March 8, 2010

Cream Wolf
Creator: Messhof (Mark Essen) and Pixeljam
Platform: Browser
Price: Free
The latest off-color browser game on Adult Swim Games is getting attention for its hilarious premise first and foremost. You play a werewolf ice-cream man who drives to a new town every lunar cycle, fattening up the local youth before your monthly full-moon transformation. Then you devour them for points and satisfaction. Cream Wolf is also an ingenious blending of vintage rules expertly paired with the game’s warped Atari 2600 aesthetics. First is the collection aspect, where you need to drive through a Pac-Man-style maze collecting ice-cream cones and avoiding other vehicles. Then there’s the reflex-based match game that comes when you stop on the road to serve frozen treats. You stop for kids and have to serve their orders from a rotating wheel of ice-cream ingredients. Serve well, and they become fat and devoted to you. After two brief segments, the full moon comes, and you lure kids back to your home base, where you chase them down and gobble them up. Funny, and it makes you think… B-



Sushi Cat
Creator: Joey Betz and Jimp
Platform: Browser
Price: Free
You are a ball-shaped cat with the elasticity of Kirby. You want to reach this pink cat sitting in the window of some building, but you can’t seem to get past the automatic doors. Said doors are no problem for sumo wrestlers, so your cat brain decides the logical course of action is to eat sushi and become morbidly obese. As browser-game premises go, Sushi Cat’s is pretty awesome. The play is pretty slick, too. You drop the titular cat over segmented, single-screen stages that have happy sushi pieces spread between a variety of ramps and obstacles. Your cat bounces about, gobbling raw fish to fill its belly (signified by a stretching Long Cat lining the left side of the screen) and get high scores. Sushi Cat is score-attack pachinko with cartoon cats and a reggae-pentatonic fusion soundtrack. It’s delicious… A-



Record Tripping
Creator: Bell Brothers
Platform: Browser
Price: Free
The words “unique” and “quirky” get watered down the more they’re bandied about, so let’s just call Record Tripping “different.” As a music game that uses the oft-overlooked mouse scroll-wheel as the means to scratch a virtual record for varying purposes from level to level, it’s far from being a DJ Hero wannabe. There’s a healthy dose of Alice In Wonderland imagery, plus looping instrumental segments of Beck, Death Cab For Cutie, and Spoon songs, but the focus here is clicking and spinning things—like a clock, to make it show the scheduled time for a rabbit to catch its train, or a windmill, gently guiding seeds into dirt-filled pots. Yes, it’s a gimmick, but one that doesn’t overstay its welcome. The game is completely free and a scant five levels long, so there’s nothing to lose… B



The Adventures Of One Button Bob
Creator: Ninjadoodle
Platform: Browser
Price: Free
Gamers old enough to remember when controllers with “turbo” buttons were the hot new thing will also recall the ritual of riding in the backseat from the local video store, poring over a new game’s packaging and manual on the drive home. Arguably, though, part of the fun was ignoring the included booklet, throwing caution to the wind, hitting “start,” and figuring out the controls on the fly. The Adventures Of One Button Bob lets you recapture that feeling by coyly leaving you to your own devices. You control an extremely pixilated Ranger Smith-looking guy as he marches from the left side of the screen to the right—how you control him is a mystery. The only sure thing is that the left mouse button does something. In some levels, clicking lets you jump. In others, you’ll climb ladders or merely hold still. As other games are getting more convoluted, it’s refreshing to be restricted—it makes you pay that much more attention… A



Balloon In A Wasteland
Creator: Armor Games
Platform: Browser
Price: Free
The biggest running complaint about Balloon In A Wasteland is that it’s too easy. While such gripes normally seem to come from show-offy, elitist young Turks boasting about their gaming prowess, in this case, it’s not only true, but a mark of justified frustration from players who authentically want to spend more time in Balloon’s dark, eerie little world. After you crash your hot-air balloon in, er, a wasteland, wave after wave of oozing black creeps (the same ones from the even eerier game The Next Floor) slither forward to do you harm. By shooting them, you earn cash that can be put to good use when one of the frequent vendors comes by to sell weaponry, traps, fortresses, and upgrades. (Wondering why there are fortress-vendors in a wasteland? The shopkeepers’ motto is “Don’t ask me where they come from!”) Between waves, you can also rest to restore crucial stamina, or work at fixing your balloon to escape. But the choices are almost never difficult, and there’s plenty of time to patch your balloon and escape early on. Or you can just ignore the balloon, hang out, and shoot creeps, but you’ll wind up with so much cash and such high-level weapons that they never pose a threat. The game’s visual design is terrific, and it’s a gamer-friendly blend of options, achievements, conquest, and progress, but it needs to be fine-tuned to be tougher if it’s ever going to be as breathless as the story and the horrible enemies imply it should be… B



Infectonator! World Dominator
Creator: Toge Productions
Platform: Browser
Price: Free
Go ahead, type “zombie” into Kongregate’s search engine: There are more than 50,000 matches. That’s no surprise, but it’s a sign of just how zombie-saturated the gaming landscape is. Still, the ubiquity of the undead doesn’t automatically damn a game starring the brain-hungry bastards. Infectonator! distinguishes itself by making zombie infection your primary goal. You’re out to conquer the world. Starting on the African continent, you move through towns and cities with the goal of killing a set number of citizens. You infect with a single click, but as the game progresses, hero characters (like Spider-Man) are introduced to try to stop you, so you have to purchase the ability to make super zombie villains (like Venom) and other items to keep your plague spreading. It takes a while to get going, but once it does, Infectonator! acquits itself nicely in a sea of zombie alternatives… B



Blosics 2
Creator: Igrek Productions
Platform: Browser
Price: Free
Like many physics-based games, Blosics 2 occasionally feels engineered for maximum exasperation, but at least it has the decency to score its tricky, brick-blasting levels with soothing ambient jams. In the original, all you had to contend with were green blocks that needed smashing, and red blocks that needed avoiding. Now you’ll have to incorporate floaters and high-dollar-value “star” blocks into your cannonball-firing calculations. Also new are the “challenges,” which are troublesome goals like “win using only one ball” and “don’t knock off any red blocks.” Make the goal, and you net unlockables like explosives and the ability to freeze time—practically mandatory upgrades in a game this frustrating… B-



Space Miner: Space Ore Bust
Creator: Venan Entertainment
Platform: iPhone
Price: $4.99 (currently on sale for $1.99)
At its heart, Space Miner: Space Ore Bust is an update on Asteroids, with players controlling a ship that moves through the galaxy, blowing up rocks and enemy craft. But the game adds tons of charm to a basic concept, stringing together levels through a plot that sees your character working to save the family space-mining business. Your nemesis: a mega corporation that loves clear-cutting rainforests, populating asteroid fields with aggressive droids, and bulldozing orphanages. Missions include fishing lost space tourists out of the void, and the first boss fight features a giant evil robot complaining about your “Haxorz” when you get in good hits. The over-the-top characters and story add a lighthearted feel to what could otherwise digress into a stressful test of your touchpad skills… A



Desktop Tower Defense Pro
Creator: Hand Drawn Games
Platform: Web
Price: Free
This upgrade to the classic Desktop Tower Defense improves in two key areas: the expected and the unexpected. The game mechanics remain the same—build a maze of firepower that stops an army of creeps from getting to the other side of the screen—so the new version should naturally include a slicker interface and new enemies. It does on both accounts, expanding the creep-iverse to include enemies like hoppers (who sneak around weak maze corners) and arrows (which are extra-speedy down straight corridors). They not only change the way you think about firepower, but about maze construction itself. Then the game gets into unexpected territory. DTD Pro also features new maze types (including those that require you to defend the center, which is mindbending), a sandbox option for ultimate level customization, and a multiplayer mode that pits you against others in a battle for longest level survival. In this final Pro benefit, DTD finally connects its players to compare strategies and engage in friendly trash talk… A



Megadrill
Creator: Small Is Beautiful Interactive
Platform: Browser
Price: Free
There are a ton of “how far can you fly” games like Hedgehog Launch, Shopping Cart Hero, Learn To Fly, and Fly Hard. Each one follows the same format: You fling your rocket (or hedgehog or penguin or whatever) into the air and maneuver to hit treasures and bumpers and stay in the air as long as you can. Then you get cash based on the duration of your flight, use it to buy upgrades like rockets and better launching systems, and try, try again. Megadrill starts with the same routine, but heads in a different direction—literally. In this case, instead of flying through the air, you’re burrowing through the earth in search of buried treasure. The more you find, the more you can upgrade your drill to go further, endure more pressure, steer better, and so forth. It’s a fun new twist on an increasingly tired game, and with clean design and cute sound clips, it’s a solid enough example of the genre. And it comes complete with incentives like trophies, a time limit, and a goal: to make enough dough to retire in style. But the slow drilling means none of the manic high-speed decisions of Hedgehog Launch and the like, and in spite of the fripperies, the gameplay seems very familiar at this point… B-



Hoosegow
Creators: Ben Collins-Sussman and Jack Welch
Platform: Browser (Casual Gameplay Design Competition entry)
Price: Free
The first-place winner in Casual Gameplay Design Competition 7—which invited programmers to create one-room text adventures around the theme of “escape”—Hoosegow isn’t a terribly fresh piece of interactive fiction, but it’s witty and entertaining enough to deserve the blue ribbon. Tossed in a Wild West county lockup after a botched train heist, you’re joined by a dull-witted sidekick, a deranged preacher, and an assortment of inventory items that seem useless at first yet (surprise!) prove handy in breaking you out of the joint. Yes, MacGyvering your way out of a locked room is the oldest trope in the text-game playbook. With a tight prose style that’s half Buffalo Bill and half Oscar Wilde, though, the old standards don’t seem so bad. Bonus: A multi-layered (and optional) hint system offers help in tiny increments, allowing you to retain a little dignity when you’re begging for a push in the right direction… A-



Fragile Shells
Creator: Stephen Granade
Platform: Browser (CGDC entry)
Price: Free
Pulpy, 1950s-style science fiction tends to work well with text games, perhaps because both forms offer an appealing mix of futurism and quaintness to modern audiences. In any case, Fragile Shells, set on a space station where something has gone terribly wrong, is the type of short story interactive fiction was designed for. The tight quarters of the station—exercise machines starboard aft, fuel lines directly to port, etc.—are depicted with such crisp language that there’s a strong spatial element to the puzzle-solving, as if you’re really floating around the cabin. It’s a welcome counterpoint to more florid works of interactive fiction that spend countless paragraphs on tone but do a shabby job of telling you where the hell you are. Alas, the backstory of Fragile Shells isn’t as well-defined as its setting. Told through flashes of memory, the tale of orbital espionage doesn’t manage to cohere by the time you launch the escape pod… B+



Dual Transform
Creator: Andrew Plotkin (under pseudonym Nigel Smith)
Platform: Browser (CGDC entry)
Price: Free
A game-making contest is a game in itself, and part of the fun is seeing how the developers/“players” interpret the rules. The guidelines of CGDC 7 called for single-room experiences, so for Dual Transform, veteran IF author Andrew Plotkin created an environment that transforms itself into different “rooms” as you progress. In the hands of a less capable creator, this would be a cheap trick, but Plotkin conjures an unstable world that seems full of potential to the end—and never feels like a cheat. You’re trying to escape a subconscious realm that shifts in appearance in response to your conceptualization of simple forces: heat, electricity, etc. Sounds wonky, and it is, at first. But the idea gels around the second transformation or so, and the tale’s straightforward elegance comes to the fore. With almost no tedious inventory management—you only have one item, which can transform with the surroundings—Dual Transform sidesteps the trial-and-error dynamic of most interactive fiction, and lets players focus on the ideas behind its puzzles… A



Party Foul
Creator: Brooks Reeves
Platform: Browser (CGDC entry)
Price: Free 
With a contemporary, low-stakes take on the theme of “escape,” CGDC runner-up Party Foul plops you in the midst of a hellishly annoying dinner party. All you want to do is get your husband, your coat, and your casserole dish, and get out. An interesting vehicle for a game, to be sure, and while the largely solid writing encourages you to explore and test every action imaginable, a pesky handful of bugs can make progress impossible or downright confusing, even with the aid of the included walkthrough. Not only do you have to contend with the tasks at hand, but you also must steer clear of the prying hostess Abbey, who will snatch items from your inventory on sight. It’s tough to say what’s more annoying, though: Abbey swiping your belongings, or Party Foul losing track of your progress on its own… C


Couch Of Doom
Creator: Megan Moser and Margaret Moser
Platform: Browser (CGDC entry)
Price: Free
Never has mind-numbing ennui forced you to think so much. An overwhelming aversion to doing anything has left you stranded on the couch, and your goal in this text-based puzzle is to motivate yourself to simply get up. It proves harder than it seems, with comic books, novels, and TV as distractions. Plus, if an object’s not within arm’s reach, it might as well be dead to you. These constraints in Couch Of Doom force you to be inventive with how you use, say, stray AC adapters, but impose extra disappointment when a promising line of commands proves futile. With a few flights of fancy (an apocalyptic dream sequence, for one) and the aid of an unpredictable tabby cat, Couch Of Doom proves that boredom can be a compelling distraction from boredom. A-

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