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June 2009 Archives


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Rating: 4.7/5 (38 votes)
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You Are Games

Psychotronic[Note: This contest has concluded. Scroll down to the bottom of the article to find the results.] Welcome to a new feature here at Jay is Games. If you've been visiting for a while, you've surely noticed that the site has grown and changed over time. Especially in the last year, we've attracted a ton of new readers, and along with them came new suggestions, new energy, and new JIG staff members. The site would not be what it is without you. You Are Games, every bit as much as Jay is.

I was initially attracted to JIG during one of the awesome Casual Gameplay Design Competitions, and while the next one of those is still a ways off, we wanted to give you another way to be creative and participate with us on a regular basis, beyond the usual comments and critiques of the daily games. You Are Games will change from week to week, but it will always be an opportunity for you to do stuff, whether it be a mini-competition about level design (like this week), a writing or art challenge, or a hunt for hidden flash game gems in a certain genre. We've got plenty of ideas, but we're going to play it by ear and see what happens.

That brings us to the Jay is Games Incredibots 2 Mini-Brawl!

Incredibots 2We have mixed feelings about Incredibots 2, which Grubby Games recently released into Public Beta. Like the original Incredibots, it's one of the most versatile web applications around for creating physics-based robots and scenarios, and the sequel is easier to use than ever. You can now move pieces around in groups by just clicking and dragging with the mouse. You can adjust the gravity and many other variables that used to be constant.

However, Incredibots 2 doesn't include any official challenges, which were the center of the single-player experience in the first game. Instead, you are encouraged to create your own, and user-generated content being what it is, there is a wide range of quality available in the current line-up. This is the biggest change to Incredibots; it is now a big, friendly level design tool, with nearly endless possibilities. It's hard to recommend as a casual gameplay experience at this point, but for a brand new column about reader participation, it's just about perfect. Go go gadget level design contest!

Your mission for this Mini-Brawl is to create a challenge for your fellow JIGsters using the Incredibots 2 challenge editor. There are three restrictions:

  1. The Sandbox Size must be Small. The dialog box that pops up when you click the Challenge Editor button lets you select the size of your building arena, and to keep our designs tight, let's all use Small, the default size.
  2. The "Allow User Construction" box must be unchecked. That means the player of your challenge can't make their own robot; you have to supply both the robot and the obstacles. To find this checkbox, click on the "Restrictions" button in the upper right of the Challenge Editor screen.
  3. There must be at least one Win Condition. The "Set Conditions" button in the editor takes you to the win condition screen. There needs to be some sort of goal, so we players have something to strive for.

Everything else is fair game. Let your imagination run wild, and feel free to post your creations here in the comments for everyone to play.

Play Incredibots 2

Entry LinkIf you wish to enter:
Please send a link to your challenge to the address on the right with the subject line "Incredibots 2 Mini-Brawl" and include your JIG display name (the name that appears when you comment here). To get the link to your challenge, play your challenge and click on the "Link to this Challenge" button in the control bar. The deadline is this Sunday evening, the 5th of July, at midnight, EST. The JIG staff will choose our favorites from the entries and post them here next week, and then maybe we'll have an audience vote too. Again, we're playing this by ear right now, and your feedback about our new feature is encouraged.

We're not sure what the prizes will be. This is mostly for the glory and the amusement. But there will be winners in the following three categories: Most Fun, Prettiest, and Best Use of JIG Mascot. That's the little guy doing a jig on the word "Gameplay" in our logo. Maybe someone will win all three categories! Anything is possible!

Feel free to discuss Incredibots 2 in the comments, and if you have ideas for other things we can do in the You Are Games column in the future, let's hear them. Also, extra-special thanks to Mat Annal of Nitrome for creating our lovely You Are Games banner. Cheers!

...And the results are in!

Winner: Most Fun
"HeartBreaker Part 1" by Rydash (DarknessKeeper here on JIG).

Winner: Prettiest
"minigolf" by qwertybacon.

Winner: Best Use of JIG Mascot
"JIGMan Mouse Game v1" by Rydash.

And the other challenges (in the order received) were:
"JIGMan Parachute v1" by Rydash.
"Mars Rover Test" by jsq0228.
"JIG Sliding Puzzle" by BND.
"Portal HeartBreaker" by Rydash.
"JIGMan Parachute v2" by Rydash.

Because of the small number of entries, everybody who entered a challenge gets a six-month "Incredibots Supporter" membership, courtesy of Ryan Clark at Grubby Games!

The above links should work for most people, but if they aren't leading you to the contest entries, try searching for the titles of the challenges using the game's search function. It's located in the menu under File --> Load Challenge. Make sure the Sort Filter is set to "All Time", and be aware that the search function is case-sensitive. Grubby Games is aware some folks are having problems, but they haven't yet been able to track down the bug and fix it.

Congratulations to the winners, and thanks to everybody who participated!


  • Currently 3.3/5
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Rating: 3.3/5 (96 votes)
Comments (118) | Views (2,727)

The Fun FairlceninexpAll is not what it appears in Anode and Cathode's latest release, The Fun Fair. Thankfully, you won't find any creepy clowns in this point-and-click adventure game, but you will find a slew of carnival themed mini-games, intriguing characters and some interesting puzzles.

Part 1 of The Fun Fair starts with your character standing outside the entrance to a fairgrounds with various amounts of coins and counters (the amount will depend on the difficulty level you have chosen). You are not quite sure why you decide to enter, but it has something to do with Sophia's mystery. Using your mouse to click your way around the expansive fairgrounds (or, if you prefer, click on the mini-map in the top right corner) you will encounter useful items used to further your quest as well as additional coins and counters. The coins are used to play the carnival mini-games, which make up quite a large portion of actual gameplay. Completing a carnival game will unlock items that will ultimately allow you access to later portion of the game. Some of these games are purely luck based (the cleverly named Wheel of Luck is probably a good example), some are easy enough to accomplish with very little skill (Horse Race) and some require the equivalent speed-mousing dexterity of a Ninja neurosurgeon to complete on the hardest game setting (The Far West Legend).

The Fun FairThere are 3 prize tiers in the carnival games: the lollipop, the useful inventory item and the trophy. The lollipops are for doing poorly in a game, the useful items for doing well and the trophy is awarded when you've been outstanding. Fortunately you will need quite a few lollipops to exchange for items as the game progresses and even more fortunately the trophy items are non-essential — they are just a point bonus to your overall score.

After completing the carnival games and getting at least all of the useful items new character dialog options will become available. This will give you the opportunity to trade for needed items, which will in turn allow you to access new areas until you can progress to the adventure's final scene.

Analysis: There's a lot of diversity in The Fun Fair which makes for an eclectic game. Some players might find that the combination of different game elements leads to an incongruent gameplay experience. Other players not usually attracted to the genre might find an unexpected treasure. Unlike Anode and Cathode's other point-and-click games, The Fun Fair also requires the player be marginally comfortable with fast paced mousing (usually found in action games) which makes The Fun Fair rather unique in the point-and-click adventure genre, which will likely turn off more casual players. The few puzzle/character interaction elements to be found are straight forward and not difficult — the difficulty level is instead included in the carnival mini-games.

The control scheme for actual character navigation is fluid, although the pseudo-isometric point of view might take a few minutes to get used to. Inadvertently walking into a carnival game location or vendor booth can occasionally happen (and you'll be looking at a black screen for 5–10 seconds on scene exit as the fairground map rebuilds itself) so use of the mini-map will definitely save a lot of mouse clicks and time and is highly recommended. The area to explore is quite large and the "fog-of war" is a very nice touch.

The Fun Fair features beautiful artwork in some of the game locations and looked very polished. The music is sparse and haunting and compliments the artwork very nicely. Together they do a great job of setting the atmosphere of an ethereal fairground ready to be explored.

The Fun FairA rather glaring omission is the lack of a save feature. Why the developer neglected to implement a save feature when there is the distinct possibility of a player rage-quitting when the timer runs out in a mini-game (and you only needed one more duck!) is unknown. There are also a few bugs that became apparent when playing through the game upon first release. After visiting the King of Pancakes the second time and receiving the ugly sock painting, grab the carrot and exit the scene immediately (this will make sense in-game). If you do not you may face eternity having a one sided conversation with the King of Pancakes until you refresh and have to start all the way back at the beginning. There were also some issues with countdown timers in carnival games being erratic; this made the carnival games either impossibly fast or unfairly slow. The music, as sparse and pretty as it was could probably benefit from a mute button. Hopefully these issues will be addressed in part 2.

Incorporating elements from multiple genres, Part 1 of The Fun Fair definitely presents itself as a game that holds a lot of promise for upcoming parts in the series, especially if the series continues to be 100% clown free.

Play The Fun Fair


  • Currently 3.9/5
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Rating: 3.9/5 (93 votes)
Comments (13) | Views (2,460)

zxoBubble Cannon 2The games of Gareth Thomas, aka Gaz are known for their simple yet addicting natures, and while they may not be as eccentric as a Tonypa game, they're almost always neat little timewasters worth checking out. Although they can be quite fun, his games usually don't have a lot of depth to them, and often you'll find them tucked away in a Link Dump rather than being given a full feature. Such was the case with Bubble Cannon, a collision-based game in the style of Gimme Friction Baby.

In Bubble Cannon 2, Gaz has updated that initial offering, keeping the core of the game intact, but changing around some of the nuts and bolts. You still aim and shoot with the mouse, and your goal is still to eliminate balls by colliding them with their similarly-colored mates, but instead of an infinite supply of randomly-colored balls, you're now limited to just a few. In order to keep on playing, you'll have to replenish your supply by eliminating balls that are already in play. Also, the game is now divided into 10 levels, and with each new level you must account for an additional ball color. As in Combine, each additional color increases the difficulty greatly, so while it's possible to breeze through the first few levels, this is not an easily beatable game.

These changes may seem small, but they make a vast difference in the pacing. They introduce a much-needed difficulty ramp that does a great job of sucking the player in, then cranking up the challenge before monotony sets in. There's also a sense of urgency in Bubble Cannon 2, which gives importance to every shot. Under threat of a dwindling ball supply, each shot must be put to the greatest strategic advantage — whether that means eliminating balls from the field or clearing the path for future shots. In short, Bubble Cannon 2 is exactly what the original should have been: engaging and very addicting!

Play Bubble Cannon 2


  • Currently 3.7/5
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Rating: 3.7/5 (196 votes)
Comments (73) | Views (9,894)

Kidnapped By AliensSonicLoverWriters of science fiction stories love to exploit the possibility of intelligent life on other planets, and what happens when that intelligent life comes face-to-face with ours. We've seen it hundreds of times in movies and books; The Day the Earth Stood Still is a classic example, made new again by a recent movie remake.

So it should come as no surprise to see a game about being Kidnapped By Aliens. Developer Selfdefiant tells the story of a human protagonist (you) who has been kidnapped and awaits who-knows-what from his or her captors. Sharing a room with a "Human Pod" sign, an impenetrable elliptical door, a rather small bed, a yellow locker, and a bizarre pipe full of blue liquid that appears to function as a toilet.

By the use of a little ingenuity, our hero manages to escape the cell and explore more areas of the UFO, with the ultimate goal of returning to Earth... perhaps.

Analysis: It's about time that something from Selfdefiant gets featured here on JIG. His latest game, Kidnapped by Aliens, shows us he knows how to make an extensive escape game and do it right. The surreal but perfect background sound and puzzles that make sense without being too obvious turn this game into an enjoyable experience.

A couple puzzles are a little obscure and the game has a few glitches, but nothing that gets in the way of the fun. It's definitely worth a play.

Play Kidnapped by Aliens


Comments (3) | Views (1,512)

Mobile Monday

JohnBA big bunch o' arcade games have been assembled for this week's Mobile Monday. It was actually really easy to gather them, too. All I had to do was put out a bit of arcade bait and they came a-runnin'...

wildwestpinball.jpgWild West Pinball - I'm as much a pinball fan as I am a connoisseur of Somalian sorghum. Which is to say, I'm not. But I had a pinball itch for some strange reason, my iPod was in my hands, so I went digging. I found Wild West Pinball, a free, single-table pinball game that goes to great lengths to preserve the old-school pinball feel, which I can appreciate. It's got bank robberies, an Indian village, a wanted criminal, railroad tracks and more. Nice setting, good pinball action, and you can't beat the price. Oh, and be sure to watch the title screen for a few seconds for a 3D tour of the table.

knightsonrush.jpgKnights Onrush - From prolific iPhone game publisher Chillingo comes a rather handsome castle defense game in the tradition of Defend Your Castle. Knights, bomb toters, and other baddies rush the fortress to the side of the screen. Using your almighty finger of almightiness, fling them to the sky to protect your beautiful pile of stones. Buy upgrades to improve both your offensive and defensive capabilities in-between rounds. Things get real hectic and real wacky after a few levels. A free Knights Onrush Lite is also available.

musteatbirds.jpgMUST. EAT. BIRDS. - Gotta love a game with that straightforward of an objective. Also gotta love a game with a character called a nomster. Fire nomsters from the makeshift slingshot by dragging and releasing the rubber band. Your goal is to not eat the birds— just kidding! Chomp away at those fluttering little things, the more the nombetter. Crash a couple of nomsters together to make a big nomster. You know you want to.

startrigon.jpgStar Trigon - Based on the original Namco arcade game from 2002, Star Trigon is all about rescuing uchujin who are adrift in space. Your character circles small planetoids either clockwise or counter-clockwise. Tap the screen to hop from object to object, leaving a trail in your wake. Fence the uchujin in with a trigon and your work is done! The tutorial is short and painfully slow (just let me play already!!), but otherwise the game's a great little time waster. A free Star Trigon Lite is also available.

NOTE: Games listed may not be available outside of North America. Prices are subject to change and are therefore unlisted. Please see the individual game pages for purchasing info.


  • Currently 4.7/5
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Rating: 4.7/5 (71 votes)
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Time Gentlemen Please

GrimmrookZombie Cow has just unleashed upon the world a sequel to their award-winning point-and-click adventure, Ben There, Dan That, called Time Gentlemen, Please! If you haven't yet played BTDT, you might want to stop here and start there first, because plot spoilers are below.

It feels like an eternity has passed since Ben and Dan embarked on their great journey to fix their television, escape from evil aliens, and make it back home in time to catch Magnum PI. Can you believe it's really only been a year? And, by a year, of course I mean two weeks. Confused yet? Oh, you just wait.

Time Gentlemen PleaseAt the conclusion of Ben There, Dan That!, it turns out that the evil aliens were in fact Ben and Dan, albeit older, evil, future versions of the duo. Thanks to an obsolete timeline, however, the evil Ben and Dan disappear, but this does not produce the obligatory happy ending. After a mandatory comprehensive Magnum PI marathon (including the Murder, She Wrote crossover), the entire population of the world has died because supreme world leaders Ben and Dan forgot to tell them they could take breaks to eat and handle other biological functions. Now, in order to save the world, Ben and Dan have to go back in time and prevent the invention of coat hangers (which started this whole mess in a roundabout way if your way of thinking is just twisted enough) in their second major point-and-click adventure.

Oh, you thought the plot summary was done? Ha-ha! We haven't even made it to the opening credits yet! You see, Ben and Dan manage to stop the invention of the coat hanger well enough. Only, somehow, this has paved the way for Adolf Hitler to take over the world with a giant mech-suit and an army of robo-zombie-dinosaur clones. Now your goal is to stop yourselves from stopping the invention of the coat hanger so that Hitler doesn't end up taking over the world with his dinosaur clone army. If you manage to harm or kill the dictator in the process, that'd be a happy bonus.

Confused? Good, you're ready to play. Time Gentlemen, Please! is controlled with the mouse, just like your standard old-school adventure game. Right click to cycle through a host of different cursors, each allowing you to perform a different function such as walk, talk, use, and look. Guiding your mouse up to the top of the screen will bring up a control panel that will allow you to save, load, quit, and access your inventory (here depicted as a nice home made bindle).

Collect items, search for clues, and solve a plethora of puzzles to stop Hitler. Wait, no, you're trying to stop yourselves. Well, okay, you're trying to stop yourselves and Hitler. Well, wait, you're really supposed to undo all the bad things that resulted from time travel, but before that you have to, um, do a little time traveling. Now are you confused? Don't worry, there's no cause for alarm. This kind of thing is bound to happen whenever Ben and Dan get near time travel equipment. Hmm. Okay, maybe there's cause for a wee bit of alarm.

Analysis: Ben There, Dan That! took both the staff and audience prize for our Best of 2008 freeware adventure award for good reason. From its irreverent humor to its innovative item based puzzles, BTDT captured the heart of many gamers (those that weren't outright offended by it, anyway). Though it's not free (just really, really close to being free), Time Gentlemen, Please! manages to meet or exceed the high standards set by its predecessor in all other areas with ease.

The Ben and Dan adventures are intentionally designed to act as one part homage, one part parody of the old Lucasarts games such as Sam and Max and Maniac Mansion. As such, the artistry does a great job of paying its respect to the era with its cheerily angular cartoon lines and brilliant crayon box colors. In this adventure, though, the folks at Zombie Cow decided to put some special effects in which come off looking particularly snazzy.

Time Gentlemen PleaseThe similarities only start at the aesthetics, though. TGP is heavily laden with item based puzzles, many of which are of the variety that make you feel as though your skull is about to crack open. Great care was taken to make seemingly unsolvable puzzles doable, however. Hints are embedded all around you, and particularly thorough adventurers will find themselves rewarded with enough information to make the seemingly impossible possible.

To tell the truth, while the Ben and Dan adventure games trade on their comedic value, I found the puzzles to be the most enjoyable part of the game. Sure, the solutions are often times absurd, but in this game everything is absurd. Further, the Zombie Cow team did a marvelous job of creating puzzles where the solution always feels like a gentle nudge away ultimately creating lots and lots of those "ah-ha!" moments that adventure game enthusiasts live for.

Part of what makes the puzzles so great is the innovative usage of time as a commodity that can be manipulated. Time travel in Time Gentlemen, Please! is possible on both an external and internal level. What this means is that through your adventures you will travel backward and forward in time (external), but also you will have the ability to age and de-age specific items (internal). What results is a myriad of puzzles that challenge your ability to think in a way in which time is both non-linear and malleable. Pretty deep, right?

Those who fear deep philosophical thought, fret not. Despite the time mechanics, Time Gentlemen, Please! is a playground for just about every type of humor that is likely to get you ousted from civil society. This is not a game for the easily offended, the squeamish, people with a heart condition, or pregnant women. Ben and Dan break nearly every social taboo with crude abandon, and they are hilarious as they do it. The writing is simply wonderful, but what really delivers the punch are all the tiny little details. Facial expressions and body language are used with surgery like precision to drive the laughs home.

If you liked Ben There, Dan That!, you'll love Time Gentlemen, Please! It's bigger, better, harder, and raunchier than the original by a mile. If you haven't delved into the adventures of Ben and Dan, what are you waiting for?

Note: Time Gentlemen, Please! is an adventure game for adults. This game contains foul language, scatological humor, mature humor, and humor about Nazis. If there are five minutes that could possibly be deemed appropriate for humans, I haven't found it yet. You have been warned.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


  • Currently 4.1/5
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Rating: 4.1/5 (47 votes)
Comments (33) | Views (3,823)

Enlightenus

JohnBEnlightenus is Latin for — wait, no it isn't! Actually, Enlightenus, from Forgotten Riddles creator Blue Tea Games, is a story-driven hidden object adventure game made backwards. Instead of looking for and collecting a list of items in cluttered rooms, your job is to find where items belong and put them back. Compare your inventory with the objects on the screen and decipher which items go in which location. It's a simple gameplay switcheroo that shoves Enlightenus away from the pack and into the spotlight.

enlightenus.jpgYou are Inspector Doubleleaf, a famous detective called by novelist Edgar Lee to unravel an intriguing mystery. The author has a machine that can transport him to different worlds, a trick he uses to find inspiration for his novels (cheater). An energy surge threw everything out of whack, however, scrambling his stories and hiding the pages of his novels in an alternate version of his mansion. And now it's your job to put everything back together.

The introduction eases you into this uniquely constructed game, and subsequent chapters expand on the concept in measured increments. As you explore each room of the mansion you'll come across pages of Edgar's novel. Each page is a hidden object scene (well, the opposite of that, but you get my drift) that, when completed, gives you buttons that are used to complete puzzles elsewhere in the mansion. It all weaves together into a fantastic plot that feels like a cross between Myst and Harry Potter.

Putting objects in their place is much more of a brain trick than you might think. Your only clues are the names of inventory items and short labels found around the scene. For example, an item might be labeled "hostage cow" and a UFO floating in the background might be casting a "bovine beam" to the ground. See how that works itself out? Some objects have to be used before you can uncover uses for other items. Can't very well see the bovine beam if the barn door is shut, can you? A hint system serves as a gentle nudge, but don't rely on it too much. Completing found object scenes will require some actual thought and light riddle solving, something many hidden object gamers aren't used to.

enlightenus2.jpgAnalysis: Enlightenus isn't a comedic game, but I couldn't help but grin at its premise. I mean, here I am putting found objects back where they belong, almost like I'm cleaning up after some hidden object gamer played the very same stage! Besides the twist on the genre, Enlightenus also has a distinct Azada or Dream Chronicles feel, and you really can't go wrong if you follow in those footsteps.

If I were to choose one area Enlightenus needs improvement, I would have to say accessibility. Despite its reverse mechanics and adventure game leanings, this game falls into the hidden object genre. Hidden object games tend to be straightforward. From exploring environments to finding items in a scene, everything takes place on a nice and neat track. Enlightenus encourages you to move around and explore, solve puzzles in your own order, and unravel a number of riddles. This non-linearity will frighten a small set of casual gamers away, though, in truth, it shouldn't. Perhaps its a fault of our genre labeling habit, as I don't feel Enlightenus got anything "wrong" in its design.

Enlightenus is a beautiful and inspired game, from its story to presentation to the scattering of apropos mini-games. You'll love the atmosphere, you'll adore the adventure sensibilities, and after you get accustomed to it, you'll love putting objects back where they belong.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


  • Currently 3.5/5
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Rating: 3.5/5 (101 votes)
Comments (14) | Views (1,814)

DoraBango!Look! Up in the sky! Is it a puzzle? Is it a platformer?... no! It's both! It's Bango! Isn't it majestic? Isn't it glorious? Just don't stare up at it too much. You might be smashed in the face by a falling block, and then boy will your face be... uh, well, not red so much as... broken.

Created by RJGames (Nitro Platform 2), Bango! is an exercise of not only skill but patience. Using the [arrow] keys to move left and right, and tapping the [space] bar to jump, you play a tiny little stick figure with admirably sparkly feet who dashes about the screen on top of brown blocks. Once you've touched a block, beware; as soon as you step or jump off one, it falls. The goal is to clear the screen of all of them, and some genuinely fiendish block placement in later levels makes that much harder than it sounds.

In fact, some levels are so hard we really felt for the nameless, faceless little protagonist. Who put him there? Do the blocks fall because of the curious sparkles that trail his every move, making it both blessing and curse? What is his motivation? Is there some sparkly little love interest waiting just off screen? Oh! That must be it. How romantic! Keep running, little hero! We believe in you!

While Bango! has been on the casual gameplay scene for a while now, we held off featuring it initially due to several bugs that made the game more frustrating than fun to play. Although most of these have been ironed out, one of the bigger ones persists. If you happen to brush against the side of a block while attempting to jump up onto it, the block will vanish as though you already stepped off of it. You'll wind up having to carefully judge even the smallest jumps, since a wrong foot in this game means having to restart the entire level. You could argue that this makes the game even more challenging, but having the careful planning you put into navigating later levels be undone by a collision detection issue is frustrating to say the least.

Still, there's a lot to like about Bango! The simple, bright graphics. The ultra peppy soundtrack. The ability to take your time and think your way through the levels. If puzzles are your thing, then Bango! is here to be your new best friend. Get ready to run and jump your way to victory and high scores! Just remember to always watch your step.

Play Bango


  • Currently 4.1/5
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Rating: 4.1/5 (23 votes)
Comments (9) | Views (3,184)

Hollywood Tycoon

JohnBFinally! It's about time a resource management/casual tycoon game came along that's more than a fresh coat of paint and a few new tricks! Hollywood Tycoon puts you in charge of a movie studio, giving you the power to buy scripts, hire actors, build sets and much more. As you earn cash you get to upgrade everything from your sets to actor trailers, prop studios, script centers, distribution buildings and more, allowing you to make bigger, better movies that rake in millions of dollars of profit. And it's fun for hours upon hours, too!

hollywoodtycoon.jpgMaking a movie has been whittled down to a very simple process of building a themed set, choosing a script, selecting an actor and clicking on the "start" button. Which genre of set you build is up to you, with choices ranging from western to sci-fi, horror to historical settings. Script cards scroll by on the top of the screen, simply grab one and drop it onto your set to get the movie started. Next, take a yellow actor card from the queue and drop him or her onto the set. Now you're ready to film! Each script and actor has a cash value listed at the bottom of the card, all of which goes into the cost of your movie. Lower-budget scripts and actors will get the job done, but remember you have to spend money to make money.

Each script and actor has a star rating in one of four categories: drama, action, comedy and romance. Money is made by matching scripts with sets and actors with scripts. Let's say, for example, your script has a two star rating for drama and one star for romance. To get more cash from the production (and, by implication, make a better movie), use an actor with the same ratings or, at the very least, a rating of any value in both categories. Once the film is ready and you enter the evaluation screen, you'll (hopefully) see the cash pile up.

The physical game world is divided into two main areas: production buildings and movie sets. You'll spend most of your time fiddling with sets themselves, keeping them repaired and upgraded as necessary. The other corner of the map is used to upgrade the actor pool, get better scripts, increase distribution and so on. You won't spend much time here, as the upgrades are costly and, once built, don't need much attention. But when the cash starts piling up you should scroll down to see what you can accomplish.

Speaking of upgrades, each movie set is actually a four-tiered building that you can improve as your cash flow increases. Basic sets only have enough room for one actor, limiting the cash bonus you get for properly utilizing an actor's skills. With each upgrade, however, you unlock an additional slot and can combine actors to meet the demands of your increasingly complex scripts.

Although not you aren't pressured by the passing of time, Hollywood Tycoon takes place in yearly increments as indicated by the calendar icon at the top corner of the screen. As the days and months tick by, your studio ages and sets need repair. You have to buy wood for construction and film to create movies, both of which can only be done between rounds, so pace yourself so you don't have to end the year early and lose precious movie-making months.

hollywoodtycoon2.jpgAnalysis: I have a bit of a soft spot for the old days of Hollywood. The movie industry was still trying to figure itself out in the early 1900s, so artists were throwing their creativity in every direction just to see what they could accomplish. Now, of course, movies are a commodity we take for granted. They're more likely to be filled with pointless storylines and big explosions than real art (Transformers 2, I'm looking at you).

Hollywood Tycoon's initial setting brings back the feeling of movies as they once were. It's a business, of course, but the focus isn't necessarily on money as it is on pairing compatible sets, scripts and actors to create a movie that works. You feel a quiet impulse of satisfaction when you get everything right, a response that goes well beyond the cash you earn. Later, once the lot is filled with sets and production buildings, you have to run a tight ship to stay afloat. But the entertainment value never leaves the game even though things get a little more complex and challenging.

There are a number of bonuses you can work for with each script, such as awards for good editing, creative props, costumes, bonuses for pairing actors with identical stats, etc. In fact, progress in measured in the form of achievements, most of which you obtain through normal play. Collect 20 achievements, for example, and you'll move on to a new chapter. It's an especially nice bonus how the game's progression mirrors the history of movies, if on no other level than the background music.

My only issue with Hollywood Tycoon is a minor one: scrolling. Moving the mouse to the edge of the screen nudges your view in that direction. This is fine, most games of this nature feature the same mechanic. But your row of actor and script cards is at the top of the screen, as are the filter and speed buttons for the marquee, so any time I went to change these settings the screen scrolled up a bit. I had to re-adjust my view each time I chose or filtered a card out of the queue, which was an easily preventable fault.

There are literally so many good things to say about Hollywood Tycoon I couldn't fit them all in a review. The interface might turn you off at first, as it's a pretty busy screen to look at, but give it a minute or two and clicking around becomes second nature. Don't let the "tycoon" in the title fool you, this is no rehash of every game you've ever seen. It's a bit of movie-making magic.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


Comments (19) | Views (1,484)

Weekend Download

JohnBIt's the weekend!!! That means you have a little extra time on your hands. That means I get to take away some of that time with a handful of free games. That means you get to have fun on your weekend. Don't forget to mow the lawn, though.

spaceexploration.jpgSpace Exploration: Serpens Sector (Mac/Win/Linux, 10MB, free) - A simple game with a simple goal: explore the galaxy! The Serpens Sector has just been opened for human exploration, and as captain of a scout ship, it's your job to check out each system. Fly to various planets and stars, meet the locals (if there are any), explore ancient ruins, search for artefacts and more. Bring your findings back to Fleet HQ and they will hopefully reward you with more fuel so you can continue exploring. It's a bit of an arcade game combined with some strategy/RPG elements, but short missions play out in just about ten minutes, which is perfect for any casual gamer. This is an early development preview. (Thanks, Tacroy!)

bitfortress.gifBitfortress (Windows, 4MB, free) - A short, work in progress build for a challenging vertically-scrolling shooter. There's only one level to play, and once you beat the last boss the stage loops around and you start from the beginning. The game has a surprising amount of personality for such a simple presentation. Also fun to know: Bitfortress was made in eight hours!

tombed.gifTombed (Windows, 2.8MB, free) - Created for the two-day Ludum Dare 14 competition, Tombed is a simple arcade game by Auntie Pixelantie, creator of Calamity Annie and many others. The spiky ceiling is coming down, and it would be in your interest to stay away from it. Tap the [shift] key to dig through non-solid blocks, eliminating entire groups of them with each shovel thrust. When spikes meet blocks (even solid gray ones), they disappear, so sometimes the only way forward is to wait for the ceiling and take advantage of a gap you couldn't create yourself.


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Rating: 4.2/5 (36 votes)
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Avalon

JohnBAvalon is a beautifully illustrated casual simulation game that focuses on gathering resources and exploring a magical forest. It ditches the traditional top-down point of view in favor of a sidescrolling 2D perspective which, surprisingly, diminishes that cerebral simulation feeling. As with any casual sim, it's easy to see the influence Virtual Villagers has had, but Avalon strays well off the rails with its setting, graphical style, and the ability to inspire you to explore the world around you.

avalon.jpgIn Avalon you assume the role of a Fairy Queen on a mission: go to the world of Avalon, occupy the island, and find the four elements that will restore magic to the Fairy Kingdom. This translates into you, the player, managing an ever-growing community of fairies who need to gather resources and explore every niche of their setting in order to find each element. You don't have to worry about caring for each worker beyond keeping a stockpile of food, freeing you up to explore the landscape and mine it for secrets.

There are three resources to manage in Avalon, each one gathered from landmarks scattered around the screen. Food feeds the fairies and comes from berry bushes, while pollen is used to spawn new fairies and comes from flowers. The magic resource comes from glowing white flowers. You'll also encounter random (and not-so-random) objects and events that may provide additional resources. They could also harbor danger, however, so it's your choice what you want to make of them.

While food and pollen are both important in their own right, magic is one resource you'll want to keep well-stocked. There are a dozen or so special objects in each area that can be investigated and nurtured further. These small irregularities (a beetle squirming on a branch, a mysterious moving bush, a piece of rotten fruit, etc.) are mysteries waiting to be uncovered by the fairies' magical powers of chanting, an ability that consumes magic. These secrets often open up new areas, new abilities, resource bonuses or more mysteries that need to be solved. Assign a worker or two to sing to these objects and see what happens.

One of the more interesting aspects of Avalon is its choice use of mini-games. Harvesting resources can be a slow process that requires very little intervention on your part. What better way to pass the time (and give your harvesting a boost) than to play a game or two? Click on the buildings to start a mini-game (assuming you've unlocked it). Each one lasts only a minute or so and, surprisingly, they're much more than a simple clone of a game you've played a thousand times over. I especially enjoyed the fan-blowing pollen game, and the bonus it provided was even better.

avalon2.jpgAnalysis: Avalon achieves a near-perfect balance between open-ended gameplay, linearity, exploration, and the repetition of tasks. Your chief activity will be deciding how many fairies to allot each job. My normal setup had just a few workers gathering food and pollen while everyone else was off gathering magic. An equal number of fairies were tasked to singing and solving mysteries. Beyond this, however, you have little control over what happens, only the order in which it does. Even though you're walking down a straight path, you've got the freedom to stop and smell the enchanted flowers along the way.

Avalon takes place in real-time, meaning the fairies perform their duties even while you're away. The forced pace is meant to encourage short but frequent spurts of gaming. Avalon isn't as sluggish as, say, Sprouts Adventure, but it felt quite a bit quicker than Virtual Villagers. You'll get many hours of enjoyment out of Avalon, but those hours will be spread across days as you play for short bursts, checking in on your fairies several times each day.

The interface in Avalon is very simple and lets you point, click and assign jobs one fairy at a time. Unfortunately there's no way to select multiple workers at once, and when your community grows to be over a dozen strong, this becomes an issue. Further complicating matters it the fact that fairies usually wander around once they complete a task, meaning you'll have whole groups of workers doing nothing with no way to find them except by scrolling through your entire flock one fairy at a time. There really needs to be a way to select fairies by status, specialty, or group location.

Avalon is an addictive piece of entertainment that lasts a good long time, even if some of that enjoyment is postponed because you're waiting on the fairies to do their thing. Avalon isn't as open-ended as most sims, and the replay value is minimal at best, but the game will enchant you from the start and give you plenty of enjoyment throughout.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


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Rating: 4.4/5 (171 votes)
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Castle CorpArtbegottiIn the current economic climate, sometimes you have to take a new approach to your problems. In that spirit, the latest offering from Nitrome is almost the opposite of a standard tower defense game. Instead of building structures along a path to repel a gang of marauders, you play as the characters on the path trying to destroy the fixed objects shooting at you. Your mission? To protect your shareholders. Welcome to a long long time ago, when economic recessions went medieval.

As the head of Castle Corp, you're clearly aware of the state of the global economy. In fact, it seems like all of your business making flags and capes has gone to Happy Family Shields and Accessories Incorporated over on yonder hill... So what does a failing business do to get itself back on its feet? (I should warn you that if you say "federal bailout", I will have no choice but to smite thee with my mace.)

Of course, you fight back. To do this, open the "Inventory" tab at the bottom of the screen to see the crew of knights you can employ. A knight can be placed at any of the starting pads on the map, and will start walking along the path until he reaches the end. If a knight meets an enemy, they will engage in a melee-style battle. However, a brawl takes a long time and can drain your knights' energy, so it may be helpful to take advantage of his rocket boosters. (Stay with me, it gets even better.) Aim your walking knight's trajectory with your cursor, and click to fire him through the air. He'll tackle airborne nemeses, collect coins for spending, and do other things that authentic knights did back in the day with their rocket packs. It's like reliving the Middle Ages!

Your goal is to knock away all enemy soldiers and weapons with your knights. As you plunder your way through HFSA Inc.'s headquarters, your enemies' supply of warriors and weapons become greater and stronger, with automated crossbows, fire-blowing mysical eyeballs, and cannons that shoot pigs. Some will even take more than one hit to destroy, but that's where your loot comes in. Between levels, you can purchase power-ups that let you boost your strength for battle, cast devastating spells, and carry chickens that lay eggs on your enemies. Seriously, it's by miracle alone that I haven't made a Monty Python reference yet.

Analysis: While Nitrome isn't known for taking stabs at current events, they do so here with great aplomb, balancing overused phrases from the cubicle world with an almost absurdist sense of humor, and taking it all back to the Middle Ages. You'll know when you get to take your first chicken-aided flight that this game was meant to be a ridiculous parody, and it's done quite well.

Those who have learned to equate "Nitromehard" with "Nintendohard" might be in for a bit of a surprise here, since the game helps the player along with a lot of handicaps, especially when it comes to power-ups. Did you buy a bunch of power-ups you realized you didn't need? You can sell them back for full price. Did you pick up a power-up you don't want? Sell it, and get something else for your money. Did you blow a whole ton of money and power-ups on a level, only to later lose that level? No worries, you get everything right back for your next go. You might almost think this game is being just a bit too forgiving.

There are a couple of known bugs still floating around (but being worked out), but none of them really hinder the gameplay much. If anything, they actually work on your side. For example, there have been instances where losing a level restarts you with an extra power-up or two in your stash. Oh, and remember playing peek-a-boo as a baby? Here's a hint: If you can't see a mounted weapon like a trebuchet or pig-shooter, it can't see you, so you can walk right by it without taking damage.

At the end of the day, Castle Corp boils down to a fun little anti-TD game with a great sense of topical humor. Maybe what every businessman needs nowadays is to throw on some armor and go medieval.

Play Castle Corp

Cheers to Julian, Mark, Funlerz, Emil, Maqrkk, Saladgoat, Ben, and Aethelind.cullen for sending this one in! =)


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Link Dump Fridays

DoraWe can all agree that arcades are pretty awesome. An arcade is the only place where you can pay two dollars to play a rigged crane game to not win a stuffed Scooby-Doo toy painted green and called "Ralfie-Roo" to avoid copyright infringement. And when you're hungry, why, stop by the vending machines for some chips made by a brand you've never heard of that may have been refilled as early as six years ago! Oh boy oh boy oh boy! You should be at one right now!... or come to think of it, I guess you could stay here with us and play these games that evoke all the style, fun, and difficulty of an arcade game from your computer chair. Yeah, that would be pretty sweet, too.

  • Plant PongPlant Pong - When our robotic overlords rise up and clamp our tender flesh in the cold metallic pincers of slavery and iron-fisted oppression, and least we'll have beautiful gardens to look longingly at while we toil in the factories. Of course, they'll force us to fling drops of water around the screen using physics and blind luck to grow the flowers first, but hey. Flowers is flowers, yo.
  • Yan Loong Legend 2Yan Loong Legend 2 - When you first load this side-scrolling hack-and-slash fighter, the incredible music will make you close your eyes and imagine you're Bruce Lee (or Chun Li) on a mountaintop somewhere, balancing on a post against the setting sun while David Carradine plays the flute. And then you'll have to reload because of all the swords that pierced your flesh while you had your eyes closed. Who closes their eyes while playing a game anyway? You're silly.
  • vel.shock()vel.shock() - If there is one thing we here at JiG love, it's blowing things up. And if you can reflect enemy fire back to make them blow themselves up? Well, that's a pretty sweet fruit right there, mon ami. Since neither this game nor the one it was based off of require you to use your own bullets, you can get back to building that bullet throne once you're done playing. We know you have one.
  • Puristic RotationPuristic Rotation - Story? We don't need no steenkin' story! All we need is an endless supply of bullets and baddies are we are good to go go go in this shooter! Besides, now you can make up your own plot! You'll never take over Earth's supply of Reese's Peanut Butter cups, Doctor Octopus! Not when the casts of Serenity and Buffy the Vampire Slayer are here to stop you!
  • Balloon Headed BoyBalloon Headed Boy - If this game had been released thirty years ago, we would have all been watching John Travolta in a whimsical fantasy comedy about a charming young lad who used the inflation powers of his pink head to float about a colourful landscape. That would have been much less depressing. Where were you when we needed you most, Balloon Headed Boy? Just where the heck were you! ? *sob*

  • Currently 4.7/5
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Rating: 4.7/5 (428 votes)
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DoraHow to Raise a DragonA world where candy is a precious commodity to be mined and sold. A prison where the bars aren't always so obvious. A beast that slumbers beneath the ocean, dreaming of a brighter world. And now? Gregory Weir wants you to choose your own path in How to Raise a Dragon, an interactive story with more than one outcome. A lot more.

This game is about you. Well, actually, it's about a newly hatched dragon, but the narrative that unfolds as you progress does a surprisingly good job about drawing you into the role. You'll begin the game breaking out of your egg, all alone in the middle of the forest. Well, except for all these intriguing plants and bugs to eat. But it won't stay that idyllic for long. Use the [arrow] keys to move right and left around the screen, and [X] to eat certain things. While early on tapping [Z] or [Y] will only make you jump, as you progress you'll be able to tap it twice to leap even higher, or multiple times to fly. And of course, once you get old enough, you can use [C] to breathe fire. Or maybe something... else?

The story unfolds over four chapters, each with different things to see and do. While you can barrel through the game in under five minutes if you really try, you'll be missing a lot. The second chapter is where your decisions start to have real importance, so take your time, explore, and consider your options. Do you want vengeance? Do you want to forgive? Or do you just want to be left alone?

Once you complete the story, the game allows you to return to any chapter you like and play from there on. It's a nice touch that lets you really explore everything the story has to offer, without necessarily replaying the entire thing. Although, why you wouldn't want to, we can't imagine. Unless you were a robot with a heart of circuitry and gears for imagination. You're not a robot, are you?

How to Raise a DragonAnalysis: While it doesn't have quite the emotional impact of The Majesty of Colors, How to Raise a Dragon is still pretty impressive. Being able to reach an end more ambivalent than either laying waste to everything you see or being the sort of dewy-eyed protector fourteen-year-old girls doodle in their notebooks was refreshing. I just wish it were longer; I felt like the bulk of the outcome was riding solely on that second chapter, and it would have been nice to have more than one or two decisions determine my destiny.

But what the story lacks in length it makes up for in charm. The pages from the fictional book the story mimics appear before and after major decisions, and do a great job of gently guiding you to your objectives without making you feel like the game is yelling, "HEY STUPID. WHY DONTCHA FLAP ON OVER HERE?" A more direct approach, or telling you exactly which items did what, would have both made the player feel hectored and taken away the great sense of wonder the game has.

While this story unfortunately isn't dragon-bite-sized, it remains a solidly enjoyable treat. It doesn't break any molds the way Gregory Weir's previous games have, but it does tell one heck of a story. And with so many potential outcomes, why not take a different path next time and see what the future holds?

Update: Gregory Weir has made an update that incporates several fixes, a new behaviour, and the ability to use the [Y] key as an alternative jump key.

Play How to Raise a Dragon


  • Currently 4.1/5
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Rating: 4.1/5 (82 votes)
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zxoSpacetacular VoyageThere's no denying humans and asteroids live a troubled coexistence. It's not that they're enemies per se; let's just say that their interests rarely coincide, and if one just magically ceased to exist, few tears would be shed by the other.

Sash MacKinnon's Spacetacular Voyage, the latest chapter in this saga, puts you at the helm of a single human ship. By now, the humans have developed collision-proof armor for their ships (probably using some sort of advanced nano-muffin technology). However, they haven't yet figured out a way to negate the laws of physics, and the asteroids know this.

You must make it through 10 levels containing deluge after deluge of asteroids without letting them knock you all the way to the bottom of the screen. But of course, you're not going to just stand there and take the abuse; you've got some abuse of your own to dish out! Crash into as many asteroids as possible for extra points. Plus, if you ever get into a real jam, hit the [space] bar to create an explosion, which will get those asteroids off your ship in a hurry!

Spacetacular Voyage's glowing vector graphics pay tribute to the original Asteroids, but it leans much more heavily on physics. The collisions are very elastic, but your ship's shape is designed to deflect them away from you while still keeping your momentum relatively high. The balance between making as many collisions as possible while keeping your ship afloat is a great touch, allowing two levels of play: simply completing the levels or going for a great score. Even the levels themselves have been thoughtfully designed, throwing something new at you with each new stage. And what would a simplistically modern game be like without some taunting and bad puns? You feel bad when you fail a level, and the game makes you feel even worse by telling you exactly how much you FAIL, which inexplicably makes you feel better about failing. That's some serious psychology at work.

So while it may not be earth-shatteringly groundbreaking (superfluous redundancy is still hilariously funny, right?) or gorgeously lush, Spacetacular Voyage offers ten levels of solid gameplay with plenty of replay value. Really, what more could you want?

Play Spacetacular Voyage


  • Currently 4/5
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Rating: 4/5 (61 votes)
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PsychotronicZodiac ReactorWe are talented creatures, human beings. We can kick an object hanging above our heads, we can train a chicken to run an obstacle course, we can bury our childhood traumas in a string of toxic relationships. Apparently, we can also perform the high-speed mental calculations required to play a game like Zodiac Reactor.

Brought to us by Sam Horton of Funface Games, Zodiac Reactor plays like an intense bout of hyperspace Simon. The reactor's purpose is nothing less than creating brand new stars; your job is to collect the Elemental Particles necessary to fuel the process.

Your tools are the humble [arrow] and [space] keys. Each directional key represents one of four elements; air, fire, water, or earth. Colored orbs will spiral inward from the rim of the circular reactor, and you must press the appropriate key when an orb is inside the Target Zone—the smaller, shimmering circle in the middle of the screen.

When you miss, the core temperature of the reactor rises, bringing you one step closer to a Game Over screen. If you nail it, the particle adds to your reservoir of that element and you are one step closer to birthing a cute little celestial body of your own. You get to name it and make a comment on the high score boards and everything. If you get there, I encourage you to come up with something better than "easy" or "i lost when i started falling asleep" so I don't have to come crush your head with my own slow, unskilled fingers.

The regular game cycles between three modes to keep things fresh. Quad Mode (motto: "Time to kick it up a notch!") is the simplest, machine-gunning you with a series of short bursts of particles. Speed Mode challenges you to match 100 orbs in a row as the pace gradually works its way from Turtle to Japanese Bullet Train. You get a hefty bonus for completing all 100, but fat chance unless the military has been performing unethical upgrades on your central nervous system. The last is Orbital, which takes away your directional cues and forces you to identify the particles solely by color. This mode also mixes things up with Chaos Orbs and bombs, both of which must be blocked by holding the [space] bar.

If you want to focus on either Orbital or Quad, there are survival modes available on the Play Menu; and if you want to see how crazy things will get, you can start right off with Terminal Velocity, which is just as intimidating as it sounds.

Zodiac ReactorAnalysis: As a game of pure reflex, Zodiac Reactor's appeal may be limited. If you're not gaping at the screen like a caffeinated zombie, your mind blank of everything but the color-eye-finger connection, you're not playing it right. That's not going to be everybody's cup of tea, but for zen masters and pantherfolk, this is heaven.

It's not just that it goes real fast. The game is actively trying to trip you up by mixing color and directional input, somewhat like a rapid-fire Stroop Test. Your wiring will shift and adjust eventually, but it can be strange at first to press [up] when a red particle is flanking you from below.

But what really makes this more than just Guitar Hero Galaxy Edition are the details. The gently insistent background music. The wavering bass of your score chain advancing. The gentle glow of a completed rune. The increasing pitch of the confirmation sound as you cartwheel through the Speed Round. The anticipatory blast of steam before each new barrage of particles. The crackle and rush of the different elements as they fire. These are cosmetic touches, but they make your abstract task feel significant.

One misstep, in my opinion, is the color of the Chaos Orbs, a sparkling blend of purple and white that looks a smidgen too close to the pure white air particles. That and the fact that the slower bombs bear the color of one of the four elements, when you can only block them with the shield. Arguably, these are just more tricks meant to short circuit your operating rhythms, but by the time they show up in numbers, I'm plenty challenged enough, thank you. "Time to kick it up a notch" indeed. Nuts to you, Zodiac Reactor. I'm hanging on to the last notch with my fingernails as it is.

Any time you can collect all of a particular element during a round, you get an elemental bonus. These bonuses are interesting. They only activate when you are performing perfectly, at which point you hardly need to have your health restored. But since collecting all the air particles extends your Temperature gauge, doing well while the pace is still within your comfort zone can give you a fighting chance later. I might have preferred a system that rewarded you in smaller increments for every successful keystroke, but this method does encourage you to strive for greatness.

With sharp and attractive production values, Zodiac Reactor goes beyond the call of duty in its presentation of a very simple concept. It's a gorgeous game and finely crafted, but again, it's not meant for everyone. For an addled old fool with fond memories of the original Tempest like me, it feels amazing to dominate one of the faster rounds. That sense of accomplishment is unmatched by any other Flash game I've played in a long time.

If you're a certain type of hyper-focused young gamer with reflexes untarnished by the ravages of time, it might even be easy for you. Well, don't tell me about it, you whipper-snapper. Your pants hang too low and your music is just whiny noise and my pool is off-limits on holidays. I curse you with every ounce of my creaky, arthritic soul.

Play Zodiac Reactor


  • Currently 4.3/5
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Rating: 4.3/5 (233 votes)
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DoraThe Dead CaseFour out of five doctors agree that it is rarely a good sign to wake up considerably deader than you went to sleep. The fifth doctor was unavailable for comment due to being stuck in a coffin, but we're sure he'd agree. The Dead Case is a point-and-click murder mystery from Zach Schaffer, where the murder you're trying to solve is your own. If only you could remember who you are.

Amnesia as a plot device isn't anything new, but is typically the domain of dainty female love interests or burly-yet-vulnerable military supersoldiers. In your case, you're a non-corporeal spirit, a rather unpleasant looking one, who wakes up in an unfinished grave. While you could spend eternity terrifying children, you ultimately decide to set out to discover who you are, and why your town has such an active ghost problem.

Unlike most point-and-click games, The Dead Case focuses more on the story than on puzzle solving. Your ghoulish counterpart isn't the only restless soul in the area, and you'll get the chance to speak to other spirits and help them figure out what happened to them. Library Ghost, for example, is your source for hints and information, while Schoolyard Ghost is too wrapped up in her own misery to be of much help. (Not featured: Public Restroom Ghost and Walmart Greeter Ghost.) Not only will you need to find out your own past, but each spirit you come across represents a different story that needs to be untangled for you to proceed.

The story is a decent length, and can probably be completed between a half hour and an hour of gameplay. Although it doesn't feature a save function, after major story developments you'll be presented with a password you can use to return to that point whenever you wish.

The Dead CaseAnalysis: My biggest gripe with the game ultimately comes down to the constant trudging back and forth. The town is fairly big, but in most cases, needlessly so. A disappointing chunk of screens have absolutely nothing to interact with on them. Peppering them with a few random, non-essential souls to speak to would go a long way towards taking the sting out of them.

The map that is featured on the options menu is often absolutely essential to figuring out where you are, but is not as useful as it could be. Especially since early on in the game you'll spend a lot of time wandering around trying to find someone to scare or talk to. The ability to click on any location you've visited and instantly be transported there would not have gone unappreciated, and might have made this game really great instead of just "Well, it's good, but... "

Which is a shame, because I really liked unraveling the mystery behind our hero's demise. The game features interesting characters, a surprisingly touching moment or two, and a story that drives you to want to see its completion. Ghosts? Murder? Ethereal eyeballs? I am so there! If you can look past the few flaws, The Dead Case is a worthy addition to the genre, and well worth an afternoon of your time. Or... *flicks flashlight on under chin* AN ETERNITY!!

... too much?

Play The Dead Case


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Rating: 3.5/5 (161 votes)
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Weekday Escape

JessI don't think I could describe Smile For Me, the sweet new escape game by Japanese designer Robamimi, any better than the game does itself: "This is escape game, but have not to escape. Sorry, you die please. You become a departed, and change to the smile the sorrowing bereaved." Says it all, don't you think?

Smile For MeOkay, okay, maybe not. To translate: in Smile For Me, you are a recently deceased person who, seeing the tears of a grieving loved one, seeks to bring joy to that individual. But how, exactly, are you going to accomplish that? In your new home, a silvery room high in the sky, you'll have to solve puzzles and use the heavenly tools at your disposal to bring a moment of happiness to your bereaved beloved. Awww.

I liked Smile For Me a lot. It's earnestly and unabashedly sentimental—which, in a world that at times seems to look down upon genuine emotion, is actually really refreshing. The puzzles are for the most part challenging without becoming overwhelming, though I did come across a few "seriously? you expected me to do that?" moments of eyebrow-raising "logic." Happily, a hint system is in place to bring you through those occasional bumps in the road. You'll also need to do a little math, so be prepared to pull out your calculator. Your reward for completing Smile For Me is a one of the nicest endings I've seen in an escape-the-room game, sweet and a little sad. You might find yourself genuinely moved.

The game is very well-crafted, with the excellent graphics we've come to expect from Robamimi as well as a mellow, melodic soundtrack. A save feature is provided, and a square mute button can be located above the inventory. Although the game is not heavy on pixel-hunting, be sure to check each and every clickable location (there are quite a few of them); if at some point you seem to be missing an important item from your inventory, rechecking previously visited areas will probably help. Also, on the game's title screen (after it has loaded), be sure to click "English" before you press "Play."

If you're in the mood to kill monsters and blow things up with comically oversized weaponry, this is not the game for you. If, however, you feel like you might like a breath of fresh air, a few minutes of unadorned sincerity to cleanse your palate (and a darn good escape game to boot), then click on the link below. It'll definitely make you smile.

Play Smile For Me


  • Currently 4.1/5
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Rating: 4.1/5 (78 votes)
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Pwong2JoshI can't believe the time has come when this cheesy intro can finally be made: "Pwong 2: it's not your grand-daddy's Pong." That's right, it's been almost 40 years since the original Pong was let loose upon the world, conceivably a wide enough window that some of our younger readers could actually have a grandpa or grandma who used to chuck quarters into the classic game at their local arcade. There have been tons of Pong clones throughout the years; even spin-off games like Breakout and Arkanoid that date back almost as long. We've seen many hybrid games as well, which is just about the only category that Pwong 2 (developed by Jonas Richner, a.k.a. JGames) belongs in.

A sequel to a lesser-known original, Pwong 2 is like the hyperactive biker outcast stepchild of its Pong parents. This game offers some serious sensory overload. The basic principle of Pong is still there; two opposing paddles whacking a ball back and forth, hoping to score by shooting it past your opponent. The first difference is that Pwong 2 has a vertical layout, rather than the more traditional sideways playing field. Everything begins deceptively normal and steady, with just a single ball lazily knocking back and forth between you and your computer opponent. Use your mouse to slide your paddle (on the bottom) from side to side.

Pwong2All of the sudden, a few more balls enter the mix. It's okay though; you're doing good... just a few balls, right? No big deal, just keep moving back and for—"Arrrgh!!! What the #^@&? Too many balls! They're everywhere! Game over man, game over!"

As if a dozen or so weren't enough already, the screen will eventually become filled with balls flying left and right, up and down. The more balls in play, the less they'll count against your score if you lose them. So at least there's that. You also have a few tricks up your sleeve, like the ability to launch a "ghost paddle" up in the air above you, used to preemptively catch incoming balls without actually being in that spot by the time they get there. This ability is fueled by ammo that you can snag by collecting the bigger, glowing orbs that occasionally descend. Just click the left mouse button to fire it.

You'll also see a few other nice power-ups drop from time to time, like paddle extenders, slow-motion and "sticky" paddles. You can also upgrade your paddle between matches, spending the points you earn on three things: extending your paddle, making your paddle's "curve" more extreme and the length of which power-ups will last (or the frequency in which they drop—it's not specified).

There are several different game modes beyond just Easy, Medium and Hard; the Extreme and Insane modes give you less time and more of a challenge. There's even a two-player mode that you can play with a friend, using both the arrow keys and [A] and [D] keys. An achievement system is included, albeit sparse.

Analysis: By nature, there's just not too much more to the game than what's immediately obvious, so it can get a bit repetitive after awhile. The glow-trail graphics are a neat effect, but could also be an annoyance issue with some people (not to mention the high-frequency, trance soundtrack if you're not into that sorta thing). You can mute the game with [M], pause with [P] and reset with [R]. When it comes to gameplay, there really isn't that much to criticize since you're just moving a paddle back and forth. I suppose gamers with a high-end, 2000 dpi mouse may have a slight advantage over those with a junker, but I can't imagine it would be that substantial.

It's a casual action game through and through, shiny enough to capture your attention for 20 minutes at a time. Just don't expect much in the way of replay value after you've completed all the difficulty modes and achievements.

Play Pwong 2


  • Currently 3.9/5
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Rating: 3.9/5 (73 votes)
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LaserworxArtbegotti[An Upfront Warning: This will not be a problem for everyone, but the auto-save in Laserworx did not work consistently for some JIG staff, so closing the game and coming back to it meant they had to start over again. Try refreshing the browser page after a couple of levels to make sure your game is being saved.]

Laserworx is an enlightening puzzler by Liszkay (Treasure in the Dark) where your goal is to light up all the lasercells on a grid. One hundred beaming levels await you, hoping to trip you up with a plethora of tricks and twists.

Scattered about the floor are several laserspots, which can often be moved around by dragging them with the mouse. Between certain pairs of laserspots, you'll find, naturally, laserbeams. These laserbeams always form a straight line connection between laserspots, even when placed on the grid in different rows or columns. (In other words, diagonals are very much allowed.) When a laserbeam passes through a lasercell, even by the tiniest corner, the lasercell will switch on (or off). Light up all the lasercells, and you'll be on your way to the next level.

But (literally) blocking your way are the dreaded laserwalls, which— Sorry, they're just plain walls, I guess not everything has the word "laser" tacked onto it. Blocking your way are walls, which render any laserbeam that passes through them useless. Also, you have to deal with your own laserspots, which can only move across unoccupied floor tiles, and that's even assuming you're allowed to move them. You'll eventually have to juggle moving around almost every element of the game, including the lasercells, the walls, and even the floor tiles.

Each level has an unlimited amount of time to work with. Instead, your score for a level is determined by how few "moves" you make in order to get to a solution. Each time you drag any object one square, a "move" is deducted. There is no way to undo moves (except by restarting a level), so be sure to plan ahead for a high score.

Analysis: One of the many positive notes about Laserworx is that across its 100 levels, the idea of moving things around to connect objects in lines doesn't tire quickly. In fact, the levels are set up to give you a variety of challenges in order. One level, you might be moving the laserspots, the next might have you moving the lasercells and the walls, the following level might have you moving laserspots that control the movement of other laserspots. All the while, you've got to pay attention to which lasercells are already lit and don't need a laserbeam passing through them.

This game's interface is nicely set up, with switches and sliders that make you feel like you're at the control panel of some higher establishment for intergalactic laser manipulation (hereafter referred to as SHE-FILM).

As a final tip, keep in mind that you have the ability to move objects across the board into a lot of configurations, but even though the level might be symmetric in nature, your solution does not need to be. One of the hardest habits to break your mind free from is the urge to make the left side look the same as the right, or have the whole thing be diametrically symmetrical (looks the same when turned 180 degrees, like most crossword puzzles). Often times, the easiest solutions look like a box of red toothpicks dropped on the floor. If you can let go of any perfectionist tendancies you might have, you'll learn to appreciate a line for the fact that it's a line, no matter how slanted.

Play Laserworx


  • Currently 4.4/5
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Rating: 4.4/5 (63 votes)
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PsychotronicPhantom Mansion: Treasure of the Seven SeasPhantom Mansion 2: The Arabian Sea is the third game in the second batch of tile puzzles from the Phantom Mansion series starring spiky haired little Hector and his endless quest for treasure. Push crates, dodge the cutest little itsy-bitsy monsters, unlock doors, ride magic carpets over a spiraling vortex of horror. It's a pirate themed carnival of wonder, Sokoban style!

The Phantom Mansion games feature colorful kid-scary graphics and a decent number of variations on the simple gameplay. The puzzles are just about at the right difficulty for a casual game; tough enough to hook you, but rarely mean enough to hurt you. However, they also suffer from a relatively slow pace. Wherever you need to be, Hector's got to walk there, and he's in no hurry. Control him with the [arrow] keys and access the options screen with the [space] bar.

Phantom Mansion: Treasure of the Seven SeasThe latest episode is Phantom Mansion 2: The Arabian Sea. The previous episodes in order are:

And for Hector's previous adventures in the world of spooky block-shoving, read our review of the complete Phantom Mansion: Spectrum of Souls, which spans the rainbow (+1) with eight more collections of puzzles.

Play Phantom Mansion 2: The Arabian Sea

Play all the Phantom Mansion series games:
Phantom Mansion: Red ChamberPhantom Mansion: Orange LibraryPhantom Mansion: Yellow TowerPhantom Mansion: Green GalleryPhantom Mansion: Blue BallroomPhantom Mansion: Indigo DungeonPhantom Mansion: Violet VaultPhantom Mansion: Black Sanctum Phantom Mansion: The Black SeaPhantom Mansion 2: The North SeaPhantom Mansion 2: The Arabian Sea

  • Currently 4.4/5
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Rating: 4.4/5 (284 votes)
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DoraDouble EdgedIt seems like all you really have to do is mention Nitrome, and people know they're in for a treat. They sort of feel like the Willy Wonka of casual gameplay, distilling fun down into tasty little pixel packages. Up until now, there has been a disappointing lack of games where you can wield a barely conscious chicken to destroy all who oppose you. Nitrome has come to fix that and bring a little sunshine into your day with Double Edged.

Double Edged can be played on your own or with a friend. Either way, it's time to put on your massive helmet and gird those manly loins, because ancient Greece is calling. You might think it's just another side-scrolling hack-and-slash adventure. And then the little satyrs would go running past you. Followed closely by the juggernauts and the chickens. And the first time you stunned a boar so you could pick it up and throw it at someone, you would know something wonderful was happening.

Played with the keyboard, you use the [arrow] keys to move around the screen, [<] to attack and [>] to jump. If an item is in front of you, the [<] key picks it up, and tapping it again will throw it in the direction you're facing. If an enemy disarms you, or you just want to swap your weapon for one you've found, stand close to the weapon and tap [<] to pick it up. If you find yourself surrounded, pushing [<] and [>] at the same time will unleash a whirlwind attack that will knock down and stun most enemies.

If you've never played a side-scroller before, it's okay! Shhhh, shhhh, it's okay. Put down the paper bag, because we promise you Nitrome has made this as easy as possible for you to learn. Each time enemies appear, you'll need to kill all of them before the big, flashing, disembodied hand will give you the go-ahead to the next area. As you progress, enemies will drop coins that increase your score, which can be picked up simply by walking over them. If you come across a treasure chest, bust it open by throwing it against the side of the screen, or someone's face. Inside, you'll find precious coins, and occasionally equally precious (but significantly more delicious) roasted chicken, which replenishes your health.

While most of the levels have you simply fighting your way from one end to another against hordes of enemies, most of whom apparently shop at the same helmet outlet you do, every few stages you'll come across a different boss. Some of them can be handled by old-fashioned stabbin', but others require a special trick to defeat. None of them are very challenging, but the little stories behind each one add a lot of personality to the game and really make it stand out.

Double EdgedAnalysis: Rendered in Nitrome's familiar pixel-perfect art style, Double Edged not only looks great, it plays great too. And by that I don't just mean the controls are easy and the frame-rate stays silky-smooth. Well, they are, and it does, but what I really mean to say is, Double Edged might be the most fun I've had in a free flash game all year. I bludgeoned a man to death with a chicken. I hurled boars and men who had been turned to solid gold at my enemies.

Ladies and gentleman, you can ride a tiger. I owe Nitrome a Christmas card this year. And they should be invited to all of your birthday parties.

While it's not the longest game you'll ever play, what's there has been polished to a mirror finish. In a previous review for a similar game, limited control keys were cited as a poor decision. Surprisingly, the same concept works much better here. The single attack button allows you to focus on the constant moving you need to do to keep ahead of your enemies. Since each weapon you'll pick up has its own attack, you aren't left fumbling with the controls in frustration, trying to figure out if you're facing the right way with the planets in the proper alignment to trigger a special move. Fans of more strategic gameplay may be put off by the lack of a control scheme they can master and hone their skills on, but in my opinion it makes Double Edged user friendly, so that you can jump right in without missing a beat.

Aside from its brevity, the only other real complaint I have with Double Edged is that it's also fairly easy. Even when the screen was being swarmed by legions of little Grecian Stormtroopers, I was only ever rarely in any danger of dying. Some enemies do more damage than most, of course, but most of their attacks can be laughed off. Maybe because they haven't learned the fine art of boar-bashin' or chicken-chuckin'. What this means is that while Double Edged is tremendously fun, beating it doesn't feel like any sort of momentous achievement, either.

If you're looking for something fun to take up an afternoon, Double Edged is here to sweep you up into its burly, reassuring embrace, stroke your brow, and then throw you at an enemy soldier. It's not thought-provoking, but it is a wicked amount of fun, and sometimes that's all you really want from a game. Offering fast gameplay with a friendly design and a great sense of humour, Double Edged is a great addition to Nitrome's library. Just don't let PETA find out about it.

Play Double Edged


  • Currently 4.6/5
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Rating: 4.6/5 (185 votes)
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DoraPhage Wars 2Chemistry sets these days are pretty lame. Good luck trying to extract DNA from mosquitoes imprisoned in amber with something that has difficulty producing a decent baking soda volcano. If you've been longing for something to fill the petri-dish-shaped hole in your heart left by a childhood of an unfulfilled desire for dangerous genetic experimentation, Phage Wars 2 is here to crash through a window with a rose in its teeth and woo you with the promise of creating the deadliest virus known to man. Just try not to swoon face-first into a table of samples seething with virulent disease.

From Armor Games and Joey Betz comes a game about breeding stronger, faster, more magenta-y viruses, and other wholesome pastimes. Unlike the original where you were only able to choose from a selection of premade viruses, the sequel has a much broader scope. You're put into the shoes of a new laboratory technician tasked with creating the ultimate virus, and you'll do so by pitting your creation against those that came before you.

The game is played entirely with the mouse, and from the virtual desktop the game presents you with, all you need to do is click on something to get started, exactly the way you would with your own computer. The bulk of the gameplay takes place when you click on the "Run Experiment" icon, which will present you with several tests to choose from. You'll need to work your way through all of them to advance and achieve your dream of becoming the nastiest, most plague-bearing-est virus on the planet. GO TEAM.

Once you begin an experiment, your virus will start out in a single cell and so will your opponent, each with your own colour to help you tell cells apart. The number in your cells, which can regenerate all the way up to 100, represents your virus's strength. Click on one of your cells, drag over to an enemy cell and release. Half of that cell's strength will split off and head on over to attack; if its value is greater than the enemy cell, you'll take it over. It sounds simple because it is. But the enemy is constantly on the attack too, and as the experiments progress, you'll find yourself harder pressed to both hold and gain ground. The experiment succeeds if you manage to take control over all the cells on the field.

Upon completing a test run, you're typically presented with the message that you've discovered a new gene. These are modifiers that can be spliced into your existing virus to affect everything from how fast it regenerates to how quickly it moves. As you evolve, so do the other species, and you'll need to keep moving to stay alive. The analysis program can be run after each test to show you how your virus is stacking up, and can be a good way to find out which areas you might be lacking in.

Phage Wars 2Analysis: Phage Wars 2 is an improvement over the original in a lot of ways. The AI is faster and more aggressive. The ability to customize your virus is a great touch. The interface is smart and engaging. And I get to pretend I'm an Umbrella lab technician!

Presented on a virtual desktop, Phage Wars 2 goes a long way to get in character and stay there. Everything is designed to make you feel as though you're working on an actual lab computer rather than playing a game. While the visuals aren't quite realistic, they're still extremely effective for their purpose. Windows pop up and minimize with the appropriate sounds. The documentation is accessed via a "Read Me" file that looks like an actual text document, complete with ASCII title. It's a lot of tiny touches that combine to make one very clever and absorbing experience and made my nerd-o-meter ping off the scale with delight.

Despite being billed as a strategy game, this isn't something where you can kick back with a cup of coffee and expect to mull over your every move while thoughtfully stroking your chin. The gameplay is actually very fast; enemy viruses begin swarming the instant the level starts up and rarely take a breather. As such, rather than carefully plotting out a plan of attack, most of your time will be sent trying to capture as much ground as possible as quickly as possible while the enemy batters at your defenses. The stronger you make your virus, the more easily later levels can be won by a blind, zergling rush in all directions. With the exception of regeneration, most of the other attributes don't appear to have a very big impact.

Still, from its quirky presentation to its fast-paced gameplay, Phage Wars 2 is a solid little package. What it lacks in variety, it makes up for in originality and style. It plays well, and the only bugs you'll encounter are the contagious, necrotic sort, which makes for a nice change of pace. For featuring the only weapons of mass destruction that could be undone by a spritz of Lysol, Phage Wars 2 is a winner in my book. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go disinfect. Everything.

Play Phage Wars 2

To explore the roots of this style of gameplay, try Galcon, King Mania, or Nano Wars!


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Mobile Monday

JohnBAn iPod full of diverse games on this week's Mobile Monday. My personal favorite happens to be TonePad. Mostly because I like messing around with sound without, you know, actually accomplishing anything or learning real musical skills.

DioramaDiorama - Like the classic Labyrinth game where you roll a ball around a level, only this one has a remarkable 3D perspective that changes as you tilt the iPhone. Navigate narrow bridges and roll through hidden tunnels to reach the goal. Also included is a stereoscopic view that allows you to view the game in 3D with the correct eyewear. There's no sound as of now, but an upcoming version will fix that.

Outpost KalokiKaloki Adventure - A slightly trimmed-down version of Outpost Kaloki that works wonders on the small-screen. Kaloki Adventure is a delicious casual strategy game that will remind you of Lemonade Stand. And not just because you're selling lemonade in the first scenario (fact: all alien species love lemonade). Upgrade arms of your space station with various shops to supply travelers with what they need. Power stations are needed to keep things running, and you have to find a good balance between selling cheap goods and expensive treasures, otherwise your customers won't part with their space cash. A free Kaloki Lite is also available.

TonePadTonePad - Did you play Andre Michele's ToneMatrix featured on a previous Link Dump Friday? If so, you know exactly what to expect with TonePad. A grid of dots fills the screen, and all you have to do is tap one to fill it. Every few seconds a wave sweeps along and plays each lighted circle. The higher the filled dot on the screen, the higher the pitch. Create some seriously catchy sound loops or just see what a smiley face would sound like. You can even save, load, upload and download songs! TonePad is free, but TonePadPro allows you to use your creations as ringtones.

TrainsTrains - A simple game of directing incoming trains to their color-coded stations to unload cargo, and then directing then safely away again. Just tap on the track intersections to change orientation and direction for the trains. Some trains are longer and worth more points, some move faster, and all present a challenge that is quick and easy to pick up and play. If you enjoyed Flight Control, you will find a lot to enjoy with Trains as well.

NOTE: Games listed may not be available outside of North America. Prices are subject to change and are therefore unlisted. Please see the individual game pages for purchasing info.