Friends! Readers! Do not let your life be constrained by arbitrary dates on a calendar! Whether its October or not, we should all be free to enjoy the ghoulish delights of a haunted house or three, and Grey Alien Games' match-3 arcade game Spooky Bonus (also available directly from the developer) is just the ticket if you're looking for a thoroughly casual and thoroughly enjoyable bit of addictive token matching gameplay. Strange things are happening in Old Town!... that's it. That's the whole story. You'll move across a map filled with goblins, ghosts, witches and other things that go bump in the night, but most importantly, the map is also packed to the brim with levels! Match three or more of the same token by swapping adjacent tiles to make a match, with special tiles charging your power-ups or creating bombs that clear the board, and others clearing golden tiles to let you buy more upgrades. Each level (which you can choose to with or without a timer) has its own conditions to meet, such as matching a certain number of a particular type of item, and different levels have different types of items. It's a simple premise done right, packaged up in a sweetly spooky (though not scary!) aesthetic that will keep fans of the genre happy for hours.
"Oh Roberto," croons Lucia, "I know that together we can face any danger, and you can always count on me!" Until they can't, and he can't, when Roberto is stabbed right in front of his beloved's eyes a few moments later, and then whisked away by dark magic. Way to drop the ball, Lucia. To make things even more ironic, Roberto was in the middle of writing a letter to you for help... he was, after all, your student in magic before he became the duke of Florence, but recently he's become concerned someone might come after him for his work. Looks like he was right, and unless you can prove her innocence, Lucia's going to be executed at midnight in ERS Game Studios' hidden-object adventure Haunted Legends: The Dark Wishes. Lucia is actually convinced Roberto is still alive, and it turns out he might have gotten wrapped up in some serious magic indeed, as one of the Fates themselves is here on Earth looking for the Philosopher's Stone. She doesn't say it was stolen by the creepy little guy who keeps making threatening messages appear at you, but, well, c'mon. Now you're in a race to find the Philosopher's Stone before he can figure out where it is and how to harness its power without killing him, and you'll need to travel the world, solving puzzles, finding items, and, yes, rooting through hidden-object scenes to thwart him... with the help of a little magic of your own. And I guess the floating, skeletal goddess of fate. She's probably a little helpful too.
So the kingdom of Avalon has managed to repel the goblin invaders, but was nearly razed to the ground in the process, and now the king gathers his knights to march into the mountain and slay the goblin king to end the threat once and for all. While you stay behind and do all the grunt work, of course. In Anawiki's casual card game Avalon Legends Solitaire 2, you're a druid who's been left holding the bag while the king is off being heroic, and in that bag is a deck of magical cards that allows you to gather the resources needed to rebuild the kingdom when you play solitaire... ssssssssssomehow. Look, it's magic, kid, I ain't gotta explain anything. With the help of the townsfolk who will generate income and resources for you as you rebuild the kingdom, and your extremely passive-aggressive royal engineer, you'll crack ice and stone, purchase helpful upgrades from Merlin (hey, just because the land is burnin' doesn't mean a wizard ain't gonna get paid), and play a whopping 300 levels in your quest to restore the land to its former glory. It's simple, satisfying, Fairway Solitaire-esque gameplay without all the bells and whistles.
[Note: This game was originally reviewed in December of 2008, but while thinking on the best casual games I've ever played, I immediately thought of this one, and wanted to spotlight it again. Enjoy this Flashback Friday, my fellow foodies.]
The world of professional cooking is ugly, friends. Forget your Martha Stewarts, your Rachel Rays, your semi-homemade with matching-table-decor. It's hard, it's hot, and it is really, really competitive. Top Chef is based on Bravo Channel's reality program of the same name, which takes a batch of fifteen confident up-and-coming chefs and eliminates them through a series of culinary challenges each week until only one remains. The game puts you in the shoes of one such aspiring chef and, with your help, she's going to chop, saute, and julienne her way to the top through fifteen episodes and a whopping forty-five challenges. Along the way she'll have to deal with sneaky behavior, backstabbing, and some furious competition, but trust me; that's the easy part about being a Top Chef in this charming and creative time management sim.
Your life seems like it's about as perfect as it can get. You're engaged to a handsome jazz pianist in New Orleans, just putting the final touches on your wedding plans. But when your sweetie's former band mates start turning up dead, and mysterious smoking men are slinking about, it's time to take action before it's too late. You play as Ella in Mad Head Games hidden-object adventure Cadenza: The Kiss of Death. With nothing but a black lipstick stain as your lead, you're going to have to use all your skills, and maybe even learn some new ones (unless picking locks and diffusing bombs are already part of your skill set. Who are you, MacGyver?), as you do everything you can do to save your future husband's life.
Two feuding Louisiana towns. A mysterious mythical owl man. Creepy swamps. A missing boy. Crocodiles. All in a days work if you're a Mystery Tracker detective. When sightings of the local legend are at a peak and young boy goes missing, the townsfolk don't know what to believe. Piece together clues, question suspects, and find the link between things in Mystery Trackers: Nightsville Horror, a hidden-object adventure from Elephant Games. Use your sleuthing, your brave little dog Elf, and your puzzle solving skills to track down the missing boy Oliver before it's too late.
It is generally agreed upon that puppets, much like clowns or doing your taxes, are creepy and scary no matter how many times you come across them. Luckily for ERS Game Studios, some of us hidden-object adventure lovers like to be spooked from time to time. This is why the PuppetShow series is so popular that it's celebrating its seventh birthday this year with a new installment, The Price of Immortality. You find yourself in the delightfully steampunky town of Immortale (the "e" is silent), looking for your friend, Enrique, who went there to investigate the disappearances of a number of journalists, all somehow connected to the Theater of Emotions. Now, the Theater of Emotions sounds like it puts on audience-participation productions where everyone ends up holding hands, weeping and going out for cupcakes afterwards. That alone would be a good reason to save Enrique, but the theater turns out to be a place where snoopy reporters come to die. Turns out the theater holds a sort of murder lottery, where townspeople lucky enough to have their number drawn get to throw knives at the unfortunate reporters. On top of that, Immortale used to be famous for its beautifully crafted puppets, but lately they have been as abused and tortured as the visiting reporters. Just what is going on in this twisted town?
There probably aren't a lot of video game characters who deserve a vacation more than Emily, the non-stop restaurant managing dynamo of Gamehouse's beloved Delicious series of time management games. She and her new husband were expecting a low key honeymoon before her brother-in-law turned up with his newly acquired cruise ship and offered them the trip of a lifetime. But with Emily's entire family and circle of friends on board and her best friend forever Francois in charge of serving the ship's customers, will Emily really get a chance to relax? Delicious: Emily's Honeymoon Cruise is yet another gorgeous, funny, smart and lovingly polished gem that will delight fans and woo newcomers.
The meddling, passive-aggressive mother-in-law who constantly finds fault with the bride is such a ubiquitous trope in pop culture that I thank Celestia for my own sweet, not-as-crazy-as-I-am mother-in-law. In Delicious: Emily's Wonder Wedding, part of the beloved Delicious series of time management games from GameHouse, cafe owner Emily is finally about to tie the knot with boyfriend Patrick, but the road to wedded bliss isn't a smooth one. Not only does Emily have to contend with dress problems, mailing invitations, and, of course, managing her popular eatery, she's also got to win over Patrick's mother who's just flown in from Ireland and seems to pick on everything Emily does and says. With a run of bad luck a mile wide, Emily begins to convince herself that maybe Patrick's mother is right and the wedding is cursed, but that's nonsense... right? GameHouse proves once again they know the time-management trade almost better than anything else, and delivers a fun, funny, and gorgeously polished game that stands head and shoulders above the rest.
When a witch hunter marries a witch, even if she's a good witch, it's a stretch to imagine their life together will be happily ever after, don't you think? Lynn and Edward have been married just a year when the nasty witch queen Morgana, set on bringing back her powerful mentor so witches can rule the world, lures the happy couple to a totally creepy fair (just what every girl dreams of doing on her first wedding anniversary, especially with her mother tagging along) where she and her lackey whisk Lynn away for use in an evil ritual. In Witches' Legacy: Slumbering Darkness, a hidden-object puzzle adventure game from Elefun, you play as Lynn's mother Carrie, along with her somewhat terrifying yet helpful imp sidekick, who are racing the clock to get Lynn back before it's too late.
In the grand scheme of things, match-3 puzzle games might be some of the simplest to make in their most basic incarnation, but taking that simple formula and making it feel fresh and fun takes a bit more ingenuity. Good thing Playcademy seems to have that in spades, with Runefall being one of the most relaxing and enjoyable additions to the genre to come along in a long time. In it, you find yourself in the tiny town of Riverfell, which has had difficulty making ends meet and finding enough to make their tribute to the kingdom ever since the war brought the trade routes to a screeching halt. But when you discover magical, valuable runes while out searching for the resources needed to pay tribute? Well, that's another matter entirely, and suddenly sleepy Riverfell isn't so sleepy at all. Despite some issues with repetition and variation, a genuinely likable cast and engaging story alongside addictive match-3 gameplay makes Runefall a rocksolid addition to the genre that's well worth checking out and losing a few hours to, as comforting and enjoyable as loading up your favourite light fantasy film while wearing your comfiest socks and sipping your favourite beverage.
In addition to being a mouthful, Dark Tales™: Edgar Allan Poe's The Mystery of Marie Roget is the name of ERS Game Studios' creepy new hidden-object adventure. You and your companion, the insufferably smug Dupin (why couldn't it be Dale Cooper... just once?), are called in to investigate some strange happenings plaguing a newly married couple. Glass has been shattering all on its own, young Marie has fallen into a depressed fugue and won't tell her husband why... oh, and there's the sinister skull-laden magic mirror, too, making it rather loosely based on the original tale to say the least. You and Dupin (ugh) quickly discover there might be more going on than simple superstition, and it seems like this sleepy little burg is hiding more than its share of dark secrets. And crazy puzzle mechanisms. And elaborate gate locks. And evil one-eyed crows and cats. How does anyone get anything done around here when you need two puzzle pieces, face cream, and an old candle just to get into the local bakery? Though perhaps the scariest thing about this game is... comic sans is the default font. AAAAEEEEEEIIII!
2-13-2015: Regency Solitaire is now available from Big Fish Games!
Grey Alien Games' Regency Solitaire is as lovely and elegant as you'd expect an indie card game to be, which is quite lovely and elegant indeed. The game follows Bella, desperate to escape an arranged marriage to her less than desirable neighbour after her layabout brother gambles the family fortune away. Bella has dreams of marrying one very particular handsome suitor, but with the restrictions of regency society, that can't happen unless she restores her family wealth and reputation. Which you accomplish, naturally, by playing lots and lots of solitaire. Nothing weird about that. That's how we paid off our house. With 180 levels spread across 20 chapters, a beautiful, hand-drawn art style, and a few twists on the familiar solitaire formula, Regency Solitaire is an absolute pleasure for slow, relaxing card game strategy from start to finish.
In Artogon's creepy hidden-object adventure Shiver: The Lily's Requiem, you play Dr. Thompson, returning to the sleepy town of Blackwill after 17 years. Things get weird in a hurry when, on your way to your first night on the job, you stumble across a girl passed out in the street. She begs you for your help, claiming to be the daughter of a former patient of yours who has been comatose for years, but there's something hunting her that doesn't want you interfering. Lured off into the night by a strange siren song, she needs your help before it's too late! So go collect a bunch of pearls to decorate your office. And find some items for your fish tank. And crack open this random tin to solve a puzzle to enter your own office. And play Battleship with this mechanic. But other than that, saving her is your priority. Despite suffering from an abundance of backtracking and having shed most of the horror elements fans of the previous games in the series might be hoping for, Shiver: The Lily's Requiem still blends urban legends and classic mythology in new and intriguing ways for a gorgeous adventure with a diverse and meaty amount of puzzles and hidden-object scene variants.
In Five-BN Games' hidden-object adventure Lost Lands: The Four Horsemen, after a boring shopping trip on your way home to make boring dinner for your boring kid, you suddenly find yourself whisked away from the parking garage to a strange world where you're told by a sexist hermit mage that, though he was praying for the "Chosen One" to come defeat the evil plaguing the land, you, despite being a "fragile female", are responsible for saving the world. Which seems like a lot to ask for someone wearing red pleather and shoulder pads, regardless of gender, but hey. What's this "great evil" you ask? Well, it might have something to do with the fiery destruction you glimpse being rained down on the very cottage you find yourself standing in front of, though that's a future that will only come to pass if you can't find a way to stop the flaming swordsman who caused it. With mermaids, halflings, portals through space and time, and much more, Lost Lands: The Four Horsemen is a satisfyingly epic and lavish fantasy adventure that's perfect for casual fans looking for a lot of magic.