It’s December so there is a glut of new games for many to sink their teeth into. I’m certain that most gamers could quite happily spend their entire December break playing non-stop for weeks on end. Most of the new titles demand dedication, time and commitment, but what if you just want to vegetate for a little bit? You know, kick back and play a smaller game for an hour or so? If you’re looking for bite-sized gaming fixes, then this article will hopefully have you covered as we take a look at three downloadable games: one Xbox 360 exclusive, one PlayStation 3 exclusive and one available on both consoles as well as PC.

ilomilo

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The moment you start ilomilo you run the risk of a stroke set on by the amount of cute that the developers have managed to ladle all over this game. The character design, art direction and musical score all exude charm, and if you don’t take delight in it all then it’s highly likely that you’ve lost some basic human functionality somewhere along the line.

ilomilo is a puzzle game and a fairly unique one at that. The object of each level is to re-unite ilo and milo by navigating blocky walk-ways that hover in midair. You can switch between either of the two little stitched-together friends at any time and each level requires some teamwork in order to complete. You’re able to pick up various blocks that have unique capabilities in order to solve the levels. Some blocks are simply movable platforms you can use to plug holes or build little bridges, but others do far more, like house trapdoors that flip either ilo or milo upside down so as to gain access to the underside of a level. Another block has little wings and acts as a lift to elevate ilo and milo to higher places. Where things get tricky, however, is when you realise that the levels essentially don’t have an “up” or “down” to them so while the winged block might act as a lift at one perspective, it could be acting as a horizontal transport block from another perspective. Prepare to have your mind boggled.

While you’ll blaze through the first two worlds, the later parts of the game get extremely tricky as more and more blocks with new capabilities are added to the mix. Each world has a unique style and they’re all equally appealing from the material and stitching first world to the cardboard and crayons of a later world. There’s a definite child-like quality to the look of the game, but do not be fooled by the appearance: this game gets difficult as hell towards the end. The music is also fantastic and it’s likely you’ll be humming the theme tune for days.

On top of the standard worlds and their levels, there are three bonus levels to unlock in each world. The bonus levels feature cameo appearances from various indie games like World of Goo and Super Meat Boy.  There are galleries and music tracks to unlock in each level as well as three little blokes called Safkas that need to be retrieved in order to unlock the before-mentioned bonus levels; for completionists and OCD gamers there is a lot to keep you busy.

The UnderGarden

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When it comes to the amount of grey matter required, The UnderGarden is almost the complete opposite of ilomilo. This game is not meant to challenge you and it is not meant to make you think; all it wants you to do is zone out and float through underground (or is it underwater?) caves while growing a vast array of mushrooms, plants and flowers. It’s not unlike thatgamecompany’s Flower in a sense that the The UnderGarden is supposed to make you relax by getting you to grow colourful plants.

Your task is simple: navigate a wiggly little horned creature through a series of caves by collecting pollen to use to grow the multitude of dormant flora. Once enough plant life has been goaded into existence, portals will open that allow you to finish the level. On the way you’ll come across tiny physics-based puzzles that mostly require you to weight down pressure pads to open doorways. You’ll also come across various little characters playing musical instruments. You can tether these guys to you and the tune that they play will begin altering the level’s ambient music. You’re free to tether multiple musicians to your character so as to create an entire ensemble that all blends rather nicely. Additionally, the musicians that you drag along, you are told, are capable of re-growing the plants you have already flowered. The point of this, however, is never really explained at all and all it seems to do is alternate the colour of whatever it is you’ve already propagated.

Naturally there are things hidden in the levels that you’ll need to collect if you want to score some achievements and trophies. You’re also given a percentage for the amount of plants you managed to grow on each level. Achieving 100% growth for a level is not too difficult, and you can track your progress as you float about a cave by looking at a meter on the bottom right of the screen.

The UnderGarden is very pretty to look at and at times you will be reminded of that iconic scene from Avatar when Jake meets Neytiri for the first time and the whole forest lights up with iridescent blues. Despite the eye-candy, the game gets a little dull after a few hours. You’re essentially doing the same thing level after level so unless you’re in need of some serious relaxation time (which is nothing a few amphetamines and a gin and tonic couldn’t fix anyway) you’re going to get bored pretty quickly. On top of that the collision detection is frustrating and you will often find you’re unable to squeeze your creature through a particular crevice. Even worse is when you have to drag three musicians and a whole lot of fruit through a narrow opening; guaranteed you will get stuck and be forced to unleash everything and move it all through one at a time. And here I was thinking this game was meant to relax one; having to do this umpteen times a level does the complete opposite.

Unless you’re desperately looking for something to dwax-out to and you want to sit on a couch glazed over and looking as if you’ve just come down from a four-day marijuana binge, then I would give this one a skip. There are lots of other games that are more deserving of your attention.

Dead Nation

[pullquote]Developer: Housemarque

Publisher: SCEE

Platforms: PS3

Website: www.housemarque.com[/pullquote]

We’ve gone from the hyper cute ilomilo to Vitamin G’s very pretty The UnderGarden so what this review round-up needs is some serious testosterone. What better way to achieve that than through thousands of zombies, tons of weapons and bucket-loads of blood, guts and pus?

Zombies again, huh? I’ll admit they’re starting to get a little passé but Dead Nation is a top-down, twin-stick shooter that gets a lot of things right. Think of it as Left 4 Dead meets Super Stardust HD. In fact, the game borrows quite a bit from Valve’s shooter: there are fat, Boomer-like zombies; car alarms that attract the hordes away from you; and zombies will clamber on top of thrown grenades in a sort of schoolyard pile-on only to be blown into millions of mushy bits.

There’s a typical zombie-apocalypse story weaved throughout the levels, but the only thing it really does is supply a reason for the areas of the city that you find yourself in. You can play as one of two characters and the game features two-player co-op both locally and online. Local co-op is huge amounts of fun and I had the chance to play through the first few levels with a friend of mine. She’s fairly new to gaming and had never played a twin-stick shooter before, but after getting through the first stage she was head-shotting zombies without a problem and giggling gleefully as their craniums erupted in fountains of blood, pink mush and bits of skull.

The game is definitely accessible and outrageously addictive with good pacing insofar as weapon access is concerned. Completing a level unlocks a new weapon which can be purchased at any of the numerous checkpoints found in each stage. All of the weapons can be upgraded in various ways making that hard-earned cash extra important if you hope to survive increasingly larger waves of the undead.

What will strike you is just how detailed the game’s environments are. The lighting is stunning as is the level of decay and destruction of the urban surrounds. What’s more, the zombies you find in a particular area shed light on the preceding events. For example: you may come across a cashed high school football team bus; you’ll then be set upon by the zombie remains of the team with their cheerleader counterparts also shambling after your delicious brains. It’s the little touches like that which elevate the game from typical downloadable schlock to a highly polished title brimming with production value.

Finally, just to add to the impression of a worldwide zombie apocalypse, the game tracks zombie kills per country across the world in real-time. You can browse through a list of all of the countries in which Dead Nation is available, and the total kills and number of players per country are shown. Obviously, USA is leading in the undead genocide; South Africa seems to hover around the 28th and 31st position. It’s a neat little addition, and there’s something macabrely satisfying in watching the numbers alongside the various countries racking up without a shred of remorse.