Armed with Wings
One of the most aptly-named casual games ever, Armed with Wings, by Sun Studios, is an enjoyable platformer with some innovative twists. You play the role of a fallen hero, brought back to life from the "blackmist" in search of vengeance, armed with a katana and an eagle. That's right, an eagle. Designed to augment the typical start-to-finish run of platformers, you have control of an eagle that helps you reach your goal in a variety of ways. In most levels, that goal is simply to make it to the end flag by chopping your way through enemies and solving various environmental puzzles, like getting bridges to extend, distracting enemies and more.
You will want to run the tutorial stage your first time playing because there's a slight learning curve (mainly using the controls) to this game. The first thing you'll notice is the monochrome environment, reminiscent of the classic N. The levels are stylish enough to hold your attention without getting tiresome, especially when you consider that according to the story, you and your eagle are manifested in the "blackmist," an alternate reality of sorts. Controls take a bit of getting used to: move with the [arrow] keys, [Z] to attack, [X] to block, while the [A], [S] and [D] buttons control your eagle.
The sole aspect of this game that sets it apart from any other typical action/puzzle platform games is your pet eagle, which lets you to interact with both the environment and enemies in some fun and interesting ways. You release the eagle by pushing [A], allowing it to fly around under your control for a certain time before it's summoned back to you. Using [S] allows the eagle to pick up various items like rocks and keys; things that you need to advance through the level but can't reach yourself. [D] sets the eagle to an idle mode, returning control to the hero while the eagle stays in place. All of this adds up to a variety of uses such as distracting enemies while you slice-and-dice them from behind, scouting locations up ahead, picking up items you need to advance, and much more. In early stages, reaching the goal flag can be as simple as cutting your way through a few opponents. In later stages, you'll have to rely on your puzzle-solving skills, even when it comes to certain boss fights. The attacking mechanic is pretty fun; basic attack is a three-swipe sword combo. There's also an uppercut swipe that leaves enemies reeling, giving you some breathing room. Then there's the ultimate; a charged attack that can devastate enemies (as well as some objects in the environment).
Analysis: At its core, Armed with Wings is an action/puzzle platformer, and no amount of glitz and glamor is going to change that. But even if you're sick to death of platformers, this game offers something special: an innovative game mechanic with polish and style. Snazzy cut scenes before and after boss fights add some great eye candy, while an evenly-progressing difficulty system keeps you from throwing in the towel. Control would have been better if configurable (for fans of WASD movement), but it works. The ability to jump would also have been a nice addition, although many of puzzles rest solely on your inability to do so. Check out the built-in walkthrough on the menu screen if you get stuck and again, be sure to check out the tutorial stage in the "How to Play" section or you'll be flying blind.