Sunday, February 26, 2006

Independent Adventuring - June to December 2005

Independent Adventuring column is back, with a double-sized collector's issue for the same price. Well, not exactly: this issue is about six times as long as my usual columns, thanks to the fact that I've missed half a year of postings. So get yourself some popcorn, a large soda, sit back and enjoy the show...

Dear readers, I would like to thank each and every one of you for sending me your encouraging e-mails. I would also like to apologize for the long and unscheduled hiatus, and I feel that I owe you an apology. For the past several months, I have been spending all my time working on my MBA degree and looking for a job after graduating in May. The work was so time consuming that I cut off all my other activities, both social and my hobbies. Fortunately, I feel that I caught up with the real world again, and I hope I’ll be able to enjoy all the great independent adventures again.

Even though I missed several months, I haven’t stopped playing games, and in this issue you’ll find many games from the past half a year. Due to the sheer amount of the games covered, I decided on an alternative format, where I’ll post longer descriptions of those games that I liked first, and only then shorter paragraphs about those games that I considered to be sub-par. In addition, game news will be covered in an abridged format, so that they are better readable.

Niche news
Three game editors were updated. In June, AGS version 2.7 was released, which added object-based scripting, music file support and much more. The Adventure Maker was released in a severely limited, free version, which allows people to try the software out before opting for the full version. Hopefully now we’ll see more games created with this software. Wintermute 1.5 was released as well, supporting new video formats and more.

In very sad news, The Inventory, quite possibly the best magazine on adventure games, has been discontinued due to the lack of contributors and the editor’s commitments elsewhere. In addition, King’s Quest IX has been shut down by a cease-and-desist letter from Vivendi. Fortunately, a few weeks later the company granted the developers a fan license, and the game got back on track.

New commercial independent adventures were released as well. In particular, The Hauntings of Mystery Manor, which sells for $14.95, has joined the few other commercial games that were created with AGS. Delaware St. John Volume 1: The Curse of Midnight Manor, another commercial adventure, which sells for $19.95, follows the story of yet another Gabriel Knight wannabe, who fights ghosts in a haunted house, only to find out that he’s being hunted by a much greater evil. The game also features an impressive demo. As this column was being completed, a demo for the sequel, Delaware St. John Volume 2: The Town with No Name, has appeared, and the game went gold.

In other news, Yahtzee has published another part of his adventuring column, this time talking about stories in adventure games. Josh Roberts, the maker of the Rise of the Hidden Sun, has also published another of his Adventure Architect articles.

New game announcements
Awaken. From the makers of Shady Brooks comes a new, promising title.
Destinies. A new indie game, whose developers have recruited Jonathan Boakes of the Dark Fall fame.
Dilemma. A futuristic adventure by 4Reign Studios.
The Dreamstone. A new adventure from the maker of Last Rose in the Desert Garden.
Isles of Derek. This is a spiritual adventure, involving the religious oppression of otherwise God-fearing people.
Lunar Deep. A first-person adventure with 3D graphics, made with Adventure Maker.
The Stone of Power. A sequel to the expansive Five Magical Amulets.
The Urthona Revolution. Yet another game from the maker of Last Rose in the Desert Garden and The Infinite Ocean.

New reviews
The Butler Did It! – Just Adventure. B+.
Delaware St. John Volume 1: The Curse of Midnight Manor – Just Adventure. The review has been revised to A.
Final Destination: The Secret of Larson’s Folly. Another positive review, which found the only fault with the game in the reviewer’s unmet expectations.
The Hauntings of Mystery Manor – Four Fat Chicks. A largely positive review, which praised the graphics and story.
The Hauntings of Mystery Manor – Just Adventure. A.
The Hauntings of Mystery Manor – The Quandary. The review has criticized the relatively short gameplay, especially in light of the price.
Hope Springs Eternal – Just Adventure. B+.
Hope Springs Eternal – The Quandary. 3/5.
Isles of Derek – Gameboomers. A-.
Jessica Plunkenstein and the Düsseldorf Conspiracy – Adventure Gamers. Praised the story, but didn’t like the graphics.
Jessica Plunkenstein and the Düsseldorf Conspiracy – Gameboomers. Loved the story and atmosphere, criticized interface and graphics.
Nick Bounty 2: The Goat in the Grey Fedora – Adventure Gamers. Praised the humor, but found the game to be too short and easy.
Robotragedy – Adventure Gamers. Very positive, but criticized the language.
Shady Brook – Four Fat Chicks. Loved the atmosphere, but criticized the graphics and a constantly nagging copyright screen.
The White Chamber – Adventure Gamers. Praised the story and graphics, but found the gameplay and some puzzles to be weak.

Independent adventures

Adventures in the Galaxy of Fantabulous Wonderment. If there is such a thing as a perfect game, this one gets pretty close to it. Made by Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw, the mind behind the Rob Blanc series, 5 Days a Stranger and many other great games, this title is a highly playable mix of short arcade games, an epic adventure and a trading simulation. Early into the game, you get kidnapped by a bunch of aliens, and after you fail to kill yourself you decide to do the next best thing: save the universe. To do so, you need to trade various goods between planets in the best Dopewars tradition (especially those who played Space Trader for PalmOS will find eerie similarities here), battle pirates and space monsters (and occasionally the authorities), and slowly sink into the story, which offers several superb twists. The story itself deserves your full attention, as it is very engaging and logical. The writing features very intelligent humor throughout the game, and even the repetitive jokes never get old. Combined with superb presentation excellent game balance and a very intuitive interface, not even the relatively easy puzzles and the occasional lack of direction detract from this prime candidate for the Game of the Year title.

Anna is a short, albeit very well crafted game. It takes place in an artificial intelligence lab where a malicious virus has disabled your computer, Anna, and you need to get it back on-line. The game is worth the download for its long intro, but also the interface, graphics and puzzles are unique enough to give it a try. Too bad the author didn’t have the time to add a soundtrack to this already excellent title.

Buna Wants Beer is a short, but very cute game about a man who decided to buy some beer, as soon as he got some money. The graphics are very nice, and even though the puzzles are very easy, I really enjoyed them. This was partly because the game featured pictures instead of words in conversations, which made it easy to follow (and solve) even for my little brother. I sincerely hope the author would use the same approach in the future, because I see a lack of adventure games for the younger generation.

Caverns. Rarely have I played such a weird, and yet amusing game as this one. You play a naked character, which falls into a hole in the ground, and now he has to find a way out. You’ll get killed way too often, and will have to replay the entire game over and over again. Fortunately, the gameplay is carefully balanced: it takes a while to figure out what to do next, but replaying the sequence is a matter of a few seconds. The great graphics further enhance the game quality, but the real value lies in a very special feature. At the beginning, you’ll be able to switch between two names for the game – “Caverns” is the regular game, while “Vaginas” is its special mode. In the special mode, Sigmund Freud appears and comments on all your actions. You’ve got to try it to see the true genius of the author.

Crave is an excellent adventure with a simple problem: you don’t know your ultimate goal. Still, the graphics, humor and special features make it a must try title. You play a beautifully drawn and animated stick figure in a hotel, apparently trying to pick up girls but in reality trying to find out more about the owner of the place. Your character is quite funny when describing objects he finds, and so is the narrator who takes over from time to time. Special features include X-Ray vision, which is not only used to check out the girls, but also to solve various puzzles. Speaking of which, puzzles can be quite challenging, as they are not always the most logical ones, but with a little persistence the game can be finished.

Jessica Plunkenstein and the Dusseldorf Conspiracy. What started as a school project has developed into one of the largest downloads of the year. Thanks to full voiceovers and a relatively long gameplay, this title clocks at 120MB, zipped. You play as Jessica, a very independent young woman, who gets a severe case of mistaken identity, and instead of entering a training program for future wives you’ll end up saving the world from an author of very bad musicals. The voiceovers were a very pleasant surprise for a free AGS game, and especially Jessica sounded very authentic. Unfortunately, they just about offset the very eclectic and poor graphics. The good news is that the game features some of the best humor of the year: very intelligent, quite subtle and often biting and cynical, just as I like it.

Last Rose in a Desert Garden. The author of The Great Machine has graced us with yet another game. And while the presentation could not be more different – a 3D rendered first-person adventure game instead of interactive fiction – the message is the same: war is hell, and people, while not being inherently evil, are susceptible to dehumanizing training. In this game, you play a lone wanderer in a post-nuclear world, exploring a seemingly abandoned military base. Having been ripped of all emotions by your decades-long hopeless quest for finding other human beings, you are now filled with hope that someone has survived. The game mixes several graphical styles, from landscapes rendered in Terragen, through photos, to 3D internal environments. You’ll come across only very few easy puzzles, mainly involving computer terminals and entering codes. I recommend the game, though, for another reason: the very poetic and touching writing.

Lost in the Nightmare is one of the most atmospheric independent adventures ever. This is a horror story involving a fired police detective with a haunted past, as he looks for three missing campers near a small town. The campers seem to be somehow connected to a ritualistic murder of two girls, and together with a menacing legend, pregnant damsel in distress and other unique characters, they create a very authentic and quite scary world. The author has talent for beautifully drawn backgrounds, and especially for story editing. The edits and changes in scenes are of professional quality, and add further to the very compelling gameplay. The music and sound just add further to the already nearly perfect game, and even the single negative factor, poor English, doesn’t detract from the game too much. The author claims to be only seventeen; if it’s so, he’s on his way to be a great adventure writer.

Maniac Mansion Mania - Episode 22: Presserummel. This is quite possibly one of the best games in the entire series. Even though the puzzles are very easy and logical, and the game lacks good humor, the writing and story are way too good to miss. You start out as Britney, who discovers the Green Tentacle in the house, and now needs to get to the Editor in Chief of the local newspaper, to sell the story. Once she manages to do so, you switch to Bernard, who needs to come up with a way to save the Tentacle. The story is very well thought out, and the writing and scripting further helps to make this title very engrossing. This episode is highly recommended.

Maniac Mansion Mania – Episode 32: The Secret of Maniac Mansion. Released for the twentieth anniversary of The Secret of Monkey Island, this is another great episode in the series. This time, you play as Dr. Fred, trying to unlock the secret of the mansion, but something always stops you, be it the phone, the postman or other things. You need to find a way to isolate yourself in the room from where you can discover the fabled secret. The episode features good humor and excellent puzzles. These are not too difficult, but with careful scripting they remain very interesting, and they are never revealed too early into the story. Even though all action takes place in a single room, the author managed to cram in plenty of puzzles, inventory items and conversation to create a wholesome experience without the need to spread the game thinly over multiple locations.

Maniac Mansion Mania – Episode 34: Helden des Tages. This is so far the best episode of the Maniac Mansion Mania series. The author has managed to write a story that includes several playable characters, each with its own back story and their individual paths towards one great finale. Furthermore, you’ll see plenty of new backgrounds, some new characters, and a whole bunch of great puzzles, marred only by excessive pixel hunting that is sometimes required. Despite this, Helden des Tages is an episode everybody who understands German should play.

Nick Bounty 2: The Goat in the Grey Fedora. The crew of Pinhead Games has delivered the long-expected sequel to the game that put them on the map last year. Nick Bounty is back, in a hilarious adventure where he needs to find a certain statue. In his quest, he’ll face murderous mobsters, an ancient civilization, a real monster and a very, very strange woman. Even though the production value has improved, with better graphics and excellent voiceovers, the game is shorter and much more linear than the first one, and sometimes the jokes feel a little forced. Still, it’s been a pleasure to play this title.

Prodigal is a very long game with beautifully drawn backgrounds and compelling writing. Your brother is in trouble with a mysterious cult, and it’s up to you to save him from its members, demons and other threats. The backgrounds and the cut scenes are professionally drawn, and not even commercial games would have been ashamed of the length of this title. Unfortunately, the story is being presented as a horror, but this is not supported by the graphics or writing. This makes it less authentic than if the author opted to aim a little lower, for a mystery story. In addition, character sprites stand out against the background as very simplistic, but even with those problems playing this title was fun.

Return to Civilization. You are a famous treasure hunter and tomb raider, even though you don’t look exactly like Lara Croft. Unfortunately, your team has left you in a hurry, and now you need to find your way out of the jungle. This title features very nice graphics and good soundtrack, but its main strength lies in its humor. The author claims that the game is a cross between Space Quest IV and Monkey Island, and he is pretty close to the truth, as the humor is outstanding. There is a special “easy” play mode, and you’ll die in countless convoluted ways, and will be rewarded with a fitting epitaph for each of your deaths. In addition, you’ll be able to participate in an Iron Chef contest, transform cannibals into more peace-loving people and do much more. The only thing I wasn’t too happy about is the fact that all characters are extremely one-dimensional, making them little more than puzzles themselves. Still, this game is fully worth your attention.

Sheet: The Art of Art. This is one of the few ultra-short games that are actually great fun to play. This title offers almost no challenge, no puzzles whatsoever, and the only thing the player will struggle with is the French accent of one of the characters. The main strength of this game lies in its minimalism, which was brought to perfection. Instead of creating a game that’s a mile wide and an inch deep, the author limited the screen to three simple elements, a single animated character (the other two are rather stationary) and a reduced interface. Here, the author focused on a very unique setting and a great little story, and added to it very effective graphics and a catchy music tune. I was very pleasantly surprised with the outcome.

Stargate Adventure is notable for its release out of nowhere, before a cease and desist letter could shut the project down (that said, finding a working download was quite a challenge). The game features very good graphics, true to the TV series. Unfortunately, it will appeal only to fans of the series: despite the fact that I’ve seen the movie and saw a few shows, I had absolutely no idea what I was supposed to do, or what was being said. The good news is that the game consists mainly of cut scenes with a few short adventuring tasks. I personally was put off by the story as well, which combined all the clichéd problems from the show – the threat of the greatest enemy, the President shutting down the project, an infiltrator in the base and others – into one plot. Still, if you are a fan of the series and can forgive these problems, as well as the lack of a soundtrack and a few error messages, you’ll enjoy the game.

The Winter Rose is a beautifully drawn fairy-tale adventure, which sets the player onto a quest to kill the ice dragon. Throughout the game the dragon will be a constant, yet distant menace, while a murderous gnome and treacherous terrain will make your life miserable. The game is well written, and I found it refreshing to be part of a relatively benign fairy tale once again. I was somewhat disturbed by the lack of dialogue trees, but other than that I really enjoyed this title, including its sometimes convoluted puzzles.

The Witch's Yarn is a very unique game. It all takes place in a single room, where your main character, a powerful witch, tries to live like a normal person. Instead of adventuring, you will be the director of a theater play. You will determine which person would enter the stage next, and what people would talk about. Depending on your choice, the characters’ mood changes accordingly, and this in turn affects the course of future conversations. Even though this title is aimed at a very narrow audience, everybody who is interested in novel approaches to adventure gaming should give it a try.

Zugzwang is a chess term, which means forced move. It occurs when one side has no good moves left, and is forced to make a move that would cost it an advantage or even a chess piece. That’s exactly the case in this superb game, which deals with chess. This is the story of two pawns, a white and a black one. Both of them want to get onto the board, but to do so, they need to learn the rules of the game. They do so by interacting with all other pieces and going through progressively more difficult chess puzzles, spiked with a little adventuring. The author, Richard Evans, has lots of experience designing games. In addition to a few commercial titles, he created three MAGS winners, including the highly original Magsic. This one can easily be one of the best he has done. Even though it is shorter and less difficult than some other games, most notably Crave, it features a perfectly smooth learning curve, which will appeal to everybody who played at least one game of chess.

1213, Episode I. As it is usual for the author, Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw, this title is highly atmospheric and original. This time, the player is prisoner No. 1213 who one day finds his cell unlocked and a gun by his side. In a combination of adventuring and platform action, he needs to do…something. He doesn’t know who he is or why he is there, and it appears that the only way to find out is to face a certain mutant, also a former prisoner. In addition to great balance, the game offers very good graphics and a unique health meter.

Aazor: The Life of a Demon - Part I: The Beginning. It’s too bad that the developer didn’t hold off with this release until the game was finished. You play as a fallen angel, who now follows Lucifer’s orders. The game features very nice graphics and some good humor, but it’s hopelessly short.

Alien Time Zone. This is a short game with an unusual spin: you are always in the same location, but you can travel through time. The puzzles also include geological effects, and trying to decrypt some weird language.

Alone in the Night. A short entry into the One Room One Week Competition, this game has you locked up in a haunted house. This title is notable only for its digitized actor character animation and lots of pixel hunting.

Another Way Out. This is a very short game with a single puzzle, which doesn’t involve any inventory items. You should be done with it in a minute or so, and even the decent graphics and soundtrack won’t make you come back to it for another run.

A Walk in Da Tomb. The author claims this is the shortest game ever, and he may very well be right. Especially with the nasty bug, which shuts down the game almost immediately…

Awesmoe Quest is one of the most frustrating games ever. It begins as a very poorly made game full of spelling errors, but soon switches to a fake game editor with a MS Office paper clip imitation. Here, you get into a cyclical conversation, from which you can escape only through the good old Crtl-Alt-Del.

Balloon Face is a very short, very strange game where your goal is to float on your balloon to the Sun. I admire the author’s knack for dialogue and inventiveness; I hold his graphical skills in a somewhat lower regard.

Belusebius Arrival. The newest entrant into the Reality on the Norm series seems to be doing everything wrong. You start out by having amnesia, and until the end you’ll never know what you need to be doing. The game has plenty of empty screens, useless hotspots and voiceovers, very poor grammar, broken dialogue trees and poorly defined spots to exit the screen. I had to force myself to finish this title.

Bob Goes Home is a short game, full of scripting errors and too large cursor pointers, which has you locked in a school, looking for a way out. This is one of the weaker offerings this year.

The Bunker. A game where the player is shrunk and lost in a golf bunker. The gameplay consists mainly of wandering empty sandy landscape and from time to time running into talking skulls, until the player finds his way out.

Bunny Quest is a short game of “kill the bunny”. Despite the cute graphics and music, and the gory death, I found it too weird to recommend.

C.U.T.E. The Marvelous Adventures of Princess Marian part VII. The next part of the Princess Alba series requires only four clicks, nearly no thinking, and features a terrorist plot. The graphics are as cute as always, but I found the innocence and playfulness of the previous parts largely gone. Oh well, I guess world events affect everybody…

Cedric and the Revolution is an excellent game with great production value, and a very cute story and puzzles. You play a small elf who wants to start a demonstration against the king’s high taxes. To do so, he needs to help several people who would then join him. The author claims that he wanted to evoke a feeling of a LucasArts game, and with the graphics and puzzles he succeeded, even though the humor remained quite off.

Chalk’s Quest is an extremely short game that can be solved with a single click. Too bad; the graphics were kinda cute…

Chick Chaser. First of all, remember to save; you can get killed. Once you do so, you’ll enjoy this very funny and quite expansive story of love, break-up and picking up girls. Despite its name, the title remains very tasteful and on the funny side. The production value is also quite high, with good graphics and music, but the setting, a school campus, is getting a little old.

Class Notes is a short game where you need to find somebody to give you the notes for an exam tomorrow. The title was originally released in Spanish, and the English translation isn’t all that great, but bearable. The production value, on the other hand, is very high, mainly thanks to great graphics. My only gripe is that I wasn’t able to cycle the cursor, which after each action defaulted to walk mode.

Dance Til You Drop. You play as Richard Simons, trying to rescue your business from going bust. The graphics are great, and so is the music, but the author has stuffed so many items into the single screen that you’ll end up pixel hunting a lot.

Da New Guys. This is a very well done adventure game involving a trio of wrestlers who are about to be split up and chased out of their apartment. Thanks to the meddling of The Brain, the dumbest one of them all, they have additional problems coming from other sources as well. The game features good graphics, music and humor; too bad that I’m not a fan of wrestling, and quite possibly I missed some insider jokes.

Dark of Night. You are taking a walk in a haunted garden, in the middle of a thunderstorm. It shouldn’t thus surprise you if you come across a skeleton who asks you to retrieve its leg bone… This game features absolutely stunning backgrounds and weather effects, which, unfortunately, require lots of frustrating pixel hunting.

Der Verschwundene Husky. This is a relatively large German-only game with decent graphics and superb voiceovers. The puzzles are the standard sort, there is no humor to speak of, and most importantly, there are several dead-ends that spoil the fun of the game.

Elf Motors, Inc. This is a small, cute game where you play a small elf who maintains a car engine. Something has damaged the engine, and it’s up to you to fix it and catch the culprit. The puzzles are very simple, albeit one is quite creative, the graphics are on the lower end and the music is sparse, and yet the story somehow manages to tie everything together into a quite good game.

Elfo: Rescue Crabby. Good graphics don’t necessarily make a good game. Such is the case here, as the puzzles are rather simple or illogical, and the game shows severe problems with hotspots. Using an item, for example, is a major exercise in patience.

Emily Enough – Imprisoned. Emily has just murdered her parents for not fulfilling her birthday wishes, and for that she got locked into a mental institution, run by a bankrupt drug company. Your task is to get out, by any means necessary, even if it means taking questionable drugs and tolerating men who stiff your underwear. Even though the game has a very interesting setting and good graphics, I found it a little too thinly spread and too few puzzles.

Escape from Maniac Mansion. Despite its name, this is a German-only game, released as part of the Halloween initiative of the Maniac Mansion Mania group. You came to the Maniac Mansion once again, to rescue your friend. However, in addition to your usual suspects, the undead family Edison, you’ll run into others from various horror movies.

ESPER: The Town on the Edge of Darkness. You are a paranormal investigator, hired by a man accused of murder. Your client claims to be innocent, as his victim was already dead when he attacked her. The author tried to create a spooky atmosphere, with watercolor graphics and good music, but the sprites aren’t too well integrated, which takes away most of its authenticity.

Exit is a short game with a long download. The title features lots of AVI movies, which makes the download longer, and which doesn’t help the gameplay too much. You are a figurine, trying to find your way out of a maze with strange physical properties. While the idea was neat, the lack of any information and feedback didn’t really motivate me to find the exit.

The Find. You found an abandoned space station, and now you need to get to the command center to find out what happened. The only thing that will slow you down in this very short game is some pixel hunting.

Gladiator Quest is a remake of an old Commodore game, in which you’ll find yourself in a Roman prison and want to escape. The game file even contains an old readme file from the people who cracked the original game. The title features very primitive graphics and a text parser, which may pose a challenge to some.

Guy Slug is the name of the game, as well as the main character. The task is simple: get the bartender tell you who committed a crime. The puzzles are relatively easy, and the graphics quite empty. Unfortunately, the game also includes a show-stopping bug.

He's Gone Historical. This is yet another game that takes place at school, shortly before a project deadline. And once again, you play the laggard. This time, however, you are hopelessly in love with the teacher, and for some reason even the most outrageous comments are tolerated. Production-wise, the game is below average. The graphics have certain charm, but there is no sound whatsoever. The puzzles are a little on the obscure side.

HiYah. You play a ninja here, with the task to steal the Queen’s jewels. The game, which features some of the weirdest character animations I remember, never really explains much, including why your character is only the third best ninja in the world.

In Limbo. This is yet another entrant to the One Week One Room Competition. You end up as a white blob in purgatory, and you’ll need to convince Death that you belong to Heaven. Despite the short gameplay, the title offers two endings, but even so it’s a few minutes long affair.

Into the Light. This is a short, experimental adventure game played in a first-person view. The problem is that you are blind, so the “view” isn’t really all that great, but the author has solved this problem excellently, allowing you to use all other senses on all objects you find. Unfortunately, some puzzles are a little obscure and too specific to certain cultures, making this game too frustrating to non-Americans.

I Think We Got Lost. Presented in South Park graphics, this looks like a very abridged version of The Blair Witch Project. The title, which includes full voiceovers, ends in the middle of the (lack of) action.

Knight's Quest III - Tides of Merania. This is quite a large game, which involves three characters on separate quests and a simple and effective system to transfer inventory items among themselves. The graphics are similar to those in the earlier parts, and the humor didn’t improve too much, but I was happy to see that the author kept improving on the story and game size.

Kong Over Baghdad. The evil chimp George has taken Saddam’s Cheetos, and so he recruited Ron Jeremy to get them back. The premise and graphics are something I’d expect from South Park; too bad the game is so short.

Laura Bow in: The Road to Murder. A murder has happened in the bus you were on, and now you have a short time to solve it before the police arrive. The game is rather short, and the puzzles relatively easy, but it’s still fun to play.

Legends of Mardaram. This German-only game features a weird, yet beautifully drawn 3D world and a first person view. Unfortunately, the story is rather clichéd, as you find yourself with amnesia in a prison, and even the quite unique characters and some voiceovers don’t breathe life into the relatively stale gameplay.

Long Expected Friday. A relatively difficult game, thanks to some pixel-hunting, it is unique mainly due to its graphical presentation. The title is displayed in an isometric view, with the main character standing in place and the backgrounds moving in the desired direction.

Magsic. This is an excellent game with a very unique setting (Van Gogh’s discarded ear) and interface. You play a musical note, on a quest to find your lost love. The game is choke-full of puzzles, most of which are based on music, and almost all of which make no sense whatsoever. Hardcore adventure gamers will love it, as do I, for its originality.

Magsic II. The sequel to one of the year’s most original games offers more of the same. The puzzles seem to be a little more minimalist, but tougher than the first, but neither graphics nor music have improved. Still, I’ve got to give kudos to the author for his inventiveness in puzzles.

Maniac Mansion Mania - Episode 20: Das Date 2. The ultimate task is to cause diarrhea to one of the characters, but in the end the player will struggle more with keeping his sanity. The title violates one of the main rules of good adventure game design and features non-skippable text.

Maniac Mansion Mania - Episode 21: Rettet Kanal 13! This is a very well done episode, which has you trying to save a TV station by increasing its ratings. Unfortunately, the only person who can do so is Bernard, who is not the most TV –friendly person.

Maniac Mansion Mania - Episode 23: Das verflixte Geschenk. A convoluted story, obvious puzzles and several scripting bugs haunt this game. Still, it’s interesting to experience being insulted by a birthday present.

Maniac Mansion Mania – Episode 24: Time Machine. Britney has been injured, and you feel responsible. So you come up with the idea to build a time machine, stuff it into a DeLorean, and travel back in time to prevent the accident. The game features quite a lot of inventory, some interesting puzzles and even a side story.

Maniac Mansion Mania – Episode 26: Zeitenwende. The government has decided to change the reality, but Dr. Fred has overslept and forgot to change. It’s now up to you to avoid a beating, and find a way to send Dr. Fred back in time. The game features some of the best graphics of the series, which allowed the author also to change some of the default statements to something more humorous, but I found the puzzles somewhat random.

Maniac Mansion Mania – Episode 27: Hamsternator. Weird Ed has gotten a new hamster, which has unfortunately escaped and barricaded himself in the Maniac Mansion. You are there to help Ed to catch the animal again. This title offers some rather obscure puzzles and a very limited access to the Mansion again.

Maniac Mansion Mania – Episode 28: Time Machine 2. Bernard has gotten lost in the time stream and landed in the 1960s. Now, he needs to get home, without altering the past too much. The game, as its predecessor, is choke-full of inventory items and thus puzzles of the more difficult variety, and even features two characters you can switch between. It is definitely one of the better episodes of the series.

Maniac Mansion Mania – Episode 29: Flucht des Meteoriten. The purple meteor has once again landed, but this time on a small tropical island. The meteor police, however, are hot on its trail. I found this title to be one of the weaker ones, due to few puzzles and no humor, and not even the new backgrounds could save it.

Maniac Mansion Mania – Episode 30: Remembering Zak. Given the abundance of new backgrounds and an interesting premise – a parody of Zak McKracken, I’ve had high hopes for this game. Unfortunately, illogical puzzles and multiple bugs have spoiled my experience, and unfortunately I must admit that this was one of the weaker episodes released.

Maniac Mansion Mania – Episode 35: Wegbebeamt. This episode features some of the best puzzles in the series, as well as a whole bunch of new backgrounds (the rest is recycled from Episode 26). Unfortunately, the new backgrounds are lifted from other games, and don’t fit well into the overall graphics. Still, this remains one of the better titles in the series.

Maniac Mansion Mania – Episode 36: Der Liebesbrief. Dave’s parents have left, and so he called Sandy over. He prepared everything, even hid his porn magazines, but didn’t count that an old girlfriend would contact him. Now he needs to keep Sandy from finding out. The title features some new backgrounds and a few puzzles, but nothing groundbreaking.

Maniac Mansion Mania – Episode 37: Verabredung mit Dave. Sandy has a date with Dave, and needs to prepare for it. Unfortunately, she gets into a fight with her, after which you switch to playing Dave and trying to make it up to her. The game features an enormous new house, and maybe because of this it feels spread really thin.

Maniac Mansion Mania – Episode 38: Rescue Mission. Bernard has developed a new security system, but accidentally got locked in his room. It’s up to his new friend to somehow get him out of there. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this game, but it failed to raise my interest. The puzzles are largely easy and straightforward, with inventory items rarely needed for more than one action.

Maniac Mansion Mania – Episode 39: Erinnerungen. Released on December 31, this game has wrapped up a great year for Maniac Mansion fans. The Mania, which began in March, has yielded thirty nine regular episodes and a whole lot of specials, and this game serves to remind us of that. You’ll find all characters sitting around a campfire and talking about past events, and you’ll even get the chance to replay small parts of previous game. This is a really fitting ending of the year.

Maniac Mansion Mania: Day of the Dead. This is a hilarious Halloween episode where everybody in the town, except Bernard, turns into a zombie. The puzzles are not that special, but the author did a really good job with the dialogues, which he stuffed full of good jokes.

Maniac Mansion Mania: Halloween Special 2005. Wendy learns how to cast spells, and by doing so manages to upset a newly created ghost. The game features some good scripting and puzzles, but it took me nearly the entire game to figure out what was going on, and not until I read the game description I knew I was casting spells.

Maniac Mansion Mania: Horror. The green tentacle has unleashed a zombie to the world, and now you must stop it. This is one of the weakest Maniac Mansion Mania games, and not even two play modes save it. The game includes pixel hunting of the worst sort, failed joke attempts and a nasty scripting bug.

Mind’s Eye. This is a beautifully drawn and highly atmospheric game, which has the player locked in a mental institution, drugged most of the time. The warden hates you, and your mental episodes don’t help you, either. Unfortunately, in this respect the game may have been done too well, as I felt at loss about what I was supposed to do throughout the game.

Mordy: On Holiday. You are the typical clueless and stupid hero in a strange environment, which you can find in so many other adventure games. This time, your task is to find and kill the sender of hate mail to the local Yoda, in a very eclectic land with even stranger creatures. The game is quite well drawn, but I found the interaction and jokes quite forced.

No, I am Spartacus! This title is a mouse killer. You’ll need to go through a seemingly endless conversation tree, before you see the obvious, yet still funny conclusion of this little game.

Noisy Mountain has the player barely survive a car crash, but wake up without a single scratch. Something weird is going on, and you need to find out what. Unfortunately, this German-only game doesn’t give you any sense of direction; it simply unlocks new locations for you to explore without much of a feedback or explanation.

Otaku Rivals. Considering the size of the download, this is an impressive game. Your task is to capture a few anime characters, which have been released into the wild. The graphics are very good, and the puzzles quite difficult, especially for someone like me who probably missed all the jokes or character-specific information that would have helped me in my quest.

The Paramecium Complex. This is quite a unique game where you look through a microscope onto a Petri dish and try to rescue a culture of very unique bacteria. Unfortunately, with no feedback from the game, it is largely a hit-and-miss task.

Pixia: Rainbow of Havoc. This is a very random non-game, which has you wander through a poorly drawn world, listen to the random ramblings of a few characters and claim that Michael Jackson is the greatest musician ever. The title is not really interactive, and it ends as abruptly as it begins.

Prodigal 0. The author of Prodigal has released a short preview game, which involves one complex puzzle. It shows off the great graphics and atmosphere, but without the full game you won’t know what your quest is about.

Sammy the Sperm is a short game where you play a sperm on the quest to fertilize an egg. The game features full voiceovers, a few educational bits and a very hilarious ending. Too bad it was so short and easy.

Shemwood Plains. This is yet another locked-in-a-haunted-house game. This time, though, you’re presented with a top-down view and way too many find-key-use-key puzzles, which are only marginally more complex than those in the original Doom.

Silent Knight: Chapter 2 - The Conscience of the King. A much improved sequel to an already good game, this title features a whole host of great puzzles, including a part of an IQ test. Unfortunately, the graphics and humor remain as eclectic as in the first part, and even though they give the entire series its signature look and feel, I wasn’t very fond of it. Still, anybody who liked the first part will love the second one.

Simon’s Journey is a very good Reality on the Norm game, where you play Simon, Dave’s brother, who got locked out of the house. The game features multiple endings and some randomness, which allows for some replayability.

Slug Princess is a sub-game, which can be also found in the game Crave. The author has later released it as a standalone title. Here, you play a princess on the search for treasure, in order to save her mother. The author states that the game has been developed like an old-school adventure from 80s, including the typical pitfalls. He is right: the game has some abrupt endings, and it takes forever to “load”.

Soviet-Unterzögersdorf. With photographs instead of backgrounds and people animations, and with full voiceovers (Russian, for more authenticity), this game has an extremely high production value. However, the very weak story full of forced jokes has left me cold.

Space Adventure is a short, poorly scripted game with a generic character, frustratingly slow animations and poor grammar. Not recommended.

Spacewar (Episode 1 - The Crystal). An obvious Star Wars knock-off, this is a very short, poorly drawn and terribly animated title. Had the setting been more original, I would’ve recommended the game as a good example of a starting, promising developer, but this title, as it is, is not worth the download.

Spacewar episode 2 (Curien strikes back). The second part of the series shows significant improvement, especially in graphics and puzzles. It is still sub-average, also thanks to some of the worst grammar I’ve seen in recent months, but people desperate enough for more games and those who like to punish themselves by watching incredibly slow walking animations may give it a try.

Unfinished is a short and easy game without a real underlying story. You play an adventure character left to herself by her creator, who decided to take a break and catch some sleep. First as a woman and then as a fish, you just stumble upon items and events that help you go forward, without any particular goal in mind.

Non-adventure games

Akumayo’s AGS Chess is an attempt to bring a chess game into AGS. Unfortunately, the game does not have enough A.I. to check whether someone is performing more than one move per turn, neither it is smart enough to detect a checkmate. Needless to say, there is no computer opponent available.

Bear Story is a very well done arcade/adventure, in the best tradition of the old Dizzy games, which I still remember from my ZX Spectrum. You play a bear that was locked in his house by a bully, and he needs to find a way out. The story premise is rather weak, and the twists during the gameplay won’t make much more sense. However, this is offset by good graphics and an excellent combination of arcade action and the interface.

Digilawyer is an attempt at creating an interactive conversation. Apparently, the author considered lawyers and stock analysts to be incredibly stupid, as the conversation yields next to nothing. The idea was good, the execution very poor.

Hell’s Satans is a movie, made using the AGS engine. Even those who like the story may be a little frustrated by its very slow going and all the clicking that is required. Still, it was a good effort, and the story is quite extensive.

Javelin Catch is a short game of timing. All you have to do in this simple title is to press the space bar just at the right moment, in order to catch a flying javelin without getting hurt. This title is a nice past time for about two minutes.

Labyrinth is a good attempt at a role-playing game, using the AGS engine. The game is displayed in a first-person view, as you wander through a labyrinth, killing monsters and collecting items. Unlike many other similar games, this one even has a story and a way to win. Unfortunately, the stats system is not balanced well enough, preventing any kind of strategizing. Still, I enjoyed myself.

MIA. This is a very well done look-alike of Cannon Fodder, a tactical action shooter where you play a soldier (or an entire squad), visiting strange lands, meeting their inhabitants and killing them. Actually, the lands are always pretty similar and your victims always wear blue, but in addition to the enemies you’ll be facing hidden mines and other threats. The game also features weather and time changes, which together allow for a truly wholesome gaming experience, and once again show how much the AGS engine is capable of.

MOTLPAA. This is a nice experiment with the AGS engine, which features a large maze, viewed in the first person view. The maze features several textures, a map and a short task.

One is an extremely short board game, which should take you less than ten seconds to master and finish. ‘Nuff said.

Operation Novi. This is a small shooter of the Virtua Cop type, where you are stationary and shoot down enemies as they come at you. Each level features a unique boss, and from time to time you get new, more powerful grunts to kill. The game, which was created using the AGS engine, also features a relatively well developed background story and decent graphics.

Princess Marian VIII: Snow Fight! This is a short fighting game for two players on the same keyboard, where each player can walk around, gather snow for snowballs and throw them. The game mechanics are quite good, and so is the interface, allowing for some short-term fun.

Racing Manager is an attempt to create a Formula 1 management simulation with AGS. Unfortunately, the game gives zero feedback, and without a manual or a hint file even creating a racing team is nearly impossible, also thanks to the fact that there are no undo options.

Rapstar. This is a very professionally done game, as far as the presentation and interface go, but it lacks a compelling idea. You play a rapper, in a fight with fellow rappers. You’ve got to counter whatever they say, and if you are successful, part of their life force disappears. Naturally, the same happens to you if you fail. You’ll have three words under your command, and you’ll be able to combine them in any way you want. I never understood the logic behind choosing the correct answer. But then again, I don’t listen to rap.

Dear reader, if you managed to get this far, you have my undying admiration. The second half of 2005 has blessed us with so many independent adventures that just listing all of them took quite a while; reading all their description must’ve been quite a chore. A chore that I feel very happy about, as it means that there was plenty to play last year. As the authors and game editors get more sophisticated, the games get longer, more complex and more fun for the player. There have been several titles last year that I enjoyed more than most commercial games in the past five years, and there have been others, which I lost my sleep for. True, there were a few duds, but thanks to the strong community around independent adventures, their occurrence was largely limited.

I’m writing these closing lines on December 31, two hours before midnight. When I open a bottle of Champagne in two hours, I’ll be also toasting to the great year of adventuring we’ve had, and to an even better year of independent adventuring 2006.

7 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Web site for the Prodigal and Prodigal 0 games seems to have moved to http://prodigal.aedmark.com

11:38 PM  
Blogger Alex said...

So glad you're posting again!
I've always enjoyed your summarizations of the month's adventures, and missed you sorely the past few months.

11:50 PM  
Blogger Jozef said...

Thanks fot the update; I changed those links.

Alex: Thanks for the comment. I'm glad to be posting again :)

8:40 PM  
Anonymous Vince Twelve said...

Jozef, great to have you back! Thanks for the kind words about Anna. Looking forward to reading your comments on Spooks in the next update!

9:41 PM  
Anonymous Harold said...

YES!!!! Josef is back!!!! I was hoping that your articles would start back up!!!!

3:39 PM  
Anonymous Etcher2Games said...

Hey, thanks for reviewing "Into the Light" and the honesty you gave it. I really appreciate it.

11:56 AM  
Blogger Gord10 said...

Hello,
I'm the developer of Lost In The Nightmare (and also the "I Think We Got Lost", the worst OROW game :) )
Thanks for your review for LitN! And yes, I'm really 17.

7:18 AM  

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