Following Freeware: December 2017/January 2018 releases
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.
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.
I Want Out!
A boy named Luke is trapped in an abandoned train station deep underground and needs your help. How either of you came to be here isn’t clear, but perhaps he fell through the ceiling, where there is now a large but unreachable hole. Apparently there has been an earthquake, because part of the station is severely damaged and all exits have collapsed. Finding another exit requires quite some work, involving tampering with electronics, taking down a signpost and even blowing things up.
I Want Out!, by nicolas, is presented in one big pixel art image that scrolls around to keep Luke on the screen as you move. The destroyed station is nicely detailed and presented in cool, dark colors with blue, geen and grey prevailing. Ominous music accompanies the action, and there are many effective sound effects, like the tapping of Luke's feet on the different surfaces when he walks, electrical sparks, and the clinking of a coin in the soda vending machine. There is no voice acting, only subtitles displayed on-screen.
Luke walks where you left-click, while moving the cursor to the bottom of the screen (or clicking a small arrow in the top left corner) brings up the familiar SCUMM-style interface with nine verbs and the inventory. If you don't choose a verb, right-clicking makes Luke comment on any hotspots you click. At the top right of the screen is a number indicating your score. Getting Luke out of the station takes some effort, mainly because of the many delightful red herrings. Every time you think you have the problem cracked, the game has a new disappointment in store, so you need to find another solution. However, almost all failed attempts leave you with new inventory items you can use, so your efforts are not in vain. You can talk to Luke by clicking on him at any point in the game, but that functionality could just as well have been left out because he hardly ever says anything useful. The final puzzle is complicated but logical to solve, though the last scene, like the beginning, is a bit silly.
I Want Out! can be downloaded from its itch.io page.
Terry B. Davis is on his way through outer space to find out what happened to the Feliz, a people that once traversed the universe to trade goods and whose disappearance is one of the greatest mysteries of his time. Believing he is almost at the end of his search, suddenly Terry finds himself pulled towards a planet that didn't show on any of his instruments. Terry survives the crash, but his spaceship is damaged and he is forced to scavenge the barren desert surrounding his vessel for parts.
Tech Troupe's Hidden Plains is a survival-adventure game hybrid presented in bright colors in a neat and somewhat detailed style. The environments themselves, however, are quite boring: the seemingly endless brownish sand with its beach-like ridges is sparsely speckled with small trees and plants on which podnuts grow. These podnuts provide sustenance to the few people who live in this part of the world, and help Terry to stay alive as well. The desert also contains a remarkably tall and slender tower that is too far away to walk to, and in the sky are two moons with cratered surfaces that you can see above the horizon. Apart from some high quality accompanying music, the style and tune depending on your current location, you will hear no sounds. All dialogue appears in white speech bubbles.
Terry walks where you click and will interact/comment on hotspots using the left and right mouse buttons. In the lower left corner of the screen is a small panel that shows your health, energy and water levels. When your health gets low because you walk too far without eating or drinking, dark spots appear on the periphery of the screen, which turn to a pulsating red if your condition worsens. Pressing a small icon in the panel toggles an information screen on and off. This screen contains a crude map of your surroundings, indicating the places you have visited. Podnut plants are indicated by small dots, and settlements or other interesting places are denoted by circles. Hovering the mouse on them makes a small description appear, while clicking them causes Terry to walk there. The information screen also contains an inventory that only shows the amounts and types of sustenance you possess (podnuts, ration packages, water, etc.). Clicking on one gives you the option to eat or drink it. Other items in your inventory are not shown anywhere, as Terry automatically uses them when needed. Above the inventory are buttons for SCAN (though Terry doesn't have the equipment for this until late in the game) and INFO (Terry's progress and status in the game).
Roaming the desert for parts can be tedious and takes a long time, but Terry encounters some interesting people and things in his travels: a man who thinks you are the Chosen One, a junker who makes things out of debris from other ships, and some people who trade for podnuts. You also come across the odd podnut harvester robot that prevents you from plucking podnuts. Terry is quite the nerd, however, and has his ways to disable them. Unfortunately, neither the protagonist nor the other characters are very talkative, so you don't learn much about what is going on with this strange planet. The only true puzzle occurs near the end, which is quite hard and only solvable by trial and error. After that the game concludes rather quickly, and not only leaves a lot of unanswered questions but adds some new ones in the finale. Even with its slow pace and deliberate progress, I enjoyed Hidden Plains, though a bit more focus on story and conversation would make the experience a lot more interesting.
Hidden Plains can be downloaded from the developer's website.
Adventure: Welcome to the Genre
Thalia James is an experienced agent in the Computer Game Maintenance Squad (GCMS). Members of the CGMS roam all the current commercial adventure games, unseen by players, to make sure they run smoothly and that characters behave like they are supposed to. Thalia has just gotten a new assignment: some rogue characters have been committing a series of terrible crimes like arson, theft and even murder. It's up to Thalia to find out what is going on and help round up the culprits so they can be tried. Her boss provides a list of the worst offenders, together with some locations where they were seen last, and she is on her way.
Adventure: Welcome to the Genre is the third installment of Akril15’s series but the first since 2011. Because the protagonist visits locations from many games (including unfinished and unreleased ones), the graphics and sounds are as diverse as the adventure genre itself, from very elaborate high resolution pixel backgrounds and music to extremely basic monochrome ASCII art with no sounds at all. Despite the sometimes extreme changes in presentation, Thalia herself is always recognizable by her attire (or at least by being the only person on the screen). All speech is displayed in subtitles, and the few sound effects depend on Thalia's present surroundings.
Right-clicking the mouse cycles between the options Look, Talk, Interact and Walk, while left-clicking executes the desired action. Exits are indicated by arrows when the Walk verb is chosen. Moving the cursor to the top of the screen makes a menu appear with icons for the same verbs and, later in the game, some extra functionality acquired during your quest. Appropriately for a game called Welcome to the Genre, there are three difficulty levels to choose from, depending on the player’s experience with adventures, though you can change your selected level at any time. At the lowest setting, background information about a lot of the wording, characters and locations that come up is provided, while at the highest level you’re expected to know almost everything about the genre.
Finding the culprits proves to be quite difficult. The people Thalia seeks move around while you play, so it's wise to keep interrogating people everywhere you go, in case someone has been spotted while you were away. Furthermore, Thalia has a mind-swapping thing going on: sometimes she faints and when she comes to her mind is in another body, yielding a new puzzle to solve. Later on she learns how to switch minds with certain other characters at will. The way this gimmick is implemented is a bit disappointing though, as the random mind swaps have no impact on the story and even the intentional swapping isn't used to its full potential. The puzzles are a mix of fetch quests, inventory and conversation puzzles and are not too hard. The real value here is in the great variety of places and characters you encounter, some of them inspired by familiar games like King's Quest VI and Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis. However, Thalia only uses locations that are inaccessible to the people who might actually be playing those games so that she doesn't affect the story with her presence. This means these scenes can only be recognized by the style in which they are drawn. The many interesting and insightful discussions about the history of a given adventure game series, the techniques used to appeal to their players, and the different varieties within the genre add an extra touch to a game I highly recommend playing.
Adventure: Welcome to the Genre can be downloaded from the developer’s website.
Zombie Society: Dead Detective – A Cat's Chance in Hell
Nine Deaths Cat, the well-known zombie criminal, has committed her worst crime yet: she broke into the Mayor's office and stole all his money. Correction, tax payers' money! Luckily she was apprehended by the chief of police just as she was about to embark on a ship that would take her far away. Unfortunately, she managed to escape again! Now it's up to private detective Margh and his sidekick Ghvnn to find her. Their search will take them through the whole city, and fans of the series will encounter a lot of familiar sights.
Zombie Society: Dead Detective – A Cat's Chance in Hell is Muja's fifth Margh mystery. As with all previous games, it's presented in third-person view. The game world features pixel art graphics with enough detail to make out all the important clues you need to solve the case. Margh visits quite a few locations along the way, among which are the harbor, Bratatat's gun shop, a theatre, the old people's home, police station and the detective’s own office. The loud background music is back once again, each tune depending on the current location. As usual, apart from the occasional zombie grunts no voices are heard. Instead, all spoken words are shown in text balloons. The few sound effects are realistic, including objects noisily falling and rolling waves in the harbor.
Margh goes where you click. Moving the cursor to the top of the screen makes a drop-down menu appear, containing your inventory, a map that transports you to new locations, a magnifying glass highlighting all interesting objects in a scene, and Margh's famous notebook, which is used for scribbling clues and making deductions about the case. The puzzles revolve around these deductions, which are made by combining two or more clues and then deciding what they mean. You need to get your deductions right, or else you will not find Cat and make a fool of yourself in the process. If you get stuck you can ask Ghvnn for a hint, but he won’t help you with the deductions. There are multiple endings possible depending on how many clues you find and what you deduce from them. The game records your progress automatically, and if you don't solve the case you can load the one savegame and try again from there.
Zombie Society: Dead Detective – A Cat's Chance in Hell can be played online at Kongregate.
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.
Fallen Hero by slasher – When a priceless diamond goes on display at a local jeweller’s, a down-on-his-luck burglar leaps at the chance to steal it.
Sprout by Jeff Nusz – A transformative seed succeeds in becoming a tree in this beautiful side-scrolling adventure.
It's a Bug's Life by slasher – Help a bug find its parents in a large, dangerous garden.
A Cozy Winter Walk by tinyruin – A shapeless blob travels through a snowy landscape to visit his friend Susan, together with his cat Fluffy.
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.