This month, three different games offer multiple player characters. You can build an adventuring party in a bizarre baseball-oriented game, play both detective and suspect in a mystery involving strange powers and a foreboding door, or take on three apparently disparate roles in a genteel minimalist tale. For those preferring single protagonists, you can play a boy rescuing his toy from a giant fish, a clumsy stock person accidentally releasing an evil alien, or a robot seeking to maintain galactic peace. Alternatively, you might take on a dark view of a classic cartoon character, as Donald Duck finds himself destitute. All these await in this month’s round-up of releases from the freeware scene.
Whilst still a young baseball player, your position as bullpen closer for New York seems secure. The team is in the sixth game of the World Series, and all you have to do is strike out Carlos Rodriguez to win. Your trademark slider pitch should do the trick, having bamboozled every batter that has faced it. But then the unthinkable happens: Rodriguez figures out your master pitch, and hits it for a home run. With the series now tied, you have only 24 hours to learn a new pitch for the final game. It’s a good thing the team’s coach knows where to find an intellectual bookshop downtown.
In The Closer, Woodsy Studio start with a sporting premise that soon changes into a surreal meta-game. The graphics use a top-down retro RPG style, though with a moderately high level of detail. The individual characters have heads about the size of their bodies, but can be distinguished by their outfits and skin colour. You and the coach will start off at the locker room, but your quest will take you to a philosopher’s home, Twitter headquarters, and even alternate realities. You will pick up and lose companions on the way, with a maximum of four characters following you around as you go. Animation is fairly simple, but includes some background effects, such as the heavy rainfall downtown. When in conversation, detailed portraits of the characters speaking display on-screen, which are also used in the menus. The sound mimics the classic role-playing games that this adventure is patterned after. There are simple footstep noises and the score comprises a variety of 8-bit tracks, with dramatic music used for moments of tension.
The initial part of the game seems fairly mundane. Using the arrow keys you move around, interacting with Z. But once you go in search of your new pitch, things take a decidedly odd turn. The coach insists that crosswords are the best way to learn pitches, and takes you to an intellectual bookshop. Here you meet a philosopher who encourages you to play a spoof Japanese erotic visual novel based on A League of Their Own. Whilst nothing graphic is shown, the themes being mocked here make this game unsuitable for children. Soon you will find yourself entering this and other computer game worlds in person, and discover that more than the World Series is at stake. A recurring activity is fighting, though you “fight” with baseball pitches and philosophical arguments instead of weapons. Entering one presents you with a turn-based RPG battle scene in which you select your “attacks” from menus. Whilst presented as battles, these fights are either unwinnable for story reasons, or are puzzles that require working out the right combination of attacks to use. There is also a simple shooting game at one point. Between these sequences, you will need to engage in diligent exploration and talk to all characters to progress the story along. The other characters who join your quest will usually guide you as to what you need to do next.
The Closer can be downloaded from the developer’s website.
The Seventh Door
A man wakes to find himself on a rooftop with no memory of how he got there, the rooftop itself seeming almost unreal to him. Collapsing from a sudden headache, he finds himself arrested for murder. Under lock and key, he discovers that he has the power to project his spirit to take over others and uses this power to make his escape. Meanwhile, a detective investigates a murder where a strange illustration of a door, marked with the number seven, was scrawled on a nearby wall. He was sure they had someone in custody, but the headaches he has been having make it hard to remember details. As both men pursue their investigations across town, other forces seek to cover up some dangerous experiments. Just what lies beyond the seventh door?
Famas Community took an interesting approach to game creation when they put together The Seventh Door. Rather than writing the outline beforehand, the game was made in sections. One person made the opening scene, then passed their work on to another member. The new designer reviewed this part, created their own follow-up scene and then passed it along. As each creator was allowed to diversify the graphics as they saw fit, there are some differences in the game’s look. Most have adopted variants of the top-down classic RPG look, with the proportionately-drawn main characters kept the same throughout. The backgrounds range from a hand-drawn playground scene to a blocky series of back alleys and a garishly decorated hotel. There is also a car section with some highly irregular shapes. The sounds also vary somewhat, with some segments going for dramatic music appropriate to the story, another a jaunty driving song, and one section that is just backed by disturbing whispering.
The setup was not suited for a coherent story, so it is very much to the developers’ credit that it does hold together well. It is a dark tale of illegal experimentation and corruption, with the titular seventh door hiding a surprise twist. The details can get a bit confusing, with the recap near the end really helping to tie things together. Each section is quite short, with the playable protagonist switching from section to section. The two main characters are the mystery man from the roof and the detective, though there is also a brief flashback played as the murder victim. You will collect clues at a crime scene, sneak around a hotel, and flee across rooftops. Keyboard controls are used throughout, with interaction normally achieved by pressing Z; other keyboard controls for specific sections are detailed as required. There is an arcade-style sequence where you need to dodge cars, helped immensely by a hint provided upon losing your allotted three lives. Using special powers, including possession and mind-reading, also sometimes requires timed button presses. Otherwise, the majority of gameplay involves exploration and use of a small inventory to progress. There are three endings available, the choice of which is based on a decision made in the closing scenes, though one is only available if you collected a specific item earlier on.
The Seventh Door can be downloaded from the developers’ website.
An aged man spends his days in a small flat, listening to classical music and feeding his caged bird. A small boy lives out on a remote farm with his parents, a peaceful life until the stranger came by. A nondescript man in a black suit performs assassinations for his boss who lives in a remote mountaintop retreat. Three different people. Three different stories. But these three stories are intertwined with one another, and only by seeing them to the end will you discover how they influence one another.
In creating Providence, Eight Bit Skyline have adopted a fairly minimalist style. Objects are made up of geometric blocks, mostly a single solid colour but with some variation of shade to lend depth. Though lacking in fine detail, the shapes are enough to allow players to get an accurate view of the environment. Individuals are also presented in a limited way, with clothes largely consisting of single blocks of colour and faces devoid of all features except hair. Despite the lack of features, the properly-proportioned human characters are realistically animated throughout. Sound effects are equally simple in nature, such as the ding of a doorbell or swish of a sliding door. The musical background is exclusively provided by the works of Chopin, either directly as background music or played on records by characters in-game.
Control is handled through keyboard, with the arrow keys used for moving around. When standing next to an interactive object or person, a caption appears on-screen. Tapping the space bar makes you attempt to interact with that hotspot. You will also acquire items stored in a small inventory at the bottom of the screen. Each object is assigned a number in the order it’s acquired, and pressing that number attempts to use it. You will progress through a series of scenes, switching between the three protagonists from scene to scene. Most puzzles are fairly simple in nature, many simply requiring you to interact with a particular character or use a specific item correctly. The tale is somewhat melancholy in nature, and whilst having no graphic content it is likely to be unsuitable for the young. The story unfolds naturally through gameplay and dialogue, with the connection between the three characters revealed in the closing scenes.
Providence can be downloaded from Game Jolt.
A Nightmare on Duckburg
People do strange things when the moon is full. On one such night, an unrecognizable person opens the door to Scrooge McDuck’s money bin and walks up the stairs to his room with a big axe in hand. Before McDuck can say anything, his skull is split open and he lies dead on the floor. Sometime later, Donald Duck learns through the mail that the reading of his uncle’s last will and testament will take place on McDuck's sister Elvira’s farm later that day. After solving the difficult task of getting a train ticket with no money, Donald learns that all the money has been left to Goofy, who has recently turned into an anti-capitalist extremist and wannabe terrorist. Donald only gets an old can of spinach, which is already past its expiry date. Disappointed and downcast, Donald continues his purposeless life, living from moment to moment, trying anything and everything to get money or food.
A Nightmare on Duckburg, by janleht, presents a very different Duckburg than the cheerful Disney city we are used to. The game plays years later than the comic stories, by which time Duckburg and its inhabitants have become run-down and dilapidated. Big factories churn out immense amounts of different-colored smoke and other waste. Donald's nephews have reached puberty now – at least those who have survived; one of them killed himself a while ago. Another is a chips-munching TV addict and the third has turned into a religious zealot who reads his Bible all day long. Mickey Mouse, retired from all his detective work and married to some bimbo who plunders his bank account, is a lazy alcoholic who sleeps in his garden all day long.
This version of Duckburg and the famous characters you thought you knew so well are presented in third-person mode using colorful drawings. You play as Donald, and the size of the screens changes with the current environment: if he is in a small room or a shed, the view area is smaller than when Donald is outside. Some are large enough that the camera pans when Donald walks across them. Ominous sounding music plays throughout, adding to the feeling of despair the game radiates. There are very few sound effects, but those present (a door bell, a flute and a few others) are of high quality and fit the game well. There is no voice acting; all conversations and thoughts are displayed on-screen as text.
Donald is controlled with the mouse; left-clicking lets you interact with hotspots and right-clicking cycles between the actions look at, talk, walk and grab/handle, as well as the currently selected inventory item. Moving the cursor to the top of the screen brings up a menu with icons for the same actions, along with the inventory. The puzzles are well integrated and quite hard; often you really must think like a Duck to solve them. All of the obstacles are inventory-based and some require a very strange mix of items to solve. Still, the solutions are mostly quite logical in the specific context of Duckburg. Events in the game perfectly reflect the life of a penniless person with no goal in life, which means that the story seems to go nowhere until around two-thirds into the game, and even then Donald largely just muddles on until he arrives at the conclusion of the game almost by accident. A Nightmare on Duckburg is definitely not suited for children, but if you like the Duck world, can solve puzzles where you have to think a bit differently than normal, and you don't mind the occasional violence, foul talk and disgusting sex scene, this is a must play game.
A Nightmare on Duckburg can be downloaded from the Adventure Game Studio website.
The Surprisingly Short Adventure of Leopold Kettle
Little Leopold is sitting at the end of the jetty in the harbor of Peanut Wharf island, playing with the flying robot toy he calls Captain Helicopter when a giant fish leaps out of the water and eats Captain Helicopter in one gulp. This makes Leopold very sad, but also determined to catch the big fish and free Captain Helicopter. But first he must get hold of a fishing rod and some bait. This leads to a nice sightseeing tour through the village near the harbor.
The Surprisingly Short Adventure of Leopold Kettle, by Matt Frith, is drawn using pixel art in shades of greenish-grey. Despite the low resolution, the graphics are gorgeous, showing Peanut Wharf in a cartoony style resembling that of games Nintendo made for the GameBoy in the 1990s. The animation is very smooth and detailed: bubbles appear in the water, the fishing boat in the harbor goes up and down, and when Leopold walks his cap also bobs on his head. Very simple and soft music that sounds like it comes from a computer speaker can be heard along the way. The sound effects, like a man sneezing, a cat purring, and a sushi chef chopping salmon with a vengeance, are also very basic but the volume is much louder. With no voice acting, all spoken text appears annoyingly slowly in a box at the bottom of the screen. Because only a small amount of text fits in the box, the game waits a long time for you to read the text before it’s replaced with the rest of the sentence. Luckily if you read faster than the game assumes, you can click through the text. The movements of the speaking characters are neatly synchronized with the appearance of the text.
The game is played using the left mouse button, and in the top corners of the screen you’ll find buttons for the game menu and inventory. Hovering the cursor over hotspots makes a one-word description appear in a bar at the top of the screen. During his quest for fishing gear, Leopold has to sleuth a bit to find out what fish ate Captain Helicopter, break into a factory, and find a way to make the fisherman in the harbor give him a fishing rod. The puzzles required to achieve this are not very hard but are fun and beautifully integrated. Most of them are inventory-based but there is also a simple timed puzzle during which you have to distract someone who is busy with a delicate task, and you’ll need some cunning tricks here and there to get to your goal. Surprisingly, The Surprisingly Short Adventure of Leopold Kettle is actually not so very short, taking me around half an hour to finish.
The Surprisingly Short Adventure of Leopold Kettle can be downloaded from the Adventure Game Studio website.
DarkForce: Peace Among Nations
Captain James Dirk is on a mission to deliver Earth’s “Peace Among Nations” documents to the Federal Ambassador at a meeting on the spaceship Nostromo. Finally, peace in the galaxy is about to be achieved. Unfortunately, Dirk’s ship crashes and our captain finds himself trapped and unable to escape. Luckily his good robot KP29 can still take the documents in his stead. Whilst waiting for the meeting to start, KP29 discovers a plot by an organization of evil aliens called DarkForce, which wants to kill everybody present and thwart all the efforts of the Federation to achieve peace so they will have supreme power over the galaxy. KP29 is determined to stop the evil aliens and make sure the meeting goes ahead uninterrupted.
Presented in third-person view, slasher’s DarkForce: Peace Among Nations is presented in a simple pixelated style. The rather featureless environments, like the corridors and rooms of the Nostromo, are drawn in dull colors and the whole ship has a somber look. The animation is rather crude: although the robot’s legs move, it glides over the floor more than it walks, while some of the aliens KP29 encounters move their eyes and arms in a repetitive way. The accompanying music can best be described as 1970s electronic, and in my opinion is not the best choice for a game like this, being too upbeat to reflect the sparse and drab spaceship interior very well. There are no voices, but all spoken text is shown on-screen in an easily readable, blocky face type. The many different sound effects, like KP29’s footfall, the sound of doors opening and closing, and the lift going up and down are very well done and fit the style of the game perfectly.
DarkForce: Peace Among Nations is mouse-driven, with the left button performing an action or using the inventory item you’re holding on a hotspot, and the right button getting descriptions of objects. At the top of the screen is a button that contacts the captain for help, which is sometimes handy when you are stuck, and memory buttons that provide a short description of what you have learned so far. There is also an inventory button called “Plugins and Items.” Plugins are extras built into KP29, like a laser and a sound generator, and items are the objects you’re carrying. During the game you will get hold of some documents like a map and a note which are not stored in your inventory. Instead, separate icons for each new document appear; pressing these displays their contents. The puzzles are well integrated into the story, and vary in difficulty from obvious to quite complicated. KP29 has to talk to many different aliens, and he does not know if they’re part of the DarkForce or not. This requires some careful sleuthing, during which you’ll need to find the security code to the engine room, kill a hostile alien, break into rooms, and protect yourself from acidic alien spit, amongst many other things. It may not have the slickest presentation, but this is a well-made if somewhat somber game that is well worth a try if you like conspiracies and detective games.
DarkForce: Peace Among Nations can be downloaded from the Adventure Game Studio website.
Tales from the Eureka Cluster: The Abtyon Case
Jeff Tobel, a man considered barely competent to serve as inventory officer on the Freelance Scavenger Vessel “Thrift,” is clearing out some boxes when he breaks a strange-looking object. A weird gaseous entity envelops him briefly and then escapes to the bridge. Following the cloud, Jeff discovers that the ship’s main computer is now severely damaged and the rest of the crew has disappeared. When the computer is fixed, it detects the crew on a faraway planet. After arriving in orbit around the planet, Jeff beams to the surface to find that his crewmates have been captured by the evil alien that first enveloped him on the ship, which is now sucking all the knowledge out of the crew’s brains. If Jeff doesn’t act quickly, his mates will die!
He may have had some clumsy moments in the past, but TechTroupe’s Tales from the Eureka Cluster: The Abtyon Case depicts Jeff as a smart and capable man who is able to handle the strange situations he finds himself in quite well. This world and its inhabitants are drawn in a simple semi-realistic style in contrasting colors, with some nudity displayed. The animation is rather stiff: Jeff walks very upright and moves his legs and arms like he is marching instead of walking. The background sounds depend on Jeff’s location. On the ship a simple reggae-like ska tune is played, which suits the high-tech environment surprisingly well, and organ music sounds when Jeff suddenly finds himself on a strange platform in the clouds. The few sound effects, like a door opening, birds chirping in the forest and the humming of machinery, are adequate.
Jeff is controlled with the mouse, and he walks where you click. Unfortunately, he walks annoyingly slowly, and you can’t change his course once you have clicked where he should go, so if you make a mistake you’ll have to wait until he’s arrived at his location and then send him back. Left-clicking an object makes Jeff or the inventory item he’s holding interact with the hotspot while right-clicking causes him to offer a description of it. The inventory appears when the cursor is moved to the top of the screen. The game’s puzzles are all inventory-based and fairly simple. Amongst other tasks, Jeff has to find a hidden lair in a forest, make a machete out of a lawnmower blade, and of course repair the ship’s computer. You get quite a few hints as you play too, so for an experienced gamer this adventure shouldn't be hard. The story is not very remarkable but well worked out, conveying a lot about the planet’s history along with way. All in all, this game makes for a fun 20 minutes, so long as you don’t expect anything spectacular from it.
Tales from the Eureka Cluster: The Abtyon Case can be downloaded from the TechTroupe website.
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.
Blank Dream by Teriyaki Tomato – When a young girl commits suicide, she finds herself in an alternate dimension where she must find her past.
The Jimi Hendrix Case by Gurok – When Jimi Hendrix is murdered, only Detective Jimi Hendrix can find out if Jimi Hendrix did it.
Sisyphus Reborn by Myshkin Entertainment – Trapped in a featureless desert, is there really no other purpose to life than endless digging?
Life on a Mountain by lukeoc – Explore the cold and snowy place where your friend lives and find out what happened to him.
Katja's Escape: The Pharaoh's Tomb by Carmel Games – Help the titular archeologist find her way out of the tomb in which she's accidentally trapped herself.
The Search for the Dahu by Carmel Games – The famous radio reporter Crystal Rose Divine needs some help in finding the rare Dahu, a goat with legs of different length.
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!
Article written by Stephen Brown and Willem Tjerkstra.