Play It: Paranormal Shark Activity, The Visitor: Massacre, and Evolving Machine

In this edition of Play It, I recommend a randomly-generated sidescrolling platformer, an action-puzzler-strategy type game, and an experimental puzzle art game. Paranormal Shark Activity (mercifully) has nothing to do with a similarly titled film. You control a young man trying to go for a swim. Unfortunately for him, a giant mutant blood-thirsty shark tears through the dock and chases him. You use the arrow keys and space to jump from floating platform to floating platform. To slow the shark, you must collect bombs using special jump platforms scattered throughout the game. There are obstacles: you get stuck on grass platforms and gymnastics-tinged vault platforms send you the opposite direction you're trying to go.

This is an endurance sidescrolling platformer, where the goal is the highest score you can get. Your primary objective is to stay alive, but if you can hit five platforms in a row, you set off a bonus rainfall of gumdrop-colored orbs falling from the sky. You get points for narrowly avoiding the shark's advances and sending him off the screen, as well. It's an addictive time killer that I feel compelled to play whenever I think about it.

The Visitor: Massacre is an action/puzzle/strategy game where you control a slug-like alien. It's hungry. Fortunately, it crash-lands in a heavily populated forest and has its pick of mice, wild pigs, cranes, mountain lions, and other wild animals to eat. And humans. It seems our little alien friend has a taste for human flesh and you cannot progress on your journey until you eat the unsuspecting campers and adventurers.

Using the arrow keys or WASD and the space bar to attack, you navigate through a maze of terrain changes. You need to gain size by eating pigs to eat the larger predators, but you need to shrink down by eating mice to cross logs over raging rivers and deep chasms. You also need climbing animals (like squirrels), flying animals (like crows), and swimming animals (like snapping turtles) to navigate the varied terrain and reach your human target, leaving a bonus-gaining wave of destruction. The animation is cartoonish and fun, making a rather grim gaming concept something you can easily stomach. The difficulty ramps up quickly and there are some finicky controls (you need to line up just right to eat a fish when you can't swim), but it is ultimately a rewarding challenge.

Evolving Machine is a unique puzzle experience. You click on various buttons built into a small machine, sending out various levers and dials that you further manipulate. If you get the combination right, the machine grows. Then you start all over again.

This is not the kind of game you will go to again and again. It's a beautifully executed diversion designed to be user-friendly without dumbing down the gaming experience. The music and sound design add to the experience. It is possible to fail, but a little brain power is all that's necessary to grow this machine to its ultimate potential.

Guide: Films for a Black Swan Fan

Film Review: True Grit (2010)