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This month you can investigate a gruesome murder, a mystery in an abandoned village, or the theft of a brain from a zombie farm. You could also adventure as three dogs trapped in a strange world, or a single cat trapped in a time-loop. Perhaps you’d rather face up to your fears of a fearsome goose, or find out what can go wrong when you don't listen to your mother. Alternatively, you can head back to the 1970s to create a different ending to an episode of a classic science fiction series. All these await in this month's roundup of releases from the freeware scene.
Three Dog Night
For canine friends Sydney, Frank and Holmes, it started as just another day in the local dog park. But Holmes' powerful nose picked up something strange at the edge of the park, and the trio went to investigate. Now they find themselves trapped in a bizarre alternate world, and they aren't the first dogs to end up stuck there. Some of the previous victims have fallen to despair, giving up hope of rescue. If they are going to get to the bottom of this mystery and find a way to return home, the three friends are going to have to make full use of all their talents.
Wicked Hardcorg and ChevronElephant have created a fantasy canine adventure in Three Dog Night. The graphics have a retro pixel look, which is especially pronounced in the backgrounds, as the scenery often seems to be made up of large blocks. For the characters, smaller pixels have been used to present a wide variety of models, including squirrels and mice. The presentation is like a side-scrolling 2D platformer, though jumping skills are not required. When the characters are conversing, a still image of the speaking character appears. These use the same resolution as the in-game characters but, being much larger, show more detail. The music matches the appearance, with 8-bit tunes that would not be out of place in a classic console game, with synthesised notes and rustling percussion. It also has sound effects of a similar style.
Control is handled using the keyboard, with arrow keys for movement. Each of the three friends has a unique ability. Sydney can jump, allowing him to reach higher platforms. Frank is a tiny Dachshund, and can slip through small spaces. Finally, Holmes’ powerful nose can find otherwise hidden items. The group is represented by whichever dog is currently active, with a tap of the Tab key cycling between them. The action takes place across several levels, each occurring in a different environment, including a swamp and a magical wood. The first three each predominantly make use of one character, with the closing levels using all available skills. However, there is more to the puzzles than just using the dogs’ abilities. You will also need to work out the age order of a family of squirrels, and solve some fiendish riddles. The game is written with gentle humour, with plenty of enjoyable dialogue between the pals and the others they meet.
Three Dog Night can be downloaded from the RPG Maker website.
After a visit to your parents, you decided to take a route home through the mountains instead of sticking to the main road. When a tire blows out, and you realise you didn't replace the spare, this starts to look like a very bad decision. With night having fallen, and the weather proving less than pleasant, it looks like you are in for an uncomfortable night. But then you spot a sign down the road, showing the way to a small village called Greenville. But this town is not what it once was, and its dark history may make you wish you'd stayed with your car.
In Chahara, Claydo has made a highly effective psychological horror game. The graphics feature an overhead view, reminiscent of classic role-playing games, though with a much higher resolution. The protagonist is a small blue-haired young woman with minimal animation. With the game taking place at night, much of the screen is darkened, though not enough to make objects unrecognisable. The only light is a torch beam pointing straight in the direction the protagonist is facing, with a dimmer 90-degree fan of light around it. Walking through a forest brings you to the village, which is in a state of disrepair and has a very full graveyard. There is no music within the game itself, with sound solely consisting of ambient effects. The most notable of these is a recording of wind blowing through the trees, which adds greatly to the disturbing atmosphere.
The arrow keys are used to navigate and the return key to interact with whatever hotspot you are facing. There are a lot of things to interact with, including cupboards, drawers and bookcases scattered around the buildings. You will want to be thorough in your exploration, as many of these contain vital items or clues to the village mysteries. I met no other characters in my travels, nor (though I have not yet reached the end), do there appear to be any monsters. Nevertheless, the lack of light and the constant sighing of the wind served to create a disturbing mood, leading me to expect something terrible to leap out at any moment.
Chahara can be downloaded from the RPG Maker website.
Unexpected at the Rising Star
As an ace Viper pilot, Starbuck's skills are often called on by the commander of Battlestar Galactica. But is not just his superior who is impressed, as many ladies seem smitten by his charm as well. In a rare moment of downtime, Starbuck has booked a room on the luxurious Rising Star. He had originally planned to take the commander's daughter, Athena, but ended up taking Cassiopeia instead when Athena was busy. Little does he know that the commander has let his daughter out of her duties, and she is on her way to meet him even now. With two ladies expecting to have him all to themselves, he may soon wish he was out fighting Cylons instead.
Based on the episode "The Long Patrol" from the original 1978 television series, Sandra Almeida gives players the chance to rewrite the script in Unexpected at the Rising Star. The game is presented in prerendered third-person, with 3D models that mirror the overall look of the original characters. These are also decently animated, including mouth animations for conversation, which includes close-up headshots of the speaker. Whilst part of a large fleet, you will only see a small part of the Rising Star, mostly two luxury guest rooms and the corridor connecting them. The game is fully vocalised, with each character having a unique voice. There are a variety of sound effects, including the swish of automatic doors and the clink of plates. Music fits the setting, with an easy listening piece in the Rising Star rooms to soothe visitors.
Control is point-and-click, with left-click moving the character around. Pointing at a hotspot causes a label to pop up, and right-clicking then opens up a verb coin. Except where inappropriate for a specific hotspot, this includes four options: Talk/Eat, Look, Interact and Shoot with Blaster. (This last action is an inadvisable choice in most situations.) The game has two modes. Original mode is simplified to work as a tutorial, and mostly follows the original script. Extended mode (activated by default) gives you more freedom, and also includes a separate scene where you play as a junior chef. You will need to deal with the snooty waiter, mix up a recipe from unclear instructions, and deal with a variety of malfunctioning machinery. There are multiple endings, the best one being where you outdo the original Starbuck and leave both women none the wiser.
Unexpected at the Rising Star can be downloaded from the AGS website.
The Music Box
In a world of anthropomorphic animals, a young cat wakes on the last day of school before the holidays. But the monkey headmaster has other ideas about how the future should go. Making use of a magical music box, he has found a way to make time loop so school will never actually come to an end. As he experiences the same day over and over again, our hero realises that no-one else seems able to fix the problem. With only a single repeated day in which to take the necessary actions, this will prove a challenge.
Cocoa Moss has created a gentle but satisfying challenge with The Music Box. The graphics are done in an artistic cartoon style, with the protagonist shown as an upright solid-black cat with two large white eyes. The other characters represent a wide variety of animals, including an anteater janitor and a giraffe running a cafe. The backgrounds are simply designed, with layered objects giving the impression of a 3D environment though movement is entirely 2D. The animation is basic as well, but this fits the graphical style. Environmental sounds include the beeping of an alarm clock at the start of the day and birds singing in the trees. Each location also has its own music, with soft piano and panpipe pieces providing a pleasant atmosphere.
Arrow keys are used to move left and right. When you are standing in front of something you can interact with, the object acquires a gentle glow to indicate that interaction is possible. The appropriate action is selected automatically, such as starting a conversation or picking up an item. The day is split into three parts: morning, afternoon and evening. You can visit any of the four locations in each of these time periods, though there is no need to return to your home. Whilst you can explore any area for as long as you like, leaving moves the clock forward to the next segment. At the end of the evening, you are treated to a small cut-scene showing the music box, before the day restarts. You will need to talk to everyone and scour the environment for useful items to succeed. The final solution requires you to visit the locations in a specific order, and undertake particular tasks at each. Each loop is quite short, so repeating the day when you get it wrong is not a burden.
The Music Box can be played online at the developer's website.
A Treat and Some Tricks
Tim and Helena, all dressed up for Halloween, are left alone in the house while their mother attends to an emergency at the hospital where she works. Before she leaves, she urges the children not to open the door for anyone but Grandma. But it is Halloween, and many other children are out trick-or-treating, and it is hard for Tim and Helena to wait for Grandma before they can go out. So they play hide and seek, trying to find a way to prevent the dog from revealing where they are hidden. Eventually, however, despite their mother's warning, Timmy opens the door for a friendly-looking person who gives him a sweet. Soon after, he starts to act very strange...
IHarvestBrains' A Treat and Some Tricks is shown in third-person mode with very low resolution artwork in bright colors. Despite the blocky pixels, everything is clearly recognizable. The game world consists of the various rooms of the house the children live in, along with the back yard. Although Tim and Helena look and act like normal kids, their surroundings are far from it: objects connected with the occult are scattered around the house; Helena boils soup with bats, fingers and dinosaur eyes in a cauldron in the dining room while a skeleton visitor sits waiting at the dinner table; and there is a dead couple in the living room watching static on TV. The gameplay is accompanied by mysterious-sounding music that reminded me a bit of the Harry Potter movies. The few sound effects, like slamming doors, a doorbell and Helena's footsteps, are adequate. There isn't any voice acting, so all spoken words are displayed in a different color for each character.
You play as both Helena and Tim at times, depending on your progress in the game. Each of them walks where you click, and the interface is very standard, with the right mouse button used for descriptions of objects and the left button for interactions. The inventory and a main menu icon appear when you move the cursor to the top of the screen. The puzzles are all inventory-based. While trying to help her brother, Helena digs up quite a lot of information about their past and the things that are happening around her, which gives the game an unexpected extra dimension. All in all, this is a very enjoyable and pretty creepy game worth the 45 minutes or so it takes to solve, though not suited for young children despite its young protagonists and Halloween theme.
A Treat and Some Tricks can be downloaded from its AGS page.
The Grizzly Goose of Gosse
It's morning, and Angus has to feed the chickens before he is allowed to play adventure games. Unfortunately, Angus is scared of the goose, which comes honking and running towards him and chases him away every so often. But Angus has to face his fears, and must also find his scissors and his father’s mug. And so very reluctantly, Angus begins his tasks.
The Grizzly Goose of Gosse, by Smarty, Kim, Alyssa, Chelsea and Angus (who are all one family), is shown in one big watercolor picture that pans seamlessly across the screen while Angus walks, keeping him in view. Everything looks like it's been painted by a child, which gives the game a very cute atmosphere. Each member of the real-world family has a character in the game. Angus lives on a small farm filled with trees, a chicken shed, a garden where mother is tending the flowers, a pond, a tent in which Alyssa lives, and something that resembles a sandbox, where Angus's sister Chelsea is playing. Adding to the game’s sense of whimsy are the sounds: not only is each person competently voiced by a member of the development family, Smarty and Chelsea also vocalized all the effects, from the rooster crowing to the opening and closing of gates, and of course the dreaded goose chasing Angus! The guitar music in the background, played by Smarty, also adds to the atmosphere.
The interface is similar to the old LucasArts games, with an array of nine verbs occupying the lower left part of the screen. Angus walks where you click, and clicking an object makes him execute the highlighted verb. In the lower right of the screen is the inventory, which is separated from the verbs by a small button that brings up the game's menu. Angus has a hard time at first, with the goose chasing him. But eventually he learns how to show it who is boss, and then he can finally finish his tasks. All the puzzles he faces involve inventory collection and use, which is not particularly hard and is nicely integrated into this very pleasant game, which took me about 30 minutes to finish. It even has an Easter egg!
The Grizzly Goose of Gosse can be downloaded from the game’s AGS page.
Zombie Society: Brain Drain
Detective Margh and his sidekick Ghvnn are once again called to a new case. Lurr, the owner of a brain farm, asks them to investigate the disappearance of the brain they are fondest of, One-eye, despite it being inedible even to Ghvnn. From the way his cell was left behind, Margh soon concludes that One-eye must have been kidnapped. But who would steal a brain that cannot be eaten? And why?
Series fans will be instantly at home in Muja's latest episode of the Detective Margh series, called Zombie Society: Brain Drain. The world is still presented in third-person mode using a rather realistic pixel art style, with cartoonish-looking zombies populating it. The brains being farmed come from normal living people, however, making the game just a little bit creepier. Apart from Lurr's farm, Marg and Ghvnn visit a rival farm, a pizzeria and some people in their homes. The familiar loud and very repetitive background music is present once again, but luckily it can be switched off. Apart from the occasional grunt there is no voice acting, with all spoken text appearing in speech balloons. The sound effects, like a growling dog, slamming doors and a gunshot, are very good.
Margh is controlled with the mouse, and the cursor changes into eyes or beckoning hands over certain hotspots, indicating what you can do with them. Only the left mouse button is required. The main menu appears when you move the cursor to the top of the screen, which includes icons for the inventory, Margh's notebook, a map and a magnifying glass that can be used to show all hotspots in a location. The notebook is indispensable for solving the case: Margh records every clue in it, and you can help him form theories based on his observations. Be careful, though, because you can draw the wrong conclusions! You can rethink them any time, however. Apart from the deductions you have to make, this game has a few inventory puzzles that are not very hard. I completed Brain Drain in about 40 minutes. As with all Zombie Society games, this adventure can be played on its own without knowledge of its predecessors, although sometimes references to earlier cases are made.
Zombie Society: Brain Drain can be played online at Kongregate.
The Aspirox Case
It's a sunny winter day in Paris, and Samuel Brosseau has just arrived at the headquarters of the famous vacuum cleaner company Aspirox for a job interview with its local manager, Mr. Zimmerman. To his astonishment, the secretary Clarisse tells Samuel that the appointment will have to be rescheduled because Mr. Zimmerman has just been murdered, having been found in his office with a bullet in his head. Very inconvenient, but a new manager will be assigned soon, and then the appointment can be carried out as usual. So why doesn't Samuel go and have a look around in his future office? Nonplussed, Samuel decides to investigate the murder.
Valoulef's The Aspirox Case (originally called L' Affaire Aspirox) is displayed with neatly drawn artwork in a simple but quite realistic style with large areas of uniform color. You will find your own future office on the company premises, as well as a cafeteria, a toilet, a broom cupboard and some other offices. Cheerful, jazzy music plays in the background. The game has English subtitles and excellent vocal performances in French, with each character you meet having a very distinct voice and personality. The translation is also good. The sound effects, like the pushing of buttons, opening doors, rolling dice and operating a coffee machine are also convincing.
Right-clicking a hotspot gives you a description of the object, and left-clicking lets Samuel interact with it if he so chooses. If he doesn't, he will tell you why or just give a description of the item instead. The inventory appears when you move the cursor to the top of the screen. Samuel has some intricate puzzles to solve before he can enter the locked room of the murdered manager. Whilst doing so, he learns more about that floor's inhabitants. All obstacles are well-integrated and quite logical, although it sometimes takes a bit of mind-bending to reach the solution. Unfortunately, after you manage to enter the manager's room, the story twists in a very disappointing way and the game just stops abruptly without wrapping up events or providing any explanation. Whilst episodic games are common in indie adventures, with nothing to indicate there is more to come (not even a “to be continued!”), this left me feeling very displeased at exactly the moment I should have felt the greatest sense of accomplishment. Ending on such a sour and unexpected note is a shame, because the high production quality makes The Aspirox Case look like the introduction to an interesting mystery. So consider yourself forewarned, and hopefully its makers will follow up and release further instalments to the story.
The Aspirox Case can be downloaded from the Adventure Game Studio website.
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.
Rubber Dinghy by greatguygames – When his dinghy washes up on a remote island, a man must get creative to effect repairs.
Moonlight Moggy by Simon Reid – Help get a frightened cat into the house on a stormy night in this beautiful Halloween-themed game.
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.