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April 2010 Archives


Rating: 4.4/5 (42 votes)
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Deadtime Stories

DoraSomewhere there's a graveyard tended by a certain man who is very picky about who he lets inside. Perhaps because, as he'll tell you, everything from the headstones to the flowers is put there to be just right. Or maybe it's because the dead don't always lie quietly in the new point-and-click hidden-object series Deadtime Stories. This first installment tells the story of Miss Jesse Bodeen, a voodoo priestess in New Orleans decades ago. Her talents are frequently called upon to heal the sick and protect the weak... that is, until haughty socialite Delphine LaLaurie sends for her. Follow Jessie's tale from the dark Cajun swamp to the rich French Quarter, concocting spells to remove obstacles, but be warned; the spirits of the Loa don't take requests lightly. Nor do they appreciate being used for ill.

Deadtime StoriesThe hidden-object/point-and-click hybrid is becoming more and more popular these days, and developers are getting better and better and combining the two. Deadtime Stories is played mostly like a standard point-and-click adventure, with you searching your environment for items to solve puzzles and occasionally playing hidden-object scenes to find what you need. Most of your time is spent tracking down components for spells that you'll have to create in Jessie's home to advance; early on you'll gain access to her spellbook, which will help you appease the spirits and find out more about what happened so long ago. Of course, not every spirit wants to see you succeed. If you get stuck, the hint timer in the bottom right corner will either show you the location of an object, or offer you several options so you can pick what you need help with.

Be warned that Jessie Bodeen's tale takes place back in Louisiana at a time when servants were sold. While it's not a focal point of the story, it is mentioned several times. If you find this grim chapter of history too upsetting, this may not be the game for you.

Analysis: By far one of my favourite shows remains the old Tales From the Crypt series. This is because not only is the Cryptkeeper the raddest undead demonic dude ever, but because it had a gleeful cheek to its stories, which were frequently as much cautionary tales as they were creeping you out. Deadtime Stories, therefore, with its rich, ghoulish presentation and grim story about revenge and greed, was right up my alley. Granted, series host Edward Blackgate looks like Willy Wonka by way of Tim Burton and a Hot Topic outlet, but I forgave him the minute he told me we were headed to "Naw'leens". Which was awesome, because I was totally out of chicken's feet after dinner last night. The game had me hooked from beginning to end to the point that I was genuinely dismayed both to see the demo run out, and then the credits roll hours later.

Deadtime StoriesSo is Deadtime Stories scary? Not really, nor is it trying to be. While its steeped in creepy atmosphere from its appropriate soundtrack to its haunted locales, you can take the pillow away from your face; nothing is going to leap out at you here. You'll solve a wide variety of puzzles ranging from figuring out how to trap a dove to using a series of skulls that only talk in short syllables to figure out passwords. Not all of the puzzles are winners; some, like the well seal in the French Quarter simply take too long, and a few, like the boat sail in the swamp, are mildly annoying. Of course, you can simply skip them if you wait for the bar at the top of the screen to refill, but you shouldn't have to.

Hidden-object scenes can be fairly challenging, using plays on words to trick you in your search. "Jack" for example could refer to a playing card... or to a carved pumpkin. The downside is that Deadtime Stories also suffers from occasional nebulous item names (such as "ornament"), or making you hunt down small objects like pills or pearls in a large scene. The hint timer takes a long while to refill compared to most other hidden-object titles, so if you're stuck on several items, you can spend a frustrating amount of time staring at the screen waiting for it to refill. Just make sure you're ready when you click for a hint, because the glimmer can be there and gone in a flash if you aren't paying attention.

Most players will probably spend between three and four hours finishing the game, and wind up having enjoyed themselves thoroughly but hungry for more. It really does feel like the story was meant to be longer, with greater development perhaps given to the villain. Deadtime Stories combines an interesting story with creepy-cool production values to make an engrossing experience that should leave you eagerly awaiting the next chapter. We can expect even greater things in the future from this series, and I, for one, am dying to play it.

... no?... how about... "This is one adventure no boil or ghoul should miss"?

... forget you guys, I'm funny darn it!

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo Get the full version

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


  • Currently 4.4/5
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Rating: 4.4/5 (148 votes)
Comments (28) | Views (7,413)

DoraNinja-Pi-RoEvildoers beware, Ninja-Pi-Ro from Pencilkids is on the prowl! That's Ninja-Pirate-Robot by the way, the team starring in this point-and-click puzzle adventure. Apparently, a rare blue diamond has been stolen, and it's up to the titular characters to save the day using all their combined abilities. The pirate is strong and swarthy, the ninja is swift and silent, and the robot is scientific and... uh... ssssss... a robot. Look, this isn't rocket science people.

The idea is that each character is good for certain situations, and you can cycle through your team at any time by clicking on the transparent circle on them. Other transparent circles will be visible onscreen if you're controlling the correct character, and you can click on them to interact. The key is figuring out what character needs to be used in which order to proceed. Since most hotspots will only show if you're playing with the correct hero, it's a simple matter to cycle through them in each area to see what's missing.

Aside from not being accurate, since history has proven robots, ninja, and pirates cannot peacefully coexist, Ninja-Pi-Ro is also really easy. Even the puzzles Robot has to solve probably won't hang you up, and trying everything with everyone in any area takes hardly any time at all. As long as you pay attention to your environment, the solution will always be within your grasp. The game isn't too long, and will probably run you between fifteen minutes to half an hour depending on trial and error, and whether you spend time hunting down all one hundred coins hidden throughout the game. The coins don't serve any purpose other than to deduct clicks from your final score, since finishing the game in the least amount of mouse clicks will, as you know, cause you to win the internets. Do not fail me.

The end result is a fun, simple puzzle adventure with Pencilkids' signature cute style and charm. There's no way to lose the game, since using the incorrect character is only a temporary setback, and for Pirate electrocution is just a minor irritation. Is there a sequel on the horizon? Hope so! Maybe next time the team will meet up with their arch-nemesis... Samurai-Naval Officer-Alien!

Play Ninja-Pi-Ro


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Link Dump Fridays

DoraYou don't know what you need. Link Dump Friday knows what you need. Here, have this glass of champahgnah and put on this bathrobe while you partake of the most succulent physics puzzles, the tenderest giant robot battles, the most supple zombie mazes. All for you, my pet. Let us gaze into each other's eyes and sit uncomfortably close to one another while the squeals of pigs tumbling down into the earth soothes your fretful brow... are you soothed yet?... no?

... ah, crud. I was never that good at this. I guess it's true what they say; it's not easy bein' sleazy.

  • Truffle HunterTruffle Hunter - I'd always heard that pigs were somehow involved with that delicious little garnish I get overcharged for at fancy restaurants, but I hadn't realised it apparently consisted of dropping jiggly piglets down hand-carved mineshafts for truffles and diamonds. Which, if we're honest, basically sounds like the best gig ever. The game is basically a one-trick piggy despite its 25 levels, but it's cute, squealy fun that won't bring Animal Protection knocking on your door. Unlike that Extreme Canary Fighting ring you have in your basement you think nobody knows about. Oops.
  • Mouse MegatronMouse Megatron - [Reassurance] This is a synopsis written by a human and not a robotic infiltrator encased in supple, fragile flesh for the purposes of eventual invasion. [Description] Use your mouse or equivalent device to control a fine example of enormous robotics with gestures as you strike down similarly large creatures. The controls are awkward but it should suffice to ensure that you are properly cowed by the steel might of your new robotic overlords when they strike. [Clarification] That was a joke, such as a human might make. Ha. Ha. Enjoy, meatbag.
  • Dummy Never FailsDummy Never Fails - This little physics game is awfully familiar, but it's fun and well made. Shoot hapless crash test dummies and hit the target to proceed. Ironically, the biggest flaw is dummy really does never fail; far too many levels can simply be bulldozed through without any finesse, which means you never really feel like you're accomplishing anything or showcasing your superstar skills. Sure, you won't unlock most of the skins, but you didn't need to put your dummy in a cheerleader outfit anyway, right?... right?
  • Release the MooksRelease the Mooks - Another game to test your physics skillz, the simple little title has you dropping "Mooks" from the ceiling so that they stack properly without falling over or throwing the balance of the whole structure off. It's cute, but a little repetitive. Just what are the Mooks? I have no clue. But just in case releasing them turns out to be a spectacularly bad idea on par with adopting a Tribble, I had nothing to do with this. It's all on you, skipper.
  • Haunted Mirror MazeHaunted Mirror Maze - Previously featured in an installment of Mobile Monday, this little puzzle game is now available for those of you without an iPhone. (You know, the ones who wanted to be able to afford to eat this year.) Use clues to track down creatures of the night on a grid with logic and mirrors as your guide. If you're afraid of monsters, don't worry; the critters featured within are strictly of the adorable variety. Why, that zombie is cute as a button! A rotting, shambling, slowly putrefying button that hungers for your succulent sheets of flesh! D'awwww.
  • Clockwords Act OneClockwords Act One - [Text by super special guest star Kyle.] The follow up to last year's Best of 2009 winner, has finally arrived. You'll enjoy the same great gameplay that made the first installment a hit along with a bit of a cosmetic facelift as well. Type a word, any word, and watch as your mysterious machine uses it as ammo to fend off wave upon wave of attacking clockwork spiders. The bigger the words you use, the more damage you do. In between levels you'll be able buy specialty letters to make even more powerful words to keep the secret stealing automatons at bay. A special premium edition is also available for the purchase of 2.99 USD that unlocks additional stages and new abilities.

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Rating: 4.1/5 (98 votes)
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Babylon Sticks: Muscle Head comic

A custom casual gameplay comic created exclusively for JIG by Babylon Sticks creator, James Francis. Follow Babylon Sticks on Twitter: @babylonsticks.


  • Currently 4.3/5
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Rating: 4.3/5 (128 votes)
Comments (35) | Views (4,333)

JamesChiselWhen all the planets in a galaxy need destroying, you will have to apply your head to solve the problem. In the case of Nitrome's new action/puzzle game Chisel, the large drill stuck to your noggin makes that statement pretty literal. Get ready to tear through terra-firma like you have never done before - unless you are a moleman.

Control Chiseller with the [arrow] keys, and drill downwards with the [spacebar]. While some enemies can be destroyed by ramming into them, others are dangerous, and you'll want to learn to tell the difference quickly or those three lives will run out pretty fast. Each planet has a target size to reach, so cut it down as quickly as you can for a high score!

For reasons not entirely motivated, Chiseller has to carve thirty different planets down to their target size. But perhaps it has to do with the strange shapes these heavenly bodies come in. One wants, after all, a uniform and well-adjusted galaxy. Or maybe the strange creatures that inhabit the surface and below require some culling. After all, they are not there for Chiseller's health - in fact, they are quite detrimental to it - so he has to run to a good spot and plunge head first into the ground, tearing straight through the planet and making it a little bit smaller. But, obviously, the smaller the planet gets the harder it becomes to avoid its lethal fauna (or flora - assuming a saw blade swinging from a chain counts as a plant).

ChiselAnalysis: Chisel is in its way an inverse of the 'fill the space' genre created by Qix and later copied by the likes of Gals Panic, the Xonix series and the Art Class mini game in Rockstar's console title Bully. In the Qix lineage you have to fill spaces in a rectangular area by drawing lines to create boxes and avoid enemies roaming in the space. Chisel turns the idea around by expecting you to remove space. While in Qix games you killed enemies by enclosing them, in Chisel you ram them with your drill. When this isn't happening, avoidance is the only recipe for survival. And just like Qix, as your play area gets smaller, staying out of the way of bad guys gets harder.

But unlike the former genre, Chisel does not stick to uniform levels. It combines different-shaped planets with interesting enemy types to create a variety of challenges. Some creatures can't be killed by your drill. Others knock against each other and change direction. A few live underground and change their digging direction based on how you chop away rock. One particularly annoying creature actually chases after you, leaving you very little time to get the right angle for your drill.

There is no time limit in Chisel, because the game is all about timing and angle. Sometimes it is just a matter of heading into the right direction, but often you have to choose the perfect launch moment in order to avoid a monster (or perhaps hit and kill it, depending on the type). These two elements are constantly being juggled in the various level designs and the final stage completely focuses both to a fine art. Chiseller only has three lives, so he can be hurt twice before a level is failed: sometimes you have to sacrifice a bit of health to make a level work in your favour, but reckless digging will get you nowhere fast.

There is a scoring mechanism in the form of gems that appear randomly and extra points for killing monsters. So even if you easily master the game, there is an incentive to get these gems, as only a limited number appear on each level. But even if score is the furthest thing from your mind, Chisel is brilliant fun. Typical of Nitrome's games it uses cute retro-pixel graphics displaying creatures that the art department definitely had a ball coming up with. It would be nice for the music to change every few levels, but other than that the only thing left wanting is the sequel hinted at in the end credits.

Play Chisel


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Rating: 4.5/5 (890 votes)
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Kylekyle_princeofpersiatfs_title.pngPrince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands is a high paced action game from Ubisoft intended to promote the latest major title in the long running series. You take on the role of the son of the great King Solomon as he is about to arrive at his brother's palace only to find it under attack. It's as if the very sands of Persia itself have arisen to claim the castle, and indeed upon meeting a mysterious young queen claiming to know your father, you find that this is not far from the truth. A deadly sand army marches on and the only hope of stopping them is for you to activate four elemental fountains and use their powers against this terrible foe.

The Forgotten Sands offers gameplay that is mostly similar to Canabalt though with numerous twists and additions to give this mini Prince of Persia title plenty of its own style and flare. For the most part running is automatic, just make sure you jump using [up] and attack with the [space] bar. Later on you will gain special abilities that can be used with the [X] key, and if you find that you've gotten yourself in a bit of trouble, you can rewind up to three seconds Braid style simply by pressing [down].

Like Canabalt and other similar titles, Prince of Persia is largely a reflex game; Identify obstacle and act appropriately. However, the addition of attacks, special powers, and limited time travel give you a great amount of freedom in conquering the obstacles set before you. This also helps make the game a little less challenging and more accessible. As a nice little treat, the boss battles are actually somewhat interesting and well thought out, allowing the game to provide some gameplay diversity while at the same time taking the opportunity to show off some fairly impressive looking visuals.

Unfortunately The Forgotten Sands' high paced action may leave fans of the series feeling a little less than sated given the depth and complexity of the main series. If you come into this expecting the cerebral Metroidvania style of the older Prince of Persia games, or the deep 3D action of the latter-day titles, you'll find neither here. And while the controls are mostly acceptable one can grow annoyed with how tetchy attacking regular enemies could be.

Finally, Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands ends far too soon, and with far less fanfare than one would expect from the rest of the game. As a result you probably won't find yourself coming back to this game time and again, but it should provide a thrilling if brief diversion for a little while.

Play Prince Of Persia: The Forgotten Sands


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Rating: 4.6/5 (4368 votes)
Comments (65) | Views (12,908)

supermariobroscrossover.gifJohnBSuper Mario Bros. Crossover is a massive dose of NES nostalgia. It answers the question every five year old in the late 80s had: what if I could play as Mega Man in Super Mario Bros.? Or as Samus, for that matter? Dropping half a dozen NES-era characters and their unique abilities into the familiar world of the original Super Mario Bros. game, Super Mario Bros. Crossover weaves familiar gaming icons into a new product, allowing you to play an old game in several very unique ways.

Playable characters in Crossover include Samus from Metroid, Simon Belmont from Castlevania, Link from The Legend of Zelda, Mega Man, Bill from Contra, and of course, Mario himself, each in his or her original 8-bit form. Each character's abilities are mostly intact, so Mega Man can still slide and fire his arm cannon, Simon still has his whip, and Samus can still roll into a ball and set bombs. How cool is that?

Although their abilities are different, each character is still subject to the rules of the Mario universe. Turtles are bad and must be destroyed. Mushrooms and flowers are good and should be collected. Powering-up is different for each character but appropriate to his or her original game. Samus, for example, starts with her short-range beam, but grab a mushroom and she can fire across the screen. Each character's attacks also destroy bricks and activate "?" blocks, making short work of obstacles Mario has to tackle one square at a time.

Great care was taken with Super Mario Bros. Crossover to make sure each character's unique abilities fit into this goomba-infested world. Everybody can safely stomp baddies, but because of height and attack differences, not everyone can stand and fire at ground-based foes. Bill, for example, has to lay down to hit goombas, which adds a lot of flavor to the game.

Analysis: Fan games that build on established commercial releases are usually slapped together with terrible controls and little more than a few strings of code to make the game run. Super Mario Bros. Crossover is quite the opposite, gathering a number of characters with unique abilities and adapting them perfectly to Mario's platforming universe. A lot of attention was put on making things fit together, and that shows every time you power-up with a mushroom as Simon Belmont.

Unique character abilities is at once the game's biggest strength and its chief drawback. While it's beyond awesome to stab Mario's enemies with Link's sword, not all of these gaming icons are cut out for the Mushroom Kingdom. Simon is one of the worst, as his jump (just like in the original Castlevania game) is a set height and arc, making it impossible to adjust yourself in mid-air. It ends up being more of a gameplay challenge than a design flaw, though, and as I stated above, a lot of time was spent balancing and fitting these characters into a new universe.

Then there's the whole issue of copyright infringement. Super Mario Bros. Crossover uses ripped sprites and music from six games released by major development studios. It certainly doesn't lend any credibility to this game, and Nintendo, Capcom, and Konami would be within their rights to have it removed. The spirit of Crossover is definitely appreciated, regardless of what any lawyer might say, and it plays on that good ole feeling of nostalgia. We know how to play Mega Man. We know how to play Super Mario Bros. Now let's throw them together and have fun!

Super Mario Bros. Crossover doesn't do many new things, but the ambitious mixing of classic gaming heroes into one of the most recognizable game environments produces extraordinary results. It's well-made, well-tuned, and grin-inducingly fun to play.

Play Super Mario Bros. Crossover


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Rating: 4.4/5 (63 votes)
Comments (66) | Views (7,518)

DoraPlexus Puzzle: Pirates!Ahoy, mateys! Put down yer grog and cast yer scurvy eyes upon the latest jigsaw puzzle from the scalliwags at Plexus and Smartkit, Plexus Puzzle: Pirates! It do be a puzzle o' a different colour than ye may be used to. And, uh... swashes... pirate... stuff.... hrm. Phooey. I'm not a very good pirate. Just as well. "Scurvy eyes" sounds uncomfortably sticky.

If you've never played a Plexus puzzle before, you should know that they ain't your grammy's jigsaw puzzles. Uh... unless you're a grammy yourself, in which case I guess they would be someone's grammy's... nevermind. The pieces onscreen don't combine to form a coherent scene, but rather simply lock together when you match up the edges. Just click and drag pieces around, and click on the transparent circle that appears when you mouse over a piece to spin it. Pay attention to the contours of the pieces rather than the images themselves, and you'll start making connections. In other words, think of the pieces as their silhouettes, and how those might fit together. Just don't expect the resulting scene to make any sense, and warm up your best barn owl impersonation. *painful head tilt*

The puzzle has been revised due to feedback and is now using the old/original engine running the pieces. If you played and rated the game before, please try the new version and re-rate it. We have reset the rating for this puzzle due to the change.

There's been a visual upgrade from the last games, and, while the larger images are nice, they do make the relatively small play area feel somewhat crowded. A larger area to move around in so you could spread everything out would have been appreciated. The edges of the images are also slightly less better defined than they were in previous titles, which can mean connections are a bit harder to make. However, Pirates! is another challenging twist on the jigsaw genre; clever, challenging, and... well, I would say "relaxing", but it's actually quite a workout for your eyes and your patience. So warm up your grey matter, me hearties; you've got a puzzle to solve!

Play Plexus Puzzle: Pirates!


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Rating: 3.6/5 (94 votes)
Comments (30) | Views (4,614)

Weekday Escape

GrinnypHere at JIG we like to offer an "escape from the everyday" for each Weekday Escape. So this week how about a nice vacation in an empty hotel? There's something... unsettling about an empty hotel, isn't there? Peer around the vacant, echoing corridors and you almost expect creepy twins, an old lady with a large knife, or — worse yet — the Carpenters. Hotel Bianco-Bianco(Quick, name those three movies!) Fortunately for those of a delicate constitution, this week's escape game, Hotel Bianco-Bianco, features none of those things. All you have to do is escape the lobby, no ghosts involved.

Atmosphere aside, Hotel Bianco-Bianco comes packed with the standard room escape features: navigation bars to move around with, a handy inventory control that involves double-clicking objects for a close up, a changing cursor to indicate hot-spots (thank you!), and even a save button if you feel like stopping for a while and coming back later. All of the things that make life easier if you're a professional escape artist or just trying to get home.

Bianco-Bianco's escapes run a wide gamut, from quirky to creepy, to the sappily sentimental. What they do have in common, however, is quality. Beautifully rendered visuals, logical puzzles, slick design, these are always present when Bianco-Bianco brings us a new escape. There are even two different endings to discover.

Hotel Bianco-Bianco continues the tradition of quality design inherent in the developer's escapes. The eerily empty lobby aside, this looks like an upscale establishment, one you might not mind spending a night in. What follows is not the most difficult escape out there, but one that is clever, logical, and has a nice twist on the old theme of two endings. The quality shows everywhere, from the finely rendered backgrounds to the ease of navigation, from the simple inventory controls to the blessed relief of a changing cursor. Bianco-Bianco even kindly offers us a save button, although the escape is simple enough that you shouldn't need to use it.

Perhaps the only downside to this charming little locked room is the presence of a color-based puzzle, which can make the going difficult for some. Hotel Bianco-Bianco is not rocket science, but an escape game which illustrates how to create a good room escape game. A nice combination including use of found objects, puzzles, and a little ingenuity, and you should be out and looking for new accommodations in no time. You know, a place where there are actually living people? Never stay in a hotel where the clientele is conspicuously absent, that's all I'm saying. Checking in!

Play Hotel Bianco-Bianco


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Rating: 4.3/5 (120 votes)
Comments (37) | Views (5,403)
Mikemike-topheroarena-screen1.jpgWhen you consider a typical, classic, medieval-type fantasy world, it sometimes seems that it must be so chockablock with heroes and adventurers, that you have to marvel there are any adventures left to be had. What do heroes do when the last dragon is slain, the last dark tyrant vanquished, the last evil artifact destroyed? They could all either weep, for there are no more worlds to conquer, like that wimp Alexander; or they could mass-market their adventuring skills for the entertainment of the teeming masses. Top Hero Arena, by Dave Campbell, seems to imagine such a world, where a decadent peace leads unmoored adventurers to compete to escape elaborate dungeons full of kooky monsters and devilish traps. And you get to build the dungeon! The dungeon master, to coin a phrase! Huzzah!

Each level involves a particular hero, a particular hex-grid dungeon map, and a particular selection of critters and contraptions, each with their own powers and attributes. It's your job to arrange these elements into a fearsome gauntlet, so that the hero cannot survive before making it to the exit. Simply click and drag monsters and traps into place. Dragging a tile to an occupied space will cause the two to switch places. Hovering over a tile will give a description of what it does, and you will perceive that some sets of tiles work best when the hero is forced to encounter them in a certain order. Damage to the hero affects his armor first, then health, and he may have a chance to replenish both. Crush the upstart before he gets a chance!

The first two levels that are unlocked are fairly simple and will give you the chance to test various strategies. Subsequent levels escalate in difficulty very quickly, so be prepared to yell at your screen by the last couple of levels. There are only eight levels, and the graphics are crude, hand-drawn specimens, but the puzzles provide a worthy challenge if you have a moment in your day. Plus you will have a chance to put those vainglorious heroes in their place. So fire up your brain, dungeon master. The crowds demand spectacle!

Play Top Hero Arena


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Rating: 3.7/5 (75 votes)
Comments (9) | Views (3,403)

JamesTremerzThe town of Perfection is under siege from underground worms rearing out of their Hades abyss and chomping down on the surface dwellers! If not for the actions of two local repairmen, everyone could be mauled in the fitting homage arcade game Tremerz!

The controls could not be simpler: just move your mouse, clicking to jump. Taking charge of Kevin Bacon (or Valentine, if you want to be like that), you have to collect the town folk and dodge the attacks of the worms, which are hurtling themselves at you from out of the ground. With each character you add to your posse, it gets harder since the group concertinas when moving. So a pack of four survivors clears a worm more slowly than three or two. Running sideways along the landscape, whenever you rescue someone, the worms attack, leaping out of the ground at different angles, poking their heads out for a opportunistic snack or rumbling along the surface towards your feet. Every screen has more intense and quicker attacks, culminating at the edge of a cliff. The aim: try and save as many of the characters as you can. Making it to the end with just Kevin is easy. Making it with the whole population is a lot harder.

The worm behavior is consistent with what we have seen in Tremors, a documentary from the early Nineties where these worms were first identified. There have been a few subsequent video studies on the phenomena, but they are worth ignoring. All you need to see is the the first outing. It also adds to your prowess in "7 Degrees Of Kevin Bacon", as you now know that he starred with giant man-eating worms. You know, in case you needed to connect to another movie starring someone else and the same worms. Or if you are playing "7 Degrees Of Predator Worms" and you need a Kevin Bacon link. What I am saying here is that your life is a lot poorer for never having watched Tremors.

That is the main selling point behind this game. At its heart Tremerz is really shallow, pretty pointless and far too easy to merit a mention (to be fair, it was made in 24 hours for the Kevin Bacon Day on Newgrounds). But it's a homage to one of the best creature-feature movies ever made and it is done well, enlisting the talents of Newgrounds demigods Tom Fulp and Johnny Utah (and music by MidiMachine). The fact that nobody ever made a Tremors game makes the existence of this mini-romp inevitable, while the throwback graphics just drive the point home.

It won't take up more than a few minutes of your life, failing at the one area where Flash games ought to excel - eliminating vast chunks of our meaningless existence. But its failure to keep you consistently oblivious from reality is totally covered by the fact that it reminds you to watch Tremors again (and the reason why we yanked this from Link Dump Friday oblivion). In that light I could only find three real flaws with Tremerz: the absence of Rhonda and Walter's characters, a worm cruising past with a jackhammer stuck in it, and a bonus stage where you play as a survivalist couple in their basement opening fire on an invading worm like it was a seaside village in Apocalypse Now. Ah, the memories, the memories...

Play Tremerz


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Rating: 3.9/5 (107 votes)
Comments (19) | Views (8,369)
DoraOtomacoLife inside a 3dpi Games title is rough. If you're not being menaced by multicolour pirates, you're going through the weirdest, nastiest magical divorce the world has ever seen. In Otomaco: The Last Jade Journey you're part of a group of three adventurers ambushed in their travels and tossed into a cell. What fate awaits our strange looking heroes? Well, you'll have to play to find out, but if you don't escape soon, chances are you won't be getting a free trip to the Gumdrop Mine in Happyland. Just a hunch.

Otomaco is a mostly standard little point-and-click adventure where you use your mouse to interact with the screen. While viewing the dungeon from the center of the room, you have a 360 degree view, and nudging the cursor to either side of the screen will turn you in that direction. You can click on objects to pick them up, or to get a closer look at certain areas. Keep your eyes open for a changing cursor to let you interact.

But Otamco also has an interesting mechanic that allows you to change the time in certain areas, which you'll need to do in order to solve the puzzles. Whenever it appears, simply click on the dots arranged in a circle in the upper left of the screen to change the time to be whatever you wish. Of course, that's assuming what you wish is limited to day or night. Otomaco, I'm sorry to report, does not currently feature "peanut butter jelly time" as an option.

OtomacoAnalysis: According to the game, Otomaco is not, as I had hoped, a delicious new variety of taco, but a legendary city, and everyone in your merry band of misfits is after it for a different reason. There's a bit of exposition given under the instructions and through the opening cutscene, but it doesn't feel like it's enough in this case. With its fantasy theme and oddball characters, Otomaco would have benefited greatly from a story more closely integrated with its gameplay. There's an appealingly sketchy style to Otomaco's visual design that fans of 3dpi Games's other titles will remember; something like a children's book left out in the rain. The minimal use of sound and ambient noise makes for an atmospheric and involving experience.

Otomaco is a step above 3dpi's last title, Mandrake in terms of design. The area is small and well defined rather than made up of sprawling areas that are awkward to navigate, so while puzzle solving can be fairly abstract, you know that there's a limit to where and what the solution can be. The ability to click back and forth between times at will is an interesting touch, but it feels like a strange addition. You can only affect the time on certain screens, and even if you set it to daylight, when you click anywhere else in the dungeon it's dark again. The lack of consistency makes the implementation feel a little lazy.

It feels like with a bit more tweaking and about twice as much playtime, Otomaco could have really been something amazing. As it stands, this serves more to tantalize than anything else, and feels like a prologue rather than a proper chapter. If you know what you're doing, Otomaco: Last Jade Journey is actually a pretty short game, and you'll have to wait until the next installment to find out what happens to you and your friends. What danger lies around the corner? Will you ever be safe? Will you ever find the legendary city? And why does he get a orange and I don't?! Only time, and Marek Frankowski's team at 3dpi Games, will tell.

Play Otomaco


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Rating: 4/5 (145 votes)
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DoraWitchWhen flying one's kite, one should always been on the lookout for egrets, telephone wires, and witches. The aptly named point-and-click escape game Witch is a cautionary tale about the dangers of kite flying and is entirely true. You should definitely play it so you know what to do in case a witch ever locks you in a cage and ... what? "No such thing?" Friend, that's what the witches want you to think. (For further preparation in case of witch emergency, I refer you to Mr Dahl.) Shouldn't we already be suspicious of candy trails found in the forest anyway?

Your goal is to help the two adorable caged moppets escape whatever fate awaits them... hopefully. Click around on the screen to interact with items, and try to figure out what you need to escape. Witch is not what you might call logical, unless I missed something and my education was woefully inadequate in the many applications of pumpkin vomit. You'll need to experiment with every object you can click on to figure out how to reach one of two different endings. While this sort of gameplay does encourage a nice sense of discovery and experimentation that will appeal to some players, others may be put off by the trial-and-error approach. Fortunately, the Witch's hut is small, and little visual clues will steer you in the right direction.

Once you've figured out the correct order to click on which places, Witch is a pretty short and simple game. The game does not save your progress, and certain puzzle clues don't repeat, so make sure to keep a mental (or physical) note of any diagrams that might appear important if you want to save yourself some frustration on one puzzle. Despite its cute presentation, Witch earns her rating for some mildly ghoulish moments that might upset younger children. I can't imagine why not. I mean, I pop my own eyes out all the time when I cook. That's not weird. Just dedication. Speaking of, um. Did you happen to find anything... odd... in that soup I made for you yesterday? I'm... uh... missing something.

Play Witch

Thanks to Bogdan and Chiktionary for sending this one in!


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Mobile Monday

JohnBHow about some arcade games to spice up your Monday? Back in the day, arcade games were designed to challenge players to master the game's mechanics for little more reward than a high score. You don't have to worry about losing quarters now, but the same "play it until you're good at it" gameplay still challenges and satisfies.

tilttolive.jpgTilt to Live - Do what the title says: tilt your iPhone and stay alive! This arena avoider puts you in control of a tiny ship that can only move and gather power-ups. Avoid the dangerous-looking objects and move your way to the spawning items to dispose of the baddies. Each power-up does something different, adding a whole lot of thinking to this tense game. Plus, the achievements are hilarious. It's so well-balanced and well-made, you'll play it three times through before you even think about putting it down.

bitpilot.gifBit Pilot - From the creator of the decidedly non-arcade game Unify comes a deliciously old-school avoider with music by chiptune superstar Sabrepulse. Swipe the screen to change direction and control your ship's speed, avoiding anything dangerous that flies your way. Pick up capsules to strengthen your shield, and stay alive as long as you can to earn a higher score.

pew-iphone.gifPew! - A slow-paced shooter with a retro feel, Pew! is built around a bit of strategy as well as arcade ideals. Slide your finger to move your ship around the screen. The craft fires on its own, so all you have to do is put it in the right place to take out the moving baddies. Tap coins with a spare finger whenever they appear and use them to upgrade your ship between levels. Repeat until you're a Pew! master.

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.


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Cassandra's Journey 2

KarlCassandra's Journey 2: The Fifth Sun of Nostradamus, like the first game in the series, puts you in the role of Cassandra, a clairvoyant who solves cases with the aid of a mysterious ring and training from her mentor Nostradamus. Conveniently, she solves her cases by spotting hidden objects in various settings. Cassandra attempts to divine the location of her missing boyfriend but gets overwhelmed by a malevolent, evil presence and knocked out. While she sleeps, Nostradamus visits and tells her that she must find and destroy this evil presence to save the world.

cassandrasjourney2a.jpgYou'll spend the majority of your time looking for hidden objects. At the bottom of the screen is a list of the objects that you're trying to find; at first it'll just be a simple list, but as you progress you'll have to decipher riddles and outlines of the objects you need instead. Then, all you have to do is find them within the room and click them with your mouse.

Like with any hidden object game, this sounds simple but it can end up being quite challenging. While typically the objects are in places you'd expect, sometimes they're in improbably (and sometimes physically impossible) places. You'll get stuck more than once, especially with the picture clues in the late game that are often reversed or upside down compared to the object you're looking for.

Fortunately, Cassandra's a fortune-teller, and you have the option of casting spells to show you where objects are. She knows five spells, with increasingly specific hints, and require an increasing amount of power as well. You start each level with a full hint meter, but if you click randomly or cast hint spells, it can quickly shrink. To refill it, either wait or find more objects. It's a system that's elegant in its simplicity, and keeps you from getting frustrated or stuck.

It's a system that you'll appreciate, especially when you enter one of the game's many minigames. In the course of her adventure, Cassandra will find clues that she must reassemble or puzzles she must solve in order to progress the plot. For the most part, these minigames are a fun diversion, introducing a jigsaw puzzle or some light Wheel of Fortune-style decoding into what would otherwise be a pretty bland game. It's nice to have variety. However, sometimes the puzzles might prove too challenging for you, or maybe you're just not in the mood. In that case, there's a convenient 'skip puzzle' option, which activates after a set amount of time fiddling with the puzzle. When you just can't see the solution, it's nice to be able to just move on with the game.

cassandrasjourney2b.jpgAnalysis: Cassandra's Journey 2: The Fifth Sun of Nostradamus is a surprisingly pretty game. Every scenario is well-done, and the quality of the art is so high that I found myself wondering if the characters and settings were photographs retouched to look painted, or if they were just excellently-done paintings. Every object is gorgeously rendered, and unlike other hidden object games I've played, I always knew what I was looking at.

The story, however, is sadly lacking. Although Cassandra's Journey 2 is just a hidden object game, and is just as fun to play without the story, so much effort is put into the gorgeous plot sequences that take place between levels that it seems a shame that they make so little sense. Without spoiling anything, part of the plot revolves around Cassandra's divination to tell the two where to go next, but it's accomplished with ordinary playing cards and a form of Solitaire. Cassandra explains that the last four cards left on the table are "numbers that fate has chosen," but I had a hard time suspending my disbelief when they immediately went to an address which included a K and an A. Still, no matter how you feel about fortune-telling and clairvoyance, the core gameplay is entertaining.

Overall, Cassandra's Journey is a gorgeously presented hidden-object game with solid core gameplay. If you ever enjoyed I Spy as a kid, you'll love this game.

WindowsWindows:
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Mac OS XMac OS X:
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Sam & Max: The Devil's Playhouse

MikeSam and Max are back in another season of episodic adventure games! Expanding upon the established point-and-click formula explored in Sam & Max - Culture Shock and following episodes, the first game in The Devil's Playhouse season, The Penal Zone, lets you see things through the warped perspective of Max. Yes, it's as crazy as you think, if not more so. But it's still a lot of adventuring goodness with the duo's characteristic sense of humor slapped on every object and situation.

sammaxpenalzone.jpgSumming up the Sam & Max series to the uninitiated is a bit like rattling off the CliffsNotes version of a Tom & Jerry cartoon with the epic scope of Lost. Here it goes: Sam is an anthropomorphic dog-like critter with the rumbled wardrobe of a Raymond Chandler character and a nose for justice. Max is an unsettling, impulsive lagomorph with no wardrobe to speak of and the attention span of a six-year-old on pixie sticks. Together they are Sam & Max, the Freelance Police, who solve crimes with a flair for wacky mayhem and a broad disregard for property rights and public safety. Sam & Max's road to gaming stardom began with a classic LucasArts adventure title, and more recently, they became stars of the flagship series for Telltale Games' venture into episodic adventure games.

After a series of increasingly bizarre cases, which involved mass hypnosis, the bureaucracy of Hell, and Max's election the the Presidency of the United States, our heroes have made an accidental discovery: toys are awesome. And certain toys are really awesome, especially for those with "special" brains like Max. It seems the galaxy is littered with Toys of Power, which enable gifted wielders to exhibit cockamamie, paranormal psychic powers. And everybody wants them, including, as we discover in Episode 1: The Penal Zone, a General Skunkape, an alien uber-gorilla with a suave baritone and possibly hostile designs on Planet Earth.

The marquee new feature to the Sam & Max series is the inclusion of Max's psychic puzzles, a bold shakeup of Telltale's standard adventuring formula. Most of the time you control Sam, clicking on various objects and dramatis personae to examine, acquire, and speak with them. Click and drag to move Sam, or just use the [WASD] or [arrow] keys. You can examine your inventory by clicking the cardboard box in the upper corner.

To use Max's powers, click on the shield and switch to seeing the world through Max's warped point of view. Here you can rotate with the [WASD] or [arrow] keys about a fixed, first person perspective and pick which of Max's available powers you want to use. You can also pause and go to the game menu with the [esc] key. With the addition of Max's powers, use the traditional adventure-gaming skills of interrogation, examination, and item gathering to figure out what Skunkape is up to, and to discover Max's ultimate destiny.

Analysis: I can only conclude that Telltale believed that gracefully introducing new players to the convoluted backstory of the Sam & Max universe was an impossible goal, and opted instead for sudden, chaotic immersion. The intro to The Penal Zone is the most wonderfully disorienting experiences I've ever encountered in a game. It begins at the end of the game, for one (and it's not even the right ending). You are imprisoned aboard Skunkape's ship, Skunkape is busily destroying New York, and a disembodied brain is telling you to do strange things to liberate yourselves. There's also the matter of a cryptic, Rod Serling-like narrator, giving what turns out, amidst the chaos, to be a useful tutorial to the ins and outs of the game. My only consolation to any neophytes who may find themselves overwhelmed is that veterans of the series are likely just as confused (though they'll recognize some familiar faces, at least). My advice to new and old players alike is to ride with the insanity, because the insanity is a perfect distillation of what makes Sam & Max great.

sammaxpenalzone2.jpgSam & Max's world has gotten a bit of a visual overhaul, thanks to what the game calls "the mayor's new city-dirtification program." Gone are the bright, plasticine textures of previous entries. Characters are more detailed and expressive, and environments are grittier. The new designs really enhance the outlandish decrepitude of Sam & Max's universe, without compromising its energetic, cartoony brio. The background music is all-new as well, though it still alternates between edgy jazz and campy sci-fi music, perfect for the mood and spirit of the game.

The big question for fans of the series concerns Max's powers. How well do they really work for the game? Pretty well, actually! I was concerned that "psychic powers" wouldn't mesh with the canon, but sci-fi is no stranger to Sam & Max, and the powers are executed with such madcap bluster that they fit right in. A Silly-Putty knockoff called "Rhino-Plasty" lets Max change shape, a toy telephone lets you teleport with phone numbers, and a 3D View-Master-like toy lets you see the future. Something about the mix of cheesy childhood nostalgia with the paranormal makes what could have been a klunky fit feel entirely natural. The Toys are also responsible for some slick puzzles, my favorite involving the neutralization of two of Skunkape's "research assistants" with nothing but a clever application of Max's powers. My one complaint is that it can be a little tedious using Future Vision on everything in the game, which is about the only way of determining what bits of future insight are necessary for solving puzzles.

Another question is whether the series, in its third season, is still funny. Yes, says I! A lot of the humor comes from marinating in the overall strangeness of the story, but there are several laugh-out-loud moments as well ("In case anyone was curious, second is licking," was particularly well-played). It helps that the voice acting remains top-notch, especially for the cast of familiar extras. Newbies may be a little perplexed by the surfeit of regular characters, but the game does a fairly good job of introducing them, and generally avoids too many inside jokes and winking references.

The Penal Zone is an excellent introduction to the new season, The Devil's Playhouse. It shows that the new powers system works, while promising more tantalizing things to come. As a Sam & Max fan from way back, I can say I'm excited to see where the series is going.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

Mac OS XMac OS X:
Download the demo
Get the full version


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Rating: 4.7/5 (42 votes)
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Love and Death: Bitten

DoraIf the horror genre is a schoolyard, vampires have long since been turned into the kid who gets pantsed at recess by the cooler kids. Love and Death: Bitten, the first in a new hidden-object/point-and-click series, is going to change all that. It's a sweeping, sprawling epic that will touch your heart and change the way you look at—AHAHAHA, I'm just yankin' your chain, it's totally goofy dude. Fortunately, it's packaged inside a game that is not only gorgeous to look at, but features top-notch voice acting, surprisingly clever puzzles, and cheesy charm.

Love and Death: BittenAt the start of the story, we are introduced to Damon, a vampire being kept as a prisoner-slash-pet by a powerful witch who also happens to be a vampiress. (I think I've read fanfiction like this, only she was also a Jedi princess and half elf.) On the night when he's sent out to acquire a human for dinner, Damon spies Victoria, a mortal woman who immediately intrigues him. So he does what any gentleman would do; he follows her home, trashes her living room, and leaps out the window when she confronts him. (Actually, that's how I met my husband.) Victoria sets off after him, determined to find out who he is and put an end to the menace threatening her village. Right after she solves this mirror puzzle. And destroys that boat. And makes this soup.

Part hidden object game, part traditional point-and-click, Love and Death: Bitten combines both genres quite nicely. You'll know when a hidden-object scene is available because a raven will fly into the scene carrying a list of items for you to find. (Look, if you can believe wizards get mail via owls, you can believe this; I've had enough of your lip!) There's a hint button for a little guidance, and the puzzles also come with the option to skip them if you find yourself stuck on them for too long. During the day you'll play as Victoria, and during the night you play Damon. While there is a slight difference between what they can do, I was a little disappointed that they didn't play up Damon's vampiric powers more than, say, occasionally forcing him to grub under the floorboards for spilled blood.

Love and Death: BittenAnalysis: While I at first dismissed Bitten because I prefer my vampires menacing Santa Carla, after trying the demo I was genuinely surprised at how enjoyable the game was. The plot, while as outlandish and predictable as you might expect, is at least fun and full of magic. Though the pacing of the plot is rather erratic, with Victoria and Damon rather abruptly deciding they love one another after spending the majority of the game making snide comments and minimal interaction, the dialogue is well written and the characters are mostly pretty likable. Not to mention, of course, how beautiful the whole thing is, with gorgeous scenery, hand-drawn artwork, and a lovely soundtrack.

Bitten provides a nice variety to its hidden object scenes, too; the difficulty steps up as you go and some scenes even require you to create things within them, such as... sandwiches and a puppet show. While the point-and-click "use x item here" sequences are never challenging, the puzzles are actually pretty varied. Make a soup from unicorn horns and bat wings to cure an old seer? I am so there, hand me that cheese grater so I can render this priceless evidence of mythological beasts into tasty shavings! The downside is that as the game goes on, it starts to suffer from "Do It Again, Only More Complicated" syndrome, and you'll find yourself having to hunt down masses of tiny items just to solve a single puzzle. As such, the latter half of the game winds up feeling padded compared to the tight design of the first.

Despite this and the cliffhanger ending you'll probably see coming, Bitten is a well put together example of its genre. Most players will probably finish it in about three to four hours, more or less depending on your eagle eyes, but that's becoming an unfortunate trend in these games lately. Whether you love vampires, hate them, or love to hate them, Love and Death: Bitten offers a surprisingly enjoyable romp through a fun, fairytale story. Hopefully, the sequel will greater explore the vampiric abilities we all know and love; press A to quote bad poetry! Press B to brood on top of a gothic cathedral in the rain! Minigames where you have to assemble the laciest manshirt! This is a goldmine, people!

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo Get the full version

Mac OS XMac OS X:
Download the demo Get the full version


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Weekend Download

JohnBThis edition of Weekend Download is all about failure. Failure to escape a missile attack, failure to create a non-ordinary game, failure to climb over a wall, and failure to, well, not die. Failure is part of playing video games, as without risk there's no reward for succeeding, but the titles below use failing in some creative ways!

aftermath.gifAftermath (Windows, 1.4MB, free) - Oh, Mario, the adventure's you have embarked upon! Created by Yrr, this chunky-pixeled 2D platform game turns up the difficulty and challenges you to scavenge for parts to escape from a crater with your old pal Toad. The atmosphere is great, and the sense of exploration is quite strong, though at some point you'll get sick of the precise jumping required to make it through the game.

restrictedrecall.gifRestricted Recall (Windows, 1.1MB, free) - A short one button game that really plays with the concept of limiting your actions. Tap the [spacebar] to do each action shown on the icons at the top of the screen. One tap does one action, the next tap does the next action, and so on. Your moves cycle and repeat as you press the button, and you can't change the order in which they're performed. This lends a very puzzle-like feel to an otherwise platformer-like game, and you'll have a great time figuring out when and how to tap the [spacebar] to make it out alive!

thereisawall.gifThere IS A Wall (Windows, 2.1MB, free) - Just like the name says, this game features a wall. And a protagonist. And an exit. And background music. The rest is up to you to figure out. Each of the 20 rooms looks the same, but your abilities change from room to room. One level might give you the ability to jump in mid-air, for example, allowing you to clear the wall with no trouble. You basically have to play around with the keyboard with each new level, but there's something oddly intriguing about the whole experience.

anordinaryshooter.gifAn Ordinary Shooter (Windows, 2.5MB, free) - An ordinary description for An Ordinary Shooter, your goal is to shoot the aliens and stay alive as long as you can. Even though the game is quite ordinary, the retro feel and arcade set-up make it a great game to pick up on a lazy afternoon. Be sure to pick up the falling + icons, as they build up to something extra fun.

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!


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Rating: 4.2/5 (29 votes)
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Mall-a-Palooza

JohnBSo, like, here's like, the thing. I like, have a mall and you like, don't. Like, not yet, anyway. Also, I'm like going to stop using the word "like" now because it's, like, so like annoying. Instead, I'll tell you about Mall-a-Palooza from RTS Casuals, a time management sim that's all about building stores and nurturing a thriving mall crowd, complete with annoying teenagers with a proclivity for the word "like"!

Mall-a-PaloozaEach level starts with a handful of empty booths just waiting for your eager cursor. Click the space and choose which type of store to build, ranging from clothing boutiques to books, toys, electronics stores and more. Once built, you'll need to pick an employee to run the place (the honor system never works well in malls). Sift through the selection of potentials, reading their quote to see if they have an interest in the type of store you're staffing. You wouldn't want a computer geek to run a women's clothing store, for example. Making the right employee choice nets you a bonus, so it's worth taking a little time to find the right one.

After staffing is complete, you start earning cash. Levels are timed in terms of days, and you can see how long you have left by checking the upper left corner of the screen. Income is earned on a per-store basis, so you've always got a little cash coming in. Use the moolah to upgrade shops and attract more customers. Building similar shops next to each other also nets you a bonus, so keep that in mind when planning your mall's layout.

One of the more interesting elements of Mall-a-Palooza is that you're not just working on a level-by-level basis, you're building an entire mall. Playing each level to its fullest affects the rest of your game, as the more you earn here the higher rating your mall will get. And let's face it, we all want a stylin' mall, don't we? Buy up several of the same kind of store early on, as things get more expensive as your mall becomes more popular.

Mall-a-PaloozaAnalysis: Mall-a-Palooza doesn't re-invent the time management/building genre. Instead it focuses on the simple act of having fun. Mall-a-Palooza never asks you to be a serious business manager even though you're planning an entire shopping mall and your decisions affect every level of play. Instead, your job is to sit back, build a few stores, hire a few employees, schedule a few fun events, and sip a fruit smoothie in the food court. You know, after you build the food court.

After every mall setting is complete, you unlock a surprisingly satisfying bonus level. These levels are untimed and feature lofty goals to complete, leaving you with as much wiggle room as you like to buy, sell, build and upgrade shops as you please. Even though time is never really a pressure in Mall-a-Palooza, it was nice having these more relaxed levels built in to the game.

The biggest shortcoming in Mall-a-Palooza is its visual presentation. While cute and charming in some ways, one can't help but feel everything has a stiff, 3D modeling characteristic left over from 1997. The stores aren't anything to write home about, either, although I did get a kick out of watching the guy in headphones headbang as he checked out a new cell phone.

Challenging but still casual to the core, Mall-a-Palooza does time management/casual sim thing extraordinarily well. It's like, so like, fun, too.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo Get the full version

Mac OS XMac OS X:
Download the demo Get the full version


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Rating: 3.8/5 (105 votes)
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GrinnypAtomic PuzzleFlash games can be filled with so much action. Running, shooting, maiming, killing, jumping, smashing, destroying... occasionally it's nice to get away from all that activity and play something that simply stimulates your brain cells rather than your adrenal glands. Something calm, soothing, almost Zen-like. Well that something may be Atomic Puzzle, a quiet yet unique and tricky little puzzle game by Sigma Studio.

You begin with a basic shape that looks like a molecular model, colored balls (or atoms) attached by gossamer lines. The object is to remove all the balls from the screen by "crashing" them into each other. You can click on an atom that is attached to two or more of the same color to collide them together, thus removing them all and without the nuclear blast and resultant devastation that would accompany this feat in real life. Continue to combine the colors until there is nothing left on the screen.

It sounds simple in theory, and it begins that way. At first all you have to do is figure out which combinations to remove in what order to empty the screen. Then it gets a little tricky, as extra "trick" atoms start appearing in your neat little molecules. Balls that can paint any ball that it is attached to, balls that move around the colors, balls that rearrange the bonds, and even a little scissor ball that can detach connections. Eventually you will be facing long, complex molecular chains that incorporate several different colors as well as the "trick" balls and that's where it gets very interesting... and perhaps not quite so calming.

Atomic PuzzleAnalysis: Atomic Puzzle is one of those deceptively easy puzzle games that are designed to suck you right in and not let go until you've solved the last one. Fortunately, there are 50 levels to get through, so that might take a while. Gameplay is unique, difficult in parts, and yet curiously soothing.

The game is beautifully presented, with the luminescent molecular models floating on blueprint-like background, a feast for the eyes as you contemplate your next move. Calm, quiet music only adds to the meditative qualities of the gameplay, keeping everything Zen even as you struggle with the tougher upper levels.

If you're looking for an adrenaline rush, you might try somewhere else. If you're looking for a tricky, logical puzzle game to while a few minutes away with, then definitely check out Atomic Puzzle. Between the gorgeous graphics, the easy-going music, and the pure logic of the puzzles themselves, you might find you've put yourself into a trance state. Finish and you will emerge triumphant and curiously calmed, like meditation accomplished with casual gameplay.

Play Atomic Puzzle


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Link Dump Fridays

DoraDo you ever wonder what would happen if there was no Link Dump Friday? No puzzles waiting for you, no points to be clicked at? Do you think maybe Friday would never come? Maybe the universe would be held in an eternal stasis, just waiting for me to post this article, stuck forever in Thursday and waiting with breathless anticipation for a weekend that never comes. So, really, when you think about it... I'm kind of like a super hero! No, no, no need to say anything, old chum. Just doin' my duty. One woman against the void of the work week.

You're welcome.

  • La Regina di RipicceLa Regina di Ripicce Episode One - Regina and her gorgeous little blue room with its dainty soundtrack actually have me pretty conflicted. On the one hand, I want to have tea with its gorgeous presentation and giggle girlishly with my pinky extended while I play the game. On the other, there is so much crazy logic and frustrating pixel hunting in this short little point-and-clicker I feel almost personally slighted by it and want to challenge it to fisticuffs. Now, where did I put my white duellin' glove? I have a face to slap with it!
  • Sydney SharkSydney Shark - [Parental Warning: Not for children.] Remember Miami Shark? Awesome, now play it all over again, but Austrailia-er! More or less exactly the same as its predecessor, Sydney Shark features chompy, action-packed gameplay with a different background. Great news for fans of the original, but I can't help but figure they missed out when they didn't include a level where you have to dodge scathing critiques of your performance sneered at you by a British man in a hat. You call that an agonizing bloody death?
  • Magic OrbsMagic Orbs - Imagine you've got some orbs. Pretty sweet, right? Now imagine they're magic. Oh man! That's so awesome I almost passed out! Apparently, when you're a wizard, you get to carry these things around and solve various light puzzles to open doors. I don't know how they stand the excitement! In all honesty, Magic Orbs has some lovely old-school SNES-style presentation, but the gameplay is a bit less "thundering stampede of excitement" and a bit more "solving jigsaw puzzles on Sunday afternoon with Grandma". A valid pastime, but you can't help but wish there was more to it.
  • Volt ConnectVolt Connect - Typically as children we're discouraged to play with volatile objects holding painful electrical charges, but slap a bright paint job and some googly eyes on it and suddenly everyone's fine with the idea. (But somehow my Running With Scissors competition is still a bad idea? Hypocrites.) Use your Goo skills to place down the electrical critters in the proper places to get the charge where you want it to be. Cute and simple, but perhaps the best news is that unlike other Funflow games, there's a walkthrough available for it, so you don't have to give their Facebook account access to yours to proceed. That's right, your incriminating Spring Break photos are safe!... for now.
  • Dreamy IslandDreamy Island - This point-and-click Grow-style game lacks an English translation (or, um, logic), but, really, I'm not sure the text would be capable of making the game make much sense. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, since it allows you to draw your own conclusions about the concoction sitting atop the bear's head. Or why that tree looks so shocked and horrified. I see what you did there.

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Rating: 4.9/5 (181 votes)
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Babylon Sticks: Heroic Quest comic

A custom casual gameplay comic created exclusively for JIG by Babylon Sticks creator, James Francis. Follow Babylon Sticks on Twitter: @babylonsticks.


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Rating: 3.5/5 (62 votes)
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DoraTrickochetTrickochet, by 5minutes off, is a game of skill, reflexes, and even a bit of platforming. It's a lovely visual journey into one hero's destiny... which is, uh, apparently to fling balls around in the sky. It's simple, it's fun. It's also pretty weird. Why are you on magical sky platforms hurling balls at floating targets anyway? Are you a mouse? Then what's up with that tail? Who is your little Mr Miyagi mentor, and how does he get his Fu Manchu so luxurious? These are important questions! Burning questions!

Each level presents a number of targets floating in midair, and your job, nay, your duty is to hit them all by ricocheting balls off of platforms and the edges of the screen. Aim with the mouse, using the dotted line as a guide to plan your shots, and click to fire. You can also use the [WASD] or [arrow] keys to move, and tap [space] to jump. Don't worry if you fall off, since you'll instantly respawn back on safe ground. So why enable you to fall anyway, you ask? Well, sometimes to make an omelet, you have to break a few eggs. Or, uh. Send a mouse plummeting into nothingness. You can retry any level you've completed at any time from the main menu.

Different obstacles as you go along help keep the gameplay challenging, and the ability to progress regardless of whether or not you were good enough to complete a stage in a handful of shots versus, um, many, is a good move. But there are a few quibbles, such as the short timespan before projectiles vanish into nothingness. This means that otherwise legit trick shots wind up failing simply because it takes the ball too long to travel to its goal. The guidelines in the early levels also seem to be a bit off, since even lining up your path directly with the one outlined can cause you to miss.

It's not particularly deep, and it won't change the way you look at gaming forever (unless the concept of a mustachioed mouse completely blows your mind), but then, it doesn't have to be. Super simple and super charming, Trickochet provides a nice coffee break in the middle of your day and provides a much-needed dose of cute purple mice to drive away the doldrums. There are 32 levels on offer for you to perfect your ball-flingin' skills on, and presumably if you fail, the world ends. Or something. Look, do you think that little orange mouse would look so wise if there wasn't some important stuff going on?!

Play Trickochet


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Rating: 4.6/5 (194 votes)
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GrinnypEnough PlumbersNostalgia is a funny thing. We tend to view the past through rose-colored glasses as time dulls the sharp edges of memory. Were things really all that good way back when? Mostly the answer is no, but on rare occasions we can answer with a resounding yes. Let's go back to a time when Reagan was president, when big shoulder pads ruled the fashion industry, and when Duran Duran were actually considered talented. A simpler time, when the gaming world was ruled by an 8-bit giant called Nintendo, and a game featuring a crazy Italian-American plumber was poised to become the bestselling video game of all time. A simpler time. A happier time. A time before some stupid hedgehog ruined everything. A time echoed in the fabulous retro platformer, Enough Plumbers.

Enough Plumbers is a basic single screen platformer. All you need to do is move the hapless hero around the scene until he lands on the flag. Movement uses the left and right [arrow] keys, and you can make him jump with the up [arrow] key. The intrepid plumber can also encounter strange power ups along the way, things that make him able to break through rock, fly, resist fire, and even make him do the exact opposite of what you'd like him to do. And — of course — there are enemies patrolling the platforms, just waiting to do the poor plumber harm.

This game is based on one of the most classic of all classic platformers, Super Mario Brothers. All the elements are there: the bright, simple 8-bit scenery; grumpy enemies lying in wait to ambush the hero; and the coins scattered everywhere. It's when the plumber encounters the coins, though, that everything changes. For every coin you collect you also get a cloned plumber who copies every move of the original. Just trying to jump ten hapless clones at once onto a small platform and you can see how things have changed.

Amusing as it is to send various clones plunging to their deaths (accompanied, of course, by high-pitched squeals as they do so), it would only be fun for a couple of screens before becoming very repetitious. However, the clones actually have a purpose, and as the game moves on they become vital to solving each level, as various clones need to be sacrificed for the greater good of all. It can become necessary to control three little plumbers on three different levels, or have plumbers with different abilities running around in order to reach the final goal. You don't have to rescue all of the clones. In fact, as long as a single plumber makes it to the flag, you've won the level and can move on to the next.

Enough PlumbersAnalysis: There's lots to love about this slick little platformer, which magnificently captures the look and feel of days gone by while adding a fantastic new twist to an old chestnut. The complexity added by not only the clones themselves but by the tricky levels requiring them to accomplish several different tasks gives a whole new feel to a game that is beloved by millions.

Designed by Glen Forrester and Arthur Lee, Enough Plumbers is actually a sequel to a game Glen created in under two hours for a game development event. It took a common enough event, the frenetic little plumber acquiring coins, and added a twist: every time he picked up a coin, a clone plumber was created. An amusing concept that didn't add anything to the gameplay, but was fun to look at. In the sequel, Enough Plumbers, what was once an amusing concept boldly strides front and center, becoming the centerpiece of the gameplay.

Enough Plumbers captures the look and feel of classic games, from the simple, rocky platforms to the narrow gold coins, from the frenetic little plumber to the frowny-faced enemies. The game could literally have walked right out of the NES or the Gameboy and onto your computer screen. The thumping, frantic soundtrack only adds to the illusion, as does the amusing wah-wah-waaaaah sound effect of defeat that plays if your last little plumber plunges to his inevitable doom.

If there is a downside it is the steep learning curve. One minute you're hopping from platform to platform, just trying to get one little guy to the flag, the next you're trying to figure out how to get clones to three different places when they all move in unison to the same key commands. Some levels require an extremely high level of seriously sharp reflexes and split-second timing to complete. And with only 25 levels the game can feel a bit short on content.

Forget the complaints! Enough Plumbers is fantastic, nostalgic, pulse-pounding casual gameplay that is fun for those who remember the good old days and those who were born long after. Requiring logical thinking, forethought, planning, and lightning fast reflexes, Enough Plumbers is, just on its own, a fantastic platformer even without all the trappings of the days of yore. Be prepared to be sucked in and brace yourself for a rollicking good time, and check out this exceptionally well done little time waster.

Play Enough Plumbers


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Rating: 4.5/5 (208 votes)
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KarlShadowGame.pngThe play's the thing. Shakespeare wrote that, and while I am reasonably sure that he was not referring to video games, if he lived today he would be talking about Shadow Game, an eight-level mini-game from wmarsh.

Featuring realtime light and shadow, Shadow Game is an impressive demonstration of how far Flash games have come within the last ten years. When I was first introduced to Flash gaming, Unreal was making waves with its hardware-assisted coloured lights, and real-time light and shadow on the order of Shadow Game was still a pipe dream in John Carmack's head.

The way the game works is thus; after clicking through the disclaimer that the game is unfinished, you're given control of a spinny floaty thing that moves through either the [WASD] or [arrow] keys. Your mission: collect stars in levels strewn with light sources. Your opposition: automatic weaponry that fires on anything it can see, as well as an arsenal of laser beams which can destroy you instantly. Don't let them see you, stay in the shadows, and avoid the beams.

At its heart, Shadow Game is ultimately a proof of concept. Each of the eight levels demonstrates a mechanic that would be at home in a longer puzzle-based sim, but here it functions more as a taster than anything else. The puzzles range from physics-based to stealth to enemy pattern recognition, and although short, each level feels fresh. Ducking in and out of lit areas and outsmarting sentries is surprisingly satisfying, even on a fifth playthrough.

The simulationist nature of the game means that you can depend on the game's physics to stay constant and reward creativity. Each puzzle can be solved through the obvious solutions programmed in by the designer, but also through innovative treatments. For example, one level revolves around stacking boxes to block light sources so you can collect stars. At first, that's what I did, but eventually I found that I could trick the automatic turrets into shooting the light-generating fixtures, moving them out of the way so I could get at their prize. Unfortunately, it ends all too soon.

Shadow Game is unfinished, so once you get past the eighth level and collect all 34 stars, the game is done. There's no ending other than a screen saying "Thanks for Playing" and only limited replayability, focused around finding new ways to solve the same puzzles. But despite that, Shadow Game is a great way to spend a coffee break, and it'll leave you hoping to see the finished game for more light-based puzzles. I know I am.

Play Shadow Game


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Rating: 4.3/5 (210 votes)
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DoraViricide"Hey there friend, turn that frown upside-down! Have I got a happy little arena shooter for you!" ... is what I would say if not for the fact that Viricide, by Eli Piilonen of 2DArray, is a bit more complicated than that. And quite a bit more grim.

You play a nameless user tasked with cleaning up EXADI, a super advanced artificial intelligence, after a particularly nasty virus rampaged through her system and left a number of her programs badly damaged. You do this by piloting your way through 16 stages (or "waves") with an antiviral unit and taking down the green anomalies that quickly converge on you to attack. Between each wave, Best of Casual Gameplay 2010EXADI speaks to you, and you gradually come to realise there may be something else going on, and maybe the line between man and machine isn't always so clearly drawn.

Controls are simple; use [WASD] or the [arrow] keys to move, click and hold the left mouse button to shoot, aiming with your cursor. Hit [P] to pause the game. Shoot enemies as they appear and collect the white bits they drop to spend on upgrades. A single hit takes you down, which can be frustrating, but you still keep all the bits you earned during the wave and can retry without penalty. Depending on the upgrades you choose, the game doesn't really start getting difficult until about halfway through, which should give you ample time to beef up your skills.

Analysis: I'd actually been playing Viricide for the better part of an hour before I looked to see who in the world had made such a simple little arena shooter with the melancholic narrative, and once I realised it was from the same mind behind everybody's favourite little depressing platformer from last year, The Company of Myself, it made more sense. With its simple presentation and premise, you wouldn't expect Viricide to try to reach you on anything other than the most basic level of enjoyment associated with gaming, but Eli is quickly establishing himself as someone who takes common concepts in unusual directions. Considering the subject matter that lies at the heart of EXADI's narrative, it's no surprise that it might be touchy for some people to deal with. It can also be a bit of an unpleasant discovery when you finally get to the root of the matter after the first few comical dialogues from EXADI herself, but then, that's probably the intention. Spend a moment considering the game's title and you'll probably be able to figure out what the story's really about, and whether or not you're comfortable enough with it to actually proceed.

If you just want to play Viricide and enjoy it without dwelling on the story, you can do that too, but it probably won't have as much of an impact. The gameplay is fast and fun but exceedingly simple, the sort of thing you can sink an hour or two into, but without much reason to replay when you're done. If you stripped out the story and doubled the available levels, Viricide would not be out of place in an arcade, but would need a bit more variety to its gameplay to really shine. The upgrades available are pretty standard, bare-bones shooter fare, and it can get repetitive. Fortunately, the waves tend to be short enough that reaching the next piece of the story remains a good incentive.

Viricide's success hinges on whether you empathise with EXADI herself, and in that respect, the game does a good job, largely due to a believably emotional performance from a voice actress called Sapphire. The change of tone in music midway through is also subtle and a nice touch. The ending feels a little abrupt, but I have to ask myself how I would have preferred it to end, and to that I'm not sure. Viricide is a poignant exploration of emotion and what it means to be human that isn't exactly going to put a spring in your step for the rest of the day, but provides a different experience from your average shooter.

Play Viricide

Thanks to Ryan for sending this one in!


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Rating: 4.4/5 (93 votes)
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Weekday Escape

GrinnypYes, last week was a very non-traditional room escape, wasn't it? This week, we'll go back to the basics, and it doesn't get much more basic than Mild Escape 3 by Tesshi-e. One room, four walls, a locked door, what more could an escaper ask for?

Mild Escape 3Mild Escape 3 is really basic stuff. No cutesy theme or notes, no back story, literally just you and a locked room. Poke into every corner, open every drawer and cabinet, and maybe take time for a little break to help you figure your way out. What else can you say? This is room escaping 101.

Navigation is by bars at the edges and bottom of the screen. Clicking on certain areas can also bring them into close up. There's an "about item" button in your inventory so that you can examine the objects that you pick up, and you really need to examine the objects that you pick up. There's no construction, per se, but there is a lot of use of found objects in this little gem. Unfortunately, Tesshi-e still hasn't gotten the memo about changing cursors, so be prepared for some pixel hunting.

Analysis: When I say room escaping 101, I mean it. This is the genre stripped down to the very basics, beautiful though they are. Mild Escape 3 is not on the level of, say, Loom Dawn or Vision, but there's a lot of fun to be had figuring your way out of this non-descript room. At the heart of every escape game is this: you just want to be on the other side of that door, and you need to find objects and solve puzzles to help you do just that.

As always the graphics are beautiful with textures and surfaces that you just want to stroke. The nice jazz soundtrack and the pretty pretty look make this typical Tesshi-e. However, you might notice a maturity creeping into the designer's work. Gone are many of the crutches that Tesshi-e usually uses, such as the "click the corners on the picture" puzzle. As you play each of these games you notice that the puzzles are nice and varied, and the design and controls are becoming better and better. Notice that Tesshi-e has even added a "save" feature so that you are not forced to replay the entire game just to find the obligatory happy coin alternate ending.

Yes, there are still a few flaws. The game is in Japanese, although you don't need to read Japanese to play or solve the puzzles. English phrases are creeping in to Tesshi-e's designs, although it would be nice to have one of these escapes entirely in English. The puzzles are logical and fun, but not rocket science. Most seasoned escapers should make their way through pretty quickly. And we can hope that one of these days the designer learns the use of the changing cursor to help remove the vestiges of pixel hunting.

So, not the most spectacular escape game out there, but a basic room escape done right, with logic, beauty, and a soundtrack that is easy on the ears. Dozens of these games are released each week, and it's nice to find a designer who makes the effort to produce one that is both logical and entertaining. Get ready to go back to the basics, and play Mild Escape 3!

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