Maze Stopper 2
I actually tried Maze Stopper 2 when it first hit Kongregate in September, but I was in full-on badge acquisition mode at the time and, since it didn't have badges, although it seemed kind of intriguing, I didn't really play too much of it. So, you can imagine that I was a little bit surprised when here, three months later, it finally gets badges. (And it's not like it's an API issue -- the API has been present since a few days after it was first uploaded. Have I mentioned that I don't understand the Kongregate badge process at all these days?) Anyway, Maze Stopper 2 isn't a game that will dazzle you with its glitz, but it's a very interesting and clever concept which makes for an excellent puzzle game -- one that will make you think, and one that can challenge you on several levels of difficulty.
Anyway, the basic concept of Maze Stopper 2 is quite simple. Your character, along with one or more foes, is present in a maze with some obstacles and a flag. The game starts with time frozen; when you start time, all of the characters will race towards the flag. You don't actually control your own character (or, of course, any of the other characters); all characters will merely take the shortest apparent route to the flag from their current position. However, you also have the power to add more blocks to the maze, which you can use to block the enemies from taking their shortest path, or, even more deviously, you can give the enemy a choice of paths, let them take one, and then block it off, forcing them to backtrack. (You cannot prevent any character from reaching the flag entirely, nor can you remove a block once it's been placed and time has started.) You can start and stop time at any time, so if you need to add a bunch of blocks at once, it's easy to do so.
In the early levels, you can place an essentially-unlimited number of blocks, but some levels also introduce a constraint on the total number of blocks you can place, as each block costs 1 mana and you may have a limited supply. In some levels, there are also powerups which speed up or slow down characters, and some levels also feature bonuses which grant you additional mana (although if enemy characters pick these up, you lose mana instead). Characters will not make any special effort to pick up or avoid powerups, so if you want them to grab something, you'll have to arrange blocks to steer the characters into them yourself. Each level is pretty short -- since the screen is not very big, there's just not that long it'll take for a character to make its way through the maze.
Simply beating a level is not too difficult; however, at the end of the level, you're rated on your winning margin. Merely winning only gives you one star; to reach more stars (up to the maximum of five), you have to win by increasingly large margins, which often involves constructing deviously complicated traps or mazes for your opponents. (In fact, in some ways, the maps where you have limited mana are easier to optimize than the maps where you have a large amount of mana, since there's a much smaller number of possibilities you have to consider.) The Kongregate hard badge is very well-chosen: you have to collect 100 stars over the 25 game levels, so you don't have to get a perfect on every level, but rather can try to optimize certain levels and leave aside other levels which may be too tricky. Getting the four- and five-star ratings can be frustrating at times, though, since often you'll need to stop time at just the right moment to place a barrier to thwart your foes, and if you miss you may have to start over again.
As far as presentation goes, the game is nothing special; the graphics and sound are pretty basic, and there's no background music, just some soothing forest noises. Overall, though, this is a solid enough idea that I don't mind the lack of flash at all; it's a very clever idea, and the individual puzzles are all well thought out. It'll require you to think, but does an excellent job of being challenging without being frustrating. I enjoyed this game very much, and would much rather see thoughtful, clever games like this get badges than overproduced but terribly-designed games like Epic War 2.