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Following Freeware - March 2016 releases

Following Freeware - March 2016
Following Freeware - March 2016

This month horror fans can experience a new take on the Dracula story, or visit an oddly familiar unsettling locale known as Rabbit Hill. Sequels abound, with a medieval cop starting a new investigation, a treasure-hunter exploring the cave of the bird men, a world of Caos resumes its new tale and an overweight superhero taking on a new challenge. Finally, for those seeking a more gentle adventure, you can judge an otherworldly art competition or help two small larvae survive in their new home. All these await in this month’s round-up of releases from the freeware scene.

Steve's Selections

The Amazing Adventures of Fatman: Episode 1 - Intergalactic Indigestion

Out in deep space, the ferocious Taberians are pursuing Zalarg, Defender of the Galaxy. Seeking refuge, Zalarg descends to planet Earth. Meanwhile, down in the Fatcave, the rotund superhero named Fatman is just stirring from his slumbers. When he’s alerted to an alarm at the town Sewage Works, Fatman fears his old adversary Toxicman is up to his old tricks. For the flabby fighter of crime, there is no time to lose. Well, maybe a little time to lose. You can’t go fighting crime without having a bit of unhealthy breakfast first.

Image #1Having not been heard from since way back in 2003, Socko Entertainment’s obese superhero takes to the streets once again in Intergalactic Indigestion, the first “amazing adventure” of a proposed new episodic series. The graphics have a distinctly comic style with bright colours and bold lines. You start in Fatman’s subterranean hideout, where the sleek-looking Fatcomputer contrasts with his more slovenly living quarters. This adventure will take players to a farm, an electronics store and even into outer space. Fatman is modelled after a similar-sounding superhero, but his girth stretches his costume to expose his vast stomach. Both he and the other game characters, including the humanoid felines the Taberians, are smoothly animated. There are no voice-overs, but the action is backed up by a dramatic soundtrack befitting the adventures of a mighty superhero (of sorts).

Fatman is controlled entirely by mouse. Simply clicking on the screen causes him to move to that location if possible. Walking to the edge of the screen takes you to a new screen if one is available, though there are no indicators either way. In the top left of the screen are three large action icons, for look, interact and talk. Along the bottom appear the inventory items you’ve gathered on your quest. Both action icons and objects can be used on the environment and each other by dragging them to an appropriate place on screen, though without any hotspot indicators to denote possible interactions. After the initial quest to feed his grumbling tummy, our portly hero finds his investigations thwarted by the local UFO guard. You must proceed to find distractions for this alien-fearing crew, gathering and using a variety of esoteric objects. Later you find yourself prisoner of hostile aliens and must find cunning ways to disable their systems. The whole thing is presented with a humour that satirises the traditional superhero comic genre.

The Amazing Adventures of Fatman: Intergalactic Indigestion can be downloaded via the Socko Entertainment Facebook page or directly from their Dropbox account. The game is also available for a small fee for Android devices at Google Play.


The Master of Time

Studying late for her pharmacist course, a young lady falls asleep at her desk. While she slumbers, a mysterious force swoops in through the window. Briefly turning her to pure thought, this force transports her to the Gontagura Inn, located between wakefulness and sleep. This odd location is playing host to the yearly competition of the six Masters, who collect dreams and images related to their spheres of interest. Feeling his collection was overlooked in the judging last year, the Master of Contemplation has stolen and hidden the Master of Time’s Japanese zodiac. As an independent person, the young lady is tasked with not only gathering the zodiac, but judging this year’s contest as well.

Image #2Koomori’s adventure The Master of Time presents a more genteel challenge than most. The presentation is a mixture of first- and third-person, displayed in a slideshow format. The art style is realistic in tone overall, but heavily influenced by classic Japanese culture. The masters all wear kimonos and some have hair styled in ponytails. The inn itself is adorned with sliding doors and bamboo. The art you examine as part of the collections adopt the same style, including a warrior in full traditional armour contemplating his life. There is limited animation, largely consisting of scenes fading between two states. A gentle piano piece fits in well with the tranquil feel of the inn.

Interaction is done through simple left-click, with arrows indicating exits when doors are not visible on screen. The art pieces the Masters have gathered are sentient, allowing the main character to converse with them. These dialogues are presented entirely in text, and there is a significant amount of reading to be done. Most depictions require a problem to be resolved, such as a pig endangered by an eagle swooping to pick it up. You will find yourself travelling back and forth, as the solutions to problems often reside in other collections. An on-screen button gives you access to your inventory, from which you can select collected items for use. A separate button also allows you to view the zodiac to see what pieces you have collected from the various artworks along the way. Once you have completed the zodiac, the game is concluded by returning to the Masters and passing your final judgement.

The Master of Time can be played online at Newgrounds.


Medieval Cop 2: The True Monster

When a man is found dead in a restaurant toilet, the culprit seems obvious. Surely the small dragon found poised over his blood-stained body must have done the evil deed. The dragon is soon captured and sentenced to be put to death for its crime. Only Inspector Dregg, dragged out of his sick bed, has doubts about the dragon’s guilt. Searching out overlooked bits of evidence and finding odd discrepancies in the witness testimony, he starts to put things together. Can he prove his case before the innocent beast is slain?

Image #3In Medieval Cop 2: The True Monster, VasantJ continues the tale of diligent but unpopular policeman Dregg. Whilst not vital to understanding this game, the previous episode introduced the characters and set up what appears to be an ongoing story arc. The presentation is a top-down view reminiscent of classic role-playing games, but with plenty of detail. Dregg starts in the log cabin home of his sister, but soon moves on to the restaurant with a pipe organ in one corner and ornate pillars flanking the entrance. Characters are presented as small figures, though each are distinctively dressed. During dialogue, more detailed head and shoulder portraits are shown of the characters speaking. These are realistically presented, though exhibiting some flamboyant hairstyle and clothing. The soundtrack includes a variety of music suited to the action, from the slow stately tune of the court to dramatic pieces backing confrontations.

Control is handled through the keyboard. Cursor keys move the protagonist around, whilst Z makes him try to interact with nearby objects. When facing an object or person with whom Dregg can interact, a marker appears to show an action is possible. X calls up a menu, which includes brief details of evidence collected in your investigation. You will need to thoroughly search the area and talk to all those present to get the full picture of what has happened. At certain points in the game you will also confront other characters. These segments are presented in a side view in the style of a role-playing game battle. To challenge your opponent you select an option from a multiple choice menu. Pick too many incorrect answers and your challenge will be dismissed, ending the game. The immediate mystery is self-contained, but a closing cutscene indicates these events are intended to be part of a much larger story.

Medieval Cop 2: The True Monster can be played online at Kongregate.

Squib for Dragonflies

Two water-bound eggs are swept clear of their brethren, finding themselves washed up on the shore of a dark lake. There the two larvae fight free of their shells, only to find themselves bereft of protection. Now vulnerable, they must seek the aid of the other inhabitants of their new home if they wish to survive. But this assistance will not be given for nothing. Will such small creatures be able to provide what’s required?

Image #4Issued to celebrate The Icehouse’s two years of game-making, Squib for Dragonflies has an almost dreamlike quality. The backgrounds are watercolours whose details are blurred to a point that they are almost, but not quite, unrecognisable. The cartoon-style characters contrast with this hazy painterly look, being sharply drawn with clear outlines. As well as the two larvae there is a large snail-like creature and dung beetle, all of which are smoothly animated. A pleasant harp piece backs up  proceedings, supplemented by the background noise you would expect of the country setting, such as birdsong. Voices are indistinct mumbles, with the dialogue presented as picture bubbles instead.

Control is performed exclusively with the mouse. Left-click moves the two larvae around and interacts, with the smart cursor changing when pointed at hotspots. Right-click calls up your inventory bar at the top of the screen. From here you can select objects to use on each other or the world around you. You will need to interact with the various creatures scattered around the area to discover what they want. Once you have discovered these desires, diligent exploration of the game's single scene and a bit of inventory combination will see you through. Whilst not the longest of adventures, the stylish aesthetic and soothing music make this a relaxing game to play.

Squib for Dragonflies can be downloaded from GameJolt.


Willem's Winners


Jonathan Harker receives a letter from his friend and mentor Dr. Van Helsing, asking for his help in defeating Count Dracula. After three weeks traveling, Jonathan arrives in Transylvania and can see Dracula's castle in the near distance. Unlike in Bram Stoker’s story, in Robin Johnson's Draculaland Harker soon learns that Van Helsing was recently killed by Dracula and his daughter Mina has disappeared. Jonathan now has to deal with a thieving magpie, an aggressive Venus flytrap, an angry mob, and of course the Count himself in order to defeat the vampire who has terrified the people around him for so many years.

Image #5Draculaland is a very enjoyable text adventure in which you don't have to type anything. Only text is shown; no sounds or pictures are used in this game. Jonathan's journal develops on the left side of the screen, presented in simple black text on white, in which he describes what happens in a concise way, with some jokes and puns sprinkled throughout. On the right, backed by subdued colors, everything else you need to know is described: your location, the directions you can go, the objects you see, your inventory, and the topics you can talk about during conversation with others. All available object manipulations, directions and topics are highlighted in black boxes. Clicking one of these boxes makes Jonathan perform the appropriate action, and in this way both the story and Jonathan's journal are advanced. This scheme works very well, providing a lot of options to choose from and avoiding the frustrating "I don't understand" and "I can't do that" replies that commonly plague text parsers. Unfortunately, it also prevents you from giving commands like "Whack the Venus flytrap with the mallet."

At first this appears to be a straightforward adventure, but finding Dracula is not as easy as it seems. The story actually proves quite intricate, with some interesting twists and turns along the way. The game world is quite small, comprising the castle and surrounding gardens, the village square with its inn, and the church with its graveyard. The puzzles are all very well integrated into the story, and you’ll need to solve a lot of them before reaching your goal. The objectives are varied too, from beating a skeleton in a poker game to opening coffins here and there. If you get stuck there is an elaborate hint system that will help you along. You can also save your game, which is handy because it can easily take six hours to finish.

Draculaland can be played online at the developer’s website.


A Tale of Caos: Overture (Part I)

Terry, the heroine from A Tale of Caos: Prologue, is now an apprentice of the technomancer Albion McMaster. Together with Terry's automaton owl Heimlich, the two travel by airship to a small village in pursuit of an ingredient with which McMaster can concoct something great. All McMaster knows about the mystery person he seeks is that he or she goes by the name of 'Sinker.' While McMaster does the important job of sitting in the main square the whole time, Terry has to find Sinker, which proves to be a difficult task. The only person who claims to know anything about him/her is the innkeeper, and he won't tell Terry anything unless she removes a certain brute who only wants to fight. So Terry starts searching for a way to get rid of the big brawler, getting to know most of the village's inhabitants in the process.

Image #7Like the previous game about Terry, Expera Game Studio's A Tale of Caos: Overture (Part I) is presented in brightly colored pixel art. Despite the low resolution display, there is no need for pixel hunting as everything you need to interact with can clearly be seen. Each location you visit in the village or the nearby swamp has something moving: smoke curls from a chimney, children play a ball game in the street, and the brute at the inn shows off his muscles and shouts about fighting. Instrumental music accompanies the action, enhancing the atmosphere of each locale with a different tune: a pompous score is played in the smithy, the village gets a happy-sounding melody, while the swamp is backed by a more mysterious track. All tunes have a cheerful air to them, though. There are very few sound effects and they often are drowned out by the background music, but they are adequate for their purpose.

The game is played using only the left mouse button. The lower part of the screen is divided into an inventory containing the stuff Terry picks up on the right side and a panel containing all her own equipment, including Heimlich, on the left. Whenever you need to know something about an inventory object, you can drag it to the icon of Heimlich and he will tell you something about it. Clicking his icon will also cause him do other things, like offer hints or help with tasks that need to be done, such as distracting someone or picking something up that is out of Terry's reach. The story is quite long and its puzzles are not always easy. Not only are there inventory obstacles, but you also have to discover information and make people do things for you. Just like in the last game, you will also make chemical concoctions using the Portable Alchemy Set. Every time you use this you have to solve a sort of Mastermind minigame, which gets tedious after a few times. But the rest of the time, Terry's new adventure is full of funny remarks, puzzles and puns that make it a joy to play.

A Tale of Caos: Overture (Part I) can be played online at Kongregate.

The Mother of the Bird Men

Miss Libellule has stolen an expensive gem from a museum. She escapes using a hang glider and eventually arrives by truck at the door to a big cave, which is protected by two big statues of birds. Upon entering the cave to discover wondrous caverns filled with many birds, trees and flowers, she must find the places made specifically for the three stones in her possession. However, leaving the stones in their designated spots is not enough. She also has to find three symbols, one for each stone, and enter them into their respective screens to make orbs glow in the appropriate color. These symbols are protected by many puzzles, and to finish her quest Miss Libellule will have to solve them first.

Image #8The Mother of the Bird Men, by joninetynine, is the third game in the Miss Libellule series, after The Queen of Snakes and The Earl Octopusor. Like its predecessors, the new game is presented in a thick-lined, colorful style that makes each screen look a bit like a stained glass window. Usually the action is shown in first-person mode but on occasion the protagonist appears on screen. Miss Libellule can roam around in a multitude of highly distinctive caves, most of them opening only after solving one or more puzzles. The gameplay is accompanied by simple but mysterious sounding music that gets louder as you progress, and the ambient sounds of the current environment, like the wind, a stream, and the rustling of leaves. Every action performed is accompanied by well-made sound effects. Nothing is said during the game, so there is neither voice acting nor any text appearing on screen.

The Mother of the Bird Men is played using only the left mouse button. The inventory is shown at the bottom of the screen, and on the right edge are four circles with various menu options. Clickable arrows at the sides of the view screen indicate where Miss Libellule can go from her current location. The game can be played in 'easy' and 'normal' mode. I played the 'normal' mode and even then the puzzles, which are all inventory-based, are not very hard. But because there is so much to see in each scene and the cursor doesn't change when hovered over hotspots, it will take a while before you find and collect all the objects you need. Although The Mother of the Bird Men lacks any real story, the beautiful surroundings and puzzles make up for any lack of narrative depth.

The Mother of the Bird Men can be played online at Newgrounds.


Rabbit Hill

A couple is driving home from a boring birthday party. To lighten the mood the husband has taken the scenic route home through the woods, where he almost hits a deer and smashes into a tree instead. Unharmed but with a car that's wrecked beyond repair, the couple heads out in search of anyone who can help them. Eventually they come across a petrol station with a motel attached, but it’s strangely been abandoned. The man starts to panic when his wife suddenly goes missing too, and when he discovers a body lying in the toilet it becomes clear that something sinister is going on at Rabbit Hill.

Rabbit Hill is Two Tales' third game, and as with the earlier two games (Faye King: Jungle Jeopardy and Case Noir), its roots lie in an existing commercial adventure. This time Barrow Hill has been used as inspiration, so the locations and story in Rabbit Hill contain many similarities to Matt Clark’s 2006 horror game. The abandoned petrol station and surrounding woods, three motel rooms, a restaurant and more are presented in a photorealistic but slightly pixelated third-person style. The people in the game are also realistically animated, as are ambient effects like leaves falling and birds flying in the woods. You’ll also hear different animals in the background, the sounds of a radio blaring, and the clang of a bell when the restaurant door opens and closes, amongst others. Sometimes short, ominous music sounds to help set the tense mood. There is no voice acting; all text appears on screen above the heads of the characters speaking.

Both mouse buttons are used to progress: left-clicking interacts with objects while right-clicking inspects them. Hotspots are described tersely in text that appears just above the inventory, which is shown at the bottom of the screen. Saving and loading the game is accomplished by pressing S and L, respectively, and there is a button in the lower right corner of the screen for quitting the game. Completing Rabbit Hill requires quite a bit of sleuthing. You must find clues to what happened by reading notes and listening to voice mail messages, locate codes to open doors, and get rid of the evil that surrounds the area. Unfortunately, there is also an unskippable action sequence where you have to shoot crows before they hurt you. The crows fly at you quite fast and you don't have much time to aim, making it very difficult to complete. If you are hit by too many crows, you die. But apart from this one frustrating sequence, Rabbit Hill is a thoroughly enjoyable game that will give you a few hours of good sleuthing fun.

Rabbit Hill can be downloaded from the developer’s 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.

Home Sweet RoN by DarkWater – Take a tour of Reality-on-the-Norm as you direct each of its inhabitants to their rightful place.

A Sloth for Both Seasons by CaptainD – Love is hard when you’re as slow as a sloth. A comic documentary, with narration and speeded-up sloths.

The Story of Brewster Chipptooth by Carmel Games – A young buccaneer sets out in search of treasure so he can improve the image of pirates.

Home by Raius – Experience the touching tale of how an alchemist, a smith and his daughter change the life of a bachelor adventurer who takes them into his home out of kindness.

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.


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