December 2013 Archives

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SigCorp Holiday Special

DoraAs of this writing, the Freebird Games website is experiencing heavy load! You can download the game directly for Windows from here.

Remember To the Moon? The spellbinding narrative adventure game from indie developer Freebird Games? Well, a) you should because it was amazing and there's a sequel coming, but b) even if you don't because you haven't played it, you can still get a bit of holiday cheer with the free short adventure SigCorp Holiday Special. The game stars Eva and Neil, the protagonists of the original game, who have the rather unusual job of working for a corporation that modifies the memories of people who request their services... sometimes to make a wish come true in their final moments. But this time around, it's just another day at the office, albeit with some seasonal mischief in the air...

SigCorp Holiday SpecialAll you need to do to play is click, since both Eva and Neil will follow your cursor when you do so and interact with objects lit with a sparkle the same way. Alternately, you can move with the [arrow] keys and use [C] to interact. The only thing you really need to remember is that there's no save function, so you have to play it all in one go, but given the game's short length, that won't be a problem if you have a half hour to spare. Like To the Moon, there's not really any puzzling to be had, and all you basically need to do is follow the story as you explore SigCorp HQ as both Neil and Eva. Make sure to talk to characters multiple times!

Though it is, in part, a cheery and goofy holiday game meant to ease the wait between now and the sequel, fans will still find a lot to like here. It gives you an extra glimpse into Eva and Neil's world, expanding on SigCorp and the people who work there... as well as what other people might think of them. Freebird Games has always excelled at writing, and here they manage to infuse a remarkable amount of warmth, humour, and depth even in characters we've never met before in just a few lines, managing to make their detailed little sprites extremely expressive. The game sort of takes a turn for the... uh... weird at one point, with an odd minigame that might wear out its welcome for some. Still, its an appealing if fleeting glimpse into the lives of people a lot of us came to care about a lot over the course of To the Moon, and as a lead in to the upcoming sequel, well... you'll laugh, but you'll get chills too.

Get the free full version

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

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Where is 2014?

DoraThere's only one good reason why we haven't already wrung in the New Year, and it's not because of time or anything lame like that, it's because we haven't solved Mateusz Skutnik's latest calendar-flipping point-and-click puzzle game Where is 2014? The aim here is to literally ring in the holiday by finding out where our New Year is hiding, so just click around to gather items and solve puzzles. Chances are it won't take you very long, but hey, that just means more time to party after, and it's a cute, beautifully illustrated little point-and-clicker from the master. What's not to celebrate?

Play Where is 2014?

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Candy Ride

TrickyI want something tough but sweet. Something so fine when it's been beat. Maybe something in a physics platform game vein, where you play as a big sweet rolling smaller sweets into a little kid's gaping maw. In short, I want Candy Ride, by Levon Vardanyan.

Candy RideUse the right and left [arrows] or [A/D] to roll the big pink sweet around. You cannot jump, so you'll have to use the various ramps, conveyor belts, teleporters, windmills, and elevators to guide the tinier candies with your momentum towards the mouth of that hungry little boy in the lower right. The bare minimum for victory is to get Big Pink to the mouth, but the higher percentage of candies consumed, the higher your score for the level will be. A slow-paced kind of work, with gameplay reliant on proper timing and movement, Candy Ride is more "rolling" than "rollicking". But it's a entertaining implementation of a creative premise. Play it, and you'll want Candy Ride all the time!

Play Candy Ride

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The Vault

TrickyWell, it's The Vault you've been waiting for! Since it's pretty much been proven that gamers are physically compelled to read anything in list format published online, it's time for Tricky's Top 2013 games of 2013! 1. Gone Home! 2. A Dark Room! 3. Rogue Legacy! 4. Anodyne! 5. Super Hot! 6. Infiltrating the Airship! 7. GeoGuessr 8. Kentucky Route Zero! 9. Antichamber! 10. Crystal Story 2! 11. Room Gamma 12. Save The Date! 13. Simian Interface! And... uh, let's just say that the next 2000 entries are all Night Rider Turbo.

Right. Now that that's out of the way, let's ring in the new year with some excellent strategy, platform, and fighting titles from the JiG archives!

  • Phage Wars 2Phage Wars 2 - If I could create a virus in my laboratory, something contagious and infectious that killed on contact, a virus that would destroy all other forms of life, would I find that a good idea for a strategy game? Well, I'm with Davros on this one, because Phage Wars 2, the 2009 work by Joey Betz, is a horrifying piece of fun. With it's unique virtual-desktop presentation, Phage Wars 2 makes one microscopic blob consuming another microscopic blob much more enjoyable than it has any right to be. Because hey, that one's my microscopic blob! That I made myself! FOR SCIENCE!
  • HeirHeir - It would be easy to dismiss Heir, Antony Lavelle's 2010 action-platformer, as merely a 2D version of Shadows of the Colossus. And maybe it is. But doesn't a 2D version of Shadows of the Colossus sound like it would be kinda awesome? And so Heir is as well. It may wear its inspirations on its sleeve, but climbing up huge creatures, desperately trying to seek out their magical weakness spot is as exhilerating in two dimensions as three. While Heir is short and has an ending that hints at a sequel that never was, it is an impressive work all the same.
  • Portal DefendersPortal Defenders - I was a Newgrounds-er from way back in my angsty junior high years, and while I appreciate how the portal has matured along with me, I know that I can always count on the site to deliver a good dose of the old ultraviolence. Case in point: Portal Defenders, the 2009 fighting game by BoMToons. So few sites have built such a mythos behind themselves that a game like this, filled with recognizable characters and inside-jokes aplenty, would even make sense. But it helps, of course, that Portal Defenders is a great old-school style beat-em-up on it's own merits, even if you don't recognize every obtuse reference being made. And there are plenty.

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!

Blast Billiards Revolution

ArtbegottiA clever little twist can turn a game of skill into a hilarious frenzy. Add a chess clock to Jenga. Build a house of cards on a block of ice in the middle of the summer. And if you're feeling particularly gutsy a/o insane, play billiards with live explosives. For those who don't want to risk singeing off an entire eyebrow or torso, there's always the alternative of Blast Billiards Revolution by Andromedus, a take on pool where you've got to pot balls as quickly as possible, before they explode. And as if using bombs for balls wasn't enough, you've also got sticks of dynamite in the pockets, mines that detonate when hit too many times, and crates of TNT littering the table. In fact, we suggest playing this virtual version of combustisnooker over any real-world versions involving explosives. Safety first, kids.

Blast Billiards RevolutionYour specific goal will vary from level to level, but generally you want to hit balls into pockets as fast as you can, as speedier play gets you more points, and more importantly, prevents detonations. In some levels, each ball is a bomb with its own timer, or each pocket requires a ball to be sunk in it before its timer runs out. Use the mouse to aim the cueball at where you want it to go (note that you're lining up the ball's destination, rather than the stick behind it). Click and hold and drag the stick back to select the power of the shot, then release to set your play into action. You can also use [WASD] to put a bit of spin on the ball, if you're familiar with how that works.

Your score for each level is usually determined by how much time is left on the balls (or pockets) when they're potted. Scratching (hitting the cue ball into a pocket) deducts ten valuable seconds from your timers and should be avoided at all costs. If you score high enough to earn a three-star ranking, you can add an additional lifeline to your arsenal. These lifelines let you use a guide that shows where your balls will go for three shots, add extra time to the timer, or undo a shot. Unfortunately, spending a lifeline is permanent, whether they help you beat the level or not, so be careful how you deploy them.

If you've got a friend handy, there's also a two-player mode where you take turns potting balls as quickly as you can. each player has their own timer which determines how many points a pot is worth. When one rack is cleared from the table, another one is brought on until both players run out of time. This setup relies on both players fairly sharing the mouse (since there's no downtime between turns, unless if there's a scratch), but it's a good way to add a competitive edge to the game.

Analysis: The control scheme of using the mouse to point directly at where you want the cueball to go, rather than trying to swing the stick behind it and hope you have the right angle, is pleasantly welcome and less frustrating than many other pool games (and, to be honest, playing pool in real life). However, this ease of play is balanced out by levels that don't allow you to make many mistakes before your time runs out. You've got to be very accurate and very fast to earn high star ratings and extra lifelines.

Blast Billiards RevolutionOccasionally, the levels might feel unfairly hard. The crates of TNT, which explode with even the slightest contact and end the level instantly, are just a bit too harsh of a punishment when setting up a decent shot might be hard enough. In levels where you've got to fill the pockets in a certain order, you might need to play (and lose) a few times to memorize the order of the pockets so you can set up shots more efficiently. On the other hand, this steep difficulty curve forces you to play more carefully. Eventually, you learn to break your amateur pool instincts and only pull the stick halfway back instead of full power every time, and fiddle with the english to learn how to get the ball exactly where you want it after a shot. Even under the pressure of the clock, you can still pick up a few helpful tricks for the next time you're playing in the break room or bar.

If you're looking for an invigorating take on an old favorite, Blast Billiards Revolution is an excellent choice. The difficulty curve might be a bit steep, but it's a lot safer than strapping bombs to the pockets of a pool table.

Play Blast Billiards Revolution

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Mobile Monday

JohnBAs the mobile marketplaces wake up from their holiday slumber, new games start emerging like little flowers in the snow. Steady your gaze and look towards the future, the mobile game drought is almost over!

vexation.gifVacation Vexation (iOS, Android, Kindle) - A brand new adventure from Nostatic Software, Vacation Vexation is a sequel to Quiet, Please! with an extra helping of sun, sand, and mini-games. Explore your seaside vacation world with the arrows at the bottom of the screen and use the "interact" and "item" buttons to work with the environment. You have limited inventory space, you'll need to do a lot of investigation and experimentation to get items where you need them. A nice and simple diversion that's perfect for a quiet evening of fun!

trexels.gifStar Trek summons the freemium rage - Everybody likes Star Trek, right? And clever mobile simulation games that use pretty pixel art? Combine the two and you've got Trexels, a fully licensed Star Trek game that recently appeared on the iOS marketplace. There's just one problem: the game is so loaded with in-app purchases it'll make you want to hurt your iOS device. Not only are there early and frequent paywalls, absurd in-app purchase prices, and broken timers that exist to prevent you from playing, but the game carries a 3 USD price tag. Pay to pay some more, yay! As a friendly word of warning, avoid Trexels until these microtransactions are balanced.

dungelot2-p.gifDungelot 2 trailer - Did you forget how crazily addicting Dungelot is? You're about to be reminded in a very dramatic way. Red Winter recently released a trailer for the upcoming Dungelot 2, a sequel that improves on the original's tap-based casual roguelike gameplay with an overworld map, better visuals, new abilities, and plenty of new baddies. Don't worry, though, it's still all about tapping to reveal squares, fighting enemies, and gathering loot! Look for Dungelot 2 on Android and iOS in January.

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10 is Again

ArtbegottiA couple months ago, iojoe asked you to count to 10 in a clever number sliding puzzle. Now he wants you to count to 10 again, but this time, with more maths! 10 is Again is a follow-up to the math puzzler that introduces multiplication, division, and inversion to the mix. As before, your goal is to add numbers together by clicking and dragging to slide them into each other. When the sum reaches ten, they lock into place; combine all the tiles to make tens, and you've beaten the level!

10 is AgainAt no point in time can a tile's total go over ten or be a non-integer, so you've got to plan how you'll use the multiplication and division symbols carefully. Large numbers can also be tricky to move around freely, so there's still more of a challenge than just mindlessly smushing numbers together. If you can finish all 55 puzzles in this second level pack, you deserve a high five! Twice!

Play 10 is Again

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Loot Hero

DoraLoot Hero by Varagtp (also available free on iOS and Android) is the sort of brilliantly simple arcade game breaks were made for. As a brave knight out to defeat a dragon terrorizing the kingdom, you're using your lance to bash your way through the hordes of monsters in each stage, picking up the coins they drop along the way to level up your equipment at the stores that conveniently lay alongside the road. To play, all you do is click the mouse, and the hero will charge left or right in the direction of the cursor, and you run into enemies to attack. Enemies will respawn behind you, so you can always go back to grind cash and experience points to level up as much as you like... something you'll need to do to topple the stronger monsters and bosses!

Loot HeroLoot Hero looks and sounds absolutely gorgeous with its detailed pixel style, and though it plays like a simplified Slayin it captures the breezy addictive arcade flash and fun so perfectly it's hard to put down until you're done. While, unfortunately, won't take very long since Loot Hero only has a few levels and there's zero variation to the gameplay. There's also no real challenge to be had, realistically speaking, since the prevalence of towns and the lack of any variation to enemy abilities (like, say, status effects that might have otherwise hindered you and called for strategy) means you can basically just charge back and forth until you're flush with coin and levels. Loot Hero is, in short, a good idea, but one that really needs a lot more fleshing out to be good for more than a single play through. Once you finish the game, it does allow you to replay with stronger enemies, but the lack of any significant variation means there's just not much incentive to do so. The potential is definitely there, and Loot Hero is still a simple pleasure while it lasts, and one we hopefully see expanded on in the future.

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kyhForget flesh-eating zombies, knife-wielding clowns or Kiera Knightley as Elizabeth Bennet (shudder). All of your nightmares pales in comparison to space leviathans who eat whole planets! But, of course, this is what you're forced to face as the protagonist in 8Bit Skull's action adventure title, Zos. It's been thousands of years, and the great monster, X'o'chthu, who was previously fended off by seven great heroes, is back for another round of celestial chomping. The heroes long gone, it is up to you to gather the lost essences of those heroes and use those powers to fight it off once again. Because why couldn't a single man do what it took seven before?

ZosMove your character around with the [arrow] keys, using [down] for actions marked with the exclamation point. [Spacebar] uses whatever potion you have equipped. Oh? You don't have any potions? Well, make some! Potions are made from the ingredients you collect off the ground on the seven planets you'll be exploring. Through helpful hints from the native people you encounter as well as info-spewing computers, you'll learn the recipes necessary for various potions from the fiery Fire Potion with infinite uses to the jumptastic Fortify Jump (for a limited time only!).

Travel from planet to planet with Master Movo as he guides you to each of the essences. How to get them exactly is all up to you. Each new surrounding presents a different challenge and puzzle to overcome as you learn to use all of your acquired skills toward each new goal. When you've collected all the heroes' essences, only X'o'chthu will stand in your way, and you'd better be ready for a battle that'll make your breath quicken and heart beat faster.

ZosAnalysis: Zos has a great 8-bit quality about it from the pixel graphics to wandschrank's chiptune music that'll stick with you when you're not playing the game. The difficulty is well balanced with areas that require precision platforming, bosses that are tactically different from each other and puzzles needing only keen observation. With well-placed save points and not all monsters regenerating (nothing like dying as you defeat a boss), you feel more rewarded for your actions and less punished for your mistakes.

While Zos may have you sipping a glass from your finest bottle of Nostalgia®, it can also cause frustration over the attack methods left to you. While infinite ammo is nice, having your bottles always fly in an arch is annoying. You'd better believe if an enemy were running toward me that I'd throw a Molotov cocktail straight into their faces. In addition, the absence of a melee weapon leaves you wishing for a pipe to swing. Other than these battle-specific issues, there is little left to be desired in this well put together game. Oh, except more, more more! This title will surely be one you'll remember and 8Bit Skull a developer you'll be excited about.

Play Zos

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Weekend Download

JohnBHey there. Last Weekend Download of the year. Are you scared? What if all the free games disappear in 2014? There could be a massive plot to stop making them, you know. It's just so secret that nobody knows about it, so they go on and make freeware releases anyway. Now that's top secret.

heroinesquest.gifHeroine's Quest: The Herald Of Ragnarok (Windows, free) - A very nice combination of elements from different genres, Heroine's Quest is set up like a classic adventure game but features a story, battles and character customization like an RPG. Frost giants are preparing to destroy Midgard, and naturally mankind's only hope is you, the heroine. Explore over 100 locations as you fight fiends and interact with NPCs scattered across several different cities. Surprisingly active and epic for "just an adventure game". Mac and Linux versions are expected in spring 2014, as well as a mobile mobile release, so this is definitely one to keep your eyes on.

push2.gifPUSH (Windows, free) - A simple game created for Ludum Dare, PUSH is a fine example of smart puzzle design. You play as a little guy who can push rocks to fill in holes, all in the name of making it to the golden idol. The catch is that you can only push one rock per level. Throw in some switches, arrow-firing statues and shaky ground tiles and you've got a great recipe for a straightforward but very captivating puzzle game.

kappasadventure.gifKappa's Adventure (Windows, early demo) - A preview release for the full game that's still in development, Kappa's Adventure is a platform game designed like 8-bit masterpieces of old. The planet Cuore's crystal core has been shattered, and as the boy adventure Kappa, it's your job to restore pieces of the Crystal Heart. Otherwise, who knows what may happen? Pretty basic action as far as jumping, shooting, collecting stuff and buying upgrades in the shop is concerned, but the sum total is a delightful platformer that serves as a great teaser for what's to come.

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Xonix 3D 2

DoraEd Ryzhov's Xonix 3D 2 is an interesting little beast... a 3D take on the dice-em-up arcade avoidance of games like Fat Slice, complete with power-ups and a super funky techno beat. Using the [arrow] keys, your job is to drive the ball across the field to create a line that will raise up whatever is on the other side of it... providing it doesn't get hit by an obstacle before you're done drawing it, or you don't run into it yourself, of course. The goal is to cut off a certain percentage of each level, and as you play, everything from speed boosts, to score bonuses and even hazardous fireballs will drop from the sky. Later, some of the obstacles bouncing around within each level's confines will even be able to chip away at the walls you build when they bounce off!

Xonix 3D 2Xonix 3D 2 is a fairly simple twist on a fairly simple game, but it's fun and energetic in a way that more arcade games should be with its myriad of power-ups... and power-downs! The main problem is that the level design and overall difficulty can be sort of erratic, with some stages just not that interesting compared to the obstacles and setup of others. (Also, why can't you press a key to restart or advance a level if the rest of the game is keyboard controlled?) It just feels like the sort of thing ripe for the flashy, chaotic feel of classic arcade cabinet games, and if more of the levels had embraced that with the Tesla towers and explosion launchers, it would have been a magnificent thing to be hold. As it is, Xonix 3D 2 is fun and creative for such a simple idea, and with what feels like a very '80s style and flair to its colourful looks, makes for a great coffee-break style diversion.

Play Xonix 3D 2

Link Dump Fridays

DoraWell, this is it. The last Link Dump Friday of 2013. And you know what you have after the 25th, right? Christmas leftovers!

  • Atomic Puzzle XmasAtomic Puzzle Xmas - Look, who says it has to be Christmas for you to enjoy a Christmas-themed puzzle game? Jerks and no-goodniks, that's who! Max Dereviagin serves up soothing, lovely seasonal puzzling where all you have to do to win is click to remove the Christmas ornaments, which allows matching pairs to form and vanish when they collide, and do so in as few clicks as possible.
  • Ziggy's CarolZiggy's Carol - Pixel Continuous' Ziggy stars in this upgrade-packed arcade game where the star of Humbug tromps through the snowy streets nabbing candy canes, evading the police, and punching people for presents. It's cute as the dickens, though an odd fit for a character who won hearts in surreal puzzle platformers, but is still an accurate representation of my family's holiday tradition nonetheless.
  • Gift RushGift Rush - When the mall isn't an option and all the online shipping options are too late, there's only one way to get gifts to all the kids before they wake up on Christmas... by extruding a long, sticky limb and swinging your way around like a grotesque blobby Spider-Man, of course! Alexander Fedoseev's physics puzzle is a bit on the simple side and could have done with greater variety, but who amoung us has not wanted to solve gift giving simply by slinging either gift or giftee at one another as hard as possible?
  • SNATASNATA - No, it's not a typo, but it is really weird. This strange platform game by about a deranged fat man in a red suit hopping atop reindeer held aloft by explosive balloons is simple, yet exceptionally funky and quirky in its own way. This truly is what Christmas is all about. Bless us, every one.

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Titan Souls

DoraMartin Foster, Andrew Gleeson, and David Fenn were thinking... you know all those incredibly difficult, anxiety-inducing boss battles in games? You know what would make them better? If you had only one hitpoint, and one single arrow you had to call back to you each time you shot it to take them down. And then, presumably, having conceived this fiendish concept for Ludum Dare 28 (theme of "You Only Get One"), they all sat back and cackled maniacally, twirling their handlebar mustaches and stroking their white supervillain-issue cats while being backlit by lightning flashes. At least, that's how it happened in my fantasy. Titan Souls (also playable here), created in just 72 hours, is the result of that devious flight of fancy, as you control a young lad armed only with a bow and single arrow trying to take down four enormous beasts who each only have one weak spot.

Titan SoulsThe gameplay itself is fairly straightforward. You move with the [arrow] keys, execute a very Link-like roll with [Z], and press and release [X] to fire your arrow in the direction you're facing, while holding [X] will call it back to you after, or you can simply run over it to pick it up. Each of the monsters you'll be facing has its own style of attack and its own weak point, often only vulnerable for a split second, so you'll not only need to be dodging and darting around since a single hit will knock you back to the altar clearing where you began, but also be ready to fire at a moment's notice. All it takes is one true shot... but it's far from easy.

If you're getting some Shadows of the Colossus-y vibes from the game's concept, you're not the only one. Considering its tiny development window, Titan Souls is a beautiful, beautiful game with its slowly building soundtrack and stark mysterious landscape. Apart from the temples themselves, however, the surrounding area is, well, pretty boring largely because it lacks any visual interest to make up for the tedious plod back to a temple from the starting area to try again. The beasts themselves make for a nice variety, and though I almost felt like the gameplay was something that could have been suited for a joystick and an arcade cabinet, the controls are responsive enough to make navigating the battlefield challenging without being obnoxious. In a way, the setting and concept feels more compelling than the actual gameplay, if only because the lack of storytelling and strange atmosphere keeps driving you forward to see what happens. Titan Souls feels like a part of something bigger, but what exists is still a well executed piece of artistic action that uses its theme in clever and challenging ways.

Play Titan Souls

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Rats Invasion

Starchild Whether your New Year's resolution is to get rid of vermin in your house or you just have a lot of poisonous gas lying around waiting to be used up, you can practice your exterminating skills in the new physics puzzle game, Rats Invasion. It seems that rats have infiltrated your kitchen and made themselves comfortable between your pots and jam jars. If you want to reclaim your territory, you'll have to use your mouse to aim and shoot at the little invaders.

Rats Invasion There are two basic ways to send the rodent blighters to kingdom come: shooting harmful items at them, such as gas cans or bombs, and making them fall on hot/sharp surfaces. Simply making them fall off the screen won't do, though; if this happens, you'll have to restart the level. Sometimes you'll have only one cannon, sometimes two, but in both cases the available ammo will have to be fired in a pre-set order. There are no extras in case you make a mistake, so eliminating all the rats takes a bit more planning than your average crush-the-castle kind of game. The levels are clean and simple, but they still keep introducing new elements and interesting layouts. The physics work fine, and include a few details that make gameplay smoother (for example, items which stick to surfaces instead bouncing off them). As far as subject matter goes, Rats Invasion would perhaps be rather cruel if not for the adorable visuals. The cartoony surroundings add a lighthearted air and make the violence against rats seem like a bit of slapstick roughhousing, so whether you like rats or not, Rats Invasion provides some solid, cute, silly physics puzzle fun.

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The Happy Escape 6

GrinnypIt's a lovely day so you decide to go to the Miyagi teahouse where they have fabulous coffee and cake. Unfortunately you suddenly feel sleepy and next thing you know you wake up in a different place, having been kidnapped by some old guy for money. Is this the opening sequence of Criminal Minds or the setup for the latest Tesshi-e room escape? Who can tell the difference anymore? But yes, Tesshi-e is back with a holiday-themed treat, The Happy Escape 6. If the scenery looks a bit familiar, it's because we've been here before. As with all of the other happy escape games the objective is not only to get out of Santa's shack, but to find ten happy coins scattered about within the various puzzles in the cabin.

The Happy Escape 6 Although the scenery is looking terribly familiar by this time, Tesshi-e has created new clues and new puzzles for this lovely present to you, the room escape fan. Great design, fabulous controls, trippy music, everything you could want from Tesshi-e is here. The only downside is that it's on the short side, and could have been fleshed out a bit more, fun as it is. Let's not complain, though, since Tesshi-e has chosen to give us a fabulous Christmas present (three, actually, at the end of the game). Celebrate the holiday season with another winner from Tesshi-e. And maybe have a little chat with Santa, anyone who is getting this forgetful maybe needs to think a bit about retirement.

Play The Happy Escape 6

Thanks to Cyberjar88 for sending this one in!

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Bury My Bones

DoraYou know, you could probably sell undertaking as a more popular career choice if you told people about all the fire-breathing dragons, the spikes, the balloons, and the swanky accompanying tunes. V. Osinski's physics puzzler Bury My Bones turns what should be a grim and solemn occasion into a toe-tapping puzzle fest, as getting the body (or in this case, the bones) into the waiting grave is a bit more complicated than usual.

Bury My BonesAll you need to do to play is click, and you need to do to win is drop the skeleton into its grave. Easier said than done when this cemetery was apparently built by Rube Goldberg, with switches, planks, ramps, bouncing boards, and much, much more. Your score is determined by how quickly you solve the stage, but don't worry... the number's strictly for bragging rights. Bury My Bones is in concept a relatively simple game, but the sheer amount of elements used to get your bony buddy around the stage help keep things fresh. There are fans, punching gloves, plows, and more, and each level is constructed in a unique way.

The problem is, it can occasionally feel like the physics are fickle beasts indeed, and other annoyances, like the way vehicles don't stop immediately when you click them, mar what is otherwise a pleasantly creative and goofy experience. The amount of pixel-perfect precision it feels like you need to have in some cases borders on the unreasonable, and it's disappointing since the game is otherwise really clever and entertaining. Bury My Bones has a lot going for it and is well worth a play if you're a patient fan of the genre, with its charm, creativity, and ghoulish sense of fun... just don't expect it to be very forgiving.

Play Bury My Bones

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kyhF=Gm1m2/r2. If you're not having flashbacks to high school physics, then prepare yourselves as Alan Zucconi's entry for Ludum Dare 28, themed "You Only Get One", is all about gravity. Be they big or small, near or far, everything has a gravitational effect on everything else. You just have to figure out the right balance. In the physics puzzler, 0RBITALIS, you control the trajectory of a satellite being launched into various celestial situations. With just one click of your mouse you'll send that object launching in the direction determined by your cursor's position and at a speed related to the relative distance of your cursor to the satellite. When positioning the mouse, you'll be given a red dotted line that will show the predicted path to help you determine whether or not that path will lead toward your goal of surviving until the clock runs out. Do that and you'll be able to move on to the next scenario.

0rbitalisConsidering the 48 hour limit of a Ludum Dare game, the physics of 0RBITALIS work quite well with few situations that might be considered 'buggy'. Maybe it just skimmed the atmosphere of the planet? While the simple graphics and sound effects fit the gameplay well, other features, like pausing or level select, are missed. But these absences are not felt too strongly in the midst of the interesting experience Zucconi has put together in such a short amount of time. So hop to it, young gravity specialists. Oh, the star systems you'll go!


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The Vault

TrickyTwas the day before Christmas and all through the house / not a creature was stirring, save the click of my... touchpad. Well so much for that standard yuletide parody. Instead, let's get straight to some early unwrapping with a trio of stocking stuffers from the JiG Archives. We've got escape, platform, and puzzle presents this week in the Vault, and they'll give to all a good night.

  • SnowingSnowing - It takes commitment to make a truly great Christmas Escape game. Sure, anyone can put together the template, add a pine tree to look behind, a couple of stockings whose color sequence tells you how to open that wall-safe, or wrap some keys up in gift boxes. It's much harder to grab that holiday feel. Well, 58 Works knows how to do things right, and they do do things right in Snowing, a point-and-click escape game. It has just the right mix of classic imagery and seasonal whimsy (so many whales!), along with great puzzles and a charming presentation.
  • e7e7 - After a week of trudging through snow-drifts, a game about a robot on a planet where the ground bounces you like a bowlful of jelly is a perfect bit of escapism. Still, the alien planet of e7, a scifi platformer by Jgames, is plenty cold, plenty windy, and plenty hostile, even before the deadly laser-bots show up. And yet, like a raging blizzard, there is somehow peace and calm to be found in the midst of whirring activity... Just don't too soothed. That Earth-destroying bomb won't be deactivating itself, you know.
  • Wooden PathWooden Path - And now, for our Vault readers dealing with the heat of a summer down under (or those in the northern hemisphere who wish they were dealing with said heat), we present a lovely trip through some greenery in the form of Wooden Path, a sliding block puzzle game by Remivision. Be careful, though: this walk in the park is no walk in the park: you'll have more than fifty rivers to cross before you make it home (and suddenly, the whole outside freezing over doesn't sound so bad.)

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!

And in the words of Krusty the Clown, have a merry Christmas, a happy (couple-weeks ago) Chanukah, a kwazy Kwanzaa, a tip-top Tet, and stay safe this Safar.

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Fever Blue

ArtbegottiIn Fever Blue, you are told that the markings on the floor will help you, but sorting out how is still the tricky bit! Made for Ludum Dare 28 with the theme of "You Only Get One", this puzzle shooter by Raiyumi is a short but entertaining romp around a series of floating islands. You can move around with the [arrow] keys or [WASD], interact with objects using the [spacebar], and shoot at enemies and barriers with the mouse, once you obtain a weapon. Your mission is to find your way through the series of maze-like levels to reach the end, but you'll quickly discover that you might not have as much freedom as you'd like to think.

Fever BlueFever Blue's abstract design allows you to easily get sucked into the strange world you wake up in, even for a game probably no longer than your coffee break. Though there are essentially only a couple puzzles in this game (figuring out how the world works and figuring out how to implement it), it's just enough to tickle your brain and make for a pleasing challenge. Give Fever Blue a try and see if you can escape this out-of-this-world experience.

Play Fever Blue

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Bad Ice Cream 3

TrickyWe begged, we pleaded for another dish of Nitrome's top-quality home-made Bad Ice Cream. And now, all our pretty pleas have been answered with the cherry on top that is Bad Ice Cream 3. A top-down arcade game like the previous installments, Bad Ice Cream 3 will have you collecting fruit, smashing goblins, and proving that this soft-serve ain't so soft. Capiche? Up to four players can play with the Nitrome Touchy app, choosing between Chocolate, Vanilla, Strawberry, Sorbet, Mint-Choc-Chip, Bubblegum, Licorice, or Smoky Bacon as your characters flavor-of-the-day. Mmm. Smoky Bacon!

Bad Ice Cream 3Move with the [WASD] or [arrow] keys, and spit out or smash ice with the [spacebar]. The bar at the bottom of the screen shows the fruit that needs chomping to complete the level. If there's more than one variety left, eating all of one will cause the next to spawn. While getting hit by an enemy will leave you right-squished, you can block their path by spitting out ice-cubes or bashing your way through some blockades. There's 40 new levels to complete, and cartons of new enemy types that'll clone, creep, dig, and advance-wall-of-doom-style into your heart. Perfect for both newbies to the series, and veteran cone-clashers, Bad Ice Cream 3 puts Nitrome's signature charm, challenge, and gorgeous pixel art front and center delivering the triple-scoop of awesome we've come to expect.

Play Bad Ice Cream 3

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Mobile Monday

JohnBFree games and the year's best games. Because you're too busy shopping for a 2014 calendar and don't have time to mess around with non-free non-best games!

angry-p.gifFree App of the Week: Angry Birds Star Wars II - Each week on the iTunes App Store, Apple drops a single release down to the tasty price of "free". This week, that freebie is Angry Birds Star Wars II, a game that needs absolutely no introduction. Fling birds to knock over pig structures, but instead of birds it's Star Wars characters, and instead of pigs it's pig troopers. And it's free!

badland-p.gifApple's Best of 2013 - The end of the year brings "best of" lists from around the interwebs. Some of these are simple search engine bait, but in Apple's case, they're an honest representation of some of the highest quality apps and games of the year. For 2013, Apple's choice for best iPhone and iPad game are Ridiculous Fishing and Badland respectively. The runner-up in the iPhone category is Simogo's DEVICE 6. Surprised? Nah, those are all amazing games.

tengami-p.gifPop-up pops later - Tengami, a beautiful digital pop-up book adventure, is heading to iOS devices in January. It was originally slated for a 2013 release, but developer Nyamyam recently announced it wouldn't meet that target. The game itself looks gorgeous. The new trailer shows off a few snatches of gameplay, and we think you'll agree with that assessment!

Hidden Expedition: Smithsonian Hope Diamond

GrinnypThe Hope Diamond is many things, one of the most beautiful gems in the world, a hugely popular exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution's Museum of Natural History, and legendarily cursed, which makes it the perfect subject for the latest hidden object adventure hybrid Hidden Expedition adventure, Hidden Expedition: Smithsonian Hope Diamond. Created by a collaboration between BigFish Games Studio, Eipix Entertainment, and yes, the actual Smithsonian Institution, Hidden Expedition: Smithsonian Hope Diamond takes you on a rollicking journey through the known (and sometimes apocryphal) history of the world's most famous blue diamond.

grinnyp_hiddenexpeditionsmithsonian_screenshot1.pngDive right in to what turns out to be a very adventurous and rather dangerous extended job interview as you trace the dastardly bunch across three continents, learning both the history of the big blue rock and the venerable Smithsonian along the way. The game takes place in and around America's most famous institution, as well as locations in Europe and India as the race is on to find the fragments that have been removed from what was once one of the most famous of the French Crown Jewels. Click your way through the locations with the help of a changing cursor, a bottom-loading inventory, an electronic notebook, an interactive map, and a refilling hint system useful in both the adventure and hidden object scenes.

grinnyp_hiddenexpeditionsmithsonian_screenshot2.pngAnalysis: Once again BigFish comes in guns blazing, with top of the line graphics and gameplay. Great pains have been taken to make the core hidden object scenes a multi-layered joy of working with line drawings, silhouettes, and the classic list format of object finding. That same attention also goes into the multitude of amusing puzzles and mini-games that are crammed into every nook and cranny of this delightful adventure. The graphics are dazzling, especially when accompanied by the top-drawer music and incidental sounds which bring the adventure to life. The character animation is a bit stiff, paired with competent voice acting which moves the story along at a pretty brisk pace.

The same attention to detail which graces the puzzles and games is also present in the controls which feature an interactive map which you can use to travel back and forth, the hint system which can do the same, and the plethora of side quests like finding all of the hidden Smithsonian logos or the morphing object which hide in the hidden object scenes. Best of all for those who love adventure gaming are the levels of gameplay, which include a customizing feature so that you can tailor the hint features to suit your own tastes and experience level. Is it perfect? Well, maybe not, as once you leave the venerable Smithsonian the other locations are not as fully explored as they could be, making the game the shortest of the Hidden Expedition series. On the plus side, you get a fully realized adventure, no "To Be Continued..." this time around. With the top shelf graphics, gameplay, and overall design Hidden Expedition: Smithsonian Hope Diamond does its subject proud as one of the best download adventure games of the year. Time for a new Expedition!

Note: Hidden Expedition: Smithsonian Hope Diamond is currently only available in a Collector's Edition, which includes wallpapers, music, animations, extra gameplay (including both a new adventure and the ability to replay each and every hidden object scene and mini-game), and a built-in strategy guide. Remember that Big Fish Game Club Members pay only $13.99 for Collector's Editions, and collector's editions count 3 card punches of 6 total needed for a free game.

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Pixel Room

elleAt first all you see are some square blotches of color. It's hard to make out what this is or where you are. Is that an ambiguously-shaped chair in the corner? Could this thing be a door? You stumble around as if in the dark or experiencing an episode of... some sort or other. But as you manage to collect together some unhelpful looking green pieces, clicking about in just the right places, the pixels start to take on form and function, and the details of Kotorinosu's Pixel Room come into being. To escape-the-room takes on a new meaning—visual clarity means progress. You're that much closer to success.

Pixel RoomThe key feature of Pixel Room—its very vague, very 2-D nondescript graphics—combined with a static cursor is going to cause frustration for a lot of players. It's not that navigation is overly complicated; you can pick up "items" and examine them in your inventory, use the arrows on the sides of the screen to change views, or point and click on just about anything in the scene to interact with it. Many objects will respond to your manipulations but the trouble is figuring out just what response is being elicited. That results in puzzles that are initially extremely abtruse and, especially at first, a lot of random clicking around.

To say there are pixel hunts in Pixel Room wouldn't be too pat, would it? Yet leave it to Kotorinosu to turn that into a good thing. Probably because you're not left in the dark overly long, and because it's rather fun to see your guesses turn into actualities, the concept works. It wouldn't have been unfair to give players a changing cursor to help us along, though, and that's my major quibble with the game as a whole: it's more pixel hunt-y than it ought to be. Even so, Kotorinosu's deft hand at puzzle design and a still rather intuitive interface creates substantive enjoyment and a very concrete feeling of satisfaction when the ending unfolds.

Play Pixel Room

Thanks to Cyberjar88 and Corbin for sending this one in!

Monkey GO Happy Xmas Time

DoraIt's beginning to look a lot like monkeys... but it's okay, because these aren't the screeching, biting, poo-fling kind. They're Pencilkids' point-and-click puzzle-solving Monkey GO Happy stars and they're back for one last 2013 hurrah in the Christmas game Monkey GO Happy Xmas Time. As you click around to interact and pick up items, you're looking for enough presents to satisfy your capering mini-monkey horde. The game is well constructed but, as is the way of the last several installments in the series, very short, so don't expect more than a five or ten minute diversion at most. But hey... it'll put you in the holiday spirit, and you can use all the rest of your time to devise elaborate present-peeking mechanisms!

Play Monkey GO Happy Xmas Time

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Hungry Cat Picross

HopefulNebulaThere are a lot of nice things in the world, but the feeling you get when you figure out how to solve a tough puzzle is uniquely gratifying. Hungry Cat Picross is a new game for Android and iOS that not only provides hundreds of puzzles, but places a new twist on the rules of picross.

Hungry Cat PicrossThe basic principles are the same as standard colored picross puzzles: you're given a grid, and the numbers on the sides of the grid correspond to the number of squares of each color in that row or column. The big difference is that in Hungry Cat Picross, the clues are sorted by color instead of by number. This opens up a whole new world of puzzles: there are a lot of possible combinations when seven blue squares can be split up into groups of any size. You're not without any help, though: if a clue has a circle around it, that means that all squares of that color will be in one contiguous group. Otherwise, you know that the three red squares in that column will be split up somehow. Instead of only looking for large numbers at first, it's helpful to find rows and columns with the fewest colors and try to work with them. You can also earn or buy magic paintbrushes to help fill in trouble spots. There's even a "Hypothesis Mode" where you can test out your ideas without completely messing things up if you're wrong.

Once you get the hang of the big change in gameplay, Hungry Cat Picross has a world of puzzles to explore. Not only are there 320 regular puzzles in a variety of sizes and difficulty levels, but every week there's a new giant puzzle that you solve piece by piece. The interface is smooth and easy to work with; even on the largest grids it's easy to fill the cells you intend to fill. The graphics are adorable as well. The hungry cat that gives this game its name watches as you fill in the grid, starts snoring if you go idle, and celebrates when you solve a puzzle, all while wearing an adorable beret. Little painty pawprints surround your finger or stylus as you color the squares. The game isn't perfect, though: in particular, it can be hard to differentiate between similar colors on certain puzzles. Changing the background color can help with that, though, and the challenge and the novelty of the gameplay definitely makes up for the cosmetic issue. The hungry cat needs sardines, after all!

NOTE: This game was played and reviewed on the LG Optimus L9. 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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Valthirian Arc 2

DoraIn 2010, Lucidrine's Valthirian Arc was an addictive but ultimately simplistic and repetitive action RPG sim game with a great premise... you were in charge of an academy that trained students and sent them off on missions throughout the land at the behest of the king. That is literally everything I have ever wanted and believed I was qualified to do, and yet President Obama still keeps ignoring my e-mails and petitions. (What about our slime monster problem, Mr President?! What about our lack of battlemages?!) Three years later, Valthirian Arc 2 has shown up unexpectedly, and though it keeps the original's premise intact, it also improves on it in almost every possible way, if not quite able to shake the repetitive grinding and simple gameplay entirely.

Valthirian Arc 2As before, your goal as principal of your new academy, is to attract and train students over weeks, months, and years into a variety of fantasy classes by not only sending them on missions, but also managing and growing the school itself. Eve, your green-haired assistant, will explain everything, while stern Jeanne is who you'll visit to undertake quests. Errand quests are simple affairs where you simply pick the most qualified student for the job and send them off for a while, allowing you to continue to manage the school as usual while they're gone. For combat missions, you'll select your party of students (making sure not to send anyone too inexperienced!) and embark on an action-RPG sequence where you direct them around the field and they automatically attack anything within range. Provided you survive and win, you'll gain gold and experience, and just as important, fame, which influences how large you can build your facility. You'll also find exploration quests, which ask you to find a specific location on a map, and item quests, where you hunt down the required number of items in the level. And, yes, we have escort quests (I hope you read that line with the most loathing possible) because we're apparently still pretending someone likes those.

The academy itself is where some of the most important stuff happens, from building new rooms that confer different bonuses, to purchasing new weapons and armor, hire mentors to teach your students, and much, much more. Your students will wander the academy freely, and can earn both EXP and skill bonuses as they visit rooms and interact with mentors. When they reach level 11, they're ready to graduate, which grants fame, but if you really want a lot of that, you'll wait until they're both at a higher level and have a class applied to them, which grants unique abilities. Not all students are created equal, of course. Some may have certain qualities that help or hinder them, while others might simply be more powerful. Just don't forget to outfit them with the proper equipment at the armory!

Valthirian Arc 2In a lot of ways, Valthirian Arc 2 basically feels like a Kairosoft game, with a bit of Final Fantasy Tactics Advance-style mission management stirred in. It's the sort of game that takes a while to really get going since you have so few options in the beginning, and you'll need to grind a lot of gold to get the upgrades you need to proceed. It does unfortunately still feel like it doesn't play as smoothly as it could, since both combat and missions are still simplistic, and the lack of any sort of fast-forward button means you'll spend a lot of time staring at the screen early on waiting for missions to complete. Since you don't know what a combat mission will contain until you try it, there's no real strategy to preparing it, and the lion's share of battles just consist of your characters wildly swatting at clouds of enemies doing the same thing. If you've ever watched a toddler smack a pair of action figures together going UNF UNF UNF, you know what to expect with Valthirian Arc 2, though as the game progresses and more missions and classes unlock you'll find the difficulty does go up.

That being said, however, Valthirian Arc 2 is a gorgeous, gorgeous little charmer of a game, and the clear effort put into improving it over its predecessor is nothing short of remarkable. Lucidrine has always done quality work, but Valthirian Arc 2 might be their most beautiful and colourful to date, with an amazingly professional look and feel. This game easily could have sold for $40.00-$50.00 on the Gameboy Advance just a few years back, and to be able to play it free still sort of boggles my mind a little. The story is on the scant side, mostly relegated to a few characters popping up now and again to trade a few lines for certain quest tracks, but it adds more personality than the series had before. Gameplay is simple, sure, but it's also casually engaging and addictive, with a lot of secrets to find and things to unlock. Though its combat and general gameplay might not have enough complexity or strategy for some, Valthirian Arc 2 is still an effortlessly charming little game its talented team should be proud of.

Play Valthirian Arc 2

The Everloom

TrickyEach night the dreams come. Dreams of fantastical creatures and vistas that could only exist within the realm of the imagination. But when the morning comes and the eyes open, they dissipate like wisps of fog. But tonight's dream is different. It seems that you have been granted a gift: the gift of time. Or at least that's what that white-haired giant popping out of the ground has told you. But if your dreams are a place where anything can happen, that means it's also the place where everything can become undone. This world is a riddle that only you can solve. And you'd better, because there is a rot and the black wind is blowing. The Everloom is an artistic adventure game by Lucas Paakh that takes players on a trip through a forest of imagination.

Move with [WASD] or the [arrow keys], and interact with the environment with [Spacebar]. There are people to talk to and items to discover, which will be added to your inventory in the upper right, then used automatically when needed. Explore the world, help its inhabitants solve their problems, and hope you'll live to see tomorrow's sunrise.

The EverloomThe Everloom is an aesthetically gorgeous game. The 16-bit graphics are beautiful, with some particularly impressive parallax scrolling effects being a highlight: Mode 7 ain't got nothing on this! The prose and dialogue are trippily evocative, with players getting a real sense of the game's fantasy world and characters through relatively little dialogue. The Everloom is a work that let's the scenery do most of the talking, and it does, calling to mind a variety of gaming classics: a little King's Quest here, a little Chrono Trigger there, a sprinkling of MYST... not to mention a few Robert Frost quotes. Paakh has always been a developer who wears his influences on his sleeve, and he definitely knows how to pick the right elements from each.

That said, how well said elements combine is mixed. While the story is charming enough to keep players forever-intrigued, much of the gameplay boils down to listening to a character give a portentous statement, delivering the correct item to them, then getting another portentous statement and another item for your troubles, rinse, repeat. The Everloom sometimes feels like what a Final Fantasy game would be if it were nothing but fetch quests, and it's not clear if that's a compliment. Compounding this problem is the size and scope of the game world, and the CPU intensity required to display it. It's always a little eye-rolling when game's with graphics from 1995 make your modern-day computer run laggy, but in a game where every next step of the plot is several screens away, it can be a bit unbearable. Whatever happened to letting players lower their graphical quality? (Turning off the Hardware Acceleration does help with this problem).

But if The Everloom is occasionally confounding in mechanics and in plotting, it is a fascinating piece of gaming, and compares favorably to the best of Paakh's able canon, indeed. One can only hope Paakh will someday show us more of this dreamworld, because if not, I may have to write some fanfic. And yes, that is a threat.

Play The Everloom

Snail Bob 6 Winter Story

Starchild It's that time of the year when games get a snowy makeover and come up with holiday-themed plots. Snail Bob 6 Winter Story is no exception – everyone's favourite slimy hero has to save Santa! Snail Santa, that is. The point-and-click puzzle series has always been full of good cheer and silly humour, so the Christmas theme fits it as well as purple hats fit Bob. Santa has been kidnapped by a sinister hamster and taken deep into the woods, so Bob must travel through twenty-five puzzly levels to reach him. If you want to help him, you can guide him along the way. He moves on his own (and pretty quickly for a snail), so all you have to do is click on him, or press the [spacebar] to stop him, and turn him around by clicking a button in the upper right corner.

Snail Bob 6 Winter Story If you played Snail Bob 5, you'll recognise the gameplay immediately. The helpful ant friend who can step on buttons for you makes an appearance, and puzzle elements are largely unchanged. Most importantly, collecting three stars in each level still unlocks Christmassy mini-games which basically means you're getting five games for the price of one. But Winter Story adds a lot of its own special flavour: from the appropriately beautiful surroundings to the all-new level setups, it certainly feels like a solid game in its own right. What this installment really excels at is setting intuitive and entertaining puzzles in busy, colourful environments. At the beginning of a level, you might feel disoriented for a second, as the screen seems crowded with buttons, levers, platforms and all manner of background objects. Soon enough, though, the goal becomes clear and then it's just a matter of clean plan execution. The intricate level design also proves useful in hiding the three stars, and finding them is a special little pleasure. What with a tried-and-true format based on silly cuteness and clever puzzles as well as a constant string of fun additions, it's quite difficult not to love the Snail Bob series. Winter Story perhaps isn't as innovative as we can hope future episodes to be, but it's chock-full of seasonal joy and as heartwaming as only a smiling little snail can be.

Play Snail Bob 6 Winter Story

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Weekend Download

JohnBBecause it's December and everybody likes Christmas stuff (I SAID EVERYBODY!), we've got a couple of quick holiday-themed games to get you in the cheer. Or to make you even grumpier, it's your choice!

penpenPen Pen Xmas Olympics (Windows, free) - After delivering all the presents, Santa and his elves along with the residents of Ice Town hold the Xmas Olympics. This event involves you helping out the little penguin Pen Pen so we can qualify for the skiing events, including downhill slalom, coin collecting, star sprite releasing, and more. It's the sort of arcade game that will have you laughing at the crazy spills you get into, but when you finally manage to win, it feels awesome.

tnbcThe Night Before Christmas (Windows/Mac, free) - Time to deliver presents! Playing as Santa, grab all the gifts and place them by the tree, keeping your tummy full of food so your stamina stays high. If too many kids are up at once you'll be found out, so zap them with a sleepgun to send them back to slumberland. It's a simple arcade-style game that plays like an old handheld LCD game from olden times, what with that annoying elevator that's always where you don't need it to be.

Cookie Clicker

DoraT'was the week before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse... Okay, that's a lie, because since Ortiel's smash-hit clicktoy Cookie Clicker, originally reviewed here, just got itself a big ol' Christmas update with new items and secrets, so I have a feeling those mouses are going to be doing a lot of clicking all night long! Gameplay is the same as before (as in, exactly the same, so don't expect drastic mechanical changes... this is the same game, plus seasonal stuff), with cookies generated as you click and buy upgrades, but, hmmm, what do you suppose that festive hat you can unlock does... ? Adorable pixel graphics, cheeky upgrades... hey, this is way better than tuning into that stupid Yule Log channel. Just when you think you're out... they pull you back in.

Play Cookie Clicker

Choice of the Deathless

GrinnypEver have one of those days at work where pouring your blood, sweat, and tears into the job is a literal thing, where cutthroat competition is not a metaphor, and your clients tend to be demons from another dimension? No? Would you like to have one of those days? If so, check out Choice of Games, who have teamed with fantasy author Max Gladstone to bring us Choice of the Deathless, an interactive text adventure set in an undead legal firm that makes Wolfram and Hart look like pikers.

Choice of the DeathlessYou begin as a junior associate, fresh out of school, dealing with magic, mayhem, and crippling student loans. If you've played any of the Choice of games you know the drill, read the evocative text and choose your response. Your choices contribute to your statistics like charm, craft, cunning, etc. which in turn drive how well you survive the in-game scenarios. Do you want to work like a dog and get your soul-sucking debt paid off or do you want to party all night? Do you want to make friends and maybe find romance or do you want to cut like a scythe through the competition, making partner atop a heap of your co-workers' cooling bodies? Any and all of these scenarios is possible and much, much more.

Choice of the Deathless combines the rich, imaginative gameplay of the classic all text adventures of yesteryear and fuses them with the evocative and fully-realized world of Max Gladstone's novels. Enter a world where magic exists right alongside office tedium, where you can be male, female, alive, dead, or undead in your pursuit of happiness or financial stability. Immerse yourself in this astonishing world and be all you can be. Or, you know, just be a skeleton wizard. It is your choice, so make it.

Play Choice of the Deathless (Browser Demo)


kyhHelp! Help! The big, bad wolf is going after the animals of the forest and is going to eat them... err, I mean, is going to kick them out so he can build a giant shopping mall! Small is Beautiful puts us in a match-3 puzzling world in Animals - Home Free!, where Mr. Wolf has given up his quest for succulent pig treats for the equally alluring (if less environmentally friendly) hobby of construction! It'll take some careful planning and a watchful eye on the clock to bring him down and save your furry friends.

Before you can take the wolf down, you'll need some friends to help you. Unfortunately, they all seem to have been imprisoned in chests covered in locks of silver and gold. To open the locks, you'll need to match-3 your heart out to create matches of 4 for silver keys and matches of 5 for the gold ones. Line three of those keys up, and you've opened yourself a lock! But, unlike most games of this genre, you are not required to make a match to swap pieces. You can, instead, move a tile square by square to get it to the desired location. Just watch out for the unintended matches! Once free, the creatures will clear the way to more helpless animals and ultimately aide you during the boss battles against the wolf.

AnimalsHomeFreeLording over each of your actions is the ever-present clock. During each of the stages, time slowly advances from sunrise to sunset. Once a day has ended, the wolf's destruction takes its toll and one of the stages becomes polluted. Now, when played, you'll have to rid the grid of pollution before being able to make matches toward the keys (or honey). To lower the level of black, oily goop, you'll have to match a set of green leaves, which are created by making matches of 4 or more. Sound like it may be too much to handle? That's where the bees come into play. In a level, after saving a creature, you can additionally help a honey bee fill its jar simply by making matches. As long as its jar is full and its level is pollution free, the bee will belong to your hive, which can be used to do a plethora of things in any given stage: lower the level of pollutants, open a lock or cause damage during a boss battle. To be used when you're short on time (or patience)!

Small is Beautiful has done a swell job of creating a fresh experience on what may seem like a tired genre. They've also been able to get the message across of keeping the environment clean without slapping you in the face with it. They've kept their cute sense of visuals, much like a previous title of theirs, Finding My Heart, while also including a bit of edge where appropriate. Animals - Home Free! is a game worth playing, whether you care about the message or not, and with the included save feature, the several hours necessary to complete the game need not be done all at once.

Play Animals - Home Free!

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Link Dump Fridays

DoraWhat do a rapidly growing baby falling from the sky, shape-shifting eternally warring blocks, a minotaur with perplexing housing design, and a whole lot of vehicular manslaughter have in common? Why, Link Dump Friday, of course! Also, I think all those words together online probably put you on some sort of FBI watch list. Yay!

  • Push ItPush It - This adorable little physics puzzle game might be a bit too simple and similar to other games in the genre like Werebox, but it's still fun. By changing your shape and the shapes of those around you, it's your job to get rid of all the bad guys by knocking them into an unseen abyss. Which seems a bit harsh since all they seem to be doing is sitting around scowling, but hey, I'm not the shape dudes police. Exile away.
  • L.I.F.E.L.I.F.E. - It's the entirety of your existence as summed up through an endless-ish arcade fall through the sky! Each stage of your life is represented by a different mini-game, and finding out how to complete each one is part of the challenge. A lot of the games seem to drag on just a bit too long, but it's still a clever and quirky symbolical experience.
  • Not in My Dungeon!Not in My Dungeon! - You know how in MMORPGs when you go up against the final boss of a dungeon, you and your party members all stand around on tiny platforms above instant death pits while the boss leisurely chucks things at you to knock you to your doom? Me neither, but here's a physics puzzle about exactly that!
  • Road of FuryRoad of Fury - IriySoft serves up a very Mad-Max-y action game as you drive down a post-apocalyptic landscape blasting bikers, trucks, jet-packers and more to earn as much as cash you can for upgrades before doing it all over again. It's a little on the simple side, but should serve to awaken the road warrior that sleeps within you!

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Cut the Rope 2

DoraI don't know why people keep saying Om Nom is a little green monster, when he's clearly a little old lady... how else do you explain his fascination with hard candies? Regardless, Cut the Rope 2 has finally arrived on iOS from Zepto Labs, and the newest installment of the beloved smash-hit physics puzzle series brings all the bugs and slimy, sticky tongues you could want!... what? Oh, and it's got all the puzzles, gorgeous graphics, unlockable themes, and quirky weirdness you could want, too. But don't worry. I know what you're really here for.

Cut the Rope 2In case you're not familiar with the basic concept... Om Nom wants candy, and you have to get it to him, preferably nabbing all three stars on each level to unlock more stages, and any four leaf clovers to unlock the secret levels. To help unite monster and treat, you'll find all manner of ropes to cut (hence the name), balloons to pop, levers to... uh... lever, and more. This time, you've also got a few friends on your side in the form of the Nommies, little monsters who will help you out in stages by lending their special talents. Lick can make ramps and blockades with his extra long tongue, for instance, while Roto can lift objects (including Om Nom!) and carry them around the level on a predetermined flight path. Getting Om Nom his sweet treat is usually easy enough, but collecting all the stars and clovers on each level is another matter entirely. If you're really, really stuck, you can purchase anything from additional balloons to solutions and more via microtransactions, but successfully solving a stage on your own is vastly more rewarding.

Strangely, Cut the Rope 2 doesn't necessarily feel all that different from its predecessors. The Nommies don't shake up the gameplay that much since they're basically just additional level elements rather than something that significantly changes how anything works. I wish we could have chosen exactly where to have Lick's tongue stick, for instance, since that feels like it would have added a layer of challenge and planning to things. Its biggest problem might be that it feels very slow to add in any of those new elements, and then only in pieces at a time, so there's a distinct feeling of deja vu for a good long while. Fortunately, the game is every bit as gorgeous and polished as we've come to expect, and definitive proof that physics puzzles can still be smart and fun. Each of Cut the Rope 2's whopping 120 levels (with more to come!) are carefully designed, so while you can muddle your way through them by frantically tapping and slicing and crossing your fingers, figuring out the solution to make everything drop neatly into place is as satisfying as ever.

Cut the Rope 2's graphical changes aren't immediately or massively noticeable, mainly because the series has always been squeaky clean and gorgeously colourful to behold, and diehard fans might mostly notice some mildly different animations. Surprisingly, it ran like buttah on my ancient first generation iPad! Though it doesn't drastically shake things up, Cut the Rope 2 is still one of the finest physics puzzles around, with enough cleverly crafted stages, new elements, and unlockable visual themes to keep you happy for a good long while.

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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Colossatron: Massive World Threat

JohnBIt's Colossatron: Massive World Threat! The creators of Jetpack Joyride have unleashed a mechanical serpent from space on the planet, allowing it to snake its way from city to city as it destroys everything in its path. The best part is you get to participate in said destruction, all by grabbing floating power core segments and attaching them to your machine. It's crazy amounts of fun, but making an efficient robot of chaos will require a little more than wanton color matching.

Colossatron: Massive World ThreatAs Colossatron ravages the landscape, your job is to grab segments that jet by and attach them to the body of the beast. It's as easy as tapping and dragging, but formulating a strategy is just as important as being fast with your fingers. Segments are color coded to show their function. Placing primary colors next to each other causes them to combine and form new units. For example, yellow pulse blasters do a fine job on their own, as do blue lightning spires. Place them side by side and they suddenly merge into a green proximity repair segment, healing damage to nearby cores. This makes location extremely important, so think before you attach!

Between levels, Colossatron: Massive World Threat sends you to the armory to let you upgrade your beast one segment type at a time. You can also repair damage, manually add power cores, reconfigure everything, or even power up segments one by one. All of this costs in-game cash, which you earn by being an efficient little destructor. Colossatron has a simple in-app purchase system that lets you buy prism cores to convert to cash or use to upgrade things in the armory. It's very respectfully integrated into the game, but the prices for bundles might just make your eyes bug out. If you're interested in spending $39 or even $99 on a casual mobile game, you now have your chance. And it's just two quick taps away!

The big numbers in the "micro"-transaction store aside, Colossatron is one of the finest arcade games on the mobile market. It elegantly mixes tactical gameplay with simple color matching and fast-paced levels that last just the right amount of time. Combine that with Halfbrick's flair for drama and comedy and you've got a game you won't mind sitting down with for a few hours at a time.

NOTE: This game was played and reviewed on the 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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Always Room For More

DoraAlways Room For More is a pretty apt name when it comes to Plexus puzzle games, don't you think? This latest is another circus themed, clowns to be specific (Sorry, Sam.), and plays the same as all the others. Just click and drag pieces around the screen to fit them together, and use the [arrow] keys to rotate the last piece you clicked on. As you may have noticed, if you're new to Plexus, this ain't your grandma's jigsaw, and assembling this scene requires paying attention more to outlines and basic shapes than trying to form any coherent scene. Always Room For More isn't quite as chaotic as some of the others Plexus has done, mostly because you're working with what feels like fewer characters, but the abundance of little pieces you'll need to combine to make a complete picture still makes this one challenging. Perfect for kids or anyone just looking for a tricky casual break, Always Room For More is a solid little addition to Plexus' stable of puzzles.

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Chick Hide and Seek 14

TrickyOh, the weather outside is frightful, so naturally, ten little chicks have decided to get nice and toasty inside on this holiday eve. But you've got a big night ahead of you, and it looks like you won't be able to leave until you collect all ten of them. Yuri presents an escape Christmas game special in Chick Hide and Seek 14. In order to escape, search out and click on all ten chicks, some of whom are chilling in obvious view, while others are hiding behind objects or else won't make themselves appear until you solve their puzzles. Those who have played earlier installments of the series will generally know what they're in for: spunky puzzle design and a sense of warm sweetness permeating the experience, balanced out by an interface that may require a lot of random pecking of the halls to puzzle what can and cannot be interacted with. But overall, Chick Hide and Seek 14 has an comforting familiarity to it, like a Christmas card from an old friend or a favorite sweater, and will make a quite nice companion to an afternoon cocoa break.

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DoraA visual novel adventure where you go to school with and potentially date a bunch of characters from NAMCO BANDAI games as the cousin to the star of Katamari Damacy?... hold on a moment. (Slaps self across the chops.)... okay, either this isn't a hallucination, or it is, and just a very persistent one. Either way, welcome to Namco High (requires free registration) from a massive team of talented folk including Homestuck creator Andrew Hussie, Brian Clevinger, Noelle Stevenson, and many, many more. As the game begins, you've gotten yourself in trouble by getting carried away when you tried to emulate your more well known cousin, and find yourself in detention with a bunch of other ruffians. Ruffians like Mr Driller, GALAGA, and Nidia, to name just a few, including a couple from Homestuck itself! But give it a little time and you'll soon discover that these troublemakers are just misunderstood (like you!) and if you persevere and get to know them, who knows... romance might even be in the air! Note that while the game itself is free to play, only six characters are free to date, and all others must be purchased via individual $1.95USD microtransactions, or in packs.

NAMCO HIGHIt goes without saying that Namco High is very, very tongue-in-cheek in a very Hatoful Boyfriend sort of way, although much less straight-faced than Hatoful Boyfriend wound up being. After all, we are talking about a game where a sentient spaceship plays Juliet in the school play, and a sassy drum is the most popular girl around. If you don't know who some of these characters are, don't worry... that's not the point. Just click to advance the screen and make choices, and the game will autosave for you every few minutes. "Cousin" (the default name for your character) is treated as mostly gender-neutral, though a few masculine references are aimed at them, so take from that as you will, though they are equally interested in either males or females themselves!

As a game, Namco High is sort of bare bones, since your choices are comparatively few and limited. Choose to spend time with someone... or not. Keep spending time with them to advance their storyline. That's about it. But where it shines is its sheer goofy energy and design. Though some might find the competing art styles amoung the cast distracting, it adds a wonderful distinct feel to each character and their stories... when tend to be an oddly engaging combination of bizarre and touching across the board, and frequently funny to boot. It would have been nice to have been given more choices that amounted to something beyond "What scene do you want to watch?", since the whole thing winds up feeling mostly like an interactive narrative. It can get frustrating to see your main character decide for themselves how to handle every single situation that arises since it removes that sense of actually being present in and steering the story yourself. Each "route" should probably only take a half hour or so at most to read through.

NAMCO HIGHUnfortunately, Namco High feels like it's being needlessly obstinate about the whole process of playing it. A free account to play with a third party? Ugh, but okay, fine. That's why I have my secret spam e-mail account. Another free account with a separate third party to purchase extra content? Really? If players want to give you money, why on earth wouldn't you streamline the process a little more? At least by allowing you to purchase characters individually (with the perplexing exception of the Homestuck characters) you can pick and choose your favourites instead of forking it over for a bunch of people you aren't interested in. It also lacks a few of the more convenient features common in most other visual novels, such as [spacebar] to advance text, or using the scroll wheel to go back through text, or right-clicking to open a save/load menu... or even being able to save freely, period.

Despite these bumps in design, however, Namco High is still worth checking out. It's clear there was a massive amount of work put into it, and the clever ways they've breathed life into and continued to develop their eclectic cast of characters are impressive. While it's true that the game feels overly silly at times, the way it sneaks depth and insight into itself alongside all the laugh-out-loud humour (watch for a funny cameo by one of Namco Bandai's most iconic heroes at the most unexpected time) is remarkable. If you've ever wanted to schmooze a cagey conspiracy theorist, recite poetry with the universe's emo-est hero, or uncover the secret soul of Mr Diller, Namco High is well worth your time.

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Infectonator Survivors: Christmas

TrickyHoliday-themed previews have a long and glorious history in gaming. Santa Jetpack, Christmas Nights, Jazz Jackrabbit Holiday Hare, Moley Christmas... Indeed, the only thing that seems to be missing is an infusion of the those pesky undead. Well, Toge Productions has finally got us covered on that one in Infectonator Survivors: Christmas! While the Infectonator series is best known for its fast-clicking strategy action, this new off-shoot of the series has a much higher quotient of defense and simulation elements to it. Players take command of a crew of survivors that are as ragtag as they are motley. All they want to do is spend the yuletide season not being munched upon by zombies, but sadly,it looks like it's going to be a bilious green Christmas after all. But maybe if they clear enough locations, collect enough supplies, and fuel up that car they've scavenged, they just might make it to new years.

Lead your squad against waves of undead creatures, killing all of them before they permanently kill you off. Tap characters to select them, then drag them to where you wish them to move, or . Each of the four characters in the squad can also be activated with the [1-4] keys. Each character has different weapons, and their range will be indicated by the circle surrounding them as they move. They will attack enemies automatically. Squad members can also be directed to search sparkly on-screen locations for weapons, supplies or cash. Waves of zombies will attack automatically, though you can call them early manually for a cash bonus. Cash can be used to heal members of the squad or construct gun turrets at the sandbag piles on-screen. You can also call in a military strike by clicking the icon in the lower right, though these are limited. In between levels, you will choose missions to collect food supplies, stockpile fuel to load up your escape car, and
search for a route out of the city...

Infectonator Survivors: ChristmasInfectonator Survivors: Christmas is kind of an odd Christmas Duck. There is a mass of content here, some gorgeous graphics (though in one reviewer's opinion, the anime-styled character portraits clash with the 8-bit stylings of the rest of the graphics), intriguing options for customization, cool randomly generated worlds to explore, and the kind of axe-meets-zombie head action that frankly never gets old. On the other hand though, very little of it is sufficiently explained or balanced quite right. There are weapons that clear the screen, and survivors to recruit that are functionally useless, and discovering which is which will involve a lot of error in your trials. In particular, movement seems like it needs an overhaul, as it can be very fidgety when surrounded by surrounded by enemies, exactly the place players won't want it to be.

Perhaps that is intentional on the part of the developer, in presenting the kind of learning curve expected by the rogue-like genre nowadays, but in all honesty, it feels like part of a deal that's being offered by the developers: we'll give you a look at where we are now with a game that looks like it's going to be a big hit, you shoot us some feedback about what can be improved and, in addition, we'll go ahead and put Santa Hats on everything, which, let's face it, will probably seal it for most. But the flaws stemming from lack of polish are balanced by the humor and charm that has been the series' hallmarks. So consider Infectonator Survivors: Christmas a nice early stocking-stuffer. Just know that the real big ticket gift is still on the way.

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Escape from the Similar Rooms 9

elleEscape from the Similar Rooms 9 continues Hottategoya's minimalist approach to the escape game genre with another triad of logical albeit somewhat simple puzzles centered around one goal: collect three keys to unlock the door and leave the room. Like always, you play by pointing and clicking around the rooms, decoding encountered clues to open a series of boxes wielding the coveted keys. The layout itself is part of the challenge involved, although it's not fully original as an escape-game architectural plan, as anyone who has played through the JIG archives can tell you. Even so, it's a bit of fun for those who don't mind the extra navigational confuddling. Along with Hottategoya's smoothly polished graphics and surreally calm environment, it makes for a very pleasant puzzling respite any time you have 15 minutes to spare.

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The Walking Dead: Season 2

DoraTellTale Games stunned players with their adventure game The Walking Dead when they provided one of the most powerful, emotional, and intense pieces of gaming we'd seen in a long time. Taking place across five episodes and set in the same universe as the hit TV and comic series (though with an entirely new cast of characters and plots), the game focused on Lee, a man shackled by his past and his decisions, and Clementine, the young girl who falls in with him. Now The Walking Dead: Season 2 is finally here and the story is about to continue with the mantle of protagonist resting squarely on the shoulders of young Clementine. The choices you made in Season One carry over to impact her experience here, so make sure you have your save file handy since the game will scan your computer for it once you start or the game will randomly assign choices based on unfinished content. Buying this means you gain access to all the rest of the episodes in the series as they are released over the next year... you're buying an entire season, not just this first installment!

The Walking Dead: Season 2After a short opening sequence, Season 2's Episode One: All That Remains takes an enormous leap forward... sixteen months later, to be exact. Clem's a little older, a little wiser by way of the school of hard knocks, and her situation is even grimmer. Lost and alone in an enormous forest where danger lurks around every corner, Clem has nobody to rely on but herself. Just when things look grimmest, however, Clem finds herself thrown together with a new group of survivors... but with nobody keen on trusting her, and everyone seemingly keeping their own secrets, was she better off on her own?

Although played traditionally like a point-and-click adventure, The Walking Dead incorporates some action elements to its design. You'll move with [WASD], holding [shift] to run (LIES), and interact by clicking on the action you want to perform from the context menus over objects, cycling through inventory with the mouse wheel. During conversations, you'll frequently be given choices to make... they could be as simple as deciding how to act towards someone, or as complex as who lives and dies. In most cases, you'll have a limited time to respond by clicking your option, and not saying anything by waiting for the white bar beneath the dialogue to vanish simply counts as staying silent... a choice in itself. Characters will remember things you've told them, making lying a dangerous game, and everything impacts how the story plays out. The game autosaves for you, and if you die like, say, during one of the game's fast-paced action sequences that cause you to move and make choices or hit keys quickly, you'll be booted back to the last checkpoint.

The Walking Dead: Season 2Analysis: As a little girl, Clem is threatened by and more vulnerable to far more things than an adult. Clem is also an incredibly resourceful, tough, and determined little girl, however, capable of saving herself. Season Two's Clem is someone whose outlook and priorities have noticeably shifted as a result of what she's gone through. The ways the game subtly shows how she's changed, from the way she talks to people to the way she reacts to things, are both heartbreaking and realistic. The focus in episode one is simply survival, and while that's far from a bad goal to have, it does make the plot feel a little directionless at the moment. It sort of feels like this episode is mostly just establishing things without really getting any sort of ball rolling, and it does a lot of trying to make you flinch. People who are sensitive specifically to violence against animals may find this episode hard to take.

The Walking Dead: Season 2All That Remains feels particularly action-heavy, with multiple scenes that force you to react quickly to keep Clem alive. In keeping with Season One, there isn't much puzzling solving to be done here, and the minor changes to the game's UI don't feel like they impact the gameplay significantly. I was initially excited to see the run function be introduced just to speed up movement, but honestly all it does is turn Clem's lazy saunter into a mildly quicker shuffle. Any real difficulty the game has to offer simply comes from overcoming its quick time events or mashing buttons, neither of which is particularly difficult. It would have been nice to see the game offer a few more cerebral challenges, but as it is, it's more action focused than anything else.

It is, in short, still the same game, just with new faces. None of them really get a chance to establish themselves yet except in the broadest possible strokes, but they're filling in with bits and pieces that serve to intrigue you and make you want to know more. It doesn't necessarily feel like Clem has, at least right now, been given the sort of heavyweight decisions Lee had to deal with right away, so most of your time is simply spent figuring out how to talk to people... something that's harder than it sounds. After all, you're a few years into ye olde zombie apocalypse by now, and everyone is more than a little on edge, and looking out for themselves. The tone can switch from calm to shockingly violent fast enough to give you whiplash, and as a result you're constantly on edge waiting for something to happen. In contrast to Season One's violence, which was often brutal but fast, Season Two seems to linger more on pain up close and personal in a way that almost feels... voyeuristic?

It took me around two hours to play through this episode, and it did seem like it ended very abruptly. It's a grim, dark experience from start to finish, in a world where bad things happen for no reason, and sometimes you have to do ugly, dirty things in order to survive. As things stand, most of the influences from my save file from the previous season felt, largely, pretty subtle, though the preview of the upcoming episode seems to imply that could all change. I don't feel as immediately hooked on this as I did before because I'm not sure where it's going, but I am very intrigued. It remains to be seen what kind of story Clem has to carry, considering she was the ultimate "goal" of the first season, but The Walking Dead: Season 2 comes out swinging and looking to fight, and stands to serve up every ounce of the emotional beating the original did as it gathers momentum.

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Hero in the Ocean

Starchild Once upon a time there was a film called Yellow Submarine, considered a classical work of psychedelic animation. Also considered so thoroughly freakish that it has people (yours truly included) covering their eyes and ears every time they so much as get a whiff of it. If you're one of those traumatised souls, help yourself to a generous dose of Hero in the Ocean, a soothing, sort-of-physics puzzler starring a completely different yellow submarine. All you'll be doing is using the [arrow] or [WASD] keys to float around the deep blue sea, collect stars and pick up divers. It's much needed therapy.

Hero in the Ocean Hero in the Ocean doesn't give you much by way of story, but don't let that stop you. What matters here is the atmosphere, which is very subtle and, at the same time, very lovely. It turns out you don't need much to create a feeling of quiet serenity: just some cool, shady ocean depths, swaying seaweed and sweet, tranquil music. The basic goal is to find a diver hidden somewhere in each mazelike level and find all three stars if you're so inclined, but you can also try to locate secret areas which hold trophies or, less often, a star. The puzzles go hand in hand with the ambiance, which means they are less than difficult, though still charming, and certainly varied enough to keep you intrigued. The game will occasionally throw a guided missile or a laser beam at you, just to keep you on your toes and change the tempo a little, but Hero in the Ocean is casual through and through – cute as a button, with perfect mechanics and interesting puzzles. And not an animated Beatle in sight.

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Greedy Sheriffs

KimberlySome sheriffs are good, others are bad, and still others are greedy. We're dealing with the latter in Greedy Sheriffs, a clever puzzle game by trio Vitaliy Vengura, Taras Polovko, and Dmytro Strembetsky. While ruffians and highwaymen no doubt are causing chaos top-side, these law men are deep in a cave seeking treasure. Your goal is to get each sheriff to the corresponding gem of his color within a certain number of steps. Click and drag to mark a path for a sheriff to follow. If you notice a flaw in your path, press the [spacebar] to make the sheriff stop in his tracks so you can reroute him. If you get stuck or make a fatal mistake, click the reset button or press [R] to restart a level. Stars, needed to unlock more levels, are rewarded depending upon how many steps you you took to solve each level.

Greedy SheriffsThere are 40 levels to solve in all, provided you can make your way past trolls, through portals, and across disappearing walkways. These added gameplay elements give a good amount of variety to the levels. Though some puzzles present an obvious solution, others cause you to stop and think while carefully planning out your route. Even if you think a sheriff should be stopping a bank robbery rather than spelunking, Greedy Sheriffs is a very enjoyable way to get your puzzle fix.

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The Vault

TrickySometimes I feel a little down during the holiday season; the holiday to which I am referring to, of course, being Saturnalia. I worry that during the lectisternium, the couch upon which I put my favored diety's image is not sumptuous enough. I worry that the sigillaria I've gotten for my brethren aren't ones they already have. And, of course, I grew pretty sick of Saturnalia carols, ever since they started putting them on the radio the day after the Epulum Jovis. But all the great games in the JayIsGames archives are there whenever I need a pick-me-up (and the Steam Hiems Sale hasn't yet started). This week, The Vault is featuring excellent platform, driving, and action games fit for the emperor himself.

  • SeppuKutiesSeppuKuties - SeppuKuties, the 2008 platform game by Antony Lavelle, is one of the most adorably dark and demented works ever released to a browser window, which is probably why I love it so dearly. So many cute animals! So many cute animals throwing themselves onto spikes and/or lava! So many cute animals using the corpses of cute animals who've thrown themselves onto spikes and/or lava as stepping stones! Subverted cuteness may be a bit of an overdone trope. But backed by cunning level design and gorgeous cartoon art, though, SeppuKuties will deliver that special brand of laughter that you really hope you won't have to justify to another human being.
  • Indestruct 2 TankIndestruct 2 Tank - So many games try to get you to not crash into stuff, which is odd, because everyone knows it's much more fun TO crash into stuff. Case in point: Indestruct 2 Tank, a 2007 romp of a driving/stuff-blowing-up game by Armor Games. Now, of course the original has a special place in my heart, from back when I was a wee NewerGrounder, but so much comes together to make the sequel a superior experience: explosions, combination explosions, a story that's even funnier when it tries to take itself seriously, and rescuing the president from the enemy's rock crusher. It's the simple joys in life, man.
  • The SnowriderThe Snowrider - All. My. Friends. Should play The Snowrider. Because it's a great little action minigame that was released by Orsinal back in 2002, and the perfect thing to play now that snow has begun to blanket the midwest metropolis where I hang my hat. It has everything that gave Orsinal the deserved reputation of an innovator in the field of bringing artistic styling into games, and turning games into works of art: evocative landscapes, a vibrant main character, and music just the right level of bouncy annoyingness that it'll stick in your head all day. I don't know what's at the bottom of the hill there, but I sure as heck gonna make sure that mouse lives to see it.

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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elleGive me doors! More doors! Mooore dooors! That sounds like something a mad doctor would scream out, tearing at his prematurely white hair and cackling, doesn't it? Perhaps this same mad doctor is who locked you up in the first place, leaving you to your own devices should you wish to escape. It's no use, though: figure your way through one door only to come to the next, and the next. As a matter of fact, DOOORS 3 has forty doors to be exact, which brings boundless more escaping fun to your mobile device.

DOOORS 3Part of the original "clear-the-stage" escape game series from 58 Works, this episode is so far the best of the bunch. It combines logically-designed puzzles, interesting aesthetics and a smooth, intuitive interface, all exuding 58 Works' stellar quality. Aside from a few deviations, the difficulty ramp is a steady slope upwards, beginning with the easiest task—open a door, walk through it—and progressing toward more complicated mental tests. Stages sometime require point-and-click adventure-style feats of finding a useful item and using it properly, other times you'll need to decipher codes and work out puzzle solutions, and sometimes you'll need to shake, tilt or otherwise manipulate your mobile device to unlock the door in front of you. The combination of simplicity and cleverness makes DOOORS 3 both relaxing and maddening, and definitely worth having handy on your mobile device. For those moments, whenever they come up, that you need more door!

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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A Bonte Christmas

DoraMerry Bontemas everybody! That's when we celebrate whenever Bart Bonte releases a new game, and his latest Christmas game, A Bonte Christmas, is definitely going to spread a little holiday cheer. The aim of this puzzler is to gather the ornaments your be-skirted friend asks you to find on each level. It starts out simply enough, and it surely plays simply, just using either [WASD] or the [arrow] keys to move around, but there's a catch. You can't just go gathering balls up willy nilly (stop that sniggering), you have to pay attention to the order they're being requested in, and even figure out ways to make them properly patterned and organised using the environment.

A Bonte ChristmasIf there's anyone who could possibly make Christmas any swankier or cuter than Bart Bonte in this stylish and clever little puzzler, I can't think of them. He's basically mastered the art of making clean, deceptively simple puzzle games with elegant designs, and A Bonte Christmas showcases this like a champ. How about that soundtrack, daddy-o? The basic concept is actually a little bit like a hands-on Factory Balls, and while it has a more gentler difficulty curve than you might expect, A Bonte Christmas offers challenge enough to keep you thinking as it progresses by injecting little twists here and there and rearranging the familiar level setup.

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The Gold Factory

Doragamehelp16's The Gold Factory should look pretty familiar since it's yet another clicktoy inspired by heavyweight Candy Box! (how often do you start your own genre in gaming?), but it's got its own share of surprises waiting for the patient. Able to run by itself in another window or tab, all The Gold Factory initially does is generate gold bars, but if you experiment by clicking on the little facilities on your screen, you'll soon find you have more options than you think.

The Gold Factory is surprisingly a bit more in depth than its sneakier brethren right up front. Buy a sword with sufficient gold bars and you can hack up rats for your boss, or test your brain by solving ciphers for him... either activity will make him happy, and happy means more gold for you, which you'll need in massive quantities to progress. The Gold Factory does, then, wind up being a lot more hands-on than other games of its type as well, so you'll need to pay more attention... as well as think a bit more if you want to solve those ciphers, most of which are based on specific methods you may need to look up to solve. The cipher concept is actually neat, though their answers are... odd... and you still might run across the occasional typo. It's quirky, goofy, and weird, all of which you should take as endorsements, and offers a charming take on a popular style of game with its own secrets, challenges, and... pizzas?

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Mobile Monday

JohnBSonic's back! Again! You knew Sega would never let him die. He can't, he's too fast. Plus, a new game from Halfbrick is on the way, and an awesome puzzle game wiggles its way to Android.

colossatronColossatron's arrival is imminent - Colossatron: Massive World Threat is on its way. The upcoming game from Jetpack Joyride developer Halfbrick tells the tale of a powerful creature that arrives from space with one goal in mind: destroy all the stuff! Control this massive snake as you shape it to overcome every obstacle thrown in its path. Guaranteed to be more fun than it sounds, and since it sounds like a bunch of drunken monkeys in a barrel, it'll be awesome. Look for Colossatron this Thursday on iOS and Android.

jellynopuzzle-p.gifJelly no Puzzle on Android - Qrostar's unique and extremely challenging puzzle game Jelly no Puzzle has made its way to Android devices, courtesy of Jelly Crew! The goal is simply to combine all the jelly blocks on each level by sliding jellys back and forth. They can't jump, but they'll fall off ledges and can stand on top of one another. Once a jelly touches another of the same color, they merge into a larger one and can't be separated, which means that they may not fit into places they previously did... or block the way for others. All the awesomeness of the original downloadable game, packed into your pocket.

sonic2-p.gifSonic 2 on iOS - Remastered and re-tooled for the touch screen, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 was recently released for iOS devices. Kind of a strange concept, but you'll be amazed at how good this looks. And controls, for that matter, although it's never ideal missing out on physical buttons for a speed-based platformer. The game includes a few extras, like a boss attack mode and support for two players, but the real kicker is the inclusion of the Hidden Palace Zone, an area that was scrapped from the original release!

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Fiz: The Brewery Management Game

HopefulNebulaHave you ever wanted to just drop everything and make a career out of doing something you love? Well, if you love beer or time management games (or beer and time management games), you're in luck. Developer Bit By Bit Studios has released Fiz: The Brewery Management Game, where you can live out your beery dreams without risking your life savings in the process.

Fiz: The Brewery Management GameGameplay is straightforward, and the tutorial makes it easy to pick up. Choose your recipe (or try to guess a new one) based on what ingredients you have and what you think will sell. You'll always have four workers at any given time, and you don't even have to pay the ones you start with. Assign employees to job stations based on their skills; the more suited each employee is to their job, the higher quality your beer will be. Once the beer is brewed and fermented, you can either put the batch in storage or choose where you're going to sell it. This is the trickiest part of the game, as you need to balance the needs of your customers with your own financial needs. There are stocking and recycling fees to consider, as well as the fact that some markets are only open part-time.

Fiz: The Brewery Management GameOne of the biggest things that makes Fiz different from most modern games of its type, though is that there are no microtransactions and no forced waiting periods. While beer takes time to brew and sell, you're never encouraged to pay to avoid a long wait. You can also pause the game whenever you want, and the game pauses whenever you leave, so you can take as much time as you need to decide who's in charge of the bottling station and who gets to mash the hops. The world of Fiz is small, but densely packed. The recurring characters bring a lot of life to the short cutscenes they're in, and the huge variety of recipes and stores means you'll be doing a lot of research and experimentation if you want to sell the best beer in the city. And when you beat the game, you get the option to start over in New Game plus mode, so you can keep things hopping with barley any interruption.

Fiz has a quirky sense of humor reminiscent of the Diner Dash series. It's hard not to smile at the person at the fermenting station saying "Dance, little yeasties!" or the beer called "Siegel's Hoptometrist." But Fiz has a lot more under its hood than adorable pixel graphics and punny beer names. It's one of the most sensible time management games that's been released in the last couple years. The gameplay is well-balanced and presents challenges organically as you become able to complete them, so there's no frustration at being given impossible tasks and no boredom when there's no challenge to fulfill.

NOTE: This game was played and reviewed on the LG Optimus L9. 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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Neon Doors

GrinnypRoom Escaping is fun, but it can be a lot of effort. I mean, all that walking and turning, and looking at things, it's exhausting! Wouldn't it be nice if escaping could be whittled down to simply trying to open a bunch of doors? Wait, a genre like that already exists? Well, a new puzzle game has joined the field, Neon Doors by Mobest Media. (Also available for free as Surreal Escape for iOS and Android) For those couch potatoes to whom actually walking a few steps is too much effort, Neon Doors has narrowed the gameplay to simply figuring out one puzzle to get through each door.

Less physical than Dooors and others of that ilk, Neon Doors is more esoteric, featuring more cerebral puzzles, some so abstract that you don't even see the actually doorway until the puzzle is solved. Featuring the standard point-and-click interface (which includes some nifty clicking and dragging or clicking and holding), Neon Doors is a fun escape for those who appreciate more cerebral pursuits.

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Doctor Who: Legacy

DoraLet's get this straight right away... the free iOS and Android game Doctor Who: Legacy is basically Marvel Puzzle Quest: Dark Reign, which in turn was just Puzzle Quest. It's a turn-based match-3 RPG game chock-a-block full of collectible characters from BBC's beloved sci-fi adventure series, centering around the plot that the Doctor has to travel through space and time to assemble all of his friends and former Companions to thwart a war that threatens... well, everything. If you're hoping for some epic universe-trotting adventure where you'll get to participate in exciting stories and action sequences... well, this isn't that. But if you want some simple, addictive gameplay and some "gotta catch 'em all" style fever on top of some stunning artwork, Doctor Who: Legacy is still worth checking out.

Doctor Who: LegacyGameplay is simple enough, consisting of matching coloured tokens that correspond to different characters in your party to deal damage against opponents. The more matches and combos you make in a single turn, the more that damage is multiplied... even if the tokens you made a combo with don't match the colour of the character dealing damage! You can drag a token anywhere on the field, making matches even if the tokens you want aren't adjacent. Enemies may deal damage, inflict status effects, alter the board, and so forth. Characters can unleash special abilities once a certain number of rounds has passed, and you can match pink tokens to heal your party. Your party's health is determined by the characters that make it up, and of course, different characters have different strengths and abilities. As you win battles, party members that participate will level up, both learning new skills and earning points you can choose to distribute to raise their statistics. By spending certain amounts of coloured Time Fragments, you can also improve their Rank and thus unlock new abilities for them, and at certain level milestones they'll be boosted dramatically. You can only have one Doctor active in your party at a team, and he only has Ranks rather than levels as well.

Some characters will automatically join you as you play through the game, while others must be won as rare drops from battles, or outright purchased through microtransactions if you're impatient. While a lot of the big name characters are harder to get, like River Song, the game is actually pretty solid about delivering fan-favourite characters freely on a regular basis as you play, like Madame Vastra and Jenny. Other characters are more of a disappointment... hooray, a random unnamed Ood and an unnamed soldier! Still, each character can be valuable when you take their strengths and colours into account... some are best brought along for their healing statistic, while others are powerhouse of attacks and can be devastating when combined with another character who uses the same token. The developers also periodically issue free codes you can redeem for special characters, outfits, episodes, time crystals (also won in battles and used to purchase things), and more.

Doctor Who: LegacyDoctor Who: Legacy is a game whose reception is going to be determined by your expectations and what you actually wanted it to be. We've been dying for a big, epic, Doctor adventure, and, well, this ain't it, but that doesn't necessarily mean that it's a bad game. That being said, however, what people love about Doctor Who is the story, and having its beloved characters reduced to little more than pretty sprites on the screen that might spout a single line in the course of the game stings. Rory will join your party, for instance, but there's no tearful reunion, not even a single mention or reaction to it. There's no interaction between characters beyond a few plot-centric lines, and considering how varied the cast is here, it's an enormous missed opportunity. It's Doctor Who without the heart and soul, at which point you've got to ask yourself... is it really still Doctor Who?

The biggest complaint I actually have with the game, as the game it is rather than the game I'd want it to be, right after "THE DOCTOR DOESN'T FIGHT AND DESTROY ENEMIES", is that the main UI feels a little clunky, with separate screens and menus for everything that are a little tedious to click through. Why can't we immediately apply skill points when a character levels up instead of having to navigate to a different menu? Did the TARDIS menu really need to be separate from your Party menu? The game itself takes a long time before it offers any sort of challenge, with most of the difficulty coming from how low the heal bonuses are, but it does have a satisfying amount of depth to it when you start taking colours and special abilities into account. Each stage is actually carefully designed in terms of the colours it offers the most of and the enemies you face as to encourage you to develop strategies with different teams of characters best suited for the job. You can replay levels until you're blue in the face to grind items and levels, which is a good thing since some of those random rare drops can take a long time to get.

Doctor Who: Legacy is fun, if simple, but best approached by fans as a game about collectibles since it's impossible to care about the plot. The game earns points for being fairly liberal with its item and character drops, as well the Time Crystals the store will sell you more of, so it never really feels like you're being nagged to spend cash. Since everything can be earned through playing, the only reason to pay for Time Crystals is if you want a particular character right away, or don't want to grind for the fragments necessary to upgrade. If you lose a battle, you're just booted back to try again. The developers are clearly extremely dedicated to the game (most recently developing their own keyboard to work around a bug Android users experienced), as well as taking in player feedback. It's clear they care about what they're working on. Though it may not be the game we're still wishing and hoping for, Doctor Who: Legacy is still gorgeous and entertaining as a stylish match-3 game without the typical restrictions of a free-to-play title.

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.

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Go Repo

DoraYou might not expect The Podge's to make a TruTV reality show-esque action-y game like Go Repo, but, well, there you go. You're put in charge of a three person repo crew that has to gather and repossess a certain cash amount of items on each level within a certain amount of time, while dealing with angry homeowners who really don't approve of the way you're smashing windows, carrying off their cupboards, and dropping knees into their abdomens. Your three different characters each have special abilities. Stompy can knock down anyone in her way (other characters have to throw items at people), 'Fro Fred can jump higher, and Meathead is the only one who can carry big items like cars or heavy furniture. You can swap between them when you're standing near their van with "/" or by clicking on their portraits.

Go RepoUse [WASD] or the [arrow] keys to move, [N] to pick up and throw items into the van at any distance (as long as the way is clear and you're on the same level), and [M] to drop items out of open windows to be retrieved later. As you might expect, people object to you carting off their stuff, and if you're still around when they get home, they'll try to stop you by temporarily knocking you out, which costs you time, and if you're knocked down too many times you won't be able to use that character again for the rest of the level. Each character has a special move you can activate when their meter is full, or you can use Stompy or toss an item to temporarily knock them down, but doing so costs you money, so it's best to move fast and work around them whenever possible and keep, ahem, interactions to a minimum.

Go Repo is a neat idea, but its biggest flaw might be that some of the level restrictions feel a little tight. Not so much time as money, since if you accidentally destroy an item or two and accidentally knock down a homeowner when you don't mean to, you won't have enough to finish a level and might as well restart. The same applies to accidentally getting a character you need to reach important items or places KO'd. Of course, this difficulty is intentional, it just means the game might be a bit too fiddly for some, though if you fail a level three times you'll at least be offered the option of skipping it. What's interesting is that levels feel more like puzzles than a timed grab-n-go. Since delivering certain objects to the game gives you a time bonus, figuring out the best way to navigate levels with a minimal of hassle and what items are worth prioritizing, and the level design is fairly tight in this regard. Throw in some useful items like conveyor belts and some quirky, colourful design and you have a weird but fun little game once you get the hang of it.

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Weekend Download

JohnBBig-time happy party theme! Even if there's a murder, a party's a party, right? It just might be a little more grim than usual. Plus, everyone's wearing black, but that's a thing, isn't it? A thing hip, cool people that ride skateboards do.

partyrunParty Run (Windows, free) - It's party time! Created for a Game Jolt competition, Party Run is an endless runner that turns to the party world for inspiration. Jump and slide across the dance floor as you collect coins and avoid obstacles that come sliding your way. Nab a few power-ups and activate special modes, such as the super special angle mode! Surprisingly exciting for such a simple game, and it's actually kind of nice to see an endless runner outside of the mobile marketplaces.

supercleancleanSuper Clean Clean (Windows, free) - Time to clean up the mess! A jittery protagonist must sweep and pick up all the debris during a party that rages on until four in the morning. Empty soda cans, bags of garbage, even piles of puke need to be scrubbed clean before everyone's drowning in the stuff. It takes a few minutes to get used to the buttery controls, but soon you'll be sweeping and washing like a pro.

masquerademanorMurder at Masquerade Manor (Windows, free) - A party of a different sort, Murder at Masquerade Manor sends you, the inspector, to a masked ball just as the host is murdered. Now you've got to talk to everyone there, as each is a suspect, and each is suspicious. Piece together clues by asking them questions, then accuse someone of the crime and hope you get it right. The best part is the murderer is randomly chosen each time you play, so there's reason to go back and j'accuse again!

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The Room Two

JohnBThe Room is back! After Fireproof Game's wildly successful 2012 mobile point-and-click puzzle game, the team got to work on a sequel. The Room Two is now ready to impress, taking just about everything that made the original so perfect and making it even better. Dozens of layered puzzles to solve, multiple boxes in each room, a spyglass to give you a new perspective on locations, and the same dark, haunting atmosphere that make the games so irresistible.

The Room TwoEach chapter in The Room Two features sets of boxes you must figure out how to unlock. It's more than just "find key, insert into keyhole, celebrate", as each of these containers is riddled with tiered puzzles to solve, often requiring pieces to be brought in from elsewhere. Even the word "box" is a bit of a misnomer, as you'll be pulling apart everything from model ships to treasure chests to entire table tops. Oh, and plenty of actual boxes, too.

Navigation is an elegant affair with The Room Two. To shift from one box to another, simply pinch to zoom out, just like you're browsing a web page on that fancy mobile device of yours. Tap and drag to look around each area. Double tap to zoom in on an item of interest, then slide your finger to take a look at the object from different angles. You can also interact with many objects, such as pulling out drawers, flipping levers, taking off lids, rotating inventory items, etc.

A handy spyglass quite literally adds a new layer to every puzzle. Certain clues can only be seen by swapping the lens, sort of like those old decoder puzzles you'd get in your cereal (if you ate the fun cereal as a kid). This not only forces you to look beyond the puzzle you're trying to solve, it also contributes to the tightly-knit spaces that give The Room Two such a brilliantly claustrophobic feeling. The walls aren't closing in on you, you just feel like it's those boxes and you, nothing else exists.

The Room TwoAnalysis: The Room Two is such a brilliantly crafted work of art, it's difficult to even draw comparisons to other games in the genre. The production values are extraordinarily high, featuring detailed models with lighting effects that make objects look eerily realistic. The atmosphere is unparalleled. Spotlights illuminate only the boxes you're working on, leaving everything else sitting just beyond the shadow line, teasing your mind with what secrets are behind the veil. Finish the chapter and you just might find out.

The touch interface works really well for The Room Two, although it does feel slightly sluggish from time to time. There's an integrated hint system that appears after several moments of inactivity, pointing you in the right direction without spoiling things right away. It's the perfect brand of nudging games like this need, allowing you to do things on your own but whispering secrets in your ear so you don't get frustrated.

If you've played through The Room, you'll immediately notice that The Room Two is a bit more straightforward than its predecessor, despite featuring multi-boxed chapters. Puzzles seem to fall into place with less effort and thought, and since your attention is divided between multiple areas, some of that razor focus is lost. Still, it's not a disappointing sequel by any means.

Quiet, mysterious, layered with intrigue, and delightfully cerebral. The Room Two knocks everything up a notch for the room escape genre.Unlocking boxes has never been this complex or provocative. And we never want it to end!

NOTE: This game was played and reviewed on the 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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I Quit! Must Dash!

TrickyWhen the evil aliens came and took over Arthur Stone's company, he tried to endure the changes. Hawaiian Shirt Fridays? Gone. The free bagels in the break room? Gone. The randomly scattered acid pits? For some reason, still here. But this latest announcement, that his prized mustache will be the latest victim of their corporate malfeasance? Well that's a step too far! Tender your resignation and escape the building in I Quit! Must Dash!, a one-button retro platformer by Casino Jack. In each level, Arthur will constantly move forward in his attempts to get to the office exit, reversing every time he hits a wall. You'll control his jumps by clicking the mouse or with the [spacebar]. A quick tap will make for a short jump, while holding it will make for a long jump.

I Quit! Must Dash!Each level will have hazards to avoid, ranging from acid pits to saw blades to alien co-workers. There are also pay slips to collect across the game's 35, which will unlock bonuses and secret gameplay modes. I Quit! Must Dash! also comes with a level editor to make office escapes of your own. Though the gameplay presented in I Quit! Must Dash! will be familiar to those who have played some of its one-button brethren, it has some well designed levels and the inclusion of the various unlockables will drive players straight through the end. Some minor improvements would have helped: Arthur starts off each level running, which can often lead to a death even before you've seen the lay of the land, and some of the time trial challenges require perfect timing of the kind not possible by this butter-fingered player. Still, with its whimsical humor and tough-but-fair challenge level, I Quit! Must Dash! is a must play for anyone who's ever felt like just another brick in the gleaming corporate wall.

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Live Puzzle 2 Christmas Edition

Starchild On a cold, grey afternoon, there's nothing like a nice jigsaw puzzle to entertain you, especially if it's the new Live Puzzle 2 Christmas Edition by Pipkin Games. If you haven't played the two previous installments, here's the trick: the pictures are moving, and even though the puzzles are short and sweet, solving them still takes a nice bit of time. It's a simple idea, but a wonderfully executed one. The animations are invariably pretty, imaginative and lend themselves perfectly to the quirky gameplay. Now, with the holiday theme, they are extra lovable and might be ever so slightly more complicated than usually, but overall, the Christmas Edition doesn't stray from the familiar formula. After all, with such joyful images and flawless mechanics, Live Puzzle is one of those game series we turn to when we want to be cheered up, and it hasn't failed us yet. So grab a cup of hot chocolate and get cracking!

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Link Dump Fridays

DoraOh indie devs oh indie devs, how lovely are your game-ys. You give them to us free of charge, and you never even complain-ys. With aliens, and big boss fights, old retro dungeons, and desperate piggy flights. Oh indie devs oh indie devs, you truly are so awesome.

  • Tiny Dangerous DungeonsTiny Dangerous Dungeons - On the one hand, Adventure Island's adorable retro action game is exactly like a Gameboy Classic from the way it plays to the way it feels, but on the other hand... uh... exactly like a Gameboy Classic from the way it plays to the way it feels, which means it comes with all the frustrating issues like floaty jumping and simplistic gameplay on top of all that fantastic old school charm. Looking for something truly dedicated to being old school? This one has everything to take that title and is as lovingly crafted an homage to classic handheld gaming as you could wish.
  • Outpost SwarmOutpost Swarm - So you want to play Squize's addictive and freaky top-down horror shooter Outpost series but without all that story and scenery change? Can do! This is essentially an arena shooter that asks you to hold out as long as you can against waves of mandible-gnashing baddies, upgrading your equipment along the way. Just move fast and shoot faster, or it's game over, man!
  • Boss 101Boss 101 - Donley Time Foundation's upgraderrific shooter is exactly what it says on the tin... a near-endless progression of boss fights, all of which are randomly generated, that you take on with a jetpack and increasing arsenal! The style is great, and seeing what bizarro bosses the game crafts for you is always fun, even if most of them tend to go down in the blink of an eye.
  • Save Merlin the Pig!Save Merlin the Pig! - Leigh Alexander penned this snarky, silly choose-your-own-adventure about a night out that goes horribly, horribly wrong for a pair of "foodies" who discover that a nearby restaurant is taking a rather... uh... unusual approach to marketing its menu. The writing is snappy, though some might find some of its humor a bit too forced and satirical, but others will appreciate the bizarro adventure.

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The Novelist

DoraOrthogonal Games' unique indie stealth adventure The Novelist is initially sort of weird to describe. The Kaplans, Dan and his wife and their young son, have just moved to their new summer home. But you're not playing as them. You're playing as the ghost in the house that's trying to avoid detection, while at the same time attempting to manipulate their lives by reading their minds and subtly intervening in events around them. But what do you decide to do with this ability? None of the choices are as simple as they seem on the surface, and none of them are easy. You might be able to reach a compromise, but keeping everyone happy when everyone wants something for themselves is far, far harder than you'd think

The NovelistIf you just want to enjoy the story, you can choose to play the game in story mode and wander about freely without fear of being spotted. If you're playing in stealth mode, however, you'll have to sneak and Ghost Trick your way around the Kaplans, hopping from light fixture to light fixture to stay out of sight. The game doesn't restrict you by distance, just line of sight, so you can zip up to a lamp on the other side of the house as long as your view isn't blocked. The game is divided up into twelve chapters over the course of the family's vacation, and each chapter deals with a specific problem the family is facing, and everyone wants something different. In addition to reading their thoughts, if you sneak up behind someone you can actually enter their memories, hunting down snippets and scenes to give you insight. Once you've figured out who you want to side with and what they want, choosing the appropriate item will make night fall, which allows you to explore the house (and potentially uncover certain other secrets) and either whisper your choice to Dan, or choose one of the other family members' wants to make a compromise... provided you haven't spooked them, of course.

The NovelistAnalysis: Largely, the stealthy aspect of the game doesn't really add much to it because it's never a challenge even later in the game when some lights are disabled. Characters are slow enough that you can zip or even just run all around and possess them without ever needing a distraction, so it winds up just feeling sort of tacked on rather than integral or interesting. I felt the sting of being unable to replay specific chapters when a bug locked me out of being able to make either compromise even though both were available to me as well. Finding a compromise that works well is the most challenging part of the game, and one I struggled with since at times I felt like fate did not want these people to be happy together. The difficulties with trying to make sure everyone got what they needed, both as individuals and a family, did feel realistic, though at the same time it all seemed to come down to a lack of communication. Some instances felt like manufactured drama as a result, a "my way or the highway" scenario where someone is going to lose versus, you know, forcing everyone to sit down and talk about it instead of letting everything fester.

The Novelist paints its cast with broad strokes and limited interactions in a way that might both make it easier for some players to project while making it harder for others to connect. It's a unique game, and not a particularly long one at around two hours to make it through once without taking replayability into account, and best suited for players who prefer quiet introspection and subtle character drama. It's a dreamy, thoughtful game filled with moments of sweetness and joy alongside the bitterness and hurt, and "winning" is less about finding some magic combination for all the characters as it is simply doing your best to understand and accommodate them even knowing that in some cases, it might not be enough. At times it feels more like an interactive art piece than anything else, and if you can disengage the "High Score/Achievement Get" part of your brain long enough to see yourself in each of the characters, it can be an engrossing and moving experience. Though I had difficulty making a bridge at times between my own feelings and those of Dan and his family, The Novelist is still without a doubt a heartfelt and very personal sort of game that has the potential to move people who have the patience and experience for it.

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Merry Clickmas

DoraGeoffrey White's Merry Clickmas is a Christmas-themed clicktoy like Cookie Clicker, albeit more on a simplified scale. There's nobody but you at the North Pole to make and wrap a staggering 7.1 billion presents in time for the holidays, and initially all you can do is make and wrap presents one by one, click by click. But the more you make, the more upgrades you'll unlock, from merry elves who'll make and wrap autonomously (faster if you queue up some happy seasonal tunes!) to assembly lines, new machines, shop expansions, and more. It's a bit slower paced than other games in the genre, and potentially a bit too bare-bones as far as any real surprises go, but if you don't save the world one reindeer decoration and automated packing arm at a time, who will?

Merry Clickmas

Thanks to Zzzzz and Ted for sending this one in!

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Crash TV

Starchild Crash TV is a lot like The Brave Little Toaster. Except that our brave little TV set is all alone. And roaming around some sort of grim warehouse. And there are lasers and spikes. All right, maybe it's not like The Brave Little Toaster after all. But it's certainly a high difficulty platformer about a small household appliance in search of something great. Use the [arrow] or [WASD] keys to move, jump and upgrade/exit levels, and the mouse to release a grappling hook.

For a relatively difficult game, Crash TV isn't all that frustrating. The most swearworthy, rage-inducing feature must be the grappling hook, which gives it a more Give Up, Robot vibe. It's a tad difficult to coordinate a mouse-based element with the rest of the keyboard-driven game, and some practice is required before you can hang between two sets of wonderfully sharp spikes without being ripped to shreds. Once you master this, everything else becomes much easier. This is not to say that the difficulty drops, but rather that Crash TV, with its uncomplicated design and one-screen-per-level policy lets you enjoy the experience instead of deliberately making it nearly impossible. Sure, it will probably still make you groan in despair once or twice, but the effort-reward ratio is just satisfying enough to keep you going. Plus, you can't let down the poor little TV set.

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Jerry's Merry Christmas

SonicLoverJerry of Jerry's Merry Christmas, today's point-and-click adventure from Carmel Games, really gets into the holidays. His house is fully decorated for Christmas, and he even broke out the green snowflake sweater. The only thing that's missing is a piece of mistletoe hanging on the wall, and he's going to need your help with that one. The whole thing is mouse-controlled (except for one part that uses the keyboard): click around, pick up inventory items and use them, and eventually collect everything Jerry needs to finish his task.

Jerry's merry ChristmasThis has everything that makes a Carmel Game a Carmel Game: a stylish mix of flat-colored and shaded graphics, puzzles that are mostly logical but with one or two trip-ups, a few humorous surprises, and a changing cursor to reduce troublesome pixel-hunting. Relatively new is the possibility of dying a painful death by taking a poorly reasoned course of action, but the game is kind enough to provide you with an "undo" button to combat that happenstance. It is much shorter than most of Carmel's work (The Proposal and Vortex Point: Far Journeys come to mind), but perhaps that's a good thing; this developer's work seems to be better in small packages. But we've been keeping Jerry waiting for long enough; it's time to get into the Christmas mood!

Play Jerry's Merry Christmas

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Angry Birds Go!

JohnBThey've been knocking over piggie buildings for years. Isn't it about time those birds did something crazier? Rovio sure thinks so, and with Angry Birds Go! the feathered flappers take to the hills in a wild racing game with karts a-plenty. It's got power-ups, a variety of modes, multiple vehicles to choose from and customize, and yeah, piggies to torment. All in the name of a first prize cake!

Angry Birds Go!Choose from tilt- or touch-based controls in Angry Birds Go!, pull back on the slingshot and let the race begin. You don't have to worry about braking or accelerating, just guide your kart to collect coins and avoid obstacles and you'll do just fine. Different modes have you smashing fruit and knocking over blocks, racing against the fuse clock, battling against a herd of opponents, and boss races where you have to defeat a special character to unlock them for subsequent runs.

Not to summon too much rain for this parade, but Angry Birds Go! does feature a very healthy amount of sponsored and premium content, largely in the form of in-app purchases. The most frustrating aspect is the credits timer that limits how many races you can compete in until it recharges. You can fill it up with an IAP, but the freemium "you can't play now haha lol" feature never feels good when it bops you on the head, especially not in an action game where racing tracks over and over again is the central mechanic. To top it off, some of the shop items cost an upwards of 50 USD. Hope no one taps there by accident.

Angry Birds Go! does make a nice entry in the Angry Birds franchise, and it pulls off the quick and simple formula of arcade racing quite well. It's a little repetitive, though, and certainly won't make Mario Kart feel obsolete any time soon. The in-app purchases are the biggest scar, especially the obnoxious credit timer that seems to be out of whack. If you don't mind waiting to play the game you just downloaded, Angry Birds Go! is a tidy little experience that's easy to get into and offers a nice distraction for the train ride home.

NOTE: This game was played and reviewed on the 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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Haunted Room 2

GrinnypYou know, it's one thing when a person (or persons) unknown locks you into a room and expects you to escape, it's quite another when they not only throw away the key but the doorknob as well, especially when that person is...breathing challenged. Yes, the undead (or differently living?) are back and crankier than ever in Haunted Room 2, a mobile follow-up to Noprops' creepy room escape Escape from the Haunted Room. Featuring some challenging puzzles, a cranky ghost, and the scariest Captain America knock-off action figure ever seen, Haunted Room 2 brings the room escaping fun along with more than a few chills. There's a small amount of pixel hunting to be had as you search for the one way to escape this sparse space (living, that is, because while there is one way to get out vertically there are two ways to freedom that involve a more grisly fate). Fire up Haunted Room 2 and get ready for some fun! Just, you know, not in the dark or by yourself. Seriously.


DoraFelix Park's FOC/US is one of those odd little games you can only really call "an experience", because anything else feels either restrictive or flat-out inaccurate. It takes place in a single small room, and all you're told is that you had a strange dream. Use [WASD] to walk around, and the mouse to look and interact... and hey, maybe you should see about snagging that camera off the table. Once you do, you'll be able to zoom in on things with [E] and zoom back out with [Q] (press [R] to quickly reset your view). You'll be surprised with what you can find... and you might want to start with that odd blue dot where your camera was resting. All you need to do to play is to follow the directions you're given to find each tiny little secret, one to the next, and listen to what you find. Some of it might be weird. Silly. Even a little uncomfortable. But that's what happens when you put things under a microscope... or, I guess in this instance, a really good camera lens.

FOC/USThe game's biggest flaw might simply be that its navigation feels a little awkward... not movement so much as how narrow your focus is when you're zoomed in, which makes finding some of those itty-bitty specks when you're only given vague directions and won't show up until you're right on top of them a bit of a chore. But where it succeeds is in creating an experience that feels at once both intimate and personal, as well as easy to relate to no matter who you are. FOC/US showcases all those weird little quirks that make us up, the embarrassing stuff and the mundane, from navel gazing to anxiety to, well... ranting on the internet. It's the things we don't want to admit we do or worry about, the stuff that we let isolate and paralyze us. I was surprised at how much of myself I recognised in it, and to me, that's the mark of a good piece of art, whether it resonates with everyone else or just a few people. It's a short and arguably simple game, almost more of an interactive art piece, but Felix still manages to make it engrossing and atmospheric nonetheless, and it lasts just as long as it needs to.



kyhI want a cute point and click game! With pigs! In delightful pastel colors! Sure, sure, like you're gonna get all that... oh, wait, Coconuts Park has already whipped something up. With their spot-on sense of humor, Booca in the Southern Island Episode 2, presents the scenario of Booca's older, obliging brother, Noib who is tasked by her to find a banana. Because why eat just two when you're hungry enough for three?

BoocaEp2Controls are standard for the genre in this single-screen game with clicking areas to zoom into a closer view and clicking objects to interact with them. While the cursor does not change over hotspots, there's no pixel hunting and objects are clear and visible. The second installment in a line of currently thirty-nine titles (only three of which are presently translated into English), Coconuts Park has done a fantastic job of continuing the look and feel of the first game in an experience that can stand on its own. And we can all use a little more annoying and demanding little sisters, can't we? Now, translate more of the games!

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JohnBGomo is a point-and-click puzzle game created by Fishcow Studio. Taking pages from Machinarium, Hapland, and half a dozen classic adventure games, Gomo sends you on an adventure of mundanely epic proportions as you attempt to thwart an evil alien who stole your dog and refuses to give him back unless you delivery a big shiny crystal. The nerve of some trans-galactic species, right?

GomoGomo sits in an area between an adventure game and a point-and-click title. It takes place on a series of flat single-screened set pieces, each featuring a simple puzzle you must work through in order to proceed. Move the mouse around until you find an area you can interact with, then click. The cursor changes to indicate when an action can take place, so it's a simple matter of watching the animations and knowing what needs to happen next.

The music, sound and artwork in Gomo are aww-inducingly charismatic, but the gameplay can be a bit restrictive at times. You can't really explore or fail at puzzles, for example. Each room has a limited number of points you can click at any time, This gives the slight impression that you're playing an interactive animated movie instead of playing a video game. It's a cute, captivating movie, but not the cranium-busting point-and-click game you might expect.

Despite being a little lighter on the puzzles than we'd like, Gomo manages to turn itself into a delightful casual gaming experience. Expect a good two hours of playtime, complete with bonuses to find and plenty of lovable moments with your new slightly clumsy best friend.

Play the browser demo (click top image)
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Papa's Pastaria

DoraAlright, normally I like to make some joke about how Papa Louie of Flipline Studios' Papa's series is some big shyster who cons everyone into working for him, but this one is sort of your fault. In Papa's Pastaria, the latest installment in the addictive simulation series, you're desperate to book a hotel in exotic Portallini to attend a friend's wedding, and you're so excited to see that there's just one room available that you book it right away... without bothering to see what all those terms you didn't bother to read entailed. Now you're stuck working overseas for Papa in his latest venture, slinging pasta to order for some of the pickiest customers around. What's that? You want exactly three pieces of chicken on your linguini and you won't tip me if its a degree over al dente? Geez, it's like everyone in this town is LARPing as Gordon Ramsay.

Papa's PastariaIf you've played any of the Papa games, then Pastaria's formula will be pretty familiar. Customers will arrive throughout the day and you'll take their excruciatingly particular orders, making sure not to keep them waiting too long, and cook everything just the way they like it. This time around, that involves cooking whatever type of pasta they wanted to the firmness they wanted, making sure to stir at certain points and then drain all the water, and then dress it with the sauce and toppings they want as cleanly and accurately as possible. Most of them will also want some sort of breadstick, toasted to perfection. Get everything done as fast and tidy as you can, and they'll give you a big tip you can spend towards upgrading the restaurant, with everything from faster cooking to decorations. Because every underpaid server loves to turn around and spend their tips on their employers. But here's a new twist you might not expect... this time around, you've also got a dining room to contend with, which means you'll have to hire servers as help who will bring you orders from customers seated there!

The dining room actually feels like a weird addition since the only thing it really adds is an extra layer of difficulty just by adding more customers without really noticeably changing the gameplay. Here's an idea... when are we going to see a "wipe the edge of the plate" option for those of us who know accidentally spilling some sauce or cheese is only a tip-killer if you haven't mastered the art of swiping a paper towel around the rim? Papa's Pastaria potentially already feels a bit more challenging than the others just because of the extra fiddliness added to everything... bread will cool off if you leave it too long, pasta takes time to drain and shaking it too hard to speed that up deducts points, throttling customers because they wanted their precisely four mushrooms evenly spaced deducts from your tip... oh wait, that last part was just in my fantasy. All of this will be familiar to fans of the series, and while some people have bemoaned the lack of serious change to the games since it first came out over six years ago with Papa's Pizzeria, many fans will appreciate the way Flipline has continued to tweak, refine, and subtly enhance the games without losing that addictive gameplay that brought them in the first place.

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The Vault

TrickyHere at JayIsGames, we're all excited about the rapidly approaching Launch Day for the TRICKYA game console! And by that, I do not mean the day the console will be released to the general public for sale. I mean Launch Day. All you people lining up at midnight had better be bringing trebuchets. However, if you're one of those who prefer spending blustery winter nights in front of your computer with a mug of cocoa, then this week in The Vault we've got some excellent puzzle, action, and interactive art games from our archives that'll warm your heart in their own special way.

  • FillerFiller - Usually I think it's a bad sign when I'm starting off a Vault installment with some filler, but this 2008 arcade puzzler by Will Hankinson is the exception that proves the rule. A variation on the classic Jezzball, but with growing circles instead of cutting lines, Filler is pure mindless entertainment. If you're like me, and shiver at the prospect of only doing one thing online at a time, Filler is the perfect game to be playing in browser window #2 while browser window #1 is catching you up on what Grif and Sarge have been up to, or whatever.
  • SolipskierSolipskier - I've never been much of a skier, tripping over myself on even the bunniest of slopes. So in that sense, Solipskier, the 2010 piece of retro action by Intuition Games, is a refreshingly accurate simulation. Equal parts Canabalt, Line Rider, and exploding rainbows, Solipskier will provide and endless amount of fun for those able to keep up with the slopes-drawing. Even those whose philosophy convinces them that only their own mind can be proven to exist, will not need much convincing to admit Solipskier's external awesomeness. Not to get all existential on you, man.
  • Somnium OrbisSomnium Orbis - Incredibly short, but incredibly sweet, 2006's Somnium Orbis is an oldie with some visual tricks that still feel new. Nate Horstmann and Peter Schmalfeldt's winning entrant in a Rockstar Games New Media competition. More like a pair of interactive gallery pieces than a full game, Somnium Orbis has atmosphere and mood to spare. No one can claim that it is anything more than a quick diversion, but diverting it undoubtedly is.

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!


DoraAlex Starovoyt's puzzle platformer Together is about two squares just trying to find their place in the world, mainly because the rest of the world is filled with bottomless pits, uncommunicative blocks, and deadly spikes. Using both [WASD] and the [arrow] keys (sorry non QWERTY users), your job is to move both squares into the coloured box that matches them in each level. Though initially all this requires is a hop, skip, and a jump,you'll eventually have to figure out how to use them and their surroundings to cross seemingly impossible gaps or towering cliffs. If you stack your square heroes atop one another and hold both [W] and the up [arrow], you'll even be able to launch the top square up high like a spring!

TogetherMake no mistake, Together is one seriously elegant little game, with a surreal zen-like feel to its appealingly minimalistic design. It doesn't have a difficulty curve so much as a difficulty snooze on the park bench, but sometimes that gentle combination of mild puzzling and slight reflexes is exactly what you want out of a game like this. But while the game is good looking and plays well enough for the short break it represents, it does feel like it's missing... something to really make it memorable. Minimalist puzzlers have managed to infuse personality and storytelling without saying a word before, such as in To What End, and Together has that potential... it just doesn't quite experiment with it. As it stands, Together is still a solid and stylish little puzzle platformer that's worth a play on your break.

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Mobile Monday

JohnBThe big happy fun holiday season is coming up, and developers are getting ready to push out big updates and big games before everyone hits the snooze button for a week.

terraria-p.gifTerraria's holiday update - Although the mobile versions of Terraria are way behind the PC release in terms of content, a new Android and iOS update looks to add a few fun things to make Christmas more festive. Playing in an existing world, you now have a chance to get ornaments when chopping down trees, used for summoning Elfa, a new Christmas pet. Mobs also drop presents from time to time, because gift giving rocks. And if you make a new world you'll open up even more holiday possibilities!

cuttherope2-p.gifCut the Rope 2 coming soon - It's been teased a bit in the past, but ZeptoLab has finally announced that Cut the Rope 2 will be available on iOS December 19th. The sequel adds a lot of brightly colored features to the series, including Om Nom's friends who serve as power-ups. Roto, for example, is a little helicopter that hovers through levels and grabs candy to serve it to Om Nom, and Toss is a springy monster who bounces things upwards. We're excited to see what this new installment in the Cut the Rope series will offer!

tictactics-p.gifTic Tactics spruces up an oldie - From the developer behind Bag It!, Tic Tactics is a gorgeous mobile reimagination of the classic Tic-Tac-Toe formula set to a stronger tactical theme. Take turns making moves on a 9x9 grid, placing Xs and Os one by one. You capture small grids by making three in a row, but the catch is where you place your mark is determined by where your opponent placed theirs. It's essentially a portable version of Tic-Tac-Toe-Ception, but with a greatly beefed-up visual presentation.

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Standstill Girl

DoraPlease note that this game deals with themes such as child abuse that some people may find upsetting.

Alice lives in Shadeling Village in the Land of Time, a place where nothing ever changes... until the day the great clock's hands go missing and time everywhere grinds to a halt in the dangerous Land of Life. With her friend Tiska stuck working on repairs, there's nobody else but Alice to venture out into the Land of Life and retrieve the clock fragments. Standstill Girl, a free indie RPG by Sky Scraper Project and translated by vgperson, puts you in the role of stubborn, silent Alice as she travels the Land of Life to put things right. But who is Alice, really, and why doesn't she live in the Land of Life with other humans? What history do she and Tiska share? With multiple endings and secrets to unlock, Standstill Girl is both unsettling and intriguing in equal measure.

Standstill GirlBecause time has stopped, the Land of Life is overrun by aggressive impurities known as Time Scares that it's up to Alice, as a fledgling Time Warden, to destroy. While you'll encounter a lot of them as random battles, your primary concern is to destroy all the coloured Cogs in each area protecting the Clock Hand Fragment. Though combat is turnbased, Standstill Girl handles things a little differently than your typical RPG, both by allowing you to equip and swap out various skills and abilities, as well as relying on Emotion Crystals. Granted one per turn, ECs are what allow you to use those skills you've equipped, and stockpiling them by using moves like Guard (which doesn't cost EC) allows you to use even more powerful hidden abilities. Some attacks also use LP (Stamina), or both LP and EC, but since that also functions as your hit points, more or less, don't get go using it up willy-nilly. Instead of experience, when she defeats enemies Alice gains Force Points she can spend to increase her Stamina, Power, and Speed. Force can also be traded at shops to buy more of any item Alice has previously found.

Standstill GirlAdmittedly, while its combat mechanics are different, they're mostly different just to be different, if you catch my meaning... you'll still have to grind, just for Force Points instead of levels. Since Alice regenerates LP out of battle, it's easy to develop a tactic that simply overpowers most enemies in two turns once you've put some Force Points into her Power and Speed. (In my case, Guard followed by Brain Blue.) Despite being a relatively straightforward RPG, but one of the ones I've enjoyed the most in a long time. It crafts a compelling, mysterious world bit by bit, feeding you clues rather than hammering you with clunky exposition, and keeps you hooked as a result. Pay attention to your surroundings and you'll notice some unsettling things. Those enemies and areas have some strange names, don't you think? And what's up with that building on the south side of Shadeling Town? So much about Alice's past and the world is hinted at and implied rather than stated outright. Alice's story isn't a particularly happy one,and the gameplay will develop a pattern early on some may find too repetitive, but it's still an impressive experiment in contextual storytelling that looks great and will keep you hooked for the few hours it takes to play through.

Please note that this game requires the free installation of RPG Maker 2003 RTP to run, although alternatively you can run the included RTPFaker.exe file in the download for Standstill Girl if you prefer.

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Christmas Stories: A Christmas Carol

Starchild Sleigh bells ring, are you listening, in the lane snow is glistening... Um, yes, sorry about that. But after hours of playing Christmas Stories: A Christmas Carol, it's pretty much impossible not to be brimming with holiday spirits. If you've played Christmas Stories: Nutcracker, you know what I'm talking about. If you haven't, let me tell you that no one does garland-wrapped, candy-cane stuffed hidden-object adventures quite like Elephant Games. This time, we'll be travelling way back to London in 1842 to relive one of the most beloved Christmas stories with Scrooge, Tiny Tim and, er, some evil imps.

Christmas Stories: A Christmas Carol The storyline combines the original Dickens' tale with a few whimsical twists and turns to make for a more exciting game. As Scrooge's nephew, you have to save him from dying as a selfish, miserable old man with the help of the three Christmas ghosts. However, your uncle happens to have miniature good and bad versions of himself. The good Scrooge will stay with you and lend you a hand throughout the game, while the bad Scrooge will try to thwart your valiant efforts to save the festive season. The gameplay is what you've come to expect from the genre – picking up and interacting with objects, solving puzzles and list-based hidden-object scenes. What sets this particular series apart is the vast amount of love and care that went into every single detail, filling scene after scene with cheer, colourful ornaments and wintery goodness. If you really aren't the Christmas type, all this can get a tad overwhelming, but it's still guaranteed to warm the heart of the grumpiest Grinch out there.

Christmas Stories: A Christmas Carol It's quite a task to translate A Christmas Carol into a hidden-object adventure. Die-hard Dickens fans might point out a few anachronisms, or the fact that the Cratchits look suspiciously well off for a starving family, but a loose adaptation such as this one can be excused for clashing with the original here and there. The most important feature is still there, and that is the nostalgic atmosphere of evenings by the fireplace and sleigh rides through the streets of London. Most of the additions to the story are entertaining and sort of silly (in a good way), and lend a light-hearted air to the whole affair. However, the story itself takes a long time to tell, and with all the added content, it would have been rather difficult to cram it into the industry-standard four hours. It's good to see that Elephant games chose to make a longer game, taking the time to do justice to the complex narrative. The finished product is a complete experience, an absolutely charming Christmas gift to get you in that warm, gleeful holiday mood.

Christmas Stories: A Christmas Carol is currently only available in a Collector's Edition, which includes a bonus level, concept art, wallpapers and more. Remember that Big Fish Game Club Members pay only $13.99 for Collector's Editions (or 2 club credits), and collector's editions count 3 card punches of 6 total needed for a free game.

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Night Rider Turbo

TrickyDriving on a highway at night is always a tricky proposition. But hey, you've gotten yourself a fully-loaded and tuned-up new used automotive demonstration of the best engineering that a country that no longer exists could provide. All you need to do is gently ease off the clutch, places your hands on the steering wheel at the 10 and 2 position and... oh my. That's not a good sign. Night Rider Turbo is a driving simulation game by Sos Sosowksi, given the caveat that what it is being simulated is a driver hopped up on absinthe behind the wheel of a car made entirely out of porcelain. You'll use the mouse to push, turn, and activate the various items in your car, avoiding the other cars in the road, attempting to get as far as possible. However, any promise of an extended road trip would sadly be nothing but the basest of fictions.

Night Rider TurboThere are games out there that you know in your heart of hearts that at their core is perhaps nothing but simplistic gimmickry. And yet, you'll play it twenty times over the course of a week, perhaps without realizing it, just because the darn thing is so unique and so out there. Night Rider Turbo is one of those games. Each playthrough is just an exercise in delaying the spark-filled, explosive inevitable. But you know what? I am inexplicably proud of how the Trickymobile made it 4 km before it burst into its component parts. Let's see if you can do better!

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Weekend Download

JohnBOn this, a brand new edition of Weekend Download, Mario goes on a crazy eclipse adventure, a witch named Potluck throws a potluck supper, and Mr. Red is all out of balls.

potluckPotluck (Windows/Mac, free) - Remember Very Pink Game from way long ago? One of the creators has gone and teamed up to make another cute, infinitely awesome free game called Potluck. Potluck stars a witch named Potluck who was having a potluck dinner with her witch friends. They went to play some volleyball and returned to find a demon had stolen their food! Walking through the moderately spooky world, you'll blast enemies with your witch powers and collect hearts to keep your health topped up. Simple, but so much fun.

mrredsMr. Red's Adventure in The Missing Balls (Windows/Mac/Linux, free) - Mr. Red doesn't have any balls for his Christmas tree. That is, decorations for his tree. You're going to help him collect some! A simple platformer with a festive cheer, hop, jump, smack things with a giant candy cane and push a few blocks around as you explore several short levels in search of more ornaments.

marioeclipseSuper Mario Eclipse (Windows, free) - A surprisingly complete fan game based on (what else) the Super Mario Bros. series. Eclipse isn't just a remixed Super Mario World, though. It's a fusion of a puzzle game and adventure platformer with some creative inventory and NPC features thrown in for good measure. The experience certainly looks like a Mario game, but it feels like something totally different.

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DoraChucklefish's hotly anticipated indie sci-fi sandbox simulation Starbound, now playable in its Beta format, has been a long time coming. Though many of its planned features are still to come (and if you buy the game in Beta, you'll get all these updates and the full version as they come!) Perhaps unsurprisingly, Starbound plays a lot like Terraria, only in space, with a spaceship, and an infinite number of procedurally generated planets to visit. Initially, you play a character of your creation whose ship has narrowly avoided destruction and soon finds themselves adrift above an alien planet without fuel or hope of rescue. Much of your time is spent toddling around the planets you visit, harassing and being harassed by the local wildlife as you gather a variety of components to craft everything from your basic stone furnace, to bow and arrows, to mechs. Yes, that's right. Giant robotic suits of armor. But like everything else, you'll have to work for it.

StarboundYou'll start out with a Matter Manipulator that can s-l-o-w-l-y chip away at everything from trees to ore to break them down into manageable chunks for you to pick up, but these tasks will go a lot faster when you craft the appropriate tools, like axes and picks. Using the materials you gather, you can begin to combine them to make more and more things at crafting tables, anvils, and furnaces, including weapons (both melee and ranged) and armor. The wider variety of items you find and craft, the more blueprints you'll unlock to make even more items with, or just get creative and build your own houses and structures. You can decorate and enhance your ship with new add-ons, but the ones it comes with, like the 3D Printer than can allow you to instantly recreate any printable item you scan with it, are pretty darned useful too.

Hostile aliens can come out at any time of day, but though they're in greater numbers at night, falling temperatures when the sun goes down can be just as deadly if you aren't dressed sufficiently or near a fire. In addition to alien beasts that can be hunted down for meat, provided they don't do the same to you first, you can also plant and farm crops to keep your character's belly full, an important part of surviving through the days and nights ahead. If you're sick of hunting down aliens, why not build a cooking table and create mouthwatering dishes out of things you've harvested from all over the universe?

StarboundOf course, you won't be staying on just one planet. Throw some coal into your ship to convert it into fuel to travel the stars, and that's where Starbound's unique appeal is. Each planet you visit is randomly generated, from its atmosphere to resources to its flora and fauna, and even how those creatures look and behave. A planet's threat level determines how difficult you'll find it to explore and fight on, with higher levels boasting stronger aliens and more hostile conditions in general. Moons, for example, tend to get colder quicker, especially at lower levels, but have a much higher concentration of valuable ore, especially at higher levels. Every little point of light on your ship's map represents its own little cluster of wildly different planets, and if you bring a friend or three along with you in multiplayer, the journey is even more fun. As the game updates, so will the amount of things you can do. What about capturing and training alien life forms? Colonizing a planet of your choice? Enhancing and customising your spaceship? And hey... whatever happened to those aliens who attacked your ship anyway?

StarboundAnalysis: Starbound is one gorgeous, gorgeous little game, from its character design to its beautiful environmental art, and the soundtrack is nice and easy on the ears to boot. But how easy is it to play? Well, mechanically it's pretty simple, with the standard [WASD] default for movement and the mouse to interact, though there are so many hotkeys you might want to read the in-game codex (that's the little book icon on the right) rather than rely on the tutorial. It can't be overstated how tremendously useful the Matter Manipulation tool is. While it may stink at cutting down trees and other activities, being able to building enormous structures or simply "staircases" just by painting with your mouse, or zap a torch into position in a darkened area. Combat is a bit less easy-breezy, though mostly because the controls that are fine for hopping and wandering around the landscape don't necessarily feel as quick as they should to fight. Jumping has a slight, slow, dreamy quality to it that means you won't be leaping around your foes like Errol Flynn, and dealing with more than one enemy can be nightmarish as a result since they all want to charge and fling themselves at you at the same time.

Expect to be in this for the long haul, and do a lot of planet-hopping to track down everything you need. Unfortunately, there's no way to search for a specific type or threat level of planet, leaving you to click through endless identical-looking star clusters until you find what you want. This actually works to the game's benefit in a way by forcing you into the habit of planet-hopping more frequently to keep things fresh. It's always fun to see what new creatures you'll encounter, and occasionally be surprised by the structures you find. At the same time, however, a lot of the planetary and creature differences are just cosmetic. Aliens never really interact with each other or do anything beyond trundling back and forth whether they're hostile or not, and they all drop the same things unless they're rare minibosses... raw alien meat, leather, and pixels. I would love to see NPC and alien behaviour fleshed out a bit more, to see them interact more with different species and their environment, which would go a long way towards making planets feel more alive and unique rather than just differently-coloured ore containers.

StarboundStarbound does, however, feel a bit more grind-y than its genre counterparts. Many craftable items require a substantial amount of multiple resources to create, and when those resources are scattered around without rhyme or reason and take so tediously long to mine early on, especially when buried in anything other than dirt or sand, that it brings the organic flow of the game to a grinding halt. There is such a tremendous emphasis on mining for resources, which is a slow process, that it makes the act of collecting ore almost a job. The last thing you should ever think when looking at an integral part of a game is UGH, and yet that's what happened whenever I came across a vein of something I had to gather. Since I started playing and writing this review, the game has received it's first major patch that did tweak mining speed, but you still have to do so much of it that it's still frustrating. My kingdom for a mining robot! Maybe something automated with hitpoints?

StarboundThat said, Starbound is still in Beta, so in addition to having bugs fixed and many more features coming down the pipeline, it's also getting a lot of its content tweaked based on community feedback. What this means is that while the Beta version lacks all the content right away, playing it gives you the chance to help shape the final product... though interested parties should be warned that the developers have cautioned not to get too attached to your characters, since they could be wiped with updates until the game is finished.

Starbound can at times in the beginning feel like it's struggling to find a balance between the space-faring adventures it wants to offer, and the slower nuts and bolts of resource management all that needs to run. And yet, there's definitely something more than a little compelling about it that keeps bringing me back to it. I would stumble across prison colonies on the moon overrun with angry inmates, cryptic messages scrawled in abandoned outposts deep within forests... This is not a game you can rush through, and players who slow down and work on thoroughly developing and enhancing their character through careful crafting and exploration will get the most out of it. With its infinite discovery and surprises thanks to its procedural generation, not to mention the ability to play with friends, Starbound is a game with enormous potential, and stands to only get better with time thanks to its talented, dedicated team.

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Cheese Dreams: New Moon

DoraNitrome's Cheese Dreams: New Moon is a bouncy physics platformer where the moon (quite literally made of cheese!) has been kidnapped by a race of greedy space mice... and since you're the moon, you'll have to save yourself before you get turned into fondue or a decorative holiday snack platter! The moon bounces continually, and all you have to do is use [WASD] or the [arrow] keys to move it around. Take two hits in a row before the moon can recover from the first damage and you're done for, booted back to the last Sonic-the-Hedgehog-style checkpoint you activated, but wait for its face to turn back to normal and you'll be fine. Space mice are on patrol, but if you can bop them on the head twice (once to shatter their helmet, and again before it restores) you can take care of them easily.

Cheese Dreams: New MoonFor most people, the controls are going to be the hardest part to make nice with. The continuous bouncing movement is one thing, but how ridiculously springy the moon is is quite another, and having it go zinging wildly around because you got too close to the wall can be frustrating. With all the hazards strewn around, it makes for the type of game that calls for a combination of patience and reflexes, so despite its gorgeous style and animation it's definitely going to be something that appeals more to a niche than not. Elements like moving platforms, wheels that need to be spun in a certain direction, and more are infinitely more difficult just because of the incessant movement. If you're steady of hand and pure of heart, however, there's a lot to appreciate about Cheese Dreams: New Moon. It's a beautiful, quirky, colourful game that strives to be creative with the new elements it introduces throughout, and a challenging experience to boot.

Play Cheese Dreams: New Moon

ClickPLAY Time 3

elleIt's the middle of the (pick one): morning/afternoon/night. You're a little bit: bored/hyper/indecisive. You've been biting your: fingernails/pencil/tongue. And you might twerk/eat bubblegum/write fanmail to Doge if you don't get your hands on a something quirky/thinky/clicky? Not to worry because Ninjadoodle has you covered! With ClickPLAY Time 3, all your point-and-click puzzle cravings will be duly (albeit temporarily) subsided with this oddly silly collection of minigames, trivia and other assorted activities all centered on doing one thing: finding and clicking PLAY!

ClickPLAY Time 3Ostensibly the goal is to complete all 20 levels in the least amount of time; doing so earns you bragging rights and the sweet glow of success. Yet, outside of the possible loss of shuriken pride at the end, there's no penalty for taking your time, so work at any pace you choose. As Miss Wormwood says, you only get out of it what you put into it. Perhaps the easiest, this third installment of the clickplay series' Time franchise is rewarding in unquantifiable ways. Very very clicky, and very quickly solved: although you have many options for how to spend your day, ClickPLAY Time 3 the quickest clickiest of them all.

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Link Dump Fridays

DoraOn the first week of Christmas, my readers I give to thee... one nightmare of a camping trip, two doomed-from-the-start robots, a whole bunch of kingdoms that need sieging, and a bunch of green dudes in a snack bar!... well? When do you think Mariah Carey is going to get back to me about that duet, eh?

  • Holy Crap, Bears!!Holy Crap, Bears!! - Megadev's latest is a surprisingly unsettling avoidance game in which you direct a scout leader through a series of pitch black environments to rescue his scouts and his mascots... without getting devoured by some scary freaking bears. Despite a lot of personality, the randomization tends to make the game easier than not, and being unable to replay certain levels (or save progress!) is frustrating. Still, it's a remarkably freaky little game with tense atmosphere and a lot of character worth checking out, even at the expense of never being willing to hang your naked butt over a log in the middle of the night while camping again.
  • TwinBotsTwinBots - Though it suffers from a moderate case of "fiddlius jumpingus andus stackingus" (I'm a doctor, it's cool), Marcos Díez's challenging puzzle platformer about tiny robot creatures trapped in a series of progressively sadistic lab challenges is still fun for the patient. The goal is to get all a bot to every door on a level, and with deadly spikes and pixel perfect jumping around, that's easier said than done. Oh well. It's not all bad. I hear after the testing, there will be cake.
  • Royal OffenseRoyal Offense - DN and Badim serve up this simplified defense real-time strategy game with some graphical help from HeroCraft. The goal is to spawn enough heroic units in each level to combat and eventually decimate the enemy spawn points, occupying structures along the way. It's not particularly difficult, and a shortened upgrade tree makes it even easier, but it's still a fun and great looking foray into casual invasion and destruction.
  • Find the Escape-Men 70: in the Snack BarFind the Escape-Men 70: in the Snack Bar - This latest escape game from no1game has a little bit of the melancholy to it, as our hero (or heroine!) has just broken up with their girlfriend and gone to a bar to drown their sorrows, only to find themselves locked in until they can solve all the puzzles and track down all the little green men. No, no Absinthe is involved. It's cute as the dickens, if mainly only challenging because of the pixel-hunting nature of the beast, and should hopefully stand as a reminder that rather than drowning your sorrows, TP'ing someone's house is a much safer and more cathartic (if not more mature) answer to heartbreak.

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100 Doors: Aliens Space

JohnB100 Doors: Aliens Space is a mobile room escape game from Gipnetix Games, creator of 100 Doors 2013, 100 Doors of Revenge, and several other similar games. Instead of rooms with tables and chairs, this time you're thrown into outer space to contend with multi-stage doors, alien technology, glowing portals and mysterious artefact pieces. It's one of the more unique takes on the escape genre, and it's all the more entertaining because of it!

100 Doors: Aliens SpaceThe goal of each level is to unlock the door, step through the exit, then travel to another single-screened level and do it again. Simply tap objects to interact with them, solving the occasional puzzle by tilting or shaking your mobile device. Many levels feature the standard keypad code lock, but there are just as many creative takes on simple puzzles as there are standard ones.

At the time of writing, 100 Doors: Aliens Space contains 66 ad-supported levels to work through, with more promised in future updates. You'll activate magnets, spin gears, shake apart teetering structures and much more, all with improved visuals that take a smart turn to the sci-fi genre. It's quite a bit more intriguing than your standard room escape game!

NOTE: This game was played and reviewed on the Nexus 4. 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.

Earn to Die 2012 Part 2

DoraWith all the ways we've shot, exploded, crushed, melted, and otherwise eliminated zombies, you'd think they would be a protected species by now, but then again, an endangered animal that bites and oozes decomposing fluid is a hard sell even with a sad Sarah McLachlan commercial. Earn to Die 2012 Part 2 continues the slaughter from Part 1 in this upgrade-centric action game from Toffee Games. Once more chasing rescue from this post-apocalyptic zombie wasteland, you've moved on to a new location with a new vehicle, new enhancements, and even more zombies to grind into paste beneath your wheels as you ramp off an exploding barrel in slow motion. Just hold the up [arrow] to accelerate, and press the left or right [arrows] to tilt your vehicle accordingly. You'll drive until you run out of gas or can't get enough speed, and then you'll be paid out from... uh... some... one?... to purchase new upgrades for the vehicle you're driving.

Earn to Die 2012 Part 2Though the gameplay remains essentially unchanged, Part 2 still feels like it has a bit of a leg up over its predecessor simply by offering a more engaging track off the bat. There are more structures to smash through or ramp off of, and you're given more fuel from the get-go to allow you to go even farther and rack up more cash... though this is admittedly not as big a deal as it seems since the prices for everything are proportionately larger too. The bigger, clunkier vehicles are also easier to get stuck on certain parts of the terrain, which is frustrating, and since each run is identical to the last in terms of zombie placement and obstacles, it feels like more randomised elements would have kept things fresher. Still, it allows you to experiment and plan more early on with trying to pull off stunts as you drive, which helps provide some variety from the inevitable grinding, especially since each new area means you have to start upgrading from scratch with a new vehicle because... of reasons, I guess. If you enjoyed the original game for the zombie-crushing mania it offered, chances are you're going to enjoy this for the same reason even if it doesn't really do much to pry itself out of the mold it created. And hey, when has watching zombies sprint after you like cheetahs and launch themselves into gravity-defying leaps to cling to your hood right before you smash through a pile of bricks ever not been amusing?

Earn to Die 2012 Part 2

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One Scene 6

elleRobamimi once again presents a single-walled escape that proves you don't need a large space to be treated to a roomful of fun. Although the view is limited, that doesn't mean there isn't plenty to explore; a wide gamut of puzzles and amusing sights are strewn in almost every pixel of this charming scene. Gameplay is simple: point and click to zoom in and out, examining objects and deciphering codes until you've opened every lock. Robamimi's typical user-friendly interface makes navigation easy so you can sink all your mental powers into finding your way out the door. While a few answers will be staring you straight in the face, you'll also be expected to infer some solutions based on a number of rather vague clues. The HINT button will give you just that: another hint to throw into the mix of information while still leaving the credit for solving the puzzles squarely on your shoulders alone. Here is everything good about Robamimi rolled into one very entertaining escape.

Play One Scene 6

Monkey GO Happy Elevators 2

DoraThe first Noel, the monkeys did say, "point-and-click and solve puzzles to find us presents this day..." Pencil Kids is back again with some seasonal simians in Monkey GO Happy Elevators 2, a Christmas game about happiness through material things! As in the original, the goal is to click around, traveling between elevator floors using the buttons on the left, solving puzzles to find toys for each tiny monkey. It's just three short levels, none of which are particularly difficult, but the charm in the animation and general cheery feel make this the perfect five minute diversion, even if it would have been nice to see the Christmas theme be a bit more pervasive. Need a quick pick-me-up? Look no further than this menagerie of monkeys!

Monkey GO Happy Elevators 2

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DoraI'm not entirely sure about the plot behind Gotmail's escape game Gifted, which is apparently about a genius young autistic girl who has never spoken a word, and yet one day boots up her computer to display a projection of a person trapped in a strange room somewhere. And that person, apparently, is you. So... you're being held captive by some burgeoning megalomaniac? I guess? Well, regardless of how or why it happened, you're stuck unless you can combine all the cryptic clues scattered around to solve the puzzles locking you in. Just click to interact and explore, and double-click objects in your inventory to zoom in on them to interact up close, whether to search for more clues and uses, or just combine them.

The combination of item useage and clue interpretation is balanced nicely, and the surreal sci-fi design makes for some wonderfully out-there puzzles that use both elements. You'll actually do a fair amount of taking things apart and putting them back together in your inventory, and this is actually where the game stumbles a bit since some of those combinations might be technically logical, but not necessarily that intuitive. Similarly, Gotmail's lack of a changing cursor and clearly defined area transitions can make missing a new perspective or angle easy. Fortunately, the space's tight design means exploring and finding everything you need is a simple matter of being methodical.

The ending is just as confusing as the opening, especially since it seems to leave itself open for a sequel, and I'm not entirely sure we needed another story about a developmentally impaired person turning into a villain. Taken purely in terms of its gameplay, however, Gifted is a satisfying escape experience that'll give you a brisk mental workout without leaving you ragged at the end.

Play Gifted

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The Vault

TrickyHere at JayIsGames, Black Friday starts Tuesday! While Cyber-Monday starts Saturday! I literally cannot remember what day it is anymore! So hopefully you're having a good Blernsday, and if not, maybe your shopping pleasure can be improved with a few puzzle, simulation, and adventure games from the JiG Vault! Our prices are insane!

  • PicmaPicma - Picross is so entertaining a puzzle-type, that it's a real wonder that it's not printed daily alongside crosswords and sudoku in the daily paper. Sure, the varying sizes of each iteration and the necessity of clearly printing those tiny numbers means that it would sometimes take up a lot of space, but missing out on the adventures of Beetle Bailey and The Born Loser every so often seems a worthy sacrificing for grid-based fun. If your Picross-ing opportunities are limited to the internet, though, let me suggest Picma, a 2009 release from Moonberry Studios. It has a gorgeous interface and 120 puzzles in both single color and devious duo-color varities. Let's go make some pixel-pictures! I sometimes call them pixeltures!
  • Alter EgoAlter Ego - Ready for a real golden-oldie? The first version of Alter Ego was published by Activision way back in 1986, though this variation was brought to the browser in 2007 through the efforts of Choose Multiple LLC. Written by Peter Favaro, Ph.D. (apparently in part to finish up paying for his education!), Alter Ego takes players through a simulation another human's life. It's a fascinating new perspective on something will all experience, but never experience in the same way. With writing unafraid to be either hilarious or dark when the mood fits it, Alter Ego has a truly impressive breadth of scenarios to consider, and while some mechanics are tragically more 80s than others, it's a game that tried to do something no one had done before, and few have tried since.
  • AnbotAnbot - No matter what your occupation, getting clonked with a crate is going to make you want to take a day off. But Anbot, titular star of PencilKids' 2010 point-and-click, is a robot, and robots don't get days off! So it's up to you to guide the adorable fella through the cutest darn oppressive mechanical dystopia you ever did see. Much more suspenseful and dark than others in the developer's canon, if all you know Robin Vencel from is from when he has you make a Monkey Go Happy, Anbot will be a pleasurable bop on the head.

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!

Fallen London

DoraWe've covered Failbetter Games' free MMO RPG Fallen London before, but back then it was called Echo Bazaar, and quite a lot has changed in three years. The game, which blends an eerie feel with steampunk style in an alternate London that literally takes place in a massive subterranean world, requires a free account to play, and to get the most out of it you'll definitely want to consider making a "dummy" Twitter or Facebook account solely to make use of the game's social features since the experience is definitely better with friends. Why? Because in this cut-throat, mystery-laden pit of danger, deceit, and debauchery (my three favourite d's), you'll need all the help you can get to survive everything from pacts with devils

Fallen LondonFallen London's basic gameplay is actually quite simple, presented in text-based choose-your-own-adventure style, with all the intricacies left to the storytelling and world building. You'll create your character and, once you escape from prison (where you were doubtlessly unjustly jailed), explore the city through the use of Actions. Free players can have ten total Actions at a time, and since every choice you make costs one or more, once your Actions are all spent, you can't do anything until they regenerate, which they do at a rate of one per ten minutes. (The game will continue running in another tab or window if you allow it.) Depending on what Qualities your character has, which are statistics like Watchfulness or Persuasion that increase from certain activities, you'll find a varying number of different Storylets available, which act as independent plotlines for you to play in. These could be as simple as finding a place to live (and enough Secrets to pay your rent, perhaps by deciphering infernal writings), or as complex as a massive storyline with enormous rewards and consequences, such as discovering the truth behind the death of a loved one. Opportunity Cards can also be played to unlock other stories, but be careful.

Note that while the game is fully playable for free, you can purchase additional actions or special exclusive storylines using "Nex" for real money. These are completely optional. If you wish to subscribe and become an "Exceptional Friend" for the price of 20 Nex monthly (around $5.00USD), you'll get 20 actions at a time instead of the usual ten, and be able to access the House of Chimes, where you can gamble and take part in additional storylines.

From now until the end of December 2013, enjoy double actions free! Free players get twenty total actions, which subscribers ("Exceptional Friends") receive forty!

While Fallen London is structured to be the sort of game you can pick up for a few minutes whenever you have some spare time, if you love a good story (or a good many stories), then chances are you're going to want to spend a lot, lot more with it. The game reveals its world in snippets and casual observations as you play and explore, and the result is an intriguing and mysterious place with a ton of depth that eases you into its unique setting and always leaves you craving more instead of hammering you with exposition. The fact that you'll still have to spend the same Action point grinding a Quality as you would advancing a far more interesting story can grate, especially since so many of the stories are locked unless a particular Quality is at a certain level and you have enough of a particular item. While there are a lot more new things to experience, the item and Quality requirements for most of them seem to have jumped substantially, which means there's a lot more grinding than there used to be... especially when it comes to some things now requiring more than one action right off the bat.

Still, the game excels at providing an enormous wealth of options to keep you busy while you wait for Actions to regenerate, and with piles of new locations, stories, and special events, it's going to be a long, long time before you see it all. Fallen London is the sort of amazingly creative and yet casually engaging game you always hope to find, and there's no time like the present to give it a spin.

Play Fallen London

Battalion Commander 2

Starchild Welcome to the winter wonderland, where trees look lovely, snowmen abound, and your enemies are much easier to spot and shoot dead. Battalion Commander 2 by Iriy Soft shows that snow makes everything more better, including action-packed vertical shooters, as your men march out to frolic on the white battlefield. Their goal is to complete missions and maybe, somewhere along the way, actually reach the enemy headquarters. They will walk and shoot on their own; all you need to do is direct them (with your mouse or [WASD] keys) and use the special skills by clicking or pressing the [spacebar].

Battalion Commander 2 As in the original game, you start out with the leader and pick up team mates as you go along. Each time you start, there will be three missions to complete, and they will give you money and experience points which you'll use to reach better ranks and purchase upgrades. There are forty-eight missions in total, which makes this game shorter than its predecessor, but it's still more than enough to keep you entertained for a good while. Battalion Commander 2 introduces perks, such as reduced damage or better movement speed, which are unlocked gradually. There are some new soldiers, weapons and skills (bullet time ftw!), all making the overall experience even greater. Your enemies are more sneaky and better equipped: they will jump out at you left, right and centre, and their sinister towers will rain bullets at you like there's no tomorrow. The mechanics are as smooth as ever, and the soldiers as tiny and awesome, bravely wading through wave after wave of artillery. So, whether you want to reach the end of the road or you're just in it for the glory of completing missions, Battalion Commander 2 will give you an excellent fix of polished, fast-paced action.

Play Battalion Commander 2

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Mobile Monday

JohnBDystopian worlds and lead characters without pants dominate this edition of Mobile Monday. Sounds exciting, doesn't it? Like you'd want to play either of those games just for those reasons, right?

equippants.gifLegend of Equip Pants (iOS) - Got a few minutes? That's all you'll need to play Legend of Equip Pants, an episodic mobile adventure/RPG by Zach Johnson. Each quick adventure involves questing for something to wear on your lower half, all you have to do is explore and figure out how to, well, equip pants. Easy to get hooked on, and although there are only two brief episodes to play at the moment, you'll await future installments with a smile.

aqueductflow.gifAqueduct Flow (iOS) - Easily one of our favorite mobile puzzle games, Aqueduct from Kieffer Bros. has been reborn as a free, IAP and ad-supported release! Aqueduct Flow is one part sliding block puzzle and one part pipe connector, tap and drag tiles around each screen to hook the tubes up from point A to point B, leaving no open ends along the line. Teleporters, gates, gaps and switches make things more complicated, but it's the sort of game you won't be able to stop playing, no matter how difficult it gets.

inner-p.gifThe Inner World (iOS) - Making the jump from PC downloadable title to the mobile realm, The Inner World is an adventure game created by Studio Fizbin. The world of Asposia is a curious mix of a dystopic fairy tale and a lighthearted parody. Without stirring up any spoilers, the game begins with a pigeon nicking an amulet from Robert, a milquetoast protagonist who has never left the castle monastery. It's got comedy, it's got puzzles, it's got great artwork, and its got responsive touch controls that are a great fit for the portable scene!

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Artbegottifzzzzzzzzh...Hello? Can you hefzzzzhe? Is this thing on? Signal is a puzzle game by Arrogant Gamer where exploring the rules of the world is part of the curious fun. We don't wanfzzt spoil too much ot fhe game for you, but we can tell you that the [arrow] keys can be used to move around, and [space] or [X] can be used tfzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzhltimately the goal is to line up certain blocks on targets in a Sokoban sense, but how you interact with and push on somfzzzzzzzblocks can affect how you play the level.

SignalIt's hard to describe why without being spoilery, but you can tell a lot of thought went into Signal's design. The game knows when to teach you a new trick, and when to chafzzzzzzzzzzzhhe downside, the game is probably not colorblind-friendly, and distinguishing some colors might even be tricky for non-colorblind folks. Nonethelefzzzzzzhgnal is one of those rare puzzles where not understanding what's going on might be one of the more exciting moments of playing. When you get stuck, it might be helpful (if you've got the time) to restart the entire game and take in every detail again. After playing, click the "hack" link below the game to view the devefzzzzzzzzzzzhramming and get an intriguingly psychological description of how the game works from level to level. Can you figure out how to gain control of your surroundings and crack the meaning behfzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz...

Play Signal

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Find the Candy

GrinnypWhat's cuter than fluffy kittens and puppies raised by sparkly ponycorns in the land of rainbows and Oz? Why, Find the Candy, of course, the puzzler from Soulghai which brings near lethal levels of kawaii to point-and-click gaming. The goal is simple, find the luscious candy (and three adorable stars) hiding in twenty different scenes, each one cuter than the last. Interact with each level by pointing, clicking, dragging, and/or swiping in an effort to find the sweet, sweet reward and the elusive and shy little stars. The gameplay is not difficult, rather reminiscent of the ClickPLAY series and just challenging enough to allow the player to enjoy the charming presentation and the bouncy music as they wander through the too few levels. With its slick presentation and sly hidden tributes to Nyan Cat and Bender, Find the Candy is an entertaining way to spend some time and bask in the cute overload. Warning: Gameplay may cause terminal tooth decay and a severe case of awwwwww, player participation is advised.

Play Find the Candy

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JohnBMoirai is a short, experimental-style first person adventure game created by Chris Johnson, Brad Barrett and John Oestmann. By most appearances it seems to be a straightforward exploration game with a few characters to talk to and a cave to explore. But Moirai has one key feature that makes it worth several minutes of your time... you'll just have to play it yourself to figure out what it is!

MoiraiUse the [arrow] or [WASD] keys to navigate the 3D world of Moirai, tapping the [spacebar] to talk or interact with objects. If you want to get fancy, use [Q] and [E] to strafe. Speak to a few of the townsfolk before heading to the cave, then grab your gear and start exploring. After a few moments you'll encounter someone in the tunnels, and decide their fate based on the questions you ask them. Simple, right? Yet on your way out, after encountering something unexpected, you'll be intercepted and have to do something unexpected, and finding out what all this has to do with everything else is part of Moirai's unique charm. After, you enter your name and e-mail address so you can see the results of your little surprise. This twist at the end is the only trick Moirai has up its sleeve, but for a free download and a few minutes of playtime, you'll be surprised how many times you want to go back to it.

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