This month you could face the terrors of being shipwrecked on a mysterious island or having to start at a new school. For those wanting a variety of characters to control, you can play a rabbit seeking a new home, a stone head looking to avert a great disaster or a league of super-villains with irritation in mind. Investigators can try to solve a mystery in a town of the supernatural, or channel hop in search of a missing baby. Finally, for one rock band it's time to get the boys back together after another big after-show party. All these await in this month’s roundup of releases from the freeware scene.
New School Blues
The first day at a new school can always be a tough one. You don’t know anyone or anything about what people are interested in. Bullies see you as a natural easy target. This change isn’t made any easier by your parents deciding that today was a good day to wear your spotted dinosaur raincoat. As you struggle to fit in, you will find you have to learn fast if you are going to get over those new school blues.
Untold Entertainment have turned a familiar situation into a game that will have undoubted appeal for the younger gamer. The graphics are done in a fairly detailed cartoon style that, whilst mostly made up of large panels of colour, achieve a semi-realistic look. Both the protagonist and the other members of the school are fluidly animated, many having background animations like a girl idly swinging her legs. The narration is fully voiced to a decent standard and there are also appropriate background noises, such as the background chatter of children at play outside.
Players begin by choosing to be either a girl or a boy, though the game plays out the same whichever character is chosen. Initially you will just wander around the playground, trying to talk to various groups of children. Once this task is accomplished, the inventory becomes available, with the first puzzle being a simple item-based obstacle. Later challenges include inventory combination and a worksheet puzzle where you're required to select items to complete a sequence. The puzzles are suited to young players, with an on-screen help button to provide clues if necessary.
New School Blues can be played online at the developer’s website.
A Rabbit Fable
Rabbit just wants to move his house out of the forest to a better location. The green sunny field at the top of the hill seems to be an ideal choice, with one little problem. The way to this idyllic locale is barred by a large gate, ruled over by a strange and malicious creature. Refused passage, rabbit and his house are dropped into a surreal swampland. Perhaps by working with the peculiar inhabitants of this area, rabbit can find a way to secure his dream location.
Antenarria Games have created a bizarre tale of house-moving. The characters are relatively simple in design, the rabbit predominantly black with just a few key features to break up his outline. By contrast, the backgrounds are far more detailed, mostly made up of composites of real features and vegetation. Both the protagonist and the other residents of this odd world, such as the skeletal guardian of the gate and a dog in a fez, are smoothly animated. The background music fits in with the setting, feeling like an offbeat, almost random composition. Talking also involves limited voice work, though not in English (and perhaps not any known language), with pictorial speech bubbles depicting conversational content.
In keeping with the bizarre nature of the setting, the puzzling content is equally strange. You will combine items to form shapes for a set of beings only shown as demanding hands, and you'll acquire access to a building by wearing a particular hat. Collectible items are automatically placed into a pouch, which can be unfurled at will to provide an on-screen inventory. The pictorial conversations often provide clues to a character’s requirements if they are to help you. To render things even more unusual, there are also sequences that take place within the rabbit’s dreams, where a tasty snack can produce unexpected results.
A Rabbit Fable can be played online at the developer’s website.
A disaster is coming. You can feel its inexorable approach. If you act quickly maybe you can avert this terrible event, though the journey will not be an easy one. As you set out on your quest, you fear that the obstacles in your path will not allow you to arrive in time to act. After all, for a being such as yourself, 400 years can pass so quickly.
Scriptwelder has created a experience that far surpasses the timescale of most games. The foreground graphics feature a pixelated art style with the protagonist being a square walking stone head. The head, and the other beings you encounter, are simply but effectively animated. The backgrounds have been softened to contrast the angled black lines of the foreground. As you progress, both foreground and background change to reflect the passing of the seasons, which start to blur as you advance time more quickly The background music has a folkloric feel, with pan pipes and simple strings forming the heart of the piece.
Four hundred years may seem like a long time to accomplish a task, but it is astonishing how quickly that time can pass away. Keyboard controls are used both to move and to advance time. Holding down the space bar makes time advance progressively more rapidly, which is a feature you will need. To begin with, simply changing the season is enough to change the landscape enough to allow passage. Later puzzles require years or even decades to pass. Text-based clues of the stone head's thoughts appear whenever you encounter something new, giving subtle hints to what you need to do. You are also able to carry a single inventory item at any given time. Care must be taking when advancing time while holding an item, however, as the items you carry do not have the same fortitude as your stone avatar.
400 Years can be played online at Armor Games.
The Quite Annoying League
On long train journeys, we have all suffered the travails of especially annoying other passengers: The man that wants us to engage in pointless small talk. The girl who plays her music just a little bit too loudly. What you might not have suspected is that you were the target of the Quite Annoying League. This cabal of super-villains have dedicated themselves to turning the world into a quite annoying place. Always having to avoid the attentions of their foes, the Vaguely Positive League, this time the team have set out to annoy a young lady named Twist. It will take all their quite annoying skills to pull this off.
This game from PierreC is an amusing tale of a series of minor irritations. The whole adventure is set on a train, with each scene taking place in a small block of seats as Twist seeks a non-annoying place to settle down. The graphics are displayed in a fairly simple, low-res style with most scenes only showing Twist, a pair of seats and the current member of the League. Despite the lack of detail, the various characters are decently animated, with facial expressions showing their mood, especially for the protagonist. Sound is provided by the clacking of the train as it continues on its journey.
With each member of the League trying to make the easy-going Twist move on, the game plays out like a series of minigames. The obstacles include some dialogue puzzles and a challenge where timing is important, though lightning reflexes are not required. If you annoy Twist too much or, heaven forbid, actually cheer her up then you fail that individual scene. Failure results in a debriefing from the League leader, with the option to replay that scene or start over from the beginning. The game is written with a light humour that makes even the wrong options worth pursuing.
The Quite Annoying League can be downloaded from the AGS website.Continued on the next page...