We're always being asked to save the world, so it's nice when we're given the chance to destroy instead. In Pandemic 2 you design and unleash an virus, parasite or bacterium, and watch as it spreads through the world. The trick is to create a disease that can infect as many people as possible without being detected. As soon as there's even the hint of a problem, hospitals will spring into action, borders will close, and Madagasca will become an impenetrable haven for the last remnants of humanity.
GeoGuessr builds a compelling game of investigative orienteering by using Google Maps' Street View to drop you randomly into the world, then asking you to locate yourself. Sometimes it's obvious—a sign or street name allowing you to hone in on your temporary home. Other times you'll be stranded in a barren landscape. Sightseeing has never been so competitive.
You're a robot. With a detachable head. And in the ga...well, you get the idea. What distinguishes this wonderful puzzle game from the dozens of similar first-person puzzlers doing the rounds is how you use that head to advance. Left-clicking chucks it out in front of you, at which point the perspective switches to that of the robo-bonce now sitting on the floor. In a stroke of genius, you can head-hop forward with repeated left clicks, while simultaneously moving your headless robo-body with WASD. It's beautiful. It's also the closest I've ever come to being Bender from Futurama—until work on my robot exoskeleton is finished at least.
Play it online here
It's minigolf, only taken to a charming extreme. In Wonderputt, you're skipping over lily pads, avoiding UFOs, and putting across asteroid craters. The presentation is delightful. You can see the entire course at the start, but with each successful hole it shifts and alters, revealing new sections and transforming in unexpected ways. It takes the simple fact that mini-golf is fun, and enhances it through a lavish series of cutesy animations.
I Am Level
Oh wow, this is wonderful. I Am Level is a Spectrum-style game with some canny enhancements—there's a Metroidvania-like world structure, alternate costumes and even a leveling system—but at its core this is a ruggedly old-fashioned platformer with one hell of a chiptune soundtrack. The twist here is that it's also a pinball game; you're tilting the levels, and activating paddles, rather than moving the game's spherical hero directly.
You move a single icon in on an grid, solving tile-based combat challenges to progress to the next stage. What makes Ending stand out from innumerable other puzzle games is its randomly-generated roguelike mode, where you explore a dungeon that works on the same principle.
Holy wow. Kingdom is a tower defence game, sorta - but before you take to your keyboard to moan about that, you should know that it's one of the loveliest I've played in a long time. You're a king on a kingly horse trying to survive for ten nights in a small village/camp in the wilderness. To help you in your quest to continue existing, you can employ wandering vagabonds by dropping money at their feet - then give them a weapon/tool by supplying the appropriate stall. This is all a lot of fun, but I love Kingdom for the astonishing pixel art, sound design and atmosphere, and I have a feeling you'll love it for those very same reasons too.
They Love You
It's adorable top-down puzzle game time. They Love You is another "play as a cube navigating through a maze past some obstacles" game, of which about 300 seem to be released every day. So, what makes this one special? Partly it's the simple but deceptively clever concept. Partly it's the character and charm that exist in the basic shapes. Mostly it's because it's absolutely infuriating.
Desktop Tower Defence
A moreish maze-building game that turns a tiny patch of desk into a warzone. Increasingly powerful creeps swarm in from the left. Slow them with ice rays, blast them with missiles and craft a long intestinal catacomb of death out of gun turrets to ensnare and destroy them.
With its clean, evocative art style and strangely ICO-esque ambient sound design, Ditto is a bit of a departure from Nitrome's usual day-glo arcade games. Your catty, triangular little hero has a shadowy doppelganger, who emerges when you're parallel to a big orange mirror thing in the middle of most screens. Said doppelganger mimics every action you take—only in reverse.
Puzzles, as you might imagine, involve keeping track of the goings-on in (at least) two parallel worlds; to succeed you'll need to frequently switch your attention from one to the other, taking advantage of the occasional inconsistency to clamber your way into the next stage. Smart, challenging, atmospheric, bally adorable stuff.
Where is my Beard
I generally keep my beard just under, and on, my chin, which makes it easy to find when a puzzle game asks me to locate it for reasons that are best left unscrutinised. In Where is My Beard you have to make a bunch of unbearded shapes more hirsute, by engineering it so that they touch bearded ones—face fungus being contagious, as you know. You do this by dropping them into the scene and pressing the play button; if you've aligned said shapes correctly, they'll bash into each other with PHYSICS and set off a wonderfully beardy chain reaction. Not one for pogonophobes, obviously, but for everyone else this is a lavishly illustrated slice of hairy silliness.
A Dark Room creators Doublespeak games are masters at making engaging, low-octane games you can play in your browser while doing other stuff, and Gridland cements that. It's a match-3, but it's really a game of building and survival: by day you match bricks or wood or stones or paper, to gather materials needed to construct a little village at the top of the screen. Neat little elements of this phase include the need to match corn to feed your heroic worker, and the way he or she will lug blocks and hammer nails when milestones are met. It's a lightly animated game, but these cute actions act as a lovely reward for matching three or more things together.
When night comes, the colours invert and rats, zombies, skeletons and the like emerge as you connect their relevant icons on the game board. In this phase you're merely trying to survive, by matching swords (to attack), shields (for defence), and using the occasional found potion to supply yourself with an item or to clear the screen of baddies. Either these bits are too easy, or the difficulty gradient is too shallow, but my main concern here was getting back to the building phase in order to finish construction of my outstanding hamlet. Gridland doesn't appear to have quite as many surprises as A Dark Room—and, crucially, it's not a game that will play itself while you check Twitter—but it's an unassumingly lovely and charming hybrid that will eat a good chunk of your weekend regardless. Soz!
The theme of the most recent Ludum Dare was "connected worlds". Superdimensional won the competition with its clever dimension-switching structure. Your task is to indirectly guide a ball by using your mouse to expand pocket dimensions. Each has different properties that must be quickly transitioned between to avoid danger.
Cursors is a multiplayer browser game about cooperation – and frequently, the lack of it. You play as a mouse cursor trapped in a maze filled with other mouse cursors. These are the game's other players, and your progress is reliant on their actions.
A standard level might contain a number of coloured squares; for example, a blue, red and green one. The blue and red squares have numbers on them, the green square is blocked off by blue and red barriers, and each square is separated by a maze. To complete the level, cursors need to make their way to the green square.
The solution is to send one cursor each to the red and blue squares, where they can click the required number of times to lift the barriers – opening the path to the green square for those players waiting in the middle. The problem is that, once opened, the barrier will reappear before the two other cursors can return to the centre.
So what do you do? Stay bullishly in the centre, waiting for another player to take action? Take the selfless path in the hope that someone will later arrive and open the way for you? This is the central question of the Cursors experiment.