Following Freeware: December 2017/January 2018 releases

Following Freeware: December 2017/January 2018
Following Freeware: December 2017/January 2018

Cramming two months into one, now you can track down your stolen bike as a scruffy teenager, pursue your wayward cat into a world of fantasy as an unusual young girl, or try to locate an escaped thief as a zombie detective. Or perhaps you'd prefer to rescue a young boy from an abandoned train station, or save yourself on a mysterious planet where your spaceship has crashed. Alternatively, in a version of noble England that doesn't quite match reality, you can take on the role of a put-upon servant who still maintains his stiff upper lip. And if you just can't pick a particular game style, why not go searching across a variety of past adventure scenes in pursuit of some errant characters causing mayhem? All these await in our latest round-up of releases from the freeware scene.

Steve’s Selections

The Adventures of Nick & Willikins

When he completed his training, Willikins expected to become a manservant in one of the great stately homes of England. In a way his dream has come true, as Nick Hall is undoubtedly a grand edifice in the centre of a vast estate. Sadly, the current lord of the manor, also simply called Nick, is not the most noble of masters. On the contrary, he is an ill-mannered lout who seems to have made it a personal quest to make Willikins’ life unpleasant. Despite this, when a body is found on the premises, it is Willikins' duty to prove Nick's innocence. If only all the clues didn't point in his direction.

From Pinhead Games, The Adventures of Nick & Willikins is a dark comedy, lampooning the cliched view of England sometimes depicted in American media. The artwork features a bright cartoon style with a wealth of detail in the backgrounds, from the magnificent portraits in the dining room to the uneven stones of Willikin's subterranean bedroom. The characters are also nicely drawn and well-animated. Willikins is a tall, thin gentleman in a dark suit, impeccably turned out and entirely serious. By contrast, Nick is a scruffy young lad with unkempt blond hair and a manic expression. Fitting the English country setting, gentle chamber music with strings and pianos plays in the background, the tune varying from location to location. The game is also fully voiced to an excellent standard, with both the voices and performances matching the characters nicely.

Mouse control uses a single-click for all operations, including moving around, though a double-click immediately takes you through an exit. A label appears when hovering the cursor over a hotspot, with a verb coin in the shape of monocle appearing when you click on one. The three possible actions are look, interact/pick up and talk, with only context-appropriate actions available. Many non-essential items can be examined, with Willikins usually making an observation full of dry English wit. The opening part of the game, in which Nick starts a new day of humiliating Willikins, serves as a tutorial. Soon after you find the body and begin your adventure in earnest as you seek to prove someone else did it. You will interact with Nick Hall's other inhabitants, including an aged aunt who seems to find Willikins all too fascinating. You also gather a wide variety of items, held in a case at the bottom-left corner of the screen which you can open at any time. Occasionally you will need to examine these to elicit further clues, whilst other times you will use them around the house. A book keeps track of the four parts of the mystery you need to solve the murder. The game parodies portrayals of English culture with an overall comedic tone, but does contain some bad language that may make it unsuitable for younger gamers.

The Adventures of Nick & Willikins can be downloaded from the Pinhead Games website.


Adventure Boy Cheapskate

You just wanted to grab a quick snack from the 24/7 supermarket, albeit a cheap one due to your lack of funds. But you chose the wrong time to visit, as a thief is at work in the back corner of the shop. Disturbed by your arrival, he flees with his ill-gotten gains, taking your bike to make a speedy getaway. Whilst you have little interest in the stolen produce, you must get your precious bike back at all costs. So you set out across your seaside hometown in a quest to track down the miscreant and retrieve your purloined vehicle.

In Adventure Boy Cheapskate, jezzamon presents a lightly humorous tale with much to discover. The graphics are done in a moderately simplistic cartoon style, using solid blocks of colours without shading. That is not to say that they are lacking in detail, however, with the shop shelves offering a variety of merchandise and the characters all having distinct appearances. The protagonist, Benson, has a crop of unruly blond hair which covers his eyes, topped by a red bike helmet. Along with their smaller representations on-screen, large pictures of most characters are shown when speaking to them. These conversations are displayed as if on a computer, a monitor displaying the text with a large speaker on either side. The soundtrack is made up of tunes from the 8-bit arcade era, with electronic notes and hissing for drums.

Control is handled through the cursor keys, with the space bar interacting with whatever hotspot you are facing. Once you have picked up some items, these appear in the bottom-left of the screen, with Z and X used to choose what you are holding. Various locals have seen the robber, and can point you in the right direction. However, not all are willing to aid you without you helping them first. The central part of gameplay is therefore a series of fetch quests requiring you to find what various people want. There are a handful of other puzzles, including a small maze and a balloon seller blocking your way who can be passed with a decidedly lateral approach. As well as vital interactions, there are a huge number of optional items to examine, and characters have unique dialogue for many of them. If you get stuck, there is a seagull that flies to different locations on the map, and will give you a brief hint on what you could do next. The whole game has a gentle if somewhat surreal humour to it.

Adventure Boy Cheapskate can be played online at Kongregate.


Nemesis in Darkland

Waking from a strange dream, a young girl named Nemesis finds her cat Lady has wandered into the one area of the house she cannot go. When Lady returns, she runs out into the garden instead of returning to the little girl’s room. Pursuing her errant feline out into the night, Nemesis finds a strange hole at the end of her garden, apparently the route Lady has taken. From there the pursuit leads her into a strange and fantastical world reminiscent of an old story she read. Will Nemesis be able to find her pet and a way back from this most peculiar place?

Taking inspiration from Alice in Wonderland, AliceMusaki and Annina tell a much darker tale in Nemesis in Darkland. For the main action, the graphics are done in a top-down view in the style of older role-playing games, depicting various locations from the bright hedges of the flower kingdom to the murky depths of the home of the pearls. There is plentiful detail, and good use of lighting effects enhances the look of the game. The characters are simply but effectively designed, with the young Nemesis joined by card people and old turtles in this odd world. There are some cut-scenes in which more detailed hand-painted graphics are used, and the same character models also appear during dialogue. The music comprises a mix of gentle instrumental pieces befitting the fairy tale setting, with violins, harps and soft chimes.

Navigation is performed through the cursor keys and Enter is used to interact with hotspots currently faced. Escape calls up a menu that allows you to save your game and view your inventory. While it can provide hints and background to the world, inventory is used automatically when required and there is no way of selecting items. Regular saving is advisable, as there are a handful of game-over events and no autosave system. The places Nemesis traverses are very reminiscent of Lewis Carroll's classic tale, but with a grimmer tone. Your main quest is simply to find a way forward to pursue your missing cat. Along with meeting denizens of this strange land who can help you advance, you will come across others who seek your aid instead. How you engage with these optional interactions will go some way toward determining which of the four endings you receive. As well as some fetch quests and small mazes, there are a few arcade-style sequences which will require moderate dexterity to pass. There are some gruesome sections too that will not be for all audiences.

Nemesis in Darkland can be downloaded from the RPG Maker website.

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Mar 16, 2018

“The Adventures of Nick & Willikins” was a total delight; although I hated Nick as much as I liked the game. Such a jerk! Glad, most of the game wasn’t “his” adventures, not that he’d cared either way. Thanks for introducing me to a fun little gem!

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