This month you can investigate a missing girl in a strange Victorian town or some supernatural graffiti as a zombie detective. You could also go back to 17th century France to save prisoners from the Bastille, or forward to an electronic future to rescue your favourite robot. Alternatively, you can travel to far-off lands looking for treasure, or stay on the beach helping people in need. You can even seek entrance to a school for second-rate heroes, if you can pass its final test. All these await you in this month's round-up of releases from the freeware scene.
Many a tale is told of brave heroes with incredible powers who defeat the villains and save the world. Sadly, such adulation is not for all, as there are many whose powers are not so impressive. Fortunately there is a place where such lesser individuals can go to start a career in heroism: Sidekick High, the school that trains weaker characters who support the real heroes. The latest recruits have successfully passed the strength and velocity tests, and now only face the brain challenge to see if they qualify for entrance. Split into two teams locked in separate rooms, they have 60 minutes to escape. Succeed and they will start their training. Fail and they will die.
CMMN CLRS present the toughest ever entrance exam in Sidekick High. The hand-drawn graphics are somewhat cartoony in nature, with colours reminiscent of a comic book. The characters are also slightly exaggerated in style, including a miserable goth girl and a fat and nervous nerd, though they are animated smoothly with expressive faces that convey their feelings well. The entire game takes place in two rooms that mirror one another in layout, though the contents of the two are very different. All characters are voiced to a very high standard, including the narrator who gives a sales pitch for the school over the opening menu. The intro has a heroic trumpet tune backing it, whilst the main action is accompanied by a mellow synthesiser piece. There are also a variety of sound effects, the most pleasing being a heroic chime that plays when you advance your goals.
Control is mouse-driven, with left-click interacting and right-click looking. Holding the space bar highlights hotspots, though this is generally not necessary. Another keystroke calls up the inventory, from which items can be selected for combination or for use with people or objects. The students include twins with a psychic link that you control throughout the game, though here they’ve been separated into opposite teams. Clicking an on-screen button allows you to switch between them at will, a feature you will frequently use. Your classmates’ powers on both teams are key to your goals, though turning into a slug under a certain sort of light and being able to produce coffee at will do not seem useful abilities at first. You will also need to find a way to pass inventory back and forth, as most puzzles require objects from the other room. Each room is secured by two locks, which include both colour and musical combinations. The whole game plays as a parody of superhero tropes, with some extremely humorous dialogue. The 60 minute limit counts down on-screen throughout, but this time will mainly be for bragging rights, as most players should expect to escape with plenty of time to spare.
Originally created as part of the 2017 Adventure Jam, the updated version of Sidekick High can be downloaded from Game Jolt.
Working away at his job with his robot friends, LO43R discusses plans for the coming weekend. He is shocked to find that the love of his life, G1R7, has been coerced into joining the 4Play massage parlour by P.I.M.P droid iGore. Pausing only to grab his trusty drone from his locker, our hero sets out to rescue his beloved from this terrible fate. But iGore is a powerful and dangerous opponent. LO43R stands no chance in a direct confrontation, so a more devious approach is required.
BRANE and Tycho have created a technological love story in Robolovers. The graphics are presented in pixel art with plenty of background detail. From the small office where you start, you will travel to the massage parlour, lit by garish pink neon. All the robots in the game hover, gently bobbing up and down on their jets even when they are not moving about. There are also background animations, including a fly that hovers near iGore. Music ranges from a mellow guitar piece to a jaunty synthesiser and snare tune. Sound effects are mostly electronic in nature, with the jets making a rushing noise when you move, and various controls bleeping as you interact with them.
Unsurprisingly given the storyline, the script has some adult humour, making it unsuitable for younger gamers. However, the jokes are only mildly dirty in nature and there is no graphic content to be concerned about. Whilst you will mostly control the protagonist, you will also need to make extensive use of his drone. Once picked up, an on-screen button switches control to the drone, which can fly higher than its owner and fit into small spaces. The combination for a door lock is hidden in a fiendishly difficult standalone puzzle, and you will need to improvise some repairs and frighten off a fearsome guard bot.
Robolovers can be downloaded from the AGS website.
Busting the Bastille
For fishmonger and housewife Josiane, this was expected to be an ordinary day. Then she heard the cries of anguish and pain within the walls of the Bastille. Compelled by one of the prisoners calling from their cell, she resolves to free those incarcerated there. But the Bastille is heavily fortified and full of the Royal Guard. A lone woman will never be able to breach such a defense on her own. Perhaps if she can incite the local peasantry into a revolution of some sort, she can achieve her aim.
Blondbraid and Creamy have taken a brutal piece of history and made a surprisingly humorous game in Busting the Bastille. The background art is stylised yet moderately realistic, with stone effects on the walls and other fine detail. You start in Josiane's run-down house, but your journey will take you deep into the famous fortress. The characters are drawn in a somewhat simpler, more cartoon-like style with exaggerated features. The latter are simply animated, with only a few frames of movement, but this works well in context. The ambient music is a string, pipe and choral piece that fits in nicely with the French Revolution setting. There are also a handful of sound effects, such as the twang of a slingshot being fired and the roar of a crowd.
Whilst the broad details of the storming of the Bastille are covered in the game, the approach is very tongue-in-cheek. You will end up creating a familiar looking flag from some unusual parts and improvise a means of opening a door without the right key. A cannon in the square outside the Bastille provides an interesting problem which is worth revisiting. There is also a small arcade section, where you dodge from cover to cover leading a crowd of peasants through some cannon fire. Provided you make use of the available cover, most players should complete this with health to spare. There are also plenty of optional dialogues, most notably with Josiane's husband, which provide additional dark humour.
Busting the Bastille can be downloaded from the AGS website.
Bury Me in the Sand
You've enjoyed working as a lifeguard at the beach, but now your stint there is coming to an end. Today is your last day on the job, and you intend to make it a good one. You've made some close friends with the regulars in your time here, so you take the opportunity to help them out one last time. You might even be able to leave mementos behind for them to remember you when you're gone.
With Bury Me in the Sand, Definitely Mortal gives us a summery game with a retro feel. The graphics are done in a chunky pixel style, with a limited colour palette reminiscent of early home computers. Whilst the results are somewhat garish, this actually works well with the bright and sunny setting, the game taking place entirely on the beach, though this includes an area under a dock and the lifeguard hut. Relevant people and objects are rendered large enough to be recognisable, and the animation is basic but effective. Across most of the beach, only background sounds are heard, including the whine of a remote control plane and the gentle splash of waves. There is easy listening music playing in one area, however, rendered as if playing through a small portable radio.
This is a gentle dual-button game (left to use, right to observe), the player helping with mundane tasks instead of going on a grand quest. You will find soothing treatment for a man with a bad case of sunburn and figure out a way to silence a noisy car disrupting the peace. You will also need to discover a locker code, in the process helping out a friend who should have found the code memorable. You make use of a small amount of inventory, carried in a zip pouch displayed at the bottom of the screen. Whilst dialogues with other characters aren't extensive, they do effectively convey the impression that you have formed lasting relationships with the other denizens of the beach.
Bury Me in the Sand can be downloaded from the AGS website.
Silent Streets: The Boy With the Flower Skin
A letter from an old associate has brought you to the strange town of Snowport, a place of dark intrigue. Once a famed detective, your colleague has fallen into disrepute in recent years, but his missive indicated that was about to change. Sadly, your journey takes you to his rooms too late, as you find him brutally murdered. With no knowledge of the town, and already under suspicion, you must pick up where he left off if you are to solve this mystery. Your first case in your new home: the strange disappearance of a young girl.
In the debut instalment of the mobile-exclusive, augmented reality adventure Silent Streets, Funbakers Studio present an intriguing mystery in a Victorian setting. The graphics consist of highly detailed black and white illustrations, in a style that would fit a magazine of the period. These are enhanced by the addition of small coloured highlights, such as the flames of street lamps or the chain of a fob watch. Presentation is done in a slideshow format, with the drawings free of animation. You will visit your associate’s rooms, a newspaper office and a park that is home to a demonstration of electricity. There is also a map used for travel that shows the town as if viewed from far above. Whilst the player character does not speak, all other characters are fully voiced to a high standard. There is also some Victorian piano music, and area-appropriate sound effects like the bustle of a crowd in a tavern.
At first you can only visit the lodgings of the deceased, but other locations open up as your investigation continues. In most locations your choices are limited to a list of actions, the options partially dependent on what you have uncovered. Occasionally you will need to search an area for evidence. When this happens, you must scan the area around you with your own phone’s camera to find the objects superimposed over your surroundings. These can then be selected at appropriate times for use in-game, including showing them to other characters during dialogue for further information. Travel between locations also requires real-world effort, requiring you to actually cover the necessary distance in person to move from place to place. The longest of these is less than a mile, but less active players can choose to take cab rides as in-app purchases for journeys instead. The story gives a good feel for the setting, introducing a variety of characters and locales for future instalments. Whilst the gritty detective plot plays out in a fairly linear fashion, there are some optional quests that can be acquired on the way that affect the ending.
This first episode of Silent Streets, which includes solving the girl's disappearance but not the murder, is available for free from the App Store for iOS and Google Play for Android devices. Additional episodes are available commercially as in-app purchases.
Guardians of Gold
Allyson Tremonte and her friend Kyle have an antique shop in Los Angeles, dealing only in exceptional and expensive pieces. They’ve just got hold of a very rare cabinet made by the famous John Townsend for Elliot Sammuels in the late 18th century. As its condition leaves something to be desired, Allyson starts to restore it so it will earn Kyle and her more money. It’s then that she discovers the chest has a hidden compartment which, after managing to open it, proves to contain an old letter by Sammuels himself. The letter reveals things nobody knew before, the most important of which being the way to unlock the entrance to Paititi, the legendary City of Gold! Of course Allyson and Kyle take up this task, and quickly embark on a journey that will take them to Europe and South America.
Guardians of Gold, by Anne Hemenway, is presented in third-person mode with realistic, beautifully detailed artwork. The game starts in the antique shop but you will also visit Allyson's house, a library, a greenhouse and a temple, amongst others. This is a big game in which many different locations across the planet are visited, both indoors and out. Quiet background music, the particular tune varying with the location, accompanies the action. There is no voice acting; instead all spoken text is shown on screen with a different color for each character. Sound effects like the whirring of a fan, the roaring of Allyson's Ferrari and the opening and closing of doors and drawers are scarce but accurate.
Allyson is maneuvered simply using the mouse, walking where you click, with arrows indicating exits when you move the cursor to an edge of the screen. The bottom of the screen is occupied by a big black bar in which icons for the inventory, a map, and the game's menu appear when you hover the cursor over them. Hemenway has surpassed herself concerning the puzzles in this game, and some of them are pretty hard. In fact, right at the beginning of the game you are confronted with a math challenge. You will also have to decipher scrambled texts, peruse an ancient book for clues and catch a moth, amongst many other tasks. As is usual in Anne's games, the characters have slightly dirty minds, which means sexually-oriented jokes often turn up in conversations. It never gets beyond innocent fun though.
Guardians of Gold can be downloaded from the developer’s itch.io website.
Zombie Society: Dead Detective – Walls Can Bleed
Undead Private Detective Margh is in his office while his assistant Ghvnn practices his shooting on an empty beer bottle beside him. Soon, however, they are called by Bratatat the gun shop owner, who has found some graffiti on the wall of her store. No matter how often she wipes it off, it always mysteriously reappears, and now Bratatat thinks there is a ghost involved. Margh has his reservations, this being a zombie society after all, so he starts investigating and soon finds out that this case is more complicated than he imagined.
Following on the heels of Zombie Society: Dead Detective, Walls Can Bleed is the first of three small mysteries that Muja intends to release before a big commercial Inspector Margh game is released early next year. This installment looks the same as the last, presented in third-person mode in a clear and detailed cartoon pixel art style. This time around you will visit Margh's office, the gun shop and its immediate surroundings, a house and a retirement home. The gameplay is accompanied by loud, repetitive music that changes to fit each particular scene well. Zombies don't talk like we do, so we hear nothing but shouts like "Arghrrrgmmn" and the like from the characters. Luckily they are translated into readable English that appears in text balloons. The few sound effects like the rattling of a machine gun and the whining of a chain saw are realistic.
Margh moves where you click, and pointing zombie hands appear at the edges of the screen showing available exits when you move the cursor there. Hovering at the top of the screen brings up a bar containing icons for the inventory, Margh's notebook, a map for taking you to other locations quickly, a magnifying glass to highlight hotspots (you don't really need this but it's a nice extra) and a save button. The game contains the same neat deduction board as its predecessor. Every clue you find is entered in Margh's notebook, and you can use it to interrogate people by asking them about the clues, often yielding more clues, but you can also try to find connections between clues and draw conclusions from that. It's a simple system that works well and is fun to play. Of course, your final conclusion is who the vandal is. If you get stuck, you can ask Ghvnn for a hint, but he won’t help you with the deductions. The game has an autosave and one save slot, both of which work fine. Taking about 30 minutes to complete, I found Zombie Society: Dead Detective – Walls Can Bleed a worthy successor to the first game: the story is interesting, the puzzles and jokes are fun, and it even contains a perfect red herring.
Zombie Society: Dead Detective – Walls Can Bleed can be played online at Newgrounds.
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.
Terror of the Vampire! by Scavenger – An academic approaching vampirism as a psychological problem may find himself in trouble in this lighthearted spoof.
The Monster Inside by Random Seed Games – In a near future town, a detective's latest case might reveal more about him than he wants to show.
Haven: Episode 1 by Thanyx Studio – In the last haven for mankind on a dying Earth, a man finds out he is on a list of residents to be eliminated.
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.