Following Freeware: November/December 2013 releases
Remember Following Freeware? Yes, we're back after a month off (even Adventure Gamers staff need to take a break every now and then!), but we're raring to go with a whopping dozen new games for you to check out. Highlights include a brilliant, epic new adventure/RPG in the mold of Sierra's Quest for Glory series and a mini-spinoff adventure sequel to Freebird Games's To the Moon. But the hits don't stop there. Don't just take our word for it, though. Read on and enjoy, and we'll see you again next month.
Heroine’s Quest: The Herald of Ragnarok
The town of Fornsigtuna is under magical attack. The winter has been harder, and has lasted longer, than ever in the past. As supplies and food run low, the townsfolk are already describing this as the Fimbulwinter, a sign that the world is coming to an end. Into this frozen land comes a heroine, seeking to make a name for herself. Buried under an avalanche by a troll seeking to stop her quest, she is lucky to be found by the local blacksmith. With her backpack lost, she must now gather her supplies and take the battle to her enemies. An epic challenge awaits her, as these events are just the first part of a plan to free Loki from his imprisonment in the depths of the earth, an event that would bring about Ragnarok.
Taking its cue from the Quest for Glory games, Crystal Shard’s latest offering is a truly standout epic adventure/RPG tale. The graphics mimic those of Sierra’s classic series, though more closely resembling the last episode than the first. The town of Fornsigtuna is covered in ice and snow, with an incessant light snowfall constantly blowing across the exterior scenes. Elsewhere, the ice giant Egther sits in a vast frozen cavern, and our heroine’s journey will take her to the hot subterranean chambers of the Svartalf’s as well. All the characters are smoothly animated, and have their own idle animations as well. Volund the smith hammers on his anvil, whilst his young son Heime, with dreams of heroism, practices with a wooden sword. In conversation, highly detailed animated portraits of the character speaking take up half the display. These conversations are fully voiced to a very good standard, with the character of each individual shining through. The game also features a full orchestral soundtrack, with different areas having different music, and certain events such as an approaching foe also changing the tone of the score.
To start you are restricted to the area close to town. Largely this is because the loss of your backpack means you do not have clothing warm enough to keep you from going further out. As you progress, you will range further and further, even travelling to different realms. The story draws from the Poetic Edda and Norse mythology to give real depth and background to the tale. You will meet the three fates, known as the Norns, and other characters of myth and legend will also cross your path. The characters are all well-rounded individuals, from the cynically amused owner of the local tavern to the intellectually challenged two-headed troll Thrivaldi. Some of these you will only meet in story events, but most will live lives of their own regardless of your actions. The keeper of the adventurer’s guild can be found there during the day, but will return to her husband as evening approaches.
As in the games that inspired it, the heroine can be one of three classes, warrior, mage and thief, with some puzzle solutions changing depending on your choice. There is also combat, but this can be scaled down to simplicity itself or ramped up so that huge monsters lurk behind every tree as desired. There are also optional side quests, such as a riddle challenge from the mage Aurvandel, which requires you to seek both new riddles and their solutions across the whole game. Heroine’s Quest also includes references to previous games from this developer, such as Warthogs and other games, including an advert for Monkey Island’s Stan in the graveyard.
Heroine’s Quest: The Herald of Ragnarok can be downloaded from the developer’s website.
SigCorp Holiday Special
SigCorp Holiday Special is a short adventure/visual novel that follows the story of Freebird Games’ popular commercial game To the Moon. Alternating between two characters, Neil Watts and Eva Rosalene – the same two playable characters from the developer’s previous game – you walk around the offices of SigCorp talking to co-workers about events of the day, the upcoming New Year and about a group of angry protestors who have gathered outside. The Christmas party should be a time of merriment, but it’s putting a strain on Eva and Neil's belief in SigCorp.
Like its full-length predecessor, this short “mini-sode” is displayed using a top-down view with pixel art graphics, similar to Super Nintendo-era RPGs. The animation is smooth and the music, which plays at all times, is varied, cheerful, and consistently high quality. With no real puzzles to solve, the gameplay is caught up somewhere between a visual novel and an adventure, with players needing to talk to colleagues and interacting with objects when necessary. Moving through the offices of SigCorp is done by clicking the mouse on where you want the character to go, while clicking your fellow employees will initiate conversations with them. During the game you control both of the two protagonists, but there is no active choice between them and no character-specific dialogue options to choose from.
Much of the game’s story is driven by text-only dialogue, which serves to further the relationship between Neil and Eva. Neil is desperate to play some tricks on Eva but she is always one step ahead of him. Owing to one of these tricks, at a certain point the game shifts into an abrupt minigame which plays out the story of To the Moon as if it were an arcade game from the 1980s. During this stage, you move around using the WASD keys to avoid enemies and find memories that allow you to progress. This part has very little adventure-like feel, but as a brief diversion it is cleverly woven into the story of Eva, Neil and the rest of the SigCorp team.
SigCorp Holiday Special can be downloaded from Freebird Games’ website.
Jerry’s Merry Christmas
It’s getting close to Christmas and Jerry wants to find a way to hang up a sprig of mistletoe on his wall to “impress” his neighbour Jasmine. The only problem is that Jerry doesn’t have any of the correct equipment to do it. He doesn’t have any mistletoe and he needs a hammer and some nails before his cunning plan can even begin to come together. Of course, there must be something around the house that he can use.
This short 2D point-and-click game by Esthetix arrived just in time for a holiday hooray. Following a visual style similar to Esthetix’s other games, Jerry’s Merry Christmas boasts colourful graphics which appropriately sport a Christmas theme. Jerry's house is well-furnished with a number of decorative items placed throughout the four or five explorable rooms, including a large Christmas tree in the hallway and his very own gnome in the bathroom. Text pop-ups are used to provide detail and voice acting backs up what is written on screen. Jerry adds his observations about the objects that lie around his house, though the voice acting leaves something to be desired.
The gameplay objectives can be summed up quite easily: your goal is to walk around Jerry’s house collecting items that will come in handy for hanging the mistletoe. Being a mouse-only game, you click on arrows at the side of the screen to move around and on any objects you might want to pick up. This is all done by using the same left-click action. Whenever you collect a new item it automatically gets sent to the inventory, which is visible at the bottom of the screen. All puzzles are solved by using traditional inventory application in the environments, with no need for combinations between items in inventory.
You can play Jerry’s Merry Christmas online at JayIsGames.
Donald Dowell and the Ghost of Barker Manor
Donald Dowell is no longer a young man. In fact, it would be fair to say that at 80 years of age, youth is a long distant dream to him. Though well into retirement, he finds spending time at home with his wife not to his liking, so Donald sets out on a quest to find a new purpose in life. Sadly, it would appear that his age is against him, as he is turned down for job after job. Then he happens across an advert from Bob Delano, paranormal investigator. Donald leaps at the chance to fulfil a lifelong dream. Soon he finds himself on the way to Barker Manor, where Mr Delano is already on a case, to get final approval of his appointment. But there are restless spirits abroad in the manor tonight. Will Donald be able to face down these visitors from the other side? With his thick glasses and failing hearing, will he even notice they are there?
AprilSkies’s tale of a ghost hunter just this side of the vale himself is a lightly humorous romp. The graphics have a hand-painted look, with dark outlines and detailed shading to give a realistic look. This detail gives real depth to the locations. Bob Delano’s headquarters is a jumble of reference works and occult memorabilia. The manor has been turned into a hotel, with wood-panelled corridors and plush seating. The characters are equally well-drawn, from the pot-bellied and balding Donald to the swarthy and stubbled taxi driver. The characters are just as nicely animated, with gaits mimicking the look of their respective owners. There is a varied soundtrack, with jaunty pieces being replaced by more ominous tunes when there are ghosts around. There are also sound effects, such as the flushing of a soon-to-be blocked toilet.
Whilst the appearance of hauntings can be ominous, this is a game that is more fun than frightening. Saying the name of the Manor causes a thunderclap, and the owner is a great admirer of Bram Stoker, who sleeps in a coffin. To get the job in the first place, Donald will need to engage in a little sabotage so he can fake the knowledge he needs. Once at the manor itself, you will gather inventory and converse with a wide variety of characters, including a dismissive butler and an overly amorous guest. You will eventually start up dialogue with the deceased residents of the manor, as well as other supernatural beings. Combinations and machinery also play their part, with the hotel handyman, MacGeyser, working on a time machine.
Donald Dowell and the Ghost of Barker Manor can be downloaded from the AGS website.
Like Vampire Like Son
When he is twenty years old, Jordan, a human child born from vampire parents, decides that he is tired of hiding from neighbors who thirst for his blood all the time. And so he sets out from Vampireville to Humanville in order to become a real vampire or find a way to fool the vampires into believing he’s one of their own.
The short but funny adventure Like Vampire Like Son by Carmel Games has colorfully drawn 2D slides in which you control Jordan. The voice acting is well done, although the voices sound like their owners were thrown in a deep pit. The accompanying subtitles can be shown in one of four different languages, which can be changed during gameplay. The gameplay is accompanied by a tune that fits the eerie-but-funny vampire theme well, but it is short and continuously replayed. Luckily you can turn it off. Like the developer’s other work, the graphics are drawn in a simple cartoon style with no pixel hunting necessary, as all hotspots are big and easy to find.
You interact with the game strictly using the mouse. The cursor changes when hovered over hotspots, and clicking performs an action there. Your actions cannot be chosen, however; the game decides what is proper in the circumstances. Arrows on the left and right side of the screen indicate where Jordan can go. Inventory is stored in the lower right part of the screen. Clicking an inventory item selects it and then clicking again on a hotspot lets you attempt to combine the two objects, either in the environment or the inventory itself. The puzzles are inventory-based and are very well integrated into the story. All of the things Jordan does are logical, but some require some thinking and sometimes he does some quite unexpected but funny things. Experienced adventure gamers should have no problem, but there are several links to a YouTube walkthrough in the game if you need one.
Like Vampire Like Son can be played online at Not Doppler.
Felix Park’s short game FOC/US is an interesting first-person exploration take on the adventure genre. A little experimental in nature and taking place entirely in a dream, you play as a character who walks around finding, and then talking to, miniature people who have taken refuge inside your bedroom. These folk are only visible at a microscopic level with the use of a very powerful camera. They regale you with stories about themselves and others before pushing you to find more of their kind hidden elsewhere in the room.
FOC/US’s 3D graphics are a bit blocky and lack detail but they work capably to establish the bedroom setting, displaying a bed, a bookshelf, a window, a computer, a desk, a guitar, a rug, a trash can and a couple of paintings on the wall. The only object of any distinct note is a 35mm camera, found sitting on the table in front of you. This camera has a huge telephoto lens attached to it which is used to find the hidden tiny people. You can zoom in and out with this camera by using keyboard commands; the mouse is used to look around and the WASD keys are used to move the character throughout the room. These first-person controls work well and the animations for walking and using the camera are smooth. The game has no voice acting but there is atmospheric music which plays in the background.
The purpose of FOC/US is to find each of the colorful characters hidden somewhere in the room, and as the game takes place in a dream it leads to the question of whether they represent real characters or just your own inner thoughts. You have no ability to respond to them, but after hearing each character speak you are given a cryptic hint about where to find the next one. For example, the girl on the bookshelf talks about disliking a man named Brian before letting slip where he can be found hanging out. Naturally, your next move is to head over there to hear a short story in which Brian name drops another character and their position in the room. Given the absolutely tiny size of the characters involved, scouring each area with a fine-tooth comb provides a particular challenge to the game.
FOC/US can be played online at GameJolt.
2:14 am on 11 October, and an aspiring writer finds himself wide awake. Unable to get back to sleep, he rises to get something to drink. But as he goes about his mundane business, a feeling of déjà vu overtakes him. Has he experienced these same minutes before? A demonic clown has him trapped in a loop, living the same time over and over again. Only by gathering clues left by this funny fiend can he hope to break out of this endless cycle. Soon his investigations will take him deeper into the clown’s dark past, and he may find that the truth is simply too much to face.
Gliese Productions have created a profoundly disturbing game, where a clown is no laughing matter. Presentation is first-person, with detailed and realistic 3D scenes throughout. You will start the game in the protagonist’s flat, consisting of four relatively small rooms. As you go further, you will encounter scenes from your foe’s past, such as a dilapidated circus trailer, and a plush but eerily empty hotel. Whilst full of detail, these scenes are entirely static, with actions reflected by objects simply appearing or disappearing from the screen. As well as the full-room views, there are also close-ups when appropriate, such as when examining a number of items scattered across a desk. The opening tune is an oppressive version of “Pop Goes the Weasel”, with the music throughout generally being more subtly disturbing. There are also a handful of atmospheric sound effects.
With a choice of three difficulty levels, each of which adds more steps to the puzzles, there is some variety available to any gamer looking for a challenge. Even at the lowest of the three levels, this is not an easy game, and inexperienced players may be advised to steer clear for now. This is also a psychologically disturbing game that may be unsuited to the young or squeamish. Created with the Ren'Py visual novel engine, actions are taken from a list of on-screen choices, presented as if scribbled on a torn piece of notepad. With a large number of choices to be made, and the lists often changing depending on other actions, simply trying to exhaust all the options is unlikely to be a viable plan. Navigating a train requires abandoning normal physical laws, and you will also need to apply dream logic to a locked door. There is a timed sequence near the end and there are a couple of sections where you will need to make selections quickly. Failure in a section of the game forces you back to an earlier part of the loop, often the beginning, so using the generous number of save slots available is advised.
The Loop can be downloaded from the developer’s website.
The red-haired Elle enters the house of her professor to get her next Potions lesson from him. She is shocked to find him tied to a chair and gagged, and soon finds out that he has been captured by the evil warlock Garglewart, who then teleports the professor to his castle to be tortured until he reveals the whereabouts of his Time Stone. Before he leaves, the evil warlock places an unbreakable Hex Curse on the door so no one can get in or out of the house. As soon as Garglewart is gone, Elle sets out to find a way to save the professor and herself.
Time Stone, by Stuart Lilford, takes place in a fantasy world where magicians and dragons are quite common. The whole game takes place entirely in the one-room house of the professor. Designed in a display resolution of 320x200, the game can also be played full screen or in a bigger window. Both the room and the characters are drawn in bright colors and remarkable detail considering the low resolution. The graphics, the music and the many jokes you encounter give the game a relaxed and pretty look and feel. There is no voice acting, but the characters' mouths move while they 'talk.' What they are saying is displayed as text on the screen.
You control Elle using the mouse cursor, as she walks where you click. The names of objects you can interact with are displayed at the bottom of the screen when the cursor hovers over them. Left-clicking an object causes Elle to do something or tell something about it. Objects you pick up appear in the inventory, where items can be used by left-clicking on them and then clicking again on the items you want them to interact with. Right-clicking throws the thing you are holding back in the inventory. The puzzles are mostly inventory-based, fun and very well integrated into the game. The whole adventure is very short, as even slow players should be able to finish in about half an hour.
Time Stone can be downloaded from the Adventure Game Studio database.
You have had weird dreams before, their reality fading with the morning sun. But this dream feels different. In it you meet a glorious being called The Weaver, who tells you that your presence has trapped you both there, turning this incarnation of the Dreamworld into a fixed place. You soon find that you are not the only person trapped in this place, with a dark cult seemingly intent on bringing down The Weaver and the Dreamworld with it. Seeking the aid of the other trapped denizens, can you unlock the tangles before the whole nocturnal realm is torn apart?
Lucas Paakh has created a relatively short but satisfying tale set in the realm of slumber. The setting is a series of islands apparently floating in space, rendered in a mildly pixelated format. Human characters are small, though their generally fixed locations and a good use of colour enable you to tell them apart. Native denizens of the Dreamworld tend to be much larger and more detailed, such as a maliciously grinning Sphinx and a floating eye that calls itself The Watcher. Animations are equally simple, though there are some pleasant waterfall effects, and roaring flames that block your free movement. The musical background is a gentle and slightly ethereal piano piece, backed up by a handful of gentle strings, that befits the setting.
The tone is one of light fantasy, with a number of the residents being born of the human dreamers' imaginations. Using the keyboard to both move and interact, you will converse with the inhabitants, finding out what is keeping them tied here. A number of puzzles involve fetch quests, including a girl who needs you to gather balloons so she can float back home. Even these are not always straightforward, as catching the helium-filled water cacti ideal for the job will require you to find materials for tethers and a character that can make them for you. There is also a maze where teleports carry you from place to place and switches redirect flames to open and close paths around you. A latter part of the game finds you under attack, but an ally acquired by this point means that being hit simply knocks you back slightly rather than ending your quest.
The Everloom can be played online at Kongregate.
Picking up the story from the first game, this sequel by Mind Power Games continues the surreal, dream-like universe of its predecessor. As a direct follow-up to the first game’s story, where the lead character Triton interrupted some important phases of space-time, the neighbouring universes have now split, putting Triton in the uncomfortable position of having to fix things. This game begins as Triton finds himself in a strange town from which he must find a way to escape, hoping to figure out a way to put the world right again.
Kveendolnitza 2 is brought to life by some beautifully-drawn backgrounds which give the game a very colourful style. The artwork works hard to make sure that every part of the screen is filled, often in surreal ways. The setting takes place in an old European-style town which has been built high up to the sky on a huge set of tank treads. The town’s look could have been influenced by architecture found anywhere in Vienna, Venice or Warsaw, but here it is actually part of some immense futuristic machine. There is no dialogue, while sound effects are sparse and the background music is quiet, giving the game a calm vibe. This can be interrupted by clicking on Triton, causing him to take out the Kveendolnitza (a stringed musical instrument not unlike a guitar) and strum it loudly.
Progress in Kveendolnitza 2 is made by navigating Triton up the giant town structure. There is no inventory to access and the puzzles take place within the environment as if they were part of the background itself. Solutions often involve nothing more than clicking around on things in order to combine pieces of the landscape to make things like ladders appear. There’s not much exploration to be done, as the real purpose of the game is simply to lead Triton linearly towards the top of the town towards a rocketship that can help him escape. The developers have confirmed that there is a third game in production, which will continue Triton’s quest to fix the universe wherever he lands next.
Kveendolnitza 2 is available to play online at JayIsGames.
Obama Inka Games Rescue
Barack Obama, well-known hero who is also the President of the United States, has an appointment with the guys from Inka Games in their headquarters. When he arrives he is surprised to see nobody there, and he soon finds out that his arch enemy Pigsaw has kidnapped the developers. Pigsaw agrees with Obama that all the kidnapping is getting a bit boring, but he has done it anyway because the fans must have their adventure games. So Obama sets out to Pigsaw's castle to rescue the team and save the future of Inka Games, defying several traps and solving puzzles along the way. He's done it all before, but that does not mean it's a breeze because Pigsaw is a cunning enemy.
Obama Inka Games Rescue is a mouse-driven, third-person adventure game. The graphics are drawn in a cartoonish style, with bright pastel colors and almost no straight lines. Obama is easily recognizable by his hair style and prominent chin, which makes him look like the hero he is. The game has no voice acting so all speech appears in speech bubbles. There are a few small text errors here and there, but the English translation is perfectly understandable. In the upper right corner is a button that switches the sound off when you click on it with the mouse. You will almost certainly do that at some point, because the music is very repetitive and boring.
The mouse cursor changes when it hovers over a hotspot, and clicking reveals three choices: Look, Manipulate and Talk. Choosing one of these sets the chosen action in motion. The inventory is at the bottom of the screen and using items is done in the usual way. If there is no interaction possible, nothing happens and the item goes back into the inventory. There are all kinds of puzzles in this game, including memory challenges, a puzzle involving a mean monster and of course inventory-based obstacles. There are even a few timed action scenes! You have been warned, especially because the last one is pretty hard. Obama can die, as can the Inka Games crew, but the President will always get a new chance to rescue the team, as the game goes back in time to before you made your fatal error. This is just as well, because the game has no 'save' option.
Obama Inka Games Rescue can be played online at Inka Games.
The Scorpion Box
Emily’s taken a trip out of town and she’s asked you to take care of her pet turtle, Romeo. He lives in a plastic box and only needs feeding once a day. Sounds like an easy task, right? Taking a night off from turtle-sitting, you decide to head off to a party. Waking up the next morning, you discover that Romeo has been joined in his box by a dangerous-looking scorpion. A quick web search reveals that this isn’t just any predatory arthropod, it’s one of the most venomous scorpions in the world! All of this while nursing a hangover. Ouch!
Tumetsu’s The Scorpion Box is a short puzzle-adventure where you move around the house trying to figure out a way to get Romeo out of his box. To do this you move between rooms by clicking on arrows in the corner of the screen, interacting with objects that you find lying around the house. These items are highlighted by a pop-up prompt giving a brief, sometimes humorous, description of the object in question. The inventory system can be accessed via a drop-down menu in the top-left-hand corner which can then be used to combine the items with one another, try them on Romeo’s box, or both. The hand-drawn visuals are bold and colourful, giving The Scorpion Box a light-hearted feel, accompanied by suitably jaunty trumpet music which repeats throughout.
The Scorpion Box is set entirely within the confines of the main character’s house and consists exclusively of working through any ingenious item combinations that you think might get Romeo out while keeping the deadly scorpion safely in. The game employs a kind of trial-and-error approach to this problem and it clearly wants you to try every combination on the box regardless of consequence. There are numerous ways to win but also many ways to fail. Upon failing the game restarts from an earlier point, giving you another chance. The death sequences can be rather amusing, ranging from encounters with aliens to daydreaming about a classroom of students talking about poetry.
The Scorpion Box can be played online at GameJolt.
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.
The Madness by Gliese Productions – Have you been disturbed in the night, or are you simply disturbed?
The Hunting Lodge by Hulk Handsome – A remote hunting lodge holds a dark secret that is not as secure in the basement as it should be.
Lab Mouse Escape by Abroy – A lab mouse decides to use its lab-enhanced brain to concoct a cunning escape plan.
Magic Owl by Edwin Montgomery – You control an owl flying through a dark, wintery landscape as the game plays musical notes and displays animations depending on where you fly.
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!
Stephen Brown, Mitchell North and Willem Tjerkstra contributed to this article.