Cream of the Crop


Kloonigames is a company that releases experimental freeware games every month – usually these are completely off the wall and features gameplay mechanics that’s never been used before (no dash games or hidden object games for you) and naturally, I check every once in a while to see what’s new. There’s one game already posted here quite like Crayon Physics, but that’s a flash game. This is a downloadable freeware game from Kloonigames.

Basically, in Crayon Physics you’re given a piece of paper to draw stuff on, and the aim is to get the ball to the star. That’s it. You can make rocks, draw ladders, what have you, as long as the result is a 2D platform area where you can get the ball to the star. And yes, it’s much more complicated and requires more strategy than you might think. It’s even alt-tab friendly and plays in fullscreen.

Play Crayon Physics here.

Once that’s got you hooked, the developer is working on a full version of the game that involves much more complicated physics – axle and rotation and wheels and all that, and all it requires is your imagination. You can check out a Youtube video here:

And sign up for their newsletters hoping to be the first to know when it does come out.

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

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.

The Scruffs starts off unlike any other hidden object game. It opens with a bang – spoken dialog, full animation and all. I don’t believe any other games in this genre (or even other games in the general “casual” category) goes so far to establish its story line, and it definitely made the game stand out. Once you start getting into it, it’s not really that much different than other games.

The first chapter start off with dad losing his job, and grandpa coming to the rescue with a quest for the family: finding “priceless” artifacts hidden al over the house. Each chapter consists of finding items in rooms, playing the “scribbles” mini-game, one jigsaw puzzle, and lastly, searching for the artifact.

There are 20 rooms, each with a different personality. All of which are believably messy; our nursery at home is definitely messier than baby Scruff’s. Objects are hidden quite well, and I’ve had to use hints more often that I’d care to admit. It pull out every trick in the book: surprising colors, shape matching, muted colors, word riddles. You have to find every single last object on the list to advance.

Thankfully, the hints system is wonderful. The dog “Scruffy” lives in the bottom right of your screen, and whenever you need a hint, you can feed him a dog biscuit (make him an offer he can’t refuse.) After he devours said biscuit, he will act either indifferent, scared, or excited depending on how close your cursor is to the object. When you’re close enough, the object will start to pulse, and if your cursor is right over the object, Scruffy will give you a thumbs up. You start each chapter with 3 doggy biscuits, and there’s an extra one you can find in every room.

In every chapter there’s also a family photo to be hunted. Once you find it, you can find the scribbles game. The boy will draw a scribble, and you’ll have to click on it. He’ll draw another scribble, and you get to find it again – the key is to click on the newest one every time. If you click on an old scribble, it’s game over and you’re awarded either a bronze, silver, or gold star.  If you get gold stars on all the family photos at the end of the game, you’ll get to know a secret. Shh.

Each chapter finishes with a jigsaw and a hunt for the object inside that jigsaw. The jigsaw has a “ghost” backing so you’re likely to finish each one in under a minute. After that, you have to find the object, which isn’t as easy. In cases where there are only one or two screens to hunt through for that object, it’s pretty easy. Near the end of the game where you have to find that one object in any one of three very dark rooms, it can be downright frustrating. If you run out of time at any of these stages, you have to start the chapter again. That’s just brutal.

Each stage has randomized items, and this works very well. I’m not sure if there are just too many objects in each screen for the game to give you repeats, but this is one of the few object hunting games that I don’t see lists overlap from chapter to chapter. Even the artifact locations are randomized so you won’t be finding them in the same location again. So replay value is definitely enhanced due to this.
I do have some quibbles with the game, namely the non-standard fonts used in the list. Sometimes it can be very hard to read what’s on the list. For example at one point I was trying to find a “cow” forever, only to squint and find that I’m looking for a “coin.” Meanwhile, I’ve spent 5 minutes trying to find a cow. The story segments with animations also doesn’t appear again until the very end, so you’re going for a lot of chapters in between the first two, and the last one.

The graphics are standard in a game like this, and the composition is closer to the Dream Day series of games than the MCF series. That’s to say, objects are realistic and mostly made from photographic objects. The art presented in The Scruffs are cartoonish and professionally drawn, all of which fits in with the overall playful theme of the game quite well. The soundtrack leaves much to be desired however; the track is upbeat enough, but every room plays the same music. Scribbles has its own track to differentiate itself from the rest of the game, however.

There’s a lot to like The Scruffs. Characters with personality, a wonderful hints system, extended replayability, and a great little mini-game (completely optional) that pushes you for a gold star.  It also saves anywhere, and has a relaxed mode with up to an hour an a half per chapter for those who just wants to play without worrying too much about the clock. It’s definitely one of the better ones out there, even if it doesn’t do anything new; what it does is old, but it does it very, very well.

I’ve always wanted to code games since I was a little girl, and Kudos Rock Legend is an inspiration in simulation games. It is a one man effort; it was designed and coded by Cliff Harris, an indie developer from the UK. The result is a game that is so accessible and addictive I haven’t been able to tear myself away.

Like Kudos, a simulation of life, Rock Legend is a simulation of rockstard0m. It is not a “real time” sim, but rather a “turn based” sim. This might turn some players off since we’ve gotten used to the action that comes with the Sims and and so on, but it that is no reason to turn Rock Legend down. Like Kudos, Rock Legend belong to a genre of games that are casual in name only. Sure, you could play for a few minutes and put it down, but why do that when you can play for hours and play years of your rock life at a stretch?

Things start out pretty slow. You have $33 to your name and nothing but a dream to be famous some day. So first of all, you start auditioning. Musicians have different personalities – a socialite gets more publicity when s/he’s handing out flyers, a businesslike disposition means a discount when buying things, disruptive personalities get a bit rowdy at gigs and break things. Moreover, an amiable personality isn’t necessarily a good thing – talent and overall ability often comes with antisocial behavior. Thankfully, once you’ve hired one player, he will let you know at the audition which wannabe he prefers. Once you have two additional musicians in your band, you can start writing songs.

Song writing is a mini-game in itself. The notes available to you depends on your inspiration level, the musicians you’ve hired, as well as anything that you’ve managed to snitch from listening to your rivals and stock music. Each song is comprised of 7 bars or sections, and your job is to drag and drop snippets of music from your pile of inspiration stickies onto the sheet. Color matching nets you a bonus, but some ideas are just worth more than others. Once you have enough music to do a set, you can start booking gigs, rehearsing, and passing out flyers.

The number of venues available to you depends on your fame level, but once you have enough fame, the rest depends on one word: money. Some venues will require transportation, so if you don’t have a band van, you’re out of luck. Other places may require a manager. Bigger venues can hold more people, are more expensive, and with more people you may sell more merchandise.

Each day you’ll get a list of suggestions of things to do, which boils down to these few things: rehearsing, songwriting, gigging, publicizing, and show watching. You can only do one thing a day, and some days you are so tired you just want to sit back and do nothing. Pretty much everything that you do is tiring – rehearsing, publicizing, gigging – and wears down the band. If they’re tired all the time they’ll start to complain, and when their tiredness reach a certain level they will be unable to anything. You can also choose to do things that are not on that list.

At any time, if you have enough money and enough songs, you can record a CD. This is as simple as clicking on songs in the recording screen and choosing a quality level. Once that’s done, CDs will sell over time as well as during gigs. You can also buy merchandise from the store to sell, and just like in real life, buying in bulk nets you a bulk discount. There are other things available from the shop screen as well – new instruments, custom guitar picks, effects for your show like smoke machines, new lighting rigs. You can even book transportation and staff via the shop screen.

How successful a gig is depends on many factors. Your lighting and effects play a part, as well as things like how rehearsed your band is and how well you prepared the gig by publicizing it. When a gig is sold-out and it’s an especially good gig, you sell more stuff, make more money, and get more fame. Fame level is your “overall” score for the game; at the end of five years your success is measured in fame and fortune. The more famous you are, the more likely you are to sell out the next show at a bigger venue.

While you’re trying to get famous, you also have to learn to take care of your musicians. Are they motivated? Are they tired? Are they complaining about the lack of food at gigs? Rehearsing in a nice studio and playing at large venues with bigger crowds motivates while striking chords in a damp basement and playing at the local booze pit do the opposite. Once you’ve reached a certain fame level, your musicians expect more – better rigs, better instruments – and you better it to them. The very ambitious and hard-to-please ones may choose to quit and take their gear and experience with them if you don’t treat them well.

You can develop their musicianship via practicing, which is entirely different from rehearsing. It’s a “Simon” mini-game where you have to play notes in sequence with your number keys, and at the highest level it’s a 10-note sequence. It does get pretty difficult, but remains simplistic. As a musician myself, I would’ve preferred an actual note staff with actual notes and actual rhythm. It wouldn’t be too hard to pick up with a tutorial, and the player may actually learn something.

Graphically speaking, Rock Legend is sleek game, but not a flashy game. You won’t see many cut-scenes and animations, but there are plenty of beautiful character portraits and images. Your character’s portrait is customizable with different hair coloring and sunglasses, and this game has the sleekest GUI I’ve ever seen. Even though there are plenty of information presented in the HUD, it has plenty of room. All the information that you care to see is right there at a glance, including all your songs, your band’s vital stats, the calendar of things coming up, as well as access to all your gear, musicians, and staff. Your main interface is also a drag-and-drop interface, so you can arrange things to your liking. In year five, having a bunch of gear and all staff, I still have half the screen left.

In terms of music, for a game about music, it is sparse in audio. There is one looping track for the interface, but it doesn’t so much loop as fade out and start over. While there isn’t much there, what’s there is good stuff. There is an option to turn it off in the options menu.

Kudos Rock Legend is a great game, and the depth of it all surprised me. While other games focuses on the flash and pretty graphics, Rock Legend spent all its time in gameplay, all through an accessible interface. I would recommend this game to anyone, especially those who’ve spent any time in garage bands. I’ve spent many years amongst musicians, young and old alike, and I see a lot of realism being displayed here, in a convenient turn-based package that saves anytime and loads quickly.

Magic Shop is very much a clone of Glyph; from the shapes of the pieces to the power-ups, as well as the fact that only certain pieces are effective while some are not, the core of the game is very much a Glyph-clone. But Magic Shop does this so well, and with so much additional depth that it goes beyond a straight copy. It is, in many ways, what Glyph should have been.

The excuse to match 3 things in this case is to combine magical elements into magical items. Each item has a specific recipe that requires a certain number of each color, and when you combine enough of them, an item is created. The entire game spans out over 25 days, and each day you will be asked to serve between 2 to 8 customers. Customers will only wait so long for their items, and thankfully their patience can be lengthened by the use of potions, which you can buy with rubies that sometimes appear on top of the elements.

On top of that, you have two kinds of power-ups. There are on-board power-ups, which activates as soon as you click on them, that can change surrounded elements to the same color as the one you just clicked on, destroys all elements of the same color, destroys surrounding  elements, etc. Then there are the major power-ups that you can “power-up” with combining more elements. Again, if you’ve played Glyph before, this sounds very much familiar.

There are the familiar obstacles of blocks and stones as well, and they pretty much act the same way. Stones obscure the path of falling elements, so if you don’t get rid of them quickly by destroying elements next to them, you could end up with a very sparse board. There are no diseased stones – thank the heavens – and the gameplay is further smoothed along by one simple mechanic that Glyph didn’t include: the mo-more-moves. One you can’t make anymore moves, the board shuffles itsel.

It gets even more interesting when you throw in the additional element of the shop screen. In between days, you can buy more items that gives you more points, or potions to extend your customers’ patience. Granted, since you have a goal to meet at the end of each stage, this is an illusion of choice – you’ll have to eventually buy everything anyway, but it’s a nice way to spend rubies you find each day.

Every few stages will bring you to a memory mini-game, where you can match flashcards for points. If you find enough points, you can invite a famous magician to your shop, and while they’re shopping, they’ll also grant you bonuses. Some will break your stones for you, while others will gives you rubies if you serve them quickly. This is a nice touch, and really rounds out the game well.

You can play Magic Shop with a custom cursor to get the overall look, and it’s stunning. Sparkling effects follow your every move, and the character portraits as well as other in-game elements are beautifully drawn. The only complaint is that all the on-board power-ups are quite similar – white outline with a sparkling edge? White outline with a deckled edge? I can’t tell them apart. The music is lovely, as are the magical sound effects.

Magic Shop is a must have for any collapse fan, and even for those who are just used to playing match-3’s. It saves mid-game, loads quickly, and is a definite quick diversion. Some days are extremely hard, however, so feel free to search for a cheat, which is also on this site. When you finish the 25 days (which takes much longer than you’d think) you don’t have to start over. When you click on “continue,” you’ll go back to the first day and lose all your shop progress (you’ll be back to the first 3 artifacts and no potions) but you’ll keep your score and the number of master magicians you have invited to your shop. Customers will also get a little bit more impatient than you remember them. In other words, you can keep playing – and it’s still fun.

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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