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This month you can get lost in a strange library or solve the mystery of a cannon that seems to be cursed. You might also undertake a serious examination of immigration in early 20th century America, or experience a very silly take on breaking out of prison. Perhaps you’ll even be inspired to make your own game through the daring exploits of a fictional indie studio. All these await in this month’s round-up of releases from the freeware scene.
Sleuthhounds: The Cursed Cannon
Amelia Deerheart was all set to make history. Riding in a capsule fired out of a giant cannon, she was to be the first person on the moon. But when the cannon went off, it was clear something had gone wrong. Instead of hurtling out of the atmosphere, the capsule simply fell back to earth a short distance away. Whilst unhurt in the crash, Amelia is devastated at the thought that this latest disaster will result in her financier pulling the plug. It is up to Jane Ampson, former reporter-turned-novel writer, to solve the mystery of the sabotage. With her presence as interviewer specifically requested by Amelia, perhaps this is a chance to make up for the earlier incident that ended her reporting career.
In Sleuthhounds: The Cursed Cannon, SeaLeft Studios continue their tales of animal-related mysteries. The graphics use the same comic book style of the previous episode, with panels for each new scene displayed over top of the previous scene. The characters are once again anthropomorphic animals: Jane Ampson is an elegant lady mouse with a parasol, while others include a horse rickshaw driver and famed pig adventurer Phineas Hogg. There are even a couple of ghosts, though conversations indicate they are commonplace in this world. All characters are smoothly animated, as is the machinery you will operate. The whole game takes place at night, with lamps lighting the area around the gigantic cannon and candles illuminating Amelia’s preparation tent. The game is fully voiced to a very high standard, each character having an actor of their own. The whole adventure is backed up with a variety of genteel classical music pieces.
Control is handled via mouse, with right-click used to examine and left-click to interact. The game has three levels of difficulty. At the lowest level there are no side quests and the story-relevant puzzles are simpler. This makes the experience more suitable for the novice adventurer, while the higher levels give the more seasoned gamer the option to makes things harder. Regardless of challenge level, your main goal will be to put together a timetable of the evening’s events. By accounting for everyone’s movements, you can find out who had a window of opportunity to do the dastardly deed. You’ll need to interview everyone on-site, double-checking everyone’s accounts to catch out any lies. With one of the main suspects nowhere to be found, you’ll also need to do some other sleuthing. Side quests include fixing a broken lamp and correcting a news report. The presentation is lightly humorous throughout, with more background on the setting providing hooks for future series instalments.
Sleuthhounds: The Cursed Cannon can be downloaded from the developer’s website.
Mission US 4: City of Immigrants
The year is 1907, and young Lena Brodsky is just arriving in New York from Minsk. Her brother Isaac has already made his way to the city, and with his help Lena hopes to build a new life of her own there. Her other brother Jacob has been forced into the Tsar’s army, so this may be the only hope for her family’s survival. But life in New York for a family of Russian Jews is difficult. Earning a decent amount of money is hard enough, and everyday expenses seem to drain funds as rapidly as they are earned. Will this prove to be the land of promise she had hoped for, or will her dreams be crushed?
In the fourth instalment of their educational series, developer Mission US move to the early 20th century. Mission US 4: City of Immigrants adopts the same format as before. Though slightly stylised, the graphics represent real locations in early 1900s New York, such as Trinity Church. These are sometimes supplemented by photographs from the period. People are drawn mostly with basic facial features, though shading has been used to suggest a 3D shape. Animation is limited to talking, with other movement dealt with in a stop motion fashion. The action is backed with music appropriate to the era, as well as suitable sounds such as the rattle of sewing machines. The game is fully voiced to a very good quality, with appropriate accents for the various nationalities featured. This is further enhanced by dialogue speech patterns that fit those for whom English is a second language.
Whilst intended to be educational, this series continues to put the game element first. After an opening section where you pass through Ellis Island, players will face their first real challenge. Having lost your brother at the docks, you must try to find his home by yourself. This involves traversing an old map of New York, seeking directions from people on the way. Control is done entirely by single mouse-click, to select a new destination or conversational topic. Once at your brother’s home, you then settle into life there, often assisting with household tasks. This includes shopping at the market, where careful selection of goods and some haggling can improve the family finances. In a later part of the game, you will also join a factory and become part of the strike action to improve the lot of its female workers. There are achievements to collect for focussing on particular areas of your life, such as improving your sewing skills. You will also encounter a minigame that requires some dexterity for success. There are three major turning points in the story, with the decisions you make determining your ending.
Mission US 4: City of Immigrants can be downloaded from the developer’s website. You can also play online, though you will need to register a free ID to do so.
Fleeing the Complex
It appears that Henry Stickmin’s somewhat checkered criminal history has come to an end. He now finds himself in The Wall, a fearsome prison from which no-one has ever escaped. Taunted by the chief warder, who sees Henry’s capture as something of a coup, things look grim for our hero. But ridiculous odds and impossible tasks are just everyday occurrences for Henry. With his trademark variety of dangerous devices at hand, together with a collection of oddball plans, failure is not only an option, but almost a certainty. Perhaps having a companion this time will help.
In Fleeing the Complex, Stickpage continue to heap repeated fails on their hapless hero. Last seen Infiltrating the Airship, the graphics are presented in the same cartoon style with all characters depicted as stick figures with circular heads. Variations in clothing and facial features, such as the chief warder’s moustache and goatee beard, help distinguish characters from each other. Clever animation also elicits a range of facial expressions from the limited features available. The rest of the animation is also nicely done, like some dramatic action sequences of crashing cars and a prison riot. The game is once again fully voiced to a high standard, though with deliberately hammy performances in some instances. For the more action-based sequences, dramatic music akin to a retro arcade game plays as accompaniment. Otherwise there are a variety of appropriate sound effects, often based on other games like the Final Fantasy and Advance Wars series that are spoofed throughout.
The game is completely controlled with the left mouse button. At various points Henry is offered options on how to progress. These include devices, including one that turns you into a shadow, and actions such as feigning death. Sometimes these choices are set against the clock, with an on-screen timer showing how long you have to make your decision. As is the case with the earlier games, many of these choices lead to Henry’s escape failing in humorous and surreal fashion. (It’s dangerous being a shadow when a cloud passes over the moon.) Each failure allows you to remake your last choice, or restart from scratch. This instalment also includes a map, which allows you to jump immediately to any scene you have previously reached. The game has multiple story paths available, with each location on the map showing how many of the unique failures for that scene you have found. Whilst not necessary to enjoy this instalment, those who have played the previous Stickmin adventures will notice familiar references and recognise recurring characters. Whether the fellow prisoner you can choose to team up with at the start becomes another recurring character remains to be seen.
Fleeing the Complex can be played online at Newgrounds.
For quite some time now, Libra has been a regular sight at the library. Each time she has left without finding what she sought, but today that has changed. Discovering a strange book on the upper floor, she finds herself transported to a series of dream-like worlds. Each world has a story of its own to tell, and Libra must unlock all their mysteries to piece together the whole narrative. But these worlds are not entirely safe, and the companions she finds there have secrets of their own. Do these lands really hold that which she has been searching for?
Previously a translator for other people’s games, with Libretta vgperson has now made a game of their own. The graphics are displayed in a retro RPG style, with a top-down look and environments laid out in a grid pattern. Despite their low-resolution appearance, characters are easily distinguished, with Libra herself sporting a wild mane of white hair. These characters are simply but elegantly animated. The scenery varies somewhat from world to world. At the start, the landscape continues to closely resemble the library where your quest began, but a later world features platforms made of loosely fitted planks suspended high in the sky. The musical soundtrack is as retro-inspired as the graphics, with varied 8-bit tunes playing. These range from gentle melodic pieces backing simple exploration to tracks with harsh discords when danger threatens. There are also many sound effects, the most notable being the turning of pages as you read the various books you find.
You’ll control Libra using the cursor keys, with space interacting with objects you are facing. Pressing X brings up your inventory, and also has another use discovered in-game. To save you from interacting with all the shelves in the game, those with books relevant to your quest are marked with a discreet arrow. In each world your goal is to find all the chapters to the story of that realm, unlocking the stairs to the next level. This is no simple exploration task, however, requiring you to operate various devices and make use of the knowledge found in other tomes. Some inventory use, like unlocking doors with keys, is automatic. At other times you will be asked to select an appropriate object. With the worlds having a dream-like quality, some solutions require you to adopt an extremely lateral approach. Regular saving is also recommended as, whilst not a constant threat, there are numerous opportunities for a sudden death. Despite the surreal nature of the setting, the story is a straight drama that builds to a satisfying conclusion.
Libretta can be downloaded from the developer’s website.
Blue Lobe Inc.
With the advent of online distribution, indie game development has become easier for small teams to achieve. One such team is the group of three friends that form Blue Lobe Inc. Working from the basement of the lead developer’s parents’ house, they are putting the final touches on the demo of “Kentucky Scott and the Scavengers of Ruin”. This awesome piece of software is primed to blow gamers away, leading to a huge Kickstarter project. But the team is out of coffee and trolls are putting the game down all across the net. Can our intrepid trio deal with these trials and complete their magnum opus?
With a somewhat skewed view, Blue Lobe Inc. from Baronic Games takes a light-hearted poke at the indie scene. The graphics feature an exaggerated cartoon style, predominantly black and white with occasional splashes of blue. The lead developer has a hugely spiky hairstyle, whilst the coder is a skinny nerd with goofy teeth and glasses. Their basement “studio” is decked out with memorabilia referencing classic adventures, including the somewhat disturbing “monkey wench” dancing statue. Animation is minimal but smoothly effected. The game also features segments where you play scenes from the internal demo. Given the clear inspiration implied in their game title, it is unsurprising that these mimic the classic LucasArts Indiana Jones adventures. The full game is voiced to a decent quality, along with having a solid musical backing and a handful of sound effects.
Control is handled using the right and left mouse buttons for examining and interacting, respectively. In the real world sections, you can call up your inventory by interacting with the lead developer. In the game demo sections, the inventory appears as on-screen buttons instead. You will have to face “typical” indie developer problems, such as a lack of coffee and your parents’ internet connection going down. In the demo you will face over-wrought scenes of peril, as your foppish foe from the Ancient Regime tries to thwart your plans. Clever inventory use and a little dialogue puzzling will see you through. The overall tone is one of light humour, with the digs at indie developers clearly tongue-in-cheek.
Blue Lobe Inc. can be downloaded from the AGS 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.
Investigative Journalism by Astrid Dalmady – In the strange town of Night Vale, investigative journalist can be a surreal and deadly occupation.
David and Keithan: The Haunted Lighthouse by Carmel Games – With a storm raging over town, David and Keithan decide to go in search of a supernatural mystery.
Nekra Psaria 4 by Drawmaneater – Johny continues his adventures in the surreal world of Nekra Psaria.
A Matter of Time by Expera Game Studio – A 'playable teaser trailer' for the upcoming A Matter of Caos: No Rest for the Wicked, starring the purple octopus detective, Mr. Gilbert.
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!