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Following Freeware: February 2013 releases

Following Freeware: February 2013
Following Freeware: February 2013
It will take you about 11 minutes to read this freeware feature.

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.
 

400 Years


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.


Vortex Point: Case 1 – Far Journeys


Some places are just magnets for the weird. One such place is Vortex Point, a town so plagued by the supernatural that a trio of occult investigators have set up a full-time agency there. Backed up by Caroline on research and Craig on design, team head Kevin sets out on their latest case. A pair of gold bars have been stolen, with video footage of the theft indicating a ghostly criminal. When news of a second robbery comes in, Kevin must look into events of the past if he is going to solve the mystery.

With the first episode of a proposed series, this new production from esthetix tells a gently macabre tale. The graphics are presented in a bright cartoon style with simplified but well-proportioned characters. The backgrounds are more detailed, with shading to give depth and shadows. Your investigation will take you from the agency’s two-room headquarters to a music school and an old abandoned house. The characters are smoothly animated, with idle animations including Kevin’s constantly searching gaze. The opening features a fully-voiced theme song for the series, with the rest of the action backed by an eerie tune that fits the subject matter.

With its cartoon style, this game is more mildly disturbing than outright horror. You will interview the victims of the two thefts, as well as investigate other locations around town. Both victims have something to hide, so you will need to use your wits to uncover the truth. Inventory use plays a major part in the action, with some disguised combination lock puzzles as well. Your two colleagues' talents are also used to full effect, sometimes contacting you directly when you have solved particular puzzles. Whilst the ending of the case wraps up the current mystery, enough is left hanging to give potential for future cases with the same team.

Vortex Point: Case 1 – Far Journeys can be played online at MouseCity.
 

The Island of Earthly Delights


When a furious storm sends his ship spiralling to the bottom of the ocean, a sea captain thinks he has seen his last voyage. But when everything seems lost, his luck takes a turn for the better. A strange creature swallows up the ship and deposits the captain on the shores of a strange island. If he is ever to leave this place, he must find a way to negotiate with the island’s peculiar inhabitants, and gain entry to the fortification that dominates the landscape.

With the first chapter of an intended longer game, Antennaria Games once again set out to tell a most odd tale. The graphical style is the same as that used in A Rabbit Fable, with the simple cartoon look of the characters set against the greater detail of the backgrounds. Here the main setting is the beach running around the edge of the island, the flat expanse of the sea contrasting the towering walls of the central building. The music here has an ethereal tone made up of strings and xylophones. There is also bird song and the same peculiar talk with pictorial speech bubbles of the other game.

The main quest of this chapter is to seek a way further into the island, with an unhelpful guard and positively hostile gardener posing obstacles to your progress. Initially your inventory is simply contained in your trouser pocket, severely limiting the size of items you can carry. A vital task is to acquire a means of expanding your inventory to allow you to carry larger items that will assist you in your goal. With the right incentives, usually in the form of an inventory item, some of the island’s residents can be persuaded to provide assistance. This episode ends with you finding a way forward, though probably not by any means you'll be expecting.

The Island of Earthly Delights can be played online at the developer’s website.

 

Static


You’ve always been told that television is bad for you, but that old adage takes on a harsh literal meaning when your baby disappears in a burst of static. Now you must search across the airwaves to find your missing offspring. With a wide variety of shows playing across the various networks, and only a minimal TV guide to find your way, retrieving your missing progeny is not going to be an easy task.

No Exit Condition have created a game that takes us to the other side of the screen. The game view is surrounded by a frame depicting a television set plugged into a neighbouring socket. Within the television, the graphics are done in a basic black and white line-drawn style with occasional splashes of colour, such as some bright red punch in a bowl. Whilst relatively simple in design, the items depicted are detailed enough to be clearly recognisable, and the main character is decently animated. The different channels have appropriate music, such as a Western tune for a cowboy program. There is also a static effect, predominantly used for changing channels.

Initially you only have access to four channels, moving through them by clicking up and down on the television controls. The first channel is your own living room, but other channels include versions of the same room, including one with living furniture and another representing a murder scene. Actions in one scene can sometimes have an effect on others, such as turning the lamp off in your own room making the sun go down in the cowboy town. To unlock further channels, you need to gather the TV guide from each block of channels. Along with influencing one channel from another, achieving this involves some inventory use and a sequence where you disrupt other programs in a television within the television.

Static can be downloaded from the developer’s website

 

Crazy Hangover 3


If there is one thing that rock bands know how to do, it’s party. After a concert in a middle-of-nowhere redneck town, Ted and the Pyro Guys had a good night. Or at least, that is what Ted assumes happened when he wakes up the next morning in the tour bus toilet. Clad only in his pants and his rock star dressing gown, Ted knows what he needs to do. It’s time to gather up the other members of the band and get this tour back on the road. Perhaps this would be easier if a burly member of band security hadn’t fallen asleep against the toilet door.

Pyrozen’s game series of bad mornings takes the series out on the road. The graphics use the same detailed cartoon style of the previous instalments, with Ted’s wild hair and designer stubble fitting his rock star persona. Apart from the initial tour bus location, the game is set across a small farming community, with tractors, silos and barns forming much of the backdrop. In keeping with previous episodes, there is also a celebrity cameo, this time the cyclist Lance Armstrong. The graphics are smoothly animated and there are many background animations as well, such as a bug running across the toilet wall. The game is fully voiced to a reasonable standard, and a mellow rock tune plays throughout.

Like previous games in the series, the content is at times not suitable for a younger or easily offended audience. You will need to drag your manager out of a sleazy show and rescue the guitarist from the attentions of one of the less intellectual locals. Inventory forms the mainstay of most puzzles, with some combination required to achieve the desired results. There is also one puzzle where the positioning of the player character is key. Conversations with the various residents of the area will often provide clues for those unsure how to continue.  

Crazy Hangover 3 can be played online at GamesFree.
 



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.

Actual Sunlight by Will O’Neill – Even a bright and cheery world seems dark to someone suffering from depression. (Requires RPG Maker VX RPT to play).

Inner Vision by LinusPrime – Challenged by a mysterious stranger, can you talk three disparate people out of committing suicide?

Tiny Soccer Manager Stories by PierreC – As the new PE teacher, picking teams for games proves a surprisingly difficult task.

OK, Now this is awkward! by PierreC – Meeting an old friend in a bar could be great, if you could remember who they are.
 



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!


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