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July 2009 Archives

  • Currently 4.8/5
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Rating: 4.8/5 (73 votes)
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Bookworm Adventures Volume 2

JohnBIt's word game meets RPG in the excellent release from PopCap, Bookworm Adventures Volume 2! Mother Goose leaps from the pages of her book when the Big Bad Wolf comes a-knockin', and our bespectacled hero Best of Casual Gameplay 2009Lex is the only one who can help. Spell words to damage each enemy as you work your way through 30 chapters, gaining levels and earning unique trophies along the way. It's everything the original Bookworm Adventures was with a little extra oomph.

The structure of Bookworm Adventures 2 is so utterly casual, you can't help but get the hang of it immediately. Each chapter is a series of one-on-one battles with fairy tale characters gone awry (and other creatures later in the game). You'll start to get suspicious when you defeat a gingerbread house, and when a tea party attacks you, things get downright odd. Dealing damage is a matter of spelling words using the grid of letters below. The longer the word and the more difficult the letters are to use, the more damage you deal. After defeating a handful of underlings you'll take on the chapter's final boss before trekking to another mixed-up fairy tale world.

bookwormadventures2a.jpgIn true RPG fashion, you'll encounter status ailments that affect you, your letter grid, and your foes, special letter gems that grant bonuses when used in a word, and potions to help Lex when he really needs a hand. Also, some enemies are vulnerable to certain categories of words. The smoke creatures you encounter in a later chapter, for example, are vulnerable to color words (blue, black, green, etc.), while a certain underwater foe really hates fire-related words.

After felling each chapter's boss you'll earn a brand new trophy. Trophies grant you abilities when carried into battle, such as increasing damage dealt by your attacks, lessening the length of status ailments, etc. You can only equip a few of these for each chapter, so finding the right combination for your playing style is a crucial strategy for the game. Bookworm Adventures 2 also introduces companions who tag along and assist Lex by creating healing potions, removing status effects, and performing other handy tasks. Select your companion in-between chapters, just like the trophies.

Analysis: In the early days of gaming, amassing points was both the driving force and main reward for your time and effort. Nabbing that high score in Asteroids and entering your initials on the leader board (there must have been a ton of Alan Sloan Smiths out there) made you Mr./Ms. Awesome. Now, however, game creators are making these rewards more tangible. Bookworm Adventures 2 is a prime of example of this. Instead of just tossing you a few points for words you spell, your actions are organically applied to the game world. Now, when I spell GLUTEN, I don't get meaningless points, I get real results in the form of damage dealt to my enemy, bonus gems appearing below, and more. That oh-so-important risk-rewards loop video game theorists love to talk about is put into high gear, and the real result is you want to play for hours on end.

bookwormadventures2b.jpgBuilding casual puzzle games laced with RPG elements is the new "in" thing to do, and the original Bookworm Adventures was one of the titles that helped popularize the hybrid genre. Bookworm Adventures 2 stands on its predecessor's legs and accessorizes like any good sequel should, adding a big bow here, a few frills there, and some sparkling jewelry to finish the look. When it struts out on the runway you'll see improved background art and animation, the new companion system, and the same sense of humor evident in every text description and enemy character you meet.

Bookworm Adventures 2 has plenty of content to keep you spelling for days on end, though it takes an hour or two before the linearity loosens up and you really get in to the game. Even after you finish the lengthy story mode you'll have fast-paced arena battles and infinite replay mode to keep you busy. There's also a mini-games tent that pops up from time to time, offering a handful of unique word-based games as a pleasant break from the main quest.

The only real down side to Bookworm Adventures 2 is that it made me want more. More enemies to defeat, more unique ways to fight them, more trophies to equip, and more companions to adventure with. The game isn't short in any of these areas, but I always felt like I was just getting a taste of the unique experience this game could offer. For example, I spelled the word "BEAR" when I was fighting a bear. Nothing special happened, and I really wanted it to! How cool would it be if there were hundreds (or thousands) of enemy-specific bonuses included throughout the game? Think Scribblenauts meets Bookworm Adventures and you'll start to get really excited. Hear that, PopCap? There's your inspiration for Bookworm Adventures 3.

It's PopCap. It's Bookworm Adventures. There's so much to love about the game you won't know where to start!

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 (110 votes)
Comments (42) | Views (3,201)

GrimmrookThe BeggarThe sound of chainmail clinks in your ears, drowning out the merrymaking behind you. A gauntlet covered hand digs hard into your arm, and you stifle a whimper with whatever pride you have left. You stammer and plead, your pencil thin legs pumping wildly, your eyes darting back and forth for a kindly soul to come to your aid out of the sea of strange faces looking on with morbid curiosity. Despite your pleas, the guard hauls you towards the gate, his face grim and uncaring, and tosses you to the cold hard ground that has served as your bed for far too many nights. Thus begins this experimental art game from Scott Brodie, The Beggar.

Now is the point in the review where we would normally discuss the goals and controls of the game. But much of what makes The Beggar a worthwhile experience is exploration. Not necessarily exploring the world itself — the entire map of the game is only a handful of screenshots long — instead, you must explore the mechanics of Brodie's pixelated world. It's up to you to discover the ins and outs of The Beggar, though I suppose it won't hurt to tell you that just about everything can be done with the [arrow] keys and the [Z] key.

Beyond that, you must carve your life out for yourself. You must figure out how and what to eat. You must figure out where to go and what to do. You must learn the laws of the land the hard way, and you must discover the nuances of interacting with the people you pass by on the street.

It's this last bit that is most important. If you've ever had the misfortune to live without a roof over your head, you will know that survival is often a gift bestowed upon you by the kindness of others. You must learn to subsist on the charity of strangers, lest you fade and wither away to nothingness.

Analysis: Like Gray or Passage, The Beggar distills a complex and difficult concept into a small package that sloughs off the white noise of everyday life. Brodie then takes this simplicity and combines it with the sense of serendipity found in games like The Majesty of Colors, to create something that is at once simple and complex. Your personal experience in The Beggar is governed by your explorations of both the game and your own thoughts.

The BeggarIt seems that these days to call a game with big pixels beautiful is all too easy. Still, The Beggar is quite beautiful. The anonymity provided by the simple graphics works well here, as it highlights the actions of the characters, and frees the player to attribute emotions and feelings to them. Meanwhile, an interesting selection of colors, both bright and drab, do a good job of subtly setting the mood.

Though the graphics are simple, Brodie is masterful in expressing complexity and making points with visual cues. Pay attention to how your beggar fades and withers as he goes without food, or how people throw their money on the ground for you. A careful eye may even detect the shrinking of bread as you carefully ration out a loaf as long as you can.

But these are all a sideshow for the main focus of the game, which is your interaction with other humans. There is a world of communication expressed here without a single word of dialogue. Furthermore, you find that over time your relationships with others can change, evolving from your own choices and actions. I would say more, but I would hate to ruin the sense of discovery for you.

Unfortunately, The Beggar has its shortcomings. It can sometimes be a bit too vague and abstract. Abstraction in works like this can be good, because it lets the audience draw from their own thoughts and experiences, but there are times when Brodie fails to give enough cues to trigger this form of introspection. Perhaps a bigger letdown are the endings, all of which are abrupt and a little unsatisfying.

The endings can be forgiven, though, because the game itself is its own reward. No one game lasts very long, but there is quite a bit to do, and once the doing is done there is even more to think about.

The Beggar's greatest success as a piece of art is that it doesn't preach. It never drags you by the nose or forces the message down your throat. In fact, perhaps there is no central message to the game. Maybe it's just a vehicle for you to contemplate a subject. Whatever moral you take from The Beggar is one that you have arrived at yourself.

Play The Beggar

Update: For anyone experiencing issues with the Shockwave browser version, free download versions are available at Scott's site for both Windows and Mac.

Comments (20) | Views (1,488)

Link Dump Fridays

DoraWe are gentlemen and ladies of fine and varied tastes, are we not? Of course we are. Just as we appreciate the subtle nuances of a performance by the noble street mime, so too are we receptive to cows, and the exploding thereof, are we not?... Wait, what do you mean, "no"? Okay, what about funky robots?... rabbits with disconcertingly large grins? Wow, you're picky! Next thing you'll be telling us you don't want the piano lessons we signed you up for to help make you extra refined! You start in an hour, by the way.

  • Photo KingPhoto King - For every photo you have ever given someone bunny ears in, been caught sneezing in the middle of, or made gang signs in, this is your punishment. To take cute pictures with a cute camera of cute bunnies and cuter animals for a high score which may also be cute, depending on your tastes. It's all fun and games until your wrist just snaps right off. You'll see.
  • The Way of the Exploding CowThe Way of the Exploding Cow - The history between cows and aliens is a long and bitter one, much documented and also fairly icky. But not anymore. Now there's hope. Now there's you. Because you can make a difference, and fend off invaders while you milk your noble herd. It's intense, it's honorable, it's... kind of weird. And, honestly? Still a bit icky.
  • Puffball HunterPuffball Hunter - We're not sure what exactly happens to the little Puffballs after you set up your traps to herd them into boxes for easy capture. We like to believe they're being whisked off to a happy ranch where they can frolic forever. The cold, hard reality, of course, is that this is where bathrobes come from.
  • FrobotFrobot - Oh no! We were going to describe this game, but we don't think we're funky and/or crunky enough! I mean, this is a game where you play a robot with disco fever blasting groove back into the hearts of squares everywhere. This is serious business, daddy-o!
  • Demolition CityDemolition City - Ah, demolitions. The sport of champions. Which naturally leads us to dynamite, the breakfast of champions! Of course, I don't typically strap my breakfast to a fragile structure and try to destroy it so that it falls below a certain height requirement, but then I guess I'm not a champion. *sigh* Someday...

  • Currently 3.8/5
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Rating: 3.8/5 (114 votes)
Comments (50) | Views (2,961)

PsychotronicWhen Pigs FlyOne day, a perfectly normal bipedal pig goes out for a walk. Squealing contentedly and terrifying butterflies, she hops up a hillside... and meets with tragedy. A camoflaged hole in the earth drops her into an underground cavern, its exit beyond the reach of a simple pig's leap. Even a pig who is starring in a platform game. Her solution is to spontaneously sprout a pair of feathery bird wings and fly her way out. The only problem is, with fat wings outspread, she is too wide to leave the way she came in. So it's into the abyss, full of lava pools and spikey ceilings, to find another escape route. All through the cavern alternate pathways beckon, but her fragile new limbs keep her from exploring. She is stuck with the decision she made, wherever it leads her. She's taken her own path, an unlikely hero, traveling with powerful but sensitive wings.

When Pigs Fly is the first Flash game from developer, critic, pixel artist, and sometime provocateur Anna Anthropy, also known as Dessgeega or Auntie Pixelante. You may know her as the author of Calamity Annie and Tombed. This first dip into the browser game pool is a well-constructed offbeat platform game with classical stylings, but be warned: it is hard enough to give you fits.

Control your porky avatar with the keyboard. The [left] and [right] arrow keys move you horizontally, but you can't walk, only fly. Hold the [space] bar to rise and release it to fall (you can also use [shift] or [Z]). Spend the first few screens getting used to the quirks of the physics. You have a bit of momentum in the air, and you'll want to practice not smacking into the walls before the many, many stalactites arrive. Your other important control, depending on the quality of your speakers and your tolerance for Daphny David's heart-warming, brain-shredding sound effects, is the [S] key that turns off the squealing. [M] mutes the game entirely.

The pig can stand comfortably on solid ground or even bump her head on a flat ceiling without dying, but her wings are the most fragile creation in the history of the universe. Tap a wall with a wingtip, and you instantly crash to the center of the Earth, shrieking in pain. It's like the new wings are made of pure nerve endings, or maybe they just were never intended for use in a pig-to-wall impact situation. Lucky for you, there's a checkpoint on each screen, so you can immediately tackle the same obstacle again. If you need to quit, or ragequit, your progress is saved on every screen, so you have the option next time to take up right where you left off.

The path through the game is linear, and your first try might last between 10 and 25 minutes, depending on your retro platformer skill. Maybe more. At the end, you unlock a few new options, including Time Attack, a single-life sudden death mode, and a challenge to negotiate the cave backwards. If you have an account at Newgrounds, you can also earn some medals.

Analysis: There's no getting around it: this is a tough one. Though its learning curve is smooth, even expertly polished, When Pigs Fly assumes you have a certain level of hand-eye co-ordination and patience. If you're over 800 coins on MoneySeize or you charged through Don't Look Back in five minutes, this is a walk in the park with a basket of strawberries. But some of you are just going to hate it.

It's not the level design's fault. When Pigs Fly is built on classic NES-era design principles, which just means that it teaches you how to play as you go, without any coddling. You learn how to tap the flight button to hover at a certain height, how to smoothly negotiate a U-bend, how to use the head bounce to avoid excessive hovering. Each new screenful of obstacles pushes you just a little bit further. The only quarrel I have is that the collision box on the stalactites is larger than you'd expect, just so much that they don't have to physically touch you to kill you.

There are several incentives to push through the adversity. Amon26's infectious soundtrack helps. The tiled pixel graphics give a subtle sense of depth to this flat world, and a couple of nice visual flourishes reward you for reaching certain checkpoints. There could be even more of that sort of thing, and I wouldn't complain. But just moving the pig around is interesting. Because the wings are so much more vulnerable than the body, even circumventing a single floating block requires skill, and an innocent staircase becomes a jagged nightmare.

What does it for me is the unpretentious story, which adds a layer of meaning to the game without ever calling attention to itself. Anyone who has ever been stuck in a rut has wished for wings to pull them free, whether they take the form of a new job opportunity, a new relationship, or just a brave new approach to a problem. Each set of wings comes with its own brand of suffering, but ultimately, you learn to fly. Okay, so I made that a little pretentious. It's also a game about a flying pig who dies a lot.

Play When Pigs Fly

You Are Games

PsychotronicLast week, we asked you all a question: "What should the theme of the next Flash game design competition be?" The response has been amazing. Nearly 340 replies later, we hear you loud and clear. Emerging from the shadows of the internet, casting aside your cloaking devices, raising megaphones to eager lips, you have cried as though with one voice: "More games about giant flaming monkeys!"

Who are we to resist the tide, odd as the choice may seem. It is our pleasure to announce the theme for Casual Gameplay Design Competition #6: Giant Flam...

...actually wait. Hold on a tic. It occurs to us that there may be even more readers out there, with even more opinions, too busy to post their own ideas, but not too shy to click a box sitting next to a word.

So let's have a poll!

casual gameplay design competition 1casual gameplay design competition 2casual gameplay design competition 3casual gameplay design competition 4casual gameplay design competition 5casual gameplay design competition 6

Your assignment this week on You Are Games is to vote for the theme of the next Casual Gameplay Design Competition. Choose up to 10 theme candidates from the master list, which is composed entirely of your suggestions. The poll will close on Sunday evening at midnight, August 2nd.

Take note: there's a lead-up question that asks whether you are planning to participate as a player or a game developer, and the follow-up question will be different depending on your choice. We're trying to get a better picture of what our readers are interested in. Players get to choose what kind of games they like to play, while developers can indicate what motivates them to enter a competition like this. After you've answered the multiple-choice question in the poll, we'd appreciate it if you'd share your thoughts about those topics here in the comments.

The big list is the same one that Donut compiled last week, which was in turn based on the compilations by Cy Reb and Peelz. Once again, we can't thank you three enough for taking the ball and running with it. With the response we got last week, we're more excited than ever to be holding another competition.

Take the Casual Gameplay Design Competition #6 Theme Poll.