I rarely review any free titles on this site. This is because I find it difficult to criticise in length about anything I got without spending a single euro on. It is somewhat similar to getting a free lunch out of pure kindness; it is much easier to just praise the effort, even if the quality would prove to be poor. Yet at the same time, it feels disheartening to not highlight some interesting free games that are either made with passion, are bizarre, or just perfect examples of being wastes of effort. Because of this, I decided to dedicate specific articles to talk shortly about a couple of free titles. With this in mind, welcome to the Free Corner
Whenever I randomly picked up a title for the Game Boy, I often ended up with puzzle titles for some strange reason. This led me to get a curious obsession with them, as I grew to learn that this genre is nothing to shun over, despite that I was more into RPGs and adventure titles as a kid. I believe HellTaker is a lovely example of how great a puzzle game can be. The goal is simple: reach the girl at the end of every stage in order for you to get a harem full of demons. There are suggestive themes and humorous writing everywhere, but it never becomes insensitive and instead adds to its charm. All is done with beautiful character design and adorable in-game figurines, with the music making block puzzles seem as exciting as Doom‘s shooting.
Though this is already a great setup, the core gameplay is the main focus here. Every stage (except for the very last one) gives you an amount of steps you can take before you die, forcing you to plan every single move in order to get to the finish line. This might sound simple, but there is enough variety to keep you engaged, and not just through the good difficulty curve. Skeletons must be pushed into a corner in order to be killed, spiked floors can have retracted patterns and more, adds to make this a fun hour to spend time on. There is even a fantastic final boss that completely changes the speed of the game, and subtle secrets that are fun to discover. If you enjoy it, do please consider purchasing the Artbook. It had a nice recipe for pancakes!
This title is a perfect example of how simplicity can be better than most triple A titles. The concept here is that you need to aim a ball in order for it to hit all the white shapes in one go. Do this, and you move on to the next stage. This easy to understand concept is what makes Okay? so fantastic. It requires logic and skills, as you will have to aim with clear timing and figure out how to beat each stage, making it both relaxing and exciting.
This focus on simplicity is also shown in the presentation. The white shapes are what you need to make contact with, strings will have the ball go straight through them, going off the screen will restart the stage and black shapes will not disappear upon contact, just to name a few examples. Every hit to a white block also plays a tune that can lead up to each after getting a higher pitch or in creating a cute melody. These small ideas elevate Okay? from a nice puzzle title, into one definitely worth contributing to. It is far more than just okay.
I apologise in advance, since this segment will have me mainly gushing over this remake. However, this is how you do one perfectly! Rayman is one of my favourite platformers ever, and while it had some issues, I had no idea how far the core concept could have been expanded upon. First off, the screen is zoomed further out, and minor visual and audio tweaks were implemented, polishing the already lovely presentation. Furthermore, Rayman has all of his abilities from the start, leading to you having much more tools to work with. Because of this, every stage has been redesigned and expanded upon to make them more engaging, fleshed out, and taking advantage of every single move Rayman has, with even some new ideas being thrown in. Even the boss fights are better, with more interesting patterns added inn and exploitable issues being fixed.
It is amazing how every stage is now fast paced, with the new ones being even better. While the jailed Electoons are still hidden in the stages, their placements are actually better to not feel outright obscure. What is more so this time, are the hidden hat-icons (instead of the normal tophats) that will unlock speedrun challenges, and the secret presents that contain a quarter of a sphere for unlocking more to the shop. Yes, the blue orbs you collect is used this time as currency to get new skins for Rayman or for purchasing extra lives for example. It is still a challenging game, making the core experience familiar. However, with so much added to expand upon the original, I sincerely hope Ubisoft higher this guy and makes this title available on every current console. You even run on the overworld map and more to Rayman‘s story were added. This creator is a mastermind of details!
Delores: A Thimbleweed Park Mini-Adventure
Thimbleweed Park is one of the best point-and-click experiences I have had in a long time, which is not surprising when you notice that Ron Gilbert was at the head of this project. What came after the unbeeped DLC, was not another addition to the already excellent title, but instead a free mini-adventure. Since it did not seem commercially viable and was originally a prototype for Ron Gilbert’s next project, Delores: A Thimbleweed Park Mini-Adventure was made as a free title for anyone to enjoy. How kind of them!
It uses the same town from the original game, where you play as Delores taking on photography jobs for the local newspaper. However, the descriptions for what she needs to take pictures of are vague, so you must use your noggin to find out what you could use as a workable photograph. This is still a point-and-click game at heart with some item management, but a lighter and shorter one, with still the strong humour Ron Gilbert is known for being present. The unique idea of using a camera in order to solve puzzles, has me intrigued for what might come next, but as it stands: this is worth playing. Give it an hour, and if you had slightly fun with it, you will love Thimbleweed Park. Actually, I believe you will love it either way.
Demo Highlight: Akurra
Akurra is another block puzzle game, with this one being inspired by Chip’s Challenge, Adventure’s of Lolo, Sokoban, and Zelda. However, while it clearly has taken many inspirations from other titles, it is an example of how to do so in order to make itself an exciting and unique experience. Akurra brims with a lovely style using 8-bit presentation and an inviting setting by taking place on a mystical island. However, what truly sets Akurra apart from the usual norm of puzzle games, is how fast paced it is. Block puzzles are not necessarily always at a leisure pace and tile-based, like HellTaker for example, but I am surprised how I could run all over the place in Akurra and still be in complete control.
Every area is presented in its own stationary screen (like in the very first The Legend of Zelda), making it easy to restart a puzzle if you ever make a wrong move. From this demo, the puzzles were not too demanding, but still engaging and worked as a fantastic introduction to its grander project. I am really excited for this title, and happy it got funded through Kickstarter. Release date is set to 2021, with even a switch-port to boot! Hopefully, it will be more worth my time and money than the Link’s Awakening remake.
I hope this was a fun departure from my regular articles and would love to hear about other titles I might have missed, free or not, as well as feedback. Keep in mind though: for something to grow, it needs support. Do never take anything that is given for free granted, as long as it is made with the best intentions.