They say nothing in life is free. Nothing, that is, except freeware! Over the years I've downloaded my fair share of free games with often little to no expectation for satisfying or memorable game play. Once in a while though you find a game which, whilst developed with a nonexistent budget and released for free, is in fact as good as any retail game. Games such as Spelunky and Digital: A Love Story proved that freeware games can be deep, immersive experiences in which production values have no rightful place and where personal creativity is king. I recently came across a freeware game called Treasure Adventure Game which proved to be just such a game.
Developed over two years and released in December, TAG is the kind of 16-bit nostalgia we've all come to love over recent years, but TAG is also an incredibly intelligent game which evokes the true joyfulness of videogame adventure and exploration.
In TAG you are a young boy who is tasked with retrieving 12 treasures across a watery world of islands. These treasure were hidden by a powerful wizard you once used them to defeat a great demon. When the world is threatened again you are sent off to retrieve these treasure to protect the islands. You therefore have to sail between these various islands to find treasure maps and then use these to track down the 12 treasures. The game is broken up into searching for treasure maps and platforming through 'dungeons' to find the treasure. You can explore and find treasure at your own pace as the game is relatively non-linear. If one treasure is giving you a lot of trouble, you can head off to find the next one, or look for more maps. Along with these treasures you can also look for equipment, such as throwing hooks and a cannon for your ship, as well as hats, which give you special abilities such as deterring certain enemies.
The non-linear style of gameplay is reminiscent of the 'Metroidvania' , platforming genre and has been described by its creator as a cross between Super Mario Brothers and Wind Waker. It may not have the level design of a Mario game but it certainly has the charm, and it can often be quite ingenious. One level in which the ingestion of hallucinogenic mushrooms is necessary to find platforms is inspired, while some of the bosses are incredibly original. It's not the most challenging game and compared to games like Spelunky or the brutally tough, MSX inspired adventure La-Mulana (another freeware game well worth checking out) it can feel a little juvenile. But the charm of game's world and characters allows it to be incredibly immersive without the necessity of tough puzzles or gameplay. It is simply beautiful. It's full of incredible characters, designs and gameplay mechanics (it has literally the best fast travel device I've ever seen).
This is an incredible game which I urge everyone to check out. For freeware its up there with the best and easily challenges the quality and charm of many a sterile retail release. TAG is not simply indulgent nostalgia - it is an enlightening memory. Like remembering exactly where your keys are, Treasure Adventure Game reminds me exactly why I loved playing videogames as a child. If I had to choose a Game of The Year for 2011, this would challenge Dark Souls. And it's free!
Freeware games mentioned:
Treasure Adventure Game: http://www.robitstudios.com/treasure-adventure-game/
Digital: A Love Story: http://scoutshonour.com/digital/