Monsters and Mistletoe

Monsters and Mistletoe
The (Free) Spirit of Christmas

Nathan Meunier | 2 Dec 2008 12:36
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Quite often, it's not the size of your sword that counts but how well you use it. That's not the case in Ginormo Sword, however. The entire point of this excellent hack-and-slash game is to roam the land carving up pixilated beasties and use the gold you've accumulated along the way to forge the most immense sword possible. Don't let the blocky, 8-bit graphics fool you - Ginormo Sword is a well-designed and challenging retro-inspired romp through epic fantasy realms. The sword forging element, which allows you to spend gold to incrementally adjust the length and width of each sword you obtain, is a fun and silly mechanic that never gets old.

GemCraft is the holy trinity of gem-matching, tower defense and RPG gameplay rolled into one. An evil wizard has unleashed an army of shambling atrocities bent on slaughtering the citizens of the land. As the local good wizard, you'll attempt to cut down wave after wave of the vile creatures spilling forth from the dark castle as the beasts lurch hungrily down the path through one village after another. Plunking down towers along their route and equipping these mini-bastions with energy-shooting gems is the only way to halt their progress. Every action you take eats up precious mana, which you only regenerate in small quantities each time one of your towers destroys a monster. You also need mana to summon gem fragments. Different gem colors possess unique elemental properties, and matching smaller gem types together creates larger, more powerful baubles. Throw in some cool spells, additional defense upgrades, unlockable achievements and a leveling-up system, and you can kiss your free time goodbye.

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The charming Cave Story drops you into a beautifully pixelated subterranean world where cute, rabbit-like creatures are menaced by a malicious entity stealing them for nefarious experiments. This very original, engaging journey feels extremely polished, from the engrossing story and characters to the slick GBA-era artistic direction. The side-scrolling platform gameplay brings to mind classics like Super Metroid and Castlevania. Though WiiWare users will have an opportunity to spend some cash to enjoy an enhanced version of the game, the original PC version lets you run, jump and shoot your way through a grand adventure for free (with the help of an English translation patch).

If you've ever wondered what dolphins do in their spare time, the acrobatic antics found in Dolphin Olympics 2 isn't entirely out of the realm of possibility. This one is excellent for short diversions, since each game only takes two minutes to play. The game revolves around making your dolphin gain speed and jump out of the water to pull off airborne tricks. Your only objective is to get a high score before the time runs out. The trick element is comparable to the Tony Hawk games, albeit in a very pared-down way. You can rotate and spin in the air, and even tail-grind on the water's surface. Pulling off elaborate trick combos and re-entering the water at the right angle gives you speed boosts to propel your dolphin to greater heights - including outer space.

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