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Following Freeware - May 2016 releases

Following Freeware - May 2016
Following Freeware - May 2016

This month you can search for one professor on a remote island or guide another into a haunted swamp. You can also play a cupcake trying to protect his village made of sweets, a young man searching dark places for treasure, or an old woman on a quest to rescue a strange creature. Alternatively, you can experience black humour with some under-equipped soldiers on the front line or surreal humour in the conclusion of a game series spanning ten years.

May also saw an Adventure Jam that attracted an eye-watering 165 entries. Keep an eye on next month’s freeware round-up when we take a closer look at the top games from this competition.

Steve's Selections

White Island

When their professor goes missing, a group of students pursue him to the peculiar atoll known as White Island. This remote atoll is the sole location of a strange white flower with a mysterious legend surrounding it – the very legend that drew their professor to that place. When the village hall the students set up catches fire without warning, it is clear that all is not well on the island. As they delve deeper, more horrors come to the surface. Could the mythical curse of the white flower be true after all?

Image #1In the first 13-episode season of the mobile exclusive White Island, Visual Shower present a subtle tale of horror. Presentation is done in a first-person slideshow format. Some locations are larger than the screen, requiring you to swipe left and right to view the whole vista. There are also a handful of locations with a 360-degree view. The art is done in a highly detailed realistic manga style and there is a great deal of environmental animation, mostly depicting the fierce storm that rages across the island. Other animation is somewhat limited, restricted to a few character gestures and some motion of machinery. As well as exploring the surface and buildings of the island, you will descend into a large cave system. The soundtrack features gentle guitar and piano scores, giving way to more tense music when danger threatens. Whilst dialogue is unvoiced, shocking events are often accompanied by vocal reaction like a gasp. There is also a wide range of sound effects, from the patter of heavy rain to the hiss of a powered door.

Control is handled entirely by touch. The bottom of the screen contains the inventory and three buttons representing look, use and talk. Interaction with hotspots and inventory items will depend on which button is currently highlighted. Movement between locations is achieved by tapping a pathway or door on the main screen. The series is split into chapters, with each chapter providing between 30 minutes and an hour of gameplay. In the early chapters you play Ji Hoon, one of the students. Later episodes cover the same timeframe with different characters, and even deal with events before their arrival. You will need to diligently explore the island and converse with the others who came with you. You must also keep a close eye out for useful items, with some proving hard to spot on a small phone screen. As well as extensive inventory use, you will piece together torn pages and try to unlock a variety of machines. Some actions are against the clock, and it is also possible to fail by entering dangerous situations unprepared. Failure forces you to restart the current episode or reload from the single save file. The story is a dark tale, with many unexpected twists and turns along the way as you uncover the secrets hidden in this remote place.

White Island is available both in the App Store and on Google Play. Each new episode unlocks for free three days after the current episode is completed, although you can bypass the wait time and gain helpful assistance through optional in-app purchases.


Riddle Transfer 2

For Phil Eggtree and his friends, these past few days have been somewhat unusual. Once they were just a bunch of school friends seeking escape from their mundane education. Then they were kidnapped by three aliens for study. Eluding the aliens, they found themselves in the hands of the government at the mysterious Area 5.1. Now, fleeing into the depths of that strange facility with goons hot on their trail, they come across a device that looks like a gateway teleporter. Will this finally allow them to return home, and are they truly done with their alien captors?

Image #2With the original Riddle School released in 2006, Jonochrome’s Riddle Transfer 2 finally brings the story to a conclusion. (The series actually consists of seven games in total, five under the Riddle School brand and two using the Riddle Transfer moniker.) The graphics use a cartoon style, though one considerably refined from the original. The backgrounds are realistically rendered in some detail, with full lighting effects. These range from the deep vaults of Area 5.1, with stark grey walls and high-tech machinery, to the bright school rooms of the first game. The characters have maintained the overall look of their predecessors, with perfectly round heads and large black circles for eyes. These have also been given some added depth, however, with shading to provide a 3D appearance. Animation is relatively simple but effective, and expression is successfully conveyed even with the limited character features. The soundtrack is a variety of sci-fi synthesiser scores, from a fast-paced action piece during a chase to a mellow ethereal tune for the school scenes. There are also a number of sound effects, like the bubbling of boiling water. 

Whilst not necessary to play the whole series, it is helpful to be familiar with at least the previous two games to understand the action here. Mouse control is performed by simple left-click to interact. There is an on-screen inventory, from which items can be selected to use on hotspots. The initial room includes a set of puzzles in order to get the teleportation device working. These involve finding a code, setting co-ordinates with highly restricted controls, and fixing some wires. Later obstacles require lateral thinking in use of inventory and misdirection of an alien guard. The game has a surreal sense of humour, which must be taken into account in solving some puzzles. When one of the characters’ head is permanently on fire (which does not appear to trouble them in the slightest) you know not to take things too seriously. The final set of challenging puzzles – activating three devices to bring an alien ship online – take the story to a satisfying conclusion.

Riddle Transfer 2 can be played online at Newgrounds.

Old Woman Beardychin and the Scruffedy Bumtious

In her little cottage in the woods, Old Woman Beardychin is just running through her normal routine. Going out to pick some leaves to make her morning tea, she is surprised to find a Scruffedy Bumtious lurking in her garden. Whilst liking the little creature, she initially can’t see herself looking after it. But when a mysterious cloaked figure spirits the animal away, Old Woman Beardychin changes her mind. Thus begins a quest across the land in search of the missing beast and its strange kidnapper.

Image #3With Old Woman Beardychin and the Scruffedy Bumtious, Riaise has produced a fairy tale of sorts, though one that does not always follow the usual traditions. The graphics are displayed in a cartoon style, with most objects made up of solid blocks of colour with limited shading. Despite this simplicity, there is more than enough detail to identify most items. You start in the forest that is home to the protagonist before travelling through a small village and on to a mountain lair. Characters are realistically presented, the titular Old Woman having a light stubble and the Bumtious looking like a cross between a sheep and a dog. These are animated in a basic but effective way. A variety of simple string and piano pieces backs up proceedings, ranging from a pastoral tune in the forest to a deep, ominous score when facing the villain. There is no voice acting but there are a small handful of sound effects.

For most of the game, control is handled through the mouse. Right-click looks at items, and left-click interacts with them. A label appears at the bottom of the screen when the cursor is pointing at a hotspot, letting you know what you are looking at. In the latter part of the game, there is a small maze section. This is presented in a highly retro style, using the arrow keys to navigate a simple line-drawn labyrinth. You will need to enlist the help of three fairies in your quest, solving a problem for each to acquire their aid. A modicum of inventory combination is vital, and there is one spot of moderately difficult pixel hunting near the start. The tone is lightly humorous, with some gentle mocking of adventure game clichés.

Old Woman Beardychin and the Scruffedy Bumtious can be downloaded from the AGS website.


Sniper and Spotter Being Patriotic

Ivan never asked to be part of the Russian army on the Western Front. He just wanted to live a peaceful life at home with his family. Unfortunately, the choice was not his, and he has been assigned the position of spotter for the gung-ho sniper, Olga, for duty on the front line. With no equipment and no training, he doesn’t feel prepared for the horrors ahead. As they set out on their mission to take out an enemy commander in a disputed city, it’s starting to seem like Ivan’s chances of seeing home again are looking pretty slim.

Image #4Sniper and Spotter Being Patriotic provides a darkly comic take on war from Blondbraid. The graphics have a stylised realism to them, reminiscent of a communist cartoon, with dark browns dominating the colour palette. Ivan the spotter has a slumped stance and moves with a lazy bow-legged walk. By contrast, Olga stands rigidly upright and moves at almost a march. From the run-down army camp at the start, the pair travel across a city that bears all the marks of a long conflict. There is only the occasional piece of music, with the action backed more by the ambient war sounds of constant shelling. Sound effects also tend to be militaristic in nature, with explosions and gunshots instigated by the characters.

Simple mouse controls involve right-clicking to look and left-clicking to interact. Over the course of the game, control switches between Ivan and Olga at certain points. Sometimes the two act in concert, with the other character following behind. More often, as they become separated by the fortunes of war, you will control each independently. Though these sections involve you guiding both characters within the same timeframes, you only switch when you complete an objective for one of them. Having been sent out underequipped, improvisation with the materials at hand is the order of the day. You also need to remember you are in a war zone, as careless actions can get the characters killed. Fortunately, such deaths simply reset the action to the start of the current short scene. There is also a section where you will need to spot and point out enemy combatants as you navigate a fortified area of streets. The game is humorous, though given the subject matter, the comedy is unsurprisingly dark.

Sniper and Spotting Being Patriotic can be downloaded from the AGS website.


Willem's Winners

Vortex Point 7: Waddington Swamp

Dr. Prescott, a distinguished professor, visits the Vortex Point team because he needs a guide to take him to the center of Waddington Swamp. The police insist he needs one because most of the people who venture into the swamp are later found lying dead on its shore. There is even a special cemetery for the unfortunate souls who lost their lives there. The professor doesn't believe any of the things people say about the swamp, however, and just wants to get there as soon as possible. So Kevin takes him as far as he dares to go. On the way, he meets a nice shop owner, an old enemy and a big alligator. He also makes an old man very happy.

Image #5The Vortex Point series continually brings together the best of what Carmel Games has to offer, and the seventh installment, Waddington Swamp, is no exception to this rule. As usual the game is shown in third-person mode in vivid slides (albeit in this game a bit dark to suit the swamp) in a cartoonish style with virtually no straight lines. The story starts at the team's headquarters and the swamp excursion includes stops at a shack, the cemetery, a restaurant and a souvenir shop. Voice acting is excellent, as we expect from Carmel Games, and subtitles in one of eight different languages are displayed in a black bar at the top of the screen. The accompanying music is a dark and mysterious, a simple tune that fits the circumstances well. Sound effects like sawing through a fence and popping a cork out of a hole are adequate.

Like its predecessors, Waddington Swamp is played using only the left mouse button for all interaction. Icons for the game's menu and a walkthrough are in the lower left corner of the screen, while the inventory is in the lower right. Most puzzles are inventory-based, but you also have to make some packages fit in a freezer and find the code to a lock somewhere. This game is a bit more difficult than is normal for Carmel Games, which makes it more interesting to play, while the atmosphere of the swamp and a nice twist in the story make it extra fun.

Vortex Point 7: Waddington Swamp can be played online at Kongregate.

Toffee Trouble in Creamville

Toffee, who looks like a cupcake with an icing hairdo, must take care of the village of Creamville while her donut-shaped father, the mayor, is visiting a conference. Just before he leaves, her father asks Toffee to fix the volcano, which erupts minutes later, covering the village in thick blobs of toffee and chunks of marshmallow. Feeling a bit bewildered, Toffee asks the local handyman for help and gets a blueprint for a device that will plug the volcano with chewing gum. If Toffee gets the parts together, the handyman will help her set the thing up and get rid of this nasty volcano problem once and for all.

Image #6Toffee Trouble in Creamville, by Miex and cat, is a cheerful adventure game with bright pastel colors. The town and its immediate surroundings are beautifully drawn in what I can only call a “sweet” art style – literally and figuratively. Almost everything in Toffee's world is made of sugar: the flowers are lollypops; sugar hearts are strewn on the grass in the fields outside the village; the volcano looks like a cake; and the dam, which is made of chocolate bars, regulates the flow of grape juice through the village and drives the electricity generator. The pixel art inhabitants themselves all look like cookies or other sweet deliciousness. Even the cursor looks like a candy corn! Thankfully the music – a happy tune played by a tuba and other instruments – isn't overly sweet, or it would have been too much of the good thing. It's very repetitive though, and you can't switch it off. You can’t turn it down without losing the sound effects as well, but there are very few effects and you don't really miss anything by not hearing them. There is no voice acting, so all dialogue is shown as text on the screen.

Played in third-person view, only the left mouse button is used to control the game. An inventory containing the menu button is shown when the cursor is moved to the top of the screen. Most of the puzzles are inventory-based and not hard, but you will also  have to convince some rather annoying female cookies to help you, and of course you have to plug the volcano. In the end all is well, but then something happens that indicates that there may yet be a sequel to Toffee Trouble in Creamville in the future.

Toffee Trouble in Creamville can be downloaded from the AGS website.


The Shortest Journey

In a small and sunny South American village, a little guy dreams about finding treasure during his siesta. Although his dream is quite vague about the nature of the treasure and its location, after waking up he decides to go look for it. He soon finds out where the riches are hidden and sets off on a journey that will take him to a dark grotto and an ancient, abandoned sacred-looking location. On his way, the boy will have to distract an angry man, find some money and unlock the entrance to the grotto, amongst other tasks. The beautiful scenery, fitting music and the expressive way the little boy acts all work together to make The Shortest Journey a very pleasant game to play.

Image #7Matt Smith’s whimsical adventure (which bears no resemblance whatsoever to the famous series by Ragnar Tørnquist other than its name) is presented in third-person view in bright pixel art, except for the grotto, which is so dark that I had to crank up my monitor brightness to maximum to be able to see everything. Although the settings look more or less realistic, the people and animals occupying them are cartoon caricatures with big heads and expressive features like enormous moustaches on the men and giant front teeth on a llama. In the background, South American music that fits the cultural setting is played. Instead of voice acting, the people communicate through gestures like shrugging or shaking a fist, expressions of anger or sadness on their faces, and the occasional "Aha!" or "Hmm?" sounds. Although this sometimes makes it a bit hard to know what the boy means, it works quite well overall. The few sound effects such as clicking buttons and someone drinking a glass of lemonade are nothing special but accurate.

The Shortest Journey is a point-and-click adventure in which hovering over hotspots makes the cursor change into a pair of eyes, a grabbing hand or a mouth, whichever the game deems appropriate. The right mouse button is only used to return items you are holding back into inventory. The inventory and game menu are accessible by clicking on their respective buttons at the top left and right of the screen. The puzzles, most of which are inventory-based, are not the easiest and often take a thorough inspection of the surroundings to solve. All of them are well-integrated into the story, however. Unfortunately, the last puzzle takes a good deal of trial and error to solve, which takes away a bit of the enjoyment. There is also an inventory bug in the grotto that causes the game to crash, so I recommend saving before doing anything else there. Even with these faults, however, The Shortest Journey is highly recommended, and the ending suggests there might be a sequel coming in the future.

The Shortest Journey 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.

Captain Disaster in Dark Side of the Moon by Team Disaster – A game covered back in August 2013 gets an upgrade with full voice-overs.

Return to Riddle School by Noodle – As Riddle Transfer 2 brings the series to an end, enjoy an updated remake of the game that started it ten years ago.

Stair Quest by No More For Today Productions – Relive the challenge of the most deadly enemy in the King’s Quest series: narrow winding flights of stairs.

Lost Ethereal by theLucre – In a fantastical world floating in a void, rescue your spiritual brothers from captivity.

Medieval Cop: The Princess and the Grump by VasantJ – When the princess is kidnapped, ill-tempered detective Dregg is soon on the case.

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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