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# February 2010 Archives

## Strimko

• Currently 4.6/5
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Researchers agree: playing logic puzzles requires your brain. Exactly what's required of it, they can't seem to agree, but it's the general consensus that the net effect is positive. Enter Strimko, a sudoku-like game of logic that involves placing numbers on a grid. Instead of a dry, angular box, however, you get to work with number chains that snake their way around the grid, adding a nice, flavorful twist to the familiar concept.

Strimko is basically sudoku with fewer boxes to think about. The principals are the same: fill the grid with numbers and don't repeat digits in each column/row. The difference is that number sequences wind through the puzzle, zig-zagging their way from one side to the other. These number trains cannot contain duplicates, meaning you have to think a little differently to solve each puzzle.

Adding/altering numbers is a snap: just click on a pod to bring up a small menu, then make your selection from there. Click on the side of a circle to add an annotation, just in case you aren't entirely sure which number should occupy that space.

Strimko is divided into a number of modes, each with its own healthy portion of puzzles to complete. Classic/zen mode is your destination for straight-up puzzle solving, while Story Mode is essentially an excuse to tack on mini-games and an overall goal to playing strimko puzzles. Pave and Fit switch things up a bit and require you to rebuild puzzles by placing completed chunks of numbers onto the grid. And then there's Tri, the last unlockable mode, which treats you to triangular puzzles. That may not sound like much in writing, but switching your perspective from columns to diagonals can be pleasantly tricky.

Analysis: When it comes to pure puzzles, Strimko doesn't have as many as other similar games, but its variety and style make it an offering to consider. The game looks spectacular, with smooth colors and menu items that work like a charm. The interface is simple as well, providing the next best thing to pen and paper.

Strimko's variety is a strong point, but it doesn't come without a drawback or two. Instead of lobbing a fistful of number puzzles at your face, you're treated to several different modes of play, each with a different twist on the solving logic. The modes aren't as radically different as they could be, leaving you just south of satisfied at the end of the day. Either more unique game modes or a more expansive catalog of puzzles would make Strimko an unbeatable winner, but instead the game went the middle route and doesn't quite achieve either.

It may not be the end-all game of number logic puzzles, but Strimko delivers good challenge with a little variety and a lot of style.

Also available for iPhone/iPod Touch!

Windows:

Mac OS X:

## Empress of the Deep: The Darkest Secret

• Currently 4.2/5
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You'd think if someone wanted you to save all of humanity they'd be a little bit more forthcoming with information. Juicy items like who you are, why humanity is in danger, and who's trying to kill you might come in handy on your quest! But, then you wouldn't have the kind of excitement of exploration and mystery that you get in the Myst-like adventure game Empress of the Deep: The Darkest Secret, just released for both Windows and Mac.

Empress of the Deep is completely mouse-controlled and features a wide variety of puzzles to solve. In fact, other than the hidden object scenes, none of the puzzles seem to repeat, and a few are really inventive. For example: a puzzle involving setting chess queens on a board without any of them killing each other. Some old favorites like the Towers of Hanoi make an appearance, but because they only appear once, it's like seeing a familiar friend in an unfamiliar place, not like some games where one more image scramble puzzle will make you toss your computer out the window.

Empress of the Deep continues the trend of games that are adventures at heart but include hidden object scenes. This seems to be a trend that aims at bringing in more casual players to the adventure market, enticing us with something familiar and then introducing serious adventure elements once we're hooked. While it's billed as a hybrid game, Empress of the Deep is much more adventure-like than anything, squeezing some of its complexity off in favor of a few casual-friendly mini-games and design elements.

Analysis: Calling Empress of the Deep "Myst-like" is high praise indeed, and it's hard to believe a casual game could earn that kind of a compliment. It doesn't match Myst in terms of gameplay length or sheer depth, but it certainly evokes similar emotions and carries with it the awe-inspiring sense of being in a gorgeously rendered realistic-yet-unearthly place. A world under the ocean, in this case.

The plot manages to be trite yet completely compelling at the same time. I had identified the "ending plot twist" from the moment its agent first appeared, yet the game kept pulling me along through sheer creepiness and subtlety. Towards the end of the game the voice acting and script get a bit histrionic, and my character made one statement that made me say "Oh, come on," to the screen, but I'm still overall impressed with the storytelling. The game does end with "to be continued," but it's not a cliffhanger ending. The immediate danger is resolved, and it's more that there's a new world to explore, and I for one can't wait to explore it.

Empress of the Deep's hidden object scenes suffer from the objects being too well hidden. In some cases, not only are the scenes heavily monochromatic, but the objects being looked for are semi-transparent! I'm a veteran hidden object player, and I ended up using a couple of hints per round. Thankfully, the hint meter is very quick to refill, and there doesn't appear to be any penalty for random clicking either.

Empress of the Deep: The Darkest Secret sets its goals high and creates a strong environment filled with good puzzles and unique mini-games. What it lacks in storytelling and depth it more than makes up for with atmosphere and gameplay.

Windows:

Mac OS X:

Games are fun. Jam is delicious. Why not combine the two? The Game Jolt Weekend Game Jam has both of those words (even though its jam is less strawberry flavored) and contains exactly the same amount of yum. Check out a few of the top games from this 48 hour competition.

Paper Dreams (Windows, 9.4MB, free) - Hand-drawn visuals are always great to see in a game, and Paper Dreams is full of them. This single-screen shmup sends loads of smiling enemies your way. Of course, it's your job to blow them up, collecting little plus signs that fall to upgrade your ship. A pretty challenging game, even on easy mode, but even if all you do is die over and over again, it's a experience.

Dissipate (Windows, 7.7MB, free) - The only non-shmup of the bunch, Dissipate is a crazy-difficult platform game whose puzzles come in the form of riddles. Each single-screen level begins with a proverb. Read the words, then play the level and use the clues given by the riddle to beat the level. Expect some crazy things to happen, like your controls being switched around, exit doors not really being exits, and solutions to certain levels being, well, jumping into a pit of spikes. A great change of pace from your typical platform game.

Vatn Squid (Windows, 7.6MB, free) - A vertical shooter that's made up entirely of boss battles! Maneuver your ship around enemy firing patterns while returning shots of your own. Tap [x] to use your shield, a defensive mechanism that also causes you to absorb bullets to charge a super weapon. There are only ten bosses to defeat, and the difficulty isn't all that high, but it's a great arcade experience reminiscent of retro shooters.

Note: All games have been confirmed to run under Windows Vista and are virus-free. Mac users should try Boot Camp, Parallels, or CrossOver Games to play Windows titles, Linux users can use Wine. If you know of a great game we should feature, use the Submit link above to send it in!

## Virtual Villagers 4: The Tree of Life Walkthrough and Strategy Guide

We have just finished a massive walkthrough guide for
Virtual Villagers 4: The Tree of Life. This guide will provide all you need to help you get the most from your experience with the latest Virtual Villagers game. Be warned: This guide does contain spoilers, so proceed with caution and as a last resort!

Windows:
Get the full version
Also available: Developer's Edition

Mac OS X:
Get the full version

This walkthrough for Virtual Villagers 4 is broken up into four sections:

Actual solutions will be hidden by spoilers.

1. General Information

If you've played any of the Virtual Villagers games before, some things are the same and some have changed.

• Learn the controls! There are some changes and new editions to the control structure, so familiarize yourself with them. The most useful control to learn is the new detail "camera" located at the bottom right of the screen. You can use this to quickly locate any individual on the island. Click on the right arrow (when the screen is blank) and it goes to the youngest tribe member. Continue to click the right arrow and you will scroll through your villagers from youngest to oldest. As each one comes up in the "camera", the game will zoom to that person. This is especially helpful when trying to find children quickly. Click on the left arrow (when the screen is blank) and you will go to the oldest person in the tribe. Continue to click and you will cycle from oldest to youngest. You will notice that all controls have migrated to the bottom of the screen, allowing for wider vistas of the lovely Island of Isola.

• Watch your levels closely! At the top of the screen are the totals of your population, your food supply, and your current tech points. Screenshot of overview of controls

• Plan carefully! Choose your beginning villagers wisely, the success of your tribe depends on it.

• Learn the double collect trick! To double collect an item with children do as follows: once you spot a collectible or mushroom, find the nearest child. Pick the child up and pause the game (with the space bar). Drop the child on the collectible and go find a second child. Pick up the second child and go back to the object. Once you are hovering over the object (and the first dropped child) hit the space bar to unpause and quickly drop the second child right next to the first. If done properly and the timing is right, both children will run away with the same object. This is invaluable in bolstering food supplies when collecting mushrooms, and in gaining tech points when collecting other collectibles. WARNING: do not drop a child directly onto the other, this will cause them to drop the item and go off for a jumping contest. Make sure that the children are side-by-side.

• Collect Ruthlessly! Mushrooms can mean the difference between life and death to your tribe in the early stages, and the boost in tech points from collectibles allows you to purchase necessary second stage technology quickly. Children are also handy to collect the herbs for stews as they will bring them to the lab quickly.

• Watch for sparkles! Mushrooms and collectibles produce faint white sparkles, which enable them to be spotted more easily.

• Screenshot of double collecting trick

• Cross Train Ruthlessly! Some tasks will require villagers with more than one skill, and it is helpful to be able to quickly shift your workforce from one task to another if necessary.

• Learn to Navigate! You can move around the area in several different ways. (1) Left click on the ground and drag, this will move the visible area around. (2) Use the number keypad: the area is broken into roughly 9 grids, corresponding to the numbers on the keypad of your keyboard. The bottom row of numbers (1, 2, and 3) cover the "south" area, the middle row of numbers (4, 5, and 6) cover the "middle" area, and the top row of numbers (7, 8, 9) cover the "north" area. The number keypad is an easy way to quickly look for collectibles. (3) Use the detail "camera". Use the right and left arrows of the camera to select a villager and the screen will zoom to where they are. The detail "camera" will not work if the game is paused. (4) Use the overall map. Use the map button on the controls to get a bird's eye overall view of the area. From the map click on the area you wish to go and it will zoom to that area.

• Don't pick up a villager that is busy unless it is absolutely necessary! If you pick up a villager that is in the process of a task or is carrying something, they will drop the item and it will be lost. They will also "forget" what it is they were doing.

• Children under the age of 14 will not work, except for picking up mushrooms and collectibles! Once they reach age 14 you can put them to work, but they won't be fully "adult" until age 18. That means if a story time for the children is going on, the 14-17 year olds will drop work and attend. Villagers cannot have children until fully "adult", i.e. the age of 18.

• Based on their parentage, some children will be born with a little bit of skill in some areas. Children can also be "trained" somewhat by using the nursery school.

• Nursing mothers will not work until the baby is 2 years old! So be careful about getting the women pregnant. With no one farming a tribe can easily starve.

• Don't forget to take off the parenting preference if you are going to leave the game! If you forget and leave a male villager on parenting, you may wake up to a tribe that has doubled or more in size, or one that has starved from too many people and not enough food.

• The game continues even when it is turned off! Virtual Villagers 4 plays in "real time", which means things will still happen even when the game is closed. Remember this if you're going to be away for a while.

• Choose your time settings wisely! Playing in "fast" mode live is fun, but if you're going to be gone for a while consider switching to "Normal", "Slow", or even "Pause". If something goes wrong, you can come back to a dead village and have to start over again.

• Do not mess with your computer clock to "fast forward" the game! Not only can this mess up other things on your computer, it can create havoc within the game. Trying this can result in a dead tribe, or problems with regenerating crops like the blackberries.

• The weather is your friend! Yes, rain and fog are annoying and tend to hide things, but they are extremely useful. When it rains, mushrooms pop out at a much faster rate, allowing more food collection. When the wind blows off of the ocean, it brings the fog. It also causes the wind flutes to blow, and they cause collectibles to show up more frequently.

• Fire is your friend! A fire not only keeps your villagers warm and cuts down on illness, it is necessary for several tasks, such as tool-making.

• I ain't afraid of no ghost! Yes, you will see ghosts. Never fear, they are there to help. For more on ghosts see the section on collectibles for the Mausoleum.

• Don't forget to set work preferences for your villagers! For instance, if you want someone farming, make sure to check the farming preference. Villagers without preferences set will often wander around and do their own thing.

• You can choose the hut locations! When the foundation for a hut shows up, you can pick it up and move it to a place of your choosing (within reason). Look closely at the outline of the foundation, green means an area that the hut can be built in, red means you can't build there. Choose locations wisely: try not to impede frequently used paths, such as those from the blackberries or fruit trees to the food hut.

• Use children as temporary healers! If a villager becomes sick before you have a hospital to train doctors, find the nearest child, set their preference to healing, and drop them on the ill individual. Keep doing this until they heal the villager.

• Watch where people go! Children (and adults) will often wander off to look at "interesting" areas of the island. These areas are usually important.

• Fly around the island! Pick up a child and hover him/her over various interesting areas and watch the text that shows up in the control screen. Do this with adults as well, to identify certain items and hotspots that are important to the game.

2. Strategy Guide

Getting Started (basic food and shelter)

• Screenshot of starting villager selection

• You will pick the five members of your new village from a large pool of hopefuls.

• A good basic strategy is to pick a balance of men and women, with at least one child.

• If you are going to be playing with the tutorial on, it's better to not choose a nursing mother, as the tutorial has you produce a baby. Nursing mothers do not work, so be careful about breeding early on.

• Try for a mix of talents. It's good to have one person with building skills, one with farming skills, and one with research skills.

• This strategy guide is based on four adults (one a nursing mother) and one child.

• Don't pick all of one gender. With no way to produce children, your village will die of old age.

• Experienced players might like to go with something more challenging, like all children.

• Younger is better. Until you can afford third level medicine, your villagers will start becoming elderly in their 50's or early 60's and die earlier.

On the Island

Start a Fire

• Your villagers will appear on an area covered by large, flat gray rocks. There's the food bin at the bottom of the gray rock area. Just above (or north) of the food bin is a black circle, this is where your fire will go.

• North of the black circle is a pile of wood. Drop an adult on the wood pile.

• Also north and a bit east of the black circle (just to the left of the wooden staircase going up the cliff) is a small patch of dry grass. Drop an adult on the patch of grass.

• Once both grass and wood have been placed in the black circle drop an adult on them to make a fire.

• Screenshot of location of firewood, grass, food bin, and fire area

Puzzle 1: "Cutting Tool"

• South and slightly to the east of the food bin (on the beach) is a large fish skeleton. Drop an adult on the skeleton and they will use the bones to make three cutting tools. Once the tools are made they will deposit them in the science lab.

• You can store up to six sharp tools in the lab.

• Screenshot of location of fish skeleton for tools

Food

• Find the blackberry bush on the south west part of the island, below the science lab, to the left of the wooden bridge that leads to the lab. Set your designated villager's settings to farmer and drop them on the bush to collect blackberries while you are waiting for the sharp tools to be made.

• Once the sharp tools are made, pick up the farmer and drop him/her on the sharp tools in the lab. They will use one of the tools to collect a large amount of blackberries at once.

• Use the other two tools in the science lab to collect more blackberries.

• At the same time, search for mushrooms with the child.

• Continue making tools and using them to collect blackberries until you have at least 250 in the food bin. At this point the other villagers will stop worrying about food and stick to their tasks.

• Once you have at least 250 in the food bin, drop your farmer on the berry bush and let them harvest in the usual manner.

• If you have a fourth adult who is not a nursing mother, put them on the bush as well until the food count reaches 400.

• Continue to look for mushrooms with the child.

• Once you reach 3000 tech points buy second level food production to maximize the food from the berry bush and the mushrooms.

• Screenshot of blackberries (food source)

Getting Started in the Lab

• Find your designated researcher, set their preferences, then drop them on the larger of the two tables in the lab (west side of the island).

• If you have a fourth adult that you've been using to get food, switch them over to research and get them started in the lab.

• Screenshot of the science lab

Construction

• There will be two "foundations" on the ground, one a regular hut, one the "honeymoon" hut (for villagers to discuss having children).

• Place the foundations where you would like them to be built, then place your builder on the "honeymoon" hut foundation. That's the one with the flowers.

• Once the "honeymoon" hut is built take your builder to the top of the cliff on the north east side of the island.

• You will notice a cascading waterfall coming down the rocks, then taking a sharp turn and falling over the cliff.

• Where the water takes a sharp turn is an obstruction. Place your builder there to start clearing the obstruction.

• Once both your scientist and builder have reached adept status, switch their jobs, moving the builder to research and the researcher to building.

• When the blockage is cleared and the water surrounds the tree, move the builder to the regular hut and have them start building.

• When the hut is done, and you still haven't gotten construction level 2, drop your builder onto the piers and have him/her repair them.

• Once your berries are gone, move your farmer over to research.

• Screenshot of stream blockage

Solving Early Puzzles

Puzzle 2: "Stream"

• At this point you should have one builder, one farmer, and one (or two) researchers working.

• Hopefully you have at least one villager who is both an adept scientist and an adept builder.

• Take a look at the water flowing around the tree. Notice that it is falling down a hole rather than flowing through the rest of the scene.

• At the base of the cliff, where the waterfall used to be, is a chevron shaped stone that looks like it would plug the hole.

• Find your villager who is both an adept builder and an adept scientist, and drop him/her on the stone.

• Your villager will plug the hole, and the water will now flow through the pool beside the lab and down towards the blackberry bush.

Puzzles 3: "Boiling Water" and Puzzle 4: "Soap"

• Puzzle 3 is boiling water, puzzle 4 is making soap. You can kill two birds with one stone by boiling water to make soap.

• To boil water: you first need to bring water to the kettle in the lab. At the cliff are two sets of bowls, one set at the top of the cliff is for fresh water, one set at the bottom of the cliff is for salt water.

• At the bottom of the bridge to the lab, just to the left of the bridge, is a pile of stones. If you hover an adult over these stones they see "blackened" stones.

• Drop an adult on these stones and they will carry one to the fire.

• Wait a while and the stone will glow red, indicating that it is ready.

• Drop an adult on the red hot stone in the fire and they will carry it back to the lab, but only if there is water in the pot.

• To make soap: at the base of the bridge to the lab (to the left of the "blackened" stones) is a white flower. Hover a child over it and they will call it a "soapy smelling" plant.

• Use a child to collect three of the white flowers and bring them to the lab. The child will place the flowers on the smaller lab table.

• Once the flowers are collected have an adult get salt water using the lower set of bowls.

• Once the pot has water, have an adult bring a stone to the fire.

• Drop an adult on the red hot stone in the fire and they will bring it to the lab.

• Once the water is boiling you will get puzzle 3. Immediately drop an adult on the small lab table where the white flowers are.

• The adult will add the flowers one at a time and make soap.

• When the water disappears from the pot, drop an adult on it and they will stack the soap on a nearby rack.

Puzzle 6: "Frogs"

• Requires Puzzle 2 (the stream) to be complete.

• Below and to the right of the stairs going up the cliff is a large palm tree.

• Notice that when it rains this area fills with water, and frogs start jumping around.

• Once puzzle 2 is complete, wait for it to rain.

• When it rains and the puddles appear, drop adults in it to catch frogs and move them up to the stream.

• Repeat until about 6 frogs have been rescued.

• The frogs will now live in the stream underneath the tree.

• Solving this puzzle will also make the tree slightly healthier.

• Screenshot location of frog pond during rain

Puzzle 7: "The Pit"

• To get the next food source you need level 2 construction.

• Once you get level 2 construction your builder (or builders) can unearth the fire pit (puzzle 7).

• At the bottom of the screen there are two palm trees with large yellow fruit.

• Near them is an area that is covered in rocks.

• Drop your builder (or builders) on the area to remove the rocks.

• Once the rocks are removed, it is a multi-step process to activate the pit.

• First use a nearby adult to move a stone to the fire.

• Once the stone is hot drop an adult on it to move it to the pit.

• Immediately get another stone on the fire.

• You need to get 4 red hot stones into the fire pit.

• Between the blackberry bush and the bridge to the lab is a banana tree.

• As soon as all 4 stones are in the pit immediately drop an adult on the banana tree to put leaves on the pit.

• Once the pit is activated you can move your farmers to the fruit trees.

• Warning: although this is an unlimited food source (the trees never run out), it is labor intensive (the fruit needs to be picked, then cooked, then transported). Also, only a limited number of farmers can work the trees at the same time. Therefore, this food source can only sustain a tribe so far.

• Screenshot of location of firepit and fruit trees

• After you've secured the second food source you can slowly grow your tribe. Try not to go above 15 members.

• Don't keep too many women nursing at once or you risk the food supply.

• Have your builders finish the second hut and repair the piers (if not already done).

• If you have level 2 science build the clothing hut. It is necessary for several puzzles.

Middle Puzzles

Puzzle 5: "Butterflies"

• At the bottom of the stream, just below the blackberry bush, is a dry plant.

• Once you solve puzzle 2 (the stream), the plant will begin to recover.

• Several hours after puzzle 2 is solved, the plant will fully recover and turn green.

• Drop an adult on the plant to cut the leaves.

• The adult will get covered in sap (you will see green smoke rising from the villager).

• Once this happens butterflies will appear.

• Slowly move the villager to the Tree (the big tree), making sure that the butterflies are following.

• Once you reach the tree, drop the villager on the tree.

• The villager will wipe the sap on the tree and the butterflies will stay.

Puzzle 8: "Cloth"

• This requires the clothing hut be built and sharp tools in the lab.

• On the cliff wall to the left of the staircase is a pulpy vine growing up the cliff.

• Once the clothing hut is built, drop an adult on the pulpy vines.

• The adult will go to the lab, get a tool, cut the vine, and bring three samples back to the lab.

• Cooking time!

• Have an adult fetch salt water for the pot.

• Once the pot has salt water have an adult heat a stone and bring it to the lab.

• When the salt water is boiling drop an adult on the table with the vine samples.

• Once the cooking is done drop an adult on the pot. The adult will take the pot out to a flat rock by the ocean and pour out the pulp.

• When the pulp is poured, keep dropping adults on it to make the cloth (10 times).

• When the cloth is done the adult will take it to the clothing hut for storage (3 bolts of cloth).

• You can store up to six bolts of cloth at the hut.

Puzzle 13: "Prune the Tree"

• Requires level 2 dendrology, cloth, soap, and sharp tools.

• When you have all the requirements, drop an adult on the diseased branch of the tree.

• The villager will go and get cloth to bind the branch.

• Once the branch is bound and braced, drop the adult on the sharp tools in the lab.

• The villager will go and get a sharp tool to remove the branch.

• Once the branch is removed the stump will have black spots.

• Drop the adult on the soap in the lab to clean the black spots.

• Screenshot of binding tree limb

Puzzle 14: "Honor the Tree"

• Requires at least 20 villagers.

• You need to brew a special stew to have the villagers honor the tree.

• The recipe for the stew is: fresh water, sweet plant + sweet plant + sweet plant.

• Once the stew is brewed you have to move fast. Drop every single villager (adult and child) on the stew to eat it.

• Once they do, they'll take stew to the tree and honor the tree.

• To get the credit you need to have 20 villagers kneeling at the tree at the same time.

Later Puzzles

Puzzle 9: "Nursery School"

• Purchase level 3 Learning.

• The foundation for the nursery will appear after you purchase level 3 learning. Move the foundation where you wish to place it and drop your builders on it to start construction.

• Once constructed you can drop an adult onto the nursery and they will teach the children.

Puzzle 12: "Fishing Nets"

• Requires level 2 construction, cloth.

• If you haven't already, drop builders on the piers to repair them.

• Once repaired, drop a builder on the piers again. The builder will get cloth to string line between the piers and the rocks.

• Keep dropping a builder on the piers until the nets are repaired (make more cloth if necessary).

• Once the nets are repaired, drop farmers onto the piers to retrieve the fish.

• Screenshot of location of piers and nets

Puzzle 10: "Five Stones"

• Clearing the moss off of the five stones below the pool.

• Requires fishing nets repaired, fish caught, two children, one adult.

• Once the fishing nets are repaired, watch as the farmers bring back the fish.

• When that happens crabs will appear on the beach to the right of the cliff staircase.

• However, the crabs move really fast.

• Pick up a child and hover over the beach area until a crab appears.

• Drop the child on the crab. The caption will read "distracting the crab".

• Quickly find another child and drop it on the crab. Now both children are dancing around the crab and the crab slows down.

• Grab an adult and drop it on the crab. The adult will pick up the crab and take it to the mossy stones beneath the pool.

• One crab will clear one stone, so this must be repeated 4 more times.

• Once all the stones are clear, drop an adult on one of the stones to hear the story of the tree.

Puzzle 11: "Grand Feast"

• This puzzle requires a tricky bit of timing, the ability to heat rocks, some children, several adults, and a lot of luck.

• Time to make another stew.

• Have the children collect the herbs for the stew: soapy + spicy + sweet.

• Have an adult bring fresh water to the pot.

• Start heating a stone.

• Move the stone to the pot to boil the water.

• Immediately drop an adult on the table to make the stew.

• Once the herbs are in you must do several things at once: drop an adult on the food bin to bring food to the stew, drop an adult on the fruit trees to bring fruit, drop an adult on the blackberry bush, drop an adult on the pier to bring a fish, and drop a child on a mushroom (this is where luck comes in).

• If you can get all the ingredients (herbs, food, fruit, berries, fish, mushroom) into the pot before it stops boiling, then drop an adult on the pot to taste the stew. This triggers the grand feast.

• If you can't get all the ingredients in before it stops boiling, you'll have to empty the pot and start again.

• Screenshot of grand feast in progress

Puzzle 15: "Purify the Tree"

• Requires: level 3 dendrology, soap, the nursery or an adept parent.

• Drop an adult on the hole in the base of the tree.

• It will say that it requires someone "clean of body" to heal the tree.

• Drop an adult on the soap rack in the lab.

• The adult will put soap into the pool and suds will appear.

• Drop an adult into the sudsy water and wait for them to emerge.

• Make sure that there are no children at the base of the tree.

• When the adult emerges he/she will have white sparkles.

• Drop the sparkling adult on the hole in the tree. It will say that it requires someone "clean of mind".

• At this point drop a random adult into the nursery to move all of the children there.

• Take your sparkling adult to the wind flutes and hover him over the area. When you see "an area to meditate" drop the villager there.

• Wait for the villager to finish meditating. Make sure that no child or adult disturbs the meditation.

• Now the adult will be sparkling white and gold.

• Make sure no one is at the base of the tree, and drop the sparkling adult onto the hole.

• Screenshot of purification in progress

Puzzle 16: "Decorate the Tree"

• Requires: 3 bolts of cloth, hummingbirds, healthy tree, several children.

• In the lab, below the main table, are three boxes with old braids in them.

• Drop an adult onto one of the boxes. The adult will take the braid out to the stone where they manufacture cloth.

• Once the braid is laid out drop an adult on the braid. The adult will go get cloth to repair the braid.

• When the braid is repaired you need to wait for a hummingbird to show up (hummingbirds will appear when the tree is three steps above nearly dead).

• When a hummingbird appears, follow it and see which flower it sets down on.

• When the hummingbird flies away, find the nearest child and drop it on the flower.

• Keep dropping the child until it plucks the flower. Once it does, find more children and drop them on the flower (6 in all). You have to move fast, while the flower is still good.

• The children will carry the flowers to the braid and start making the lei. The sixth child will add a flower, then take the garland and decorate the tree.

• Repeat the entire process (braid, repair, hummingbird, flowers) two more times for a total of three garlands.

• Screenshot of tree garland

3. Recipes, Technologies, and More

• Stews

• There are three herbs to make stews with: the soapy plant (white flowers, below the lab by the bridge), the sweet plant (yellow flowers, just above the lab), and the spicy plant (orange flower, to the left of the tree of life). The only other item to use is the pulpy vine, and it makes cloth.

• Screenshot of soapy plant

• Screenshot of sweet plant

• Screenshot of spicy plant

• As a general rule, stews to be eaten are made with fresh water, manufactured items (soap and cloth) are made with salt water.

• You must have three herbs to make a stew.

• The hot rocks don't stay hot for very long, so once the water is boiling make the stew immediately.

• Edible stews require three herbs, fresh boiling water, and food from the food bin. The only exception is the grand feast stew.

• This is a spreadsheet of all stew recipes and their effects.
Virtual Villagers 4 : Stews

• Collectibles

• The collectibles are not just a fun side quest, they are actually incorporated into the game.

• When the wind flutes blow (when mist comes in from the ocean) collectibles appear. A complete collection of wind flutes adds 5 to your max population and causes many collectibles, especially rare ones, to appear when the mist blows in.

• When the mausoleum collection is complete, your max population goes up by 5, and ghosts of dead villagers will appear to point out rare collectibles.

• When the lab collection is complete, max population goes up by 5 and researchers earn tech points more quickly.

• When the fish scale collection is complete, max population goes up again. Completion is also supposed to make the golden fish appear in the nets, but I had golden fish appearing before my collection was complete.

• Technologies

• Science technology levels 2 and 3 increase the amount of tech points your researchers earn. Level 2 also makes the clothing hut foundation appear.

• Dendrology level 1 allows the frog rescue, level 2 allows the branch pruning, and level 3 allows the hole to be repaired.

• Medicine level 1 allows your villagers to live to their early 60s, level 2 to their late 60s, and level 3 to their 70s and beyond. Level 3 also allows the construction of the hospital, where you can train doctors.

• Learning technology increases the rate at which the villagers learn. Level 3 allows the building of the nursery school where you can train children.

• Construction technology level 1 allows you to build the honeymoon hut, the first hut, clear the debris at the waterfall, and repair the piers. Level 2 allows the second hut, the clearing of the fire pit, and the construction of the ropes from the piers to the rocks. Level 3 allows the third hut and repairing the nets.

• Food technology has nothing to do with the production of food (that is dependent on construction technology). Food technology increases the yield of food gathered. Level 2 adds 50% to the yield, level 3 doubles it.

• Gray mushrooms: level 1 = 6 food points, level 2 = 9 food points, level 3 = 12 food points.

• Red mushrooms: level 1 = 35 food points, level 2 = 52 food points, level 3 = 70 food points.

• Blackberries: Initially yield 9 or 10 food points, eventually settles down to 2 food points. Level 1 = 2 food points, level 2 = 3 food points, level 4 = 4 food points. Harvesting blackberries with the sharp tools = 40 food points.

• Tree fruit: level 1 = 3 food points, level 2 = 4 food points, level 3 = 6 food points.

• Regular (purple) fish: level 1 = 4 food points, level 2 = 6 food points, level 3 = 8 food points.

• Golden fish: level 1 = 8 food points, level 2 = 12 food points, level 3 = 16 food points.

• Crabs (after used to clear moss): level 1 = 35 food points, level 2 = 52 food points, level 3 = 70 food points.

• Why do I see more collectibles in the mist?

The wind flutes play when the mist rolls in, and they cause more collectibles to appear.

• Where do I find the collectibles?

The wind flutes, lab equipment, and mausoleum collectibles appear everywhere, from the cliffs to the southern edge of the screen. The fish scales only show up in the tidal pool.

• My tribe is starving! How do I get more food?

If you can't afford the technology for more food products, make sure you have at least 1 and preferably 2 children. Children can gather mushrooms for extra food points.

• I boiled the water and added the herbs, why is my stew unfinished?

The final ingredient to be added is food from the food bin.

• I added berries to the stew and it didn't work, what did I do wrong?

You shouldn't add food directly from the source, except for the grand feast stew. All other stews require food from the food bin only.

• Why are the ghosts appearing?

Those are the ghosts of dead villagers, and they are benign, helpful ghosts. They appear to point out rare collectibles.

• Where are the esteemed elders like in the previous games?

The only title a villager can earn besides master in a craft is scholar, which is mastery in all 5 vocations.

• Where did these hummingbirds come from?

Once the tree gets to a certain stage of health (3 levels above nearly dead), the hummingbirds appear to pollinate flowers needed for puzzle 16.

• What's with these orange birds?

Nothing, they're just pretty background decoration.

• Why do these frogs appear only when it rains?

They're in a bad place, and need to relocate. See puzzle #6 for details.

• Why can't I move this stone to plug the hole?

Moving the stone requires a villager who is both an adept builder and an adept scientist.

• Will any of my stews blow up?

No.

• They say this stew is too salty, what did I do wrong?

You used salt water instead of fresh. Edible stews should be made with fresh water only.

• I tried to make cloth/soap but it turned into a stew! What did I do wrong?

You used fresh water instead of salt. Manufactured items require salt water to make.

• What do I do now that I've solved all the puzzles?

There are nearly 80 trophies to earn as well.

• Can I catch the crabs for food?

After you've solved puzzle 10, yes.

• Do I need crabs for the grand feast?

No, you need blackberries, tree fruit, fish, mushrooms, and food from the bin.

• How do I train builders after all the construction projects are done?

There are two ways, (1) place them on the regular huts to repair them, or (2) use them to keep the blockage clear at the top of the cliff. Debris will still accumulate up there, and it can reblock the stream if the builders don't keep it clear.

## Virtual Villagers 4: The Tree of Life

• Currently 4.6/5
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It's time to travel back to Isola! Yes, that magical island paradise with the odd wildlife and mysterious ruins is back in Virtual Villagers 4: The Tree of Life, the latest installment in the Virtual Villagers casual sim series by Last Day of Work. The powerhouse of the field, the game by which all other village simulations are measured, is back to delve deeper into the secrets of the island!

The story begins with a recap of the first three games. After fleeing an erupting volcano, some of the descendants of the original settlers accidentally find the west side of the island, complete with abandoned children, and make another thriving settlement. The second settlement having gotten too big to sustain them, the villagers send out a scouting party that discovers ruins at the north end of the island, and learn much about the history of those who have gone before. Now, the chief of the northern settlement is uneasy. The magical plants and animals that make Isola such a welcoming place to live have begun to die off. What to do? Why, send off yet another expedition, of course!

During the intro, the first of the new changes found in Virtual Villagers 4 kicks in. Rather than being stuck with a randomly generated group, you get to customize an expedition party of five. Choose from a plethora of characters of different ages, genders, talents, and personality quirks. Once the selection is made, the real fun begins. Create a thriving settlement using those five people while simultaneously investigating and solving the riddles of this new area of the island. Find food, build shelter, research technology, and explore every inch of this strange new place while keeping the villagers happy, healthy, and thriving.

For the four or five of you who have never heard of the series it's simple. Complete tasks by picking up a villager and dropping him or her onto a particular area, like a berry bush to gather food, or the foundations of a hut to build shelter. Set some villagers to research and use the resulting tech points to purchase more advanced technology, allowing the village to grow and prosper while attempting to solve the mysteries of the island. Villagers who stay on task will accumulate knowledge, skill, speed, and expertise. Help them solve the riddles while keeping them dry, warm, and fed.

Virtual Villagers 4, like all the games in the series, runs in real time. That means even when the game is off, time is passing and events are happening. If you're going to be away for very long, slow down or stop time for your little friends. Otherwise, when you come back, well, occasionally it's not very pretty. Villagers can die of disease, starvation, or old age, leaving behind nothing but a skeleton and it's not fun to come back to those. Because of the time it takes to accomplish some of the tasks, Virtual Villagers 4 is a game best played in short segments, rather than in a marathon live session.

Gameplay has changed little from the first of the series, but new tweaks have been added, along with new puzzles to solve, new collectibles to collect, and a new mystery to solve. At the center of the story is the titular Tree of Life, a banyan tree that is near death. The central story revolves around this tree: why is it dying, how can it be saved, and why is it affecting all other life on the island.

Analysis: Virtual Villagers is one of the most popular village sim games around, if not one of the most popular casual games series in general. Virtual Villagers 4 doesn't change the formula much, but adds new layers of complexity that lengthen the gameplay and gives the player something to do beyond solving the central 16 puzzles. The later puzzles are especially complex, requiring a vast interwoven synthesis of technology, nature, manufactured goods, and manpower to solve. More fun for the Virtual Villager fan!

The hand-painted backgrounds and cutscenes are even more gorgeous this time around, enhanced by a wonderful, haunting soundtrack to set the mood. The menu controls which obscured the left side of the screen have been condensed and moved to the bottom, leaving the view of the stunning vistas unimpeded. The collectibles, a carryover from the last two installments, have been incorporated into the gameplay itself instead of being tacked on as an unnecessary side task. The little villagers have a wider range of clothing, hair colors, hair styles, and personality quirks than ever before, moving them ever closer to real, live virtual people rather than disposable pawns. If there's any complaint at all about Virtual Villagers 4 it's this: the jerky little animations of the villagers are getting a little old. It would be nice to see their movements smoothed over and made less cartoon-like.

Play all the Virtual Villagers games:

Nevertheless, Last Day at Work has upped the ante and produced some fascinating, engrossing, occasionally frustrating but still marvelous casual gameplay that is fun for the whole family. Fans of the series will find a whole host of new things to love, and new players are sure to be hooked by those charming little islanders. Long after all the mysteries are solved you may find yourself revisiting your industrious little people to make sure they keep on thriving. Check out the gift of gameplay that keeps on giving!

Note: Virtual Villagers 4 is as of now only available from Last Day at Work in a Developer's edition, which includes their official game guide, the heartfelt soundtrack in mp3 format, and gorgeous desktop wallpapers.

Windows:

Mac OS X:

## Eon

• Currently 4/5
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In the space themed puzzle game Eon by Fucrate (Michael Boxleiter), you take on the role of a daring, exciting, dashing... um, space miner. Okay, maybe it doesn't sound too daring or exciting, even if you do manage to cast Bruce Willis in the lead role (which isn't the case here), but Eon does manage to provide a beautiful puzzle experience that is as elegant in its technical design as it is in its pixelated visuals.

Your mission is a seemingly simple one. You must harvest the unnamed matter from gas planets, siphoning the colorful "stuff" (that's the technical term for it by the way) from the planet's atmosphere and directing it into the same colored energy absorbers placed about the star field. This is accomplished by placing a limited number of gravity wells on the board and moving them about as necessary until you are able to maintain at full capacity all of the absorbers in the level.

Like I said, it sounds simple, but as you soon learn, this can be trickier than it sounds. Long distances require a high level of accuracy, while multiple streams will force you to make delicate adjustments. Sometimes the trick is manipulating one stream without hindering the path of other streams, but more often than not you will need to get multiple streams to act in concert even while going in opposing directions. Further, as you progress you will also have to contend with the massive gravitational pull of black holes as well as cope with melding the matter from differently colored planets through mixers to make completely new streams of stuff that also need to be shepherded to their rightful places.

You'll cultivate and employ your gravity manipulating abilities over the course of twenty-seven progressively challenging levels. If that's not enough for you, don't worry; a level editor and unlimited user generated content await all who simply can't put this game down.

Analysis: You can't really talk about Eon without doing so in the context of the popular Auditorium with which Eon is uncannily similar. Both games are about indirectly manipulating the direction of flow. You aren't allowed to directly guide the subject matter, so instead you must operate the tools that in turn manipulate the subject matter.

Where Eon and Auditorium differ is in the nature of the supplied tools. Auditorium grants you a variety of tools that have a direct impact on the streams you wish to control. Eon, on the other hand, only offers you one type of tool and it effects not merely the streams but the very nature of the playing field itself. Every adjustment of a gravity well minutely shifts the physics of the entire board and all the matter in play. Thus Eon is at once simpler and potentially more complex than its spiritual cousin. Simpler in providing only one tool, but more complex in the implications of that tool on the playing field as a whole.

Thankfully, what Eon also has in common with Auditorium is a wonderful grace. This is because the very nature of playing Eon is a practice in organics and ergonomics. There is something exquisite behind a puzzle concept where your role is not to manhandle the pieces on the board so much as to coax and nudge, to guide and cultivate. It is like a digital bonsai tree; you clip and prune around the edges and let the puzzle solve itself, and while this might imply a lack of control it in fact gives the game a wonderfully natural feel.

The visuals support this inner elegance with a beautiful dichotomy of their own. Like many flash games, you are treated to big and blocky pixels, but the true aesthetic triumph here is how they move with such fluidity. Eon busts through a contradiction by taking the hard, sharp lines of squares and through motion giving them curves and flexibility. The downside to this kind of puzzle is that there's no such thing as a specific solution. You can often have the general shape of a level's solution but could spend seemingly forever making minor adjustments, sometimes to no avail. As a result, especially when you get on in the game, a good measure of patience is practically a necessity.

What makes Eon such a pleasure to enjoy is watching everything come together. Like a conductor overseeing an orchestra, you use your baton-like mouse to govern the forces of gravity, and when you have finally managed to guide all the streams correctly to their specific absorbers the symbiosis between mechanics and aesthetics fall into harmonic place.

Play Eon

Another Friday, another Link Dump, another precious moment stolen with you, the reader. Since this article is actually written on Thursday, sometimes I wonder; what will the future Friday hold? Will it be a day like any other, and will you simply read this bleary-eyed and yawning, wishing I would shut up and get to the games? Or will the day rise on a desolate wasteland, mankind having been conquered by an alien race overnight, and now these words are cold comfort under the rule of a mechanised race of space squid? You never know what tomorrow holds! So I guess I'll cross my fingers, hope tomorrow finds you well and able to play this week's offering of physics puzzles and shooters, and that when our new cephalopod overlords arrive, the bite of their cold, steel beaks is swift and merciful.

Oh, hello, Jay!... what do you mean, "Weird alien delusions?"... I like to be prepared for everything, alright?!

• Bloons Super Monkey - Have you ever thought to yourself, "Bloons is fun, but if only it were a vertical shooter and the monkey was wearing spandex"? Well, first of all, that's creepy. But apparently Ninja Kiwi felt the same way, because here it is. Pop balloons to earn points for upgrades and to advance through the levels. Looks like Bloons is determined to break out into other genres. Keep an eye out for "Magic Kawaii Lovely Rose Bloons: The Dating Sim".
• Craqua - Crabs! Bullets! Sea dwellers in gimp masks! Despite that description, this slow but cute shooter about a crab protecting its... something... is about as kid-friendly as you can get. The weird looking enemies don't start popping up until the second or third stage, and unfortunately there's a good chance it'll already have worn out its welcome, since the game just doesn't do much beyond its adorable design to hold your interest. The difficult curve is fairly gentle, however, so you can easily lull yourself into a state of relaxation by listening to the Spongebob-esque music and taking in the strange sights. M... Magikarp? Is that you?
• Fenticore - The goal in this physics puzzle is to help guide the Fenticore to the bottom of the tower by eliminating obstacles in the way so it can drop down through the floors. It's sort of like a tumbledrop game, but with prettier graphics and a bit of a story behind it. The only probably is that the game suffers from somewhat unpredictable physics, and you'll probably have to reload a lot of levels when the Fenticore gets stuck. What the matter with you, Fenticore?! The bottom of the tower is your home! Are you too good for your home?!
• ImmorTall - Got your beret on? ImmorTall is an artsy side-scroller about, I assume, the cruelty of man. Move left and right to explore the world, and help protect the apparently feeble-minded family who's decided to caper along behind you. It's extremely pretty with its minimalist presentation, but also slow and a little predictable. Admittedly, I was expecting the opening scene with the little girl to go in an entirely different Frankenstein-sy sort of direction, so apparently I'm part of the problem too. I always suspected.
• Sally's Cats - Sally's got her impressive collection of boneless felines stuck in a tree and needs you to use her physics magic to save them all by jerking them into the air on ethereal green rubber bands. I'm pretty sure that sort of things is grounds for animal neglect charges anyway. Plus, Sally's slightly off-putting dishevled moppet face strongly puts me in mind of another girl who probably shouldn't be around animals either... I guess the lesson for today is that little girls are creepy. I remember when I was a little girl I could barely stand to be around myself.

## Sushi Cat

• Currently 4.5/5
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For those of us of a certain age (think dinosaurs), one of the great pleasures of staying home sick from school was getting to watch "The Price is Right" with Bob Barker (yes, the Bob Barker, accept no substitutes). Why? Because it's fun to watch ordinary people do extraordinarily stupid things for cheap prizes and occasional cash, that's why. One of the best things on "The Price is Right" was the game Plinko, a strange game that involved dropping large tokens down a field of pegs, watching them bounce around and fall into areas at the bottom that involved money. Where is this all leading, you might ask? Well, Joey Betz and Jimp have teamed up to recreate the insane joy of Plinko in a flash game involving a lonely cat and a lot of sushi. Welcome to the bizarre world that is Sushi Cat, one of the strangest physics puzzles imaginable!

The story of our hero begins when he spots a lovely female cat in a window. Is she real? Stuffed? Who knows. All we know is that the poor kitty cannot get through the automatic doors into her building due to his slight weight. What's a neko to do? Why, gorge on as much sushi as possible to bulk up enough to open those doors!

The game itself is simple: you have a small number of bouncy, round cats, a playing field full of sushi and peg obstacles, and bins at the bottom. To clear a round you must drop your cats, one at a time, so that they eat the maximum amount of sushi they can on the way down. Fill up the cat's belly and you've passed on to the next round. After several rounds of sushi madness you rejoin the story of the increasingly fatter feline and his quest for companionship. Does he find the gal of his dreams? You gotta play to find out. Each round increases the difficulty as the obstacles become bigger and start to move about the screen. Fortunately there are power ups as you go on that give you extra cats; allow our feline hero to inhale the sushi in the surrounding area; or blast our forlorn feline friend out of a cannon to another area of the screen.

Although there's an enormous amount of fun and whimsy watching the progress of the bouncing kitty, there's not actually a lot of gameplay to be had. Once you've dropped the cat, it's all up to gravity and random chance, as there's no way to control the descent other than picking the right spot to release him from. Does this make Sushi Cat a bad game? Not at all. Between the kicking music, the fantastic anime-like visuals and animations, and the sheer fun of watching a round kitty cat power suck sushi make up for a lot. Not the greatest game around, but one of the most entertaining time-wasters imaginable. Surreal, silly mayhem in 15 levels. Just the sort of thing to put a smile on your face and brighten up your day.

Play Sushi Cat

## Babylon Sticks: Asteroids

• Currently 4.5/5
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A custom casual gameplay comic created exclusively for JIG by Babylon Sticks creator, James Francis.

## Lateral

• Currently 3.3/5
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I'm thinking of a nine letter word. That word is kind of connected to some sort of plant. It's also related to an igloo. Give up? Knew you would! It's a treehouse, and now that you know the answer, you're probably slapping your forehead because it was sooo obvious, wasn't it? This sort of "connect the dots" thinking is what Lateral: The Word Association Game is all about.

Each level is made up of a web of words connected with lines that indicate a relationship. Your job is to guess the hidden words by determining what that relationship could be. For example, if the words "fish" and "cat" are connected to a seven letter mystery word, you could assume the answer would be "catfish". The connections are rarely that obvious, of course, but it's that sort of thinking that will get you through the game.

The main game comes with a handful of carefully crafted levels unlocked by guessing special words marked with stars. There's also a custom level editor you can play around with, and it's one of the game's most entertaining features. Creating your own stages is as easy as typing a few words and sliding connection boxes around. Well over 300 user-created puzzles are ready to play from the main menu, and that number is always growing. Some are quite a bit more "lateral" than others, but you'll have a great time picking through them all the same.

Lateral's strength is its ability to get your brain out of that one track mode it's usually in, but sometimes the lateral thinking is a bit too lateral and you have to resort to guessing. There's no hint system, so if you're stuck, you're stuck, and straining your brain to uncover the connection between items doesn't always yield rewards.

Regardless of its slightly random, obscure nature, Lateral is a great word game that encourages you to think outside of the box. Way, way outside! And if you enjoy this kind of word game, be sure to give Funny Farm a try!

Play Lateral

## Saturated

• Currently 3.8/5
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Winter grays getting you down? Maybe you need to brush up on your color wheel? Saturated will brighten your world with neon vector graphics and brain-challenging action-puzzles. You'll definitely never forget that red and blue make purple after your failure to apply that principle in time results in your ship being reduced to smithereens.

Control of the ship is done with the [WASD] keys, shooting with the mouse, and the color of your ship can be switched by using the [space] bar (or the center mouse button, if you have one).

There's a good variety in the levels here. Some levels require frantic speed to outrun a laser, others are mazes requiring exploration and backtracking, and still others are enemy-heavy.

The throbbing electronic soundtrack has a good variety too, but unfortunately, there's no mute button. There's also no way to lower the quality, so if you don't have a top-of-the-line machine, you might notice lag during the more sprite heavy times, which are usually the times when you least want lag. Of course, since the game depends so much on color-blending, the color-blind will not be able to enjoy it. Also, be careful where you click, as clicking "more" at any point opens the game's Facebook page in a new tab, which you might find as irritating as I do.

With those caveats, it's certainly a fun little diversion. Now if only I could turn the slush outside my apartment some nice, cheery colors...

Play Saturated

## BLockoban 2

• Currently 3.4/5
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Apparently, people like sliding stuff into other stuff. You know what I'm talking about. The puzzle genre has always been a particular robust one, a hearty chunk of which consists of sliding block puzzles. Well, the folks at Bonus Level know your dark craving and offer you BLockoban 2. (Alternate titles: "Son of BLockoban" and "BLockoban 2: Block Harder".)

Gameplay is more or less the same from the original; the goal is to clear all the blocks on a level, and you do so (usually) by matching up groups of two or more of the same colour. Click and drag a block in the direction you want it to go, moving it one space at a time. There are different types of blocks that present their own challenges, but often it's the simplest looking levels that can be the most difficult. If you make a wrong move, you can start the level over by clicking the "restart" button at the bottom of the screen. The game keeps track of how many moves you make, but that's only there to taunt you. The nice thing is that if you're stuck on a particular level (or secretly terrible at the game and need to take an interesting screenshot for a title image... hypothetically), you can just head back to the level select screen and skip ahead to the next one, or whichever one catches your fancy.

BLockoban 2 doesn't do much different from the original, aside from giving itself a facelift. It does introduce a few new block types, but they don't really make this feel like a different game so much as an expansion. Which, considering the voracious appetite of puzzle fans, is hardly a bad thing, especially considering the amount of content on the dining table. As of this writing, there are 120 official levels available to play. If none of them prove a suitable challenge to your massive brain, well, get on over there and make your own. Those other levels? Chumps. We had no faith in them. Your level? Totally different. Now go out there and show us what you're made of.

... which is, uh, apparently brightly coloured pixels and bouncy techno music. Might wanna get that looked at.

Play BLockoban 2

## Escape from 5th Door

• Currently 4.2/5
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The last couple of weeks have been pretty easy, so this week we're going hard, real hard, concrete hard. Put on your thinking caps, fellow escape fanatics! This weekday escape is a tough little room escape by Tesshi-e, creator of Escape from the Snowman's Room and Escape from Bed Room, Escape from 5th Door. Can you find all three escape scenarios?

Definitely take time to watch the opening animation, as this is classic Tesshi-e. "Look, a mysterious door in a concrete building! Hey, stairs that go down into the ground, let's go! Look, a strange elevator that goes who-knows-where, we have to ride that! Hey, we're in a square room with four identical doors, all of which are locked. Oh, crap." Yes, in the world of this room escape designer you are just that stupid.

Move around using the bars that appear at the sides of the screen, but be warned: it is very easy to become disoriented and forget which way you are facing, as each wall/door combo is completely identical, at least at first. There's no changing cursor, so there will be pixel hunting. Fortunately, in this sparse, industrial space there's not much clutter, and almost everything you need is easily visible. A standard "about item" button is handy to examine things you've picked up, and extremely necessary. Yes, there will be combining and construction ahead, so be warned.

Analysis: With a nice mix of math, logic, color, and construction, Escape from 5th Door is fun, balanced room escaping. The puzzles are logical for the most part and the construction and use of found objects is amusing. Most fun of course is trying to find the various ways out, as there is a "bad", a "neutral", and a "good" (aka happy coin) escape, each with their own ending animations. This is not a ten minutes and easy out puzzle, so be prepared to spend a little time in a claustrophobic underground space.

As usual the surroundings are nicely rendered 3D, but rather than Tesshi-e's usual warm, comfortable space you're looking at a lot of stark, industrial ugly, apropos of the escape itself. The music is...well, you've probably heard it before, so be thankful for the handy mute button. The only thing missing is a save button which would have been nice, especially with the three escape scenarios.

Yes, there is some pixel hunting. Yes, some rather strange construction is necessary to find your way out. Yes, the game is in Japanese, but you don't need to be able to read Japanese to play. Regardless, Escape from 5th Door is escaping done well, casual gameplay that challenges and teases and taunts and eventually leaves you happy to escape. Be prepared for some odd leaps of logic, and laugh at the "bad" escape when you find it. Just get escaping!

## Hoosegow

• Currently 4.5/5
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Hey, you! Yes, you! You, of course, being Rick. You're not a thief. No, not you! You're just... down on your luck a little. Supremely unlucky, in fact, since the sheriff happened to show up just as you and your good buddy Muddy Charlie were liberating some silver. Unfortunately, he's not willing to let you off with just a slap on the wrist, and in this bit of interactive fiction you'll have to use every trick in your cowboy book to escape the Hoosegow, the award-winning CGDC7 entry by Ben Collins-Sussman and Jack Welch.

Make your breakout by thinking outside the box and typing your actions into the game. "Look at", "use", "ask ___ for", "search", and even "spit" are just some of the things you'll need to do to progress. Pay close attention to your environment; characters will occasionally prompt you with a hint as to what you should be doing, but you'll have an easier time of it if you remember to examine everything. Don't be afraid to experiment, but if you need a nudge, type "Help" or "Hints" for instructions and clues, respectively.

Analysis: Hoosegow is exceptionally well done, with humour sprinkled throughout its robust narrative. So robust, in fact, that you can spend more time reading the fiction itself than you do interacting with it. Small, seemingly inconsequential actions can trigger a glut of three, sometimes four meaty paragraphs. Sure it's well written, in a classic aw, shucks, hoss sort of Western vibe, but it does occasionally make you feel as though you're doing little more than setting off cutscenes. Cutscenes you read.

You'll need to pay attention during those scenes too, since you'll miss out on important clues if you just skim the text. It would help if the items you could interact with were more obvious; less challenging, maybe, but it's easy for the less observant to spend a while fruitlessly spinning your wheels just because you didn't realise the item mentioned briefly at the end of another description was something you could use. Maybe this wouldn't be an issue if some of the solutions were a little less oddball. Thankfully, the hint system here is actually well implemented; hints are provided in tiers as you request them, getting more and more explicit as you go. It's a nice touch, and will be appreciated by players that just want a nudge so they can figure something out themselves, rather than being explicitly told what to do. Hey, my brain works sometimes!

Okay, so the game is good at providing direction when you ask for it. But what it is absolutely fantastic at is staying in character. Hoosegow exudes a sort of effortless, good-ol-boy charm that features in even the help menu. Visuals? Your brain is your graphics card here, and thanks to the authentic twang that permeates the dialogue, you'll have no trouble mentally envisioning the picturesque loveliness that is your dank little cell. Mmm, smell that stale perspiration! It's like you're really there! Ooh la la!

Tag team champions Ben Collins-Sussman and Jack Welch have created a wonderful thing in Hoosegow. It's fun, funny, and guaranteed to bring out the cowpoke in you. (A dusty, bumbling, thieving cowpoke, but a cowpoke nonetheless.) A workout for your imagination as well as your problem-solving skills, Hoosegow is a challenging escape for those of you who have always wanted to ride off into the sunset. Sort of.

Play Hoosegow

## Mogo-Mogo

• Currently 4.2/5
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What came first, the robot or the egg?... well, uh... the inventor, obviously. (What's wrong with you? Robots don't come from eggs. Sheesh.) If you recall, 2009 saw a game called Little Wheel that was just a wee bit ragingly popular and went on to win Best of 2009 in its category. Ever wonder how those robots came to be? It's Mogo-Mogo from One Click Dog, the point-and-click prequel that tells the story of the Mogos, a small island tribe that toils day in and day out until one little inventor has an idea. By which we mean he gets a visit from Goldy, the little flying golden avatar, who takes him on a journey through the realm of dreams in search of ultimate inspiration. Obviously. I mean, how do you get your ideas?

Once again, you use your mouse to navigate, clicking on hot spots throughout the game represented by small white circles to make either your inventor or Goldy interact with the object. You'll be presented with a variety of odd puzzles as you progress, but the goal is always to find and touch the glowing blue orb to open the next doorway. The adventure is divided up into levels, and upon completing each one you'll be given a password so you can pick up where you left off if you have to go do some toiling of your own.

While Little Wheel had a moody, industrial, shadowed aesthetic, Mogo-Mogo presents a vibrant world full of strange landscapes and stranger creatures. Sky whales, flying portal worms, and giant... bouncing... colour changing... um, things, abound in this dreamworld that make it a joy to explore, even if the puzzles are just weird and a little awkward rather than particularly inspired. But while it's interesting and bizarre and all that happy business, Mogo-Mogo just isn't as memorable as its predecessor, and those that go into it expecting a game sharing much of the same qualities are going to be a little disappointed. There's a certain emotional connection that it's lacking, making it fun but not really memorable.

Mogo-Mogo's biggest issue, in fact, may be the somewhat questionable design choice for the Mogos themselves. There's no malicious intent behind it, but the developers have inadvertently chosen a very distinct design that shares similarities with iconography that has a very negative history in the United States. What they may have considered cute and goofy in fact may be offensive or insensitive to some people, so please think before you play or recommend to others.

Which is not to say Mogo-Mogo is bad by any stretch of the word. While fairly short and definitely pretty easy despite its controls, it's an entertaining trip into another realm. It's got all the bouncy energy and funky design of a cartoon. One from the 70's. It's the perfect size to sneak into your day if you felt you were lacking a little adventure, or just want to find out where robots come from.

Play Mogo-Mogo

## And the winner is... №7

Today a very special Casual Gameplay Design Competition comes to a close, one dedicated to the realm of interactive fiction. We are very fortunate to have received so many excellent entries, and we are grateful to the development community for taking on our challenge.

We are here to honor all of the games that were entered, as well as award a few prizes, too. Thanks to our kind and generous sponsors: Armor Games and their continued unwavering support for our competitions (Thanks Dan!); and to everyone at Casual Gameplay for just being awesome. It is due to the efforts of all these people that we have the following prizes to award, so please show them your kind support as well.

This time we left the judging up to the JIG community, and all the games were scored based on theme, appeal, fun, composition, and technical merit. After all the scores were tabulated there was one clear winner. However, the next 3 games were just too close to call. Therefore, we are calling 2nd place an even tie between 3 games, and we will distribute the 2nd and 3rd place prize money evenly between them.

Once again, congratulations to everyone who submitted an entry!

Following is a list of the top 10 games by score:

We have published the community scores in a spreadsheet showing the average scores in each category for each entry. Look for reviews of the top games here on Jayisgames.com in the coming days and weeks.

## Isoball 2

• Currently 4.4/5
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Return to the days of your childhood, playing with simple-shaped blocks to help a ball towards a hole in the addictive puzzle game Isoball 2, from Candyflame. Because as a baby you were apparently already a genius.

The rest of us probably were not. We all just stacked the blocks in shapes that followed our imaginations, which in the case of a boy would inevitably resemble a structure under attack from some menacing force. Inevitably that force would be, in the fit of Godzilla-esque fervor, the boy's fist. Perhaps the more industrious and less Tokyo-Monstered opted to try their hands at building bridges and I am sure that a manic genius here and there took on the early stages of decoding something's genome. But Isoball 2 takes the whole idea of playing with geometric shapes to a whole different and ultimately dumbfounding level.

If you have played the original Isoball then the sequel will be very familiar. Apart from tweaking the interface and cleaning a few things up, it's the same game, albeit much longer and with a much higher difficulty rating. Like the first you are presented with a isometric view of a grid. Given several specific pieces - ranging from cubes and flat blocks, flat and sharp ramps, direction changes and more versatile pieces like bridge builders, ball accelerators and teleporters - you need to guide a ball towards a hole by placing pieces on the screen with the mouse. This ball is pretty stupid, so it can't handle a wrong turn, a slight drop of someone sneezing on it. There is no margin for error: your approach has to guide the ball 100% of the way.

That is the Isoball series, more or less. The difficulty adjusts through how the ball and hole positions are changed, whether there are gaps to bridge and how creative you need to be with the pieces. It's also child's play until you start going past the sixteenth level...

Analysis: To be fair, completing Isoball 2 in the allotted time for this review meant I'd also have to be capable of curing cancer. So, in the hope that nobody one day accuses me of robbing mankind from life-saving medical breakthroughs, I might as well admit I did not make it through Isoball 2's fifty levels. The best I did was hit the halfway mark - and at this point it had gotten really hard. Browsing through the walkthrough it becomes apparent that things get a lot tougher. Honestly, it looks like the final few levels involve removing and placing blocks MID-GAME. Isoball 2 will take you a while to complete — and if it doesn't I think some scientific outlets might want to probe your brain... Or maybe I am just stupid.

This is a sequel, so it merits looking at how things have changed. First off are the fifty levels, a whole heap more than the original's twenty. The developers have done away with the countdown - you have all the time in the world to complete puzzles (and mercifully a level reset nullifies the timer as well, so your score takes less of a hit). In return, the game is a lot harder. Isoball had some whoppers, but Isoball 2 clearly benefited from some community puzzle suggestions. Or they have a bridge-building savant locked in a cupboard somewhere.

Play all the Isoball games:

The game is very addictive, but it also becomes frustrating. Early puzzles can be sussed out by building from one point to the other and adjusting as you go, but later you really have to take in the whole scene and think of how the pieces can fit into it. To make things trickier, the game sometimes hands you more pieces than you need; for example, you might have five direction changers, but in the end you only needed four. It also soon does away with the notion that the best way forward is a straight line and hides a few other tricks that puts the puzzles beyond the scope of brute tinkering. This is not a game that allows you to fit a circle into a square.

But it is clever, well presented and just as polished. After playing the first game it is clear the bar has been raised to accommodate the game's existing players, but newcomers should at least get through the first fifteen levels before the going gets tough. If you are still going full steam by level twenty five, I hope the other - lesser - nerds pick on you. Because nobody likes a smart guy. If you breezed through to level fifty, I believe China wants someone who can build a bridge for them to the States... Or maybe I am just stupid.

Play Isoball 2

## Mobile Monday №56

How's this for a theme: three games that make you scratch your head! Colorbind because you can't figure out how to do what's right in front of your face. Gravity because you can't figure out how to precisely set up a chain reaction to tap a little button. And NOBY NOBY BOY because you have no earthly idea what's going on (even though you love it).

Colorbind - A beautiful puzzle game that is deceptively simple in appearance. Your goal is to extend colored ribbons across the screen to join like-colored dots together. You can only turn at right angles, and ribbons cannot cross at a fold, creating some fantastically challenging puzzles that can only be solved once you really "get" the game. Lots of levels and three difficulty settings make this one full of content to devour.

Isaac Newton's Gravity - A wonderfully complete physics puzzle game with a lot of precise head scratchers. Place various objects on the screen, ranging from boxes to balls to girders and more, then tap the "play" button to set things in motion. Your goal is to nudge a button on the stage, and the only momentum you're given is by a ball that drops out of the wall.

NOBY NOBY BOY - Come on now, say it like you see it: NOBY NOBY BOY! With loud exclamatory voices! This gem of a game comes from Keita Takahashi, creator of the Katamari Damacy series, and is based on the PlayStation Network title of the same name. Rather than putting a quirky game in front of your face, NOBY NOBY BOY is more like a wildly interactive toy. The "goal" is to stretch the main character (the "boy") out as long as you can so he can add his length to the cosmically-proportioned "girl" in the hopes that she can unite all things in the galaxy. Yep! Wholly unique when compared to its PSN cousin, and wholly unique when viewed by itself. It's so absolutely charming you can't help but love it.

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.

## The Spirit Engine 2

• Currently 4.7/5
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All it takes is one event to change your life. That's what you're about to discover in The Spirit Engine 2, a recently-made-free RPG presented in a side-scrolling format. One dark night, you stumble across a prone figure in the middle of the road, and choosing to do "the right thing" could mean more than you think. With nine chapters, nine distinct party members to choose from, and a complex battle system, The Spirit Engine 2 will carry you across a strange and dangerous world. When cults with frightening agendas, violent beasts, and shady characters start roaming the land, the smart thing to do would be to stay indoors. But then, who says you have to do the smart thing? The game is more of an evolution than a direct sequel to the original Spirit Engine, and you don't need to have played the first to pick this one up.

The game can be played either with keyboard and hotkeys or with the mouse, and a lengthy in-game tutorial serves to acquaint you with the finer aspects of Spirit Engine-ry. You'll start out by selecting your three party members; ideally, you'll want to take along a mercenary, a knight, and a healer, and you'll have several options for each class. Read the biographies for each character and pick whoever you like best, since for the most part all characters in a given class will share the same abilities.

While battles are still turn-based, they play out automatically; all you need to do is select an action for each of your characters from a list, and they'll perform it until you choose another. In between battles, you'll soon find yourself travelling with a full party, and each of them is only to happy to share their thoughts on the situation. You can read what they think in their personal journals from the party menu, or you can click on their flashing character portrait when they have something to say. Seen a conversation before or simply impatient to get to the next encounter? Then hit the "Skip" button during dialogue and fast forward through it.

Analysis: I've always believed that linearity isn't a bad thing; in fact, in a setting where you want to tell a specific story as cleanly as possible, it's the best choice. Some players are going to be put off by how the game railroads them through the plot with limited interactivity. The game is well written, if a little stiff in places, and tells a story that feels suitably epic, with a diverse cast to provide depth. The downside is that for the most part, that depth is only an illusion after a certain point. You'll start to notice that regardless of your party members, most conversations are virtually identical, just phrased slightly differently from character to character. This isn't a bad thing, but it is a little disappointing since any replays wind up feeling a bit stale and lacking the mystery of the first playthrough.

It seems like the crippling blow for a lot of indie RPGs is the inclusion of turn-based combat. In an effort to get out from under that label and appeal to a broad audience, The Spirit Engine 2 winds up tripping itself up a bit. The side-scrolling set-up of the game would have been perfectly suited to a real-time combat system such as the one found in the Tales series. What we get instead is at once overcomplicated and a little boring; there's a tangled wealth of customisation available for tactics, but you won't ever really need any of it since you can just set two characters to battle, one to heal, and wander off for a while until you inevitably win. It's especially tedious since even on the highest speed setting fights can drag on due to regenerating enemies. Of course, your party automatically regenerate when they fall too, but it still turns what would be a quick encounter into a drawn out ordeal.

But whatever issues you may take with the game's mechanics, you can't fault its quality. It's a stunner with its rich colours, lush backgrounds, and expressive characters. Visiting each new locale is a joy, and the diversity serves to make the world feel larger and more realistic. Well, as realistic as a world with magically regenerating feathered carnivorous plants can be, anyway. And populating that world is a cast of genuinely interesting characters in a plot that, while slow to start, clearly has a lot of love and thought in its crafting. It's unfortunate that you don't really get a chance to explore it as deeply as you might like, since everything happens on a strict schedule with none of the typical "wander through a town and talk to unimportant characters" fare you might expect from an RPG.

While the game may take a while to sink its claws into you, its a stunningly professional product from a very small development team. Despite a few hiccups in its design, the end result is a big, beautiful adventure that any RPG fan should check out.

Windows:

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

## The Tarot's Misfortune

Poor Rosalee, what's a girl to do? She hears enchanted music, gets a mysterious request for a tarot reading, and the next thing she knows she's locked up in the town jail with her tarot cards missing. That's the opening for The Tarot's Misfortune, designed by Triple Hippo, which is, frankly, pretty much an average day (or night) in an adventure/hidden object hybrid.

Rosalee feels pretty much worthless without her tarot cards. But wait! Scattered amongst other objects in the room are a few of them, as well as other useful items she can collect to bust her way out. Unfortunately, once she makes it out, she finds a deserted town and evil afoot. Time to wander around and find some objects! And solve some puzzles, and play a mini-game or too as well. Oh, and rescue both the town and her precious cards in her spare time. Never mind the evil magician who has caused it all, he probably won't get in the way...

Gameplay is pretty standard for an adventure/hidden object game. Each scene begins with a list of objects to find, some of the grayed out to indicate that something must be done in order for them to be uncovered. Some items are useful and go into the inventory for later use, some will help protect the heroine (that would be the magic tarot cards), and some are just odd. Rosalee must wander in and around town to find her cards, discover what has happened, and attempt to rescue her neighbors from being unwitting slaves to the downright nasty magician who has caused it all.

The cursor will change into gears when passed over an item that can be manipulated in some way, and will change into a directional arrow when it goes over an exit to another scene. An arrow with a lock means that it is a way out, but cannot be used until something is solved. A fun dynamic is the "scrolling" hidden object scenes, where the player must move around the space from left to right to see the entire scene and find all of the objects. A handy scroll bar can be used for this, as well as simply moving the cursor to the edge of the area. Watch carefully when scrolling; these scenes have a foreground, mid-ground, and background, and they move in conjunction with the scrolling, occasionally blocking the view of necessary items.

Although there are plenty of puzzles to be solved, many of which involve a lot of traveling back and forth between scenes, there is only one type of mini-game to be found. Look carefully around the area for a face-up tarot card, clicking on it opens the "find the differences" mini-games that give clues to be used later on in other scenes. There's a rapidly refilling hint timer that is helpful not only in the hidden object scenes but in the find the differences scenes as well. Puzzles can also be skipped with a refilling timer.

Warning: Some people have experienced errors when attempting to start The Tarot's Misfortune. Although BigFish has issued a new version, it still would be best to check out the demo first and see if there are lingering problems. If there are, please report them to BigFish's customer support, who respond quickly to technical problems.

Analysis: The Tarot's Misfortune is a classic hybrid, containing both a lot of hidden object goodness and quite a bit of wandering around adventure style. Solving certain puzzles will involve lots of wandering back and forth until all of the items needed can be found. And unless you've uncovered the hints given by the find the differences puzzles you may have some difficulty deciding exactly what needs to be done to unlock new areas.

The game is done up in a pretty, hand-painted style that is easy on the eyes. Appropriately spooky music and sound effects add to the experience as Rosalee wanders around the eerily deserted town at night, creepy mist almost obscuring almost everything. There's lots of eye candy to be found, especially in the over large scrolling hidden object scenes as you pan back and forth over the detailed environments.

Gameplay is pretty standard, although the puzzles are on the easy side. The "find the differences" games range from quite obvious to very subtle differences, and everything in-between. With 12 chapters separated by cut-scenes and tarot card readings (each chapter holding multiple locations), there's a lot of easy casual gameplay contained in The Tarot's Misfortune. Perhaps too easy, as the puzzles are definitely not rocket science. If The Tarot's Misfortune suffers from any flaws, its most noticeable one is the phenomenon of ever shrinking gameplay. Even with 12 chapters some players might be done in 2-3 hours. Another minor annoyance is the laying of hidden objects extremely close (and sometimes in) traveling or puzzle hotspots, causing the player to sometimes move to the next scene when simply trying to pick up an object.

If you like adventure and hidden objects, however, The Tarot's Misfortune is a fun little game with its scrolling gameplay and lovely visuals. While not groundbreaking, it's charming and fun to play, and a solid title in the genre. What are you waiting for, another tarot reading? Go help save the town!

Windows:

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

## Alt Shift

• Currently 4.2/5
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The original series of Shift Games introduced a clever new puzzle/platforming mechanic where players had to invert the play area repeatedly to navigate through one-screen levels. Now, Alt Shift gives us an all new Shift-style game with smoother graphics, deeper puzzles, and a healthy dose of mini-games. The story is one that we've heard before. It's your basic "dimensional traveler meets opposite gendered partner, evil mad scientist kidnaps partner for unclear reasons, dimensional traveler must defeat mad scientist through clever puzzle platforming," story. Like Shakespeare wrote. But the fact that the story-line in Alt Shift is so basic just complements the fact that the platforming game is so delightfully minimalist.

If you've played a Shift title before, the controls will be familiar to you. If you haven't, worry not, since they're extremely simple. [A] and [D] or [arrow] keys to move, [W] or up [arrow] to jump, [S] or down [arrow] to invert the screen. The goal in each level is to get to the exit, which is rarely as simple as walking in a straight line, as the first level would have you believe. Instead, you'll need to use your peculiar powers to flip the screen to gain access to different areas and navigate the puzzles that bar your way.

Puzzles tend to be clever rather than torturous, and the game definitely focuses more on mental acuity than digital dexterity. There are a couple of tricky jumping puzzle levels, but players have up to three skips they can use to move past levels that are proving too difficult. In a clever twist on the mechanic, you can win a skip back by beating that level at a later time, which means that you can always choose the easier of the two levels you're stuck on to beat.

Analysis: Alt Shift has had a lot of time to develop its mechanics, and it shows. The game is really polished, which is nice to see since the earlier entries in the Shift series definitely felt rough. The platforming is smooth and the controls are easy and clear. It's obvious that the design team has a great sense of how to make the inversion puzzle the most fun it can be. The addition of blocks that you can either move around or move through is a great one, and really adds some nice variability to the levels. It's not a new mechanic to the genre, but it's very well executed, and includes a pull feature! Perhaps I've been playing too much Sokoban but I'm always delighted when my character can actually pull things as well as push them.

Alt Shift does have a couple of flaws. The mini-games aren't very well integrated into the game. They feel a little tacked on, and are basic sliding or spot-the-difference puzzles. The storyline, such as it is, is increasingly nonsensical, especially when the mad scientist tries to explain that he's locking you out of his lab using minigame-based locks. They're going for a bit of the Portal tone, but it doesn't really come together. Another (minor) beef is that the game gives you a "completion" rating when you beat a level, but the ratings seem random, and don't reflect on your speed or ability beating the level.

That said, Alt Shift is definitely a strong, smooth, polished puzzle game. If you haven't played any games in the series before, it's a great place to start, and if you're familiar with the series, it's a neat addition to the cannon. With 80 new levels to test your reality-warping skills and the ability to play as either an indistinct black blobby girl rather than an indistinct black blobby boy this time 'round, it offers a lot of play time for puzzle fiends, platforming warriors, and shadow-hopping heroes of all ages.

Play Shift Freedom (Flash)

Windows:

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

This week's selection of downloadable games seems to ask a lot of questions. Not because one of their titles practically is a question, but because of the way they're made. What rests beyond the next corridor? How can you get to the other side of that waterfall? And if I step out into that suspiciously dark and open wooded area, will I get attacked by something hideous?

The Hunt (Windows, 2.3MB, free) - A "prologue" to Au Sable, built as an experiment in 3D game creation. The Hunt plays like a retro first person shooter (think Doom or Wolfenstein 3D), only instead of an arsenal of weapons, you've got a lowly shotgun and must keep an eye on the shadows for rushing baddies. A remarkably atmospheric game for such a minimal presentation. You'll quickly develop the habit of looking in all directions as you walk forward...

Which (Windows, 21MB, free) - From Mike Inel, creator of Why, comes Which, a short 3D game. This time around, you're exploring a small house trying to find keys to open locked doors. Look along the walls for clues on how to control your character, and try poking your nose in every corner and suspicious space you can find. The atmosphere is brilliant and the visual style a treat to experience. Got a pair of 3D glasses stuffed in a drawer somewhere? Which has a nice treat for you...

Lunnye Devitsy (Windows, no demo) - A beautiful and atmospheric exploration game created by Boss Baddie. It will remind you of Knytt in more ways than one. You play a dark little character trying to get back to the moon. You can't die in this game, only explore, solve a few puzzles, and explore some more. The music and sound effects create the perfect ambience, and some of the visual effects are beyond gorgeous. Unfortunately there's no demo, but the extremely small price tag is as friendly as can be.

Note: All games have been confirmed to run under Windows Vista and are virus-free. Mac users should try Boot Camp, Parallels, or CrossOver Games to play Windows titles, Linux users can use Wine. If you know of a great game we should feature, use the Submit link above to send it in!

## Awakening: The Dreamless Castle

• Currently 4.3/5
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You awaken alone. You have no memory of who you are, or how you got to this magical castle. There are fairies ready to guide you, and goblins waiting to test you. Are you ready to find out the secrets of your past, and your ultimate destiny in the adventure game Awakening: The Dreamless Castle?

This game is the first in the adventure genre for Boomzap, makers of puzzle games like Hoyle Enchanted Puzzles. Using only the mouse, solve puzzles and mini-games while navigating through a magic castle, with the goal of collecting six magic runes and discovering who you are and why you've been asleep for a hundred years.

Although the game is being billed as an "adventure/hidden object" title, the hidden object part of the game is more like a recurring mini-game than the actual genre of the game. There are only five hidden object scenes in the entire game. That's a shame, because they're actually quite good. No pixel hunting, and the objects are rendered with the same fairy tale romanticism as the rest of the environments. Other mini-games include mahjong solitaire (called Goblinjong), Simon Says sequence, matching puzzles, and jigsaw puzzles. All puzzles and mini-games can be skipped, but you have to wait until the "skip" button charges before doing so.

Analysis: If you took in Sierra games while you were teething, you're going to find Awakening a bit on the easy side. The progression is mostly linear, it's rare that the use of an object is illogical, and you can't combine items in your inventory. If you pick up a shovel, you're going to dig with it, not tie a ribbon on it and use it in an interpretive dance to entertain a peeved minotaur. You're going to have a good idea of what kind of object will be used in each place, and if it isn't in your inventory, you just wait until you solve a puzzle and the game gives it to you.

Sometimes the linearity breaks logic a little. Is there any reason why the girl can't tie the rope to the pulley until you have the object that the rope will be attached to? And why do flowers and other pieces you need to collect often appear in the room only after you click on the puzzle that requires the pieces? If it were me, I'd be a bit frightened. Look around at ordinary garden scene; look down at box lid with missing tiles; think "Aha, I must find the tiles,"; look up and there are suddenly tiles everywhere, even though you've been in the room the whole time. I guess it's magic!

The art in the game is indeed beautiful, with a lush fantasy style. The fairies are especially lovely, and even the goblins are more endearing than ugly. The writing keeps to the same storybook mood, and in the cut-scenes, the voice actress sounds just like the fairy godmother you always wanted.

The game is on the short side. My completion time clocked in at almost two hours. However, beating the game unlocks Goblinjong to play anytime, and if you beat all of those levels you get some extra secrets. Mahjong solitaire fans will certainly consider that an added value.

Windows:

Mac OS X:

## Cubor

• Currently 3.1/5
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If there is one thing that Cubor teaches us, it's that sometimes colored cubes just want to go home, and that sometimes only we can help them. A spiffy 3-D puzzle game by Devm-Games, Cubor lets players gently roll colorful blocks to respectively colored tiles, where like Prodigal Sons they will finally be welcomed. It's nice to help a poor, wayward Platonic solid; don't you hope they would do the same for you?

The mouse is all you need to accomplish this altruistic mission. Click on a cube, then click on one of the arrows that appear, to guide your six-sided charge to where it belongs. Clicking and dragging about the screen will rotate your perspective of the playing field, aiding you in your act of charity. Succeed by leading all the cubes into the soothing light of their home tiles, indicated by matching-colored sigils, and your philanthropic errand will be complete for another level.

Analysis: Schlepping cubes into their designated areas will be a familiar trope to veteran puzzlers, but Cubor adds a couple of twists to the formula. First, there are often several cubes you have to wrangle, so the solution is often as much about keeping cubes out of the way of each other as it is about figuring how to get them where they belong. Second, while some cubes are colored on all sides, many are colored on only one. Cubes move by rotating in the direction of travel, and as a cube is only truly home when the colored side is face-down, you must assess not only the means of delivery, but also the approach. Not every orientation will do, and part of the solving is in adjusting the cube's orientation so that it can arrive home properly.

The game's 3D graphics are striking, if a little jagged looking, and while the color palette is a bit bland and desaturated, the ease and agility in rotating the play field makes the appearance very slick. The bubbly electronica soundtrack matches the digital 3D look, and happily you can mute it should it become repetitive.

Sadly the game is quite short, at only fifteen levels, and while it is not super-easy, neither can it be called difficult. Likely it will take very little time to complete, which is fine for those puzzlers pressed for time. For those who want a little more, you can replay any level you have completed to improve your score and submit it in competition against Cubor players worldwide. And after all, there are always more sad, lost little cubes, waiting for someone to show them the way. It would be heartless to say no.

Play Cubor

Link Dump Friday isn't the only day we celebrate here at Jay Is Games. Along with your standard "Hawaiian Mondays" at the office, we also have "Air Guitar Tuesdays" followed by "Airwolf Wednesdays", which nobody enjoys. We're always looking for any excuse to celebrate, but that doesn't mean we'll celebrate anything. Rejected concepts include "Typo Thursdays" and "Speedo Sundays". (The latter enjoyed brief popularity until the office building across the way filed a complaint. Maybe we should have closed the windows?) While we party it up today, enjoy this rag-tag group of games that have little in common aside from an inherent awesomeness.

• Hats - I have a special niche in my heart for ridiculousness (it's right above the nook I reserve for fluorescent yellow pants), and the sort of joyful silliness present throughout this little platformer fits right in. You play a wizard with a limited but truly wondrous selection of hats at his disposal, each of which has a unique ability. It's unfortunately a little slow-paced and clunky, but the sound effects and presentation as a whole should woo all but the most hardened of gamers.
• Rabbit Rustler - It is a documented fact from real scientists with clipboards and everything that a thing's cuteness is in direct proportion to its deliciousness. Maybe that's why I sympathise with the farmer in this little physics puzzler where you pilot some sort of renegade UFO to stop him from cooking the wascally wittle things. The levels get increasingly complex (and bizarre) as you go along, and the rabbit's eyes stay just as hauntingly round and dewy throughout. Never trust anything whose eyes make up more than half its face, I say.
• Colour My Life - Not, in fact, a game at all, but rather a flash movie that brings a close to the popular Colour series of games for those of you of a completionist nature. It's all very warm and fuzzy and adorable and I had to go blow something up right after I watched it to show everyone how hardcore I was despite the way my lip was trembling. I'M A TOUGH BROAD, DARN IT. I DON'T GET MUSHY!... sniff!
• Streets of Gotham Full Throttle - [Warning: Requires Unity plugin, which may crash some browsers.] I actually had a chance to ride in the Batcopter recently, and while this little racing game isn't quite as awesome as putting your butt in the same place Adam West's once was, it's still pretty fun. Based on the Batman cartoon, it features multiple tracks and racers to unlock. The physics are, um, barely present, but launching the Batmobile end-over-end after a ramp is pretty entertaining. In fact, I wish more people solved their differences by racing brightly coloured, silly looking cars. It would make the world a brighter place.
• Let's Currrl - Holy Topical Link Dump Friday Entry, Batman! That's right, the 2010 Winter Olympics are currently being held back in my home and native land, and curling is just as ridiculous as I remember it. And now, in this weird advergame, you too can be baffled by the sport that has somehow entranced millions of people worldwide. That's right. You can sweep right in your browser. Still not convinced? Well then let me entice you; you can play as a curling reverend. Awwwww, yeah. You're feeling it. I can tell.

## Endless Migration

• Currently 4.2/5
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Being of a fine, renowned Canadian ancestry myself, it seems only fitting that I should finally draw your attention to Endless Migration, an avoidance title from HotAirRaccoon featuring the noble Canadian Goose. Why, I remember fondly watching the great migrations myself in my youth, and they are realistically created here in intricate detail. Only, uh. I don't quite remember so much air traffic. Or blood. Or missiles. Or shining golden paragon birds that descend from the heavens and provide score multipliers. Hmmm.

Things like weather conditions have an effect on how well you fly, and different birds handle better or worse than others, or grant more points. You can also gain achievements for a variety of things, which will in turn grant you additional upgrade points. It's all very sleek and well put together, complete with the melodic, nasal honks of the geese, and the familiar sound of goose-meets-propellers. Trust me; it will become familiar. It does, however, feature what may be the single most annoying background track I have ever personally heard in the game; it drove me for the mute option from the main menu in less than five minutes. Maybe it just needs a soothing narration from Mike Rowe?

It's likely that after a few hours you'll have every upgrade and every achievement. When that happens, all that's left is for you to flock as long as you can and see how high a score you can get. (Or wipe your data and start all over.) If avoidance games are your cuppa, Endless Migration will entertain for a time, and bring attention to the plight of the Canadian Goose to boot. Why isn't Sarah McLachlan filming a soft-focus commercial about geese being unable to afford Phoenix Upgrades right now?

Play Endless Migration

## Babylon Sticks: Tactics

• Currently 4.2/5
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A custom casual gameplay comic created exclusively for JIG by Babylon Sticks creator, James Francis.

## Ionic

• Currently 3.8/5
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Recently developed by the Gaming Your Way team, Ionic is a new sci-fi strategy-shooter that joins the ranks of popular tower defense spin-offs. Many casual gamers would argue that the tower defense genre has reached a critical mass, especially after last year's colossal influx of new titles. As a result, we're seeing quite a bit of variation of the classic "creeps walking down a path" formula. In Ionic, you take the helm of a massive "Dreadnought" spaceship, fending off alien attacks by constructing various gun batteries, turrets and defensive modules. Enemy fighters simultaneously advance from both sides of an almost-ridiculously long and horizontal map, which represents the size and shape of your Dreadnought battleship.

The ultimate goal is to protect your Dreadnought's "core" from enemy attacks. It's located in the middle of your ship and has a finite amount of non-regenerative health (illustrated by the blue bar in the upper-right corner). Hit the [left] and [right] arrow keys to pan your viewing area throughout the map, or use your mouse to navigate the mini-map along the bottom (drag the slider or click an area to move instantly). Instead of the usual tower-building mechanic, weapons and modules are constructed atop various "slots" scattered across the ship's hull. To build weapons and modules on hull slots, just click the slot and choose your selection from the small build menu that appears. You can also hold [shift] while clicking an empty slot to automatically build the last weapon or module you selected.

You can view detailed information about each weapon and module by clicking the "Weapons" menu in the bottom-left corner of the screen. Below it you'll find the "Resources" menu, which represents the actions of your ship's crew. By default, 100 points are distributed evenly among four priority levels; "R&D" is the rate at which upgrades (and new weapons) become available, "Construction" dictates the speed of building and repairs, "Life Support" provides the crew's sustainment and "Cloning" gradually raises the number of available crew. The latter two attributes seem a bit ambiguous unless you read Ionic's walkthrough guide, which implies that a larger crew increases the productivity of R&D and Construction (the walkthrough warns players to keep the Cloning level equal to or below the Life Support level). Enemy fighters will continue attacking your ship in timed waves, although you can pause the game at any time by opening the aforementioned menus.

Analysis: Ionic will attract strategy-shooter and tower defense fans like moths to a flame; the "battleship" premise is unique and under-utilized in this genre, sporadically popping up in occasional gems like Orbital Decay. But hardcore fans are usually the toughest to please; strategy enthusiasts may find themselves looking for additional layers of depth, or frustrated by the seemingly-arbitrary gameplay mechanics of the Resources feature. Tower Defense veterans would have appreciated more than just one level and a "Survival" mode, in addition to a wider variety of upgrade paths and inspired combat scenarios.

Regardless of gameplay preference, movement control is particularly frustrating; we can't imagine why the developers neglected to offer the [A] and [D] keys to pan from left to right—it would have made a substantial difference in accessibility. However, despite its flaws, many casual defense fans will receive Ionic as a gratifying and stylized break from the TD norm. It's well-polished in just about every other aspect (including the sleek UI and graphics) and the pacing is easy-to-digest at 20 or 30 minutes to complete.

Play Ionic

## This is the Only Level TOO

• Currently 4.6/5
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That plucky pachyderm is at it again. We've said it before, but now we really mean it when we say This is the Only Level TOO! That's right, all you have to do in jmtb02's latest puzzle/platformer ("putformer"? "platzzle"?) is hit that button and get to the exit while avoiding the spikes. It's completely simple and totally easy! Honestly! Stop looking at us like that.

The [WASD] or [arrow] keys move your energetic elephant (usually) and all you have to to win fame, glory, and fake riches is to hit the red button and leave via the orange pipe on the right side of the screen. Hmmm... it's so simple it's amazing nobody's done this before! There couldn't possibly be anything beyond that pipe. If you needed some more oompah-oompah music in your day, and we think that you did, then This is the Only Level TOO is here to brighten your day with its deceptively simple premise and colourful landscape littered with elephant corpses. I can't believe nobody's made a children's television show about this yet.

Of course, it's best to think of TOO as an expansion pack to the original since the core gameplay is unchanged. But if you've had a hankering for more blue elephant and pernicious puzzles, your day is about to be made. With more achievements to unlock and playable characters to discover based on how quickly you dominate the game and unravel your tricksy surroundings, This is the Only Level TOO is enough to keep the dedicated elephant enthusiast busy for an hour or so. We know you're out there. (Weirdo.)

Play This is the Only Level TOO

## Blosics 2

• Currently 4.4/5
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Knocking stuff down with other stuff; a time honoured tradition. The Atlanteans and 1950s sitcom children alike knew the simple pleasure of using physics for mischief and recreation. A while back we drew your attention to Blosics, a game about hurling balls at blocks to satisfy your primitive urge for destruction. (And points.) Now, here's Blosics 2, from Jacek Perzanowski's Igrek Productions, and it's an improvement in everything from its presentation to the gameplay itself.

The premise? Knock enough blocks off the platform in each level to meet the point requirement. This time around, you've got thirty levels to beat and it isn't as simple as it used to be. Now, instead of being able to grow your projectile to the size you want, you've got three different ones to choose from... and each one costs a certain amount of points that you'll have to make up for with your score. Click on the ball you want to use from the right side of the screen, then click and hold within the orange area to place it. Use your mouse to aim and release to fire, but remember; you only get points if the blocks are knocked off the platform. If you run out of blocks before you complete a level, just hit the big restart button at the bottom of the screen.

Play all the Blosics games:

The farther you go, the more complex the levels get, and the more challenges the game throws at you. Knocking down red blocks, for instance, costs you points, and certain types of unlockable ammunition are more useful than others. Blosics 2 is a wonderful example of the evolution of an idea. The original concept is still there, but it's been expanded in new and interesting ways that drive more challenge into it's fun, easy to pick up gameplay. It still isn't particularly deep, lending itself more to coffee breaks and anytime you have an hour or so to kill than marathon sessions, but I find that applying a story to each little block really helps with your motivation and the overall drama.

Steve! He had so much to live for! He was going to propose to Mary! He'd just gotten his GED! NOOOOOOoooOOooOOoo!

Play Blosics 2

## No Name Room Escape

• Currently 3.3/5
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How do room escape designers come up with the names for their rooms? Sometimes they name them after a particular characteristic, sometimes they name them after a design theme, sometimes they are named after a particular action or emotion, but what do they do when they design a basic, simple, four walls room escape? Stone Age Games has solved that particular dilemma by naming their latest simply No Name Room Escape. Catchy.

No Name Room Escape is a basic, bare bones room escape. No lofts, no windows, no hidden closets, just a basic square room with a door that needs unlocking. It is up to the person trapped in that room (that would be you, casual gamer) to examine everything, pick up anything that's not nailed down, and reason your way out.

Move around the room by using the handy navigation bars at the sides and bottom of the screen. Not that there's a lot of places to go, this being a basic room and all. Inventory (when you find it) goes into a handy bar at the top of the screen. There is no changing cursor, though, to point out the hotspots. Yes, here there be pixel hunting.

Analysis: This is a basic, no-frills escape. That's not necessarily a bad thing, though. For those who enjoy the challenge you're looking at a classic escape done right, with no gimmicks or extraneous features. Trust the expert, that's not as easy as you might think. The only downside (besides the pixel hunting) is that No Name Room Escape is a little too simple. Experienced or just plain clever gamers should be out in 10 minutes or less.

This no name room is nicely rendered in 3D in a primarily yellow color scheme. There's no music to distract from the puzzles, but there are sound effects as things are picked up or used. No save button either, but one is hardly needed, as this is a pretty simple escape. Despite the flaws, No Name Room Escape is a nice mid-week break. Simple, classic escaping done up nicely. Forget back stories, exotic locales, weird themes, and all the rest of the distractions and just get escaping!

Play No Name Room Escape

## Primary

• Currently 4.3/5
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Alas! Woe! Other exclamations of distress! Oh, don't mind me, friend. I'm just feeling a little blue. Only one thing can cheer me up! It's Primary, a puzzle platformer for Huemans everywhere! That's right; it's up to you to climb the Prizim Tower to stop an invasion of the dark Void from sucking the colour out of everything. Provided, of course, you aren't yella. (Although yellow is perfectly acceptable. Those are two different things. Ask a cowboy.)

Use [WASD] to move around, and [R] to interact with doors, switches, and elevators. If your jump doesn't have quite enough oomph to reach the top of a ledge, Roy may grab hold of the edge so you can tap [W] to climb up. Press the directional button towards the walls when you fall to wall-slide, letting you slip slowly downwards so you can find out if safety or a toothy death awaits. Your hero has three colours to choose from that change his abilities, making you a limited but awesome one-man Power Rangers team, and you can swap between them with ease by using the [J], [K] and [L] keys or just clicking on the screen. You can even do this in mid-leap; handy, considering certain platforms require you to be a certain hue before they'll support you.

Each colour has its own special ability that can help you out in the right situation. Blue can conjure blocks of ice to use as stepping stones or weigh down triggers, while red can let out of a blast of flame to damage enemies. Yellow can turn invisible and avoid most damage, but renders you unable to move until you become visible again. (And also activate checkpoints when available by pressing [R]!) Each of your colours will be upgraded once as you progress, adding new abilities. You'll have to learn to use not only the environment but your abilities to your best advantage if you want to survive. Just be careful, since one wrong move and your colourful butt is burnt toast.

Analysis: In my staggering ignorance as a player of games rather than a creator thereof, I feel confident in saying that it's pretty easy to make a platformer, but difficult to make one that doesn't have that distinctive plumber aftertaste. (Which is to say, greasy and hairy.) Primary juggles both its puzzling and its platforming admirably, and manages to make a distinct experience where you don't feel as though a hedgehog or a bandicoot could have been substituted for the same effect. The game's presentation is also wonderful, from its sticky enemy design to the music that changes subtly with your hero's chosen colour.

In fact, Primary's biggest enemy may be its awkward control set up. I have no problem with the [WASD] concept, but tangling the other action keys around those doesn't exactly make for smooth gameplay when your fingers are fumbling around each other. I also question the use of the insta-kill; yeah, okay, there are checkpoints and the levels are typically small by design, but considering how easy it is to misstep around the countless lasers, enemies, and gooey black death floors you'd think a 3-strikes hit rule wouldn't be unreasonable. Seeing the achievement for 25 deaths pop up while I was futilely battering myself against a boss was just insult to injury.

Thankfully, the controls do become more intuitive as you go along, and before long you'll be a colour-swapping champ. To prove it, you can even tackle some of the achievements that don't involve dying painfully, and track down every special crayon hidden throughout the game for extra points. (I always knew you were a few crayons short of a full box.) Despite its shortcomings, Primary is still a clever, fun, and challenging way to spend an evening. So go on. Get out there and save Huemanity.

Play Primary

## Castlemouse

• Currently 4.2/5
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Here at JayIsGames, we try to bring you the best new browser games every single day. We've been doing so since 2003, which is about a million years in internet time. Jig Interactive's Castlemouse came out in 2001, so we couldn't really review it when it was first released. We're making up for that now. Do a barrel roll and hop into a time warp, it's time for some chain reaction puzzle fun, 2001 style!

Looks like there's a mouse in the castle! It's okay, though, everybody who's ever watched a cartoon knows that all you have to do to get rid of mice is buy a cat! Put the cat next to the mouse and it'll go running in the opposite direction. The real problem comes when the cat refuses to get close enough to the mouse to get rid of it. Then you've got to add more and more animals, until eventually you have elephants chasing lions chasing bears, and it starts to look less like a castle and more like a zoo run by Rube Goldberg.

The puzzles get gradually more difficult as you advance, but they can be tweaked and restarted as often as you like. The timer is constantly running, however, so you'll want to figure out the solutions as quickly as possible. Fortunately, hints have been provided for when you get stuck (and believe me, you WILL get stuck), but using them adds time on to your total score, so you'll want to do so as infrequently as possible. You can also skip the hints entirely and view the solution, but doing so will disable your timer for the remainder of the game. And what fun would that be?

Analysis: Graphically, Castlemouse can't compete with the games that are being developed these days. The good news is, it won't even matter once you get started. Just think of it as retro graphics before they were trendy. The pictures are nothing fancy, but they don't really need to be. As long as you can tell the difference between a mouse and a bear, what else do you need? As a sidenote, if you CAN'T tell the difference between a mouse and a bear, you probably shouldn't go camping.

The real appeal of Castlemouse, and the reason that it's stayed around for so long, is in the gameplay. It's a simple premise that can be picked up quickly, but actually mastering the game is a whole different story. The puzzles start simple, but as you progress, more and more animals are added, and it'll take everything you've got to get that mouse into the hole. But don't burn your brain out too quickly, there are a total of 150 levels, with each one more difficult than the last. The ability to skip levels is a much-appreciated feature, so if you get stuck on one level, you can always move on and come back to it later. Old or not, Castlemouse is a fantastic example of what puzzle games should be. It's long, challenging, and fun enough to keep you coming back for another 10 years.

Play Castlemouse

Mac OS X users take note: Unfortunately, the game is so old that it uses code that breaks the latest Shockwave plug-in for Mac. However, we have been successful playing on a Mac using Safari running in Rosetta mode. Check our Support page for information on how to do that.

## Plants vs. Zombies (iPhone)

• Currently 4.7/5
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Think you finally kicked your Plants vs. Zombies habit? You are so wrong. Just released on the iTunes App Store: PopCap's crazy-awesome casual defense game Plants vs. Zombies. It's got all the cherry bombing, squash pounding, sunflower sprouting, zombie dispatching wildness of the original PC/Mac download, now in the palms of your hands. A very dangerous thing if, you know, you've got work to do.

Plants vs. Zombies for the iPhone plays just like it's larger cousin. Zombies of all types pour in from the right side of the screen. Using collected bits of sun as currency, you must buy and place various plants around the yard to stave off the groaning hordes. Pea shooters are your first mode of attack, but soon you get wheelbarrows full of interesting things to use in offensive, defensive, and strategic ways. The zombies get more creative, too, with a few wearing protective gear or doing really wacky things (like driving zamboni machines) to get past your defenses. And then there are night time levels, tracts of water to deal with, fog, and stages that take place on the roof!

The iPhone port manages to pack in all 50 levels from the original game and includes the unlockable quick play option, but a few things have been shuffled around. The seed icons, for starters, have been moved to the left side of the screen, along with a few other minor interface changes. Fingers tend to be a bit pudgier than a mouse cursor, after all. Notably missing are endless mode and the zen garden, which is a shame, as they added a lot of replay value and made Plants vs. Zombies shine a little brighter.

Be sure to read our Plants vs. Zombies Walkthrough and Strategy Guide

Even though it's lacking a few modes, Plants vs. Zombies has made a phenomenal transition to the mobile platform. The charming visuals, fluid animations, and quirky humor of the original game are perfectly intact, creating that same "OMG MUST PLAY MORE" feeling all over again.

For the full scoop on how awesome Plants vs. Zombies is, check out our full review of the downloadable PC/Mac game. We've even got a Plants vs. Zombies strategy guide/walkthrough to help you squeeze the most out of your Sun Shrooms and Jalapenos!

## Crazy Go Nuts 2

• Currently 3.4/5
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Squirrels are nothing if not resourceful creatures. They're clever enough to stow away acorns for winter, so why shouldn't they be clever enough to invent cannons for the sake of blasting themselves through row after row of things? And on top of that, they're safety-conscious enough to craft helmets to shield their fuzzy little skulls from the impact. Pretty progressive for rodents, don't you think? Help the crazy critters out in the latest squirrel-slinging arcade game from Miniclip: Crazy Go Nuts 2.

The premise is mundane enough: you're using a cannon to launch squirrels like bushy-tailed missiles into clusters of airborne acorns, hoping to accrue enough points to beat the level's target score and move on to the next. Just like I said, totally mundane. The mouse aims the cannon, and clicking the mouse fires the cannon. [R] is used for resetting the level, [P] pauses, and [S] is a wonderful key that resets your last shot. Doesn't sound too glorious, but when your squirrel gets stuck bouncing about for eternity in a little wooden box, you'll be glad that key is there.

Scoring isn't too advanced. The more acorns you hit with one rodent, the more points you rack up. Also, the longer your combo, the more stars you receive (which you can also collect from shooting star containers), which bolster the point value of every acorn shot. On top of that, there's multi-shot acorns, fiery acorns, and an inexplicably fun "There's only a few acorns left" mode where your cannon becomes a gatling gun of furry fury. Suffice it to say, the squirrels have their work cut out for them.

You'll quickly appreciate the aforementioned shot-reset key, as there will be many a shot where a squirrel gets hung up on an obstacle of some sort, and no more shots can be fired until the squirrel falls off the playing field. Also, some of the later levels seem to require a little bit of old-fashioned quadruped luck as opposed to complete skill, but given the nature of the squirrels' weight and well-timed ricochet shots, that could be debatable. It's really all about how long you can get your combos to run, and whether or not you can get to the power-ups early in the match. If you get stuck on a level too long (which can happen), you can switch between two seasons for level variety, which ought to keep you from going actually crazy. Otherwise, have fun and go nuts!

Play Crazy Go Nuts 2

## Balloon in a Wasteland

• Currently 4.2/5
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Why didn't The Wizard of Oz include a scene at the end where Dorothy's balloon crashed on the way back to Kansas and she had to utilise a variety of guns, turrets, upgrades and traps to fend off hordes of shadow creatures long enough to repair it and escape? The answer is either "because Victor Fleming is lame", or "because jmbt02 wasn't around with his sleigh full of shooting/defense games". Dorothy isn't the star of Balloon in a Wasteland, but the lack of ruby slippers won't stop your imagination from pretending she is. And we know you will.

Move with the [WASD] or [arrow] keys, use the mouse to aim and shoot, and [P] to pause the game. Enemies will approach from the right side of the screen in waves, and you'll have to mow them down as they come not only to survive, but to get cash to purchase upgrades. Between waves, merchants will arrive to allow you to buy traps, fortresses to retreat to when things get hairy, new weapons, and upgrades for everything. The goal is to survive long enough to repair your beloved balloon and escape in as few days as possible. Run over to it whenever you get a chance and tap the down [arrow] or [S] to start repairing it, but doing so leaves you unable to attack. Keep an eye on your health and your stamina, since if the latter gets low enough, your accuracy will begin to degrade. Buy a fort to sleep safely in to recover it.

Analysis: It's a moody, broody little game with its unsettling soundtrack and strange landscape with stranger inhabitants. However, with that acknowledgment comes the strong sensation of having seen most of it before. Previous titles from jmbt02 The Next Floor and Red Eye 1031 were either similar in concept, or nearly identical in their design. The dark aesthetic is striking, sure, but it's starting to feel a bit recycled, and despite the slightly more colourful backdrop this time around, I can't help but wish we'd see something new and exciting rather than variations on a theme. Besides, I'm sure that lone shooter's arm is tired by now.

Despite the sheer amount of enemies the game will deluge the screen with, Balloon in a Wasteland isn't actually all that hard. Once you can afford a fortress to retreat to, even without turrets the creeps won't bother you. If you wish, you can simply sleep through the waves, popping down between them to repair your balloon. It may take longer, and it's definitely cowardly, but it's an option, and once you realise it, the game loses a bit of its fast-paced menace and turns into a round of hide-and-seek.

If you're looking for some action to fill half an hour or so, Balloon in a Wasteland will deliver. Despite lacking a satisfying ending for all your sweat and bullets, the game packs a lot of action for those of you who are willing to stand your ground against the horde. Just remember to retreat if you need to. A heroic death may sound noble, but nobody cares if you die defending a balloon. Or aren't Boromir.

Play Balloon in a Wasteland

## Mobile Monday №55

Multiplayer games are a bit scant on the iTunes App Store. This week, we've got an excellent online-enabled title that serves as an example of how mobile devices can be used to bring people together for collective gaming experiences. Friendly game of Pictionary, anyone?

Trenches - Did you enjoy the browser game Warfare 1917? If so, Trenches will tickle your wartime strategy bone. Deploy troops and move them to the ditches so they can fend off oncoming baddies. Fight your way to the enemy base to win each level, but it's not as easy as it sounds, as your opponents are relentless!

Charadium - An online multiplayer game of Pictionary! Jump into a room and try to guess what image is being drawn on the top of the screen. The first person who guesses it gets the points. When it's your turn to draw, use your finger and a variety of paint colors to start sketching. Some of the players we've encountered are strikingly good artists, and there hasn't been a single griefer yet, making this game's community one of its strongest features.

Bird Strike - A surprisingly fun arcade game with a great visual style. Launch the bird from the wire, then tilt your iPhone to guide it through the sky. Avoid things like girders, which, obviously, impede your upward progress, and try to collect coins as you aim for rockets that give you a boost. Once you reach the top, it's time to come streaking down like a meteor, destroying all those pesky solid objects that were in your way before!

Choice of the Dragon - An iPhone version of the browser game reviewed earlier this week. Choice of the Dragon is a text/story-driven choose your own adventure game where you live the life of a dragon, moving from decision to decision and being as docile or cruel as you want. It emphasizes character and story interaction, not puzzles, allowing you to grow into the game's world like few titles allow you to do. The game lends itself very well to the mobile platform and is a natural fit for the iPhone. Android users can also grab the game from the Google Play Android Games!

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.

## Galcon Fusion

• Currently 4.3/5
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Galcon Fusion is the latest in the growing line of casual strategy games from Hassey Enterprises. Following Galcon Classic, the original desktop version of the series, and borrowing a ton of tricks from the iPhone incarnations Galcon and Galcon Labs, Fusion pits you against the rest of the galaxy as you fight for dominance. Featuring high-definition visuals, loads of interesting modes of play, and several fun bells and whistles, Galcon Fusion is a respectable successor in the Galcon line and a captivating casual Risk-like strategy game.

Your job is to take over the universe by spreading your ships from one planet to the next. Each planet has a population number on its face that slowly goes up over time. If you want to take over a world, you have to reduce that number to zero by sending wave after wave of your own ships. To attack, simply click on one of your planets (or drag to select multiple planets), roll the mouse wheel to select what percentage of the population you'll send out, then click the target. Your ships immediately go forth and smash into your foe's world, reducing its population by one for every one ship. Maniacal laugher shall ensue.

Not content to confine gameplay to "conquer 'em all", Galcon Fusion features a number of modes, some of which are quite interesting. Vacuum, for example, drops you in an enemy-free universe with a ticking timer, challenging you to occupy every world before the clock runs out. Assassin sets one of the players as "it" and the game is won by whoever destroys that player. Crash makes it so in-flight ships can collide, adding a whole new level of strategy to the game. To top it off, you'll find ten selectable levels of difficulty in Galcon Fusion, enough to give you as much challenge as you desire.

But here's the real reason you'll pick up Galcon Fusion: online multiplayer. Now you can take on your friends as well as complete strangers in chat-enabled matches right from the game's main menu. Not all modes are available in multiplayer, but it's great having flesh and blood opponents who can think and react to your strategies like only humans can do. Meaning, you know, betrayal and sneakery and all that fun stuff.

Analysis: Galcon Fusion is one of those games you'll play over and over again. It's as casual as a strategy game can get, reducing everything to a simple game of numbers. Despite its simplicity, you won't find a shortage of challenge or variety, just a nigh infinite amount of quick galaxy-conquering games to play.

Brevity could also be Galcon Fusion's main drawback, as the short, 90 second nature of each round lends itself better to a browser or mobile game. The program itself is lightweight, though, so it's not like you have to fire up dual video cards and overclock your processor to get things done. A quick round or two is never a hassle, and if you're a casual gamer, you don't want to sit in front of the game for hours on end anyway.

Galcon Fusion carries with it a delicious little secret: Retro mode. Are fancy visuals too much for your 1980s-accustomed eyes? Hit [F10] during a single player game to toggle the keyboard-controlled ASCII-only retro mode. Now you're playing a real "color computer video game".

Galcon Fusion keeps things casual and makes a surprisingly successful leap from the iPhone back to the desktop computer.

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It's Olympics time! The roar of the crowds, the grace of the athletes, everything you love about hidden-object gaming is there...okay, so that isn't an Olympic sport... yet! We're still waiting to hear about certification in 2020 (in our wildest dreams, that is). In the meantime, you can sate your need for competitive object hunting with Jolly Bear Games' newest addition to the Big City Adventure series, Big City Adventure: Vancouver. Find hidden objects in the city currently hosting the winter games and have a lot of fun doing it. And don't forget to write your local Olympic committee about that hidden object thing...

If you've never played any of the Big City Adventures before, the premise is quite simple. Grandma, Grandpa, Mom, Dad, Brother, and Sister are about to take a vacation to the city of Vancouver. Pick one of the family as your avatar and the game begins. You'll be treated to the first location, a popular tourist destination in the city, along with a postcard giving you a bit of trivia about the place. The location then opens along with a list of things to find. You might notice some of the items in the list are blue, that is because hidden within the scene is a...well, hidden scene. Find all of the objects, then play one of the seven rotating mini-games and you'll see your next destination on a city map. The cycle continues with trivia, hidden object scene, and mini-game until you've visited all 23 locations at least three times.

There is a tutorial to get you started, but if you've ever played an hidden-object game before it's not really necessary. A tutorial will show up each time you encounter a mini-game for the first time as well. Otherwise, it's smooth sailing (or skiing) through the wonderful metropolis of Vancouver. The Big City Adventure games are well known for their sneakily hidden objects, most in plain sight, just so cleverly laid out on the background scenery that some are wicked difficult to find. Fortunately, also hidden in the scenery are hint coins that can be used to find one or more objects, add time to the ever ticking countdown clock, or just add extra points to your overall total. The coins and the "hidden" object hunt scenes are highlighted by occasional sparkles in the scenery, so look closely.

Points are gained by rapid finding of the objects, as well as how much time you have left, and how many unused hint coins are in your inventory. At the end of each scene a helpful tally will show up, letting you know if you've beaten the best time or score for that area before you move on. The mini-games are also on a timer, and as you go along you can collect "skip" coins that allow you to skip a game that is taking too long or is too hard. Use these coins sparingly; you don't collect many during the game.

Analysis: The Big City Adventure series is wildly popular with the hidden-object purists, those who love object finding goodness without the overlays of story and movement that you get with the adventure hybrids. The formula has changed little from the first in the series, but why fix what isn't broken? Big City Adventure: Vancouver continues this tradition: still no story, just lots of searching and mini-game goodness. The trivia bits are fun too, for those who might like to visit the city someday or those who will never get around to it. Take it from someone who has been there before, the map and the trivia are spot on, highlighting great places to go if you ever make it to the jewel of British Columbia.

The graphics are bright and beautiful, and evocative of the locations in Vancouver proper. The mini-games include some old favorites from the previous Big City Adventure games as well as a few new additions, like a word search puzzle and a fun mastermind game played with Olympic venue tickets. Although there are a limited number of mini-games that cycle, they increase in difficulty each time you see one. For those who love the genre but don't want to rush, there is a relaxed untimed mode, which is also helpful for the very young or beginners to the field. With over 60 scenes and mini-game in-between, as well as randomly generated lists of objects to find, there's hours and hours of enjoyment and replayablity in this bright, cheerful package.

So if you're enjoying watching the Winter Olympics and thinking, "Hey, that's a place I'd like to visit," you can spend a ton of money to go to Vancouver or you can sit back and enjoy a virtual tour of the city via a Big City Adventure. Just remember, with your help, we can make hidden object finding an Olympic sport! Some day. Maybe. Oh, go find some hidden objects.

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

## Geisha: The Secret Garden

Match-3 games are often adrenaline-fueled experiences with frantic, jittery gameplay. But can it also be meditative when you're rushing against a timer? Casual Box Studio has set out to prove it can, and produced a lovely little gem in Geisha: The Secret Garden, the match-3 version of a Zen quest.

The game begins with the lovely Natsumi, your guide through the seasons. She will explain the basic gameplay and then you're off through a map with each section a different season, starting in summer and working your way towards spring. This is not, however, your classic match-3. To begin with, you are matching mahjong tiles. You can also only move a tile in a horizontal direction. To compensate for this, you can move a tile as far to the left or right as you want, and you don't have to make a match every time you move a tile. This gives you room to shuffle things around on several rows to make horizontal or vertical matches. Unlike other match-3 games more tiles do not fall down from above. In fact, you are working with a moving stack of tiles moving upwards! You not only need to make the matches to correspond to that level's requirements, but you need to keep the stacks of tiles from slamming into the ceiling, which will cause you to fail the round even if there is more time on the clock.

Fortunately, in each round you are earning both coins and stars. The coins you will use later in the second part of the game, garden building, but the stars are helpful because accumulate enough of them and you can use them to buy dragons. Lucky dragons which can extend your playing time, help you accumulate more money, or keep your tiles from crashing into the ceiling. You also accumulate power ups along the way; ones that can blow away a row or column, or others which can break one tile, shower meteors on several tiles, cause a tsunami that will take out an entire row, or an earthquake which will remove all of one type of tile from the board. Making this match-3 game even more unique are the obstacles that jump into your path, from bees which once they alight keep you from moving particular tiles, to tiles that are covered with the debris of the season. Watch out for frozen tiles in the winter! In most match-3 games, making a match with a frozen tile will break the ice, but in Geisha: The Secret Garden the opposite happens; making a match with a frozen tile will freeze the entire match, blocking off even more of a row or column. The only way to get rid of the frozen tiles is to force them to fall, which will break the ice that surrounds them.

The loveliest aspect of the game, however, is the garden building in-between rounds. You begin with a choice of two backgrounds, each lovely in their own way. With the coins you gain from the match-3 rounds you can buy decorations for your garden from a menu of 16 different items; flowers, bushes, trees, and decorative items such as stones, lanterns, bridges, etc. Each item has a beginning stage, an intermediate stage, and an advanced stage that can be upgraded with even more money. The bridge, for instance, can be simple stepping stones, a low wooden bridge, or a high, ornamental concrete bridge, whichever you choose. The plants range from young and simple to old and elaborate as well. With the different stages this leaves the player with 48 different choices of decoration to create your own Zen space. Stick with a few simple items or go hog wild with everything, it is up to you.

Analysis: Companies are constantly trying to make this well-known genre different or interesting, and Casual Box Studio has definitely succeeded with Geisha: The Secret Garden. The strange movement dynamic and even stranger obstacles move the game into more of a hybrid match-3/mahjong game than a straight match-3. Strategy is key, forcing the player to really slow down and contemplate before making a move. Fortunately, if you can't think that fast on your feet there is a more relaxed, untimed mode to play instead.

The artwork is stunning, reminiscent of classic ukiyo-e woodblock prints of the mid 19th century. Quiet, Asian-influenced music and cool incidental sounds (like the buzzing of the annoying bees) rounds out a lovely experience. This is something you rarely see; casual gameplay as meditation, but this French company pulls it off well.

Is there a downside? Well, it can take a while for players of classic match-3 to get used to the new strategies involved, but the learning curve is gradual so most should be able to assimilate the new style quickly. With 80 regular and 16 bonus rounds, there's a lot of playing time to be had. Fortunately, each round ups the difficulty with different configurations, multiple difficulties, and increasing requirements to end the round, keeping the gameplay from becoming stale or repetitive. And once you finish all 96 rounds and have your garden just the way you want it? There's a tool which will take a snapshot and put it in your image folder, allowing the player to use it as lovely desktop wallpaper. Want to make a completely different garden? Just start all over again with a different screen name.

If you love match-3 games and are looking for a new challenge, then Geisha: The Secret Garden is definitely for you. With an entirely new strategy to learn and innovative obstacles to overcome, the game manages to make the genre feel entirely new and interesting. With its timed and untimed modes we're talking casual gameplay that everyone can enjoy. Close your eyes, take a deep breath, listen to the sound of one hand clapping, and start meditating now.

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The recently-completed TIGSource Assemblee Competition was all about artists and programmers working together as one big happy family-like unit thing. The two-part competition began with artists/musicians creating assets, then programmers came along, scooped up the goodies and used them to make games. The results, as you can see, are extraordinary, with over 70 games submitted in the end. Below are a few highlights of the competition.

Bitworld (Mac/Windows, 12.7MB, free) - A dungeon crawler of a slightly different sort, Bitworld utilizes a dynamic, pseudo-isometric point of view and a camera angle you can flip with the tap of a key. The dwarves' fortress has been overrun with monsters, and as a knight, wizard or archer, it's your job to clear it out. A lot of combat, a lot of loot, and a lot of really cool looking visuals. No wonder Bitworld collected the most votes in the competition!

Dungeons of Fayte (Windows, 20.7MB, free) - Aah, action/RPGs, how we do love thee. From games like Gauntlet to Secret of Mana, it's fun mixing cerebral RPG elements with sword swinging enemy killing. Dungeons of Fayte follows the familiar formula and goes a step further with four player co-op play, something far too few games these days bother with. Add to that 12 classes, 40 character endings, and loads of events to experience and you've got yourself a surprisingly full game to experience. Bring your friends!

Mr. Kitty's Quest (Windows, 2.2MB, free) - Exploration? Check. Action/adventure-ing? Check. Shooter-like elements? Check. Kitty? CHECK! It's time to go to the store and pick up a gallon of milk so you can prove cats are useful, but it looks like the outside world is an unfriendly place to be. Arm yourself with shooting weapons and clear the path while you work your way to the store. Did I mention how awesome it is to play a kitty with a gun?

BirdyWorld (Windows, 1.3MB, free) - A collaborative Zelda-like adventure game. Each world in the game starts out blank, but players (including yourself) can populate the screens as they pass through. Apart from the customization aspects, BirdyWorld is a fairly standard top-down adventure game with weapons to buy, enemies to dispatch, and coins to collect.

Note: All games have been confirmed to run under Windows Vista and are virus-free. Mac users should try Boot Camp, Parallels, or CrossOver Games to play Windows titles, Linux users can use Wine. If you know of a great game we should feature, use the Submit link above to send it in!

## Nightfall Mysteries: Curse of the Opera

• Currently 4.3/5
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Ah, the opera. The drama! The romance! The... cadavers? As the lowly stagehand of a popular opera group, you weren't expecting anything out of the ordinary when you're all summoned to a tiny, remote town to perform. At least, until the performers start coming down with an unfortunate case of dead. Is it a simple case of a madman on the loose in the sleepy little town? Or is there something much more sinister lurking behind the scenes? Nightfall Mysteries: Curse of the Opera is a refreshingly challenging hidden-object title where finding out whodunnit isn't as cut-and-dry as you might think.

If you can point and click a mouse (or a touchpad) you can play Curse of the Opera. Click on people or objects of interest to interact with them, and keep your eyes peeled for sparkling areas that mean you need to take a closer look. As you progress, you'll start picking up items you'll need to use to progress through the story. Make sure you refer to your journal often whenever you find yourself stuck. You could find clues lurking in the pages that can make a seemingly impossible puzzle merely challenging.

The difficulty of finding items scattered throughout the hidden object scenes ranges from simple, to cunning, to "OH COME ON". Fortunately, you have a very forgiving hint button; it takes maybe thirty seconds to recharge, and you can use it as much as you like. The puzzles are made up of a wide variety of mechanics, ranging from logic to math to an elaborate Rube Goldberg contraption. Clues to solving them are scattered throughout the large map, and you'll have to pay attention to all the details. The "skip" button takes a long time compared to your hints to become available, and trust me when I say you'll be sorely tempted to make use of it at least once. Not that I ever did. Stop looking at me like that.

Analysis: While it's currently seated in position three of one of my top five hidden object games of all time, my first impression of Curse of the Opera was that it was only mediocre. Aside from some top-notch visual presentation, the game didn't do much to endear itself to me in the first half hour or so of gameplay, mainly because it spends so much time early on explicitly telling you what to do and leading you around by the nose to make sure it gets done. It does nothing whatsoever to hint at the absolutely head-crushing puzzles that are waiting around the corner to pants you in front of your friends and steal your lunch money. See, Curse of the Opera actually has a difficulty curve; puzzles and hidden objects become bigger and more complex the farther on you go. While this makes for a challenging experience, it unfortunately means that it gives the false impression that the game is painfully easy, and I can hardly blame people who dismiss it for that mistake in design without giving it a chance to shine.

The game's other sticking point is its storytelling. The writing isn't bad. Most of the time. ("A gloom of darkness"? Really?) The story that unfolds here is actually fairly complex, and it's enlivened by a pleasantly dark sense of humour and even a shocking moment or two. The opera troupe you're stuck with is made up of big personalities and bigger egos, and everyone seems to have a motive. It's just unfortunate that the exposition is mostly left to a long cutscene at the end of the game, and that the game does so much backtracking to familiar locations. Sure, they're all gorgeous and strange, but after a certain point it starts to feel like busywork.

Nightfall Mysteries: Curse of the Opera has all the ingredients for an absolutely stellar hidden-object game despite its initial awkwardness, and while it falls shy of true superstardom, it's still a high-quality title. Your mileage may vary, but I spent somewhere between four and five hours on this one, mainly because I'm a big, bad, awesome game reviewer and I refused to skip any of the puzzles. (At least, as far as you know.) While it make take a while to really grab hold of you, Curse of the Opera is a fine, if flawed, example of the genre, and I expect even greater things in the future from the development team behind it.

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Mac OS X:

Love may be in the air on Sunday, but right now it's Friday, and the only thing in the air around here is a piping hot fresh batch of casual gameplay just for you, my favourite reader. Yes, you! After all the times we've shared, it's the least I can do. Remember the time when we played that physics puzzle together? Oh, what fun! And then when we point-and-clicked that stuff that one time in that one place? So awesome. And then when we pinky-swore that we would always be there for each other, and you would do anything for me, even if it involved constructing an elaborate alibi for me if I showed up with a shovel in the middle of the night, even though that part of my life is totally over with now? Speaking of, if anybody calls, I was with you last night. No, no, don't worry about it; just play some puzzles and platformers.

• Skywire VIP - Do you enjoy pop culture, noble reader? How about squinting at tiny pixel representations thereof? Nitrome's latest offering is a bit different than their typical fare, requiring you to identify the little minimalist pictures of people or characters from games and other media. The inclusion of several obscure sources, as well as some tricky naming conventions, make this one harder than it has to be. Still, it's an interesting concept and probably best played with a buddy so you can mine each other's nerd knowledge. Friendship is a beautiful thing.
• Beulah and the Hundred Birds - This Knytt-like itty-bitty exploration title about a girl out to gather a flock of 100 birds is sweet and simple. Unfortunately, the charm is broken up by long, uninteresting underground sequences that simply involve jumping from platform to platform, but flying through the air with your numerous birds in tow is about as cute as it gets. This game was also made for the Experimental Gameplay Project's 100 Things competition.
• Finding Fairytales: Castle Party - More mini-game than full experience, this game sees you hunting down certain characters within a time limit. It's a simple concept, but the sheer amount of space and activity on the screen can be a bit overwhelming. If most children's programming these days makes you want to set the television on fire and then throw it out a window, Castle Party's aggressively cute and mobile presentation might not be for you. If, on the other hand, you think the bouncy, hamster-store-on-pixie-stix level of activity is peachy keen, then feel free to hone your spotting skills.
• Romance Maker - Ah, young love. Why, I remember when my first boyfriend threw an egg into a river and built a magic TV out of thin air. It was then that I knew I had to get far, far away from that weirdo. Adorable but baffling, this Grow-styled game has you placing objects on the screen to tell a very pink little story. The trial-and-error twins make an appearance here, but it's all so cute I can forgive it.
• Invisible Runner - I tried to submit an invisible review once, but it just got me "The Look" from Jay, so instead I'll put an invisible runner in this link dump. Collect orbs to keep yourself visible and navigate the terrain. It's an interesting concept, but clunky controls make this one feel stiffer than a platformer of its ilk should. To play this one in real life, arrange your house like an obstacle course at night and have a friend flick the lights on and off at odd intervals as you run around. Bring some shin guards.
• I Hate This Game - A bonus submission by reader Chiktionary, so direct your resentment accordingly after you've spent a while on this puzzler. How difficult is it to open a door? That simple question, and the simple presentation, will mock you relentlessly as you try every trick in the book to reach the final door. What lies beyond? Perhaps a pasture full of robot unicorns that never need cleaning? An everlasting Reese's Peanut Butter Cup? Well, gosh, when a game's got the word "hate" right there in the title, it must be a fulfilling experience. ... right?

## Diver 2

• Currently 3.9/5
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Diver 2 is a physics-based game of cliff diving created by Jeff Weber of Farseer Games. Its simple premise sticks you on top of a cliff and says "ok, now jump gracefully into the water and land between the markers". Riiiiight. Doing that perfectly (and on the first try) is about as easy as teaching a cat to sing a canzone from Rigoletto. With a little practice, though, you'll get it right. The dive, not the singing cat bit.

Diver 2 has a fairly steep learning curve for a casual browser game, but the awesome feats you can perform after a few minutes make it worth your time. To start each jump, you need to position the mouse to select your jumper's stance. The location of the cursor relative to your character determines how he's standing, allowing you to start your leap at just the right angle. To take the plunge, quickly swipe your mouse in a reverse "C" shape. This will cause you to jump off your platform and start a backflip, sending you hurtling to the ocean (and rocks) below.

While airborne, you can control your rotational speed by moving the mouse either up or down, the former slowing your turns while the latter increasing them. Time it right so you slip into the sea head- or face-first (belly flops are bad). Assuming you made it between the buoys, you'll get a grand score and can consider that level mastered.

There are 30 stages in all, each with new obstacles to tend with, such as windmills and slippery slopes to slide across. Things never get too out of hand, though, as the game stays focused on what it does best without burdening itself with pointless gimmicks.

Analysis: Diver 2 isn't a game that will hook you right away. The control scheme is an awkward obstacle standing between you and your enjoyment of cliffside leaps. Once you spend four or five minutes with the game, making a series of laughably unsuccessful dives and scrutinizing the tutorial and tips a few times over, you'll realize the controls are also one of the game's strongest features. They make Diver 2 simultaneously realistic and enjoyable, taking away some direct character manipulation in favor of satisfying feats of acrobatics achieved after careful manipulation of physics. It's at this point you realize the mouse-only controls are remarkably subtle. No need to wave the cursor all over the screen in the hopes of getting things done, just stay calm and keep an eye on your diver.

One of the more advanced feats you'll need to master for later stages is secondary jumps. Watch where your character's feet are in relation to nearby platforms. If you can time it right, you can push off of rocks in mid-descent, the only real way to gain horizontal ground in the game.

Starting and re-starting your jumps is elegantly executed. If a leap doesn't go the way you want, just click the mouse and you'll materialize back at the top of the cliff. You aren't punished for bad leaps, and you aren't constricted to one level until you get the perfect score. It's a great set-up that encourages experimentation without introducing frustration.

If you've got the patience to let the control scheme sink in, Diver 2 offers up a unique physics experience that looks great and plays like a dream.

Play Diver 2

Note: Diver 2 was created using Silverlight, Microsoft's Flash-like web application framework. Silverlight works with Mac, Windows and Linux operating systems, but you might have to install the plugin if you haven't already.

## Babylon Sticks: To HOG Or Not To HOG

• Currently 3.9/5
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A custom casual gameplay comic created exclusively for JIG by Babylon Sticks creator, James Francis.

## Abduction!

• Currently 3.8/5
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They're feeling the pinch all across the galaxy as intergalactic corporations are forced to tighten their belts around their vast, putrescent midsections to make ends meet. But don't feel sorry for them just yet, since the solution is the tasty treat known as Man-in-a-Can. In Abduction!, the goal is to make your bloated overlords cold, hard cash by journeying to Earth and picking up a few (un)willing volunteers to be the supply for your demand. It's the perfect game for those of you who hate overalls and straw hats, and believe anyone who wears them should be punished.

There are two control schemes available to select from the main screen: plain ol' keyboard, or keyboard and mouse. While the keyboard on its own feels awkward, it is an option for those of you who can't or won't buy a mouse. I used the recommended control set-up of [WASD] keys to move the ship, and the mouse to aim and fire the tractor beam. Holding down the left mouse button draws whatever you're holding in, and releasing it lets whatever you're carrying drop. Useful, since only cows and humans (or human parts) can be taken aboard. Sucking a fleshy creature aboard your ship causes horrible yet delicious things to happen to them as they're processed into Man-in-a-Can.

Initially, you can only pick up a certain amount of weight at a time, but as you earn cash, you'll be able to upgrade your saucer between stages to not only be faster and stronger, but to absorb more damage. Keep an eye on the green bar at the top of the screen to make sure your ship isn't in danger of being destroyed. Survive 'til the end of the stage and you'll be paid based on how many things you abducted, and on your score multiplier, which you can increase not only by picking up creatures, but by causing damage to them by dropping various heavy objects on them as well. I do so love a game that encourages splatter, don't you?

Analysis: Of course, it's not all fun and giblets. (Disappointingly few things are.) The requirements for unlocking new stages are a bit ridiculous, not because they're difficult, but because they're so silly and unimportant. Why should I have to kill a certain amount of people with a rock before I can proceed? I wasn't aware bouldercide was a perquisite for advancement in this intergalactic company. And when they start sending you back to previous levels it all starts to feel a little... grindey. And not the good sort involving spinning sawblades, either.

The action ramps up considerably after the first stage or so, with those tasty terrestrials showing up with more firepower you'll need to dodge. Soon, you'll be . The stages could use some variation in scenery, but all told Abduction! looks and plays great, with weird, frantic gameplay and a dark sense of humour. The stage unlock requirements may cause it to wear out its welcome early on for some gamers, but those of you with twitchy tentacles looking for a simple, fast game to fill an hour or two will be in good company. Now get out there and stock up your horrifying alien larder. Those humans aren't gonna grind themselves, you know.

Play Abduction!

## Wake the Royalty

• Currently 4.5/5
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The following is a reader submitted review by V2Blast:

Everyone is sleeping in the kingdom. Wake up the royal family! Wake the Royalty is Eugene Karataev's sequel to Wake Up the Box, with a pleasant, hypnotic tune by ImperfectDisciple accompanying it. 25 levels in all, this iteration doesn't really bring anything new to the table, but it's still a fun little diversion. The "boxes" you're waking up this time are actually various shapes (circles, triangles, squares, etc.) with legs and crowns — and perhaps a bit of hair — but the general idea is still the same: jar them enough (or hit them, or launch them off the screen) to wake them up. The backgrounds are still pretty bare (and the same from level to level), but the graphical quality seems to have improved a little bit.

Play all the "Wake Up!" games:

If you're looking for a good phuzzle to waste a bit of time, look no further. (Unless you've already beaten it, in which case, go right ahead.)

Play Wake the Royalty

## One Button Bob

• Currently 4.4/5
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Do you want to play a game, but every button on your keyboard has deserted you? As long as you have your trusty mouse by your side, you can still get your platforming on with One Button Bob, created by the maker of the ClickPlay! series, NinjaDoodle. Little Bob is going into a dangerous castle/cave/fortress/never-ending tunnel... thing. Whatever, it's gotta have treasure at the end of its dank corridor, and that's the important thing, right?

Control is with the left mouse button, and the left mouse button only. Give your keyboard the cold shoulder. Let it wonder what it's done to make you so upset. Make it remember the good times of that arrow key controlled RPG. Then hopefully it'll treat you nicer when you play your next frantic button-masher.

One Button Bob is light on instructions; reading the title is more or less instruction enough. Although you only ever use the mouse button, you will have to use it in different ways, sometimes with careful precision and timing, sometimes frantically mashing, sometimes holding. The only way you'll know what to do is by trying.

Oh, and you're going to die. A lot. Poor Bob is a one hit point wonder, and so fussy that even landing slightly off a platform causes him to burst into particles. Sheesh, Bob, suck it up a little. Fortunately, dying just makes you restart at the beginning of the screen, so if you persevere, you will almost certainly make it to the end.

If making it to the end of the game isn't enough, the more hardcore among us can try to beat the game using as few clicks as possible. You're given a score at the end of the game, and if you're unhappy with that, you can easily head back and give it another try. It's a short game with a minimalist presentation, but it delivers entertainment in droves.

Play One Button Bob

## Cover Orange 2

• Currently 4.5/5
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Rain engenders many cliches in the English language. April showers bring May flowers. Rain, rain, go away, come again some other day. In the case of Cover Orange 2, the most apt might be: And it's a hard rain's a-gonna fall. A cute physics puzzle designed by Johnny-K, Cover Orange 2 is the story of oranges (and apples) dealing with that hard, hard rain. And it's gonna fall, oh yes it is. And that rain is lethal!

You may remember Cover Orange from our review back in October. It was the simple story of intrepid but fragile citrus fruit that needed protection from hard, spiky rain. It was up to you to construct some sort of shelter for the poor oranges from available materials — crates, barrels, and wheels — that would stand up to the evil rain when it came. If the structure didn't work, the intrepid fruit would die pretty rapidly. Cover Orange 2 is built on the same premise, with more levels, more difficulty, and the addition of apples to the mix.

As the game begins you see your orange, apple, or several of both sitting in the scenery. In the upper left of the scene you will see "ghosted" what materials you have to work with. Do you build around the fruit, or do you first move them to a more advantageous location that can be more easily protected? That is the challenge. When the last of the materials have dropped and everything stops moving, that evil, destructive cloud will appear, raining on everyone's parade, so to speak. If you built correctly, your grateful fruit will cheer and thank you. If you don't, well, try, try again.

Analysis: The original Cover Orange was a cute and fun little snack. If there were any complaints at all it was (1) the game was a little too easy, and (2) it just cried out for a level editor. Well, Johnny-K heard the call and has made it bigger, badder, and yes, there's a level editor!

The visuals are pretty much the same this time around. Cute, cartoony, and easy on the eyes. There's an abundance of adorable sound effects (even the sounds of dying fruit is somehow cute) and a bouncy, happy tune to help you along in your quest to protect the oranges (and apples). Fortunately, there is also a mute button if the sound effects or music get to be too much. Enjoy watching the animated fruits clutch their brows in terror or pray fearfully as the deadly rain begins to fall.

Cover Orange 2 is longer (25 levels, as opposed to 20 in the original), trickier (some levels require very precise placement and timing), and then there's the level editor. Players who've managed to get all the way through can then try to create a level (or levels) of their own, limited only by their imaginations and, of course, the laws of physics. There's even a contest going on right now for the best user created levels. It's nice amid the glut of casual gameplay to be found out there that a designer listens to the gamers and uses that advice to create something even better than the first, even when the first game was pretty cool to begin with.

The game itself is pretty much still a snack, a nice "break time" diversion that doesn't last all that long. Beware, though, the Level Editor. That may pull you in for some major time suckage as you try to create more elaborate scenarios to put the poor fruit through. Remember, in this case, when it comes to the physics of movement, you really can compare apples to oranges. What are you waiting for? Get rescuing! And I wonder, Still I wonder, Who'll stop the rain.

Play Cover Orange 2

## Island Escape: Funky Parrot Redemption

• Currently 3.6/5
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If there's one thing you can say about escapes it is this: they are usually exercises in pure logic. How do you use this? How do you combine that? It's all a great exercise for the brain, but don't you think that sometimes you'd just like to jettison the logic for once? To play something that is totally and irredeemably silly and illogical? Welcome to the madness that is Island Escape: Funky Parrot Redemption! Created by RexGAMEZ, this is an exercise in pure escaping silliness.

To begin with, you are stranded on a very tiny deserted island, with only a radio and a pipe smoking parrot for company. What's a castaway to do? Well, try everything, and that means everything. There are not a lot of logical solutions to be had here, so let your imagination roam free. Pick things up, play around, and if you can manage it enjoy the funky, funky tunes from the radio.

There's no navigation per se, as the entire game takes place on one screen. Click on things to either examine them or put them in your inventory. Fortunately there's a changing cursor to highlight the hotspots. Combine objects and see what happens. And frankly, don't think that anything is too silly to contemplate doing, as some of the solutions are... well, let's say creative, shall we?

Analysis: Okay, so this is not the average escape game. Once in a while it's nice to let go and just have some fun, not a lot of logic or thinking allowed. Island Escape: Funky Parrot Redemption is that escape, wrapped up in a multi-colored bow. And hey, how many escapes have you ever played that prominently feature an outhouse?

The graphics are vivid, flat, cartoony, and very pretty to look at. Appropriate sound effects and interesting music choices add to the Caribbean feel of this lovely island getaway. There's pretty much only one way to escape, so you're not looking at a lot of replay value, unless you just want to experience the silliness one more time.

We're not talking rocket science here, folks. A kicking intro, a handful of goofy puzzles, one of the coolest escapes ever, and you're done. Sometimes, though, it's nice to take a break from cold logic. Strip down to shorts, put on a funky hat, grab a tasty beverage of your choice, and enjoy the island madness. And the inflatable pig.

Play Island Escape: Funky Parrot Redemption

## Choice of the Dragon

• Currently 4.8/5
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Aah, the life of a dragon. Fighting knights. Hoarding treasures. Flying around scaring/eating things. Kidnapping princesses— oh, wait, is that considered sexist? Well, I'll have you know, I alternate between capturing princes and princesses, you just stumbled across me while I had the latter. But you know what? You can do what you want. Seriously, you can. Choice of the Dragon is a choose your own adventure browser game where you live the life of a dragon, moving from decision to decision and being as docile or cruel as you want.

Choice of the Dragon is almost entirely text, meaning you'll have to do some reading to extract maximum joy out of the experience. The writing style is crisp, though, and peppered with enough sarcastic humor to make it consistently interesting. In addition to choosing your path in dragon life, you also decide what your dragon looks like, its gender, color, and a number of other attributes that are all woven right into the story. It's impressive how much of the content changes based on your decisions, though due to the forward-moving nature of the game, you have to restart in order to see that in action.

Each screen presents you with a brief scenario and a number of choices. Goblins outside your cave squabbling? You could put a stop to that. They are, after all, your minions, and you didn't give them permission to kill each other. On the other hand, they should fight for your amusement, shouldn't they? Bring refreshments! On the other other hand, goblins are beneath your mighty dragon self. So, like, whatever...

There's more here than just reading a story, too. Choice of the Dragon tracks character stats such as brutality, finesse, disdain and honor along with health, wealth, and infamy, all of which are affected by the choices you make on each screen. Check up on your dragon status by clicking the button just above the story part of the screen.

Analysis: So, what's the point of the game? To be a dragon, of course. To fly about and sculpt your personality and your world as you see fit. You're also (initially) looking for a place to start your treasure pile, and mini-objectives come and go as the storylines progress. Choice of the Dragon gives you a surprisingly long leash in this, all with a well-written narrative that's sprinkled with just the right amount of humor. It's not about puzzles, it's about meaningful interactions with the narrative.

Games of this nature encourage exploration. Not necessarily of the "walk every road, dive into every lake" type, but of the story, the characters, and of how your decisions impact the rest of the game. You're encouraged to do as you please, but one thing the game is missing is some sort of checkpoint system allowing you to go back and retry certain parts of the game. It's a fine design choice to make your decisions be a permanent part of the game, as that gives things a sense of permanence and forces you to think about your choices before clicking. There were a few times I found myself morbidly curious as to what some other options would have revealed, though, and I wished there was a way to just peek around the corner before moving onward.

Those of you with an iPhone/iPod Touch or an Android phone will be pleased to learn that Choice of the Dragon is available on both the iTunes App Store and the Google Play Android Games!

If you're in the mood for a little reading and want a game that's more involved than smacking mouse buttons at the right time, Choice of the Dragon is definitely for you. It's well-written, engaging, and full of wonderful moments to explore and experience.

Play Choice of the Dragon

## WereBox

• Currently 4.2/5
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It was a city like any other; grimy, crowded, teeming with life. A city of balls, each going about their daily business as only a ball can. But evil lurked in the shadows, the evil of... red! What are ordinary balls to do when red stalks the city? They call upon a special type of ball. A ball that, under the right circumstances, can become something other than itself. A ball that can transform into something that can take on the red menace and make life safe for everyone else. These special balls can transform into boxes you see, and when evil strikes they launch to the rescue. There are a million stories in the naked city, and this is the story of...WereBox!

Okay, so the inner Raymond Chandler sucks. WereBox is a cute little physics puzzle designed by Vogd that is based on a simple premise: these particular balls and boxes can transform back and forth from one form to the other. All the heroic werebox (or wereboxes, depending on the level) must do is rid the area of the evil red balls (and/or squares) by transforming back and forth and pushing the red menace over the edge. Simple in theory. In execution? Not so much.

The player begins with one or more balls or boxes perched on ledges. Changing a ball or box is simple; just click on it to change the form. It is up to you, the gamer, to determine which action will help rid the ledges of the red menace using physics and gravity. There's only one catch: all the other balls and boxes must remain safe. That's right, no suicide missions allowed. As the levels progress there will be more than one good guy and more than one bad guy, so a little forethought and planning is required to rid the sky of all the red balls and boxes without losing any of the others. Timing can be critical, especially in the upper levels, so think before you click.

Analysis: WereBox is a cute yet tough little phuzzle. The graphics are flat, bright, and familiarly cartoon-like. Dramatic music and cute sound effects round out the enjoyable casual gameplay. There are some downsides, though. In some of the higher levels the timing is both extremely tricky and some of the solutions are so complex that the player can end up trying something a dozen times or more before getting it just right. And at 20 levels, the game is a little on the short side.

Gameplay is reminiscent of Red Remover in the simple dynamic of getting rid of anything red while saving everything else with one critical difference: there is no neutral ground in the world of WereBox. There is only good and evil, and none of the good can be sacrificed to remove the evil (aka red). Clicking on a ball will change it into a box, and vice versa. You may have to effect this change more than once to achieve the desired goal of getting rid of the evil reds. In fact, you can also transform the reds back and forth as well, or, at least, some of them. Some of the reds are so evil they resist transformation, making them even trickier to remove.

WereBox is a fun little challenge that will brighten your day. Lurking in the darkness, transforming to save the day, be the hero and vanquish the wicked reds so that life in the city can return to normal. Well, normal for balls anyway.

Play WereBox

## Record Tripping

• Currently 4.5/5
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The Bell Brothers, who brought us Echo Genesis a few years ago, have a nifty little experimental game where you use the scroll wheel on your mouse to complete various tasks. Record Tripping is short, pretty, and a clever demonstration of a new sort of mechanic.

Yes, the game is unplayable without some means of tactile scrolling, but I did find that you can play it with a touchpad that allows for two-finger scrolling, a feature on many laptop computers. More people have the tech to play this game than who might realize it at first. The gameplay analogy, as shown in the practice level, is of a spinning record, which you can move forward by scrolling up and move back or rewind by scrolling down. Clicking and holding the mouse button slows motion down, like playing a record at the wrong speed. Despite the practice level and the game's title, nothing of the actual game involves spinning records. Instead, you use this record-spinning vocabulary to move barrels, windmills, and assembly lines; open safes, and even control the flow of time itself.

The levels are grouped into chapters, with each chapter featuring a different mini-game-like task. These mini-games are very short, and the whole game doesn't take very long to finish, so the project feels more like a proof-of-concept than a full-length game. As it happens, though, it's a very attractively presented proof-of-concept. The art direction and animation are superb, with cute little animals cavorting subtly about over colorful photo-realistic backdrops. The sound and music are great too, featuring pleasant, thematic music loops, some of which you may recognize; and a nice storybook reading of Alice in Wonderland, which reacts as an LP recording would to your mouse-scrolling, record-tripping machinations. The whole package is a cool little showcase of a neat idea with lovely trappings, well worth the short time it takes to complete.

Play Record Tripping

Thanks to Duane, Alex and Chiktionary for sending this one in!

## Robot Unicorn Attack

• Currently 4.7/5
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Oh boy.

Oh boy oh boy oh boy.

Have I got a treat for you, faceless yet beloved reader. It's Robot Unicorn Attack from Adult Swim, the game where you race a magical robotic unicorn across a purple landscape and smash stars before they can smash you.

The game does all the running for you. All your hooves have to do is tap [Z] to jump, tap it again to double-jump, and tap [X] to perform a dash attack that will break through stars. While in mid-air, you can actually hold [Z] after you've jumped to glide majestically for a bit. Avoid running into obstacles, and falling into the fathomless pit that is the magical robot unicorn realm, and collect floating... fairy... things for points. You've got three lives, or "wishes" in this case, and at the end your score is tallied up. You can then use said score to brag to all your friends about how good you are at racing pretty unicorns while remaining blissfully ignorant of their glazed expressions. That's... pretty much it. There's no real pay-off for your glorious stampede other than increasingly bigger numbers and the knowledge that you've just spent minutes you'll never get back listening to Erasure. Ridiculous? Absolutely. But since when did you need to take yourself seriously to have fun?

Alright, so it's essentially Canabalt with a robot unicorn, and sometimes a robot dolphin. But while it's just as addictive as Canabalt, it's not quite as polished. There are far too many leaps of faith the further you get into the game, and it's also desperately in need of some variation in the scenery department. I don't know about you, but I've always envisioned the realm of the robot unicorns to look a bit more magical than that. Or at least not quite so empty and boring.

It's a bright, colourful, cotton-candy puff of a game, and while it's hardly the most substantial offering out there, it's easily one of the most unique. Forget that it's a game so frilly and sparkly even a six-year-old girl might raise an eyebrow at it. Forget that I'm going to be making fun of you for singing along. Instead, just let go, feel the wind in your glorious mane... and believe.

Play Robot Unicorn Attack

## Mobile Monday №54

One secret fact about iPhone games is that they can make you do weird things. Tilting the device to steer a car, for example, seems innocent enough, but when you're operating a flying taxi cab or flinging enemies up into the virtual sky, it's easy to get carried away. But you know what? Who cares if you look like a weirdo. You're having fun, and that guy making fun of you is not.

Castle Frenzy - An arcade defense game along the lines of Defend Your Castle. Wave after wave of goblins, trolls, warlocks, boars and other baddies come streaming in from the right. Using your finger, flick them into the air or smash them against the ground to send each foe packing. Upgrades include a pet hydra that eats enemies, a griffin statue that can squash entire groups of baddies, and several spells that use the touch interface quite well. A simple but extraordinarily well-made defense game you'll have a hard time putting down.

Trundle - A platform puzzle game that bears a striking resemblance to an upcoming project by Nifflas. Move through each screen by tilting the iPhone to roll the little character back and forth. Move objects by bumping into them, and arrange things by building speed and crashing into them to get them in the right place. Some of the puzzles are trickier than they should be and require more luck than skill, but on the whole, the game is a superb blend of platforming and puzzle genres.

Plushed - A moderately open-ended platform game that's both charming and gorgeous. You play a rabbit wandering through a fairy tale land collecting golden ladybugs and shaking slices of pizza out of trees. What? I said it was a fairy tale land... To help the various creatures of the game, you'll have to use items and food to coax other creatures (both big and small) into doing your bidding. Most of your time is spent exploring, as there are only a few dangerous obstacles in this world. But boss battles are something to behold, as they require actual thought and skill instead of luck or blind reflexes. Don't let the first few levels of this game fool you, it's a brilliant iPhone platformer!

Cabby - Gamers raised on the classics such as Space Taxi will immediately recognize the setup in this game. Cabby puts you in control of a flying taxi cab with the task of picking up passengers and dropping them off at various numbered destinations. It's surprisingly easy to crash your car, as one nudge too many and the thing will blow into pieces. Take things slow and easy, save the crazy antics for another time. If you can resist, that is. The free Cabby 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.

## Sarah Maribu and the Lost World

Strange, uncharted jungle islands, where would hidden object/adventure hybrids be without them? Short of stories, is where. So yet another mysterious island in the pacific is the setting for the new hybrid, Sarah Maribu and the Lost World. Created by ERS G-Studio, Sarah Maribu is an adventure to one of those lush, mysterious places.

Our story begins with Sarah and her husband Michael being flown to the aforementioned island by dear Uncle John — who rather resembles Frank, the helicopter pilot from Lost. They are flying to the island on information from Sarah's grandfather, in search of adventure. As they are flying into the teeth of an erupting volcano, it looks like they're going to find it. Once Sarah and Michael set off, trouble soon finds them (doesn't it always?). Before you know it, Michael is kidnapped and Sarah must find her way around an island with strange, hostile natives and lots of dinosaurs. Yep, dinosaurs. Animated, living, breathing dinosaurs. Guess Grandpa was right about that, too.

The bulk of the gameplay is hidden object-oriented, and there's a lot of it about. At the beginning of each scene pictures of the objects to be found appear at the left of the screen, along with a running count of how many objects need to be found. As you're working with pictures rather than lists, only a certain number of the objects are revealed at one time. Some of the items will go into the tool box for use later in opening or manipulating various places in the scene.

A handy changing cursor and the occasional sparkle indicate areas of interest, places that can be investigated more closely, objects that can be manipulated, or mini-games. Most scenes take place in one fixed area, but there are a few where the gamer will have to navigate back and forth between two different locations to find all the items needed to move on. A handy map in-between the hidden object scenes lets the player know where they are on the island, and how much is left to go.

Clicking on an "area of interest" will often get you a clue as to what needs to be done there, and of course there's a refilling hint timer when the hidden objects are a little too well-hidden. Mini-games are on a skip timer as well, wait long enough and you will be able to move on if you have problems solving. There's nothing new in the mini-games, you've probably seen them all before, but they are beautifully presented in some unique ways, such as a basic jumping peg puzzle involving colorful, feathered, flying dinosaurs.

Analysis: ERS G-Studio, creator of games like Murders in the Rue Morgue, and PuppetShow: The Mystery of Joyville, have a reputation for beautiful games, and Sarah Maribu is no exception. The backgrounds are stunningly beautiful, the animated dinosaurs and other creatures are very life-like (or, in the case of the dinosaurs, as life-like as we can guess they looked).

There's really not much of a story in Sarah Maribu. We never find out why Sarah and Michael came to the island in the first place, and most of the game is simply Sarah trying to find Michael. This seems a bit of a let-down considering that Murders and PuppetShow were very story-heavy. The music is also a bit incongruous, short, repetitive loops that have a lot of upbeat calypso rhythms involved. The mini-games, although beautifully presented, are extremely easy as well.

Perhaps we shouldn't compare Sarah Maribu to the other hidden object games produced by ERS, but to one of their contributions to the time management/village sim field, Many Years Ago, which played like both a village sim and a parody of a village sim at the same time. Sarah Maribu and the Lost World also seems to walk that strange line. Despite the obvious flaws there's something seriously enjoyable about playing a hidden object game that is this much goofy fun. Idiot husband (seriously, he gets kidnapped in like the first 5 minutes)? Check. Hostile natives who worship both dinosaurs and statues of Sleestaks (that's the original Land of the Lost, not the odious movie remake)? Check. Uncle John (who looks like Jimmy Buffet after a 3-day bender) being sacrificed to the dinosaurs by the hostile natives? Check. Having to find 20 hidden items before you can find the water that will put out the fire that poor Uncle John is being roasted over? Check. It's all silly, over the top entertainment.

This is not, perhaps, the game for serious adventure enthusiasts. It's more of an hidden object/adventure hybrid light, casual gameplay that the younger set might appreciate (cool dinosaurs!); novices to the genre might find nice as an introduction; and the older generation perhaps appreciating the calm, non-timed and beautiful ride. Who needs a story, anyway, since you're too busy brewing herbal concoctions that will knock out the native guards, feeding helpful dinosaurs to open gates, or rescuing all the idiot menfolk before everyone is caught by the natives, the dinosaurs, or both?

Despite the flaws there's a lot of hidden object fun to be had with Sarah Maribu and the Lost World. Just sit back and enjoy the wild, illogical, yet dazzling adventure through the island of misfit dinosaurs. Just tell them Grandpa sent you.

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Ah, the Galapagos Islands, remote, mysterious, home to some of the world's most rare and intriguing species, the Galapagos are... okay, look, let's just get this out of the way right now. We are in no way shape or form promoting the "environmentalist propaganda" agenda here, it's just that Paradise Quest, by I-play, is one gorgeous match-3 game with a cool new dynamic that is wicked fun to play.

Paradise Quest is the story of Dr. Evan Finch, a biologist who travels to Isabela Island, the largest of the Galapagos chain. Once there he finds that the island, through a chain of natural disasters (typhoon, earthquake, volcano, etc.), has been completely denuded of all life. The intrepid Dr. Finch must then gather resources and discover habitats by playing match-3 games. Once a habitat is unlocked he can use the resources gathered to buy an environment upgrade, consisting of landscapes, trees, plants, or other things that will lure back some of the species native to the Galapagos. Dr. Finch must continue to gather resources, unlock habitats, and bring back plants and animals to repopulate Isabela, all the while gathering mysterious pieces of an artifact that may point to human habitation long before the Spanish discovered the islands in 1535. In the latter quest he is aided by his funny and sharp-tongued archeologist friend, Professor Katherine Fitzroy, whom he calls in cut-scenes in-between finding resources and habitat.

Gameplay is simple if you've ever played a match-3 before. Simply click on an icon in the grid to move it so that it makes a row or column of three (or more) and they will disappear, being replaced by more icons. Some icons represent the materials to be gathered (wood, water, and food) and others simply represent native flora and fauna of the islands. Pieces of habitat or of artifacts are surrounded by stone tiles, which must be broken to release them. There are also tiles covered in sand. Breaking the sand tiles (or "digging" in the sand) can release a spate of cool power ups and other goodies to help you along the way. Once you have enough pieces of habitat they can be fitted together in jigsaw fashion to unlock a new area of the island, allowing room for more species to inhabit. And once new species move in, you can go to the area and photograph the animals, insects, birds, and fish as they move around their magnificent environments.

So far it sounds like the average match-3, correct? Well, here's where a fun dynamic comes in. The match-3 grids get progressively larger, too large for the screen in fact. These grids "float" above a picture of one of the habitats, and in order to reach all the areas you must make matches near the sides of the screen where you wish to travel, making the grid move. A handy map feature will appear in the lower left of the screen showing the area uncovered and giving the player an idea of where to go to uncover more. Making matches doesn't just gather resources and free power ups, though. It also helps a vine grow at the bottom of the screen. When the vine is full-grown the player can then use the vine to "swing" to a different area of the map, without the sometimes tedious process of making continual matches in a certain direction. Tarzan yell while using the vine is, of course, optional. Occasionally, the player will also end up in a night scene and must find torches to light the way as they make their way about the grid.

Analysis: With its mixed terrain and odd collection of wildlife, Isabela Island makes for a gorgeous backdrop to this amusing piece of match-3 fun. Paradise Quest is undeniably gorgeous to look at, from the rocky cliffs to the limpid blue pools of the lagoon, from the gorgeous plants to the unique, animated animal population. A lot of effort has gone into recreating the actual landscape and species endemic to this UNESCO world heritage site. Adding to the experience is the lovely music, a mix of native drums and other rhythms that fit the game perfectly.

With both a timed and an untimed mode, Paradise Quest is casual gameplay for the entire family, from those who like it frantic and fast to those who would like to take their time and enjoy the scenery, and everyone in-between. The match-3 madness is broken up by the cut-scenes, puzzles, and the task of photographing all the returning species for the player's photo album. Once a habitat is completely repopulated, a snapshot of it will be created in the player's pictures folder (in Windows) that can be used as lovely desktop wallpaper.

There is a ton of gameplay to be had here. The game is open ended, so even after you unlock the 6 habitats, 32 environment upgrades, find all the pieces of the artifact, and photograph a stunning 75 returning species, you can continue to play as you like or start over again with a new identity. Just making it through to the "end" can take days, especially if you take a break every now and then.

The only complaint about Paradise Quest might be that in the upper levels in timed mode it can get very tricky to finish before the timer runs out. And after about 50 levels or so the game can get a bit repetitive. However, these are minor quibbles in what is otherwise quite an enjoyable game.

Gorgeous to look at, easy on the ears and with a fun new twist to the old match-3 dynamic, Paradise Quest is tons and tons of match-3 fun, with enough side tasks to break up the gameplay and keep it feeling fresh. Entertaining, educational, and fun for the entire family.

Windows:

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

Sometimes you don't want an epic story or 80 hours of gameplay out of your game. Sometimes you just want to mess around, experience something quirky, and call it a day. All of the games below are extremely short. They're "just 'cause" games, because the only reason you play them is just because you can!

War and Peace (Windows, 2.4MB, free) - With absolutely nothing to do with the Tolstoy tome, War and Peace is more accurately described as "one-button Civilization". Each game takes about two minutes to complete, and all you have to do is tap a key to switch between war and peace modes, the former useful for taking out other civilizations while the latter is great for expansion. Technologies are constantly being researched, but they vary depending on your mode. Victory can be obtained through conquest, domination, or achieving space flight. The game packs a surprisingly strong Civilization flavor into such a short and simple package.

Strangers (Windows, 5.3MB, free) - You land an an alien planet with a blaster and a dog hopping around behind you. Alien thingies are bouncing all around. And, of course, you start walking to the right. Only then, you meet the big mother alien thing. What happens next? You really should play this one and find out. It might just tell you something about mankind and how we seem to deal with problems.

A very brief story (Windows, 1.36MB, free) - A tiny, five minute adventure with quite a bit of charm. A young woman goes on a quest. A quest to the four corners of the globe to find the four crystals. Ten screens and a few rudimentary puzzles later, she has them and everybody's happy. Oops, spoiler alert!

Note: All games have been confirmed to run under Windows Vista and are virus-free. Mac users should try Boot Camp, Parallels, or CrossOver Games to play Windows titles, Linux users can use Wine. If you know of a great game we should feature, use the Submit link above to send it in!

## The Clumsys 2: Butterfly Effect

I'm starting to think we need to be a bit more careful with our mad scientists. Those that don't become menaces to society and need to be rounded up by Spider-Man generally end up messing things up one way or another anyway. Such is the case with Grandpa Clumsy (there's a red flag), whose time-traveling antics wind up setting modern history back. Way back. So it's up to his granddaughter Helen (and you!) to set things right in The Clumsys 2: Butterfly Effect, a hidden-object game about cause and effect. Or about squished butterflies and history lessons. Which are practically the same things anyway.

Like any other HOG, the game is played with the mouse. Helen will move throughout history, taking you from one hidden object scene to another. Items yet to be found are displayed at the top of the screen in blue, while undiscovered items that are black are hidden from view somehow. If your cursor turns to gears when you move past a location, that means you can click on it for a closer look.

Typically, you're trying to make sure history happens the way it should. It turns out that one dead butterfly can lead to a whole lot of missed chances. So while history's greatest minds are off presumably being wise and making big decisions, you and Helen will sneak around behind the scenes scraping mold out of their fridge or rummaging through their sock drawer. For science, of course. The puzzles are mostly limited to knowing where to use a particular item, and luckily for you, The Clumsys went to the school of logic and decided to make those solutions very straightforward. You know, in case you were sick of using a frog to churn butter or something.

Analysis: The Clumsys 2 is rather loosely based on Ray Bradbury's short story classic, "The Sound of Thunder", only with somewhat less illiteracy and doom, and a big heaping helping of good ol' fashioned edutainment. (Good for what ails ya.) It's a very friendly, colourful game with accessible gameplay, designed more to entertain than to challenge. While the hidden object scenes tend to be well done, with items all pertaining to the area and time period for once, it's unlikely that you'll ever find yourself stymied, and then not for long. The game doesn't punish for mis-clicks, and the hint timer refills very quickly.

What sets Clumsys 2 apart from many other HOGs on the market these days is a direct infusion of logic. Rather than hunting down six pinwheels, a rubber chicken, and a garden gnome to progress, you'll be hunting down the proper implements throughout history to make sure certain scenes and discoveries happen the way they should. Proving that no good deed goes unpunished, this will also occasionally make modern day objects appear that you'll need to hunt down before Ben Franklin freaks out over some ray-bans or something. You're hardly going to come out of this game ready to take on Trivial Pursuit with the best of them, but its still nice to come across a game that at least makes an effort to stimulate our oft underused gray matter.

While I never felt particularly challenged by the game, I did enjoy it, the same way I remember enjoying programs like The Magic Schoolbus or (his lordship) Bill Nye The Science Guy. Younger kids will probably get the biggest kick out of it, but it might not pack enough flash for older gamers. The only real downside other than its simplicity, which could have you whizzing through it, is that the gameplay is mostly identical to the original. Adding some different puzzles would have gone a long way towards making it feel more fresh and distinct. If you're looking for something nice and casual to take up an afternoon, The Clumsys 2: Butterfly Effect will serve that need nicely. And reminder folks; time travel is serious business and should only be attempted if you have a teenage granddaughter willing to clean up all your time-altering messes.

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## Zoo Transport

• Currently 3.4/5
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Ah, the trucker. Ah, the penguin. Two of nature's most noble beasts, and yet rarely do the two ever meet. At least, until now. That's right, kids, it's Zoo Transport from Tanoku, the physics game where you use your flippers to load your big red truck up with animals set for delivery to the nearest zoo. Oh, and I wouldn't give that penguin any lip if I were you. He doesn't look like he's slept in days. It's a lonely road, that of the trucker penguin. I think Willie Nelson wrote a song about it.

Stack your crates on the truck bed with the mouse, and use the [arrow] keys to drive forward and back. The goal is to transport all crated beasties safely to the zoo entrance; if any of them fall off due to uneven terrain or bad driving, you'll need to go back to the loading docks and pick them up again. Getting the animals from point A to point B is a bigger challenge for some than for others, since certain animals are in bigger or smaller crates, or have certain requirements for the method of transport. You can see the required number of crates you have to deliver at the top of the screen. Unfortunately, you can't drop off more troublesome creatures and then go back for the others; it's all or nothing, baby, and arriving at the gates without all your animals will cause you to fail the level.

Analysis: Who transports live animals these days without some bungee cords to tie the containers down anyway? Moreover, who decided penguins were safe behind the wheel? Everyone knows koalas score the highest on driver safety tests. Unfortunately, Zoo Transport's physics obey a cruel and fickle mistress of fate, and stacking your deliverables is often more finicky than it needs to be. The game winds up moving at a glacial pace more often than not as you slowly inch forward over hazardous terrain; more than once a crate that was only hanging on to the truck with a wish and a prayer tipped off inches from the finish line, forcing me to go all the way back for it.

Still, it's an interesting take on the physics puzzle. The different animals, each with their own criteria for movement, present different challenges and keep you from just blasting over the terrain, General Lee style, and it's all presented with bright, cheerful visuals. More than a steady hand, Zoo Transport requires patience. If you like a challenge, Zoo Transport may be for you. Just remember to keep one foot on the brakes, and one eye on the monkeys at all times. Oh, and can you pick me up a crate of tigers while you're out? I'm almost out.

Play Zoo Transport

## M-Bot: The Game

• Currently 3.6/5
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Newgrounds.com, like many large web communities, has a labyrinthian body of insider lore and mythology. One such mythological creature is M-Bot, feared adversary of spambots and griefers, friend to the little guy, hero to the everyman forum poster! At least I think that's what he is. Folklore can be a bit opaque to outsiders like myself. At any rate, it was inevitable that M-Bot get his own game, and two Newgrounds denizens who go by Mindchamber and FrostedMuffins have risen to the task with aplomb. M-Bot: The Game is a gorgeous, shiny, frenetic gem of a 2.5D shooter with style to spare, where you pilot M-Bot through the urban ruins of the Newgrounds community to disable spambots and make the world safe for friendly posters everywhere.

The first thing you will notice is the control selection screen, rendered cleverly in 8-bit style, to play off the more polished look of the actual game. You can choose between using the mouse to move and fire, or using the [arrow] keys to move and [S] to fire. The [spacebar], or [D] if you prefer, makes M-Bot jump, and [Z] executes the "Special Attack" when the opportunity arises. Not to boss you around or anything, but you should really choose the keyboard controls. Trust me. The mouse control feels pretty slick, but you will inevitably scroll off the playing field and lose control of M-Bot.

This is not a relaxing game. The core gameplay lies in collecting shields for points, which also represent your health; and in shooting the yellow spambots, who also yield shields. Shooting the same spambot multiple times yields more shields, and even power-ups which improve your weaponry and give you your special attack. Numerous other challenges spice up the gameplay, like avoidance tasks, a mini-boss, and a very clever boss fight. The rapid pace of these events, coupled with clever animation and sound design, makes for a very intense experience, such that I actually gasped when the final boss started throwing...well, I'll leave it a surprise.

Analysis: The first thing you will notice is that the game takes a long time to load, considering that the playing field is so tiny (the loading bar on the right becomes the play button when the game fully loads, by the way). The second thing you will notice, once the game loads and you get to playing, is that the loading time is worth it. It's a colorful sensory extravaganza, and the amazing look explains the cost in file size. Filters, lighting effects, particle effects, and the scrolling 3-D background: These don't come cheap, but golly, do they ever make the game look pretty. Mindchamber claims the game takes its inspiration from an old isometric shooter called Zaxxon, but I thought of the more recent Viewtiful Joe. That game was widely praised for its visual style, and to achieve that kind of look in Flash is remarkable. Even the control selection screen is rendered cleverly in 8-bit style, to play off the more polished look of the actual game.

The best presentation won't mask a lousy game, of course, and M-Bot doesn't disappoint, though there is a catch. Even with the keyboard controls, it can take a moment or two to get a sense of how to orient yourself in the pseudo-3D playing field. Moving M-Bot left and right is not a problem, but motion upstage and downstage can be a bit tricky to determine at first. Thankfully the developers give you many visual cues, not least of which is the bright red line projecting horizontally from the protagonist, to help you judge your position in space. I adjusted fairly quickly, and given the visual style and fast-paced gameplay, I actually don't think they could have done a better job of this than they did.

Mindchamber admits that this is an unusually resource-intensive game, and calls it an experiment not likely to be repeated. Not everyone will get past the extensive load time or the processing requirements. But it's a grand foray towards the bleeding edge of what Flash gaming can do, and a successful experiment at that.

Play M-Bot: The Game

It's been a while since we've aggressively worked to saturate your brain with as many bright colours and as much bizarre cute imagery as the human brain can possibly withstand before exploding into a big puff of cotton-candy bunny rabbits and rainbows. Therefore, this week's Link Dump Friday features nothing but the brightest, the cutest, and the weirdest games the internet has to offer. That's right, I scoured the web (not true), looked at hundreds of sites (like, three or four, really), and spent hours carefully hand-picking each and every title (basically, I'm a liar). So manly men, avert your eyes. Girly girls, hold my hand and step into the rainbow. Manly men pretending not to be interested are also allowed, but have to drink things with their pinkies extended for the duration.

• Gluey - Do you play SameGame games but wish they had more physics and eerily attentive tiny black eyes like the sort that probably peer out from your closet while you sleep? Well, wish no more! Gluey is a game about removing globs of coloured liquid from a vat by clicking on them when they combine to become large enough. It's bright, it's cheerful, and fun in small bites before it becomes too repetitive.
• Banana Foot - You can't turn around these days without tripping over a physics puzzle. But how many of them are hosted by flying... chihuahua... thingies? Banna Foot Fox-Dog is your guide to shooting eyes into portals using your toolbox full of strangeness. You've probably seen similar ideas before, but probably not executed with such a cheerful sense of weirdness. I look forward to the sequel, Apple Tonsils.
• Turtillion Island - Hey, idealistic fourteen-year-old girls! Love animals? Sick of wildlife conservationists chasing you away from digging up sea turtle eggs because you know you would be super good at caring for an endangered species? Then we've got a game for you! This time management game is probably too slow and straightforward to entice everyone, but for those of you who just want a dose of cute casual gameplay in between doodling unicorns on your notebooks and giggling about cute boys, Turtillion Island will deliver.
• Them Coconuts - While the gameplay is straightforward in this shooter/defense title from Spelgrim, it's the oddball presentation that will make you wonder if there was something off about that bowl of cereal you had your breakfast this morning. Wizards, warriors, and, uh, police cars waggle about with shooting gallery aesthetic as they approach your castle gates to a strange soundtrack. As defense games go, it's actually fairly standard; well made, if unremarkable and slow gameplay. But for its weird and wonderful sense of style, I... I think I love it a little.
• Choco Valentine 2 - You can't have a weird and cute Link Dump Friday without mentioning Minoto, creator of such loveable insanity as Beard of Santa. It features a snot-nosed yeti, an enormous fluffy dog, and a snowman playing volleyball. Among other things, all of which are also awesome. Plus, it serves as a timely reminder that a certain holiday is coming up soon, to remind you to get your shopping done. (Pssst! I like tulips!)

## Babylon Sticks: Unbearable

• Currently 3.6/5
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A custom casual gameplay comic created exclusively for JIG by Babylon Sticks creator, James Francis.

## Mechanical Commando 2

• Currently 4.6/5
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By the pricking of my thumbs, a giant mech this way comes. Story? Oh, there's a story, but it's just the thin pickle atop this meaty topdown shooter sandwich. That's right, it's Mechanical Commando 2 from the gentle souls at Berzerk Studio, the game where you explore your softer side and work out your deep-seated emotional insecurities by rendering your enemies into a fine red paste. Wasn't that last week's Oprah... ?

You'll also occasionally be given optional side missions which, when completed successfully, grant you additional experience points. Sometimes you'll need to kill a certain number of enemies, defend a piece of territory, take out a structure, or rescue civilians. Which wouldn't be so bad if those civilians didn't tend to hang out in dense, hostile areas you're likely to spray with bullets. And then yell at you about it. Like that's your fault. What were they thinking, being so soft and full of tender vital organs in a war zone anyway?!

Analysis: Who amoung us hasn't dreamed of trampling down mainstreet in a giant suit of mechanised armor, your booming laughter echoing from the loudspeakers as you broadcast your demands to the panicked populace?... okay, so that doesn't actually happen in the game, but there's still something satisfying about the massive amounts of property damage going on in Mechanical Commando 2. It feels more fleshed out than the original, with better visuals, a better(ish) story, and more objectives. Levels are strictly linear as you stomp from one end to the other, but the first time the game let me ride around inside the giant boss death factory I'd just won the fight against I stopped caring. Where the first game was something fun but ultimately forgettable, the sequel has bulked up in all the right ways to feel more like a complete, if not entirely unique, experience.

In fact, the main problem I have is the lack of polish in the game's presentation. Spelling errors, typos, even those relating to the names of the central characters all litter the game. I also wish the graphics were a bit bigger, since once the ground starts turning, um, red, enemies are so tiny that they blend right into everything. In fact, everything is tiny. Is that a terrified civilian, or a moving target? When everything starts swarming the screen, it's impossible to tell. But the biggest offender by far is the achievement notification, which will obscure a chunk of the screen whenever it pops up, and, consequently, whatever enemies or fire might be heading your way. It's a minor annoyance at first, but downright dangerous when you're being swarmed by ridiculous numbers of foes.

Mechanical Commando 2 isn't the most refined of gaming experiences, but it is a hale and hearty example of its genre that should keep a shooter fan quite happy for a good chunk of time. Chances are the gameplay will probably feel familiar to you, especially if you've played a top-down shooter in the last year or so, but it's solid, fast-paced, and, most importantly, fun. So put on your space marine pants. It's time to buckle up and start blasting.

Play Mechanical Commando 2

## Factory Balls 3

• Currently 4.7/5
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Factory Balls is back! The original Factory Balls was an entry in our Casual Gameplay Design Competition #4 and was so popular it spawned a sequel, Factory Balls 2. Now Bart Bonte has returned with Factory Balls 3, more wicked ways to waste time attempting to paint small white balls to factory spec while a throbbing beat plays in the background.

The premise of this charming little puzzle game seems pretty simple (the operative word here being seems. You start with a rotating cog full of little white balls. Before you on the screen are tools ranging from cans of paint to belts, masks, glasses, plungers, screwdrivers, and other tools that you can use to make one little white ball match the picture on the box below. You must, in fact, match the picture in order for the ball to drop from the screen and move you to the next level. Easy, yes?

Well, sort of easy, at least in the early levels. At first all you need to do is reproduce paint patterns on the balls, then you move on to more advanced fare; such as using seeds to make balls covered in flowers or grass, creating much more elaborate and geometric patterns, or using other tools to turn your little balls into cutesy animals like bunnies and pigs. Look at the end design very closely before you begin. It is imperative that you think before you act and plan out the order of your moves very carefully, otherwise you may have to trash your work and start over from the beginning.

Play all the Factory Balls games:

It's hard to go wrong with a Bart Bonte game. Everything Bart produces is tons of fun and Factory Balls 3 is no exception. With its cutesy visuals and kicking soundtrack, Factory Balls 3 is one of the best time wasters around. With 30 levels of decorating madness, the casual gamer will find themselves absorbed in this strange, twisted little world where plungers are used to make ears and noses, and surgical masks are a fantastic tool for creating layers of color. Come; be assimilated and join us in the twisted little world that is Factory Balls 3. One of us, one of us, one of us...

Play Factory Balls 3

## Space Oddity 2

• Currently 4.3/5
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From the dark realm of deep space we find ourselves back on the disquietingly silent space station where we left off in the first Space Oddity, an episodic point-and-click adventure from Pastel Games. When the 2nd chapter, Space Oddity 2, begins you had just gained access to Level 3 and attempted to contact headquarters, but there was no reply. What has happened? Are you all alone? Why doesn't anyone answer?

Armed with your all-purpose uni-wrench, all it takes is a little investigation to learn that you are perhaps uninvited and you begin to feel the eerie, creepy atmosphere of the first game has come back to haunt you once more.

Now if only you could find a data disc that isn't damaged. You will need the metal pipe for that, but don't wake the sleeping beauty.

Play Space Oddity 2

## Prose and Motion

• Currently 4.2/5
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What happens when you combine the twisted word puzzles of Blocks With Letters On with the loopy physics and style of Hanna in a Choppa? The answer is Prose and Motion, a word physics game. That's right, word physics. Perhaps not surprisingly, this game is twice as fun as using dictionaries as dominoes. (And it's less likely to cause complaints from the people living in the apartment below you.)

The goal of each level is to spell out a word using all of the letters provided. Instead of typing or just sliding the letters, though, you get to drag them around the scene as if they were real world objects. The first letter of your word must lie somewhere within the shaded box, and the rest of the letters must be in a relatively straight line to register. Once you've got your word in place, release your mouse and if your word stays intact for about three seconds, you can move on to the next round.

With language puzzles such as these, there's always the possibility that more than one word may be right. Why spell "stop" when you can write "tops" instead? Prose and Motion streamlines this by giving every puzzle a word that is considered "perfect". You can guess the perfect word by looking at the level's theme or by checking out the written clue for the stage. Any valid word will let you advance, but it takes a bit more skill to get perfection.

To further complicate things, keep in mind that this is a word physics game, not a straight-and-dry spelling luau. Letters aren't always sitting right side up, meaning you can grab and twirl them in any direction you like. This transforms the letter E into M or W, H into I, etc. You might have to try several valid pseudo-anagrams before you hit on the right one.

Analysis: Even in such a hectic game that requires quick moves to get letters to stay in place, Prose and Motion still has a soothing atmosphere. Or at least, soothing in the way that Perfect Balance is soothing before you smash your keyboard through your monitor. (I wonder if this review is close to the record for cross-referenced games yet?) If you take your time and set everything up carefully rather than plowing through a level, you'll have a better shot at succeeding.

One tricky bit that you need to pay attention to is what registers as a "straight line" in this game. This is just speculation, but it appears that to register as "aligned", the top and bottom corners of letters need to be within a certain range of the previous letter's corners. If something isn't lining up properly, try rotating the offending letter just a smidge to see if you can get it within these margins. Luckily, there's a convenient display in the top-right corner that shows you what part of your string of letters is currently registering as a word, starting with the letter in the box.

With a little patience and possibly an anagram solver by your side, Prose and Motion is a challenging blend of word game and phuzzle to make for a nice coffee break diversion.

## 4 Differences

• Currently 4.6/5
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Who doesn't enjoy looking at two seemingly identical images and spotting the subtle differences between the two? Why, the last time I saw a pair of identical twins, I may have weirded them out when I crossed my eyes and murmured "Aha, the eyes don't quite match up, I better click on that." But luckily I paid my bail in time to catch 4 Differences, the latest installment in one of the finest spot the difference series out there.

The control scheme is pretty self explanatory. Look for places where Ivoryboy's gorgeous visuals don't match up, and click on them. The eye cross trick doesn't always work because sometimes the pictures are stacked rather than side-by-side, and sometimes they are mirrored.

Although this installment is just as beautiful as the previous 5 Differences and 6 Differences, it's lacking in some of the satire and symbolism that made 6 Differences in particular compelling. 4 Differences doesn't seem to have much to say; it's content just to show us some pretty pictures. The four differences in each scene are also the same every time you play through the game, which severely hampers replay value.

That said, this game is still miles above most other spot-the-difference games. Its visual presentation alone makes it worth a look. If you like the genre at all, you won't want to miss it.

Play 4 Differences

## Escape from the Snowman's Room

• Currently 4.2/5
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Some escape games are short, sweet, and sentimental. Let's go for cold logic this week, shall we? Really cold. Snow cold. Snowman cold. How's about we try to Escape from the Snowman's Room? Designed by Tesshi-e, this is about as cold and logical as it gets. It's escaping time!

The first thing you might notice is that you can look out the window, but can't get out that way. Why? Is it because of the snow? For whatever reason, you'll need to find another way out. Or, because this is Tesshi-e after all, more than one way out. A way out that involves not one but five coins, a broken toy, and a rather angry looking snowman. Maybe he's mad that you left his room. After all, he must have spent a lot of time and effort locking you in there.

Navigation is accomplished with bars at the sides and bottom of the screen to turn left, right, and move backwards. Most objects that you can click on are in plain sight, but not everything is, so be prepared for some pixel hunting. And with all of Tesshi-e's games, be prepared to examine everything you pick up, because they can hold surprises. There's also a bit of object combining necessary to solve one of the central puzzles, so see what can fit together to make a handy, improvised tool. Inventory control is simple; just click on an object in the inventory, then click the "about item" button to bring it into close up. The game is in Japanese, but once in a while you will see an English phrase pop up. Don't worry, you don't need to be able to read Japanese to play. The solutions are all pure logic.

Analysis: Tesshi-e has once again given us a room escape that is not quite like all the others. The puzzles are logical for the most part and fairly easy. There's a little bit of construction of found objects, but nothing terribly non-intuitive. The fun part, once you understand the main puzzle, is figuring out all the little variables that give you the alternate endings. Can you find the happy coin escape in a room full of coins? Only time will tell.

The visuals are lovely, rendered 3D. Warm hardwood floors, comfortable looking furniture, strange objects that have no apparent use, all classic Tesshi-e. The jazzy musical accompaniment will sound very familiar to anyone who has ever played one of these games, but fortunately it can be muted. It would have been nice to have a save button, though, considering this game has been graced with not one, not two, but four different escape scenarios to be found. That's a lot of replaying if you really want to see them all. Fortunately, once you discover the main dynamic to escaping, replaying will go quite quickly.

There are a few downsides, of course. Pixel-hunting for one. At least two of the puzzles (including the main one) are color based, which can make the game difficult for the color blind. The game could also have been a bit longer. And a full English version would be really nice, wouldn't it?

However, don't let the minor flaws chase you away from what is fun, engaging casual gameplay. With four different escape scenarios to find, Escape From the Snowman's Room will happily engage your logic circuits and transport you to a place where snowmen get really angry if you break their toys in the process of escape. Bundle up, and be prepared to Escape From the Snowman's Room.

Play Escape from the Snowman's Room

## CGDC7 Entries are now online!

Let the games begin!

The entries for the 7th Casual Gameplay Design Competition are now online. All entries are available to play immediately on the competition page. There is a place to enter comments for each game, so please use each respective thread to leave your kind feedback and constructive criticisms for the game authors.

The competition period will span 3 weeks, and we will announce the winners of the competition at that time.

Thanks to everyone for your support, and especially to our sponsors for making this competition possible:

GO TO THE COMPETITION PAGE

## Go To Hell

• Currently 4/5
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Go To Hell is a skill- and reflexes-oriented puzzle game by Metasauce, creator of Hex Empire. One part digging game, one part physics playground, the title welds the two elements together into a tightly-structured experience that's as intriguing to play around with as it is to beat.

We start on the surface, standing on the dark grass with only one instruction: go to hell. Holding the [left], [right] or [down] arrow keys for a brief moment will cause you to dig in that direction, while tapping [up] lets you jump. Your goal is to work your way deep underground, avoiding the perils that lay beneath, and make your way to the fabled Hell precisely 666 meters below. Not only are you going to hell, you have to collect at least 50 coins to get in. Honestly, wouldn't you think digging that far would cover the entry fee? And it seems to me charging to go to a place of eternal torture isn't the best business practice. But hey, what do I know?

You have three meters at the top of the screen to keep an eye on: health, hunger, and air. Health is depleted by hitting things like bats, snakes, spikes and torches, but you can grab first aid kits to keep it topped up. Hunger, if left unattended, will eventually gnaw at your health bar, too, but chunks of meat scattered throughout the earth will keep you sated. Mmm, underground meat. Air is depleted while you're underwater and, if the meter empties, will end your life in just a few seconds. Always keep a clear path to the surface so you can bob up for a quick breath or two. Don't want to arrive in hell dead, do you?

In addition to tending your basic needs, you'll also contend with bats, snakes, spikes, burning torches, and a few other dangers on your way down. Fortunately you have one friend: water. The delicious liquid is by far the most interesting and useful thing in this game. Pools of the stuff sit untouched throughout the level, but if you free it from its prison, the water will pour out and flow with surprising realism. Water kills many enemies, which is mega-useful, and it will also extinguish torches, which is just as handy. You can also use it to float across dangerous pieces of ground or reach high ledges. But, you know, don't drown in the stuff.

Analysis: Go To Hell keeps things very simple. Why throw a billion gimmicks at the player when one or two well-implemented ones will do just fine? You have a few meters to mind while you're digging, but they tend to take care of themselves and don't offer up too much panic. Enemies are generally dealt with with a bit of fore-planning. Food and health pickups are generously scattered under the dirt, making you do just enough work to get at them without turning the game into a health pack hunt-a-thon.

Once you hit a certain depth, our friend water dissipates and makes way for our non-friend lava. Lava hurts, and suddenly the game takes a much more challenging turn. I only lost one or two lives working my way down this far, but once the red stuff came into play, the challenge jumped up considerably. It's jarring, and it almost kills the charm of the game, but hopefully you've built a stockpile of lives by this point and can continue your journey below.

A simple game with a simple goal, Go To Hell offers up a lot of fun for both a short sandbox experience and an arcade puzzler. Its bag of tricks doesn't have to run too deep to keep you coming back for more.

Play Go To Hell

## Rubble Trouble (New York)

• Currently 4.6/5
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Do you ever get the impression that construction crews are having way more fun than they let on? That maybe after you round the corner they throw down their hoagies and cold coffee, toss safety concerns to the wind, and break out the bombing runs and the limbo? Nitrome thinks so too, and the result is Rubble Trouble, a physics based game of that most cherished of pastimes; blowin' junk up.

Similar to Demolition City in concept, the goal is to destroy enough of a structure on each level to make a certain amount of cash for your hard work. You'll have a variety of tools at your disposal to get the job done. Some things, like nitro, can just be clicked into place wherever you want them and they'll explode automatically. Others, such as the missiles you'll find (yes, found missiles), actually need to be guided to their destination with the mouse. Certain tools are more expensive than others, so you'll have a limited number of uses for them. Fail to meet the requirements for a level within the time frame or before running out of explosives and you'll have to start the level over. If you need a break, tap [P] to pause. To restart a level if you see failure looming on the horizon, tap [R].

Certain building materials are sturdier than others and will require specific tools to destroy in one shot, while others behave in different ways when an explosion is introduced. Don't think you can just start flinging around explosives like Mardi Gras beads, as certain levels will have conditions designed to put a bit of restraint into your destructive tendencies. Think you can destroy a teetering tower without causing damage to its surroundings? How about using nitro to deliver a stranded coworker safely to the ground? What do you mean, "safety regulations"? We don't need no steekeeng safety regulations! Bombs away!

Analysis: Saying that Nitrome designs a good looking game is a bit like stating that tidal waves are damp, or taunting a pitbull is a bad idea. Rubble Trouble is no exception with the trademark crisp visuals and quirky characters that make every game such a pleasure to look at. You've got a variety of "found" tools at your disposal, fragile melon shops to avoid, oddball crew members, and the end result is a lot like what one imagines a construction company run by the Mythbusters would be like if they stopped worrying about safety. Which is to say, over the top firepower resulting in massive property damage, followed by boyish giggling and high fives all 'round.

The game keeps itself from degenerating into a mindless blast-fest with the restrictions that some levels impose. The time limit is something to keep your eye on for your score's sake, but it doesn't pose an issue itself. The problem is that not every object behaves like it should. Chief offender is the wrecking ball, which behaves like a yo-yo on an elastic rather than a massive tool of destruction, but you'll also occasionally see heavy buildings held aloft by a single surviving column of materials as long as no damage was done to it. I'm fairly certain that if this was the way real construction behaved, I would have gotten a much better grade in my high school engineering class.

If you can forgive these shortcomings, Rubble Trouble is a fun and occasionally tricky little physics puzzle with that turns construction work into a noble, monocle-wearing calling. The game's 30 levels likely won't consume your entire day, but it's an afternoon of explosive fun for those of you who need a bit more destruction in your day. Which is probably all of you.

Play Rubble Trouble

## Chibi Knight

• Currently 4.7/5
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When three great beasts plague the land, legends speak of a hero. A really, really tiny hero. It's Chibi Knight, an action/adventure with RPG elements from BoMToons. Hold on to your socks, because the sheer amount of sweetness in this game is going to blast them right off otherwise. Not convinced? How about if we tell you the author had his own five-year-old daughter voice all the lines? Yeah, that's right. Chibi Knight: Coming soon to a Saturday morning cartoon lineup near you.

Chibi Knight plays like one-half Zelda mixed with one-half side-scrolling slasher. You travel around the land slaying things I imagine are probably called Fuzzy Wumbles or Shmoopa Doops and fight big, friendly looking boss monsters in PG battles. You move with the [arrow] keys, select options or use your sword with the [A] key, tap [S] to cast spells, and hit [P] to pause the game. Slain enemies drop healing items and grant experience points, which can be used to purchase upgrades. Keep an eye on your red health meter; if it gets fully depleted, you'll be sent back to the starting point on the world map unless you've reached one of the few other checkpoints.

Analysis: All right, so its adorable enough to rot your teeth, which is fine, but is it fun to play? The answer, fortunately, is yes. Mostly. The game is bright, colourful, and bouncy fun. The only real combat tactic to master is mashing the [A] key, which isn't much of a challenge, but it doesn't seem like it's trying to be one, either. This is a cheerful experience designed to be picked up by pretty much anyone, with just enough secrets to find and big creatures to see to occupy a nice chunk of your time.

The problem is that at the sugary sweet heart of the game lies a big lump of grinding, and since the story is barely there, the game has to rely on its combat and adventuring to keep it afloat. The controls aren't quite responsive or fluid enough to make room for really quick maneuvering, so you'll wind up getting killed quite a bit. If you don't want to die and have to trek all the way back to wherever you were from the starting point, you're going to have to get out there and stomp on baddies until you've gained enough levels that a stiff wind isn't going to kill you. You gain levels fairly quickly, but it's still a bit of a chore.

Chibi Knight is fast, cute fun that will probably be too simple for some gamers, but juuuuuuust right for others looking for a more casual experience. It probably won't take most players much more than an hour to beat, and I was disappointed when it ended. Tugging on my admittedly tender heartstrings isn't a difficult feat, but Chibi Knight does so with effusive glee and charm. If you've got kids, put a little Chibi Knight in their day, too.

Play Chibi Knight

## Mobile Monday №53

Puzzles come in a variety of forms, from straightforward "here, solve this" to more convoluted riddles in story-driven games. The puzzles in this week's titles are wrapped in different cloths, but they all provide a great challenge no matter what your preference.

Broken Sword: Director's Cut - A classic adventure makes the leap to iPhone, complete with full touch screen controls that top just about every other adventure game on the App Store. George Stobbart is an American touring Paris in the fall. While sipping coffee at a cafe, a man dressed as a clown sets off an explosion. George heads off to investigate, joined by journalist Nico Collard, and the pair travel the globe uncovering conspiracies, cults, and more. An already excellent game that has made a smooth transition to the iPhone.

Cogs - Like sliding puzzles? If you do, Cogs is practically the best game out there. Featuring a gorgeous steampunk-style presentation, you are tasked with solving puzzles not only on flat spaces but in 3D as well. Slide gears and pipes around the surface of each cube, the goal being to connect certain parts of the machine with other parts. You get more points for using fewer moves and working faster, which seems sort of counter-intuitive with sliding puzzles, but the game is great fun to play, nonetheless.

Train Conductor - Time management games where you direct the flow of traffic are a huge hit on the iTunes App Store. Flight Control and Harbor Master are two great examples of this. Train Conduct moves the action to a new location, tasking you with conducting trains traveling across set pieces of track. It's just as challenging and rewarding as Flight Control, only with a different visual flavor.

Aargon - The familiar laser/mirror puzzle game of reflection with a few interesting new twists. In Aargon, your goal is to shine light onto all of the coins by placing and rotating mirrors. Simply drag and drop pieces onto the grid and tap them to rotate. New items can be used later in the game, and obstacles such as TNT make your day a little more taxing than usual. The free Aargon 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.