Although the proliferation of games designed for new mobile platforms is rapidly accelerating, the casual computer games market continues to flourish. The personal computer (because it is so open and virtually everyone owns one) remains a primary development platform. While many other game sites focus their attention exclusively on conventional retail offerings, I unearth for your playing pleasure the very best hidden computer treasures that casual gaming has to offer. Selecting the dozen 2010 award winners was extremely difficult. There was a highly competitive range of contenders for this latest in a series of annual awards articles that has lasted for over a decade and become the longest consecutive casual games award series anywhere! I spent many hours playing all the way through hundreds of full, registered versions to discern their overall value. Of the twelve winners, the worldwide scope of great game programmers is noteworthy, as only two were developed within the United States. Because of increasingly intrusive and annoying copy-protection schemes, and the presence in many casual gamer homes of multiple computers (some of which lack online access), I tested only offerings where I received a version from the developer or publisher in which it is possible to register and play the single-player mode on a non-Internet-connected machine.
What constitutes a casual computer game has become quite murky. The wide-ranging ways used to delineate casual games include the following: (1) low price point; (2) small or “indie” development team; (3) compact code size allowing quick downloads and having low minimum system requirements; (4) appeal primarily to consumers who buy their games online or at places like Target and Wal-Mart; (5) something “stay-at-home moms” play when they have a spare moment; (6) releases embodying low complexity and sophistication, often facilitating immediate play without reading instructions; (7) ease in completing specified game objectives with mistake tolerance, hint systems, and/or the ability to exit and later continue at any point; (8) omission of dark, bloody, or morally objectionable material; (9) the inclusion of low-stress side activities (such as mini-games); and/or (10) the inclusion of cute characters (such as cuddly creatures).
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.