Review Criteria

The search for high quality Free video games is somewhat like hunting for treasure among the vast wreckage of a sunken ship.  There are so many places to explore, curious objects to sift through, even dangers to watch out for.  And yet, every so often one may just discover a rare hidden gem.  For many, the freeware treasure hunt is a burden.  For me, it’s one of the small pleasures of PC gaming.   And thanks to the dedication of talented, independent game designers quality free games really do exist.  Over the years I’ve probably playtested dozens of titles and among those I’ve tried some have earned a permanent place in my personal collection.  And that’s really what this folder is about, highlighting some of my personal favorites based on a very selective [and demanding] criteria.  You’ll probably notice as you browse through the collection that I tend to prefer games with an original idea or good gameplay versus those that rely on big explosions or fancy graphics. I’ve had a lot of fun discovering and playing these (and hope to maintain this collection indefinitely).  Hopefully you’ll enjoy discovering some of these gems for the first time.  Scroll down if you’d like to skip straight to the games; otherwise keep reading to learn more about the selection process.

Selection Criteria: Each consideration must…
1.  Be 100% Free.  No Shareware, Trials, Demos or Mods.
2.  Be compatible with Linux, WINE, ReactOS or Windows XP
3.  Be hosted at a site with a gray or better WOT rating.
4.  Have a focus on Single Player experience.  Online multiplayer games are the rare exception.
5.  Have Family Friendly Content (in-game and at the homepage).
6.  Be relatively easy to obtain and install (100 MB or smaller download) and not requiring an emulator to play.  Although for many of these you will need to be comfortable working with compressed files. 7-Zip is a great utility for this.
7.  Provide English language support.
8.  Be free of in-game advertising or microtransactions (IAP)
9.  Be a truly quality title, the best (or nearly best) in its class.
10.  Be a game I’ve actually played and…I Like It.

Concerning browser games of the Flash/HTML5 variety – these browser technologies are a legitimate gaming platform, but the problem with so many of these types of games is they are all too often front-loaded with (and otherwise surrounded by) advertising.  This doesn’t fit well with the ethos of truly free games where players are given the option to support a developer, usually in the form of direct donations.  In order for a “Free” browser-based game to pass criteria it must be hosted at a dedicated homepage by the developer and for that specific game.  Ideally, there should also be a downloadable stand-alone version, although this is more a preference than a strict requirement.

Guiding Influences: My lack of fondness for wanton violence, juvenile humor, M-rated content, anime, puzzle games, card games, fighting games, escape the room games, scrolling shooters, keyboard controlled platfomers and the majority of flash-based casual games.  My love for depth, originality, solid gameplay, engaging art and sound design, simulation & strategy games, classic retro titles and all around great presentation, whatever the genre – especially if it comes in a small package.

____________________________

Concerning Adventure Games
You might notice there is a conspicuous lack of Adventure Games in this collection.  That’s because I tend to regard these titles separately from all other game types.  From this point on I’ll be maintaining a separate page, created specifically to feature my favorite Adventure Games, free or otherwise.
____________________________

Note: Featured titles are listed in no particular order.  In other words, a game’s placement in the list should not be construed as a ranking.  They’re all favorites…

If you don’t see the games below click HERE.

UPDATE:  As it turns out it isn’t practical for me to do a full review on every outstanding free game that I play.  This is why the reviews will appear to have dropped off.  But I do still playtest the occasional discovery, and those finds (when they happen along) will be added to the Free Video Game list, maintained separately from this folder.  For an even larger selection visit the Honorable Mentions list.  Both are static pages (located in the right column there) that may even receive an update now and then.

Published in: on May 11, 2009 at 11:20 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , ,

C-evo

Few games have captured the hearts and minds of strategy aficionados like the Civilization series.  For those who may not have heard of it the basic premise finds you as the leader of a civilization, whose job it is to guide your people through several thousand years of history.  Time progresses from ancient times up through present day.  Meanwhile, you’ll be competing with a handful of other civilizations for essentially world domination.  The flow of the game is turn-based, rather than the frantic pacing often found in Real-Time Strategies, as you carefully manage everything from exploration to city development, unit production, diplomacy, research and (of course) combat.  In the traditional series there are three possible victory conditions: Subdue your opponents through raw power, foster world peace through diplomacy, or be the first civilization to build and launch a colony space ship.  Depending on the size of the world map and number of players games can range anywhere from an hour to possibly even days – best broken down into smaller play sessions.

C-evo is among a handful of freeware ‘Civ-like’ games and it’s the one I happen to like the most.  This is due to its emphasis on single player games with good AI (Artificial Intelligence) opponents and streamlined gameplay.  The graphics most closely resemble Civilization II (1996), though it’s worth noting that C-evo doesn’t endeavor to be a precise Civilization clone.  Overall you’ll find there’s greater emphasis on unit production and combat, with less placed on culture and diplomacy.  Although the latter haven’t been removed entirely and still factor into a successful campaign.  And it’s still possible to win a victory through space colonization rather than world domination.  Newcomers to the series in general should realize that micromanagement is a big part of this type of strategy game.  Some aspects can be automated of course but this is often part of the appeal for fans of the genre, and reason for the longer learning curve.  Fortunately C-evo has you well covered in that department with a superb in-game manual that lets you look up game concepts using an intuitive drill-down menu or a handy search tool.  After reading through the Quickstart section you could conceivable learn to play as you go…just don’t expect a victory the first (or second) time out.  In addition to its addictive turn-based flow, this is the sort of game that grows more enjoyable the more you play.

One unique feature of C-evo that caught my attention is the ability to custom design military units, focusing on either mobility, defense or attack power.  Encounter one type of challenging enemy unit and you can try to research a good counter for it.  Fans of customization needn’t stop there as the game supports what the developers call ‘Modular AI.’  What this means is simply that you can download additional AI modules, with slightly differing strengths and play styles.  Newcomers with questions will find an active and helpful community centered around the game – and continuously improving it.  What I find most amazing about C-evo is that the entire game is only 2.4 MB; that’s less than half the size of most MP3s.  How they’ve managed to pack so much game into so small a package I’ll never know, but it’s impressive.  One small word of advice though, don’t start a game the night before school or work.  And if you do, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Designer: Steffen Gerlach and company
Type: Retro Remake
Genre: Turn-Based Strategy
Format: Installer
File Size: 2.4 MB
Control Scheme: Keyboard & Mouse
Portable: I’m not sure
Version Played: 1.1.1

Visit the Official Homepage

Published in: on May 11, 2009 at 11:10 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , ,

Lunar Lander 2

One of the most telling characteristics of a true classic is gameplay that’s still fun even decades following its release.  Another is the number of clones that follow in its wake. Lunar Lander is one such game, having come about during the dawn of video games in the early 1970s.  Much has changed in the way of graphics & sound with later iterations, but the core gameplay (if a game has been done right) has remained largely the same.  The basic idea is to take a small lunar module hovering near the surface of the moon and task the player with landing it safely on one of several landing platforms.  Your only control comes in the form of a single thruster and the ability to rotate the craft as it slowly descends.  Sounds simple enough right?  Until you realize the craft isn’t very robust and has the tendency to explode if it touches down too hard or at the wrong angle.  Meanwhile, the tricky duo of inertia and gravity are ever at play turning the whole experience into a game that’s really about finesse.  And therein lies the beauty of ‘lander’ games in general – that they take some getting used to, but in the end give the player a chance to hone and develop their skill with time and practice…yet another characteristic of classic gaming.

One remake in this long-running genre is a title coded by author ‘danjo’ for a 2008 software competition.  Lunar Lander 2 sets out to pay homage to this classic genre by staying true to its roots while offering a few modern frills, such as slightly more modern graphics and a soundtrack that has to be heard to be fully appreciated.  Not only has he pulled this off in spades, but what you end up getting turns out to be an entire Adventure/Strategy game that also happens to be compiled as a self-contained portable exe.  This tribute to the original NASA Apollo program has you working your way through 20 progressively challenging missions.  During each mission your performance (how well you conserve fuel coupled with how quickly you land) determines the final score upon completion.  This ‘performance rating’ proves crucial to long term success as ‘points’ serve the secondary function of enabling you to purchase additional fuel between levels.  With more points more fuel can be purchased. Not only are points necessary to maintain a critical fuel supply but they can also be used for upgrades such as more powerful thrusters and extra fuel tanks – things you’ll need for later levels.  Since remaining fuel carries over from level to level you’ll want to get very good at mastering the subtle nuances of the lunar thruster in the moon’s relatively thin atmosphere.  It won’t be easy but I can assure you practice will improve your performance and it’s a thoroughly fun – and satisfying – kind of trial and error.

Lunar Lander 2 isn’t totally unforgiving as once you pass a level you can pick up from that point at any time.  Although, if your performance curve isn’t up to par your accumulated points still may not be enough to carry you all the way through.  No doubt completing this game will take plenty of skill and practice.  The classic roots shine through once again with this achievement of being difficult yet at the same time rewarding, something not often seen in modern video games.  If I can offer some advice, learn not to rely on the thrusters too much…and be sure the craft is level during touchdown.  Also, while your inclination at the title screen might be to hit Enter you’ll actually need to use the Shift key as everything in the game is controlled with the Shift and Arrow keys.  Use Escape to return to the main menu.

As one who enjoys ‘lander’ games I can say I’ve tried quite a few.  But Lunar Lander 2 stands apart with high production value and excellent gameplay all in a tiny package (no installation required).  Did I mention that it’s free?

Designer: danjo (acoders)
Type: Retro Remake
Genre: Casual
Format: Compression Pack, Portable Exe
File Size: 6.6 MB
Control Scheme: Keyboard
Portable: Yes
Version Played: 1.0

Download Lunar Lander 2
Visit the Host Page at Classic Retro Games

Published in: on April 16, 2009 at 7:05 pm  Comments (1)  
Tags: , , , , ,

Typomagia

Does anyone remember the old 1983 arcade game Crossbow?  It was one of the first shooter games where you stood up behind a crossbow and protected characters as they walked slowly across the screen.  This next game isn’t a shooter.  But it brought to mind that old arcade classic when I first played it.  The game is called Typomagia and, as you might guess from the title, has something to do with typing.  Let me assure you there really is a game here; not just another typing trainer dressed up to look like a game.  In fact, from my experience so far, everything about this title is highly original…and a lot of fun.

The basic premise places you in the roll of an apprentice Wizard, who sets out to investigate a mysterious threat.  You never actually see your character, but instead control an army of Imps, Orcs & Trolls from afar.  Of course it’s the control scheme that’s the main focus here, with everything the result of typing words.  The screenshots tell it best but imagine the screen filled with words, appearing and disappearing at random.  You type a word correctly and it gets sucked into a collection meter – the game calls it “Mana.”  Type more words, get more Mana.  With enough Mana collected you can then summon your own little fighters, each with different abilities.  For example, when the Mana meter reaches high enough (this won’t take long) to summon an Imp you can, if you choose, type “Imp” to bring one onto the field.  Imps are pretty fast little critters so he’ll charge right into battle.  Of course, they get full marks for bravery but aren’t very tough, so he’ll probably get killed right away too.  With more Mana stored up you could go for an Orc.  These guys are tougher, though they move a little slower.  And so forth.  This is probably a good time to talk about one of the more unique aspects of the game.  Most of Typomagia’s levels are about moving a marker (in the form of a tree) from the middle of the screen to your opponent’s side.  Think in terms of a reverse tug-of-war. The farther your troops can push the tree toward your opponent the more screen space (and hence available words) you control, which also means you’ll be able to gain Mana quicker than your opponent.  These levels are often where strength and speed come into play.  Dexterous typing Wizards with heaps of Mana can purchase the costly Troll, large behemoths capable of smashing Imps and Orcs with relative ease.  But, as you might guess, they’re very slow.  Hopefully now you’re starting to get an idea about the strategy involved.

Adding to the strategic mix are ability upgrades, which you can see on the Mana bar as well.  They work just like summoning fighters.  Once you’ve gained enough Mana to light up a special ability (“Stronger” for instance) type it in to queue it up.  You’ll see it appear down in the lower left of the screen. This means the next creature you summon will have greater than average Strength, and a likely advantage over his opponents.  What’s more you can pile on the upgrades by making a creature Stronger, Tougher and Faster…but of course it will take much longer to build a fighter like this and cost a lot of extra Mana.  Once a fighter takes the field they move and fight on their own.  So it’s all about timing, typing and strategy, knowing when and what type of troops to deploy.

There are two game modes available: Quick mode (for a pick-up game against the computer) and Story mode.  The quest featured in Story mode is light-hearted fare with a good variety of unique characters and challenges.  Although, ironically, the story text does contain a few typos, which is probably attributable to the fact that English is Jari Komppa’s second language.  And the game (though fully playable) appears to still be in development.

For greater variety and challenge custom dictionaries can be chosen at the Quick mode setup screen.  These include Cities, Colors, Common, Lands, Orchids and Programming with ‘Common’ being the default.  The computer’s typing speed (CPS) is set on a scale of 1.0 to 10.0.  In my own experience 2.5 makes the computer a worthy opponent.  I can’t imagine what something like 8.5 would be like. Always admired are the little added touches and attention to detail.  For example, the way the individual letters of each word light up when you start typing, and the way it whooshes into your Mana bar upon completion.  The sound effects in this game are great fun and give the whole presentation a kind of arcade-like feel…helped in no small part by the blocky but charming retro graphics.  It’s also nice to see your typing speed (WPM) at the end of each round.  That kind of feedback not only provides an added sense of accomplishment but allows for this game to be used as a typing trainer as well.  Kids should be able to pick up on the strategic aspects with a little help.

There’s a lot to like about Typomagia even if only from a gameplay standpoint.  Fans of classic Fantasy or Real Time Strategy games might enjoy it even more.  Though I think it’s safe to say this one is accessible to all kinds of players, from casual to experienced.  With its adjustable features typers of all skill levels can get a decent challenge and plenty of enjoyment out of it, with practically unlimited replay value.  By the way, if you manage to beat the last two levels of Story mode then it’s quite possible you really are a typing Wizard.

Designer: Jari Komppa
Type: Original
Genre: Real Time Strategy
Format: Compression Pack
File Size: 3 MB
Control Scheme: Keyboard
Portable: I’m not sure
Version Played: 0.8

Visit the Official Homepage

Published in: on April 11, 2009 at 11:32 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , ,

Crayon Physics

The way we interact with games continues to evolve, with changes occurring around the interface, input devices and within the games themselves.  The advent of physics-based game engines in recent years has ushered in a new chapter in the gaming continuum where virtual worlds take on physical qualities closely mirroring the rules governing ours.  To put it another way, physics aren’t just for First Person Shooter games.  And, in appropriate fashion, this trend has duly seeped its way out to the independent gaming community – where we also happen to find many freeware titles.

One game in particular stands as a testament to the way physics engines can, and ought to be, integrated with otherwise conventional games.  I can’t say it was one of the first to adopt this design approach, but Crayon Physics has a kind of simple appeal that’s practically undeniable.  Petri Purho’s use of crayon renderings coupled with soft paper textures presents a feeling that we all might remember from the past.  Except in this case those scribblings become blocks & lines of various shapes & sizes used to solve simple to moderate puzzles.  The stated goal of the game is to coax the red ball to the little yellow star on each level.  You do this by drawing shapes with the mouse cursor that can fall onto or otherwise manipulate the red ball.  Other than that there are no other rules.  A level can be played or solved however you like with any number of possible solutions.  And that’s really the beauty of games like this, the freedom inherent in having a game world pre-governed by rudimentary laws of physics.

It has to be said that one of the most endearing features of the game is the accompanying track by artist “ghost Lullaby,” which sets a distinct feeling and tone.  For non-gamers or those who shy away from action oriented titles this is definitely one game worth checking out.  And despite the fact that it is technically a ‘puzzle’ game, Crayon Physics is actually very relaxing to play.  There is no time or other pressure to beat a level.  Nothing has been built in to hinder or dictate the pacing other than your own creativity and experimentation.  Should the red ball fall out of bounds it merely returns to where it started.  Or, you can press the space bar to reset the level. By the way, the Escape key brings up the menu if you prefer to jump around or try another level.

By most standards Crayon Physics is a short game.  All eight levels could easily be finished in 20-30 minutes by most players.  There are several reasons for this, most notable being that Crayon Physics ended up becoming a predecessor to the recently released Crayon Physics Deluxe ($19.95).  If you found the freeware version enjoyable, and don’t mind supporting an independent developer, this commercial release offers 70+ levels and a slew of new shapes and other features.  I haven’t had a chance to play it myself yet, but this one’s definitely on my wish list…

Designer: Petri Purho
Type: Original
Genre: Puzzle
Format: Compression Pack
File Size: 5.6 MB
Control Scheme: Mouse
Portable: Yes
Version Played: 1.0

Visit the Official Homepage

Published in: on April 10, 2009 at 6:55 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , ,

Globetrotter XL

Geography games have been on the internet for some time now, but none that I’ve encountered thus far achieve the level of presentation as Globetrotter XL.  The approach is fast-paced & challenging, and makes for one of the best casual Coffee Break games imaginable.  Why?  Because even passersby seem to get drawn into the challenge.  In fact, it’s even more fun when a small group of ‘experts’ gather round the screen.  And what a fine way to brush up on this oft neglected subject area than with a quick little five minute browser game.

Here’s how it works.  Each level starts out with a point threshold and set number of cities on which you’ll be quizzed.  You’re then presented with a blank map of the world and nothing more than country borders to guide you.  A city name pops up and your job is to place the flag marker as close to the spot you think that city is located.  The closer you get the more points you earn toward beating the level.  Conversely, the further away you place the flag the less points you earn, and so on.  After using up the allocated number of cities your points are tallied up to determine whether you’ve earned enough to move on to the next level.  Everything I’ve just described is presented in a pleasant graphical format (in the form of progress bars) that’s easy to follow.  It’ll make more sense after playing once or twice. Once you progress to the next level more points are going to be required and you’ll be given more cities (chosen at random) to tackle.

Don’t be fooled by the simplistic presentation of this game as most first timers won’t find it a pushover.  You’d be hard pressed to make it to level three in the first several plays.  Personally, I’ve only really gotten anywhere from playing enough times to start remembering cities that have come up in previous attempts.  So be warned: You will learn something from playing this game.  I’m sorry.  It’s inevitable.  With a limited amount of time (about 13 seconds) to pick a spot the pacing is fast…too fast to cheat using an Atlas – not that the idea crossed anyone’s mind right?

I’ve said it before, I’m not a huge fan of Casual games in general; but it seems there’s an increasing number of stellar Casual titles coming out these days.  Globetrotter XL is yet another fine example of this trend.

Designer: Manfred Weber (dschini.org)
Type: Original
Genre: Casual
Format: Browser (Flash) Game, Portable Exe
File Size: 6.2 MB
Control Scheme: Mouse
Portable: Yes
Version Played: 1.0

Visit the Official Homepage

Published in: on April 9, 2009 at 8:43 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , ,

Driller

Evath is in trouble.  The new homeworld of Earth’s former inhabitants lies on the brink of destruction…

The backstory for the 1987 PC game “Space Station Oblivion” from Incentive Software sets the stage for this unique puzzle oriented, first person Adventure.  You play the role of a drilling specialist who bears a heavy burden, to prevent the catastrophic explosion of Evath’s moon, against extraordinary odds.  Driller is another retro remake from the folks at Ovine by Design that brings a classic game to modern Operating Systems (Windows XP/Vista).  They’ve also given the graphics, interface and music a makeover worthy of modern day gaming.  To merely introduce the basic plot doesn’t do the story justice, but it helps to at least understand where you are and what you’re doing there.  Think of this as a quick briefing for those who like to jump right in.

The vast abandoned compound that stretches before you resides on the nearby, and now highly unstable, moon of Mitral.  Beneath the surface dangerous gases have built up and will, with certainty, explode from an approaching asteroid.  The only hope in stopping the massive explosion is for you to go in with your custom drilling rig, locate the hidden pockets of gas, and try to release some of the pressure.  Unfortunately, there’s no way to know the exact location of these pockets.  Instead, you’ll have to rely on your crude instrument panel, your wits and a little problem solving ability to accomplish this mission.  For a much greater sense of immersion I recommend reading through the expanded Driller Federation Briefing, which will explain how this all came to be.

According the the Brief there are 16 known Sectors that need to be drilled.  As it happens, locating the gas pockets isn’t your only problem.  It turns out the compound’s defense systems are still fully operational and functioning autonomously…intruders aren’t welcome here.  Suffice it to say you’ve got your work cut out for you.  As the game begins the first thing you should note is the radar on the lower right instrument panel.  Don’t bother looking for blips, but rather pay attention to the rate of the signal.  When it increases to a rapid pulse you’re getting close to a gas pocket.  Once you think you’ve found it point your target reticle at a spot on the ground and launch the drill.  If you’re anywhere close to the pocket’s core the drill will report back the percentage of gas released – you’ve got to hit 60% or more.  Believe me when I say there’s a great deal more depth to be uncovered, but much of it can be figured out along the way.  My goal is to help get you started, which is why I’ll mention two other things. Throughout the compound you can interact with things using the rig’s lasers.  They aren’t your conventional attack lasers however so don’t go thinking you can blow up anything and everything that comes along.  They’re just a mechanism for interacting with the environment.  Hint: Look for things with a crystal-like appearance. Experiment to see what different objects do or affect.  And do be on the lookout for sentry droids (which anyone who’s seen Empire Strikes Back will quickly recognize).  Spend too much time in a given area and they’ll find you.  As far as I know your only recourse is to run from these impetuous devices as they slowly whittle away at your rig’s health.  Fortunately, crystallized repair materials can be located throughout the compound.

Driller is not an easy game, but I like that it’s a blending of different genres, and a fine example of the long way we’ve come from the days when games forced you to think (rather than blast) your way through a situation.  Being as how you’ve only got the one vehicle you will want to save regularly.  To do this bring up your PDA unit with the space bar.  From there you’ll have the option to Save or Load a previous game.  You can also select a different music track; by the way the music and sound really add to the already stellar atmosphere of this game.  Never having played the original I can’t say, but suspect, this team has added a trove of fine touches.  Even a small feature like the Gamma adjustment (using the Page Up/Page Down keys) is appreciated.  I especially like that the game doesn’t just shuffle you from one level to the next.  Instead, everything is (or at least feels) part of an interconnected complex to be explored and deciphered.

To fully appreciate Driller you should go into it with a sense that this is not just another first person Action game.  It’s an Adventure, involving a crucial mission, that requires you pay attention to everything around you.  Learn when to elevate and lower the tracks and how different objects affect the environment.  Save often.  Then, see if you have what it takes to save humanity (and yourself) from certain destruction.

Designer: Trevor Storey & Ovine by Design
Type: Retro Remake
Genre: Adventure
Format: Compression Pack
File Size: 22 MB
Control Scheme: Keyboard & Mouse
Portable: Yes
Version Played: 1.3

Visit the Official Homepage
Download Driller
Download the Driller Federation Briefing (PDF)

Published in: on April 8, 2009 at 7:33 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , ,

Secret Maryo Chronicles

Those of us who grew up with the original Nintendo Entertainment System and those endearing Mario platformers no doubt have many memories of battling Bowser’s minions in the lovable Mushroom Kingdom.  In fact, so instilled in our minds is this lovable franchise that Mario himself has become a well known cultural icon among Gen Xers, with the classic Super Mario Bros. being one of the most parodied video games of all time.  One small example of this phenomenon comes in the form of Secret Maryo Chronicles, an open-source platformer that pays homage to these classic games, most notably the venerable Super Mario World.

While I doubt that any game of this type could manage to achieve the same precision control so characteristic of the original series Secret Maryo Chronicles does manage to convey something similar.  The title character possesses many of the moves familiar to Mario players even if he isn’t quite as versatile.  And yes, I’m glad to say this one does provide native gamepad support.  You can technically play using the keyboard but I assure you the feeling won’t be nearly the same and you’ll probably find the whole experience more frustrating than fun.  For those using an Xbox 360 gamepad I’d like to point out that the menu can be brought up any time with the left shoulder button.  You’ll want to do this between levels, regularly, so as to save the game (progress isn’t automatically saved).

Despite the fact that this isn’t the Mushroom Kingdom you’ll be traveling, many of the enemies (or at least their movement patterns) will look familiar.  Waiting to be discovered are many new & original ones as well, along with things like the Ghost Mushroom.  Those new to platformer games of the “Mario” variety should note the emphasis on exploration.  It’s one of the defining qualities that made those games so fun and has certainly been implemented here.  For instance, you can often work your way through a level two or three different ways and, in many cases, find a couple of different exits.  Ambitious explorers are apt to discover secret hidden areas with extra coins or a 1-up.  This design approach lends naturally to replay value and I can say from what I’ve played so far the level design is nicely done.  Speaking of which I do believe there’s a built in level-editor though I don’t generally use those myself.  If the thought of designing your very own Maryo levels sounds appealing then you’re all set.

One drawback to the main installation file is that it’s entirely devoid of music.  So the first time you install and launch the game things may seem quieter than what you’re used to.  All the sounds are there of course but it really just doesn’t feel the same.  If you prefer the upbeat tunes then you’ll definitely want to follow the link to the official Secret Maryo Chronicles Music Addon.  It’s a separate installer that will automatically add a huge selection of fine music to the game (just be sure you select the win32.exe version).  Like the core game this is a fairly large download, coming in at around 35 MB for version 4.1.  Try playing the game before and after the music to see if it’s worth it – I think you’ll agree it is.

The secret to any good game of this type is striking the right balance between originality and familiarity, without unduly infringing on established intellectual property.  My impression is the team behind Maryo Chronicles has taken steps to remain within Fair use boundaries.  Hopefully this will remain the case and the game can continue a long and healthy life.  For the rest of us, the result is a light-hearted platformer featuring many familiar conventions and a whole new world to explore.

Designer: The Secret Maryo Chronicles Team
Type: Retro Remake
Genre: Platformer
Format: Installer
File Size: 38 MB
Control Scheme: Keyboard, Gamepad
Portable: No
Version Played: 1.7

Visit the Official Homepage

Published in: on April 6, 2009 at 8:05 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , ,

Dyson

UPDATE:  Dyson has now become a commercial indie title.

Those familiar with traditional Real Time Strategy games know they often involve a great deal of resource and unit management, not to mention the multi-front battles that comprise the core of the game.  This typically translates into a lot of micro-management on the player’s part, which can get burdensome…especially when your forces and territory have reached a certain threshold.  Dyson endeavors to turn this paradigm on its head and does so with a fresh new game that’s brimming with style.  This one’s come a long way over the past year or so and was just recently nominated for an IGF Award in the ‘Best Game’ category.

The premise of the game is simple; you start out with a few Seedlings and a single Asteroid.  The goal is to increase your Seedling population in order to slowly take control of the entire local asteroid belt.  Of course you’ll be battling with several other computer controlled colonies along the way, and competition for the best Asteroids is key to survival and success.  The reason for this is based on the relationship between your Seedlings and the various Asteroids.  By sacrificing 15 of your Seedlings a new Dyson tree can be planted in any Asteroid you control, which itself possesses three inherent qualities: Energy, Strength and Speed.  Once the Dyson tree sprouts it will slowly begin releasing new Seedlings, all of whom now possess the the qualities of the Asteroid (think DNA).  Since the level of Energy, Strength and Speed varies greatly the strategy lies in which Asteroids you’re able to control and colonize.  For example, a group of Seedlings from an Asteroid with a high Speed attribute will move fast but may not have much health or firepower.  Or you could end up with an extremely powerful group of fighters that also happen to move excruciatingly slow.  What’s neat about this feature is the strengths & weaknesses of your Seedlings are reflected in the way they look.  So you can tell at a glance (and by the way they move) what their chances are in an upcoming battle.  If you’ve got a force of fleet-footed, but weak, Seedlings you’d better use overwhelming force against a well established colony.

A helpful tutorial introduces the basic play mechanics, of which there are really only a handful.  I assure you this game, even for newcomers to the genre, is very easy to pick up and play.  Don’t rule it out just because you haven’t played an RTS before. Also, It’s worth noting there are actually two types of trees you can plant.  The previously mentioned Dyson tree, as you know, produces new Seedlings.  The larger it grows the faster it’ll produce them.  You can also plant a “Defense” tree.  This type, when fully sprouted, tries to protect the Asteroid from enemy Seedlings by launching plant-like missiles at them (friendly Seedlings will also defend incoming attacks).  The trick is to balance the trees as each Asteroid supports no more than five total.  You’ll also have to consider when to plant as sacrificing Seedlings leaves the Asteroid vulnerable to attack.

Taking over other Asteroids is all about wearing down enemy colonies and destroying their Dyson & Defense trees.  Victorious Seedlings will automatically begin the process of taking over the Asteroid by drilling down to the core.  You can watch as each penetration slowly reduces the core energy.  When it reaches zero the Asteroid is yours.

The unique visual style and nice ambient music work well, as does the highly intuitive control scheme.  Everything is done with the mouse and feels natural.  For example, begin right-clicking on a home Asteroid to select a specific number of Seedlings, then left-click on wherever you want them to go.  Or just left-click and drag to send all available Seedlings.  The mouse wheel lets you quickly zoom in and out, which is essential for keeping a perspective on your progress and colonies.  The current version of the game comes with 6 levels.  But the beauty is that each time a level is started the Asteroid belt and starting point are randomly generated, offering plenty of replay value.  Conspicuously absent from the latest release is a save option, but the game can be paused and left running in the background by selecting the Menu button.  I should also like to mention my personal preference for the original attribute meter, the one that used a single bar with weighted proportions for Energy, Strength & Speed, rather than the current version using a separate bar for each.

As the game progresses the size and scope of battles will definitely increase (sometimes involving hundreds of Seedlings).  But it never gets to the point of feeling frantic.  It’s quite possible that traditionally non-gamers, or those new to the genre will have just as much fun with this one as seasoned gamers.  And since the earlier levels start out slow there’s plenty of time to get accustomed to the way the game works before any real battles begin.  Dyson is a great piece of work and I’m looking forward to seeing how it progresses.

Designer: Alex May, Rudolf Kremers
Type: Original
Genre: Real Time Strategy
Format: Installer
File Size: 25 MB
Control Scheme: Mouse, Keyboard
Portable: I’m not sure
Version Played: 1.10

Visit the Official Homepage

Published in: on April 5, 2009 at 11:02 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , ,

Stackopolis

This next entry is a fast paced, city themed puzzle game that’s all about stacking blocks according to a preset layout.  Or, as the game prefers to call them, ‘blueprints.’  The name of the game is Stackopolis and here’s how it works.  Each level starts you out with a square grid filled with randomly placed blocks.  In the lower left corner the blueprint tells you where to place the blocks, including how high to stack them.  This is all well and good of course as it’s simply a matter of following the blueprint…only you’re given a limited amount of time to piece each building together.  Initial levels start you out with 60 seconds so there’s no time to waste.  Later levels offer even less time and progressively more complex layouts.  The trick to passing each level ultimately comes down to playing it to the point you start memorizing the layout.  Click a block once to select it; click it again to place it.  You don’t need to hold the mouse button.

Taken alone the gameplay offers plenty enough to keep you going.  That it’s all presented with fantastically retro graphics and an excellent theme is a nice bonus.  And it’s the little touches that add charm and fun to the experience.  From the overall look that pays homage to the classic SimCity 2000, to the little distractions like subway trains, car chases, and tiny people playing football in the park.  The whole city feel is well represented all the way down to the city-esque ambient sound effects.  Even the website gushes with retro-graphic style.

But, as always, gameplay is the most important thing and you won’t want to start from the beginning each time you play.  This is probably why a password feature has been built in, so you can pick up where you left off.  For those who prefer an offline version Bloc Media has you covered there as well.  In fact, this is probably one of the best offline versions of any browser game I’ve yet come across.  Similar to the USB apps so common nowadays the entire game comes in a tiny, self-contained executable – complete with sound and password support.  You just double-click the file and voila, there it is ready to go.

Here’s a great game that’s perfect for short play sessions and will no doubt offer hours of challenge and fun.

Designer: Bloc Media
Type: Original
Genre: Puzzle
Format: Browser (Flash) Game, Portable Exe
File Size: 2.2 MB
Control Scheme: Mouse
Portable: Yes
Version Played: 2.0.26

Visit the Official Homepage

Published in: on April 4, 2009 at 10:50 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , ,