Learn to Fly
I love Google. Google is awesome. I wish Google would index my car keys. Sure, some people may get a bit worried about how big they are, but I say they're just being silly. I mean, if anything happened to Google, how would we find Wikipedia articles? Seriously, they should just put "The Wikipedia Search Engine" under their name.
Wait… "Giggle"? "Kiwipedia"? "awesome penguin article"? "Search under a table"?!? That's not my Google screenshot! Help, somebody's sabotaging my snobbish fanboy post on Livej—ayisgames? Uhh… Hey, look, a penguin!
Aw, you didn't look fast enough. Anyway, that reminds me of a game I've been playing the last couple of days. In Learn to Fly, by Light Bringer, you play as a penguin who looked himself up on Kiwipedia and took the whole "flightless bird" comment as a mortal insult. So he decides that he's going to learn to fly, presumably so he can visit whoever wrote that and give them a stern talking to.
The controls couldn't be easier. Press [left] to tilt back, [right] to tilt forward. For the first few days, you'll just want to keep your bird as flat as possible, so that he skips like a stone on the surface of the water. Once you buy the first glider, though, you'll see a bit more strategy, as a slight tilt adjustment can make a big difference in how you fly. And when you get the rocket, you'll be tapping the space bar with surgical precision to get the most out of your limited fuel.
Whatever your equipment, your goal is simple: fly as high, long, and far as possible. You get money for flight height and distance, and flight time adds a multiplier, which ranges from 1 to 3. Mastering all three categories can make you a rich penguin.
Once you get the hang of the basics, you should pay attention to the achievements for each level. You need a certain number of them to unlock each successive level, and completing them also rewards you with even more urgently-needed cash to upgrade your not-so-flightless penguin.
Speaking of upgrades, there are six to choose from, all easy to understand. Ramp Height lets you start higher up and Acceleration makes the ramp slipperier, meaning you start faster. Even with a good starting height and speed, though, you won't get very far unless you upgrade your Air Resistance, letting you keep your speed longer. Air Resistance, in turn, requires a good Glider to be useful, because a bad one (or worse, none at all) makes you drop like, er, a flightless bird. If you still need some more speed, you can buy Rockets to give you a boost when you need it, and Rocket Fuel to keep them burning longer. It's so simple, you wonder why the other penguins haven't figured it out yet.
Analysis: It would be easy to dismiss Learn to Fly as nothing more than another "fly to the right, get as far as you can" game or a clone of John Cooney's Hedgehog Launch. I can already imagine the old hands out there looking for some random object to bounce off of and get a boost skyward. I've got news for you: you won't find any. Nope, in Learn to Fly, it's just you, the salty air, and the open ocean as far as your eye can see. And your geared-up penguin, of course.
As I've said before, stripping away the extraneous bits and bobs will sometimes improve a game, because both developer and player can focus on the core fun. This game is another excellent example. By removing the random obstacles and giving the player control, Light Bringer have switched from a game of pure chance to one of pure skill. If something goes wrong out there, you'll only have yourself to blame. And frankly, that's the way we like it.
Still, even with those changes, the longevity would be pretty short, because once you've got your flight technique ironed out, there's really not that much more to do. Which is where the upgrades enter the picture. See, while your starting penguin can only hope to bounce off the water in imitation of those other flying games, as soon as you pick up a glider, the strategy flips completely: Suddenly, hitting the water is a Bad Idea, because while it bounces you upwards, it also drains a big chunk of your speed. With all of the ways you can upgrade your penguin, you'll be adjusting your strategy continuously as you go along.
The fun doesn't even end when you finish the game, either. If you click Continue, you'll be able to keep flying, buy any remaining upgrades, and see how far you can get. As I suggested earlier, though, you will quickly hit a wall where you can't do significantly better, no matter how well you finesse your penguin. If, on the other hand, you select Back to Menu or refresh the page, you will be able to play again from the beginning. Why? Because the game cleverly told you how many days it took you to finish, and gave you one simple line of either praise or scorn. What do you mean, "Think you can do better?" Of course I can do better! Give me one more shot, I'm sure I can knock another day off!
P.S. My personal best is 17 days. Think you can do better? :)