Covering two months in one, this time around you can investigate a series of murders in a remote mansion or an incident at a museum that may be more than it seems. You could also direct one of three different monsters seeking to lift the curses from their lives, a bellboy recruited to a spy job, or a man simply seeking to get back home. Alternatively, you can enjoy a calming sojourn on a sunlit island, or discover how even the simplest tasks can be less than calming for a person with Asperger’s Syndrome. All these await you in our latest roundup of releases from the freeware scene.
Harry and the Locked Crocs Shop Shock
AniSlaughter Inc are about to open a new store called Snappy Trapz, where they’ll sell torturously trained crocodiles that can be used as mouse traps. Harry, a sleepy fighter for animal rights, has to break into the store and set the animals free while his friend Barney demonstrates outside. But Harry has his work cut out for him: even after gaining entrance he has to find a way to set the crocs free. On top of that, he has to deal with the shop's director, who sneaks in on him at an inconvenient time.
Kini's debut game Harry and the Locked Crocs Shop Shock is shown in third-person mode featuring hand-drawn graphics with large swaths of single colors – dark red, green and yellow prevailing. The game takes place in and around Snappy Trapz, with Harry visiting the area in front of the store, the shop floor and the director's office. The action is accompanied by simple tunes, the melody depending on the location. There are no sound effects or voices, with all spoken text displayed on-screen.
Using the mouse, right-click cycles between the verbs look, talk, walk and interact, with the cursor changing to the appropriate shape. Left-clicking performs the chosen action. Moving the cursor to the top of the screen makes a menu appear that contains icons for the same verbs as well as the inventory. The few puzzles range from item-based obstacles to dialogue and are well integrated into the game, which takes about 15 minutes to finish.
Harry and the Locked Crocs Shop Shock can be downloaded from the Adventure Game Studio website.
An Aspie Life
Your flatmate suddenly left, promising that he would be back soon. Now you have to do the daily tasks like shopping and going to the bank yourself – which is very hard to do if you have Asperger syndrome. An Aspie Life, by EnderLost Studios, is a commendable effort to show what everyday life that we take for granted is like for autistic people. In the developer’s own words, the game is “centered around living with this disability. Every conversation, every noise recreates how autistic people see the world. Nothing in the gameplay of this game is a joke, all forms of noise, graphics and interactions are intentional.”
An Aspie Life takes place on a typical weekday evening and is presented in dark, low-resolution pixel art awash in blues, reds, and purple. The camera is placed a little bit below eye level and the environment pans right and left to keep the protagonist, who we only know through his online name iTiO001, in view. He lives in a rather run-down area of a big city, which is not very suitable for people with Asperger’s. The cars and shops on his street make him very nervous, sometimes so much that he has to stand with his head and his hands against the wall for a time, shutting out as much of the noise and light as possible before he can continue. Apart from the sounds of the city there is also background music, both the tune and volume depending on the protagonist’s mental stability. The score is intended to make players anxious, especially when the protagonist is feeling very bad, to appropriately convey his state of mind. You will also hear ambient effects like footsteps and money changing hands, but these are quite basic and not a major part of the experience. There are no voices in the game; all spoken text is shown in subtitles on the screen.
The left and right arrow keys make iTiO001 walk, and at certain places you can press Enter to perform actions like entering a door or getting a bag in a shop. In some situations, however, such as when talking to someone, I found the interface very confusing and I often started pressing random keys, hoping for the game to proceed. You can follow a short tutorial at the start of the game but it covers only the basics, which leads me to believe that maybe this was done on purpose to show the main character’s helplessness in certain situations. At the top left of the screen is an image of the protagonist’s head, showing his current mental state. Beneath that are two vertical bars and the shorter they are, the worse the condition of the protagonist and the louder the background audio, not only in volume but also the type of noise. You can call up a sort of diary in which iTiO001 writes about his experiences and the things he wants or needs to do. He has also has written down a few handy tips for dealing with different situations, to help him when he encounters them. The one big puzzle in An Aspie Life is how to stay as calm as possible, which gets harder as you encounter more things to do, like looking for a girl you met earlier. Though no game could truly convey how how hard life must be for autistic people, this experience will certainly help players understand them better.
Dracula, Frankenstein and the Mummy are tired of being dead and/or ugly. They are also sick of being imprisoned in Arkatum Monster Asylum, so they break out and plan to find Transylvanian Gypsy Romona, who may be able to lift their curses. Of course, three is a crowd so you, the player, must help one of them while the others find Romona together.
FrightFest, by slasher, was the winner of MAGS competition for March 2018. The game takes place at night and the pixel art can be so dark that I had to set my screen brightness as high as possible to see everything. Despite the low visibility, however, the backgrounds are beautiful and detailed, with gradually changing colors. The figures of Frankenstein, the Mummy and Dracula, together with some other monsters and animals you come across, are depicted in higher resolution and in a simpler style than the environments. Your chosen protagonist has to cross a swamp, traverse a forest, and pluck some mushrooms in a clearing full of bog holes before reaching Romona. Eerie music accompanies the action, and you will hear a lot of ambient sounds, such as the wind from a storm, rain, and creaking wood. There are also some simple sound effects for things like squashing a spider, shaking a tree and other violent things. With no voice-overs, all dialogue is displayed as on-screen text.
The protagonist goes where you click, and a small description of the monster you’ve chosen to help is written in the lower part of the screen. Left of this is an icon from which you can access your character’s supernatural ability: for instance, Dracula can turn into a bat and Frankenstein has super strength. On the other side of the text are icons for regular verbs walk, talk, interact and look, and beside those is the scrolling inventory. The puzzles are really easy, and there are only a few of them, ranging from finding and catching a spider to remembering the name of a constellation. Most of the puzzles are the same for all monsters, so only the their special abilities provide some variation and replay value. The lack of puzzles is compensated for by the atmosphere and funny situations you will find yourself in, as despite its name, FrightFest is not scary at all throughout its pleasant 30-minute or so play time.
FrightFest can be downloaded from the AGS website.
When you come to, you find yourself in a strange forest with no memory of how you got there or even who you are. A small dot in the distance shines like a beacon. Home! You don’t remember home, but you feel drawn to return there. So you set off…
Journey Home, by Neat Fire Games, may be based on a clichéd story concept, but it’s explored in a lovely, refreshing way. The graphics are hand-painted in beautiful high resolution, presented in third-person mode. The protagonist is a nameless boy around nine years old, who must traverse a forest, cross a deep gorge and river, and visit a strange graveyard before reaching the house. There is no background music or speech in this game, so all you hear are the noises you and your surroundings make: the rustling of leaves and rain, the sounds of animals, breaking sticks, creaking mechanisms and so on. All these effects are realistic and quite soft, making Journey Home seem like a relaxing, quiet experience. However, you come across some gruesome sights during your quest: a dead man being eaten by a wolf, and a pool of blood that is all that’s left of a fisherman who was plucked from the shore by some fierce aquatic monster, to name two of the worst, although no really gory details are shown.
Using the mouse, right-clicking changes the cursor between the familiar verbs walk, talk (although I didn’t use that one the entire game), look and interact. Moving the cursor to the top of the screen makes a menu appear with buttons for the same actions, your inventory, and saving the game. The puzzles are all inventory-based and get harder the further you proceed. You can die along the way, but most of the time the game rewinds time to just before you made your last wrong move and you can try again. The ending I encountered was a bit confusing, however, as I am still not sure if I died or just made it to the house. Journey Home has multiple endings, a few secrets you can find and even optional puzzle strands. It took me about an hour to finish this beautiful game.
Journey Home can be downloaded from its itch.io page.
The Mystery Files of Detective Inaba No. 1
Detective Sogo Inaba and his young assistant Nina Arimura were moving on after successfully completing another case. Unfortunately, while leaving through the mountains, a landslide stranded the bus they were travelling in. With the road in both directions blocked and heavy rain sweeping the area, they and their fellow passengers seek out alternative shelter. At first, the abandoned mansion in the woods appears to be a godsend. But soon strange things start happening, and the group start dying horribly one by one. Can Inaba solve the mystery before he too falls victim?
Originally made in Japanese by Suika Bar, The Mystery Files of Detective Inaba No. 1 is now available to English audiences thanks to MemoriesofFear. The game uses an overhead view reminiscent of classic role-playing games, with a certain amount of gore depicted at times. The opening scenes take place on a remote forest road, but the majority of the action takes place within the opulent mansion. This is beautifully decorated, from the comfortable bedrooms to the grand library and vast dining room. Characters all have distinctive appearances, and are shown in detailed half-body close-ups during conversations. There are also a handful of equally detailed stills for important events. Sound is largely limited to environmental ambience, such as the pouring rain or the creaking of doors.
Movement is controlled by the cursor keys, with Enter interacting with whatever hotspot the character is facing. To aid players in their quest, important items will usually have a glow around them to draw attention. Z calls up a menu allowing you to inspect items you have found and save and load your game. In the initial stages, exploration of the mansion is key, though locked doors hamper your progress. As the story proceeds, the stakes are ramped up with each new unwilling guest killed off. Conversations with everyone will aid your investigation, but you will also need to solve logic puzzles and discover combinations to unlock some areas. In the later part of the game, your actions or lack thereof will determine which of the seven endings you achieve.
The Mystery Files of Detective Inaba No. 1 can be downloaded from the RPGMaker website.
The Hotel Maquisard has a high reputation to maintain. As the new bellboy on staff, your main job is to ensure nothing happens to harm that reputation. At least, that was the job you were expecting to take on. But on the first night in your dingy basement room, you are visited by a member of the resistance. One of the guests at the hotel is a government agent holding files vital to the rebel cause. However, they aren’t sure of the agent’s identity, only knowing a handful of personality traits. Thus, they need you to find the guest that matches those characteristics. With only three days to identify the agent, this will be no easy task.
Named after the game’s developer, Maquisard offers an interesting non-linear investigative challenge. The hotel is presented with a side-on view similar to that of a doll house, showing the three floors (not counting your dingy basement accommodation) plus the roof garden. You are normally only able to see the area immediately around you, but can view the whole hotel by examining one of the plans on the walls. Both the hotel and characters are presented in a minimalist style in gentle pastel colours. Characters have no facial features except for hair, but each has distinctive clothing to identify them. The hotel shows a restrained elegance, having a stylish roof garden, a gift shop and a games room. The soundtrack is a genteel piece of music befitting such a refined setting.
You use the cursor keys to move around the hotel, and the space bar to interact with items and people. Tab opens a notepad in which you can record whether particular guests match certain traits or not, presented on a grid for handy reference. The up and down keys allow you to ascend and descend to new floors when standing at a staircase (bellboys not being allowed to use the lift). The action takes place in highly accelerated real time, so all of the guests have their own routines each day. As a result, you will need to wander all over the hotel to find the information you need. But be careful as your suspects don’t like being spied on, expressing their displeasure in your next conversation if they see you. To eavesdrop, you will need to grab a flower pot to hide behind to get the truth. Interacting with certain objects allows you to carry them around and see how guests react. After three days you have to make a choice, whether you’re sure you have pinned down the culprit or not, resulting in a success or failure ending.
Maquisard can be downloaded from the game’s itch.io page.
Sango: Tales from the Coral Cave
A young boy and his cat Mochi recline on the beach on Japan’s southern islands of Okinawa. Enjoy the relaxation, the young boy draws some pictures inspired by their surroundings in his little notebook. Two of these images, of a crab and a whale, take on a life of their own. These two pictures tell stories steeped in the history and myths of the islands. In one, Mochi the cat solves the mystery of the legend of whales. In the other, a turtle seeks to rescue a boy from the Village of Crabs. Both are tales of wonder.
Inspired by the world of The Coral Cave, Atelier Sentô present two delightful little tales in Sango: Tales from the Coral Cave. The game was created as a project involving a class of 10-year-old children, with the coloured pencil artwork they created used as the game’s graphics. The bright and cheery colours capture the atmosphere of the sunlit island nicely, and the fact that several different children provided images for the game also gives a nice visual variety, with rickety Japanese houses surrounded by lush vegetation. The soundtrack is a soft and simple tune that adds to the relaxing feel of the game.
Only the left mouse button is needed to move the two protagonists around and interact, with the smart cursor changing to an appropriate symbol when you point at a hotspot. In “The Song of Whales” you take on the role of Mochi the cat, surprised to find a whale floating in the sky near the village wharf. In “Village of the Crabs” you play a small turtle who finds a human when he dives into the sea. Having been designed with the input of children, the puzzles are quite mild but still nicely designed and suitable for others that age. Unable to speak, Mochi must use his feline wiles to convince other characters to do what he wants. Meanwhile, the turtle must use the weakness of three crab guards to draw them away from their duty. There is no save system, but each of the two stories is short enough that none is needed.
Sango: Tales from the Coral Cave can be downloaded from the developer’s itch.io page.
Curse of the Old Gods
When a guard dies at the Greenwich National Museum, it seems like a simple accident. But with such a high profile location involved, strings have been pulled to bring FBI agent Rick Morton in on the case. He soon discovers that this was really murder, and not a straightforward one at that. Is the museum’s new African exhibit somehow involved in this incident? As Agent Morton delves deeper into the case, he starts finding things that are harder and harder to explain. Could there really be a supernatural threat coming?
With Curse of the Old Gods, GoodPunk give their own take on the horrors conceived by H. P. Lovecraft. The game is presented in a slideshow format, with the images presented as if displayed on a television set. These appear to be from real photographs, though they have been heavily pixellated and use a limited colour palette comprised mostly of blues and purples. When you interact with characters, full-body images of them in the same style appear behind the text-only dialogue. The soundtrack consists of a variety of tracks suited to the central detective premise. When dramatic events occur, more lively scores kick in to reflect the urgency of the situation.
Control is handled entirely through left-clicks of the mouse, with arrows on-screen allowing you to move to neighbouring locations. Whilst some things are easy to spot, other hotspots are not so easily identified due to the visual treatment. Fortunately, a button appears at the top of the screen which briefly highlights all hotspots in the current location. Interaction offers four choices: look, talk, interact and pick up, with those not suited to a particular hotspot greyed out. A button in the bottom corner pulls out an inventory ribbon, allowing you to interact with items you hold or select them for use elsewhere. Initially your investigation is hampered by the director of the museum, who does not want the reputation of his establishment put at risk. You will use your cell phone to follow up clues, and will also sometimes receive calls or messages from others at appropriate points in the plot. Though information you discover is not noted down, it is automatically recalled when needed, offering new dialogue options or changing how you interact with relevant items. Death is possible, but you are immediately offered the option of retracting the fatal error. The game has gore and horror overtones, making it unsuitable for the young or easily shocked.
Curse of the Old Gods 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
Wilfred:2088 by HanaIndiana – In a spaceship whose crew suddenly fell unconscious, the ship's artificial intelligence has to use the cat to get one of them to recover.
How to Cope with Boredom and Loneliness by Point Bleep Studios – Help Nigel Wimble make a documentary about a man who has been locked up in his bedroom for thirty years.
Sound of the Waves by stavu – A very short minimalist adventure about how people don't really notice their everyday environment.
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.