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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

This is the Only Level - Game of the Day

What is it?This is the Only Level is an ingeniously quirky platform game where you repeatedly guide a tiny blue elephant to the exit of a single level with constantly-changing gameplay.

Who made it? – The game was created by Armor Games developer John Cooney (jmtb02).

How does it play? – Things start simple enough. You’ll notice your elephant enter via a yellow pipe on the left, and he’ll need to make it to an identical pipe on the right. Spikes adorn certain parts of the walls and ceilings. There’s a big red button on one of the platforms, and some basic jumping is required to reach the exit.

Upon doing so, the elephant is once again ejected from the starting pipe. The level geometry is the same, but there something different about the gameplay…

This is the Only Level is a run-and-jump platformer on the surface, but at its core, the game’s logic and gameplay-based puzzles are what make it so compelling. It’s nearly impossible to go into any detail about the different variations without spoiling them, and what makes the game great is figuring out how many different and interesting ways there are to complete a basic objective. (Hint: Read the “round” descriptions.)

Presentation – If you’ve played Achievement Unlocked, you’ll immediately notice that everything from the little blue elephant, to look and feel of the level, are all identical. It’s not a sequel though, but really a different game altogether, though told within the same context. In short, the graphics and sound are minimalist, but highly effective. The music, by Kevin MacLeod is also excellent.

Positives – No games come to mind that make you puzzle-solve in quite the same way, which is what makes This is the Only Level so good. Knowing your (unchanging) objective, but having to figure out a bunch of different way to complete it proves to be an compelling (and often humorous) gameplay concept.

Negatives – If you’re not familiar with platform game conventions, some of the references may seem sort of esoteric. It also probably could have been a bit more difficult, but it still gets its point across and was enjoyable throughout, nonetheless.

Why you should play it – There’s an element of genius to This is the Only Level that most gamers should appreciate. Most impressively, it remains interesting from beginning to end. Despite the limited terrain, the scope of the gameplay makes it a title you need to play.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

It-sa Free - Mario!: The Best Free Games Starring Mario

Hands down, Mario has to be one of the most recognizable and beloved video game characters of all time. In fact, few virtual heroes have been as impervious to the test of time. Mario has appeared in over 200 official titles since first jumping onto the scene in 1981 in a little game called Donkey Kong, and a huge number of gamers are a
lready anticipating his next opus, Super Mario Galaxy 2, due out on the Wii sometime this holiday season.

In aid to Mario fans everywhere, I’ve scoured the Internet to round up a list of the best free Flash games featuring the mushroom-scarfing, baddie-stomping, princess-rescuing, Italian plumber. There’s plenty of coin-collecting, adventuring, and boss-battling to be had, including a few humorous parodies and mash-ups. Moustaches and stylish overalls are recommended.

Without further ado, “let-sa go!”

Classic Mario Gameplay

  • Super Mario Bros. Deluxe: An extremely faithful recreation of the original Super Mario Bros., minus the sound. (Press “D” to proceed through the menus.)
  • Mario Forever Flash: One of the most visually stunning Mario freebies out there, with exceptionally polished gameplay and a lengthy adventure.
  • Super Mario 63: A personal favorite of mine, this 2-D reimagining of Super Mario 64 is well-polished and has some truly inspired level designs.
  • Super Mario Sunshine 64: Mario is equipped with Fludd (his water-jetpack) and must once again collect the Shine Sprites and explore Peach’s castle.
Even More Mario

  • Paper Mario World: More like a traditional Mario title than any of the games in the Paper Mario series, it’s still graphically impressive and has some fun gameplay and action-based puzzles.
  • Old Mario Bros.: A great original Mario game with hand-drawn graphics (and slightly wonky controls.)
  • Infinite Mario Bros.: Randomly generated levels make this Mario adventure different each time you play.

Mario Genre-Hopping

  • Super Mario Defense: Bowser’s attacking the castle with an evil army of cloned Marios and Luigis. Build up your defenses and thwart the advance of the little plumbers.

Mario Parodies and Mash-Ups

  • Mario Combat: Punch and kick your way to Bowser’s castle and crack open a can of whoop-ass. Or, try the graphically enhanced remake, Mario Combat Deluxe.
  • Mario Remix: In addition to classic platforming, Mario can opt to take on some bosses from the Megaman series, or fly through space and blast stuff – Gradius-style!
  • Mario Remix – Boss Edition: This time, Mario must face off against a combination of 35 different new and classic bosses from a variety of retro games. Old-school and tough as nails – in a good way.

Monday, July 20, 2009

William and Sly - Game of the Day

What is it?William and Sly is a beautifully-presented platforming adventure game where you play a nimble fox who must help his master restore power to a series of teleportation runestones in the forest between his home and a remote storage shed.

Who made it? – The game was created by Lucas Paakh of Particlasm.com.

How does it play? – After a brief opening dialogue with Master William, it’s up to you (Sly) to explore the surrounding forest. Chief among your goals is to find and collect fireflies and use them to repower the runestones leading out to the storage area. Once runestones have been repowered, you can quickly teleport yourself between them for faster navigation. As you might suspect, a final boss battle awaits you in the shed, once all of the runes have been restored. The arrows-only control scheme is handled exquisitely, making the game very easy and enjoyable to pick up and play.

At its core, William and Sly is a game about collectibles. The 2-D world map is absolutely gigantic, and exploring every nook, cranny, and hidden cave takes quite some time. In addition to the main objective of restoring runestones, there are also numerous collectibles like hidden mushrooms, and keys which unlock hidden chests.

Sly will also have to avoid “darklings” which are forest-dwelling baddies that will deplete the supply of fireflies you’ve collected. Darklings can be dispelled using white magic, which surrounds Sly for a brief time after he teleports to a new area.

PresentationWilliam and Sly is one of the best looking Flash games out there. The characters are all superbly illustrated and animated, and the level design is both huge and filled with secret areas and collectibles. Ethereal music does a great job of setting the mood, and ambient weather and nature effects make the experience even more immersive.

Positives – All around, the game is a class-act. The main quest is of a reasonable length, ensuring that it can be enjoyed by casual and hardcore players, alike. Few Flash games provide such a vast world to explore, and you can tell that a lot of work went into the map design.

Negatives – Unlike typical platforming action games, there isn’t any true combat present in William and Sly. Progression depends wholly on item collection. It’s also possible to beeline through the main story, but players that rush through may miss a good chunk of the experience.

Why you should play itWilliam and Sly is a must-play for anyone who loves action-adventure games, though it’s so well-crafted and easy to get into that even those not normally inclined should probably check it out. When it comes to exploration-based adventuring and platforming excellence, there are few Flash games that come as close.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Shopping City - Game of the Day

What is it?Shopping City is an enhanced sequel to Shopping Street, in which you must build and upgrade a series of increasingly large open-air shopping malls in order to obtain a certain amount of profit within an allotted number of days.

Who made it? – The game was developed by flonga.com.

How does it play? – Each of the game’s 9 different stages presents you with street full of empty lots, and gives you some cash to begin building your sales empire. You'll need to accrue a certain amount of cash within a certain number of days.

If you haven’t already, I’d recommend checking out the original game (Shopping Street) and our review. Shopping City takes the core gameplay of its predecessor and improves it in a number of ways. Stores are still built and upgraded in the same way, but there are more stores this time around. This time around, you can also build police and fire stations. These won’t help your minute-to-minute profit, but they will stave off unfortunate incidents of thievery and fire that may save you money in the long run.

Presentation – The cartoony storescapes are vibrant and colorful, and it’s amusing to watch the pedestrians go about the business of making you rich. An isometric gameplay perspective is also used, in lieu of the straight 2D visuals of the previous game. This has a tangible impact on gameplay, because certain levels now have multiple streets and intersections. Pedestrians will still move towards the right side of the screen, but sometimes you’ll have to make a decision about which street is the best on which to build a new establishment.

Positives – Probably the most welcome and notable difference is the increase in difficulty. While it was relatively easy to blast through the first iteration without failing, you’ll need to put a lot more thought into all aspects of your store-building schemes if you want to win this time.

Negatives – Casual players may not be as welcoming of the increase in difficulty. I suppose it’s worth noting that before actually completing them, I managed to come up less than 1% short of my required cash flow for the first two levels. While I did welcome the spike in challenge, losing by such a minor fraction of required income was kind of a head scratcher, especially when considering how to adjust my tactics towards success.

Why you should play it Shopping City is a very solid strategy game that does a great job of upping the ante over the original in both presentation and gameplay. Fans of the first game should definitely check it out, as should anyone who fancies themselves a sim-strategist.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Red Remover - Game of the Day

What is it?Red Remover is a great physics-based puzzle game where you’ll have to remove all of the red shapes from each level, while leaving the green ones on-screen.

Who made it? – The game was developed by Gaz of TheGameHomepage.

How does it play? – The game plays sort of like a reverse-engineered version of the Super Stacker series of games, with a dash of the Totem Destroyer series thrown in for good measure. Each level presents you with a configuration of shapes, and you need to remove pieces so that only the green shapes remain. Red shapes must be removed or pushed off-screen. Blue shapes are neutral and don’t need to be removed, though they can be manipulated or eliminated to help solve the puzzle.

There are 40 main levels in all, and five bonus levels. You can use as many clicks to complete a level as you’d like, but each level also has a “par” score. Making or besting par for all of the main levels will unlock the bonus levels. A few unlockables are available (including different face-styles for the shapes), and a level editor is also included.

Presentation – The game is visually simplistic, with a bright color palette and cheerful atmosphere. Many of the shapes have smiley faces which aren’t purely for cosmetic cuteness. Some levels have multiple different gravitational rules, and you can tell how gravity will affect a specific shape based on the direction of its face.

Positives – The gameplay is simple to grasp, and while completing all 40 levels shouldn’t be incredibly challenging for most gamers, you’re bound to be stumped briefly for a couple of stages. That said, completing all of the levels with a “par” score is bit tougher, requiring you to pre-plan each of your moves.

Negatives – Some may find that the difficulty is a bit lacking, especially when compared to similar games that involve physics and shape manipulation. It’s not a completely pedestrian experience, but I was able to complete the majority of the levels on my first attempt, often meeting the “par” score requirement.

Why you should play itRed Remover is a well-constructed puzzle game with some clever (though relatively easy) puzzles. Completionists may find a bit more depth and challenge trying to collect all of the unlockables, and the level editor is a nice bonus. At the very least, it’s a good way to escape the daily grind for a while without breaking your brain.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Dragon Flame 2 - Game of the Day

What is it? – In Dragon Flame 2, you take on the role of a giant red beast that must defend its nest from waves of would-be dragon slayers.

Who made it? – The game was produced by Morphee Studios.

How does it play? – The red-scaled protagonist of Dragon Flame 2 reminds me a lot of Smaug, the giant, treasure-hoarding red dragon from Tolkien’s, The Hobbit. Despite its massive size, your dragon controls rather gracefully, swooping and gliding after your mouse pointer.

Enemy units (including archers, mages, and knights) become more plentiful and powerful with each wave, and will relentlessly attempt to bring you down. Your basic spark attack is used by targeting with the mouse and left-clicking, and is good for dispatching weaker enemies. Killing foes adds to your “rage” meter, and when the meter is full enough, you can use other abilities like large fireballs, a spinning tail-strike, or the “flamethrower” breath-weapon which acts like its name implies.

After each wave, you can restore your dragon’s health or upgrade things like speed or power. Having to choose between replenishing health and upgrading abilities means that you’ll want to perform as well as possible on each level so that you can upgrade instead of heal.

Presentation – The backgrounds and your dragon are wonderfully detailed, and character animations are solid across the board. The sounds are also great, from the various fire effects to the yelps and screams of roasting enemies. Enemy units are much smaller than your dragon (understandably), and though enemies on horseback visually distinguished, many of the on-foot units look a bit generic and similar.

Positives – The game an arena-shooter, but puts players in control of a very powerful character and asks them to overcome masses of weaker enemies. As the waves progressed and the difficulty ramped up, I couldn’t help but understand my dragon’s desire to rid its home of the mosquito-like humans. You also get a cool ranking based on your performance at the end of each game, which is a nice bonus.

Negatives – Despite the upgrades, unit varieties, and great production values, the gradual progression is perhaps a bit too subtle between any two individual waves. This can lead to a sense of repetition, or a feeling like you’re not making much progress. It can also be tricky to simultaneously keep tabs on the action and the ever-fluctuating rage meter, and since many of your powers have a rage prerequisite, you might occasionally frustrate yourself trying to perform a special move that requires more rage than your current level.

Why you should play itDragon Flame 2 is a polished arena-shooter with progressive difficulty that lets you fly around and torch annoying humans with powerful attacks. Still not sold? The control scheme is also unique and interesting enough that long-time shooter fans should really give it a go.

Friday, July 10, 2009

A-Bot - Game of the Day

What is it?A-Bot is a late-retro sci-fi shooter, where you control a robot on a deep-space defense platform trying to repel waves of Insectoids – an alien race of bug-like creatures bent on your destruction.

Who made it? – The game was created by developers MoRLOCK and Udjin.

How does it play? – The game is a lot like a blend of the classic arcade titles Space Invaders and Missile Command. Your mouse controls the A-Bot, a mechanized gun platform that will fire its equipped weapon in a spread determined by your cross-hairs. Enemies float in from the top of the screen in silhouette. Once they completely fade into view, they’ll start attacking (and can be attacked). Move the cross-hairs away from your ship, and the shot-spread widens – and vice-versa. Your turret also moves at a fairly slow pace, and choosing an appropriate shot-spread is important.

In addition to your primary turret, you also have to keep tabs on a suite of Plasma Cannons, Energy Silos, and Generators. Plasma Cannons can be toggled to fire automatically, or by manually pressing the spacebar. The silos store your available energy for attacks, and generators generate that energy, so you’ll want to try to protect them as best you can. Cash earned by killing the Insectoids can be used to repair structures and purchase upgrades between waves.

PresentationA-Bot has a retro look that’s decidedly higher resolution than an old school game, but still visually very similar. And maybe it’s because of my old-school gaming inclinations, but the sound effects and computerized sounding voice work are terrific. The explosions could use a little visual punch-up, but it’s a minor quibble.

Positives – The shooting is solid, the cross-hair mechanics are interesting and fun, and there’s probably just enough stuff to repair and upgrade to keep you involved. It’ll likely keep you engaged for a while, and the shooting has a somewhat strategic feel to it, largely because of your bot’s slow movement speed and the aiming mechanic.

Negatives – Those predisposed to twitch-based shooters may find themselves a bit frustrated with the slower pace. Waves of enemies get progressively harder to defeat, but the lack of different environments may give some players a case of the “same-olds.”

Why you should play itA-Bot is an adept shooter with some interesting twists that’s likely to appeal to your sense of nostalgia (if you’ve been playing games long enough). Though the term “modern-retro” is a complete oxymoron, it would certainly apply to A-Bot. Shooter fans will find a lot to like; besides, killing space-bugs is fun.