2010 was the year of the casual gaming market, so I thought I could take a look back at some of the top games of that era and compile a bit of a list, enjoy!
A.R.E.S. Extinction Agenda
Developer and Publisher: Extend Interactive
From Thailand comes an action-packed side-scroller with plenty of frenetic combat and intriguing platform maneuvers. A.R.E.S. Extinction Agenda is the first in a five-part series that has a distinct retro feel to it. You play the roles of Ares, a powerful and advanced robot immune to the deadly zytron gas infecting the space station. It is particularly nice that you can interact with certain objects such as boxes and doors while traversing the 3D environment (although sometimes I wish I could move in and out from the screen). You get to collect parts of destroyed enemies and recycle them for your own use. You will need fast arcade reflexes and intelligent use of pickups (better weapons, upgrades for existing weapons, repair kits, and grenades) to keep moving forward and to rescue survivors. Although you are not forced to race at a speedy clip through the game, you had better be ready when a horde of foes attacks you all at once. The boss battles are just epic. You are treated throughout to wonderful visual effects. There’s also a choice of difficulty levels to encompass a wide range of skills, an option of keyboard/mouse or gamepad controls, and support for widescreen as well as conventional computer displays.
A Magnetic Adventure
Developer: Kostyukhin Timur
Publisher: Alawar Entertainment
Want to try an intriguing set of physics-based puzzles relying on manipulation of magnetism? Then this game from Russia is right up your alley. The cleverness of the challenges is amazing, as they are incredibly diverse and fun and require you to think outside-the-box. Using your mouse, whose cursor is cutely represented by a small magnet, you face the challenge of solving 50 physical puzzles that will be brain-melting in ways you never imagined. Through the gradual ramping up of difficulty at the beginning, you learn within each puzzle to use your magnet to induce movement in metallic elements that you can directly control to affect what transpires with the non-magnetic components that you cannot directly control. A lot of the solutions are counterintuitive, as you have to use available objects for unconventional purposes for which they were not originally intended. The puzzle design is ingenious, and in one of my favorite puzzles you have to operate within a dark room with only a small movable flashlight view available. Your ultimate goal in each puzzle is to free up a “totem” and move it to a specific designated location. Once I began playing this game, which supports widescreen resolutions, I just could not stop.
Puppet Show: Souls of the Innocent Collector’s Edition
Developer: ERS Game Studios
Publisher: Big Fish Games
This title from Ukraine is a sequel to the developer’s earlier hit, Puppet Show: Mystery of Joyville, and it really goes way beyond its predecessor to highlight the full potential of the hidden object genre. The children in a small town fall into a deep sleep, and only really unnerving puppets provide clues to unravel this mystery. It turns out that the evil Felicia is stealing souls, and it is up to you alone to save the town. To accomplish this daunting task, you will find yourself embroiled not only in hidden object searches (located in parts of the play screen that sparkle) but also in other kinds of enticing puzzles (some novel, and some classic), and of challenging mini-games. The artwork is drop-dead gorgeous, incorporating breathtaking hand-drawn scenes, and the spooky background melodies are hauntingly beautiful. The nearby castle you explore is truly a sight to behold. The inventory system is very logically designed, and you will frequently find that something you pick up in one place may need to be used in another. As is typical of this kind of release, your action is completely controlled by the mouse. The mood of the game is both lugubrious and sinister, but the gameplay is so enjoyable that you will quickly find that it brings a smile to your face.
Chicken Invaders 4 Ultimate Omelette
Developer and Publisher: Interaction Studios
Remember Space Invaders and Galaga? Well, this latest release from Greece in the Chicken Invaders series is the most fun arcade space shooter that I have played in a very, very long time. The vicious attacks from the fowl intergalactic adversaries, motivated by revenge for the oppression of their earthly brethren, are inestimable in both number and variety across the twelve star systems you visit. The action (available widescreen) puts a premium on hand-eye coordination as while using mouse or keyboard controls, you destroy chickens, avoid falling eggs and other enemy projectiles, and collect power-ups. There are ten awesome weapons and twelve power levels available. Occasionally your wingman, Hen Solo, may help out. You face ten fantastic bosses, culminating in the ominous Egg Cannon, and fifteen medals and trophies are awarded for outstanding heroism. Cooperative play is available for up to four players, you can compete with others over a LAN or the Internet, and you can try to get on Internet high score tables. The original rousing and invigorating orchestral soundtrack is simply the absolute best. A tongue-in-cheek sense of humor is evident throughout, and kept me chuckling all the way though the frenzied blasting action.
Developer and Publisher: Nicalis
NightSky is a 2D action-puzzle game from Sweden with a uniquely relaxing ambient atmosphere involving no enemies, combat, or violence of any kind. Using the keyboard you control a black ball with the ability to stop or go, accelerate or decelerate, or even flip gravitational pull, while rolling horizontally through foreboding and twisted environments. You encounter many physical obstacles, and the challenge lies in figuring out how to overcome them. You often have to use inertia or manipulate available elements to make it over or around a seemingly impassable area. The game reminds me of wonderful cross between World of Goo on the PC and Loco Roco for the PSP. The physics of ball motion (as well as other moving objects evident on the screen) is simply excellent. You navigate through eleven massive play worlds, in which you often encounter unusual vehicles on which the ball can ride. The difficulty ramps up as you progress, but you will be having so much fun that you may not notice. There are numerous secrets and unlockable elements, including a Master mode for experts. And backing up all this action is a pleasantly soothing jazz soundtrack. This title creates a mood by combining serenity and whimsy in a way that is downright addictive.
Ghost Pirates of Vooju Island
Developer: Autumn Moon Entertainment
Publisher: DTP Entertainment AG
Ghost Pirates of Vooju Island is an exciting third-person mouse-controlled point-and-click adventure designed by Bill Tiller, of The Curse of Monkey Island fame. The American-made game is set during the golden age of pirates in the 17th century on the mythical Vooju Island. A noble pirate, Captain Tiberius Flint, who robbed from the rich and gave to the poor, has become Pirate King of the Azurbbean with the help of High Voodoo Priest Papa Doc Mystère and his chief of spies Captain Jane Starling. Opposing them are Papa Doc’s dastardly young wife Queen Zimbi, the treacherous Captain Greenbeard, and a horde of zombies. The story focuses on three main highly entertaining characters – Papa Doc, Jane Starling, and Blue Belly (a friendly aspiring cook) – who thanks to a curse have “ghost” abilities to pass through barriers, communicate remotely, and operate undetected. The colorful hand-painted environments are truly sumptuous, particularly when viewed in widescreen resolution, and add a lot to the immersiveness of the plot. The voice acting is convincing, the gameplay engrossing, and the difficulty level is right on the mark. Adventure titles like this seem few and far between today, and this one is a real gem.
Haunted Manor: Lord of Mirrors Collector’s Edition
Developer: Top Evidence Studio
Publisher: Big Fish Games
This hidden-object adventure game from the Ukraine takes the standard haunted house motif to a whole new level. You assume the role of Stan Riddle, who gets mysteriously trapped in an abandoned haunted manor by the Lord of Mirrors after staring into a mirror and seeing a visage other than his own. You try your best to escape, but to do so, you use the mouse to studiously find items and solve puzzles, including why the owner disappeared. You get to explore a whopping 17 rooms and environments in and around the manor, so there are a lot of entertaining surprises. As you progress, you discover many other souls also stuck in the manor, and you need to resolve their predicaments in order to free yourself. There are numerous mini-games to play along the way, in addition to the usual find-the-hidden-object searches. On the play screen, you can readily determine your progress, and can receive a reminder of your current task, and you can access a Ghost Gallery to learn additional background information about the characters. When you complete the game, you are treated to some really great extra content in a secret bonus level for further play. The visuals and audio are consistently high-quality and help to make you feel as if you are really trapped within the old mansion.
Developer and Publisher: Timetrap AB
This impressive action-platform game from Sweden reminds me a bit of Frozenbyte’s Trine. You play as Kindle Elderwood, a gnome who tries to rescue the kingdom of Grendale from marauding gremlins led by the sinister CandleFinger. When you visit an infested house, after clearing out existing gremlins, you must light the fireplace by touching it to prevent the people inside from being attacked in the future. To succeed in the frequent combat, you have many special attacks, including turning into a spinning ball or dropping down from above and crushing foes. You also gain magical abilities (which you can only possess one at a time). My favorites of these abilities are generating tornados that send foes flying, putting those around you to sleep, releasing bubbles that capture and choke enemies, and shooting out fireballs. Throughout the gameplay, there are doors blocking your passage that you need to break open and enemy weapons and vehicles that need to be taken out. The fantastic level design contains many secrets, including treasure chests hidden within caves, and three fireflies that flash around you and glow if secrets are near. The amusing cartoon-style graphics support widescreen resolutions, and both keyboard and gamepad can be used to play.
Developer and Publisher: LittleWing Co. Ltd.
Not many developers are creating pinball games for the PC these days, but LittleWing from Japan continues its tradition of creating some of the best with the release of Mad Daedalus, a sequel to 1994′s Loony Labyrinth. The setting is ancient Knossos, where the Minoan civilization once flourished. Perhaps the most important feature in computerized pinball is realistic ball physics, and Mad Daedalus passes this test with flying colors. You direct the ball with customizable keyboard controls (I use an external utility to activate a gamepad, which I prefer for computer pinball), and at your disposal is a plunger, four flippers, and a left, right and center nudge. There are two fun two multiball features: King Minos Frenzy and Minotaur Multiball. There’s also a special underground lane, a skyway ramp, and a mino chamber to spice up the action. If you are really lucky, you get to experience the incredible Spatiotemporal Rendezvous. The visuals are bright, crisp, and available in widescreen mode, and the sounds and special effects are impressive. To succeed, you need deft skill, and some experience playing virtual pinball really helps. Although composed of just one table, its complexity and multifaceted opportunities for scoring make this title a real winner.
Mystery Trackers: The Void Collector’s Edition
Developer: Elephant Games
Publisher: Big Fish Games
In this hidden-object offering from Russia, the backdrop is an abandoned mansion built in 1890 where it is said that Dr. Malleus Void conducted truly horrible experiments. When three renowned celebrities a horror author (whose name is cleverly Kevin Sting instead of Stephen King), an illusionist, and an actress go missing after entering the dwelling, you are sent on behalf of Mystery Trackers to solve their disappearances. As is typical of this genre, you play from a first-person perspective and use the mouse for everything. The mini-games present, in addition to the hidden object searches, are especially tantalizing, and lots of adventure elements are present. You need to consult your journal often to put together clues and solve the puzzles. There are twelve achievements you may earn along the way, and that really gives you an incentive to take the time to go through, look for everything, and solve every puzzle. After you finish the main storyline, this Collector’s Edition contains a bonus chapter of additional gameplay. This game, overall, is without question the longest I have played in quite a while, and every moment was really enjoyable. This extraordinary length permits an in-depth story, presented with stunning visuals (including animations that bring scenes to life) and ambient environmental sounds.
Developer and Publisher: PopCap Games
Bejeweled 3 is the latest in this highly popular American-made franchise, and it includes dazzling bells-and-whistles that set it apart from the “match-three” crowd. You may play with either mouse or keyboard controls, and this title is sure to run on any computer. The principal play modes are Classic, Quest, Lightning, and Zen. In Classic Mode, you match three or more gems for a “basic clear;” match four in a row to create flame gems that can detonate to clear a large space; match five in a row to generate a hypercube that wipes out everything of a particular color; and match two perpendicular rows of three to create a star gem that obliterates vertical and horizontal lines. In Quest Mode, you journey through 40 puzzles, and try to win at poker, rescue butterfly gems, battle ice storms, and dig through diamond mines while confronting challenges of increasing difficulty. In Lightning Mode, you play a timed game where you try to rack up the highest score you can, earning extra time with special gems and moving fast for a Blazing Speed bonus. Finally, in Zen Mode, you discover new ways to relax as you match gems endlessly with no pressure at all. If you do well, you may earn achievement badges. There are wonderful visuals and sound effects, and I especially love the deep-voiced announcer.
The Dream Machine
Developer and Publisher: Cockroach Inc.
The Dream Machine is a highly unusual Swedish Flash-based point-and-click adventure game (which can be played in a browser offline) comprising the first two of five episodes. The creativity and imagination displaying in the visuals and the gameplay are unparalleled. Most amazing of all is that the backgrounds and the characters are made from clay and cardboard, so they have a unique look to them reminiscent of one of my favorite older games, Dreamworks Interactive’s The Neverhood. You play the role of Victor Neff, who has just moved into a new apartment with his wife Alicia. After you dream that you are stranded on a desert island, you undertake a series of domestic chores. The gameplay appears to be rather mundane until you uncover in your apartment complex a major secret so startling it literally knocks your socks off. This secret leads to a series of new mysteries and to a renewed effort on your part to unlock all of the puzzles so that you can really figure everything out. Rather than having artificially injected puzzles that have no relationship to the storyline, in this offering the puzzles all seem organic, well-integrated and vital to plot understanding and advancement. This title pleasurably takes you way out of the realm of reality and of your normal comfort zone.