Best of 2011!
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1916 - The War You Never KnewOk, so you're stuck in the trenches. That's not good, but you should be able to find a ladder and climb out, right? The twisty little passageways all look the same, save a few crates, an item to interact with or two, dead bodies on the ground, and roving dinosaurs. Wait, roving dinosaurs? Yeah, roving dinosaurs. This 3D survival horror game will scare you to your bones with its deep infusion of lizard-based terror. You don't really have anything to fight back with at first, all you can do is throw a shoe and hope the dino leaves you alone long enough to run away. But watch where you run to, as there are more dangers around the next corner.

Balloon DiasporaA dark 3D point-and-click adventure game? Yes, please! You start off stranded on a shadowy world with little more to look at than the balloon in the background. A stranger offers to fix your ride, and soon you learn you'll need to gather pieces of cloth to patch up the balloon. Lots of conversations to have in this quiet sort of game, along with a few fetch quests and a puzzle or two. A short experience, but very well-done with an atmosphere that's tough to beat.

CandlesIf you ate up games like Amnesia and Penumbra, Candles is just your thing! A dark, first person exploration game, you find yourself trapped in the forest with little more than a few torches to show you what's around. Some imps have taken over your house, and you must use the light to clear them out. A remarkably atmospheric game, best played at night when you're feeling extra timid. It's on the short side and is not without its glitches, but well-worth the experience.

Cities of Day and NightA 3D atmospheric "adventure" game from increpare, Cities of Day and Night is a game you should really play to see what it's all about. You start off on a small island with swirling green fog and mud-colored textures all around. There's a dais nearby, but what does it do? And is that some sort of orb out in the far distance? Prepare to do some hiking to investigate the mysteries of this game, but it's well-worth it!

Don't Take it Personally, Babe, It Just Ain't Your StoryJohn's got problems of his own, but those will have to wait while he tackles his job as a new 11th grade English Literature teacher at a school conducting a very unusual experiment. In this smart visual novel, you'll watch the lives of your students unfold through personal and private conversations you're not meant to see, and have to decide how to help them when they come to you for advice. A surprisingly fun, funny, and touching story that deals with everything from sex and sexuality to self-confidence, love, and, of course, privacy.

HideWant to play just one game this weekend? Make it Hide. It's short. Atmospheric. Hauntingly creepy. And it's all about exploration. You're in a snowy field with alarms ringing in the background. Wander around the grainy 3D world and see what you can see. Eventually you'll come across one of five signposts, and when you do, things get even more interesting. Something with a flashlight is out to get you, and your only defense is to hide. Created by shouldice for a Super Friendship Club game-making pageant.

Magical DiaryYour life takes a drastic change when you discover that you're no ordinary teenage girl; you're a witch, and there's a place at the secretive Iris Academy waiting for you! Will you bury your nose in your schoolbooks and become the next great magical prodigy? Develop friendships (and rivalries) to last a lifetime? Or maybe you'll find... someone special? This latest visual novel RPG simulation from Hanako Games and Spiky Caterpillar is not only tremendously addictive and engrossing, it's packed full of charm, replay value, and a magic all its own.

One Curious NightfallA short, beautifully-illustrated 2D platformer that almost borders on being a non-game. You play the role of a girl who discovers a magical pouch left by the Bird King. She decides to return it to its owner, and by doing so she'll need to run through almost three dozen different areas, each filled with wonderful imagery and simple but curiosity-calling objects. You can walk, run, and jump, but that's pretty much the limit of your interactions, and after just twenty minutes or so you'll most likely finish the game. But experiencing the smooth animations and the deep environments is well worth the download.

Prime Minister's Questions: The GameIf politics in the UK were more like a turn-based Pokemon battle, a surge of interest would suddenly spring from the gaming community! A non-adventure game starring you, the Prime Minister, as you field questions from the opposing party on a weekly basis. Choose your "attacks" from below, and see if your responses help or hurt your overall health. Make sure everyone keeps their faith in the PM!

RuinsNow here's an intriguing game description for you: "Ruins is a game about a dog chasing rabbits through a shadowy, dreamlike landscape." And you know what? That's pretty much the gist of it! This slow, surreal dream world is filled with blurry images and a few recognizable objects, but otherwise it's just you and the bunny. Walk around and explore the land, see what sort of dreams/memories you can discover. Sniff with your nose, and if you're tired, take a nap.

SixThe latest interactive fiction competition, IF Comp 2011, produced some fantastic games, but one title stands on its own for accessibility and pure charm. Six is a work of interactive fiction suitable for just about everyone, no real prior knowledge of text-based gaming required. The game accepts simple commands and has a small world to explore, yet the puzzles are smart and the setting wholly enjoyable. As the young Harriet Leitner, twin sister to Demi, you are celebrating your sixth birthday in the park. It's a fancy dress party and you're playing hide and seek tip with your friends. Finding them will require exploration as well as puzzle solving, all accomplished in the traditional interactive fiction manner. A lovely and very enjoyable game, one that everyone should try out, even those who aren't fans of text adventures.

Start Fight RunA short, miniature visual novel game by bentosmile that's bite-sized enough even for people who don't normally like visual novels to enjoy! You're on a quest to find the princess, and in each town you visit, a number of people are willing to help. Should you talk to the little girl, take her balloon, and head into the Creepy Woods? Should you speak with the village bear to see if he can help you in battle? Make a few simple (and funny) choices and see how the story unfolds!

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

The Flower Shop: Winter in FairbrookNatalie's got big problems. Or at least, to her they're big. With her parents threatening to cut her off unless she gets her priorities straight, the college student has no choice but to take a job over winter break in the sleepy little burg of Fairbrook. Will Natalie emerge at the end of 12 weeks just as aimless and self-absorbed as when she started? Or will the people she meets and the things she experiences drag her kicking and screaming into emotional maturity? A sweet and sentimental little visual novel simulation from Winter Wolves packed with charm and likable characters.

The Thirteenth YearVisual novels aren't everyone's thing, but a good story is enjoyed by all. The Thirteenth Year is a short visual novel with a minimum amount of interactive elements that spins a philosophical tale in a war-torn fantasy/steampunk world. A strange traveler in a brown cloak is the central figure, though his origins and motives remain a mystery while you take on the role of several different characters, each of whom has an unusual experience while conversing with the boy. There are three endings to discover, and the story will take a little over an hour to complete. You'll be riveted to the screen the entire time!

WitherIt seems like most games created with RPG Maker do a great job at being ignored by most people. Well, Wither is a little bit different and deserves a second (first?) chance. Styled like a classic Game Boy green-on-black game and using a few sound effects and sprites ripped from very recognizable sources, Wither tells the tale of a boy crippled with grief over a recent death. Explore the small area and talk to the characters to get a sense of what happened, then do what any good video game character does when there's nothing left to do: take a nap. Here, nightmares occur, presenting you with new worlds to explore. All in all, Wither is fairly thin on gameplay but very thick on emotion. It's a game about sadness, guilt, and devotion, and its non-linear exploration-based gameplay makes it a delight to sample. The fact that it looks so retro is just a nice bonus!

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