As of November 2012, I run music webzine A Lonely Ghost Burning.

It's all about short, positive reviews with no genre restrictions. Might be worth a try if you you like your music to feature any or all of the following characteristics;

- Distinctive Vocals

- Palpable Atmosphere

- Believable Emotion

I also write occasionally for the excellent Alternative Magazine Online and keep a far less excellent blog, Cherry Faced Fool.

Monday, 27 April 2009

Coyote Episode 1: The Mexican

This will be a shortish review of a very short game, but don't let that put you off giving Episode 1: The Mexican a try...or off reading this review for that matter!

Coyote Episode 1: The Mexican was created by Tim Hengeveld and serves as an introduction to 'The Coyote' and the world of which he is a part. It is a prequel to a possible full-length future offering.


The game's central character is 'The Coyote', an outlaw on the trail of a Desperado and it is defeating this foe that the player is tasked with here. Enough of a backstory is given so that the player knows what the game is about, but overall the storytelling element of this game is very sparse.


The strongest element of this game is the atmosphere. Firstly, it looks great, with the hand-drawn backgrounds really doing a good job of making the Western theme seem authentic.

Likewise the sound is very good. The music fits fine although it is the voice acting of the main character that hit me. Including voice acting can sometimes be counter productive for a game, destroying the immersion for the player rather than adding to it. That is certainly not the case here though, with 'The Coyote' himself being voiced brilliantly. I was genuinely surprised at how well this part was acted. The other characters aren't quite so good but are by no means terrible.

There are however a couple of things that I feel spoil the otherwise well developed atmosphere of the game. Firstly, the walking animation looks weird - almost like 'The Coyote' uses the same leg to step forward with every stride. This looks a little comical and not in keeping with the rest of the game. Secondly, there is some strong language used in one conversation which seemed unnecessary and a bit of a cheap way of trying to portray the grittiness of 'The Coyote', something that I felt the developer had already easily achieved by this point in the game.

Despite these minor nuances it is clear that a longer game set in this world would be capable of providing the player with a very immersive Western experience.


The puzzles are basic, easy, and very small in number. In the full-length game hopefully this aspect of the game will be better developed and more inspired than is the case here. On the positive side, it is always clear what the next objective is.


On completion of this game I felt compelled to review it, not because it is going to blow anyones mind in its current state, but rather because of the clear potential it has. If a full-length sequel can provide the same high level of immersion, but with a properly developed story and improvements in puzzle design, it could be a cracker of a game.

In closing, it's difficult to recommend this as a game, purely because there's not much game there. It is however worth a quick playthrough just to see the undoubted potential that it has, particularly if you're a fan of the wild west.

Download the game for free;

Coyote Episode 1: The Mexican

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Dance 'Til You Drop!

Now for something completely different, a parody game made by Shane (ProgZmax) Stevens.

Before I go any further I'm afraid I do feel a compulsive need to say..."Oh Hello Sailor!"...And with that out the way, lets move on, swiftly if possible...


In Dance 'Til You Drop, the player assumes the role of ambiguously/undoubtedly gay aerobics guru Richard Simmons, whom with money running out, finds himself in a position where it is essential for his latest project to be a success. An unknown reviewer is coming to his studio and Richard must do his best to impress said person.

The story didn't do it for me, although to be fair that isn't what this game is about, and I did find it fairly interesting trying to guess who the undercover reviewer really was.


The game's strong point however is it's humour. I was laughing before the game had even started, with a start menu screen which was pretty indicative of what was to come. I was equally amused by the game itself with some really funny moments on offer.

Be warned though, if you're easily offended you should probably steer clear of this one - depending on what you're offended by of course. Most of the humour is based around the campness of the lead character, and to a lesser extent at a rather umm...stout client. I don't believe there is anything truly offensive, but it might be something to be wary of depending on your disposition.

As for the graphics, well they are very much of a retro nature and perfectly suit the 1980s setting of the game. And with this being a ProgZmaz game, the character sprites do of course look great, whilst the animation is also mightily impressive with certain animations in particular really helping to add to the humorous atmosphere. Towards the end of the game I did however start to grow a little tired of the long aerobic and dancing cut-scenes and there could perhaps have been a little more variety to them. It is difficult to criticise this aspect of the game though as there is a lot of very good animation already included.

Another aspect of the game which really adds to the well put together 80's atmosphere is the sound. I played the full soundtrack version of the game which includes some very well known camp tunes for your listening pleasure. There is also a stereo that Richard can use to change the background music which is a nice touch. Oh, and it is very important that you click on the smiley face on the GUI - honestly, it's essential...

One other point of note is that I felt the immersion of the game was slightly spoiled by a certain solution to a situation in the game which didn't feel in keeping with the fun fatmosphere (ha, that was a genuine typo believe it or not!) of the game.


As for the puzzles, there isn't really a whole lot of them. The game reminded me a little of what I've experienced thus far from the new Sam & Max titles, where the most fun is to be had by randomly trying things and talking to other characters to see what hidden jokes and quips are on offer. Some of the puzzles require talking to the clients anyway, whilst some are inventory based and pixel hunt orientated. There is also a safe combination puzzle which seemed quite unfair and I should imagine most players (like I did) will need to consult a walkthru to get beyond this.

An added element to the gameplay is that the player's choice of action or conversation response will affect a score given to them at the end of the game and thus affect whether the undercover reviewer recommends your new project. It is usually clear as to when you need to make a choice, just the one part where this maybe isn't the case.

I should also mention that the inventory GUI is a little small and quite fiddly. Although I did get used to it, I do think it could have been better implemented.


I'm not usually a fan of parody games with little story, however rather strangely I did quite enjoy Dance Till you Drop. If you're looking for a deep engaging game then look elsewhere, but if you just want an hour of humorous entertainment then it might just be worth giving this one a go. At the very least it's different to anything else out there, well, that I've played anyway! It won't be everyone's cup of tea - but is certainly not without appeal.

Download the game for free;

Dance 'Til You Drop

Monday, 20 April 2009

Heartland Deluxe & Unbound

Next up we have two psychological horror games, 'Heartland Deluxe', and 'Unbound', both developed by LimpingFish using AGS.


These are actually short vignettes from the same universe (which may soon be joined by a third) and are meant as a prelude to a full length game entitled 'Wound'.

In the first of the two titles, you play as reporter David Lawson, whom with little else to do, decides to follow up a request from a renowned local paranoiac to speak with him. Upon arriving at the man's apartment, you find the door open, and with no-one inside you decide to go in and do some snooping...

In the second title, you play as a character heavily involved in the goings on you learn of in the first game. Trapped in a cell at a government facility after refusing to divulge information, your goal is to escape in order to try and fend off the looming onset of madness.

As well as through a small amount of conversation, the story is told though reading documents and listening to tape recordings. I find this a very rewarding way of learning about the gameworld, and if similar methods are used in longer offerings, I should imagine it will be great fun trying to piece together the story. From these vignettes, it isn't clear exactly what is going on, however this is by no means meant as a negative observation as the lack of clarification you're confronted with only increases the gameworlds intrigue. I suspect this is exactly what the developer was attempting to achieve.


This is where these games really excel. The graphics are superb, in fact I think they're the best I've seen in a free amateur adventure. But not only do the games look great, the graphical style really fits in with the tone of the story, helping to provide both with a creepy, desperate feel even in spite of they're short length.

The sound was also suitably creepy and added further depth to the games' already impressive atmosphere. The music is particularly brilliant.

Furthermore, the incomplete conversations and recordings the player will encounter further add to the mysterious feel of the games, as do the various extra little effects which are thrown in to enhance the atmosphere. Things that aren't essential, but show the developer has gone that extra mile.


Both games are played from a first person perspective and each scene is viewed from a central point in the room. Different areas of each room are accessed by panning around this point similar to Black Dahlia. This both surprised and impressed me. I don't recall seeing this method employed in any other AGS game I've played, neither had I even considered it as a possibility (credit goes to Steve McCrea for this AGS module). It worked smoothly and really made the rooms in the games easy to explore.

The puzzles are uncomplicated and shouldn't cause any trouble, although once or twice it is unclear as to exactly what needs to be done next (you'll very quickly be able to work it out though). In one instance my progress was halted because a required object didn't stand out in the darkness of a close up scene, however this may just have been due to monitor settings.

As previously mentioned the games are short, and both can easily be finished in one sitting. Depending on what you're after from the games, this may put people off, however just remember that they are only meant as a taster of bigger things yet to come.


If you're looking for a challenge, Heartland and Unbound aren't going to provide you with it, however if you want to play something extremely intriguing and brilliantly atmospheric then these games are definitely for you. They may be short, but they'll very likely leave you wanting to play the full length game when it's released. I have no idea when this will be, but I'm looking forward to it immensely.

Particularly for fans of ;

- Scratches

Download the games for free;

Heartland Deluxe

Thursday, 16 April 2009

The Murran Chronicles 2: Talons of Terror

Ok, let's get this started! Talons of Terror was developed by Bill Garrett using AGS, and is the second game in the Murran Chronicles series. Oh, and it's free!


You play as Agent Ken Murran, who after his experiences in the first game, has now been recruited to a different branch of the FBI, one which investigates cases of the more unexplainable variety. The case that the player will be guiding Ken through here involves mutilation and murder in Montana. Local cattle have turned up in places where they couldn't possibly be able to get to, their bodies mutilated. Meanwhile attempts to solve the murders of three residents with links to the local Sioux Native American community have so far proven fruitless. Are all these occurrences linked? And what of the large flying thing that has been spotted in the Montana skyline?

The story is definitely the strongest point of this game. It is completely coherent, and maintained my interest right through to the end. Very good storytelling involved here.

Something I found slightly disappointing however was the main character, whom seemed to lack...well, character. Perhaps adding to the personality of Agent Murran would have made the game even more enjoyable. In fact, character development throughout all the characters in the
game is an area which could have been improved upon to help show off the strong narrative.


This is perhaps the games main weakness, partly caused by the difference in styles between the backgrounds (photoshopped real life images) and character sprites (pixel art). Whilst the graphics serve their purpose, they don't exactly make for an amazingly immersive atmosphere. I found I was less mindful of this as the game went on however, and the backgrounds were certainly not completely devoid of mood creation.

A big positive is the dialogue and description which are solid the whole way through the game, with no apparent spelling mistakes. I find that poor use of language and spelling errors are quite often a big problem with freeware games and when they appear it can really ruin an atmosphere a game has been trying to build. So for this, Talons of Terror gets a big thumbs up.

In addition, the sound quality of the game is fine. Whilst it didn't have me in awe, neither did it detract anything from the quality of my gaming experience.


Most of the puzzles you will comes across in Talons of Terror are based around dialogue. That is, you will need to ask the right people the right questions in order to advance the story. This works very well, and travelling back and forth talking to the different characters really gave me the feeling that I was helping to solve the mystery. The game also has some inventory based puzzles which are logical and fit in with the story, and some simple yet effective crime scene investigation.

Talons of Terror, with one possible jellybean of an exception, is perfectly solvable without a walkthrough, and it could be argued that the game is on the easy side. Personally this didn't bother me as I was too immersed in trying to find out what was going on to care about how easy or hard the puzzles were. I guess this means the pacing of the game was very good.

Lengthwise the game is reasonable, taking me two or three sittings to complete, though I dare say it is of a length that could be finished in one go.


Talons of Terror is a game that fans of adventure games should find plenty to like about. Yes, it would benefit from some graphical refinement, but the graphics do hold together to allow a thoroughly interesting mystery to be unravelled. The game is a big improvement over the first in the series and with a third already in the pipeline, it appears that the developer has plenty more tales to tell. I for one am certainly looking forward to any future titles he releases. Recommended!

Particularly for fans of;

The Murran Chronicles 1: Jersey Devil
Ben Jordan Paranormal Investigator Series

The game can be downloaded from the following link;