Following Freeware - January 2016 releases
This month you can explore a haunted house in the dark, or your own house in an altered, mirrored version of itself. Venturing a little farther from home, you can seek to end a Viking's curse in the Mushroom Kingdom, or attempt to survive the Black Plague in 17th century Vienna. These four distinctly different adventures await in a relatively light* round-up of new releases from the freeware scene.
*Note: We've held over our coverage of the community Myst Jam, where a whopping 38 entries were submitted in January. We'll sort through the lot, pick out the best games "inspired by Myst" and report back next time.
Red Book: Discordia Tales
Alice is walking through the garden when she hears a sound behind her. Turning around she finds a book lying on the ground, and to her great surprise she is suddenly sucked into it after picking it up. When Alice wakes up she finds herself in a small bedroom in a big house. Having nothing else to do, she starts exploring and soon finds out that a dangerous evil spirit is lurking there.
Red Book: Discordia Tales, by 966eemu, is made using RPGMaker and presents the action from the familiar 45-degree bird's eye view. Much of the time, the majority of the screen is black: only Alice's immediate surroundings can be seen, as if Alice emits her own light. What can be seen, however, is drawn in vivid colors and with quite a lot of detail. The house is richly furnished, and Alice's dress is a beautiful blue and white complete with frills at the end of the sleeves and skirt. You won't see much animation apart from some flickering candle flames and Alice's arms and dress moving while she walks, but at one point a piano starts playing by itself as its keys move on their own. The wind howls outside, and the occasional music is usually dark, though the piano piece is beautifuld. There are no voices, as Alice doesn't say anything and she's alone in the house. Her observations are displayed using icons in speech bubbles above her head, and as text in big boxes at the bottom of the screen.
This beautifully made game involves a lot of exploring, and can easily take at least two hours to finish. Alice is controlled by the arrow keys, with additional keys used to make her interact with things and tell you about them, or bring up a small menu from which you can access the inventory. Saving is done by guiding Alice to one of the many tall bookcases scattered around the house, where a bookmark can be created and later accessed from the game's startup screen. Most of the puzzles are inventory-based and are not very hard, but you also need to enter a code at one point and there even is an action scene in which Alice can easily be killed, where you have to run from the evil entity and use a magic ingredient at the right time and place. The spirit often leaves splashes of blood or bloody handprints in locations Alice has just visited to remind her it is still around. There are also a fair number of jump scares. This is not a game for kids!
Red Book: Discordia Tales can be downloaded from Game Jolt.
The Curse of the Mushroom King
The friendly Mushroom King asks Bad Viking, our bloodshed-hating hero, if he would like a nice cup of leek and vegetable soup. Disconcerted by the sudden and strange question, Bad Viking declines, claiming that he just ate. His refusal angers the Mushroom King greatly so he curses Bad Viking: From now on he will find it impossible to enjoy peanut butter and jelly sandwiches! What that means exactly is not clear to Bad Viking, but he doesn't like the sound of it at all. Luckily there is a remedy in the form of a potion to be brewed. Getting hold of the recipe turns out to be very easy. Finding the ingredients for the potion is a whole different matter, however. Bad Viking has to find a blond moustache for the Popcorn Colonel, steal some hot sauce from Captain Doughnutface and shoot an armadillo from a cannon, amongst many other tasks, in order to reach his goal.
The Curse of the Mushroom King, by Bad Viking (no relation), is presented in third-person with vivid colors and detailed cartoon-like drawings. All of the characters have unique appearances: the protagonist looks like a real Viking with his horned helmet, long hair and big moustache, while the King looks like a mushroom with a golden crown on his head. The absence of any music in the game is refreshing; in its stead you hear a rich score of background noises like birds singing, the rustling of leaves, the creaking of a pirate ship and the sounds of people socializing in the pub. Other sound effects are equally well done: Bad Viking makes a distinct 'tock tock tock' sound wherever he walks, doors slam gratifyingly, and drawers and hatches slide open with believably satisfying noises. Character's mouth moves when they speak, but unfortunately there is no voice acting; spoken text appears in speech bubbles that point to the person currently talking.
The interface is simple, using just a single mouse button and an inventory that can be slid up and down by pressing an on-screen button. The Curse of the Mushroom King has an auto-save function so you don't have to worry about saving along the way. This is quite a funny game containing interesting characters like Captain Doughnutface, the Popcorn Colonel and many more; you'll even encounter a talking skeleton. The puzzles are all inventory-based and are not very easy. Not only do they often demand quite a bit of imagination to solve, it can take quite a while before you even find the necessary items to complete them. Sometimes you have to combine inventory items to solve a puzzle. If you get stuck, however, you can use the walkthrough available from the web page where you play the game.
The Curse of the Mushroom King can be played online at JayIsGames.
The Splitting: Chapter 1
Fireberry Studios takes the idea of a world behind the mirror to the extreme in their adventure The Splitting: Chapter 1. In this first installment, Daniel wakes up after a dream in which some unknown person told him he was leaving but had hidden something behind Daniel's bed. When Daniel looks around, he finds out that he has no reflection anymore! Gingerly feeling the mirror, he learns that he can pass through it, ending up in a world that is a mirror image of his own. Some things are different though: several rooms in the mirror version are destroyed and there is a strange but friendly man lurking in his house. Together, Daniel and the lurking man set out to find leinaD (Daniel's mirrored counterpart) and discover what has happened to this world.
Daniel's homes (both the real and mirrored versions) are shown from an isometric view in simple pixel art with subdued colors. The animation is basic, with characters gliding over the ground while walking, moving their hands and legs just a bit. They don't move their faces while they speak, but nor are there any voices; everything that is said is shown on the screen in small black boxes. A simple tune accompanies the gameplay, interspersed with just a few sound effects like a toilet flushing and doors opening and closing. They are not very realistic but fit the game's environment quite well.
Movement is controlled using WASD, with additional keys used to interact, bring up the inventory, and quit conversations. The game has an excellent auto-save function, resuming exactly where you left off if you leave and come back. There are quite a few puzzles to be solved, most of which make ingenious use of the differences that exist between the two worlds. You can take items from one house to the other, and things that happen in one world beyond your control (like someone ringing the doorbell) also happen in the other world. Most of the puzzles are rather simple but a few of them require some creative thinking and inventive solutions. For instance, you have to bribe a paperboy with something really special, get hold of the lost half of a pair of socks and give both your mirrored and 'real' sister the keys to your house. I had a lot of fun with this game and finished it in about two hours. With this debut episode ending on a cliffhanger, hopefully Chapter 2 will arrive soon.
The Splitting: Chapter 1 can be played online at JayIsGames.
Oh du lieber Augustin
Augustin is a poor man from Vienna who often plays his bagpipes and sings in the pub to earn some drinks. It's 1679 and the plague is ravaging the city, so many people come to the pub to find relief. One day, the people become bored with Augustin's songs and demand that he come up with new ones. Together with a guest, Augustin plays a new song, then goes home so drunk he falls asleep in the gutter. Thinking he is dead, the men who collect the bodies of plague victims find Augustin and dump him in a mass grave. Whilst finding a way out of there, Augustin is inspired to write a new song.
Oh du lieber Augustin, by Creamy and cat, loosely tells the story of its old folk song namesake, which is said to have originated in plague-ridden 17th century Austria. The game is presented in pixel art with rather realistic looking depictions of the pub interior and the mass grave Augustin finds himself in later on. The animation is very well done: people walk in quite a natural way and Augustin taps his right foot while playing the bagpipes. With no voice-overs, text appears above the speaker’s head in the color of their clothes. In the pub, Augustin makes sure there is a lot to listen to, but there is only a simple, sombre background tune in the grave scene. The few sound effects like the murmur of people talking and the clinking of glasses are very well done.
The game is played using the two mouse buttons; the left key lets Augustin move around or interact with things and the right key provides a description of hotspots. Moving the cursor to the top of the screen makes the inventory appear, together with the familiar load, save and quit buttons. There are a variety of puzzles along the way: some of them are inventory-based but you also have to search for string to mend the bagpipe and overcome a challenge in which you learn a tune from separate pieces of torn sheet music. The puzzles are easy and the game is very short: you can finish it in 15 minutes. Despite the grim backdrop, Oh du lieber Augustin has a cheerful tone and never gets sad.
Oh du lieber Augustin 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.
Zombie Society: Death after Death #1/3 by Lu_Muja – Find out who is behind the brain drain in the debut installment of this interactive cartoon.
Cope by Death By Muffins – An accident happens in The Hive Institute and you, patient 1307, have to cope with the sudden freedom this provides.
Your Grace by Oldschool Wolf – With the members of your council of advisers usually offering conflicting advice, can you guide your kingdom to a bright future?
U-Ropa by Atavismus/Hobo/Jonas/Peder – On the undersea vessel U-Ropa, an accident leaves a technician trapped in his destroyed cabin.
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!