired of being compared to its older cousin who was more popular in school, got a driver's license sooner, could go to bars first...oh, wait, that's someone else. Anyhow, if you walk into this holding too many assumptions, you'll end up thumping your head on the desk until it starts to wobble. This escape has some challenge, but it's also very logical and fair once you let go of expectations.

Of course, Libertechno also gives us two endings to enjoy—both normal and "happy." With a mix of fun puzzles, its pleasant look and feel, and lighthearted music to round out the experience, Aries Escape: Episode No.005 is a recognizable new friend whom we'll look forward to having a drink with again.

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Note: to adjust sound, select the [tool] icon and move the bottom slider to the left. Keep the top slider, which controls click sensitivity, all the way to the right.

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ArtbegottiPetri LabIn Grace Avery's Petri Lab, you'll be greeted by quite possibly the friendliest batch of germs on earth. They even play by the all the rules! The green germs always duplicate what's on their right, and four blue germs turn into one silver germ, and four red germs turn into three yellow germs, and AAAAUGH SO MANY RULES! It'll take a generous helping of logic and patience to sort the germs out in the puzzles this game dishes out.

As a professional germ wrangler, your goal is to arrange the germs in each Petri dish to match the target at the top of the screen. Each colorful germ has a specific ruleset it follows; you can view the rules associated with any germ by mousing over it. Click on a valid germ to execute its corresponding rule. For example, clicking two adjacent yellow germs will delete themselves, while clicking a group of six yellow germs will transform them all into one green germ. However, with rules regarding quantities of germs, you have to have the exact amount, or else the rule will not be performed; four yellow germs gets you nothing. The key to this game is to figure out the order the rules should be performed in, as one rule may effect your ability to execute another rule later on. Can you get the germs to line up using the power of the agar rulebook?

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TrickyGeorganism 2It seems like just yesterday that the Georganisms collected all their weapons and fended off the attack to their fair isles. But there is no rest for the weary jelly blobs quite yet! The local volcano has erupted, and those colorful critters will once again have to literally pool (or at least smoosh) their talents to unsubmerge their homes in Georganism 2, a puzzle platformer by Karma Team.

Each level has control one or more georganism, each with a particular talent. Blue can jump, Red can swim, and Green can eat wooden blocks. The goopy trio must act together to stop the volcano from erupting by calling on the islands' spirits. The [arrow] keys control your current georganism, and [spacebar] switches between characters. If two georganisms are in close proximity, [Enter] combines them into a new creature that possesses both special talents (though a little taller). [Enter] splits the jellies apart again, allowing you to fit through tight spaces or combine with a different character. Instead of making your way to an end-of-level gong, this time you must activate at least one of the three statues hidden in each level, though finding more statues will give you a higher level rating and unlock new levels quicker. Watch out, though! All manner of blocks, switches, platforms, and ice cubes stand in your way, and should you require it, any level can be instantly restarted with [r].

Georganism 2 builds on the strengths of its predecessor, displaying puzzles that fans of the original should find challenging, but not so difficult that new players cannot jump right in. It captures that sort of teamwork-based fun that The Lost Vikings had, if simpler and much faster paced. Overall, Georganism 2 is a solid platformer that's sure to deliver your Daily Recommended Amount of blob-based excitement.

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DoraAlone in the LightThere's nothing cold about Alone in the Light, an exploration-themed platformer from the mind of Chelsea Howe. Apart from the temperature, that is. Not that you're bothered, being a magical polar bear and all. When colourful, musical shards of light fall from the sky, you're compelled to track all 21 of them down to reunite them, so use the [WASD] or [arrow] keys to run, jump, and swim through the frozen loneliness. You don't have a map, since you ate your cartographer ('cause you're a bear), so you need to rely on sound to locate the shards. Pressing the down key while standing on land will cause you to call out, and the closest shard will answer with a tone and a pulse of light that indicates its direction.

In a lot of ways, Alone in the Light is an absolutely gorgeous little game, and the touches left by Michael Molinari and the rest of Chelsea's talented team (Hannah Brady, George Karalis, and Kim Koskamp) combine to make a world as rich in frozen atmosphere as it is in style. It's straightforward enough that it's almost more of an interactive art piece, but one worth experiencing. 21 pieces almost seems like too many from time to time, given that there's nothing else to do but run around collecting them, and sometimes navigation can be a bit of a pain as you figure out how to get up or around certain bits of land. But with a stunning, melancholy style and one of the loveliest credit sequences around, Alone in the Light is a little depressing, but beautiful nonetheless.

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The Vault

DoraToday's Vault doesn't have a particular theme. It's just about, y'know. Stuff. Not just any stuff! Not, like, stuff you'd order off the telly late at night while you're bored and evaluating your life decisions but later you'll stick it in the back of your closet and give it to the aunt you don't like at Christmas. This is the good stuff. The stuff you like. The stuff we like. So let's enjoy this stuff... together.

  • ExcitExcit - Creative Units' sliding block puzzle game might be the closest I ever get to a spreadsheet without sulking so hard I burn a hole right through my chair. It's a simple but gorgeous sleek and professional looking little game where you need to slide around the screen, hitting obstacles, until you reach the exit. It's a gameplay idea that's been done before and usually makes its appearance as a sort of minigame incorporated into such RPG titles as Zelda or Tales of Symphonia. Without providing a lot of bells and whistles, however Excit manages to stand on its own because it's just so cleverly designed, with solutions often being simpler than the complex stage layouts suggest. It's the sort of brisk brain workout you can fiddle with in your spare time, and serves as a reminder that sometimes some cunning design and clean lines are all you really need to be a successful, engaging game.
  • Tiny GameTiny Game - You guys, Tonypa is basically magic, and has been putting out gorgeous, ingeniously simple little games for a while now like some fantastic factory whose only emissions are daydreams and pleasant sighs. Made exclusively for us, this itty-bitty arcade game has you traversing a maze looking for fifty randomly distributed gems. Without anything so fancy as a jump button, it becomes increasingly more puzzle-like to navigate your way to gems placed juuuuuust out of reach.... especially when it's so easy to get lost! It looks great, the soundtrack is perfect, and if you don't get creeped out when it encourages you by name (if it compliments the colour of your shirt... get out of the house.) it's pretty darned hard to put down. Gotta find 'em all!
  • Arachnophilia: The Spider Web GameArachnophilia: The Spider Web Game - Who woulda thought you could make a game about spiders and actually have it be really kinda more than a little lovely? Well, the folks at Dig Your Own Grave, apparently, who served up this mesmerizing arachnid simulation about building your web to catch enough bugs to survive the night. With a simple, stark presentation and a laid-back, twangy soundtrack, everything about this game just sort of invites you to sink right into it, which is pretty easy to do. Despite the simple concept, it's actually fairly challenging, since different types of insects bring different risks versus reward, but if all you want to do is use your spidey skills to get all artistic and whatnot, the game has a mode for that, too. Mellow, beautiful, and clever in all the right ways, this is still one of the best examples of a near-perfect conceptual casual game, perfect for relaxing on the old intertubes.

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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Stalker Escape

elleI like you. You are mine now. So writes your stalker in a message pinned to the door. Many escape-the-room puzzle games operate on the premise that you're locked up as only teasing jest, a jocular amusement played between old friends before sitting down for an afternoon tea together. Unfortunately, that's not at all the case when you awaken inside Stalker Room Escape. Here, there is no lock on the door preventing your departure. Rather, you're held captive by a few meager words: a promise to kill you if you leave. That's the kind of devotion that makes you feel special (and, by special, I mean icky all over).

Stalker Escape SeriesOn this unnerving note, FireRabbit's three-part mobile game series begins. Your goal in each installment is to outsmart your captor by overcoming a slew of cognitive obstacles and maneuver yourself toward safety. Failing to do so has its own set of consequences as part of the multiple endings. Investigate your surroundings by tapping the screen to look around, under and behind; arrows will indicate where you can turn around or move back while finding interactive areas, clues and useful objects requires your tapping anywhere and on everything that seems worth a closer look.

Self described as "light-to-moderately challenging," the puzzles in Stalker Room Escape involve mostly logic and lateral thinking. Although occasionally the difficulty comes from trying to find or use items in a helpful manner. While the puzzles are esoteric at times, the free hint feature provides a nudge or, if desired, an outright answer, so mild bafflement doesn't turn into raging frustration. The navigation takes getting used to, especially the inventory, which works by touching the hand icon then selecting the needed item. Although it could be a source of vexation if you're used to friendlier layouts such as Robamimi's, the controls work well on the touch screen of your device.

Stalker Escape SeriesStalker Room Escape's rough-hewn graphics seem kind of sketchy, but that's not a sign of a low quality production. Rather, the design is apropos. The piecework of flat drawings, computer generated images and stylized photography creates the same mood and tone as a ransom note, letters snipped out of newspapers and carefully pasted into words—quite well suited to the stalker theme. Adding to the creepy mood and tension in your sleuthing moments, situational complications and moral dilemmas present themselves as you progress, increasing the sense of accomplishment when you make a successful escape.

Each game in the Stalker Room Escape series works on its own, yet played together they're more satisfying with the linked scenarios. The first two games, Stalker Room Escape: Part 1 and Part 2 are good and enjoyable, but possibly not enough to inspire you to purchase the third. The concluding chapter isn't perfect, but it is truly better because of its increased content and overall production values. Plus, Part 3's plot heads in an interesting (although not wholly original) direction with the TARDIS-escent time travel device. This nifty trick adds dynamism, and a new layer of confusion, to the puzzle solving.

The whole lock-you-up concept is too creepy and disturbing to consider very deeply, and a bit odd to just make light of it; yet the trapped-by-an-obsessive-stalker contrivance does make for a some enjoyable gaming moments. To outsmart the trickster and overcome foreboding obstacles, even time itself—as it turns out, that is a special feeling, after all.

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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TrickyREW 22 WER yb remaGeB si a kcilc-dna-tniop... SMACK Sorry folks, forgot to shift my computer out of reverse. Anyways, REW 2, by BeGamer, is a point-and-click puzzle game that, like the first, is centered around reverse chronology. This time, our favorite little beaver-squirrel guy has apparently ended his day in front of a smoldering corpse. How did he get there? Well, that's for him to know, and you to find out.

Click around to find the correct order of items that solves each screen. When a screen is solved, time will rewind a few minutes into the past and show you events immediately prior. REW 2 is much less dark than its predecessor, both in terms of plot and of color scheme. Whether that's better or worse is a matter of personal preference, but it is true that the plot, reversed as it is, would have functioned better with a few more twists. That said, the backwards-time gimmick continues to work well with the simple puzzles to solve, and fans of the first should find it short, but satisfying.

Play REW 2

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Project: Mayhem

JohnBPoor, helpless little... what are those again? Squished hippopotamus faces? Circle-blobs? Yeah, those. Poor helpless those. Actually, at least one of those circle-blobs has a name: Mayhem. And as you play this little genetically engineered experiment in OneSmartBunny's action/platform game Project: Mayhem, you'll begin to pity these critters more and more. But then you'll realize how tough this game is and start focusing on what really matters: landing jumps that require almost pixel-perfect execution, all without slowing down to see what you're doing. Good luck with that!

Project: MayhemProject: Mayhem borrows a lot from various high-difficulty platform games such as the Karoshi series, only here the challenges are a bit more realistic and a lot less... insane. Using the on screen controls, duck, jump and run your way through each level, avoiding things like spikes, evil Mayhem clones, more spikes, and electric barriers. Stages are very short and often involve just a few moves that need to be made, but pulling off those moves is going to require practice, precision, and luck. At the same time, Project: Mayhem is a game of speed, so you're not really supposed to slow down to admire the pixelry. Just take a run at the wall, see what happens!

There are almost 100 levels to (gleefully) punish yourself with in this game, spread across two modes and divided neatly into chapters for easy score and speed runs. Plenty of achievements can be found, and an in-game store allows you to purchase accessories (and more, soon) using cash earned for being awesome at the game.

Encouraging reckless platforming is a great thing, especially when you aren't afforded the expert precision of physical controls. Project: Mayhem takes a great sub-genre and moves it with style, leaving you to do the dirty work of killing poor little Mayhem a few hundred times over!

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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Mobile Monday

JohnBAccording to this week's Mobile Monday, horses wear tuxedos, pigs are sinister, and pirates are a thing of nightmares. Unless you live your life by the Everything I Know I Learned from Video Games motto, your world probably isn't affected by this too much. Now, go back to stacking blocks in neat patterns. Just, you know, don't put them in groups of three or more...

yearwalk-p.jpgSimogo teases new iOS game - Mobile developer Simogo has been on a roll these last few years, creating games like Beat Sneak Bandit and Bumpy Road. The team recently unveiled its upcoming release: Year Walk, a 2D first person adventure game set in the cold woods of 19th century Sweden. The tone is much darker and more surreal than the studio's previous releases, but after checking out the screenshots and video, we're excited (in a cautious, please-don't-eat-me-forest-horse-ghost kind of way) to see more!

kingofdragonpass2.jpgKing of Dragon Pass gets iPad update - This phenomenal story-centric retro game has had a fantastic resurgence thanks to services like the iTunes App Store and In late 2011, King of Dragon Pass was released for iPhone, porting over the intricate storylines and choice-based gameplay for modern touch screen gamers to devour. Then, just a few weeks ago, the game was packaged up and released for PC by And now, King of Dragon Pass has received another update, shifting the interface around and improving the artwork to make it suitable for iPad. It's like taking part in an epic narrative where everything that happens is a result of your actions, something surprisingly few modern games have managed to accomplish by comparison.

nightmares-p.jpgNightmares from the Deep goes mobile - Hey, we like cursed pirate-related nightmares from below the sea just as much as the next casual gamer. Are you questioning our devotion? Good, didn't think so. If you, too, have a hankering for a dark and engrossing hidden object adventure game on your iOS device, Artifex Mundi has recently ported Nightmares from the Deep: The Cursed Heart over to the touch screen market. Lots of gameplay variety, some great mini-games to enjoy, and there's even an undead dwarf recounting the details of an unlikely romance. Intriguing, yes? Yes!

badpiggies-p.jpgAngry Birds to Bad Piggies - This week's lesson: pigs are apparently the worst creatures ever. According to Angry Birds creator Rovio, that is. The team finally let loose some official details about the upcoming Angry Birds spin-off, titled Bad Piggies, which strands the swine on an island and challenges you to build contraptions to help them reach the delicious eggs. Because that's all pigs eat, right? Right.

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!

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DoraOriginally released as a browser game in 2009, Tyler Glaiel's Closure was a stunning bit of puzzle platforming that wove its surreal narrative through a series of brilliant light manipulation puzzles. In short? That game was cray. Now, as part of the awesomely named Eyebrow Interactive, Tyler gives his work new life in this reworked and remastered indie download release of Closure, which is more than a simple visual upgrade. Travel through three worlds and three minds as a light-bearing spider creature that connects them all from within a dark world, solving a series of increasingly complex and masterfully designed puzzles. Dark, gorgeous, challenging and engrossing, Closure is an absolute stunner you'll want to explore from top to bottom.

ClosureThough initially you'll be stuck as our little spider hero, eventually you'll open up a main hub through which you can access all of the different stages, each of which has a very different setting and star. Use the [arrow] keys to move, the [S] key to jump, and [A] to pick up and drop light sources, or turn lamps to aim beams of the stuff around. Light, as you'll soon discover, is extremely important since it has the power to drastically change your environment. If part of the floor lays in shadow, it literally isn't there, turning a place you could previously have run across into a dangerous drop. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, however, since through the clever manipulation of light you can make pathways through solid objects by changing where the shadows fall. This even applies to water, so think twice before you dive into its shadowy depths. (Like I didn't already have enough of an irrational fear of deep water... thanks a lot.) To get to the door at the end of each stage is usually a short jaunt, but requires a lot of careful thinking and planning to shift shadows in your environment to get there. If you get stuck, you can just hit [R] to restart the level.

ClosureAnalysis: Though it keeps a lot of the same concepts from its 2009 inception, Closure is more than a simple remix. The whole game and all its levels are brand new, and fairly substantial to boot, especially if you want to track down all the things you need for 100%. It's really impressive how small and self-contained the levels can be, yet so cunningly designed as to allow the use of light and shadow to make a relatively simple landscape into a challenging puzzle. Closure is full of "a-ha!" moments that make you feel proud of yourself for spotting the solution, but it always comes with a healthy dose of admiration for the designers, who have done a remarkable job here. Speaking of remarkable, good gravy did Christopher Rhyne work some serious audio mojo with the soundtrack. He might be some sort of dark wizard, but man, we're willing to let it slide as long as he keeps doing such amazing ambient, atmospheric work like he does here, tracks changing in subtle ways to draw you in.

If there's any place that feels like it isn't quite as tight as the rest, it might have to be the story, which is simply so ephemeral throughout the gameplay that for large stretches of time it seems like it's barely there at all. So much of it is just implied and gleaned from the surroundings, which is great for fans of subtle exposition, but may frustrate players who prefer a storybook approach to narrative that clearly states what it means. It's hard to really complain about, however, since the game itself is just so darned good. Beautiful, too, with detailed environments blooming into existence around you as you move light sources and catch glimpses. Closure is recommended not just if you like solving puzzles, but if you like thoughtful, well-made games period, and the talent and dedication of its team shines through in every aspect. As a puzzle platformer, Closure is good. Fantastic, really, and full of the sort of cleverness that reminds you there's still plenty of innovation to be made in games.

Play Closure (browser version)

Get the full version (Steam)

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JohnBCombining elements of exploration, puzzle solving, and some good old fashioned robot building, Mobiloid from Montrezina plays like the best parts of Metroid and Q.U.B.E. blended to perfection. It's a game that allows you to use almost two dozen accessories to create functional (or, you know, not so functional) contraptions that help you stick your nose in every corner of the world, uncovering new items, new parts, and new puzzles along the way.

MobiloidMobiloid begins with a simple battery, serving as the core of every machine you'll build. Attached to its aft is a single rocket, allowing you to shoot through the tube deeper into the factory's core. Once you emerge, you'll find a few new parts to work with, with a list that eventually expands to include turntables, wheels, jump springs, grapple hooks, and more. By pressing [enter], you can switch to building mode, allowing you to pull off and attach accessories with the mouse. You can connect parts anywhere there is a node, but keep in mind you're going for function, here, so even though those wheels look like funny mouse ears, they'll probably serve you best underneath your contraption.

Switching out parts to adapt your robot on-the-fly is just one part of the game. The rest is centered around exploring a large, interconnected series of rooms and passages, winding your way through corridors as you encounter new obstacles and new items hidden in plain sight but just out of reach. In this respect, Mobiloid is very much like a Metroid game, encouraging you to revisit old locations with new gear to see if you have gained access to new parts of the game.

MobiloidAnalysis: Mobiloid is one of the most thoroughly entertaining games I've played this year. The map design is nearly perfect, teasing you with new things to find but keeping them just out of reach until you locate the required components. Once you have new gear, you'll quickly rush out to explore, hunting down battery expansions or trying to get those items you couldn't quite wiggle your way to last time.

Mobiloid adds a new dimension to the gameplay in the form of scannable objects. Just about everything can be scanned in the game, from broken machines to ramps, obstacles, conveyor belts and more. Scanning rewards you with a little bit of information that often answers the very question you had in mind (i.e. How the heck can I climb up that wooden ramp?!). It's a simple inclusion that also fills in some of the backstory and helps provide a sense of progression.

The most surprisingly fun part of Mobiloid isn't the game itself, it's playing around with your robotic companion. Since the accessory attaching system is so open ended, you can pretty much do whatever you like with the parts you find. Experimenting with designs is beyond entertaining, and you'll find yourself tinkering with ideas even when there isn't a puzzle that needs to be solved. What would happen if you put those twin wheels on the front, attached with a flexible rod, for example? Or maybe that electro gun of yours could reach new targets if it were, say, a bit more turnable? The possibilities feel like they're endless, and when combined with the game's already grandiose sense of exploration, you'll feel like a pioneer uncovering new ground with every movement.

Mobiloid is fantastic. Few games manage to balance puzzle, building and exploration elements quite so eloquently as this unassuming little game. The main adventure will run at least six hours from beginning to end, more if you take the time to be thorough. Coupled with the online high score board, a series of achievements, and other extras, you've got the makings for one phenomenal indie game.

Download the demo
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JohnBHUEBRIX, a logic-based puzzle game by Yellow Monkey, wants your brain. Not in a zombie-eating kind of way, but in a cool, challenging way. Similar to games like PathPix and Link-a-Pix (or a number of other Conceptis releases), HUEBRIX challenges you to fill out a grid of squares by dragging "color snakes" around the board. All of this happens on a timer, so you've got to be smart, you've got to be fast, and it wouldn't hurt to have a positronic brain, either.

HUEBRIXEach level in HUEBRIX fills your screen with a grid populated by numbered, colored squares. By dragging these squares, you can draw a colored line through the surrounding spaces. With each grid square you travel, the color square's number is reduced by one. The goal is to fill the entire board with color, leaving no gaps and working as quickly as you can to get a shinier medal for completing the stage. Later, on-screen icons like one-way arrows and off-screen teleport tunnels appear, turning your once simple strategies into more complex feats of logical prowess.

HUEBRIX comes with 105 levels out of the box, more than half of which are in the easy category. You can dip into the in-game store to buy well over 300 more, with difficulty levels ranging from easy to insane. And yes, they really are insane. You have a limited number of hints to use to get yourself out of tricky positions, but more can be bought in the store. Best of all, the iOS version of the game comes with a custom level creator, allowing you to create, send, and receive puzzles with friends!

Not only is HUEBRIX a full and challenging puzzle game, it also manages to add something a little bit different to a well-established genre. Kudos for that, and kudos for featuring heaps of puzzles to work through!

Play HUEBRIX (browser demo)

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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Vacant Sky: Act 1

DoraAuria Edith was just your average smart-mouthed university student, unsure of what she wanted to do with her life and coasting along... right up until the night she died. For most stories, that would be the end of things, but for Auria's, it's just the beginning. In this short first installment of Project BC's free indie RPG Vacant Sky: Act 1, there's a war going on and Auria's unexpected death and resurrection is about to put her right in the middle of it whether she likes it or not. Packed with humour, darkness, and adventure by turns, it's an ambitious modern fantasy adventure that fans of classic turn-based RPGs will want to check out right away.

Vacant Sky: Act 1In a lot of ways, Vacant Sky plays like a traditional console-era RPG. Move around with the [arrow] keys, and interact/make selections with the [spacebar]. Battle is turn-based, but fortunately for foes of random encounters, you can see and avoid all enemies on the map as floating black spots of... evil... cotton candy, I guess? While you'll find familiar attack options, you can also set your "reaction", which can, for instance, change your character's stance from relying on their speed for dodging or their defense for, uh, defending. After fights, simply nip off to the nearest save point to restore your hit points and spell points. However, while you'll still level up by earning experience points, Vacant Sky allows you a bit of freedom by giving Auria skill points you can allocate to stats, and also granting you the ability to choose what special attacks/passive skills you want to learn. If you just want to enjoy the story, you can set the difficulty to something easy when you first start playing. Of course, in my day, when we played an RPG we had to grind 99 levels, uphill, barefoot, in a snowstorm, just to scratch the final boss, you whippersnappers, consarn it, where's my cane...

Vacant Sky: Act 1Analysis: Though it takes a while for the game to get around to filling you in on the details, Vacant Sky has a surprisingly complex plot. It balances moments of surprising warmth, humour, and light-heartedness with some genuinely grim and frightening stuff. Initially, Auria can across as Mary Sue-ish (and a bit of a jerk), though the more time you spend with her the more you'll grow to recognise where the mask she wears ends and the real girl begins. (More or less. She's still a bit of a Sue.) Unfortunately, certain bits come across as either rushed or cut, particularly the decision not to show any of the weeks Auria spends traveling with her companions initially, which seems odd when you think it would be prime opportunity for some character development on all sides. The game as a whole is extremely lovingly detailed, however. So much detail has been put into everything from the soundtrack to the cinematics that seems like every effort has been made to make the game look and feel polished and professional from every angle.

The flaws to be found in the game are largely those shared by other classic-styled RPGs. Fights feel slow, especially when your enemies can use the "dodge" reaction too, and without a "dash" option to speed up movement all the back-and-forth involved in the sidequests winds up feeling like it takes far longer than it should. Additionally, the game offers you a lot of jerk/not jerk style choices in dialogue and in minor actions throughout, but if they have any influence on aspects of Auria's personality as reflected on the status screen, they weren't yet implemented in this first installment to a noticeable extent. Vacant Sky: Act 1 is clearly a labour of love and has a considerable amount of talent behind it, which should leave you excited for the upcoming second and third installments. Especially since Act 1 is a bit on the short side (the party's level is capped at 5), but as a first taste of what's to come, it's a compelling play. It has a massive amount of potential, and I, for one, can't wait to see how Vacant Sky lives up to it.

Download the free full version

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Angelica Weaver: Catch Me When You Can

DoraSo... all of time and space, everything that ever happened or ever will... where do you want to start? Chances are, for most of us that doesn't involve a desperate chase to stop a killer through time. Maybe we want a bit less "mortal peril and responsibility" and a bit more "allons-y", but Angelica, whose psychic visions of the last moments of a victim appear to take a leap back in time, doesn't have a choice. In Mumbo Jumbo's hidden-object mystery adventure Angelica Weaver: Catch Me When You Can, Angelica has her work cut out for her. She only gets called in on the worst kind of cases, when the police have their backs against the wall and are out of options... but even those don't usually involve a jaunt a hundred years or more into the past. But with a killer who seems to particularly enjoy toying with his victims and has no intention of stopping, this is one challenge where failure can be fatal.

Angelica Weaver: Catch Me When You CanSo how do you catch a killer who seems to have some unusual abilities? Why, with your mouse, of course! Using Angelica's journal and the goal tab to keep track of what you should be doing, click around to explore and look for clues the police may have missed. Of which there seems to be... quite a lot, actually. The amount and variety of which you'd expect to find if I had been the investigating officer before you came through. ("Ugggghhh, investigations are so boring. Forget this, Gravity Falls is on.") You can use a hint by clicking on the dreamcatcher Angelica wears as a necklace, and gathering more of them as you find them strewn about the game world will add to your hint stockpile. During hidden-object scenes, using a hint will allow you to select which item you want Angelica to use her magic glowy powers to locate, which is handy since some item names are deliberately coy and descriptive. When you encounter a puzzle, you can simply wait for the skip button to charge up, if you want to use your massive brain for more important things like... I don't know... maintaining your RSS feed of blog entries so you can post FIRST on each one and win the internet.

Angelica Weaver: Catch Me When You CanAnalysis: More and more hidden-object adventures are taking steps to become cinematic in their presentation, but with an eye for detail and animation, Mumbo Jumbo's Angelica Weaver might have them all beat. It really feels like taking part in an interactive movie, and the effort put into everything from the game's tone to the way events and scenes unfold as you play rather than in jarring cutaways really pays off. Having Angelica visible at all times and react to your progress and things that happen is also a clever touch, though having to hunt for hints for her to use is a little annoying. Little things like using Angelica's cellphone as a flashlight and having hidden-object items double as clues to reveal bits and pieces of the investigation also add to the immersion. They're the small touches that mean so much, and Mumbo Jumbo's ability to have you feel like you're playing a story rather than just watching it is appreciated and impressive.

Unfortunately, the relatively straightforward gameplay is marred by some puzzles that are flat-out frustrating and awkward to solve, like an obnoxiously drawn-out footprint trail, and a stacking puzzle with oversensitive and poorly controlled physics. The game itself is gorgeous to explore and fun to play, but on the other hand, items you'll want to gather don't always stand out in clear fashion in their environments, so you'll probably fall back on sweeping your cursor around and watching for it to change to make sure you don't miss anything. Angelica Weaver: Catch Me When You Can is a gorgeous game for players looking for a highly cinematic murder mystery with a few big twists. If you value story, setting, and atmosphere, however, this is worth checking out, especially since at around four hours or more to play, it's a fairly substantial piece. Beautiful to look at and packed with engrossing detail, Angelica Weaver is one mystery that almost seems to have stepped right off the big screen.

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

Download the demo
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Also available: Collector's Edition

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Download the demo
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TrickySticky LinkyHi! It's Tricky, with a special offer sure to fulfill all your casual casual gaming needs. Move over, Vince, there's a new brand of schticky in town, and it's much more browser compatible! You're gonna love this game! It's Sticky Linky, an arcade physics puzzler from Sergey Batishev's Gluey Games! You'll match colors! You'll build wobbly structures! You'll see them crash to the ground after an unfortunate move! No other game is gonna do that!

You following me, camera guy? Let me tell you how it works. In the game, you use the mouse to click chains of blobs of the same color in a free-standing linked structure, to make them disappear. What you want to do is click the chains in ways that will link them up with Creatures of the same color. They'll disappear along with the colored chain if you click it, and the goal of each level is to collect a given number of creatures. A new Creature is spawned when a chain of five or more blobs is clicked. You only have a certain amount of clicks, limited by your "mana". However, selecting a colored chain with a power-up will give you extra clicks, or explode surrounding blobs. More colored blobs will be added to the structure after every click. Be careful though! if too many blobs are added, the structure might dip below the surface of the water, which will cause it to rise and destroy the bottom level of your tower. Later levels will reverse the gravity, take place underwater (where gravity is less of a problem, but there are hungry fish to fend off), or at night (where new creatures won't spawn). There are 24 campaign levels, plus a Zen Mode, where you can just click and play around with the blobs like one of those desktop magnetic sculptures.

For Sticky Links, first impressions can be deceiving. The cartoony visuals and relentlessly cheery music might've been taking from any of a dozen fun-if-slightly-generic physics puzzlers featuring various bleeps, blobs, bloops, blips, or blorps crashing into each other. However, below the surface of Sticky Links lurks surprising gameplay depth. With mechanics that combine cool aspects from both World of Goo and Collapse, new elements are introduced at just the right rate to make the game complex, without being complicated. It strikes that perfect balance of strategy and randomness that'll eat up a half hour of your time without you even realizing it. So, what are you waiting for? Act now! Operators are standing by!

Play Sticky Linky

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Link Dump Fridays

DoraIt's been a busy week here at JayisGames Headquarters, located deep inside the portion of Superman's Fortress of Solitude he doesn't use that often anymore. (It's in the same wing he keeps all his "As Seen on TV" merchandise. Did you know Superman owns a Shake Weight and a whole warehouse full of Sham-Wows?) Not only are all fourteen entries in our Casual Gameplay Design Competition available to play and vote on now, but there have been a whole host of exciting announcements in the indie gaming community and it's all enough to have you high-fiving all over the place like a maverick.

IncredipedeEyeballs and Sinew? Not Creepy At All Colin Northway knows that building stuff is way cool, so therefore building stuff out of your own flesh is way cooler, right? Together with his wife, the immensely talented Sarah Northway, he's about to send you on one weird journey in Incredipede. Due out later this year in beta for PC, Mac, and Linux, the game follows an unusual creature named Quozzle who can grow new arms and legs to change her shape, and sets out to rescue her sisters across sixty levels that will increasingly challenge your understanding of her form and the way the world works. It looks at once both surreal and stunning, so if you want to support it like we know you will, consider pre-ordering Incredipede today!

Homestuck Adventure GameThe Mouth of Madness and Adventure Every now and again, someone submits the baffling (and somewhat vulgar, so readers beware) MS Paint Adventures' Homestuck for our review, even though it's not technically a game in the typical sense that we'd review. Well, there goes that excuse. Creator Andrew Hussie has just launched the Homestuck Adventure Game on Kickstarter, with an aim of $700,000.00USD to bring his baffling internet sensation to gamers everywhere in 2014. It seems as if fans have been waiting for this, since as of this writing, less than a day after the initial launch the project has raised $545,000.00USD of its goal, with $15.00USD the minimum donation required to receive a digital copy of the game once it's released. The comic/madness project the game is based on has a planned ending in 2013, so chances are by the time the game finally arrives fans will be lounging around in mourning garb. Odds are that by the time this article goes live the funding will have already been successful, but if you're a fan then this is a great opportunity for you to support it. For the rest of us, it's time to do some research and try to penetrate the cloud of maximum bizarro mist that lays heavily over the whole thing. Wish us luck!

Steam GreenlightGreen Light!... Red Light? In some ways, Steam's new Greenlight service, which allows indie developers to promote their games for a chance to be sold on Steam via community vote, is already a success, with a ton of worthwhile projects already having been submitted. Of course, the flipside is that with over 700 games submitted thus far, not all of those are serious or legitimate projects. Steam's solution to this is the announcement of a $100.00USD entry fee, which will go to charity, and should help cut down on the number of submissions substantially. Of course, while it's a good idea and you'll probably find a lot of developers willing and able to pony up the bits, it's important to remember that for some people a hundred bucks is a lot of money, and being "serious" or passionate about their craft doesn't enter into their inability to pay. Like love and velociratpors, of course, many developers will find a way, and Greenlight still represents a potential golden opportunity if you can get a foothold in the door... and the community.

Amnesia: A Machine For PigsBOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO It's probably a good thing I don't have magic powers like Howl, because I would be in an extreme state of slime-extruding sulk right now. Originally planned to release later this year, Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs has been pushed back to early 2013, which, as I think we can all agree, is practically for-ev-eeeeerrrrrrrr. The obvious, mature response to this is of course to say that we've already waited for two years so we can wait a little longer, especially since they plan to use that time to ensure they meet player expectations. But frankly? Being mature is for suckers. Waaaaaaaaah-ha-ha-haaaaaaaah...

Game Accessibility GuidelinesMaking Fun For Everyone If you don't have any physical disabilities yourself, it can be easy to forget just how impossible to play some of your favourite games might be if you were. It's something not every developer thinks of, either, but the Game Accessibility Guidelines aims to change all that by helping to spread awareness and pointing out ways to tweak your design and mechanics so the end result can be enjoyed by as many people as possible. From reading disabilities, to physical limitations like immobility, deafness, and more, there are a lot of things that can potentially keep someone from even trying your game... but with a little thought, research, and extra effort, that doesn't have to be the case, and I guarantee you people will appreciate you for it.

Adventure Time Gamemaking FrenzyGame Development With Finn and Jake So apparently Adventure Time is a thing some people like, and potentially those same people might be excited to hear that Fantastic Arcade and Juegos Rancheros are giving you a chance to prove it. From September 14th to September 16th, you can take part in the (first annual!) Gamemaking Frenzy, a 48 hour game building expo anyone can join in. This year's theme should provide a lot of potential inspiration for awesomeness. Bonus points to anyone who manages to explain the show to me without actually making it sound crazier than it is!

Torchlight 2September 20th: The Day Your Free Time Died It's here! It's here!... well, almost! Torchlight 2 will be released on September 20th! This is fantastic news for everyone, fans included, but it has to be a momentous occasion for Runic Games to see all the hard work and talent they've poured into the project finally come to fruition. You can check out our review of the original to see if it's up your alley, but fans of Diablo-style hack-and-slash action RPG gameplay should find a lot to love here. Congratulations, Runic Games! Now I can stop lurking outside your windows in the bushes at night!

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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Super Hexagon

JohnBSuper Hexagon, the latest release from VVVVVV creator Terry Cavanagh, is the kind of game that makes you hate games. It will make you feel like an inept player who couldn't play an arcade game even if you were in Russia (where arcade game plays you, we hear). You might even get mad at Terry, who crafted this fast, stylish game seemingly just to show you how often you can fail. But after you lose ten times in as many seconds, you'll suddenly realize that Super Hexagon has you by the collar, has already taken your lunch money, and if you want it back, you're going to have to keep playing. Strangely enough, that's a challenge you'll be thrilled to undertake!

Super HexagonIt all begins with just three stages unlocked, featuring difficulty levels starting with "hard" and progressing to "hardest". No easy mode for you. By tapping on the left and right sides of the screen, you can rotate a triangle around the central hexagon. Solid blocks zero in from the perimeter, and it's your job to make sure the triangle stays away from them. Simple, right? But Super Hexagon is designed to throw you for a loop at every possible turn, so you can't relax, you can't look away from the screen, and you probably shouldn't take deep breaths, either. Don't want to break your concentration.

Despite sounding like a game designed to make you hate it, Super Hexagon is thoroughly engaging. Your first few seconds will be filled with frustration, but then you'll suddenly hit a point where you'll survive for ten seconds at a time. Then twelve. Then 15. Then, wouldn't you know it, you're hooked. If you can survive for 60 seconds you'll have officially beaten the level, and there are half a dozen to work through, each with new challenges and tricks, so your work is definitely cut out for you. The visuals are, if you'll pardon the retro term, pumpin', and the soundtrack (a chiptune creation from chipzel) is energetic to match. All in all, Super Hexagon is the kind of game you'll love to play for, oh, maybe ten second stretches for a few weeks, just until you can build up your skills. And then, it becomes an audio visual experience to match the likes of Rez.

You can also give the original browser game a try that started all this hexagonal madness, a game Terry started during a game jam in February, but it got a little out of hand. See for yourself...

Play Hexagon (browser version)

Get the full version (via Steam)

Mac OS XMac OS X:
Get the full version (via Steam)

NOTE: This game was played and reviewed on the 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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elleNobushiYou know that warm hug of serendipity you get when a casual thought materializes into a welcome encounter? For some reason we were just having a conversation about escaping here at JayIsGames and, lo and behold, here walks Detarou into the room with eyebrows raised and a goofy lopsided grin, conveying a zany new escape game for our enjoyment: Nandakana.

Of course we right away got started playing, chattering on about the tricksy but smile-producing puzzles that Detarou has for us this time. Having played a few of these before, we easily took to the intuitively designed point-and-click navigation—as would anyone, even someone new to the genre. Arrows on the sides to turn, a changing cursor to indicate areas to explore or items to pick up, and an organized inventory (click to use, double-click to examine) all free up your thoughts to focus solely on puzzle solving. There are three endings to find again—the "Bad Panda" end, the normal exit, and the perfect red stamp ending. To get them all, use the save function and just be very observant.

We knew already what we were in for when we saw Detarou and Detarou does not disappoint. Especially not when you're expecting to be confounded by outlandish sights such as...well, I'll let you be surprised. It's more fun that way! While challenging, you'll be glad to discover the puzzles are wonderfully logical, enough to grind your grey matter without leaving it too slushy. Ah, Detarou, you with your shove match astronauts and animate pickles! For some reason, your games have really grown on us. I don't know why, it's kind of weird really.

Play Nandakana

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KimberlyCity Siege SniperThe Baddies are back to threatening innocent civillians in City Siege Sniper: Welcome to Snafu Island, an action shooter from The Podge. But this time it's up to you, a lone sniper, to take out the Baddies from afar using a wide array of weapons.

You start out with a rock, a handgun and a sniper rifle to your name. Your goal is to save as many civiians as possible. Use your mouse to aim and shoot your chosen projectile, [spacebar] to take cover and to change weapons, and [arrow] keys or [WASD] to scroll across the map. Throwing stones can distract the soldiers, allowing some civilians to run away. Other innocents are standing too close to the soldiers to run. You have to take these Baddies out more carefully, otherwise they will shoot at you or at the civilians. If you attract unwanted attention and start getting shot at, hold down the space bar to duck out of site. They'll soon stop shooting and you can get back to sniping. Once all the civilians are safe, pull out the big guns and blast away all the Baddies. After each level you're awarded stars and cash depending on how well you did. Use the cash to upgrade your current weapons, buy ammo, or to purchase new weapons. Stars are used to unlock new levels.

City Siege Sniper is different from the other City Siege games in that you are in first person view. Instead of recruiting soldiers for your cause, you get bigger and better weapons to take out the bad guys. The game still features the same large-eyed soldiers you have come to know. The revamped gameplay has turned it more toward the puzzle genre and away from a platform game. It's great fun once you've saved everyone to cause the biggest explosions you can to rid the screen of enemy forces. Because the civilians won't mind you blowing up their city as long as they're safe, right?

Play City Siege Sniper: Welcome to Snafu Island

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BenLancelostEveryone saw the Queen of England jump out of a helicopter to open the 2012 Olympics. Royalty are awesome. But her eventual successor will be chosen simply by birth order, whereas in Lancelost, a retro platform game by Stefan Langeder, the king has decided that whichever of his sons has the biggest lance will take the throne.

As it happens, you have the biggest lance. But your evil brother, jealous of the size of your weapon, has hidden it somewhere in a castle full of bottomless pits, spikes, wizards and other assorted goodies and traps. Make your way to the exit on each level using the [arrow] keys to move and jump, collecting coins as you go. Along the way, press [Down] to interact with wizards to be granted essential temporary powers including super speed and flight.

Lancelost spans 40 levels but the pace of the puzzles and gameplay mean it never drags. Levels are short, and generous with checkpoints, and new mechanics are regularly added to the mix. The result is a fine puzzle platformer, and if you complete it, an entire country to rule. Although I'd recommend moving to a less dangerous castle.

Play Lancelost

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ArtbegottiCalamariIncinerated by a fireball. Shot by a laser. Blown up by a bomb. Blasted by a rocket. There are plenty of ways to die in Nitrome's delectably fast-paced Calamari. But could you have ever imagined being crushed by a cloud? In this randomly-generated multiplayer platform shooter, you've got to slither around on the rails of fortune collecting coins and avoiding death, in all of its forms. Except cocktail sauce. There's not a drop of cocktail sauce to be found in this game. Whoda thunk?

Each game is made up of a series of randomly-selected levels in which a chain of boxes roll into the room on a winding path, entering at one point and exiting at another. Some of those blocks contain coins ready for the taking, others require you to shoot at them with eggs before they drop their bounty. On the other hand, you might find cannons that shoot at you, spikes that pierce you, blocks to bust through, or other perils to avoid. Use the [arrow] keys to move around and [spacebar] to shoot ([WASD] and [Q] for player two) to grab as many coins as you can while dodging anything that can kill you. Don't forget that since you have a limited supply of eggs to fire, you'll need to collect them in order to fire them again.

A serving of Calamari could last you twenty minutes or twenty seconds, depending on how long you can keep your squid alive, and since the levels appear in a random order, you'll never get the same game twice. If you grab a friend, you can play co-op, trying to get the highest score possible together (although it lists your scores separately, should you choose to feed your competitive side). There's enough in one game for plenty of entertainment, but it's the desire to see if you can boost your score just a little higher that will keep you coming back for second helpings of Calamari.

Play Calamari

Weekday Escape

GrinnypSo it's happened to all of us at one time or another, the munchies have hit and it's time to trot down to the local diner and see what's on tap to slake your hunger. Pity the owner would rather lock you in than serve you. Yes, that intro can only mean one thing, Tesshi-e is here with yet another instance of being locked into a food service establishment in the fanciful Escape from the Dining Room.

Escape from the Dining RoomContrary to the title, this game should more properly be called "Escape from the Diner", because it's a diner you find yourself, once again, locked into and those hunger pangs will continue until you can find your way out using only your wits and the large amount of clues scattered about the place. Navigation bars, an easy to use inventory, a soothing little jazz tune, two different endings, and the handy save feature means that Escape from the Dining Room includes everything we expect from Tesshi-e escapes and more. Gorgeous graphics, logical puzzles, what more can a person ask for?

Tesshi-e has included the ability to float the cursor over a colored object to determine its exact hue, making the game quite accessible for those who have problems seeing colors. The English translation (thanks to idahhh) is spot on, the puzzles are tough but not too much, all Tesshi-e needs to do is add a changing cursor and quite frankly they will probably end up at the top of the heap of Japanese room escape designers. Escape from the Dining Room is Tesshi-e at their best, so pull up a chair, unfold a napkin, and dig in!

Play Escape from the Dining Room

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Game Design Competition #10Armor GamesArmor Games

All Casual Gameplay Design Competition #10 game entries are now available to play!!

All entries are available to play immediately from the competition page. There is page set up for each game to enter comments as well, so please leave your kind feedback and constructive criticisms for the game authors.

Although you can find links to all the games on the official CGDC #10 competition page, following is a list of the entries and direct links to each one (in randomized order):

The competition period will span 3 weeks, and we will announce the winners of the competition at that time. If you wish to be a judge, please read the rules and sign up here. We will be sending out a link to the Official CGDC #10 Judging Form within the next 12-24 hours so you can begin judging the entries.

Please help us spread word about the competition and all the creative entries we have once again to share with the world. Use Twitter, use Facebook, Stumble Upon, Reddit, Digg, use any means at your disposal to share the competition games with your friends and family.

Thanks to everyone for your support, and especially to our sponsors for making this competition possible: Armor Games and Pastel Games. Please visit them and show your support!


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TrickyPush3mDeveloper Ozzie Mercado is on quite the roll with his simple puzzle games. His latest is a cool little sokoban-variant named PUSH3M, that shows it's still hip to be a square. The rules are simple: The goal of each level is to move the blocks onto the outlined areas. However, blocks can only be moved if doing so would push another block. Clicking a block will select it and show the possible moves to make. You then make a move by clicking the arrows or using the [arrow] keys. Holding [spacebar] will let you see through the blocks, so that you can tell what outlines are already filled. After 16 levels, you've PUSHed3M all!

PUSH3M is a fun, moderately-difficult brainteaser that's just the thing to get the mind running during a coffee break. It takes a little bit for the challenge to get going, and it would be nice if you could make multiple moves with a single block without having to re-select it, but for the most part, it is a short, sweet and very clever puzzle. Block a little time in your schedule, and check it out!


MeaghanAventures of Valentin the Valiant VikingIt's hard being the black sheep in a clan of Viking warriors. You're a weakling with no fighting abilities with sword, spear, or shield? Not even a wicked head-butt move? You're gonna have a bad time. Such is the case for poor Valentin, a young Viking trying to prove himself in Adventures of Valentin the Valiant Viking, a point-and-click puzzle game by Playtinum Games. In a last ditch effort to prove his overwhelming manliness, Valentin dares to go on a quest to save the kidnapped Princess Estelle and take down the wicked evil wizard.

At the start of each scene you will be given directives for how to reach your goal. In each scene you will click on things in order to pick them up and add them to your inventory. To use an item you will have to open your inventory, scroll through for the tool you want, then click use item. Sometimes using an item will reveal a puzzle to solve before you can achieve your goal or obtain a new item. Be careful going about your quest because if you're caught by a guard you'll have to start the whole scene over from the very start.

Adventures of Valentin is a sweet and intelligent point-and-click game with puzzles that require more thought than most of the activities you'll perform during your average day. The only drawback is also one of the greatest gains in the game: An inventory that has to be opened and scrolled through to pick the proper item. It's a drawback simply because it doesn't accommodate those of us who are lazy, and it's a gain because it gives a nice explanation of the item so you can better understand what you're using. The endearing artwork along with the comical plot propels any player through the thirteen cleverly designed scenes towards a magic battle that will be what decides whether you get the girl or not.

Play Adventures of Valentin the Valiant Viking

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The Vault

DoraReader Art realised he had found something pretty neat when he discovered he could use our new multi-tag search feature to find all of our free download games in one fell swoop, but he also discovered that not all of them have gotten enough votes to merit a rating and suggested that maybe we could write a Vault article to highlight some of the free download titles that haven't quite gotten the attention they deserve. Well YOU'RE NOT THE BOSS OF US, ART. YOU AREN'T OUR DAD.

... but we'll still steal your idea, so this week's (100th!) Vault will not only point you towards some of our favourite free download games, but also three additional games you'll want to check out if you enjoyed the others!

    If you liked...
  • Make it GoodMake it Good - Interactive fiction can be tricky to master, since you have to balance weaving a compelling story with actual gameplay. John Ingold has been perfecting his craft for quite some time, and this mystery game is all the better for it, flexing its considerable muscles with a complex and involving plot and remarkably in-depth gameplay. It's a classic murder mystery, and with a focus on really using your brain and your intuition to suss out clues and leads, makes for one of the best interactive storytelling experiences around.
  • ... then try...
  • FloatpointFloatpoint - Emily Short is no slouch when it comes to blending narrative with player involvement either, and if you're looking for an engrossing tale with some thoughtful gameplay additions to ease you into interactive fiction, you would be remiss if you didn't check her out. In this science-fiction story, you're an ambassador to Alehart, a cold planet that's been colonised by humans from Earth, and you're trying to negotiate a trade agreement, but things are more complicated than they seem. With a delicate yet firm touch for world crafting and inclusions like a to-do list to keep you from ever getting lost or confused, Floatpoint is a stellar example of interactive fiction at its finest and most carefully crafted.
  • If you liked...
  • Treasure Adventure GameTreasure Adventure Game - Platforming has come a long way since the simple hop-and-bop days of its ancestors, and it's being used as a way to have some pretty big adventures these days. Robit Studios managed to create a singularly addictive retro-styled metroidvania experience when they released this gem about a boy who washes ashore on an island with a fantastical past. Though it looks simplistic, Treasure Adventure Game offers a massive experience with a heavy focus on exploration that will have you roaming everywhere, searching everything, and providing enough hidden treasures, secrets, and stories to keep you captivated for a long time.
  • ... then try...
  • A Game With a Kitty 1 and 2A Game With a Kitty 1 and 2 - Origamihero's approach to platforming as a means to adventure keeps the retro-tastic style but heaps in some surreal strangeness for a weird, dreamlike duo of games. As you may surmise from the title, you play a kitty in the first game and, despite the title, not a kitty in the second, but both games serve up a hefty dose of challenge and strange design in a way that make them feel like they'd be right at home on the NES. (You kids know what an NES is, right?) It's weird, silly, and tricky, but is absolutely worth a play for fans of old-school style platforming adventure.
  • If you liked...
  • RunMan: Race Around the WorldRunMan: Race Around the World - Tom Sennett and Matt Thorson are both rad dudes, so you know that when they combine wonderful things are going to happen... like this fiercely cheerful racing platformer about going really, really fast. Even though nobody was willing to compete against RunMan, he insists on running the whole world-wide course he entered before he accepts the title, which is good news for us since the experience is so darned weird and awesome. Your goal is to be the fastest, and to race through stages collecting all the points you can in addition to dealing with enemies... and even a giant boss or two! The cartoonish style and fly by the seat of your pants style action makes it hard to put down, and even harder to play without smiling like a maniac.
  • ... then try...
  • The Apocalyptic Game About PenguinsThe Apocalyptic Game About Penguins - You know it's going to be good when a game's title is fun to say, and Penguin DT's over-the-top "TGAP" is kind of a wonderful thing if you don't mind a little zombie penguin extermination. Yes, it looks like the apocalypse nobody suspected is all New Zealand's fault, and now zombie penguins are threatening to overwhelm everything. Fortunately, you've got the firepower and the will to use it... if you can survive long enough. TGAP is wild and wondrous to behold, with a lot of work put into its style, bizarre plot, and overall concept, even if the difficulty curve is a bit steep. Looking for an action-packed platformer with a hefty dose of strangeness? Look no further.

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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Edna & Harvey: The Breakout

elleEdna has no idea why she's locked in this cell, a room covered with oh-so-soft padding and guarded by a mini-golf loving daddy's boy. Sure, she has a talking stuffed rabbit named Harvey, but hey, doesn't everyone? Being in such a situation, the main course of action is to break out, which produces the title Edna & Harvey: The Breakout for this darkly humorous puzzling adventure from German studio Daedalic Entertainment. The real underlying problem here, though, centers on a question: what really happened to land Edna in this strange place and why is her memory so slushy?

Edna & Harvey: The BreakoutIt's a good thing that Edna has Harvey, who is able to morph temporally to select instances in the past in a chatty plush bunny version of Quantum Leap—minus the setting other people's lives right part, that is. Between the two of them, your job is to talk to everyone who will listen, piece together hours worth of dialogue, and experiment with every object you can get your hands upon to help Edna escape her captors while uncovering the mystery of why she's there.

All these actions are completed via the touch screen options on your device; tap all over the screen looking for iffy spots to explore further. When you find an interactive spot, a circular menu gives you the choice of "talk," "examine," "use" or "take." Tapping the [?] icon will briefly indicate hot spots in case you're having trouble finding them on your own and, trust me, there are a lot of places to explore. Items you pick up as Edna are accessed from the knapsack while Harvey's thought inventory is kept below the screen. In your search for answers, you'll encounter multiple characters to banter with, seeking to utter the magic phrase which will open doors and elicit helpful information.

Originally released as a Windows download, Edna & Harvey: The Breakout's interface will remind you much of the old school LucasArts style of adventure games replete with plenty of scenario, exploration, and corny one-liners, all seeming to work against your narrowing down the one right thing to say or constructing the correct course of action to successfully reach the end of this strange adventure.

Edna & Harvey: The BreakoutAnalysis: Somewhere along the line in casual gaming evolution and within the plethora of lovely-yet-simple browser-based point-and-click games, today's adventure games have become more focused on standalone puzzles and less focused on the try-everything-on-anything method of adventuring. Like the old PC games of the past century, Edna & Harvey: The Breakout is not an easy jaunt of gathering a few overt clues and firing up the logic center of your grey matter.

The near endless possibilities for exploration yet only one, often abstruse, solution means players can easily lose large chunks of time trying to move past one room. Heck, past one obstacle in one room. If you're not the patient sort and if you're not enamored with the awkward hit-and-miss writing, you might soon give up on Edna & Harvey even before finding the elusive Chew Toenail Trick. On the other hand, fans of story adventure series such as Sam and Max are sure to gravitate toward this exploration-heavy narrative game.

Edna & Harvey: The BreakoutAnother bit of trouble comes from touch screen mechanics that feel clunky at times along with instances when the hotspot is just a little off. In addition, solutions rarely happen in simple linear ways. These aren't significant issues when you're enjoying Edna's irreverent comments and witticisms at your every tap; but if you're hearing the same line repeated as you continually try to get it right and are not sure why it's not working as you expect, these issues can add to your frustration. With detailed, interesting artwork and a well-developed cast of characters, though, the story remains compelling enough to drive you past any frustrating spot. In fact, the sense of accomplishment and reward of a new chapter in the plot can be extra satisfying for the extra work in reaching it.

You may have to shrug off some of the mundane conversational points to appreciate the more brilliant spots of humor, but Edna and Harvey's entertaining personalities make a winning formula. Allusions to a Jimmy Stewart film are not lost in the toy rabbit's name or time control ability, either. The deeper theme of individual sanity rises to the surface to round out this story into a meaningful experience. Like her silver screen archetype, Edna's likable character will have you siding with her instantly, compelled to help her in her mission, as you also empathize with her confusion. Here you are, a player stuck in this peculiar place, unsure exactly how you reached this spot or how to get beyond it. When you think about it, that's how a lot of us feel at any moment we reflect on our lives. If only we all had a friend like Harvey to talk us through it.

Note: The downloadable version of Edna & Harvey includes both Edna & Harvey: The Breakout and Edna & Harvey: Harvey's New Eyes.

Get the full version (

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

NOTE: This game was played and reviewed on an iPad 2. 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 Curse

DoraLook, I'm no expert, but... maybe the next time you find an ancient mysterious book that tells you not to open it and demands a magical thumbprint before you can do so... don't? In The Curse, Mojo Bones and Toy Studios' puzzle game for iOS (Android, NOOK, and Kindle to follow!), you fail to heed the warnings and wind up unleashing the supremely sly and smug being known as The Mannequin. You can't have malicious, creepy entities running around willy-nilly, but the only way to defeat this one is to solve the puzzles contained on each page of the very book that imprisoned him... which is harder than it sounds.

The CurseThere are a whopping 100 puzzles contained in Mannequin's book, ranging from simple block-sliding puzzles, to riddles, to circuitry, and more. You can play them in whatever order you please, flipping through the pages in the book to get right to the hard stuff, or starting things off nice and gentle with a little memory game if you so choose. If you fail, you just have to try again, but succeed and you'll be granted one of the cogs you need to put Mannequin back where he belongs. Not that he's worried. Mannequin has a rather low opinion of you, but you know what? At least I have arms, buddy!

With its stellar presentation and sense of style, The Curse is absolutely perfect for casual puzzle fans who want a large variety of challenging levels on hand whenever they have a moment. It's silly, snarky, and possessed of a sleek, gorgeous design you don't often get to encounter. The puzzles are hard, too, so you'll be glad there's so many of them you can flip back and forth through in the order you like. Unfortunately, while tricky, none of these are what you'd call particularly unique, and if you play a lot of, oh, say, hidden-object adventures you've probably been exposed to most of these varieties more than once. It's a little disappointing, since the game is otherwise so extremely well put together that you just kind of expect more creativity out of it. The Curse is, however, a supremely stylish little game pure puzzle fans will love, and it heaps on the charm to boot. You don't have to break the mold to be a success, and Mannequin's challenge is a fantastic example of how to provide all the brain-teasing power of a whole library of puzzle books in one beautiful package.

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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What's My IQ?

BenHave you ever been told not to second guess your answers on a test? Well, forget that! The seemingly obvious answer usually isn't the right one in What's My IQ?, Orangenose's new mobile puzzle/quiz game. Most of the questions are multiple choice, but since there's such a wide variety of categories and tricky responses, you'll never know quite what to expect next.

What's My IQ?Every puzzle in What's My IQ? has some sort of trick to it, whether it's in the wording of the question, where you find the answer, or how you interact with the game itself. Many of the most difficult puzzles have ultra simple solutions, the kind that are obvious if you know the trick but baffling until that "a-ha!" moment. Some of the puzzles might be a bit too obscure, making it unclear how you were supposed to find the solution even after you know the trick. This wouldn't be a problem if it wasn't for the limited number of attempts you have at the quiz. Too many wrong answers sends you back to the last checkpoint. Skips are limited and cost money in the in-app purchases store to refill, so be cautious if you don't want to dip into the microtransactions.

The occasional unfair puzzle is worth overlooking for the sake of a smart, engaging game that constantly forces you to think outside the box. The lineup is impressive though, with 101 questions in the paid app and a generous 50 in the free version. Towards the very end, some of the questions lose their edge and feel like padding, as if they're only there to round out the number of questions. There's several hours worth of content here, though, if you're determined to solve each question without help, and even after completing the game, an additional time trial mode allows you to race against Facebook friends. With a clear, crisp presentation, a wide variety of puzzles, and some clever twists, Whats My IQ? takes the best moments of games like Impossible Quiz, and distills them into one defining puzzle game. Every test in school or college will seem like a cinch compared to this.

NOTE: This game was played and reviewed on an iPad 3. 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

JohnBIt's a week of ports, puzzles and... ok, there's no "p" word for updates, so we'll just have to say "updates" and be done with it. Developers are taking note of the popularity of mobile devices and have adjusted marketing plans to suit, releasing updated ports of downloadable games for our lovely iOS and Android machines. Welcome to the wooooorld of tomorrow!

bastion-p.jpgBastion arrives on iPad! - Catching everyone by complete surprise (except a Guild Navigator or two, perhaps), Bastion, the isometric action RPG with a dazzling story, quietly appeared on the iTunes App Store recently, though you'll need an iPad 2 or newer to play it. We couldn't heap enough praise on the game in our review, and Bastion is a perfect fit for a touch screen world. If you've got the hardware, you should definitely pick this one up!

quietplease-p.gifQuiet, Please! arrives on iOS! - The fantastic old school puzzle/adventure game from Nostatic Software made its way to Android devices back in June, but now Apple eaters can get their hands on the delightful little game. After an annoying day at school, you're ready to go home for some peace and quiet. Unfortunately, everyone in your house is making noise. Using a few items and a lot of puzzle solving finesse, you've got to figure out how to get them to shut the frak up! Our Quiet, Please! review gives the full rundown, but suffice to say, we totally love the game!

splice-p.jpgSplice arrives on iOS! - Cipher Prime makes some of our most favoritest and most puzzliest mobile and browser games of all time. Imagine our glee when the team's latest release, Splice, has worked its way to iPad! Small clumps of cells need to be moved around so they fit a pattern. All you have to do is drag them from strand to strand, creating splices with each movement. It looks fantastic on the big screened mobile device, and the puzzle game is a natural fit for touch screens. Check out our Splice review for a full account!

PuzzlejuicePuzzlejuice updated! - The iOS game Puzzlejuice combines old fashioned block matching with a word game (Tetris meets Boggle, in a sense), challenging you to practically play both genres at the exact same time. We loved it in our review earlier this year, and now that a big update has hit, there's even more to enjoy. The update includes a new Impossible Mode that, well, pretty much describes what it delivers. Blocks move faster, and you're actually punished for creating three letter words, so you'd better memorize a thesaurus or two before you dive in. In addition, Puzzlejuice is also on sale for a few days, so take advantage and get your puzzle juices stimulated!

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!

Grinnyp Clickplay QuickfireNinjadoodle is back with the jet-fueled madness that is ClickPLAY Quickfire 3, the adrenaline pumping action puzzle game that has only one goal, find the darned play button and push it, push it real good! There are 20 more levels of point-and-click puzzling, reflex testing action featuring fish, bugs, monsters, and some pretty choice hand signals to be found within.

As in both Click Play Quickfire 1 and Click Play Quickfire 2 you are battling the clock rather than the number of clicks used, so think fast! A pulsing rock tune plays in the background as you race to finish each screen in bonus time. Watch out for hopping bunnies, bashful mice, and seriously ill pigs while navigating the clickplay madness and reward yourself with a kicking wallpaper when you come out the other side. Just Click PLAY!

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Click PLAYClick PLAY 2Click PLAY 3Click PLAY RainbowClick PLAY Rainbow 2Click PLAY Quickfire 1Click PLAY Quickfire 2Click PLAY Quickfire 3

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elleWhere's My Cat?When Mrs. Glick loses her cat, use your sleuthing skills to help her find it in this pint-sized point-and-click adventure from OK Interactive. Get clues by knocking on doors and talking to quirky small town citizens, asking "Where's My Cat?" of everyone you encounter. Follow the map to the various locations where you'll search for useful objects. Use them bargain for more clues or to get through the barriers on your way to rescue kitty. The changeable cursor, straight-forward tasks and cleanly-drawn settings which usually make obvious all possible hiding spots means this is an easy case to solve.

Much of the fun is in the conversations you have with the characters yet you really need an appreciation for this peculiar mix of lighthearted and gruesome if you're going to enjoy the story. At the end of the ten minutes it'll take to unravel the lost feline mystery, you may be shaking your head, squinting your eyes at the screen and grinning ear-to-ear all at the same time. But you know, there are times when weird is exactly the kind of break you need in the day.

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NoNoSparks: The ArkJohnBBuilding an ark? Don't forget your nonograms! Beardshaker Games has released another episode in the NoNoSparks series of picross puzzles with NoNoSparks: The Ark. Now, it's up to you to help build the ark that will save the world's animals (the animals you helped create in NoNoSparks: Genesis), all with the power of grids, pencils, and logic!

If you're familiar with the game of picross, you can jump right in, ignoring the tutorial windows the game uses to teach you how to play. Use the number clues on the sides of the board to figure out which blocks need to be filled and which remain empty. If you see "3 1", for example, you need to fill three squares, leave at least one square blank, then fill one square. Use the mouse to mark spaces as filled or blank, clicking on the icons at the bottom to switch between pen types (or holding the [spacebar] to temporarily switch). Once the grid is complete, a picture is sketched out and then added to the ark mosaic, dropping animals and various materials in as you work your way to a well-stocked ship!

NoNoSparks: The Ark features great artwork, something you rarely see in browser or mobile picross games. The interface is just about flawless, allowing you to quickly fill or erase squares without fuss. Better yet, there's no penalty for mistakes, nor is there a timer or any sort of scoring mechanism. It's just you and the puzzles, exactly the way it should be! Easy to play, satisfying to master, and with plenty of visual flair to reward you for being the puzzle solving master you already knew you were!

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Mission US: Flight to Freedom

TrickyMission US: Flight to Freedom is the second in the series of educational point-and-click adventure titles focusing on American History (the first being Mission US: For Crown or Colony), created by Electric Funstuff under the auspices of New York PBS Station Channel 13. The year is 1848. The tenuous balance that had been struck concerning the issue of slavery wavers in the face of a nation expanding by conquest and treaty. Many in the south claim the "peculiar institution" is a matter of states' rights. However, the political rumblings concerning a newly proposed Fugitive Slave Act suggest that slaveholders would be happy to use the will of the federal government to force northern free states into compliance. Living in these tumultuous times is Lucy, a 14 year old slave of Kentucky's King Plantation. She gets up before the sun rises, and works until long past dark. Her father has been sold to another master, and, considering the poor harvest, there's rumors that her mother and brother will soon be as well. Lucy must balance her wishes for freedom with the risk of recapture, but an incident on the farm will force the issue sooner than she'd ever thought. What can a slave do? What should a slave do? What should Lucy do?

Mission US: Flight to FreedomControlled with the mouse, the emphasis of Flight to Freedom is less puzzle-solving than exploration, discovery, and conversation. Most of the five chapters start with Lucy receiving a task to complete, then moving from location to location choosing how to accomplish it. Though the game is fairly linear in its progression, your different decisions will earn you badges which will be used to open up different options as the game goes on. For instance, spending time talking to local abolitionists will give you information that could be useful in helping others escape slavery. In particular, clicking various yellow-underlined words and choosing educational actions will, (in addition to building your SAT vocabulary), will add to a literacy score, granting your character greater comprehension of written documents. Sections of the game also include strategic traveling sections, and gathering evidence and witnesses when someone you know is accused of a crime. The epilogue branches in a number of ways, depending on what badges you've earned, and not all the endings are happy ones. Note: Site registration is required to play.

Analysis: Educational computer games tend to avoid slavery as a topic. Not counting that hoax of a trailer that made the rounds of the internet in 2011, all that comes to mind is MECC's 1993 Apple ][ game, Freedom! (an Oregon Trail variant pulled from the market due to the stereotypical depiction of the language used by black characters) and the occasional theft of Harriet Tubman's walking stick by Ms. Sandiego. It's not hard to see why: it is not a topic that anyone wishes to see trivialized or depicted inaccurately or prejudicially. No wonder it's the subject of so much historical revision and re-revision. Happily, though, Flight to Freedom succeeds where others have failed, delivering an engaging and well-crafted peak into American history.

Mission US: Flight to FreedomWisely, Flight to Freedom focuses much of its attention on the philosophical struggles Lucy faces as a slave. As presented in the prologue, the main theme of the game is "What can a slave do?" This is no flippant question. In this game, your actions have consequences and there are few easy answers to the dilemmas you'll face. The questions range from the broadly moral (Is it worth the personal risk of disobedience and sabotage against an unjust system, when it might very well be your innocent loved ones who face the consequences?), to quandaries specific of the time period (Is it right to pay for an enslaved person's freedom, thus supporting a slaveowner?), to the coldly pragmatic (Will continuing your escape with an injured comrade too dangerously impeded your progress?). Of course, not every decision will have drastic effects: this is PBS, not Mass Effect. Still, it has a feeling of openness reminiscent of the Choice Of series. Perhaps not enough time is given over to the violence and prejudice of the period, but Flight to Freedom recognizes that the harshness of involuntary servitude and the paranoia of being a fugitive are strong enough lessons to deliver by themselves.

Stylistically, Flight to Freedom shows off its production values. The voice-acting and writing are top-notch, as is much of the setting art. Static character art is also well-done, even if the animation is a little wonky. Aesthetically, the game is at its best when it combines a silhouetted character with a lush background, making for a iconic, even evocative effect. Clearly Electric Funstuff spent its time improving what needed to be improved in the previous installment, and the result is a game that is as entertaining as it is informative. Here's hoping that Mission 3, set to be released in 2013 and rumored to cover the Great Sioux War, will maintain the series' standard of quality.

Overall, Flight to Freedom is an intelligent, thought-provoking work that should prove a treat to both its student audience, and anyone with a passing interest in history. Highly recommended!

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JohnBPerhaps you were unaware, but graBLOX aren't really your run-of-the-mill puzzle blocks. In fact, they're aliens. Aliens with faces and feelings and four extendo-hands that reach out and grab anything in their path! But not in a freaky B-movie sort of way. In a cute and challenging mobile puzzle game sort of way! MobilityWare's fascinating game of chain reactions is packed with variety, featuring multiple block types scattered across over 100 stages, with many more in the works!

graBLOXYour simple task in graBLOX is to tap on one of the little alien critters to extend its hands and pull in blox from around the board. If you manage to group three or more together, they shiver and vanish. The trick is to methodically activate the grabbing ability so you don't leave any blox stranded, using as few moves as you can so you'll have something to brag about at your next techno dance party. If you make a move you don't like, you can always undo it with the round arrow at the top of the screen. Later stages introduce new types of blox, including tear-shaped heavy blox, laser blox, and chain reaction blox that do their grabbing thing all on their own.

Puzzle design is definitely one of the strengths in this simple little game, and you'll encounter plenty of challenge as you work through the huge set of levels. The blox types do wonders for gameplay variety as well, so you're not likely to get tired of grabbing anytime soon. It's worth noting that graBLOX is free and doesn't feature ads beyond the occasional between-level screen showing you some of the studio's other releases. Completely unobtrusive and easily skippable. 125 new levels are already in the works for graBLOX, so if you manage to burn through the existing set, there's plenty more on the way!

NOTE: This game was played and reviewed on an HTC Incredible. 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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Inbetween Land

MeaghanA strange hovering island has appeared over the city, and your friend Mary has gone missing. What could a loving friend do? My instincts, after possibly one too many horror movies, would kick in and tell me to call the cops and get as far away from the town as possible. Clearly that wouldn't make for a very good game, so instead of a frightened lead character, Specialbit Studios made their heroine of tougher stuff. In the new hidden object puzzle adventure game Inbetween Land, you're going to make like the brave little toaster and go on an adventure!

Inbetween LandHere's the rundown: Your BFF Mary has been acting a little odd lately, and one day she vanished like a bag of chips (i.e. without your awareness). You head to the orphanage where you both grew up to see if the old lady there has a clue where Mary might have gone. You soon learn Mary had a weird obsession with the floating island that appeared over the city. After some investigating, you manage to open a portal to the island, but instead of calling in the scientists for some serious research, you hop through without a second thought. Inside is a desolate but stunning city inhabited by an extraterrestrial race that desperately needs your help. Fortunately, helping them means helping Mary, so everybody wins!

Use the cursor to pick up objects or start the various puzzles you run into while exploring. Hovering over active areas gives you a clue as to what actions can be performed. The hidden object scenes in Inbetween Land are fragmented, meaning you'll pick up pieces within a scene to build an item you'll use to gain access to more pieces. The end result is a key item that will allow access to new areas you can roam through!

Inbetween LandAnalysis: Inbetween Lands is structurally very similar to most casual adventure games out there, featuring a hint button, a difficulty selector, and plenty of puzzles to sit and ponder over. Where it really stands out, though, are in the visuals. The cutscenes look like they were taken out of a comic book, while the landscapes look as if you walked into a steampunk fantasy, sans the owls and krakens. There are a few things that may seem odd, though, for a game so well-crafted, the most prominent being the lack of a map and the overall short length, both likely due to the fact that there isn't much backtracking and practically no way to get lost.

Ultimately, Inbetween Land feels like a mish-mash of multiple genres and at times may seem like it took some cues from the last Indiana Jones movie. The creative puzzles and decadent artwork make it a very a special find. The addition of the fragmented hidden object scenes is a pleasant change of pace from the usual list of random items. Inbetween Land is a quirky but entertaining game that may not take you days to finish but will have you wanting to play again if only to look at the alluring landscapes!

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