Action


Portal 2D – like portal 3D, but runs right from your browser. Your only weapon is a gun that shoots portals, and your job is to get from entrance to exit. The first few levels are extremely easy as they just show you the ropes, but gets progressively harder as it require you to use gravity to your advantage. For example, if you fall from a great height into a portal, then come out of a portal that shoots you out horizontally from a wall, the gravity is transferred from your jump. Cool, eh?

If you like it, you might as well buy the 3D version from Valve. It’s short, but way worth it.

Play Portal 2D

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There was quite a lot of hype surrounding the release of Puzzle City. I’ve heard that it’s a “new” style of play, and I’ve heard that it’s very “original” and I’ve also heard that it’s a whole lot of fun. After spending some time with it, I’d say that depends on how you spell fun. F-r-u-s-t-r-a-t-i-n-g? S-t-r-e-s-s-f-u-l? Wow, don’t we have the game for you.

The core of Puzzle City is exactly the same as Puzzle Express. A conveyor belt carrying puzzle pieces move along the bottom of your screen, and your job is to take those pieces and fit them onto the car – I mean city block – above. If your conveyor belt fills up, it breaks down and you’ll have to start the level over. Puzzle City builds upon this basic gameplay by adding lots of power-ups and glitz, but the game remains basically the same.

There are three basic power-ups – the recycling bin, the trash, and the bulldozer. Dropping a piece into the recycling bin will turn it into another piece of the same color, doing the same with it with the trash throws the piece out. The bulldozer will destroy a block on the map, and if you have a 2×2 block, it’d take the entire thing out. There are also room for 10 conveyor power-ups, ranging from ones that slows down and stop the belt to ones that destroys everything on the belt. Especially useful are the ones that changes every block on your belt to a 1×1 block.

In order to unlock these power-ups, you need to create 2×2 blocks of solid color on your map. Each time you do so, a power-up will float nicely upwards and is added to your conveyor belt power-up collection. This is all well and good, but added to the predefined color areas, the game can get downright impossible.

Ah, predefined color areas. They’re lovely things. Basically, parts of the map are colored in faintly, and you have to match the colors. Now, I’m not against them – they add a great layer of challenge. However, they can make the game frustratingly difficult towards the end of world 2 when you need to use lots of 1×1’s, there isn’t any room to MAKE power-ups, you need to make 2 2×2’s of blue, and you’re desperate for power-ups that you haven’t any room to make. A better approach might be to make them optional – 80% of predefined areas filled. Even better – 10x score for filling these areas.

Some games are pretty, some games are flashy. Puzzle City falls squarely into the flashy category. Everything is high-contrast and colorful. I mean everything. The world map is colorful, the map is colorful. UFOs fly all over the place, buildings are shooting up left right and center, cranes are going up all over the city. As you make a 3 block areas into a 2×2 by adding a single block, the entire area is tore down to make room for a big building. Puzzle City is very much alive – something is happening all the time.

On top of it all, each scenario has its own objectives – you could be asked to build special buildings, fill a certain percentage of the map, etc. It serves to both make the game a little easier and keep you on your toes. If you miss so much as a 1×1 block on a predefined area you could be left wondering where you went wrong as your belt piles up, but in other scenarios you could finish up the map by filling a measly requirement.

Flashy isn’t necessarily a good thing; it’s pretty easy to miss a 1×1 block right behind a stack of buildings. Thankfully, Puzzle Express highlights the colors on the map that corresponds to the color of the block in your hand. This is a very helpful feature – I for one couldn’t tell if a building is residential by looking at it. It’s still pretty easy to miss spots, however, in predefined areas. Afterall, I’m looking for a light colored hole in a similarly colored area.

Let’s move on to the city building aspect of the game. There isn’t any.

Yes. You heard me – there isn’t any. Aside from the fact that you’re technically building a city, you are not, in fact, managing any part of it. There’s no budget to keep track of, transportation to arrange, police officers to dispatch, or anything related to a real city sim. “City building” is limited to a graphical “skin” of the game. It can easily be called “Puzzle Forest” if we replaced the buildings with trees, or “Puzzle Garden” replacing those same trees with vegetables or flowers. If you’re looking for Sim City, it’s not here. Puzzle City’s successful city-building is calculated based on whether you fill predefined areas and how big your combined buildings are – the bigger the better. So having one megalohospital at one corner of the city is much better than having single small ones sprinkled throughout.

Another “feature” of the game is “build special buildings.” This involved plunking down single 1×1 brown blocks from your belt to a predefined brown field on your map. That’s it. It’s a little bonus that adds very little to actual gameplay.

That pretty much sums up Puzzle City – it’s Puzzle Express “improved.” In improving, it also bumps up the system requirements. On my medium range PC, it lags a little on medium quality, and high quality slows to a crawl. It does look great on high-quality, so if you can play it on high, do so. The music is canned elevator jazz style, but it’s really not all that bad. The “click” sound got on my nerves after a while, but the sound of the game from the bulldozer and the buildings going up are very snappy indeed.

If you liked Puzzle Express, you’d enjoy Puzzle City. Don’t expect any more than a great Puzzle Express, and you’d have quite a lot of fun. It does get very difficult and frustrating in later levels, but thankfully there is an option to play it on easy. Puzzle City saves after every level, and it’ll last quite a while, even if you’re good at this sort of thing.

Having played Plumeboom: The First Chapter from beginning to end (and I rarely do that with match-3s – they just tend to bore me after the first, oh, 50 levels) I have quite high expectations for The Golden Path of Plumeboom. I expect it to be fun, original, full of surprises, features new game mechanics, and keeps me interested ’til the very end. I was not disappointed; The Golden Path is easily more addictive than … than … any match-3 I’ve ever laid my hands on.

To call The Golden Path a Shoot-3 is like saying a game of Polo is like a game of Snooker. Sure, both involves hitting balls with sticks, but that’s where the similarities end. In The Golden Path of Plumeboom, a magnetized treasure key sits in the middle of your screen and rotates freely according to how you shoot the balls into it. The weight of it changes depending on how many balls are still stuck to it, and your job is to shoot balls into it to match-3s. On the scale that it’s presented to you, that’s what it’s supposed to be. It feels more like shooting balls into a really big astral body with gravity.

At first glance the game feels a bit like Puzzle Bobble. When you shoot a ball, it’ll first align itself to the magnetic field and than spirals towards the middle. When it hits a like-colored ball, it’d stick to it, sometimes forcing that ball to leave the magnet depending on how much force it hits it with. If it hits a ball of another color it’d bounce and goes back into the magnetic field. All the while the magnet is spinning freely depending on where the ball hits it, and how much weight is on it. If you can’t find anything to shoot to make a match, you can bounce the ball off the ceiling.

Each level has its own power-ups, and the game presents them one at a time to keep the game fresh. There are rockets, fireballs, even one to demagnetize the key for a short time. The mechanism for activating these are in diamond balls attached to the magnet. Make a direct shot to one and the power-up is activated. Some levels also contain one or more free balls that bounces around like photons, and they knock into anything in their path. You can use these to your advantage by waiting for the it to knock your colored balls into groups so you can get at them, or it could be an obstacle if it keeps getting in your way.

While you’re trying to keep your atom/planet/key in balance, two “guns” in some levels keep shooting balls into the game field whenever you don’t make a match. All the while, more than generous time bar keeps ticking down. It’s all very, very exciting. A game like this doesn’t even need mini-games. Good thing too – it doesn’t have any.

When you have a game that makes you perform the same actions over and over again, there is a need to introduce “minigames” to break up the action, but The Golden Path of Plumeboom introduces new shapes in the middle of your screen every stage, providing a different challenge every time.

All of this is backed up by hardware accelerated particle effects and pretty, shiny graphics and backgrounds. Sure, there aren’t any mini-games. Once you start, however, you won’t be able to stop. Even though I could finish off a level really quickly and turn it off, I couldn’t. It was 3 AM when I finally decided that it’s time to sleep.

The Golden Path of Plumeboom is possibly the best game nobody seems to be playing right now, and I’m urging you to download it, try it, and buy it. Why it’s not a hit is beyond me, but I guess in this industry being innovative doesn’t necessarily bring riches. Instead of making a generic match-3 or cranking out a hidden object game in some basement, Fireglow Games instead brought us something addictive, fun to play, and new. I’ll be looking forward to the next installment.

In An Untitled Story, you begin as an egg in your nest, and the rest is up to you to figure out. Fight 18 unique bosses, traverse a huge game world, and unravel a mysterious storyline. The single player game features non-linear progression and 5 difficulty levels for extra replay value. Also included is Heist Mode, a multiplayer capture-the-flag-style versus mode. Don’t forget to hook up a USB gamepad before starting, to play it as it was meant to be played.

There’s only one word to describe it: beautiful. To describe it any farther would be spoiling the game for you, so please download the demo and see for yourself.

An Untitled Story is $1, and sold through a PayPal donation.

A mission-based game to promote the Royal Air Force, Global Rescue’s got it all – obstacles to fly around, hostages to rescue, guns to fire. All of it presented in the usual Kerb quality.

RAF Global Rescue

To say that we have high expectations for Cake Mania 2 is an understatement. Cake Mania was the first of its genre – a shape matching, customer serving, color matching game with tycoon elements, it was an instant classic. It was my first casual game after having been a serious RPG / adventure player for years.

The premise of Cake Mania was a mad dash to make enough money to save Jill’s grandparents’ bakery. Cake Mania 2’s story is less serious, but takes Jill around the world; Jill is bored with running a bakery at home day in and day out, and she’s going to spend her time in Cake Mania 2 travelling from one location to another, helping her friends, baking at a TV station, serving secret agents, men penguin suits, and space aliens.

Your job is pretty simple: hand a customer the menu, bake the cake he orders according to shape, icing color, and topper, hand the cake back, and ring him in. Each level is a month long, and you spend one year in each bakery. There are Baker’s Goals and Superstar Goals, and you only need the Baker’s goal to finish the level. Unlike the first Cake Mania, Cake Mania 2 comes with a difficulty level – you’re given two choices at the end of the first bakery, and one of them are harder than the other. Only thing is, the game doesn’t tell you which one is more difficult – it just is.

To make the stages more manageable, each level is accompanied by a buying screen, where you can use the money you earned to buy upgrades for your bakery. If you have read my reviews for games that uses this system, you’d know that I don’t agree with it. In a serious computer game, this is a feature. In a casual game, it could very much cripple the game. The problem with a buying system is that it makes the games easier for better players and harder for novice players. It is a fun system to use to “upgrade” your bakery to suit your playing style, but as a feature to adjust difficulty, it isn’t.

Some changes, good and bad, have came to grace the new Cake Mania. First of all, customers no longer interact with one another. That’s a bad. Despite the fact that your “all new” customers have likes and dislikes of cakes as well as different patience levels, they all feel like the same customer. The penguin is really no different than the astronaut, and the granny is just the delivery man who wants a cake topped.

An “improvement” is the new double orders. Customers can now comes in twos, so instead of the old 4 orders at a time, you could now get 8 orders at a time. You can also get an upgrade for the topping machine to frost as well, but that’s a bit of a waste of time – you have to memorize what color frosting each one holds because it’s not visible until you plunk a cake on top of it. With a lot of other things to memorize, this isn’t a priority.

Cake Mania 2 switches the board around by putting the frosting tables, ovens, and the customers in different places in different bakeries, and this works. Sort of. There’s that adjustment period of one or two months in each bakery where you’re trying to get back into the groove of things, and then once you get used to the placement of things, it’s business as usual. Thankfully, the cake displays are back, and you can display up to 3 “wrong” cakes, and there’s a 20% chance of a customer coming in to ask for one.

Like the first Cake Mania, this one is not without its quirks: the topping & frost tables don’t show the colors of the frosting until you plunk a cake down, and the top customer’s thought bubble often obscure some of your topping buttons. This proves frustrating, as you click on a string of actions only to find out that you missed a button because some guy’s cake bubble is on top of it.

One of the “biggest” improvements over Cake Mania is the multiple story lines. You can choose to help a friend out in the big city bakery or an underwater bakery, or go to Alaska to help the penguins. You can choose the moon or the future. It’s your choice. When you finish the game with these choices, you’ll be rewarded with a trophy that is shown in the start screen. There are six trophies to collect.

Jill, as well as the bakeries, looks amazing in Cake Mania 2. The edges are smooth, the colors are vibrant, and Jill has BIG hair. I mean, really big hair. Our career girl hasgrown up in Cake Mania 2, from her overworked yawning self in Cake Mania 1 to the Jill who checks herself in the mirror every chance she gets. The guest didn’t get the same treatment – compared to Jill they are barely improved over the original characters, and I really miss some of them. The music is upbeat and varied, changing with each location, and the sound, ambient and effects, are well suited to each bakery.

Cake Mania 2 is a bit of a disappointment. Mostly, it’s just more of the same. Bake cake, frost cake, stack cake, top cake. How you go about doing these things is up to you. Cake Mania will not save in the middle of a month, but each month shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes. If you enjoyed the first, you will enjoy this one, but don’t expect any wild innovations.

What would we do without GameLab? The casual game market would be saturated with time management games without customer interactions, real story lines, and boring clickfest games. I’d go through review after review bashing one game after another in frustration with no end in sight. Thankfully, you are saved from the fate of reading another Coffee House Chaos review; GameLab has done it again with a great time management game called Wedding Dash.

While other games copy Diner Dash, Wedding Dash, while derivative by name, is derivative in name only. It features two servers – you and the waitress – scripted events, multiple personalities (in this case, a good thing) and puzzle infused gameplay. It is so very different from Diner Dash that it puts all the clones to shame.

Wedding Dash casts you in the role of a wedding planner. Before each wedding, your bride and groom will forward their requests, and you can do your best to fullfil them by ordering the right flowers, getting the right cake, and hopefully not ordering fettuccine Alfredo when the groom asks for Surf and Turf. Once that is decided, the wedding will start. Your job is to keep the guests happy by seating them next to people they want to sit with and at the table they want to sit at. At the same time, you have to make sure your waitress is bringing the gifts to the couple, delivering food on schedule as well as filling any requests for music.

Your guests are full of personalities. You have the cousin who eats really quickly and just want to get on the dance floor, the aunt who gets just a little overly emotional, the uncle who drinks too much and gets rowdy, the impatient neighbor who gets mad at the tiniest delay in getting his food, the socialite that everyone wants to sit next to, among others. Scenarios are well-planned, however, so that each one mission has an optimal way to be solved. That’s a true sign of a well-made puzzle game, and Wedding Dash has it.

In other words, Wedding Dash is a game that both Diner Dash addicts (who’d buy every installment) and newcomers to the genre (who’d play puzzle games) will find something to like. It’s a game that time management fans will sink their teeth into right away, while other gamers who are usually not used to games like these can enjoy the leisurely pace of the beginning while the game gets more hectic by the mission. The learning curve is built right into the difficulty curve, and you won’t even see it coming – before you know it you’re placing guests like a seasoned planner and serving 3 course meals by the dozens, even if you haven’t dabbled in the genre before.

Wedding Dash looks slightly dated after seeing games like Miss Management and especially games that feature cell-shaded 3D like The Apprentice: Los Angeles, but it does have a style all its own. The expressions of the guests as they are served (and especially when they’re not served on time) are priceless. Although I did keep wondering what our bridezilla would look like in full cell-shaded 3D glory. The music is upbeat and suits the game well enough.

If you’re looking for the next great time management game, this is it. If you’re not looking, but is interested in trying out one, this is the one to try – it’s the most accessible in the genre yet. It has a little bit of everything – problem solving, humor, personality – and even if you haven’t thought that you can play one of these games, Wedding Dash might surprise you. Give it a try.

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