Following Freeware - January 2016 releases

Following Freeware - January 2016
Following Freeware - January 2016

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.

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