It is hard to believe that I have been writing this little column for over a year now. Since November 2006, I have looked at 65 free games, any of which I think would make a fine addition to your device. Still, as with any large endeavor like this, it is inevitable that some of the wheat will rise to the top, and that is what I found as I progressed through the year. While all of the games I reviewed were well made and enjoyable, some were simply outstanding in their design or gameplay.
When I set out to do this Best of The Arcade column, I intended to follow the typical Arcade format and choose the top five games. First, I went through all of the games and listed the ones I thought stood out, based upon my own impressions as well as the feedback I received from readers throughout the year. This resulted in a list of 15-20 games. Still too high. So, I combed the list again. This second tier of elimination resulted in a list of seven games. I went through this over and over, but simply could not come up with any basis for eliminating any more games from the list. So, I ended up with The Arcade Top Five (Plus Two) Games Of The Year. These games are presented in alphabetical order. Jump past the break to see The Arcade Best Five (Plus Two) Freeware Games of the Year.
What I said then: This is a deceptively difficult puzzle game. All you have to do is turn off all the lights on the grid. Sounds easy, I know. To change the status of any light, just tap it. Now, I know what you are thinking here, just tap all of the lights and you win the game. If it was that easy, though, it would really not be much of a puzzle at all. And here is the rub. When you tap a square, not only will its status change, but also the four adjacent squares will change status. Plan your moves carefully, and you will be able to turn off the lights and move on to the next level. Once you advance through the stages, you can go back and replay any level which you have already completed.
Why I picked it: I think puzzle games may be my favorite type of game for the Pocket PC. The format is simply ideal for these single screen challenges. EnLight features a seemingly easy gameplay with a twist twist. That twist is what make this game so addictive as you progress to the higher levels. Every puzzle in the game is solvable…it just may take you a while to get there.
What I said Then: Earlier this month, I reviewed a fantastic adventure game, Fade. Fade introduced us to a whole new world…heck, a whole new way of looking at a whole new world. And they did not just stop at Fade. Exit Nights is not so much a sequel to Fade as a spin-off (to put it in television terms). Or, maybe it is just a short story which exists within the same universe as Fade. Either way you look at it, Exit Nights focuses on the action in a single location within the Fade universe, namely the Exit Night Club. The Exit, as Fade fans will recall, is a pretty racy club replete with gambling, strippers, and all manner of lurid acts and behavior.
Exit Nights is a card game, unlike any other. Collect the powerful technology cards in order to capture cards from your opponent’s deck. Defeat the players in all three tournaments (of increasing difficulty) in order to face the Exit Nights Boss in his own lair. The game features graphics which are simply far too well done for a free game (essentially, the same graphics as Fade).
I will admit that the rules of the game were a little difficult to learn. Many games I have featured here are described along the lines of "easy to learn, difficult to master." This is not one of them. If you take the time to learn the rules of Exit Nights, however, you will quickly find the hours slipping away as you lose yourself in the virtual world of the Exit Night Club.
Why I picked it: Anyone who has played Fade, or read my review, can probably understand why I hold this game in such high regard. It is not so much a spinoff or sequel, as it is another adventure existing in the same universe. It features a similar style of gameplay as Fade, as well as extremely well drawn graphics. It takes a little time to learn the values of the various cards, and how they interact. Once you do, however, the reward is well worth the effort.
Unfortunately, when I was checking the links for this post, I found that the Fade Team website was down. I hope this is a temporary glitch and not an indication of the status of this company.
What I said then: It should come as no surprise that I am a big fan of Japanese puzzle games. I have reviewed several Sudoku games already, including my Sudoku roundup. Sudoku, however, is just one game in a growing genre of number and puzzle games. One of my favorites is the Japanese Crossword puzzle, commonly referred to as Griddlers.
Until recently, I had not been able to find a good free version of Japanese Crossword puzzle. Thanks to my good friend Judie at Gear Diary for pointing me in the direction of Japan Crossword, a free version which seems to have been in beta form for years (but works great) of this fantastic puzzle game.
The rules are fairly straightforward. You are faced with a blank grid (typically 10×10). Your job is to paint the correct squares in order to from a picture. To help you, there are clues on the outside of each row and column. The number clues tell you the groupings of the painted tiles. So, for example, if a column reads "3, 2, 3" then that column will have a total of eight painted squares in it. The first group will have three, then two and the last group will have three again (the numbers are always presented in the correct order). This is the perfect example of a free game which is considerably better than many of its commercial counterparts. I was extremely impressed by the quality of the graphics as well as the difficulty of the puzzles.
Why I picked it: I have played most of the various Japanese puzzle games. The logic involved in this sub-genre simply fascinates me, and I wish more of them were available for the Pocket PC. Of all that I have tried, though, the Japanese Crossword is my favorite. Like most good puzzle games, it is easy to learn, difficult to master, and almost impossible to put down once you have started.
What I said then: Everyone knows how to play Tetris, the classic arcade game, made popular by the original Nintendo system. For those of you have not yet been initiated, it is a fairly simple concept. Different combinations of four bricks join together forming a variety of shapes from a straight line to a zigzag and more. These shapes fall from the sky. Your job is to piece them together in such a way that they complete one or more horizontal rows of bricks. When a row is completed, it will disappear, creating extra space for you to work.
Now, you can relive those classic Tetris glory days with Kevtris. Sure, there are dozens of Tetris clones and variations available, however, Kevtris, with its outstanding graphics and customization stands alone, as the king of the Tetris mountain for the Pocket PC.
Kevtris features some extremely nice QVGA graphics. I was disappointed, however, that the game did not offer VGA graphics, but hopefully that will be coming soon. So, download the game and start practicing. Once you feel ready to show off your high scores, you can post them online — particularly if your name is R.A.M. Check out how hard this game can be and then prepare to be impressed by R.A.M.’s high score of 48,994,805.
Why I picked it: This selection almost explains itself. Anyone who lived through the 1980′s and early 1990′s knows the joy that is Tetris. It was one of the most popular video games of my high school years. There are numerous Tetris clones available for the Pocket PC, but none measure up to the gameplay and graphics offered by Kevtris.
What I said then: Yes, you read that correctly. For those of you who are fans of flight simulator games on your computers…watch out because here comes one for your Pocket PC. But wait, doesn’t a flight simulator need a large screen? Nope. A joystick? Nope. Complex keyboard commands? Nope…and before you ask anything else…Nope.
I really have no idea who Leo is or how he got a giant game like a flight simulator into a tiny Pocket PC package (the download file is under 3 megabytes), however, I am certainly glad he did. This game is nothing short of amazing. Like any flight simulator game, you control all of the switches, knobs, dials and levers inside the cockpit of an actual plane. And Leo doesn’t just stick you in any old plane. Use the options menu to choose anything from a classic propeller airplane to an ultra-modern military jet.
Now that you are familiar with the airplane, let’s take a look out the window. Below you is an amazingly well drawn New York City…or is it San Francisco? The answer is yes, because you can choose which of the two cities you fly over in your plane. With dozens of other options available, you can customize the look and feel of your entire flying experience.
This is among the best freeware games I have ever played. The 3-dimensional graphics simply should not exist in such a compact file on the Pocket PC. This is a game which I would gladly have purchased if it had not been freeware. I was absolutely amazed by the graphics and available options in this game. Once you start playing, you will quickly wonder why you paid so much money for that dusty old flight simulator on your desktop PC, instead of heading straight for this portable free version on your Pocket PC.
Why I picked it: This is a game that can be hard to make for a desktop PC, let alone the limited resources of the Pocket PC. in fact, I would never have believed this could work on a Pocket PC if I had not seen it and played the game myself. It is absolutely remarkable that a game this big fits in a device that small.
What I said then: Once again, this is a fine example of a commercial developer rewarding its users with an excellent free game. This one is coming at us from PDAMill, the creators of the incredibly popular Arvale series, among other games. Number Cruncher is a relatively simple, yet incredibly addictive game. You are faced with a grid, in which most of the squares are filled with numbered blocks. All you need to do is jump the blocks to remove them from the board. Of course, the catch is that a block cannot jump over a higher numbered block, so be careful. Strategy can be critical here. Each time you jump a block, it will be removed from the board and you will receive points corresponding to the number written on the block.
One thing that really impressed me about this game were the various modes of play. In random, the tiles are scattered about the board (you have your choice of three different board sizes in order to control the difficulty). Your job is to keep jumping tiles until you run out of moves. The second mode is layout. Gameplay is identical to random, however, the tiles are arranged in a preset pattern or picture. Finally, in mission, you must proceed from one grid to the next by completing a task (removing all of the tiles from the board or scoring a particular number of points). I was extremely impressed by the quality of this game, which at least as good as many of PDAMill’s commercial games.
Why I picked it: I have already told you I love puzzle games. This simple numbers-based puzzle kept me entertained for hours. Additionally, although it is a free game, it was clear that PDAMill gave it the same attention as any of its commercial games. The outstanding graphics and various modes of play make this a must have game.
What I said then: What do you get when you cross solitaire with blackjack? An incredibly entertaining new solitaire card game. In Whirlwind 21, you start with a deck of cards and five empty piles. Turn over the cards from the deck one at a time and place the card onto any of the piles. The object is to create a pile which adds up to 21, without going over. When a pile totals 21, it will be cleared. In order to facilitate gameplay, a running tally of each pile’s score is shown on the screen. Bonus points can also be earned for a Five-Card Charlie (a pile consisting of five cards whose total is less than 21), a Natural (scoring 21 using only two cards), clearing the entire board, or playing the entire deck. The game ends when you reveal a card from your deck which cannot be played on any pile. This has been a mainstay on my handheld for months. You can download Whirlwind 21 from Jonathan Misurda’s website.
Why I picked it: This is the game that started it all. This free treasure provided the inspiration which lead to The Arcade and a monthly roundup of freeware games. While it is not uncommon to find free card games, it is a rarity to find completely original card games, either free or commercial. Whirlwind 21 so astonished me, it had to be included on this list. It is one of the few games which remained on my device long after the review was completed.
Well, there you have it, The Arcade Best Five (Plus Two) Freeware Games of the year. I am sure you all have some opinions about these choices. Love ‘em? Hate ‘em? Let me hear it. What ones do you agree or disagree about? And stay tuned in January when I will be kicking off a whole new year of The Arcade exclusively at Just Another Mobile Monday.
To see previous editions of The Arcade, check out our archives, exclusively at Just Another Mobile Monday.
If you are a game player or developer, and would like to recommend a freeware game for use in a future installment of The Arcade please email me here at JAMM (doug [at] justanothermobilemonday.com, but replace at “at” with a “@”. All requests are welcome.