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September 2007 Archives

(5 votes) *Average rating will show after 20 votes
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Replay 2 : The SequelJohnBReplay 2: The Sequel is a turn-based puzzle game entered in our 3rd gameplay design competition from Caleb, R. Emmett, and longhorn54. The game revolves around the replay theme and puts you in control of a JIG logo whose shadow is constantly lagging a few steps behind. As you move across the levels, you must hold switches and avoid obstacles for your shadow (and vice versa) to ensure both make it to the goal. Although it's tagged as a sequel, don't start scouring the Internet for the original game. The code for what was to be Replay was rebuilt from the ground up, earning its status as a "part two".

Use the arrow keys to move the JIGster around and watch for switches, doors and enemies to interact with (or avoid!). Pressing the [spacebar] lets you wait a turn for your shadow to catch up, a crucial move that's a focal point of the game's strategy. Nothing moves unless you press a button, so there's no pressure to race against the clock or have fast reflexes. This puts the heavy lifting on your ability to plan several moves ahead to predict where you, your shadow, and the enemies will be in the future.

Replay 2 is more challenging than it may appear, but with enough planning and trial-and-error you can scramble your way through the levels without too much worry. One of the chief drawbacks in the game is the apparent lag in controls. Press an arrow key to move and it takes the character a fraction of a second to respond. This leads to an almost clunky overall feel that hampers some of the enjoyment (but doesn't ruin the fun). It's also a bit of a frustration to have to restart the level each time you make a mistake.

Repay 2: The Sequel is a unique and challenging puzzle game that requires forethought and patience. An excellent entry from Caleb and team!

Play Replay 2: The Sequel

JayJay - Replay 2 is probably one of the more under appreciated titles from our previous competition. The game has a bit of a rustic appearance and the somewhat clunky feel to the controls (as John mentioned) may be enough to turn off the more casual gamers out there. But those who appreciate the intellectual challenge of puzzle games like Deadly Rooms of Death (DRoD) will find there is a deep and rewarding experience offered within. With the help of a seasoned Flash graphics artist and a revisit to the underlying engine that handles the controls, Replay 3 has the potential to really turn heads. Keep up the great work you're doing, Caleb and team, and cheers for a great puzzle game entry! =)

(5 votes) *Average rating will show after 20 votes
Comments (24) | Views (3,998)

dancemonkeyParacaidasCombine charming graphics and addictive gameplay with daredveil stunt-diving, and what do you get? Besides the occasional man-shaped hole in the ground, you get an entry from our 3rd Casual Gameplay Design Competition.

Paracaidas ("parachute" in Spanish) is from Scheletro, a very talented newcomer to our competitions. It's the tale of a dedicated stunt performer who is never satisfied until he has either safely missed his target, or mysteriously closed his parachute and plummeted to his death.

Using only the [spacebar] you must drop a skydiver from a passing plane, and again with the [spacebar] you must open his parachute at just the right time to achieve the target, taking into account the wind speed and direction. You get more points the longer your chute is open before landing, and a bonus multiplier for how close you get to a bullseye. For extra bonus points you can try to collect a shiny gold star that is randomly placed on the screen.

You can continue to replay the game as long as you continue to hit the target. Miss the target and the game is immediately over. You can also inexplicable close your chute with [spacebar] which almost always results in your death, and of course the game ends then as well.

Analysis: This is one of the simplest games I've played in quite a while, yet I found myself coming back to it again and again. The graphics are charming and delightful, especially the satisfying hole in the ground you make after putting away the chute too soon. I was initially unimpressed with its "replay" value, but had to give Scheletro credit after I had been "replaying" his game for about 20 minutes straight.

My main problem with the game is with the ability to close the parachute: it's completely worthless. It seems its only value is to quickly finish an obviously failed jump, and in that it excels. It would seem natural to be able to lose the 'chute and drop a few feet onto the target, if the wind were about to make you overshoot it, for instance. That doesn't even work though since a drop of only a few inches without a parachute is still instant death. It seems too intentional a feature to be so pointless, yet I fail to see its value. Perhaps Scheletro was also a victim of running out of time, as were a few other of our entrants?

Play Paracaidas

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JohnBStuck at work on the weekend? Tired of spending your Saturday/Sunday doing homework? Or are you one of the lucky folk who have two days of (relatively) work-free bliss? In any case, we've got a boatload of distractions for you on this edition of Weekend Download. A couple of remakes dot the list that are sure to please us "veterans" of video games, while everyone else can enjoy building houses or collecting souls in the underworld. No matter if you're hopping the company firewall to grab a few games or just relaxing at home, consider this your excuse for not doing anything especially productive.

buildalot.jpgBuild-a-lot (Windows, demo, 45MB) - A casual strategy/simulation game where you become a real estate mogul trying to conquer the housing market. Construct, upgrade, and sell houses for profit while you manage workers and materials, research new blueprints, and buy empty lots in each neighborhood. Build-a-lot manages to pare-down the often complex interface of similar strategy games into something everyone can enjoy.

xiq.gifXIQ (Windows, Mac, Linux, freeware, 10MB) - A strangely compelling retro-style shooter where you must trap vector foes to destroy them. Use the arrow keys to move, the [WASD] keys to fire in any direction, and try to box those little suckers in as quickly as you can. And the game's soundtrack? Excellent.

goldeneye2d.gifGoldenEye 2D (Windows, freeware, 2MB) - You've played the original, the classic, the genre-defining GoldenEye 64, right? Well... now try it in a refreshing 2D Game Boy flavor! The game stays mostly faithful to the original but feels more like a classic side-scrolling shooter rather than a game of espionage.

goonies1.jpgThe Goonies (Windows, Mac, Linux, freeware, 12MB) - A gorgeous remake of The Goonies platformer game originally released for the MSX. The retro gameplay is almost perfectly preserved while the visuals have received a hefty face lift. I'm loving the water reflections. The Goonies hasn't aged as well as some other classic games, but it's still a slice of nostalgic heaven.

kaipuu.gifKaipuu (Windows, freeware, 5MB) - A platforming game of exploration closely related to Knytt and Seiklus, Kaipuu has recently been translated to English so a wider audience can enjoy its touching storyline. The game doesn't have the smell of "instant classic" like others of its kind, but there's a little bit of magic that most players will enjoy.

(4 votes) *Average rating will show after 20 votes
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robotgoal.gifJohnBRobot Goal, by Ja.Games is a simple action/puzzle game where you use a series of clickable commands to program a robot on the screen. The goal is to have the 'bot collect green spheres and fire them into the targets before time runs out. Four possible commands are laid out in tiles to the right: rotate clockwise, counterclockwise, move forward, and fire the ball. String these together in whatever order you need to get the robot to the spheres.

As the game progresses, puzzles get much more complex and can be a real challenge to complete on time. Movable blocks appear after a few levels that must be pushed out of the way before you can collect the spheres. Of course pushing them usually blocks your path and forces you to take the long way around, making your fight against the clock a little more tense.

Robot Goal carries the unique ability to make you laugh at yourself. Carefully planning moves out in your head sometimes goes awry, causing the robot to walk, twist and do some wacky looking things in the wrong place at the wrong time. You aren't penalized for "incorrect" moves (other than losing precious time), so just grin and keep chugging away.

Robot Goal is a very simple game that has a kind of innocent charm. Cheers to Ja.Games for a great entry!

Play Robot Goal

dancemonkeydancemonkey - I'm afraid I feel like I was missing something here. Let me start with the positive: I actually enjoyed this game and think that overall it's a great concept. What I don't really get is where the theme came into play, it just wasn't that strong of a Replay concept. That aside, I think there is a mis-match in the game's rules. You program the robot to do its thing in discrete steps, yet the levels are time-based. I think it would have been a better choice to make the constraint turn-based rather than time-based, so that you only have a certain number of moves to accomplish the goals. Either that or significantly reduce the time alloted to each level so that there is some challenge. How about this: give you no time limit at all, no programming limit either, but stipulate that the level needs to be completed in one pass? Or a mixture of all of those things and then some more that I'm not creative enough to think of? I don't mean to sound too negative, I thought the game was charming and shows a lot of promise, but it just didn't gel for me completely.

Comments (51) | Views (3,042)

Link Dump Fridays

JohnBOctober is almost here, and you know what that means! It's time to celebrate Apple Day! Yes, the holiday everyone looks forward to all year long is finally near. Now you can eat as many apples as you like without worrying about people teasing you. And if you live in Japan you're doubly lucky, as Health and Sports Day is also in October, making sure you'll be in top condition to burn off that apple fat at the end of the month.

  • slingjr.gifSling Jr. - Hooray, more Sling! The folks at Ezone have excreted another goo-throwing game based on the original Sling. Just as addictive as the original, though it's awfully short...
  • gravitee.gifGravitee - It's golf. But it's in space! Kind of an odd game to wrap your head around, you're trying to punt the ball through the ringed planet. Unfortunately each planet has its own gravitational pull, so it's never just a straight-shot to the goal.
  • hex1.gifHexiom - An interesting but not-quite-original puzzle game where you shift shapes around the board and place them next to each other. The number on the top indicates how many sides should touch another shape. The later levels get pretty tricky.
  • dungeonbanner1.gifDungeon Banner Escape - A banner room escape game in the style of Babarageo STG Banner and Rob Allen's banner game. Use the arrows at the bottom to move, and click around to get more information and to collect items. Pay special attention to stones that change color when you click them.
  • FeudalismFeudalism - A rather complex RPGish game of amassing an army and conquering the world, one city at a time. Includes lots of weapons, skills, magic, and a variety of units to control.
  • The BattleThe Battle - Somewhat similar in gameplay to the previously mentioned Feudalism and Bowmaster Prelude except with heavy artillery. Wipe out the enemy and their fortress by amassing an army using limited resources. Protect your oil well as that is your only source of income.
  • Ocean ExplorerOcean Explorer - The only shooting you'll do in this game is of the photographic kind. Venture into the depths of the ocean to find rare fish to take pictures of. The latest game from John Cooney and Armor Games.
  • Stunt Bike Draw 2Stunt Bike Draw 2 - It's like a glossy version of Line Rider with gameplay attached, except Jay couldn't even complete the first objective. But don't let his incompetence prevent you from trying.

(12 votes) *Average rating will show after 20 votes
Comments (53) | Views (5,003)

Music DodgeJohnBFitting the webtoy category more comfortably than being a game, Music Dodge is an entry from Daniel Gutierrez into our 3rd game design competition. Colored bars streak across the screen in time with the background music. You control a colorful orb and must "scratch" against the edge of the bars to score points. It's a simple game of avoidance and precision that really hits home when you play using your own music.

Depending on the beat and sounds, different intensities of colored bars will streak from right to left across the screen. You control a small orb whose only goal is to graze by the outer perimeter of these comets. The longer you do it, the higher your score, which is essentially the only goal of the game. Touch one of the bars full-on and you'll lose the ability to score for a few moments but can re-position yourself to a less crowded part of the screen.

By downloading the swf file to your computer you can play Music Dodge using your own library of mp3 files. This is by far the best feature of the game and creates an extraordinarily personal experience. Scratching along to your favorite tunes can be accurately described as "awesome", although some songs work better than others. There can be some slowdown depending on the intensity of the sounds, but Music Dodge does an excellent job converting the music to a highly visualized pseudo-game.

Music Dodge scores extremely high in the innovation and creativity categories but isn't as fulfilling on the gameplay front. Expect more of a webtoy experience, however, and you won't be disappointed. Creating something as unique as a "beat detector" program is never without its hurdles, but Music Dodge has overcome them all with surprising agility.

Play Music Dodge

dancemonkeydancemonkey - This has been labeled more of a toy than a game, and I guess I agree with that, although I'm not sure that the distinction is very important to me. Since owning my first video game system I've always considered gaming a good excuse to listen to music, and listen to it loud. I've been secretly disappointed in the vast improvements in computer gaming sound and music, since it means I can no longer turn off the sound for a game for fear of missing some critical gameplay element. Well I thank you, Music Dodge, you are exactly what I've been looking. Obvious areas for improvement are having a browse dialog so you can simply select the mp3 from your hard drive, rather than the somewhat convoluted process that's implemented now.

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Game Design Competition #4ArcadeTownFree World GroupArmor GamesSierra OnlineWe are down to the final 5 days before the deadline for our Casual Gameplay Design Competition #4, and we're getting very excited to see and play all the games to have incorporated the "ball physics" theme!

All entries must be in by October 1st, 2007 at 11:59PM. That is this coming Monday night. Please see the competition announcement page for full details on entering.

Here is a final recap of questions that have come up during the past week:
  • If we have external files that our game uses, should we place them in a sub-directory? - Yes, if your game uses or loads external files (images, swfs, etc), then please place them in a sub-directory named the same as your game. While I don't anticipate any conflicts, it is possible. Creating unique sub-directories should help avoid any potential conflicts.
  • Will full screen mode be supported? - Yes, your game may switch to full screen mode if you wish. The competition UI will reset back to normal mode automatically when the player quits from your game and returns to the competition collection UI.
  • Are we allowed to change the right-click context menu? - Yes, your game may create its own right-click context menu for use during your game with no consequence to the competition UI.
  • I'm concerned the console menu that drops down from the top may interfere with the gameplay of my entry. What can we do? - If you think the console menu may be an issue, we can disable it for the duration of your game provided that you create a Quit-to-menu option on your main game menu that calls the GameManager function gameDone(). If you think this may be an issue, please email me about it and we'll work something out.

It's time to wrap it all up folks! Good luck! =)

Note: Comments are disabled for this entry. Please continue to use the main competition announcement page for posting questions and comments. Cheers!

(6 votes) *Average rating will show after 20 votes
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zxoParleyParley is a two-player strategy card game designed by Matt Slaybaugh and Joe Versoza for our 3rd game design competition. Similar to Rochambeau, the base deck is made up of three suits (Water, Fire, and Wood), each of which trumps one other suit and is in turn trumped by the remaining suit of the three. As you progress through the levels, two additional suits may come into play: Air, which trumps all other suits, and Earth, which is trumped by all other suits. In addition, each suit is broken up into a number of different ranks: Queen, Duke, Knight, Spy, and Page (from strongest to weakest). However, spies are capable of defeating queens. In the hierarchy of suits and ranks, rank takes priority, thus the Fire Queen will beat the Water Knight, despite the fact that Water defeats Fire.

Parley is loosely based on the card "game" War, although the rules are changed enough to allow for a good amount of strategy. First of all, you have a choice of two cards from your hand to play. Secondly, both your active hand and your opponent's are visible when deciding which card to play, so you can maximize your chances of success. If you win the battle, you gain one Clout point as well as the card you captured, which replaces your just-played card in your active hand. Replaying this card will earn you triple Clout points if you win again, a neat way to incorporate the competition theme as well as extend the strategy beyond simply choosing the highest card in your hand. Win a match by running your opponent out of cards.

Since so much information is out in the open, strategy becomes very subtle. You will know what cards will be in your hand and your opponent's hand for at least the next two turns, so there are situations where it might be suitable to sacrifice a card in the short-term for a better overall situation. Matt and Joe have crafted a game environment rich with possibilities.

Analysis: For this single-player implementation of Parley, the AI is not all that it could be. In the earlier levels, it seems as if there is no AI at all, like the computer is choosing cards at random. Even worse, at the later levels, the computer seems to choose its card based on the card that you already played — in effect, the computer gets a sneak preview and can then select the best card based on this extra information. To offset this advantage a bit, you can spend up to three bribes in a match to steal one of your opponent's cards, at the expense of clout.

Except that clout points are, for all intents and purposes, worthless. Whether you have positive or negative clout doesn't appear to have any effect on the game whatsoever. There's no minimum clout requirement to advance to the next level; in fact there's no requirement at all. You can start out at the top castle if you want.

Since first rolling out the game during the competition, Matt has made a couple of changes to the version that is now online that addresses some of the criticisms expressed here and in the comments. In this latest version, the AI increases gradually each level (as opposed to starting strong at level 5), and at its toughest it's only half as difficult as it was before. Also, he removed the "Earth Page" card that a number of players complained about since there is nothing that it can beat and is therefore worthless. Even with these changes, however, the AI still feels like it needs to be improved.

Parley is a great card game in theory, but the single-player implementation here fails to live up to the potential of the game. If the authors can improve the AI even more, or work out a head-to-head mode, it could very well be on the verge of habit-forming. Or maybe they could sell physical Parley decks on the Web. Hmmm... Oh well. Until then, play Parley right here.

Play Parley

Parley is also available to play on Matt's Skeptictank website.

  • Currently 4.5/5
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Rating: 4.5/5 (629 votes)
Comments (127) | Views (21,073)

JonahTrapped Pt.1 The White Rabbit"Follow the white rabbit." Now where have I heard that one before? Sorry, but it's not The Matrix this time. It's better! It's Trapped Part 1: The White Rabbit — the first installment of a trilogy of point-and-click adventure games from Rodrigo Roesler of Rabbit Tell.

The game is an interesting twist on your standard point-and-click. While you still use found items to solve puzzles and escape the house in which you are trapped, Trapped trades in the standard first person view for a pseudo-3D isometric third person perspective. The story is nothing new: you wake up in a room next to a dead guy and you have to escape the house. Use your clicking finger and your puzzling skills to collect items and combine items, and to get out.

Analysis: As with many Flash escape games, the story is certainly not the high point of the game. However, the game does have some great features. The puzzles are quite odd while still maintaining some sense of logic. Thankfully, all of the objects are findable and have a purpose, and none have to be combined randomly. The puzzles are very difficult, but all have solid logic behind a solution. The interface is a bit annoying at first, since you have to click twice to get an object and then click another button to drop it, but can be streamlined through keyboard shortcuts. The only real problem I had with the game was the size, as it is a bit small. This size is probably necessary to fit the isometric view, but causes a little bit of squinting after a while. On the other hand, there is no pixel-hunting required, since the cursor indicates when you hover over a clickable object.

Play all the games in the Trapped series:
Trapped: The White RabbitTrapped: The DarkTrapped: The Labyrinth

My favorite part of the game is the extensive behind-the-scenes look Rodrigo provides in the "About" section. Can you guess how long he has been working on it? If you knew, you would understand how he has managed to make it run so smoothly. Rodrigo has been working on this first game for a long time, and I can't wait to play parts 2 and 3. Until then, will you take the red pill, or the blue pill? Or you can just play Trapped Part 1: The White Rabbit.

Play Trapped Part 1: The White Rabbit

Cheers to Hana, Dg, Cris, and John for sending this one in! =)

(12 votes) *Average rating will show after 20 votes
Comments (43) | Views (5,838)

manifold2.gifJohnBManifold is a physics-based action/puzzle game created by artist and designer Joel Esler. Use special orbs that can alter gravity within a small radius to climb your way through dangerous situations. It's a simple idea that's been paired with smart artistic direction to create a game that pleases the senses as well as your sense of fun.

Control the bug-like character with the arrow (or A, D, W) keys and use the mouse to move the pointer. The cursor allows you to create gravity wells by aiming at a target then dragging the mouse to indicate gravity direction. The character will toss a ball that will open the gravitational disturbance when it comes in contact with a wall. You can create as many wells as you have balls to toss and can re-absorb unused areas by moving the cursor over one and tapping the spacebar.

Gravity bubbles don't just push you in a certain direction, they actually shift the gravity within the sphere, allowing you to walk on walls and ceilings inside its borders. This opens up a huge range of possibilities in terms of action and puzzle situations, and Manifold's levels force you to get pretty creative with your gravity-defying skills.

In later levels when you have more gravity orbs to throw around, things get really interesting. You'll find yourself suspended upside-down on a ceiling with saw blades buzzing below, the only thing keeping you alive being the chain of gravity wells you're constantly creating and absorbing. Just enough thrills to keep you glued to the keyboard for the next level.

Manifold has a very clean look thanks to its simple but tasteful design. It's an excellent example of pairing artistic vision with great gameplay to craft an experience that's truly worth your time.

Play Manifold

Cheers to Charles for suggesting this one! =)

Due to popular demand, Joel has released an update to the game with more levels, some of them quite devious in design!

  • Currently 4.3/5
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Rating: 4.3/5 (57 votes)
Comments (153) | Views (8,650)

PatrickHotcornThe latest from Bloons creators, Stephen Harris and Ninja Kiwi, Hotcorn is a game about popping corn... with heat. You control a smiling sun avatar with the mouse, moving it over kernels of corn on a top-down game board to pop them into some kind of exploded corn substance. Pop enough corn before time runs out and you win the level, simple as that.

The game comes complete with a variety of salts and garlic garnishes, in forms like kerosene cans that explode, orbs that freeze time for a minute, rocks that take a bit to explode through, kernels that slow you, yellow gel that slows you, blue gel that extinguishes you, blue orbs that temporarily make you cold so as to pass through the blue gel, and concrete blocks — and I think that's the whole shopping list, maybe there's more later in the game, but good luck encountering them.

Analysis: Hotcorn is dramatically more difficult than NK's previous titles, by the time you get to level 25 you'll be feeling the heat, nay, the sweltering intensity of wrist-bound action that you paced through carefully and cautiously toward the last levels of Bloons. This is like the Ninja Gaiden of casual games, a real-time gauntlet of swings and swipes where the difference between victory and defeat amounts to a fraction of a second. While a younger me might say "aaaalright!" to this display of game design sado-masochism (with the same pronounced drawl of Sean Pean in Fast Times at Ridgemont High) the more experienced version is inclined to say, given the target audience, the extremely narrow difficulty is more of a consistent balancing flaw than triumph. I couldn't even get past level 34 so I can't imagine what level fifty is like. And that's a shame, because I'm so hardcore I almost beat Ninja Gaiden, beset only by Jaques and his homing fireball ballet. I can only imagine the majority of people giving up much sooner. Why balance your game so the majority of the audience can only access half of it? A few fewer kernels required to win, another half second, this would make a huge difference, and I encourage Ninja Kiwi to look at whatever data they have, or otherwise to trust me, and open the game up a bit.

Regardless of the lack of butter, its definitely worth spending some time with Hotcorn.

Play Hotcorn

Comments (10) | Views (3,596)

Yoshitoshi Montreal (Mixed by Sultan)

JayYou may not know that before I returned to RIT to pursue game design and development, I was a software engineer by day and a club DJ at night. So it shouldn't be surprising to see various references and links to music sprinkled throughout the archives, because once a DJ: always a DJ. You could say that even now I'm still spinning, a casual games mix instead of progressive house. ;)

And with the Mercedes Benz mixed tapes coming to a close recently, I've been shopping around iTunes for something new to listen to. That's how I found this latest source of inspirational magic.

DJ Sultan is in the house! His just-released Yoshitoshi Montreal collection is one of the most amazingly uplifting, feel-good mixes of songs I've heard in quite a long time. So good that it warrants interrupting the flow of game reviews to share with you the wonderful positive energy it contains. I've been listening to it for a couple of weeks now from iTunes, but it is just now hitting stores today (9/25). If you enjoy good dance music, you won't be disappointed by the latest from Sultan. Absolutely spirit-lifting fantabulous! (I even think that's him doing the JIG!)

Because everyone deserves to feel good. :)

(9 votes) *Average rating will show after 20 votes
Comments (38) | Views (5,820)
zxoTurtles of TimeWhen I first played the Turtles of Time — created by Dom Camus for our 3rd Casual Gameplay Design Competition — I was not very impressed. I found the controls, strangely enough, a little too touchy and not responsive enough. The gameplay was a tad monotonous and, starting at Level 3, I found it oddly difficult to gain enough points to advance. Had it not been a contest entry, I would have left it for dead after one or two plays.

Let this be a lesson to aspiring game designers: make sure people know how to play your game.

As it turns out, I had the game completely misfigured. Despite its appearance, The Turtles of Time is not a rip-off of Blobular. In fact, it is a very different game altogether, one of careful planning and micromanagement rather than reckless bouncing hither and thither. There are two key game elements that should have been made clearer, either in some form of instruction screen, or through more careful game design.

First, orange and blue are not the only colors of flower that can be collected. It was not until a discussion with Dom in the comments section that I even came to realize that the appearance of blue flowers was not random as it had appeared to me. Whenever a flower grows between two orange flowers, it will come up blue. Likewise, if you grow a flower in between two blue ones, it comes up purple, and so on. By carefully cultivating your crop, you can grow flowers of higher and higher values, that accrue points much more quickly than simply rushing around and gobbling up all the blooms you can see.

Second, gaze deep into the turtle pool. See those fish? They are not just pretty decorations. They will follow your turtle if you get near enough to them, and you can gain points by leading them to the shrines that are on each level. The more you lead, the higher the point value per fish.

Taking these two facts into account, we now have a surprisingly intricate multitasking game, rich in possible strategies for maximizing your score. The replay feature also gains much more importance in light of these revelations. It takes some careful maneuvering to keep the turtles out of each other's way, in order to prevent loss of points by stealing a fish, or wrecking a cultivated garden, or even just by taking away the tempo bonus. Properly played, the game looks and plays like a well-oiled machine, or an award-winning marching band. It might even be possible (for someone with far more patience than I) to use 2 turtles to collaborate in garden cultivation.

I'm still not thrilled about the controls, but if you're moving at speeds where they become very unrealistic, you're probably going too fast anyway. I also think I might have been able to grasp the gardening concept on my own if the flowers grew back immediately instead of gradually (and randomly) over time - that might solve the problem of having to provide what would inevitably be an awkward instruction screen or tutorial.

All in all, The Turtles of Time provides everything we normally look for in a casual game: simple, fun, mostly polished, a variety of strategies, and adherence to the Replay theme, both in the inherent gameplay as well as in terms of replay value. You just have to look a little harder to find it all.

Play The Turtles of Time

JayJay - Since the competition entries went up in July, Dom has been busy working on a version of the game for Greenpeace to help promote its campaign to save some real turtles. Although the new version isn't up yet, you can find out more about their efforts by visiting the website for the Turtle Witness Camp, a campaign that aims to protect the Olive Ridley Turtle at its nesting site in Orissa, India.

  • Currently 4.7/5
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Rating: 4.7/5 (53 votes)
Comments (95) | Views (16,057)

escapeoctlien.jpgJohnBFrom Aztec, creator of Escape from Island and The Shrine, comes yet another superbly crafted point-and-click adventure game, Escape from Octlien. The sci-fi themed title drops you inside a spaceship with very little information on what you're supposed to do. Explore the environment, collect items, and try and make your way through this lengthy and challenging game.

Controls in Escape from Octlien are as simple as any online adventure — just click the items you want to interact with. Arrows appear on the edges of the screen to navigate and you use items by dragging them onto the object you want to use them on. To examine and interact with items, slide one over to the "check" button.

The puzzles are rarely easy to solve and usually include a number of steps before you see tangible results. For example, one item may give you access to a room where you'll find another item that fits in part of a puzzle located halfway across the ship. This doesn't feel frustrating or lead to mindless backtracking, it just adds to the intruigue. Your sense of accomplishment is broken into bite-sized pieces that keep your appetite for the game burning strong.

As with Aztec's other releases, the visuals in Escape from Octlien are stark but well-implemented. Sound effects are all but non-existent but fit the game extraordinarily well. A mysterious atmosphere is successfully created using as few elements as possible.

One of the best point-and-click adventure games released in the last few months from a developer that's quickly building a reputation for impressive games.

Play Escape from Octlien

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Rating: 4.5/5 (20 votes)
Comments (30) | Views (5,642)

ArtbegottiBlackflipDepending on your definition, black could be the absence of any light, while white is the presence of all light. But isn't it amazing how quickly, with the flip of a switch, black can become white?

Enough philosophy, let's discuss Blackflip, a remarkably well-produced Flash puzzle game and website inspired by the game Polarium, which was created by Michell Corp. and released for the Nintendo DS.

The goal of Blackflip is to flip the black and white tiles so that each row is the same color. It is not necessary to turn the entire puzzle into one color. To flip tiles, click and drag on the tiles to draw a single continuous path through the tiles you wish to flip. You have a small amount of gray border with which you can travel around the puzzle, if necessary. If your one path flips all tiles in a row to the same color, the victory is yours!

All levels are made and submitted by fellow Blackflip players, and are solvable in at least one way. Using the level creator, you can create a puzzle as large as 13 squares wide or high. But before you can submit any near-impossible hoo-haw, just remember that for a puzzle to be listed on the site, you have to prove it's beatable by being the first to solve it! As a bonus, you can link to your own puzzles on your website with the provided tags.

Blackflip, created by Flaboratorium, comes packaged in a very nice website with fun graphics and a music player built right into the experience. (Look to the bottom-left corner to change tracks and adjust volume.) With an ever-expanding menu of solvable puzzles, can you solve them all and become a Blackflip master?

Play Blackflip

  • Currently 3.6/5
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Rating: 3.6/5 (24 votes)
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JonahYalpeyalperIf you haven't figured out the meaning of the title of this one yet, don't feel bad; I just got it myself (hint: think sdrawkcab). Anyway, let's talk about Yalpeyalper from the ever-inventive Tonypa. This time he brings us his twist on a chain reaction game.

There have been many chain reaction games made in Flash, and the formula is simple: click one object and watch as the rest of the objects react in sequence. However, while other chain reaction games leave your fate up to chance, Yalpeyalper forces you to make sure you've picked the right starting point.

The game board is also simple: a black and white array of boxes with little dots on the sides. Each side of the box may or may not have a dot. What to do? Umm, click on one, I guess. So you click on one. The box will set off the box next to it if it has a dot on that side. This repeats the process, setting off more boxes and so on and so forth. Pretty standard chain reaction gameplay.

So now there are two options: 1) You got lucky and picked the right box and set off all the boxes, and you advance to the next level. 2) (much more likely) You saw boxes and panicked! So you just picked one randomly and failed to set off the entire chain. Oh well that's okay, you'll get it next time. So next time you figure it out and get to the next level. Now you're speeding through the levels. You're feeling pretty good about yourself. Eventually you make a mistake (it's okay, everybody makes mistakes). No big deal. You'll just pick another box with a lot of dots in it.

This doesn't look like the level you just played!!! That's because it's Level 1. That's right, it's back to the start for you. That's what you get for your impetuosity. This is the brilliance of Tonypa's implementation of the replay theme (which for some reason got seriously knocked in the comments). What was before a happy-go-lucky chain reaction extravaganza is suddenly transformed into a real thinker. Now you must thoughtfully plan your moves—you only get one chance.

Analysis: Another wonderful offering from Tonypa. Yalpeyalper takes the standard chain reaction game and tweaks it just enough to change it from a toy to a puzzle. Of course, as always with Tonypa the presentation is nice and simple, and complements the gameplay well. However, as many have noted, the board is a little small, which can make it hard to see for someone who has been staring at their computer screen for a few hours.

As for the puzzles themselves, at first I thought I had figured out a brilliant strategy: just click the box that none of the other boxes can set off. However, later stages of the game required much more thinking than that. In fact, picturing the patterns in my head became quite a trying task—and also a thing of beauty. As Psychotronic commented, watching the synchronized patterns is "very Zen". It really does have quite a mesmerizing effect.

The only real issue I had with this game was the length. I could have played many more levels than the ten offered. Again, as some have suggested, a randomization feature would make this game timeless. Then it would truly embody the replay concept—I could play it whenever I wanted. In order to preserve the original replay concept, one option could be to base the levels on size - e.g. Level 1 = 4 x 4, Level 2 = 5 x 5, Level 3 = 6 x 6, etc. Then the contest would be to see who could get to the highest level. The only loss would be the artistry that goes into level creation. Maybe the game could have two play modes: Arcade and Random.

In all, Yalpeyalper is a wonderful little puzzle game and, most importantly, unique. It is well thought out and well executed. With a little work, this game could be revisited over and over, thus providing another implementation of replay. Tonypa continues to reinvent game types we've seen before and delivers a brand new experience; see for yourself.

Play Yalpeyalper

dancemonkeydancemonkey - The "replay" element in this game generated a lot of discussion, and I initially agreed with those who said it was an annoying contrivance. After playing more I realized that although there were several different and brilliant interpretations of the theme in the competition, Tonypa's implementation is the most subtly brilliant one in any of the entries. It actually changes the entire nature of the game: from being what could have been a boring game of random clicking into a stately, thoughtful series of puzzles. I agree that the replays themselves could have used a "fast-forward" button, but disagree with the comment that suggested the correct square should be remembered and marked. What would be the point? If Tonypa could get a randomization feature working in this game, then Yalpeyalper could be a new puzzle sensation!

zxozxo - We all knew that Tonypa could teach the course on game design minimalism, but he's even outdone himself in that respect with Yalpeyelper. By taking the chain reaction concept and making a puzzle out of it, he's also once again demonstrated his keen sense of originality for game mechanics. Unfortunately, the idea doesn't quite work, as the game becomes one-dimensional once you figure out the secret. Nevertheless, it's a neat concept and the only suggestion I would make on the implementation would be to introduce a soft "pop" or something for each detonation.

  • Currently 4.8/5
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Rating: 4.8/5 (35 votes)
Comments (22) | Views (13,809)

immortaldefense.jpgNobody ever said that volunteering to be one of the first experimental path defenders would be easy. Leaving your body and pregnant wife behind while you undertake a hyperspace mission to fight millions of aliens using only the power of your consciousness is not going to make you feel any better. Thus begins the intriguing plot of Immortal Defense, another offering in the very popular "tower defense" genre created by RPG Creations. If you are about to say "Oh no, another Tower Defense game", think again, because Immortal Defense has some aces up its sleeve.

The premise of Immortal Defense is similar to other tower defense games you may have played: creeps walk a line and you must annihilate them before they finish by placing lots of damage-dealing towers. Use your mouse to move your ethereal alter ego on screen, which, in a nice twist to the genre, can directly shoot at enemies, adding a nice arcade-y feel to a static genre. Drag and drop the icons located at the bottom of the screen to place eleven different kinds of towers, each representing an aspect of your personality (the "Fear Point" slows enemies, the "Pride Point" gains attack power after each kill). Left clicking with your mouse will target a single creep, making all the towers in range concentrate their shots on it, while right clicking will make you charge a slow but powerful attack which will prove very useful against certain enemies.

Defeating enemies gives you cache (money) that you can use to buy new towers, but since your balance carries over to subsequent stages, you may want to save some for later levels. Between each level, another page of the obscure and intriguing story unfolds. It's obvious that RPGCreations put a lot of effort in creating a sound background story for the game, which indeed succeeds in keeping the player interested throughout the game.

Graphics-wise the game is pretty minimalist, resembling an improved version of Tempest or Asteroids, but the special effects more than make up for the simplistic design. Although the sound effects are nothing to write home about, the orchestral score is truly remarkable and perfectly fits the weird sci-fi universe.

immortaldefense2.jpgAnalysis: There are a lot of things to like in Immortal Defense. Let's start with something that could be easily overlooked at a first glance: the extremely deep and intricate gameplay. Sure, things start off pretty easy and hey, you could even complete the 2 demo campaigns with little effort using the default settings, but each mission can be played at 10 different difficulty levels, and believe me, the higher ones are TOUGH. One of the things I liked the most, though, it's the fact that each level is generally quite short (no more than 5 minutes) although there are some pleasant exceptions. This allows you to play the game even if you have nothing but 10 minutes to kill. Another selling point is the compelling story: which other tower defense game has kept you awake till 3AM?

Immortal Defense is not without its faults, the most notable being the fact that the action can sometimes get very confusing. This is in part due to the design of the creeps, which are a bit too dark and hard to spot the one you really want to target. Another one may be the price tag. With so many enjoyable freeware defense games around, it's easy to summarily dismiss this game's price as "too high". The guys at RPGCreations probably know this, and that's why they put together a very, very long freeware demo version. The demo alone can last 3 or even 4 hours depending on how much you want to improve each single level score, and that's more than enough play time to help you decide whether the game is worth $22.95 or not. In the meantime, go download the demo and have a psychedelic tower-defensive trip with it.

PatrickPatrick Dugan phases into path space to say: I did some QA testing (unpaid, out of LOVE) on Immortal Defense back in April, when it was in Beta, but bought it anyway when it was released just to play the balanced version and unlock the secret levels (which extend the story in a really cool way). The game immediately struck me as something dank, one of those rare games whose generic fun is delivered in an iconic and unique way. You're not going to be disappointed there, so you owe it to yourself to try the demo.

As far as making a purchase goes, I can say that the writing and narrative design here is among the best I've seen in a long time in any indie game, much less a tower defense game. "I love you grandpa" is a piece of text that haunted me, leaving me shaken with wonder and existential horror, for hours after I finished the game. The only other game that made me feel that way, pushed over the top by a single piece of crux writing, was Planescape: Torment's "what can change the nature of a man?" Play Immortal Defense, then become enlightened, that's totally worth the price tag.

Download the demo Get the full version

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  • Currently 4.8/5
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Rating: 4.6/5 (28 votes)
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WulfoLogi-GunLogi-Gun is an absolutely sensational puzzle platformer (free download for Windows only) from Darklink570. Most of the puzzles require skillful, even ingenious, use of the game's 6 guns, although some deft platforming will also be necessary. The game has 19 levels, 6 of which are training levels—one for each gun. Every level has around 3 or 4 different rooms, usually of increasing difficulty. Most rooms have a number of smaller puzzles which need to solved in order to ultimately escape the room.

The guns themselves are the focus of the game, and deservedly so. They range from the standard grapple gun to the peculiar squit cannon to the infuriating, yet satisfying, spike bow. Most of the guns have at least 2 uses—the primary use is activated with the left mouse button and the secondary use (such as the squit cannon's ability to coat a surface in a sticky substance) is activated with the right mouse button. Regarding controls, the only other ones necessary are the standard WASD keys for movement, [Q] to change guns and the [E] key to pick up or put down an item.

One of the things that I liked the most regarding Logi-Gun was the difficulty level. The game is by no means simple, and yet it avoids becoming mind-numbingly difficult. This means that, although some of the puzzles will require some serious thought, you are more likely to end up having an 'A-ha!' moment than searching for a walkthrough.

There isn't a great deal else to say, as the game is deceptively simple. One thing that I would like to point out is that despite their darker boxes, all of the characters are available from the beginning and do not need to be unlocked, as I originally thought. The game is relatively free of bugs, although there is one semi-major glitch. On Level 1-5, if you quit the level, then resume later, you are likely to find yourself at the end of Room 1, and without a gun. To solve this dilemma, simply complete the polarity beam training level again, then go back to Level 1-5.

Logi-Gun is, unfortunately, download and for Windows only, but the file is extremely small and is well worth the slight effort needed.

Tips: If you want to play the game without any help, then stop reading now. The following are some details of the game that I felt should have been mentioned in the tutorial levels, or made clearer:

  • To make a platform with the squit cannon, you need to hold down the left mouse button, then release it to fire, then click again when you want the blob to become a platform. If you are using the cannon to move upwards, only charge it to a half at the most, then the web will come back sooner, before the platform you are on disintegrates.
  • You are able to move magnetic blocks that you are standing on with the polarity beam. You are also able to pick up small magnetic blocks with E, as well as moving them with the polarity beam.
  • Falling down a hole will mean that you begin that room again.
  • Right clicking with laser marker releases a 'radar' like projectile. Clicking again will activate it, making it a send a signal to any object in the nearby area. The only use of this is to activate the blue circular switches with a satellite-like symbol on them.

In conclusion, Logi-Gun is a fantastic game with great and controls and graphics, and it will have you scratching your head in thought, but not slamming it against a wall in frustration.

Download the free full version

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  • Currently 4.5/5
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Rating: 4.5/5 (34 votes)
Comments (32) | Views (12,043)

Cake Mania 2

JohnBJill's back in a sequel to one of the most popular casual games of last year, Cake Mania, by Sandlot Games. In Cake Mania 2 you reprise the role of the baker extraordinaire with the task of helping one of two friends: Jack, who is looking for a bakery in his underwater theme park, or Risha and her bakery in the big city. Serve cranky customers piping hot cakes as quickly as you can to rake in the cash and expand your business!

Cake Mania 2Cake Mania 2 plays out like most resource management games where you must prioritize tasks and work as quickly as you can to make it through each stage. Customers walk in your bakery and your first job is to hand them a menu. When they make their selection the cake appears in a bubble showing the cake style, icing and decorations each person requires. Once that appears, it's time for you to hop to it. Bake the right shaped cake, ice it, decorate it and serve it to the customer as quickly as you can to maximize your income.

One of the best parts of Cake Mania — the quirky customers — has been expanded in Cake Mania 2. Between men in penguin suits, businessmen, lawyers, punk rockers and little kids, there's no shortage of colorful characters to keep a grin on your face. Many customer types have their own unique needs that must be tended to, such as impatient kids or busy doctors. This adds a little spice to the game and breaks apart the linearity of focusing on customers at the front of the line first.

cakemania2a.jpgBetween rounds you can upgrade your bakery by purchasing additional ovens, icing stations and other niceties to help keep things running smoothly. You can also buy items to help keep customers happy, such as a TV or cookie oven, or get Jill a better pair of shoes so she can move faster. How you spend your dough is up to you and is a unique part of each player's strategy.

The main game in Cake Mania 2 has over 200 levels, plus an additional "endless" mode where you serve cakes to a non-stop barrage of customers until the cows come home. Plenty of cake baking action to keep you busy for a very long time.

Analysis: There's no shortage of casual resource management games, but Cake Mania has always stood out as one of the better titles around. The news of Cake Mania 2 is definitely exciting, but I can't help but feel a bit let down by the lack of new features in the sequel. The visuals have improved and the locations are new, but other than those cosmetic changes it's essentially the same game as before. It would have been a treat to see at least one new gameplay element.

On the other hand, when you've got something right, why risk ruining it? Cake Mania 2 doesn't mess with an already winning formula. In this case, more of the same is the icing on the cake.

Download the demo Get the full version

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Cake Mania 2 is available to download from these affiliates:
Arcade TownBig Fish Games

(16 votes) *Average rating will show after 20 votes
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PatrickToytown Tower DefenseToytown Tower Defense, a Happiness Sam production, is yet another game of the tower defense genre that provides a decent amount of polish and a twist or two, but is otherwise more of the same. You place towers and upgrade them with money you earn from killing enemies marching on a pre-set path toward your castle, if twenty reach there you lose.

Just click on a tower to select it, once you've selected it you can upgrade it at cost, and you can set its "aura", which improves one trait of an adjacent tower. Red increases attack power, yellow increases monetary return, blue increases range and green increases attack rate. The goal is to hold out as long as possible.

The three twists Toytown offers to the genre include the auras described above and the control of one of three "Heroes" with different qualities. The marine can shoot quickly, the wizard does splash damage and the witch slows enemies down. Each hero can also choose an aura to affect nearby towers and can use two special attacks with a resultant cool-down time—EMP, which does splash damage and slows enemies; and Stun, which freezes an enemy and does considerable damage. These aspects make the game much more involved than the typical place-and-watch gameplay of most tower defense games, and also serve to keep you on your toes as you pick off stragglers and desperately hold off a remainder batch on their march toward your gate, trying to minimize casualties. The third twist is the need to build power plants periodically as you upgrade and buy new towers, a facile support loop that does little to deepen gameplay, merely adding a chore.

Aesthetically, the game is great and the pixel art is full of all the joy you can expect with pixel art. The ersatz mix of arrows, cannons, a castle you're defending and a Space Marine with a laser gun make the game either thematically diluted or pleasantly diverse, depending on your disposition. The enemies consist of typically non-scary creatures, flying pigs and penguins and little jellies—once again this can either come across as distractingly underwhelming or whimsically cute.

The interface suffers from a few issues. Because the game follows a 2.5D perspective-based perspective, clicking over a tower to move your hero there requires a prompt to choose whether you want to select the tower or move there. Using a special ability to freeze a boss right before it lands in your castle requires clicking on that and then clicking on the specific enemy—not the land right next to it as it moves. The most jarring aspect is that you must select a tower before you can select an enemy to see what their HP and resistances are. Little inconsistencies like this bug me, I don't know about you.

Regardless, this is a good way to spend some time if you're a TD fan.

Play Toytown Tower Defense

Comments (23) | Views (2,992)

Link Dump Fridays

ArtbegottiEverybody panic! There are less than 100 days left to complete your Christmas shopping! You'd better start now! Begin by purchasing a silly clown outfit by the end of October. After that, be sure to grab a large bird to cook by the middle of November. After that, the rest should be a breeze. But before you spend hundreds of dollars on Halloween candy, be sure to check out this sugar-coated Link Dump Friday!

  • LinkzLinkz - Race against your opponent to slide the colored pegs around the corners of tiles to clear them. But watch out, newly-appearing pegs could throw your strategy askew!
  • StarfallStarfall - You're a star. And you're falling. Hit the pink and purple stars to stay alive. Reminds me of Orisinal.
  • The Good Food FightThe Good Food Fight - Get a good look at the recipes available on this site... before they're splattered across your monitor!
  • Name That GameName That Game - From the website for the PBS documentary, The Video Game Revolution, a shortie (and oldie), but a goodie. How well can you recognize sounds from classic video games? I got 8 out of 18.
  • Lights Out 3DLights Out 3D - A pretty nice recreation of the classic handheld games that probably only I remember. Click a cube to change the on/off state of the adjacent cubes, in order to turn all of the cubes off. Use Shift and Ctrl (Cmd on Mac) keys to peek 'inside' the cube.
  • Prowlies at the RiverProwlies at the River - An award winning animation short from the Brackenwood collection by Adam Phillips. Bitey takes a stroll down to the river for a drink only to find a bunch of Prowlies there, and he decides to have a little fun with them.

Comments (19) | Views (3,329)

Flash Rights

JayIf you have been participating in or observing the comment threads of late, you may have noticed an argument simmering over whether a particular game design that was previously published on the Web was used without attribution in a recent game release. The essence of the argument is this: can two independent developers arrive at an uncannily similar idea without one being influenced by the other? I am inclined to think so.

I also believe it is very important that designers and developers receive proper credit for their efforts and for their creative genius, regardless of whether it's a pixel-based avatar, a detailed game design, or a Flash game on the ZOMGFREE1000sOFGAMES Flash portal. We do everything we can here at JIG to ensure that the proper author(s) receives credit for each game we review, sometimes going through much effort to track down the 'official' site and author name for a particular game that may have been suggested to us. We also try to provide background information about a game and its origin, where appropriate, so that the correct lineage of the design can be documented and preserved. We just want to do the right thing, but sometimes it is difficult to know what the right thing is to do.

John Cooney, of JMTB02 Studios, as part of his senior thesis, recently put together a site that aims to help developers, particularly those using Flash, protect their intellectual property. His site, FlashRights.com, provides information and links that explain copyright, licensing issues, and ways to protect your Flash game and your rights as a developer. While it may not cover every issue surrounding intellectual property, it is a good place to start understanding the basic concepts, terms, and issues facing Flash game developers today. John is a prolific Flash game developer and has been working in the Web game industry for the past 6 years.

Visit his site, learn about your rights, and protect yourself. It's a crazy world out there.

  • Currently 4.5/5
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Rating: 4.5/5 (124 votes)
Comments (117) | Views (25,999)

A Bark in the DarkJohnBA Bark in the Dark is a point-and-click game created by Bart Bonte (author of Chicken Grow, Fields of Logic and more) entered into our 3rd Casual Gameplay Design Competition. This title takes the replay theme quite literally and incorporates a few sub-games that you must complete in order to win. And the puppy? Cutest. Animal. Ever.

Controls are as simple as any point-and-click adventure game, just click what you want to interact with. To move, slide the cursor to the edge of the screen and click. Items are used by highlighting them and then clicking where you want to use them.

Puzzle solutions in A Bark in the Dark aren't always immediately obvious, forcing you to experiment in order to find the right answer. The experimentation is part of the fun, however, and even an "incorrect" set-up leads to something entertaining. Once you gather the items you need it's a fairly simple matter to assemble everything correctly and proceed through the game.

Analysis: A Bark in the Dark has all the trappings of a classic Bart Bonte game: a straightforward point-and-click with odd puzzles and a dash of wackiness here and there. The difficulty is toned down quite a bit in this game, so don't expect your synapses to get in a tangle. You will need to summon your arcade reflexes and memory to complete the sub-games, however.

It was a nice change of pace to have games buried within the game, but being forced to complete them in order to continue can be frustrating for some players. Sure, the games weren't too difficult, but if a player happens to fail and discovers he/she has to start the mini-game over, many will simply close the browser window rather than see the the game through. It's always a touchy situation to mix genres in this manner, but A Bark in the Dark barely manages to pull it off.

Another fun point-and-click game from Bart Bonte!

Play A Bark in the Dark

JayJay - Bart has entered every one of our competitions so far, and it is a pleasure to have A Bark in the Dark as part of the collection for our 3rd. The inclusion of the "familiar statue" and the contraption that gets constructed in the game made me laugh out loud while playing this one. Besides the stylized graphics we're used to seeing in his games, and the sometimes annoying bird or bark, it's the injection of humor into his games that makes them so enjoyable to play. A well thought-out game with no major flaws. One of these times, Bart, I promise we'll have a "point-and-click" theme for a competition. :)

  • Currently 4.7/5
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Rating: 4.7/5 (48 votes)
Comments (223) | Views (17,009)
PatrickYin YangIn Yin Yang, the latest Nitrome game, twin gods team up across two parallel universes to beat level 25. Yin is a cackly faced imp boy who seems like a pared down Bart Simpson trapped in a blindingly white everlasting noon. Yang is a plucky bolt of Shakti energy, wandering the dark as a rare night-lite. They take turns exploring their respective universes, moving boxes (yeah! boxes!) and climbing ladders, flipping gravity. There's a dragon that will mimic your move in the other world.

The [left] and [right] arrow keys move you about, [up] jumps, [space] flips the screen, the [control] button moves boxes and reads signs. Get to the flags. Coins are good.

Analysis: Nitrome again delivers an interesting exploration of a concept, a platformer about metaphysical duality, and it offers a healthy plate of puzzle-levels to allow you to absorb all the flavors. Unfortunately, level design seems tailored to a more traditional kind of platformer, one about moving and avoiding enemies, performing key jump sequences, timing yourself, dodging through a gauntlet of spiked walls. This creates the situation of unnecessary death far too frequently; you have to replay the whole thing again, retracing all steps. Having a Braid-esque re-wind function or faster movement would help, or maybe check-points even. Designing more evenly paced, cerebral, riddle-like levels would've been more on point to the underlying dynamic of Yin and Yang, tag-teaming folds in time-space.

You can sort of take advantage of time-warping when you flip gravity. Its tricky, while its flipping you'll want to push the key opposite of the direction you want to go in. As soon as it completes the flip, switch keys, you'll roll right in that direction.

I really like seeing these platform games that start playing with things other than platforms. Reinvent a genre as many ways as possible, because a genre is only a mechanic, there are so many mechanic-sets that can make good gameplay. Its not like the casual-game equivalent of inventing Cold Fusion, but its probably as good as a Domino's Oreo dessert pizza.

Play Yin Yang

The game is also available to Play at MTV Arcade

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Game Design Competition #4SwitchballSierra OnlineWe are just two weeks away from the deadline for our Casual Gameplay Design Competition #4, and I have to say we're getting pretty excited about what is shaping up to be our biggest competition ever. With over $6000 in cash and prizes to give away, we're also looking forward to reward the best game designs that incorporate the "ball physics" theme.

The ball physics theme was, in fact, inspired by the amazing ball physics of Switchball, a casual game download published by our lead sponsor for the competition, Sierra Online.

Switchball is a gorgeous game that includes realistic ball physics and 4 different types of balls, each with its own unique behavior. The game requires you to switch between the various balls to solve puzzles and to complete each level. Be sure to check out our Switchball review since it is also a prize that will be given to every prize winner of the competition.

Highlights of questions that have come up during the past week include:
  • May we submit a game as a team? And if so, how would prizes be awarded? - Yes, you may enter as a team. However, we require a single shipping address to ship any prizes to. Splitting up any prizes won is left up to you and your team to work out.

We're getting down to the wire! It's time to wrap up development of those game features and start putting on the polish as you ready the game for a final round of testing. Good luck! =)

Note: Comments are disabled for this entry. Please continue to use the main competition announcement page for posting questions and comments. Cheers!

(7 votes) *Average rating will show after 20 votes
Comments (32) | Views (4,787)
dancemonkeySpace PilotI think the very first game that I was ever addicted to had to have been Asteroids. I remember being very, very young and I just wouldn't allow myself to be torn away from this tiny little black and white TV that a friend was playing it on. I don't even think I played that time, I just watched, but I was hooked on video games for life.

Space Pilot, by Alex Kaplan, is the spiritual successor to Asteroids, featuring the same vector-style graphics, the same ship, the same control scheme, and even the same asteroids. It is also an entry into our 3rd game design competition held in June and July.

Use the [left] and [right] arrow keys to spin your ship and the up arrow key to thrust forward. The only way to slow down is to spin completely around and thrust against your forward momentum. Turning is similarly tricky, since the direction you travel and the direction you're facing are completely independent of one another.

This time rather than an endless barrage of asteroids bent on your destruction, you're tasked with navigating through asteroids and minefields, sometimes maneuvering through fenced areas and flipping switches to open passages in order to exit each screen. Each level is timed, and you have an unlimited number of replays to complete it; in some you simply have to survive until the time runs out, in others you must complete a few tasks along the way. Unlike the original Asteroids, the walls in this game are deadly to your ship, so don't fly out one end hoping to pop back in the other.

Analysis: Alex has created a wonderful addition to what we should go ahead and call the "Asteroids Canon". The additions to the original formula are sometimes inspired, and I'm looking right at you, mines, when I say that. "Safe Haven" in particular was one of my favorite levels. The graphics as well as spot-on perfect recreations of the original, and for that I am grateful. I was really tired of Asteroids itself decades ago, but picking this game up feels like I'm putting on a pair of old familiar boots and going for a stroll in a brand new town.

Alex missed the mark on a couple things though, probably due to time constraints preparing for the competition. The collision detection is off on the asteroids in particular: in some cases I was almost a full ship's-distance from an asteroid and was destroyed, in others I was almomst completely inside the asteroid before being destroyed. I also don't think that maze-like levels are well suited for the control scheme, and found them tedious rather than interesting. The replay theme implementation is also not particularly inspired, but it's there and it works.

I also just plain miss the music, although it probably would not have fit in well in this incarnation of the game, so I have to mark that down as a good choice on his part.

All in all it's a wonderful idea with a flawed implementation, but one that shows promise. Hopefully we'll see a lot more work from Alex in the near future.

Play Space Pilot

There is also an updated version of the game available to play over at Arcade Town.

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Rating: 4.6/5 (33 votes)
Comments (50) | Views (7,871)
zxoPlatform GameContinuing the theme of obviously-named games this week*, we now present a Shockwave action-puzzle platformer called: Platform Game. As you probably never would have expected, you control a character that runs around and jumps while trying to navigate his way to the exit of each screen.

But wait! OMGplottwistOMG! There are two characters that you have to guide to the exit! And most of the time, you'll have to guide them through separate routes, due to some exquisite level designs that require teamwork to get through. (Time Raider or A Good Hunch! anyone?)

Even better, Platform is a serial game, and each week brings a new level to pass. It even has a plot! The two characters awake to discover that they are in a strange factory-type place with no recollection as to how they got there. With each level, the story unfolds a little more, but not much. So far, 20 levels have been released, and the characters are just starting to realize what is going on.

Use the [arrow] keys to move around, [Z] to jump and [space] to switch characters. The more sinister among you can use [A] and [D] to move and period to jump, if you prefer. Activate switches by stepping on them. Avoid anything that looks sharp or energetic, and stay clear of descending platforms, lest you get smooshed.

Analysis: Like I mentioned before, I really dig the level design of Platform. In most cases, you'll need to switch between characters multiple times per level, in order to activate the requisite switches to allow both to reach the exit. In addition, some levels don't have any safe resting spots, so you'll have to switch between the characters just to make sure they keep away from the moving hazards. Every time I think I have a level figured out, some other element pops up to keep me on my feet. The boxy, industrial feel and the mechanized sound effects add a wonderful atmosphere to the already top-quality levels.

My one, tiny, minor, insignificant quibble has to do with the responsiveness of the controls. It's difficult to land on some of the smaller platforms, yet very easy to fall off. But I'm far too excited about the future installments to let myself get worked up over this minor detail.

Play Platform Game

*OK, so you can't really "continue" a theme if there's only been one game so far that meets it. So I guess I'm initiating the theme. And everyone knows that that last game was really about muffins anyway. (This one is secretly about Jackalopes.)

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Rating: 4.7/5 (705 votes)
Comments (158) | Views (56,933)

Hoshi Saga 2

JayYoshio Ishii has just released a sequel to his enormously popular puzzle game from May, thus creating a new entry in what will hopefully be a continued series of games bearing the Hoshi Saga name. In Hoshi Saga 2, the goal remains the same: find the star in each level. Some you will find by clicking, others by moving the mouse. You will have to approach each one with an open mind if you are to find them all.

There are 36 new levels to discover, and the level numbers pick up right where the first game leaves off. None of them are very difficult, but some may stump you for a bit until you figure out what it is you need to do.

Play the entire Hoshi Saga Series:

Hoshi SagaHoshi Saga 2Hoshi Saga 3Hoshi Saga RingoHoshi Saga RingoameHoshi Saga RingoenHoshi Saga RingohimeHoshi Saga Dokuringo

Analysis: I love games of discovery like this and I know I'm not alone. Hoshi Saga is very reminiscent of Andrew VanHeuklon's Click Drag Type series of puzzles, yet with each puzzle being of a smaller scale and all with a common goal. It is a very simple game to understand, and yet with so many ways to challenge your brain. The art, animation and interaction design is exceptionally creative just like the first one, with only one level in the bunch that will likely frustrate you before you're finished. All things considered, this one is sure to please.

Play Hoshi Saga 2

Walkthroughs for the Hoshi Saga series...

Similar games:

Cheers to Poketnrjsh for the alert of the new release! =)

(11 votes) *Average rating will show after 20 votes
Comments (5) | Views (7,700)

Forgotten Riddles: The Mayan Princess

JohnBOne of the fastest-growing genres in casual gameplay are hidden object games such as Mystery Case Files and the Hidden Expedition series. Fortunately not all developers are content to copy the same idea, place it in a new setting and throw in a few new items. Forgotten Riddles: The Mayan Princess is one such game, combining an intriguing storyline with dozens of riddles that must be solved in order to learn which items you're supposed to locate.

Forgotten RiddlesThe story in Forgotten Riddles is, unlike most hidden object games, actually quite interesting. You are an archaeologist with a deep knowledge of Mayan culture investigating the demise of the last known Mayan family. A number of artifacts have been discovered that date over 20 years after the family's supposed death. Solve riddles surrounding the artifacts to uncover the princesses' hidden journal pages and reveal the mystery behind the family's disappearance.

Gameplay is much like other hidden object games where you're presented with a scene crowded with items and must locate a handful of objects within. The key difference is that instead of a massive list of things to find, you must solve a series of riddles to learn what you're supposed to look for. Each rune at the bottom of the screen hides a riddle that points to an object on the screen. For example, one riddle reads "Away from the water where his cousins would be, this tiny green fellow may live in a tree.". The answer is, of course, a green tree frog, and as soon as you realize this you can start hunting for the elusive little guy. Switching back and forth from item hunting to riddle solving keeps the game from going stale. And your eyes will be eternally grateful.

forgottenriddles.jpgThe mini-games you'll solve between certain levels are also intriguing, especially the glyph puzzle. You're given a set of pictures beside a grid on top of a darkened image. Select a glyph and read the riddle to learn where to place it on the picture, almost like a reverse of the main game. Another thing that sets Forgotten Riddles apart from the pack is the inclusion of two difficulty levels. Normal mode (called Archaeologist) is the usual fare, but Apprentice gives you extra hints and extra time for a much more relaxed experience. No pressure, just riddle solving and item finding at your leisure.

Analysis: The hidden object genre is growing at a rapid pace, making it increasingly difficult to find games that deliver something unique. Forgotten Riddles stands a shoulder above your average game with a better story and a much stronger emphasis on puzzle solving. Riddles are never very difficult, so even if you don't consider yourself very clever you'll still be able to decipher them.

Forgotten Riddles: The Mayan Princess does what many item-hunting games fail to do: deliver a pressure-free gaming experience that still manages to hold your attention. It may be an average item-hunting game at its core, but there's a distinctly original feeling embedded on its surface.

Download the demo Get the full version

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

Forgotten Riddles: The Mayan Princess is available to download from these affiliates:
Arcade TownBig Fish Games

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Rating: 4.8/5 (23 votes)
Comments (0) | Views (5,441)

nelly1.jpgNelly Cootalot (Windows, freeware, 15 MB) - A pirate-themed adventure game that draws inspiration from the Monkey Island series in more ways than one. You play Nelly, a "fearsome pirate and lover of tiny and adorable creatures" who is charged with investigating the disappearance of a fleet of birds by a dead pirate's ghost. The visuals and dialogue are so much fun, even adventuregameaphobiacs will have a great time.

NOTE: Some comments, from when this game was first mentioned on the site, may be found on this page.

Comments (8) | Views (5,706)

Lars Andreas DoucetFret NiceRecently I had the pleasure of playing a fantastic gem of a game that has been getting some press in the independent gaming scene these days: Fret Nice. On the surface it looks like a straightforward platforming game, but there's a big twist: instead of using the keyboard or a gamepad, you play Fret Nice with the Guitar Hero controller!

Fret Nice is a 2D platformer more from the school of Sonic the Hedgehog than Mario or Metroid. The focus is on gaining and maintaining forward momentum rather than poking around every nook and cranny of the screen. You control this little rock-star dude who looks like one of the Beatles. To move left, press any of the leftmost fret buttons on your guitar controller. To move right, press any of the rightmost buttons. To run, strum while pressing the frets. To jump, activate the tilt sensor by lifting the neck of the guitar.

Perhaps the coolest part of the game is when you encounter enemies. To defeat them, look at their facial characteristics which are actually a diagram for what kind of "riff combo" you need to play to defeat them. For example, if the enemy has three eyes, you need to play a single note three times. Jump into the air, hold down one of the frets (any will do), and strum three times. Now you find an enemy with one eye and one mouth. Jump, hold down two different fret buttons, and strum once. There's a lot of room for improvisation and personal interpretation with these riff combos and the music you create meshes with the song playing in the background to create a pretty cool musical experience.

The game was conceived of and programmed by a 25 year old Swedish designer named Mårten Brüggemann as his college thesis project at Högskolan Skövde, a University in Sweden. Mårten created a well-researched and in-depth paper on his game, and because my native language is Norwegian (which is pretty close to Swedish), I was able to understand most of it. The thesis hasn't been translated as of yet, so I felt an interview with Mr. Brüggemann was in order. A quick chat is more accessible than a 100+ page academic paper, and Mårten was quite receptive to the idea!

Comments (17) | Views (3,845)


JohnBA smattering of games have reached your eyes this weekend, begging you to answer just one question: exactly how much is a 'smattering' anyway? Serve yourself up a helping of Sauerbraten if you're in the mood to shoot some baddies, and puzzle fans can delight in not one but two games to send their neurons in a tizzy. Always careful to cater to my adventure gaming brethren, you'll also find a fun little adventure title full of ninjas robots pirates!

zoombook1.jpgZoom Book: The Temple of the Sun (Windows, demo, 23 MB) - While it may sound like a racing game where you drive books around a track (how cool would that be?!), Zoom Book is actually an interesting take on the matching subset of puzzle games. You're presented with a scene that pulls itself apart right before your eyes. Click and swap tiles to make the picture whole again, then marvel as the image solidifies and zooms in (or out) to reveal the next connected puzzle. It's an oddly captivating mechanism that does wonders to propel the story and connect each puzzle with the last. Definitely worth a look if you dig casual puzzle games and want something a bit different.

sauerbraten1.jpgSauerbraten (Windows, Mac, Linux, freeware, ~190 MB) - Yet another game whose name could be misleading (hint: it's not a Cooking Mama rip-off), Sauerbraten is a free open source first person shooter for all three major platforms. Think classic Quake with a stronger emphasis on mindlessly blasting enemies and you have a good idea what to expect. Sauerbraten has both single and multiplayer modes and comes with a level editor.

biniaxmultismall.pngBiniax-2 (Windows, Linux, freeware, ~5 MB) - A deliciously cerebral logic puzzle game by Jordan Tuzsuzov, Biniax-2 takes you exactly three seconds to learn to play, then the rest of your afternoon to figure out how to win. Pairs of colored shapes descend from the top of the screen. You control a lone shape at the bottom of the screen and can eliminate any of the pairs if your piece matches one of the colors. After you destroy a pair, your color changes and you're off to destroy another group. It sounds simple on the surface, but figuring out which pieces to eliminate so you don't trap yourself can be frightfully difficult.

nelly1.jpgNelly Cootalot (Windows, freeware, 15 MB) - A pirate-themed adventure game that draws inspiration from the Monkey Island series in more ways than one. You play Nelly, a "fearsome pirate and lover of tiny and adorable creatures" who is charged with investigating the disappearance of a fleet of birds by a dead pirate's ghost. The visuals and dialogue are so much fun, even adventuregameaphobiacs will have a great time.

  • Currently 4.2/5
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Rating: 4.2/5 (23 votes)
Comments (72) | Views (9,103)
speckoppression.jpgJohnBAn entry to our 3rd Casual Gameplay Design Competition, Speck Oppression by Komix (creator of Rings and Sticks and Tri-achnid) is an extraordinarily unique title that maintains stark simplicity while wow-ing you with deep gameplay and stylish visuals. The goal is to gather energy by trapping bouncing specks near collectors on each stage. New tools and obstacles are thrown at you almost every level, forcing you to adapt your strategy at every turn.

The basic mechanics are given extra oomph by introducing different types of "fences" that can be moved and arranged anywhere on-screen. Fences have arrows that allow specks traveling in the same direction to pass while bouncing others away, allowing you to set up traps to keep them near collectors. You also have to keep specks away from the vulnerable core, as if too many collide with it you'll have to start over.

One of the best features of Speck Oppression are the visuals. Each stage (and each time you repeat a stage) presents you with a new, neo-retro setup of bright colors, smooth speck trail gradients and mesmerizing dancing objects. It would look and feel right at home on an arcade machine in the early 80s, which is a very good thing.

Speck Oppression is a calm game of forethought and strategy, and sometimes you'll end up setting the pieces in place and doing little more than watch everything unfold. Impatient gamers may see this as a flaw, but it actually showcases smart game design that allows you to create your own solution every time you play. Your current setup may work if you let it sit for half an hour, but there's always a more devious (and faster) way to the goal.

Sit back, watch the laser show, and let your brain start churning.

Play Speck Oppression

zxoIf you're the kind of person who can get lost in the bizarre shifting smokiness of the various media player visualizations, then Speck Oppression is bound to mesmerize you! It's a beautifully programmed game that incorporates a unique herding mechanism slightly reminiscent of Jezzball. It does feel slightly unfinished — the levels seem to be rather un-ordered, there are some items that are introduced and then abandoned, and it's often confusing whether items can be moved around or not. But all-in-all a worthy game, one I can easily just stare at and zone out to... zone.... out....... ahhhhhhhhh..............

Comments (26) | Views (7,432)

Link Dump Fridays

JohnBAfter months of distressingly rainless weather, people in my corner of the world started taking drastic measures to encourage the magic sky-water to fall. Letters to the clouds tied to balloons didn't work, nor did the gigantic sponge we kept tossing into the sky. I tried doing the rain dance several times (some might call it the "Macarena"), but even my powers of dance couldn't make it happen. Finally, early this morning I heard the sweet sound of rain falling from the sky. Somehow this magical collection of Link Dump Friday games encouraged the clouds to release their water. As you work your way down the list, keep an eye out for strange events such as birds falling from the sky, strangers on the street offering you large sums of money, or finding a really good coupon in the newspaper.

  • Glacier Racer - A short but visually stunning racing game where you play a penguin on ice skates — in 3D!!! Jump and slide to collect Santa's missing presents while drinking in the absolutely gorgeous scenery. Oh, and try not to say "Glacier Racier".
  • Clix - Like a tangram puzzle, but with shapes made from squares instead of triangles. If you enjoyed Phit, you may like this one, too.
  • Super Crazy Guitar Maniac Deluxe 2 - Like Guitar Hero and Frets on Fire? There's a good chance you'll like Shinki's Flash interpretation of the game. You won't find Aerosmith, fancy graphics or plastic controllers here. All you need is a keyboard and both hands and you'll rock the stickman all night long.
  • Sproing - Whip around the ball to destroy the enemies. Your ball must be moving quick enough to do damage to destroy!
  • Hostility Battle Garden - A remarkably good-looking first person shooter that lets you wield two weapons for twice the carnage. Unfortunately it's a bit repetitive, but pretty to look at and fun for a few minutes.
  • Flu Fighters - A fun little diversion by the author of Eater of Worlds. Swim around the body eating bacteria to defend the four organs. Scroll down a bit to find the game.

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Rating: 4.7/5 (1134 votes)
Comments (207) | Views (114,010)

Grow Island

PatrickOn of Eyezmaze is back! The man behind the Grow series, one of the most beloved staples of free play on the Web since the invention of Flash, has just come out with a new game, Grow Island. The game takes the 'pick objects in order and watch the world grow' dynamic of his previous Grow titles and applies it to a university curriculum. Instead of picking a ball, or a treasure, as your selection of items, you pick Civil Engineering, Applied Chemistry, Architecture, and in the process of prioritizing these fields of knowledge endeavor to create a perfect utopia.

This is without a doubt On's greatest work-to-date, and in it he embodies an optimistic philosophy. Following the correct order of things will lead to a society where men and women get along happily, the environment is protected and technology is harnessed to discover the secrets of the universe. In order to get there though, you have to try and fail to find that correct order, witnessing petty tragedies of rejection, deforestation, volcanic disaster and broken beakers. Success means uncovering an increasingly delightful series of animations and evolutions, like peeling back layers from an onion, if the onion had an everlasting gobstopper at its core. There's even a wink to Japan's love of humanoid-robot-samurai action—it's glorious.

Analysis: The gameplay of the Grow series is basically about deductive puzzle-solving, the rewards come in unearthing the underlying logic behind the correct sequence and in the animated flowering that accompanies this process. Grow Island streamlines this gameplay by adding descriptive hints to the names of the objects, its alluded to that Chemistry will lead to fuel cells, and that mechanical engineering enables the construction of civil structures. Grow RPG was the first move in this direction, where your sense of RPG logic (if you're such a hardcore fan) guided you through. Island brings this sort of allusive logic to the realm of general human knowledge, and it is perhaps a happy coincidence that On, being commissioned by a University, would lead to a refinement of this design pattern. Sometimes, however, it backfires, or maybe just reinforces a casual, rather than synchronistic, interpretation; for example you might think that Chemistry would be necessary to spur chemistry between the man and woman, a synchronic, poetic way of thinking about it, it turns out this isn't the case.

Overall, this game is nearly perfect, a love letter to the Internet-faring human race, a paper crane with poetry written all over its folded insides.

Play Grow Island

Still want more Grow? Play the entire Grow series of games (in order of release)...

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Rating: 4.6/5 (29 votes)
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throwme.gifJohnBFrom Thor Gaming, creator of Thor Towers featured on a recent Link Dump Friday, comes Throw Me, a physics-based tossing game similar to Monkey Kick Off and Nanaca † Crash. At the beginning of the stage you grab an orange eyeball-type thing and twirl it around with the mouse to build up momentum. When you're ready to toss, hit the spacebar to send it flying. Your only goal is to go as high and as far as you can!

Just like Nanaca Crash, the landscape of Throw Me is littered with obstacles that both help and hinder your progress. When touched, cranes perched on the ground and certain clouds will trigger a quick mini-game that fires you back into the sky with renewed speed. Other clouds will give you a quick boost when touched, and you have a time-limited balloon power that allows you to regain some air.

While Throw Me lacks the wackiness of Nanaca Crash and the simple charm of Monkey Kick Off (not to mention the challenge/replay feature), it still manages to capture the fun of distance-throwing games quite well.

Play Throw Me

(14 votes) *Average rating will show after 20 votes
Comments (13) | Views (3,775)

JonahMountain BikeOver the years we have seen countless biking games. From the BMX series from the masters of bike physics over at Teagames to the ever-challenging Trial Bike series from RedLynx, the biking genre of casual games will always be a comforting choice—the "macaroni and cheese" of casual Web games. The top biking games have inspired countless clones. But this is not a bad thing. I give you as proof the latest in the genre: Mountain Bike.

Mountain Bike is a charming little 2D stunt biking game indeed. Controls follow the genre standard: [up] arrow to accelerate, [down] arrow to brake, [left] and [right] arrows to lean backward and forward respectively. Also included is the ability to do a 180 degree spin by pressing [space bar]. This can be used as a trick or to change directions.

Although you have infinite lives, the game is timed. Crashing sends you back to the start of the level and takes ten seconds off of the clock. If the clock runs out, the game ends. However, each new level adds more time to the clock. Doing tricks will boost your score, but also make you crash a lot. Thankfully a trick tutorial is provided for those of us (myself included) who don't already know the difference between a toothpick grind and an icepick grind. Oh yeah, did I mention the grinding? This game boasts the best implementation of grinding I've ever seen in a biking game.

Analysis: How could you not love a great biking game? It has everything one could ever ask for: wonderfully rendered levels, annoying rock music, and best of all, a mute button for that annoying rock music. And the physics are interesting! Yes, they do take some getting used to. Often I found myself rotating way too quickly in the air. Other times I under-rotated and landed on my head - we all know that feeling. But once you figure it out, you can really do some cool tricks. My favorite combo is to start out doing a backflip, then press the space bar halfway through to turn it into a front flip. However, if you really want to rack up points, don't listen to me. I placed a humbling 1862nd on the daily high score list.

One high point of the game is the grinding, which only requires you to ride onto a rail. Then you can either ride it until the end or drop through to the ground below. Another highlight is the level design. They even included an ode to a trials course! But by far the most entertaining part of the game, as with all bike games, is watching your bike crumple and fly apart as you careen through the air screaming (at least I like to scream) when you crash. Oh the times I've had with good ol' ragdoll physics... To conclude, I present a challenge: Find a good use for the "wall ride" trick.

Play Mountain Bike

(18 votes) *Average rating will show after 20 votes
Comments (34) | Views (5,442)
zxoRampsAs if to whet your appetites for the upcoming game design contest, game authors have been putting out a number of excellent ball physics games. The latest offering is Ramps, put forth by web designer Tyler Sticka. Your mission is to guide a ball from the drop pipe at the top of the screen to the exit pipe at the bottom using — you guessed it — muffins!

No, wait! Ramps! Ramps, I say! Ramps! I meant ramps.

Yes, position the muff-, er, the ramps by dragging the gray semicircles to your desired location. To change the angle, drag the little white dot at either end. When you think you have it right, click the pipe at the top to release the ball. Then sit back and watch it bounce and roll right into the bottom pipe. Or helplessly watch it fall into the red-hot lava underneath. Or see it flung carelessly about by creepy robot arms. Or watch it get sucked into another dimension by the silver portals. Or see it get eaten by a surprisingly heat-resilient piranha. Points are awarded for both time spent and balls lost, so plan carefully but be quick. After the 33rd and last level, you will receive some cheat codes based on how well you scored. Use the cheats to play again and enhance your score!

Ramps strikes a good balance, somewhere between ridiculous ease and irritating pixel-hunting. It reminds me of certain levels of The Incredible Machine—the ones where you had to guide a ball (or cat, or mouse, or muffin) to a certain place. However, Ramps offers a facet that was not present in TIM: timing. On some of the later levels (the ones with the jumping piranhas), you can either pass or fail a level depending on when you release the ball from the top.

Some aspects of the physics leave something to be desired, especially when the ball collides with the lower pipe. I've also seen balls go right through walls that were supposed to confine them. Additionally, I question the use of solid boundaries at the sides. They make some levels far too easy, yet there is only one level which would suffer greatly if your ball could travel off the edge of the screen.

So spoon the batter into the pan in scant 1/4-cupfulls, bake at 350 degrees for 12-14 minutes and voila! Fluffy and delicious Ramps!

Play Ramps

Views (2,634)

Game Design Competition #4ArcadeTownFree World GroupArmor GamesSierra OnlineJust a quick reminder that there are 3 weeks left until the deadline for our Casual Gameplay Design Competition #4. Over $6000 in cash and prizes await the winning entries that incorporate the "ball physics" theme. All entries must be in by October 1st, 2007 at 11:59PM (GMT-5:00). Please see the competition announcement page for full details on entering.

Highlights of questions that have come up during the past week include:
  • Am I allowed to enter more than one game? - Yes, you may enter as many games as you like, as long as each entry follows the guidelines and specifications for the competition.
  • Are we allowed to enter the competition as a team? - Yes, you may enter as a team. Please be sure to provide all names associated with the game upon submitting the entry.
  • Are Mochiads allowed? May I use the ads that appear during pauses in the game? - The preloading of competition entries is handled by the competition UI, which effectively makes the Mochiads preloader redundant and useless. The ads just won't show up. As for ads that come during pauses, ads placed outside of the flow of game play are fine. For example, showing an ad upon selecting "play" from your main game menu. That being said, no one enjoys having a game interrupted by ads. So you might want to keep that to a minimum or chance having it negatively affect your game's overall score.
  • For AS3.0 games: Is it okay for me to change the frame rate while the game is playing... and reset it when the game is exited? - Yes, you should be able to do that without issue to the competition UI. In fact, I can be sure the frame rate is reset back to 30fps once each game hands back control to the GameManager.
  • Is there any limit on how early we can submit a game for the competition? - No, there is no limit to how early you may submit your entry. And for everyone submitting an entry, please post a comment here, or email me directly using the email address at the bottom of the sidebar to the left, if you do not receive confirmation from us that your entry was received within 24 hours after you submit. Thank you!

Note: Comments are disabled for this entry. Please continue to use the main competition announcement page for posting questions and comments. Cheers!

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Rating: 4.6/5 (102 votes)
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JessWink: The GameOver two years old, Wink: The Game! is still a cute and entertaining little gem of a graphical adventure that was somehow overlooked by us here at Casual Gameplay. Despite its advanced age, Wink nevertheless has smooth playability and excellent production values; although sometimes repetitive, Andre "gel" Nguyen has created a very fun, addictive adventure that has withstood the test of time.

You play as Wink, a cute semi-stick figure armed only with his sneakiness, at least at first. As the niftily stylized intro helpfully explains, Wink's previous quest to rescue the proverbial princess ended with every adventurer's worst nightmare: The dragon (and so the fair maiden as well) is in another castle. Now, Wink must again traverse a fortress, eluding and defeating enemies along the way, to finally face his fiery-breathed nemesis.

Without doubt, my favorite part of Wink: The Game is the emphasis on stealth over brute force. Wink is not exactly a tough guy: his most useful skill is the ability to vanish into the shadows and, whenever one of the hooded, glowy-eyed baddies passes by, creep up from behind and knock the enemy out. Once this is done, Wink has the chance to purloin whatever staff the bad guy was carrying. You'll run across three different types: fire, wind and thunder. At certain parts of the game, different staffs are needed to open doors and proceed through the castle. More fun, though, are the elemental attacks; I couldn't help giggling every time a fireball or bolt of lightning sent a baddie hurtling through the air.

Analysis: Wink is a lot of fun. The keyboard controls quickly become intuitive and the sight, sounds and concept of the game are nicely united to create an experience easily immersed within. A minor quibble: the castle can quickly feel like a maze (a map would have been incredibly useful), which can create a tedious loop of exploring the same parts over and over. It would also have been nice to have had more of a variety of bad guys and environments; once you figure out how to defeat the suspiciously Shyguy-like enemies, the game loses much of its challenge. Still, on the whole Wink: The Game is definitely worth a look.

Come on, defeat that pesky dragon:

Play Wink: The Game

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Rating: 4.7/5 (150 votes)
Comments (336) | Views (36,289)

Plant Tycoon banner

JayJust released and exclusive to Big Fish Games is the latest simulation game from Last Day of Work, creators of the amazing and popular Virtual Villagers series and Fish Tycoon games.

Plant TycoonPlant Tycoon puts you to the task of planting seeds, growing plants of over 500 different species, and discovering the genetic secrets behind 6 magic plants that will make you rich! Become a master horticulturalist as you pollinate adult plants to produce seeds, and even cross pollinate your plants with other species to discover new and rare varieties.

Each game simulates the growth process in real-time with your plants blooming right before your eyes(!), and maturing even when the game is not running. Earn money by pricing your plants and making them available for sale at the Nursery where customers come to browse your prize creations. Use that money to purchase a wide variety of supplies, upgrades and even rare and extinct seeds.

Plant TycoonTime control in this game provides four different settings: slow, normal, fast, and stop time. The game defaults to fast time initially since you will likely want to see results immediately. However, you should probably reduce that setting to slow overnight—or to even stop time altogether—or you may wind up with some dead plants the next time you play. Fortunately, only the plants you have growing are suseptible to time; all your seeds remain untouched and safe in the seed box(es) until you're ready to plant them. Pressing the [space bar] toggles time between "stop time" and the setting you choose (slow, normal, or fast). Be sure to look in the Options menu if you wish to change it from its default setting.

There are even a couple of optional activities in this game to discover including bug collecting and sharing snapshots of your favorite plants with your friends. Collecting bugs can even earn you precious money to help you get started by catching bugs you already have in your collection.

Hints and tips:
  • Start off by growing all the seeds you are given, along with all the common seed varieties available for purchase. Use these as your base to find the more expensive plants.
  • Note the sale price of each variety you grow to find the varieties that can yield more money for you, and focus early efforts on those. This is particularly important to build your bank so you can afford the upgrades necessary to get you further in the game.
  • Upgrade your soil as soon as you can since the basic soil will grow only the most common plant varieties. The rare and exotic varieties lose health quickly when grown in common soil.
  • Don't waste money on insecticides for the early plants. It's probably better to trash the common varieties than to spend more money than they are worth on a cure.

Plant TycoonAnalysis: I have been enjoying this game very much. I especially like trying to figure out the cross-pollination sequences required to get to the rare and exotic plants. The attention to detail in the plants grown from seed is incredible. Even plants from the same seed will appear different, as each plant is grown dynamically, and thus with variation. Also, each plant can be pruned right down to its individual leaves and stems. Some supplies can make plants grow and bloom more than usual as well.

Unlike the previously reviewed Alice Greenfingers, Plant Tycoon takes a much more precise approach to growing plants and this may actually turn off those who require a bit more action-oriented gameplay. Since the game is a "real-time" simulation, growing your plants takes "real" time—unless you have available the super effective (and super expensive) Insta-Grow, which super-accelerates plant growth. This is where the time-control settings should be used to your best advantage.

What this game needs is a master blueprint or in-game spreadsheet of some kind that the player can fill out as they progress with mapping out all the different varieties. I've found myself taking extensive notes outside the game, which indicates a shortcoming in the game: the tools it provides are constraining and leaves me wanting more from them.

If you enjoyed Alice Greenfingers but were wishing for something with a bit more depth, then Plant Tycoon may be just what you're looking for. Unfortunately, the 1-hour time-limited demo gives you only enough time to just scratch the surface of this amazingly deep game, and it will keep you wanting more like parched soil for a good watering.

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Plant Tycoon is available to download from these affiliates:
Arcade TownBig Fish Games

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Rating: 4.4/5 (382 votes)
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zxoJelly BattleRemember the Jelly Jumper from a Link Dump a while back? Well, the glowing jiggly dude is back, and this time he's brought his friends! Er, enemies. 'Cause you usually don't blow your friends to smithereens.

Jelly Battle pits your Jelly gender-nondescript person against three others in a multiplayer, turn-based, fast-paced, destruction-laden, free-for-all battle OF DOOM!!! It's also one of those dastardly games that make it oh-so-easy to play "just one more round."

Use the mouse to jump around the playing field, landing on weapons and power-ups, while hopefully avoiding the mines. The field will shift down one row mid-jump, so aim one square lower than the space you want to land in. All four players will land at the same time. Then, the squares will activate in the following order (there's a lot of possible order combinations, so please excuse me if I am slightly mistaken):

  • Handbag power-ups activate in a random order.
  • Teleporters move the jellies to a new random location.
  • Debonus removes any power-ups from enemy jellies.
  • Other non-weapon squares are activated (healers, mines, Triple Jump, Freeze, Shield, Jelly Rage, Invisible) in a random order.
  • Weapons (Air Strike, Handbag, Nuke, Random Drop, Laser, Blast) fire in a random order.

To get you started, there's a tutorial, as well as three AI difficulties of the real game. It shouldn't take you too long to master these levels before you are ready to enter the multiplayer arena. Like Zwok! and other quickie multiplayer games, you do not need to bother with setting up a game and inviting others to join. Just click "Multiplayer" and the game will put you in a foursome to wage battle.

By providing a sizable range of weapons and bonuses, Jelly Battle creates a number of different possible strategies for victory. However, the short time in which you have to choose your next move requires you to think on your feet to avoid mistakes. Ideally, you'd like to try and predict each player's next move, but in reality there just isn't time. Your best bets are to figure out a few key things to check for when planning your move, such as if there is a Nuke within jumping range of another player, or avoiding landing on a spot next to a Blast within jumping range of another player. If you can learn to check for the big stuff by habit, you'll avoid enough damage to hopefully outlast your enemies and attacking them when they are trying to heal.

On the surface, Jelly Battle seems to be highly dependent on luck, and in very specific cases, that's true. It's difficult to completely avoid in a game where the board is generated randomly, weapons fire in a random order, weapon targets are randomly selected, and ties are randomly broken (when two or more jellies land on the same square, only one stays and the rest get knocked into adjacent squares.) There are situations where you can lose 100% of your life simply by attempting to enter the same square as another jelly and losing. However, cases this drastic are rare, due to the generous selection of options offered to each player. In the middle of the board, you can jump to any of 25 squares, although in the corners it can reduce to as few as 9. Still, having that many choices goes a long way in overcoming the effects of a lousy streak of luck, or avoiding one altogether.

At some point it may ask you to register (it is, after all, an advergame for Logitech), but I found I was able to play on after registration without ever leaving the site, so you can simply enter fake info if you are wary of providing the real stuff.

So, if you're in the market for an addictive, fast-paced strategy battle game, give Jelly Battle a shot. Betcha can't play just once!

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dancemonkeySuper Earth Defense GameOur most recent competition has shown some seriously inventive interpretations of the theme "Replay", and one of the standouts in that category is Carl Foust's Super Earth Defense Game. It's a typical side-scrolling shooter on its face but, in a unique twist, really shines once your ship gets destroyed.

Using the [arrow] keys to move and the [space bar] to shoot, you must avoid or destroy waves of enemies before making it to the final boss. The replay theme (or in this case, "REPLAI", Responsive Emergency Paradox-Limiting Aerospace Insurance System) comes into play once you are destroyed: it's described as a portable time machine that takes you back to the start of the level. You then fly and fight alongside your past self until the point at which you died.

You have only three replays available, but after you die the critter that killed you is colored differently than the rest, rendering it invulnerable so that it can stick around to kill your prior incarnation. This has the net effect of giving you an extra set of guns for a short period of time, hopefully making it easier for you to pass through the level.

Analysis: I particularly enjoyed the blocky, hyper pixelated graphics in this game, and it was instantly one of my favorites for that reason. I appreciate it when developers recognize that graphics aren't the final word in the quality of a game, and do so intentionally and with great care rather than by cutting corners.

This game does has a few flaws though that render it only an average shoot-em-up.

Carl made the choice to slow down the rate of fire, but I found that frustrating rather than challenging. Send about four times more enemies at me and let me rain near-constant death upon them!

The final boss has also been criticized for being too easy, and I heartily agree. I tried Jay's tactic of just hanging around at the top of the screen and I barely had to move. Either juice up the boss's tactics or just lower his hit points so I don't have to spend too much time dealing with him. The aforementioned rate-of-fire boost may have solved this issue as well.

The ship was also very slow to control, and this too was really frustrating. This may also have been a design choice to heighten the difficulty, but that choice was at the expense of the excitement. Shooters should be fast, noisy, and hairy, with little time to think. Can you imagine if Defender had a REPLAI system?

Despite my snobbish comments I can't say that I didn't have fun playing. He's made a good game that with a few small improvements could be a truly excellent experience.

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JayJay - The first time I fired up Super Earth Defense I was a bit skeptical. It seemed like so many other games I had seen and played before. It wasn't until my first ship died and I clicked "Continue" did I realize the very clever design within. All of a sudden, as an epiphany, I saw the potential possible within a game that actually requires you to play well 3 times to muster up enough fire power to beat it. Unfortunately, Super Earth Defense isn't that game. But it is a brilliant design with enormous potential nonetheless. I'm hoping to see this idea fleshed out further with better level design and more devious boss fights. Exceptional idea, Carl!

(8 votes) *Average rating will show after 20 votes
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pileobubbles.gifJohnBPile O'Bubbles is a new action/puzzle game from the creator of Gravity Pods, Keith Peters of Wicked Pissah Games. It combines fast-reflex mouse clicking with a bit of thinking to create a game that's brain wrenching with a touch of old-school arcade style.

To play, simply click and hold the left mouse button over the green bubbles to make them expand. The goal is to push the pair of blue bubbles to the blue circle located somewhere on the screen. If you touch the red circles, you have to start over, and green bubbles can't touch anything that looks pointy or they'll pop. Some levels allow you to create a limited number of new bubbles you can drop and expand at any time. Simply click on a blank portion of the screen to send it falling.

Analysis: Pile O'Bubbles features 25 levels of devishly devious bubble puzzles, some of which are so taxing you might want to borrow someone else's brain to spare yourself the headache. Use your own quick clicking skills, however, as most of the levels require you to act twice as fast as you can think. It's an intruiging combination of concepts that creates a marvelously compelling game.

The simple visuals in Pile O'Bubbles serve their purpose well, but the contrast becomes a bit straining on the eyes after some time. Thicker lines could alleviate the problem and make it easier to sit in for the marathon sessions of bubble piling you'll find yourself caught up in. The water bubbling sound effects are a nice touch!

Pile O'Bubbles is a great puzzle game that successfully blends action gameplay with a little thoughtful puzzle solving.

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  • Currently 4.4/5
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Rating: 4.4/5 (81 votes)
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nightmaresadventures.jpgJohnBNightmares, the Adventures is a series of four episodic point-and-click adventures created by Sarbakan for AOL Kids. Aimed at a slightly younger audience, each installment is a short, colorfully drawn game where you must try and help the young Victor vanquish his nightmares. The catch is that you only have a limited number of moves to win each episode, putting just a little pressure on your puzzle solving skills.

Navigation is easy in Nightmares, the Adventures, simply click the puffy arrows to visit different locations on each screen. Items usually look a little brighter than their surroundings, making them easy to spot and nab. Figuring out how to use them and in what situations is where the challenge dwells, and with the constant reminder that Victor's nightmare is closing in, you don't have time to dawdle.

Because the games are aimed at kids, the Nightmares episodes won't pose much of a challenge to seasoned point-and-click adventurers. There's even an in-game hint system that all but spells out exactly what you should do. But the top-notch visuals, great voice acting, genuinely spooky atmosphere, and lack of pixel hunting make them entertaining for just about anyone.

Play Nightmares, the Adventures Episode 1

When you finish the first game, take a crack at episodes:

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Rating: 4.6/5 (84 votes)
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ArtbegottiAvalancheWatch out, colored blocks are falling from the sky! The only way to dodge them is to run around and jump on the blocks to avoid being squashed.

Watch out, the water level is rising beneath you! The only way to dodge it is to run around and jump on—Hm, sound familiar? Two contrary problems, one similar solution...

Recently featured in a previous Link Dump Friday, Beast Games' Avalanche is a fast-paced climbing arcade game. Your goal is to scale the mountain of falling blocks, without being flattened or falling into the river rising from below.

Use the arrow keys to move back and forth and to jump. If you hold down the left or right key while falling against a block, you can grip onto the block, slowing your descent. From this position, you can also jump off of the wall giving you extra height.

The flood of cascading blocks starts slowly, with only a few blocks to start. Before you know it, you'll be madly scrambling to avoid being turned into a marshmallow pancake. After a few plays of the game, you'll develop your own strategy for conquering the growing stack. Mine sometimes involves jumping on top of blocks before they even reach the tower, just to get ahead of the game.

So far, my record is 724 feet, can you beat it?

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Rating: 4/5 (28 votes)
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zxoKarma From Zapak Digital Entertainment Limited out of India comes Karma, a unique game of rebirth that features simple gameplay and yet offers a reflection upon certain aspects of life and philosophy. To play, simply drag the little running man from the edge of the screen to the fire at the center, thus completing one life cycle. Your path will remain on the screen, and your future paths must not cross your past lives. Along the way to the fire, try to collect the little potted-plant-shaped objects. Successfully reaching the fire after doing so will cleanse you of one of the seven deadly sins that you have apparently built up. Win the game by cleansing all seven.

At first, it seems like Karma will be easy to beat. Then, as you realize that it is sometimes impossible to reach the fire and wipe away a sin, it seems like it will be very difficult and totally luck-based. However, there are two facts which are not included in the game instructions which put the difficulty somewhere in between, right where it ought to be for a game like this. First, there is no penalty for not collecting a sin on your way to the fire. Second, only the five most recent paths remain on the screen.

This means that the best strategy for finishing the game is simply to go directly from the edge to the center, collecting a sin only if it is on your path or a very short way off of it. This keeps the screen uncluttered and minimizes the possibility that you are going to end up unable to squeeze between two paths. By letting the player come to this realization on their own, the game itself becomes a symbol of karmic philosophy. To try and bend fortune to your favor at the beginning by taking winding, indirect paths will come back later and make things much more difficult. Instead, you should just keep moving forward, and luck will eventually even itself out.

Scoring is also an interesting facet of Karma. The instructions invite you to try for the lowest number of lives, but the in-game scoring system rewards you for each successful path to the fire. Trying to minimize your lives spent is more in line with Western thought, in that it encourages maximizing your returns with minimal resources, and careful micromanagement and optimization of your paths. In contrast, the high-score strategy more resembles maintaining an Eastern meditative state: you repeat the same simple motions over and over until you get into a groove, and you begin to do them instinctually rather than consciously.

I thought the ambient crackling of the fire was a great touch, and the tribal-themed visuals were also superb. I did, however, find the people dancing around the fire a bit distracting, as they made it difficult sometimes to judge whether or not I was going to cross my past path. Besides that, the only problems I had were with the motion and collision detection; too often I found myself dying right away or dying when I accidentally went one pixel back during a slow and careful maneuver. It is also possible—if you are careful—to sneak around the back of one of your past lives. Making it to the fire also seemed to be a touchy enterprise. If you come in too fast, you can overshoot the fire, either blocking off access for future paths or in extreme cases emerging on the other side and having to loop back.

The authors should be lauded for making Karma not only a game that is fun to play, but one that reaches people on a more spiritual level and still manages to incorporate the "replay" theme nicely. We hope to see more from Zapak in the future!

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JonahJonah - Karma is certainly a pleaser in the audio-visual sector. The game really has a great atmosphere. And it has morality! This game teaches players (intentionally?) that you must have patience to wash away your sins. Isn't it great when a game teaches a life lesson through its gameplay? Speaking of gameplay... At first, I got frustrated because I thought the game was impossible. Then I realized (thanks to comments) that you don't have to get the conch every time. Still, I didn't get the point. I started drawing giant doom spirals that would eventually backfire on me. Only now as I replay the game do I realize how to win - draw straight lines to the center and only get a conch if it's in the way. Too bad I still can't do it. I keep respawning on top of a line or accidentally doubling back on myself. My one criticism has to be the controls. Just a tad too touchy.

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Rating: 4.3/5 (22 votes)
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oroboros.jpgJohnBFrom developer Sam Horton of Funface Games comes Oroboros, an action title that borrows from games such as flOw and Snake. You control the Oroboros (a serpent forming a circle by swallowing its own tail) as you absorb energy clusters to unlock portals to new dimensions. As you progress, your tail grows to give you new abilities that let you combat the increasingly tough foes.

Your main goal in Oroboros is to protect your fragile tail while collecting the snowflake-like energy clusters that float on and off the screen. Your tail grows as you chow down on energy, leading you closer to your goal of opening a portal. But with a longer tail comes a greater danger of it being hit. Click and hold the left mouse button to coil it around your head for protection. Keep an eye on the stamina meter to the left, as when it runs out you won't be able to stay hidden any longer!

Each new dimension starts with an upgrade screen that allows you to spend evo points to enhance your abilities. Strengthen your tail or increase your agility to make the coming dimensions a bit easier to handle. The menu also introduces the main enemy of the level and gives you hints on how to evade it successfully.

Analysis: Oroboros doesn't come across as much of a game at first glance, but after playing through a few levels you'll realize there's surprising depth to it. The evo system adds a nice level of pseudo-strategy to the arcade-style title, and it gives a limited sense of progression as well. One of the game's biggest strengths is its audio and visual presentation. Think retro Atari vector meets new age sci-fi, complete with a techno soundtrack.

Oroboros is an excellent arcade "shooter" (avoider?) with loads of style.

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You can also Play Oroboros at Kongregate.

Cheers to Emily for sending this one in!

(8 votes) *Average rating will show after 20 votes
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Venice Mystery

JohnBVenice Mystery is a new casual game from Gamgo Games that puts a new twist on mahjong. An oracle once foretold that the city of Venice would flood, destroying its treasures and devastating the people. A number of great thinkers gathered and created plans for a Doomsday machine that could save the city from destruction. Time passed, and the plans for the device were lost. When the Venice began to flood the people knew their only hope lay in the machine lost in legend.

Venice MysteryEach puzzle in Venice Mystery plays out like a game of mahjong with a few unique twists. Instead of clicking identical tile pairs at random, you choose from a small menu of tile types, then click matching tiles on the playing field. The more tiles you eliminate each round, the more points you get. To complete the puzzle you must unearth a set number of keys buried beneath the piles of blocks.

Power-ups in Venice Mystery add a nice bit of spice to the game. Some allow you to blast sets of tiles with a click of the mouse, while others let you peer beneath the piles at the keys hidden below or even swap tiles in your inventory or on the playing field.

Every few levels Venice Mystery drops a mini-game-style puzzle in your lap that help propel the story forward. The first presents you with a scroll that outlines a portion of the Doomsday machine plans. A series of Roman numerals are written on the page and you must match them to the clock device on the screen. Easy! The second mini-game presents you with a lost painting and several small pieces of the image rearranged at the bottom of the screen. Rotate the pieces and place them where they belong to win.

Analysis: The gameplay in Venice Mystery is quite captivating and manages to put a new spin on a very old game. The storyline is just as gripping and will probably be the first thing that really steals your attention. Unfortunately, Venice Mystery doesn't integrate the story and gameplay into a complete product, leaving the plot to take a nap in the backseat for most of the journey. The short intro really ramps up the mystery element, but once you're in the game it's little more than tile matching and Roman numeral clicking. Pity, as successfully bringing a Da Vinci Code-style story to this kind of game would be intriguing.

Also worth noting: tile patterns. Some mahjong games use distinct tiles that are easy to tell apart, while others employ intricate drawings that are barely discernable from other patterns. Venice Mystery uses the latter. On the one hand it makes for a more beautiful game, but on the other the gameplay suffers from the ambiguity. I found myself scouring the game screen trying to find every 'inside-out blue clover thing with little fluffies in the corners' many times. They look good, of course, but aren't as functional as they could be.

Despite its few minor flaws, Venice Mystery is an addictive and challenging casual game. The mahjong-style puzzles are fun to complete and the power-ups and mini-games add just enough spice to make it work.

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Rating: 4.6/5 (30 votes)
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JohnBSwitchball is a 3D action/puzzle casual game download for Windows created by Atomic Elbow and published by Sierra Online. SwitchballYour goal is to guide a rolling ball to the end of each stage, solving puzzles and crossing treacherous pathways all the way. The game places a heavy emphasis on realistic physics using the AGEIA engine and looks absolutely gorgeous to boot. It's an extraordinarily well-made title that balances action and puzzle solving for a thoroughly engaging experience.

Each level in Switchball sets ramps, boxes, cannons, planks, fans, sheets of cloth and more between you and the goal. To make it through you'll have to roll down narrow ramps, slide objects to clear a path, move items to create a solid floor and perform many other feats. One of the best uses of physics in the game allows you to place boxes on one end of a platform to prevent it from tipping over as you cross. A tutorial system shows hints the first time you encounter a new situation, so settling into the game is a snap.

SwitchballThe controls in Switchball are highly customizable, but to have the most precise control you'll need to use the mouse. Simply slide the mouse in the direction you want to move, pressing the left button for a boost of speed. You can rotate the view using the right mouse button and zoom in and out using the mouse wheel, but usually the camera shifts on its own to give you a clear view of the action.

What makes Switchball really interesting are the morph pads you'll find scattered throughout the game. Each of these spots lets you transform into a different material, bestowing upon you the power of metal, air and more. Your weight, speed and other physical properties change to match your composition, allowing you to do things your normal state could never accomplish. For example, turning into the metal ball makes you heavy and strong, allowing you to shove metal boxes with ease. The downside is that the extra weight can make you crash through weak floors and plummet to your doom.

SwitchballThere are 30 levels in Switchball that take place in five distinct environments: sky, ice, cave, cloud, and lava. Stage design is consistently good and feels fresh throughout the game. The difficulty increases at just the right pace, so you'll be pleasantly compelled to keep playing. And if you're looking for an extra challenge, choose timed mode from the main menu to set a time limit for each level.

Analysis: Switchball is very much like the classic Marble Madness in spirit, but the emphasis here is on realism, physics and puzzle solving. The mix of action and puzzle elements is surprisingly well-done. Even those of us who aren't as adept with a mouse as others can have a good time with the game, as there are numerous checkpoints that save your progress throughout each stage.

One rough spot in Switchball is the precision required to master the controls. This isn't an arcade game where you can jump and fly across the stage with fireworks shooting in the background. Moving the ball has a very visceral feeling to it thanks to the realistic physics, so you have to be patient. Building momentum is a key move in the game, forcing you to back up and get a running start to climb ramps or push crates. The learning curve is about half an hour, so if you put just a little time into it you'll be well rewarded.

Other than the slight learning curve for the controls/physics, Switchball is an inviting game. It's packed with fresh, original puzzles and excellent level design. You'll find it's a delightfully challenging game from beginning to end.

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