Following Freeware: January 2013 releases
This month you can search for your kidnapped sister, a missing friend or a lost hat. Elsewhere, you might find the end of the world surprisingly pleasant in Canada, or rush to save the planet from an alien invasion. More personal quests include a scientist trying to return from a fantasy world, a photographer facing up to a horror from the past and a troll trying to escape from a subterranean prison. Alternatively, you could even adopt the pumpkin head of a truly peculiar detective. All these await in this month’s roundup of releases from the freeware scene.
For Daniel, all his hard work is about to pay off as human teleportation becomes a reality. Elsewhere, all Lin's efforts are about to be rewarded as she attempts a practice summoning just prior to her mage exam. But suddenly these two lives collide as their experiments merge, drawing Daniel into Lin’s world and merging half his laboratory with her house. With Daniel stuck having an unpowered teleporting machine and Lin wondering how she is going to explain the loss of her uncle’s library of magic tomes, the two must work together to set things right.
Originally created for the pay-what-you-want Summerbatch bundle, this game from Ilyich is a truly magical adventure with a hand-drawn fine art style that is a joy to behold. Both the austere lines of the lab and the more rural setting of Lin’s world are depicted with a huge amount of detail, from clouds in the sky to individual flowers on the ground. This detail is carried over to the game characters, with full-face close-ups showing expressive faces when speaking. These characters are also smoothly animated, fitting well with the realism of the backgrounds. The background music contains a variety of gentle tunes that are well suited to the light fantasy setting that forms the larger part of gameplay. This is adapted to the locations, with an almost ambient echoing tune playing in an eerie cave.
Initially you control the two characters on their own, taking them through the actions leading up to the accident. Once the merging has taken place, the two characters agree to work together to reverse the process. From this point onwards you can switch between the two at will, and you will need the skills of both if you are to succeed. Whilst Daniel searches for the materials to create a lightning rod for his disconnected machinery, Lin’s main focus is on a spell to call down that much-needed lightning. The reactions of others differ toward the two, with Lin able to obtain some materials from a blacksmith, whilst Daniel may be able to offer a solution to a problem the smith is encountering. As well as their varying skills, the world changes subtly between characters, with Lin seeing a fire spirit where Daniel can only see warm coals.
Patchwork can be downloaded from the AGS website.
Shapik: The Quest
The day dawned sunny and bright, and a walk through the woods with your little sister seemed an ideal way to pass the time. Sadly, the woodlands proved not as safe as they appeared, with a hidden net suddenly whisking your sister away, knocking you to the ground. Now you must travel through strange lands in search of your lost sibling. As the greenery of the forests gives way to the industrial home of the kidnappers, you may be called upon to undertake a greater task.
This Samorost-like production by paulp is more than just a pale imitation. The game is rendered in a fine art style which compares well to the Amanita's own productions. Your quest begins in a shady forest, but your journey will take you up into the night sky above the clouds, and down into the industrial bowels of the kidnappers’ lair. The graphics are well animated, with numerous background movements such as fish leaping in a river. In places the graphics even slip the bounds of the playable area, with clouds drifting out into the surrounding browser window. A gentle, dream-like soundtrack provides a suitable backdrop, as do the numerous sound effects for the creatures and mechanisms you will encounter.
Control is simple point-and-click, with the cursor changing to indicate hotspots. In contrast to other games of this style, players are only able to interact with items within the protagonist’s reach. However, this scope is extended in certain situations once you rescue a bee early in the game. The bee can fly to places you are normally unable to reach, and is also able to manipulate and carry small items. You will operate various mechanisms, solve a coded lock and carry on a handful of simple pictograph-based conversations. Some actions require a modicum of timing, but the time span allotted should be generous enough for most players and failure does not end the game, allowing as many retries as needed.
Shapik: The Quest can be played online at Newgrounds.
Troll Song: Chapter 1 - Completely Stoned
Clod troll. Nasty men trap Clod in cage in dark cavern. Clod not understand why men so mean to Clod, but Clod not like it here. If Clod had light and food, Clod would smash puny cage. But Clod not have these fings. This make Clod sad. Perhaps Clod use this fing called brain Clod hear about to do smart stuff to get out.
This first chapter in a proposed series by Tino Bensing and Dave Seaman shows great promise. The graphics have a Day of the Tentacle-era quality to them, with full parallax scrolling in the opening cutscene. This introduction shows a desolate plain on which silhouetted figures discuss how the last of the trolls have been removed. The rest of the game takes place in Clod’s cave prison, initially almost completely black. As you progress, more of the cavern becomes visible, with lichen growing on the walls amidst strange rock formations. Clod himself is a bulky character with a prominent eyebrow, coloured entirely in a rock-like grey. He is smoothly animated, with his dangling limbs and shambling walk befitting a troll. The game is fully voiced to a good standard and features an orchestral soundtrack as well.
Whilst this debut episode is short, it serves as a good introduction to the character of Clod and the humorous tone that is also reminiscent of early LucasArts games. Clod is controlled with the mouse, with a verb list including actions such as “Kick” and “Bite”. Initially some of the verb boxes are completely blank, as Clod is unable to undertake those actions in his weakened state. As you progress, more actions become available, eventually allowing you to break out of the sealed cave. Clever use of the varied actions, as well as a limited inventory, will see Clod reach freedom, with a final piece of concept art promising more in an ongoing story.
Troll Song: Chapter 1 - Completely Stoned can be downloaded from the AGS website.
Adam’s job as a photographer for Real Estate & Architecture magazine has taken him to some interesting buildings over the years. His latest assignment, taking pictures of a run-down abandoned apartment building, seems nothing out of the ordinary. But as he ascends the building, seeking that special shot that will earn him his money, all is not well. Something dark resides in this building. Something tied to a trauma buried deep in Adam’s past. By the end of this night, Adam is going to have to come face-to-face with this terrible secret if he is to survive.
Tempa Labs have created a game that is definitely not suited to the faint-hearted player. The graphical presentation uses a pixel art style, with square lines for objects and character faces only showing their eyes. Whilst heavily simplified, most items are easily identifiable, and characters are detailed to a recognisable level. Animation is restricted to a walking motion for Adam and one other character, with actions described rather than depicted. Travelling through doors also includes a zoom and sweep fade. As you explore, a simple and somewhat ominous tune plays throughout.
Control is point-and-click, with a simple verb list consisting of “Take”, “Use” and “See”. As you progress up to the thirteenth floor of the building, things get progressively more horrific, with the interface becoming slowly more blood-stained and some unpleasant scenes awaiting you. Each floor operates as a self-contained puzzle, the objective of which is to proceed to the next. Inventory, including a variety of keys, will see you through most of the early challenges. On higher floors you find a way to transform to a younger version of yourself in a past version of the building. Switching between your two selves is vital to progress, as some obstacles are only passable in a particular time. The save system should also be used regularly, as from the fourth floor onwards you will be regularly accosted by a dark spirit. Failing to evade this spirit, whilst relatively simple to achieve, results in a premature game over.
Traumata can be played online at Timefall.
2034 AC (After Canada)
The apocalypse has come and the world is in a terrible state. But no need to worry about it in Canada, buddy. Us Mounties are still on the case, keeping the country safe for all good Canucks. With officers like new recruit Paige Rowsdower on the job, it's still safe to be out on the roads. Sure, America may have moved the border a bit, but that’s no reason not to head down to Tim Horton’s, grab a handful of Timbits and watch the hockey game with your buddies, eh, buddy?
Ponch’s entry to the January MAGS competition and its “Post-Apocalypse” theme takes a jollier tone than you might expect from an end-of-the-world tale. The character graphics are highly pixelated, with people sliding around instead of having a proper walking animation. The backgrounds are a bit more detailed but still displayed in a fairly simple style, with most objects like the cars parked in Manitoba appearing two-dimensional. White is the predominant colour, with the opening tutorial scene beset by snow. Sound is limited to background effects, such as the noise of the crowd watching a hockey game.
Whilst repeated references are made to an apocalypse, Canada seems to have survived largely unscathed. Conversations indicate that the rest of the world is not so lucky. For film fans, this is a trove of trivia, as the descriptions of events elsewhere summarise the plots of such movies as Mad Max and Logan’s Run. The game also makes fun of stereotypes, with the friendly Canucks joined by a stuffy English gentleman and an Australian who finds the Canadian “spring” not particularly to his liking. Whilst the dialogues are extensive, the gentle humour within makes them worth reading. The puzzles are fairly simple, using both inventory and dialogue, along with a clever navigation challenge.
2034 AC (After Canada) can be downloaded from the AGS website.
Obama and the Mayan Prophecy
Back in 1947 at a little known place called Roswell, an alien spacecraft crashed. Ever since that day, the American government have kept both the ship and its catatonic occupant under observation in Area 51. Now the alien has awoken, and is finally delivering the message it brought so many years ago. The evil Geodonians are about to attack Earth, and the only possible defence is a weapon left with the Mayans in the pyramid of Kakulkan. With time running short, the President leaps into action, using the spacecraft’s teleporter to scour ancient ruins for the 12 crystals needed to activate the weapon.
Inkagames once more puts the President in the role of intrepid action hero. The graphics are done in the studio's trademark bright cartoon style, with characters having slightly over-sized caricature heads. These graphics are as smoothly animated as always, as characters display a variety of expressions dependent on the action. This time your quest will take you to see such classic wonders as the Easter Island heads and the vast estate of Machu Picchu. The soundtrack varies somewhat from place to place, with many locations adopting drum music that fits in well with the Mayan backdrop of the story.
The teleporter proves a most helpful tool, allowing Obama to travel around the world in an instant. At the start only a handful of locations are available, with more opening up on the teleporter map as the story progresses. You will need to talk to the locals to find out what they need and how they can help you. There is a vast inventory, many items being useful in more than one way over the course of the adventure. It is also wise to peruse the book on Mayan culture you are given at the start of the game, as a number of puzzles are based on the information within. As in previous games, there are instances where you will need to act quickly, many resulting in a game-over if you fail. Fortunately, the practice of providing a clue to survival and an instant restart from the same place are also included.
Obama and the Mayan Prophecy can be played online at the developer's website.
The Case of the Mysteriously Missing Hat
I’m a private detective, and to let people know what line of work I’m in, I dress the part. The crowning glory of my outfit is my fine Homburg hat. So when my beloved adornment flew off down the street in a gust of wind, I set off in hot pursuit. With a mysterious man seen making off with the missing item, it looks like I’ll have to bring all my sleuthing skills to bear on the case. Perhaps my ongoing investigation of the infamous Bowler gang has attracted the wrong sort of attention.
With a mix of cartoon and live action, this game from Jezzamon provides a short but satisfying bit of investigation. Most of the playable action is depicted in a simple cartoon style, with thick lines and blocks of colour depicting the local streets. These basic graphics are given some depth with limited use of shading to create shadows in some places. In keeping with the visual style, these scenes are also quite simply animated. The live-action scenes have been filmed to a decent quality, with the slightly hammy acting suiting the tongue-in-cheek tone of the adventure. Nothing is voiced, but a gentle jazz track forms the musical background.
Whilst you will immediately discover a hat in the middle of the road, naturally this is not the headwear you are looking for. Using keyboard controls to move and interact, you will meet a number of characters, both helpful and shady. Inventory is used in a variety of puzzles, with hats taking a more prominent role than usual in this regard. There is also a snake arcade game played against the computer that can be beaten by skill or by discovering a secret trick. The end-game also includes a brief live-action quick reaction sequence.
The Case of the Mysteriously Missing Hat can be played online at Kongregate.
The Path of the Pumpkin
Skar the Pumpkin and his assistant Feefee have long been the scourge of criminals throughout the galaxy. Returning from another successful hunt, the pair find themselves accosted by the local godfather, Asp. His daughter has been kidnapped to force a marriage to Prince Wurm, and Asp thinks Skar is the pumpkin to get her back. Setting out into the city to find a way to break into secure territory, this could prove to be Skar’s toughest case yet.
Miciosegone’s latest tale tells the story of a character first mentioned in Space Hunter. The graphics are a rough cartoon style, the titular protagonist being a humanoid figure who literally has a pumpkin for a head. The backgrounds show a decent amount of detail, with large blocks of colour given some depth by a degree of shading. From the dark lair of Duke Dice, the detectives’ target in the opening scenes, you will travel to Skar’s futuristic city home and a rocky desert. A variety of music plays throughout, including an in-house band playing for Duke Dice at the start. Some of the cutscenes have voices, though at least for now they are only in Spanish.
The game controls using the familiar AGS four-cursor mouse interface. You will collect a variety of strange items, including a handheld vacuum cleaner and a head, then use them in unusual ways to progress. The two detectives also go through a number of costume changes over the course of the game, a white Elvis-style suit being particularly noticeable. There are occasional pixel hunts, but hotspots are fairly easily distinguished from the background in most cases. In keeping with the odd premise, the game has a surreal sense of humour, with a host of bizarre personalities helping and hindering you on the way. These include a character who only says "Boom" (though his friends understand him) and a man with a half-sun, half-moon face.
The Path of the Pumpkin can be downloaded from the developer’s website.
Ray & Cooper
Late into an evening of playing video games together, friends Ray and Cooper get a case of the munchies. Despatching his friend to the local snack store, Cooper carries on with the game, only noticing hours later that Ray hasn’t returned. With most shops closed and no indication of where his friend could have got to, Cooper is going to have to do some detective work to find his missing pal. Perhaps letting Ray take his wallet on the snack run wasn’t such a good idea after all.
This latest release from Carmel Games starts with a situation that will probably be familiar to many of its players. The graphics are a bright and bold cartoon style, with simple but effective animation. From Ray and Cooper's shared flat you will travel to a nightclub and the mysterious Museum of Oddities, as well as Ray’s workplace where a colleague is pulling a night shift. A lively dramatic tune plays in the background, and there are limited sound effects, most notably a trill played whenever the player succeeds at something.
The game takes place entirely in the area surrounding Ray and Cooper’s flat, though this covers a variety of locales. In your quest for your missing buddy you will seek entry to the mysterious museum, try to woo a lady and fix some plumbing in a Chinese toilet. There are a couple of minigames involved in your quest, one a matching pairs game that will require the player to be fairly quick off the mark. Otherwise, inventory is the key to the majority of puzzles, including fetch quests for a handful of people. The tone throughout is light, with an ending that may hint at future sequels.
Ray & Cooper can be played online at Mouse City.
Other new releases
Not all games are created equal, and freeware games especially come in all shapes and sizes. Not to be overlooked, the following list might also be of interest, though these games may be significantly shorter or less polished, more experimental titles than those detailed above, some perhaps only borderline adventures to begin with.
Moon by EventHorizon – Coming to the end of a long-term mission on a moonbase, is an astronaut losing his mind?
Reality on the Norm: Reality Check by Oldschool Wolf – Beneath the Yahtzeebrand store, a mysterious figure plots the destruction of all Reality.
Deadly Facility by box10 – When a dangerous experiment escapes, no-one may be able to survive its murderous attentions.
Myosotis: Chapter 3 by CoolBuddy – Under the influence of the mysterious box, Rick travels to an alternate world in search of a way to restore his dead love Lily.
AL Project by DemetrioDS – In a dark future, a young man finds himself embroiled in a quest to stop a global pandemic.
That’s it for this month. Think we’ve missed a gem or want to tell us about your own game? Then pop in to our Adventure forum and tell us about it!