Reviewed by Mr. Bill and Lela
This is one FREE game that almost slipped right by us, but thank God it didn't. Because what you're looking at here is the award-winning brainchild of one of the most promising new talents that we have seen in years. Her name is Erin Robinson (a.k.a. 'The Ivy'), and she's a cute little 21-year-old redheaded Canadian, with a fertile imagination, a keenly discerning eye, and a wicked sense of humor!
Spooks was her first game, and was released in 2006. She created it (along with some other things, like a weekly original comic strip) while she was still a sleep-deprived undergrad at university, studying for her degree in psychology. Perhaps it was a way to stay sane. At any rate, given her circumstances at the time, it is not too surprising to find that the setting for the game is the colorless Land of the Dead... and the heroine, trying to make some sense of it all, is an adorable young ghoul girl named Mortia.
You, of course, play Mortia, and when you first join her, she has just decided to spend some time at the 'Carnage-Val', a typical, low-budget, boring amusement park. But then a fast-talking carnie convinces her to try her luck at his game of darts, and suddenly everything changes. Because uncharacteristically, he lets her win... and then quickly foists a strange prize upon her and prepares to make his getaway. Confused, she says, "What is it?" "It's a goldfish", he slyly tells her, "and it's alive!!!" And before she can find out any more, he vanishes.
Mortia has definitely never seen such a creature. And it's in color no less, which is unheard of, and probably even illegal, in the Land of the Dead. But now he is hers, and so she names her new friend 'Spooks'... and sets out to see if anyone can tell her what being alive means, so that she can save him!
This is a linear, slide show style, 2D, point-and-click adventure, with a small inventory. The game was developed using that great free AGS software (Adventure Game Studio), and consequently the interface is very simple and easy to use. Everything is mouse controlled. You can cycle through your available cursors by right-clicking, to go from Move (crossed bones), to Look At (white eyes), to Pick Up/Use (a ghostly hand), to Talk To (a speech bubble), or to a picture of the Inventory item that you've selected, then you just left-click to use that cursor. And simply taking your mouse to the top of the screen makes all of your other options handily appear, including your Inventory as well as your Quit, Restore, and Save buttons. Obviously you can't die in this game (since you're already dead!), but you can lose, so be sure to Save often.
The amusement park's attractions are all just hellish (and funny!) versions of our own... a Seer, a Scary-Go-Round, a Ghoster-Coaster, an Inhabited House, etc. The graphics are perfectly stylized to suit the light-hearted, spooky nature of the setting, and they are, of course, all in shades of gray, as befits such a place in the Land of the Dead. So then when something or someplace finally does appear in color, it really stands out... as it is intended to by the developing story.
The puzzles are typical for an adventure game, logical, and not too difficult. Although one did stop us momentarily, but only because our own thinking had gotten too complicated. Most of them just involve finding items to help the other characters solve their problems, in exchange for information to move the story along. And their problems are often hysterical. Indeed your dialogues with the other characters, as well as Mortia's descriptions of her environment, are priceless. We love this lady's way of looking at things! We will never forget either the fallen angel's or the devil's reaction to parenthood. And Mortia's description of living is one that we will probably wind up quoting for years ( It begins with, "Being alive is like juggling with knives...").
As is usual with amateur games, there is no voice, and perhaps in this case that's not a bad thing. Because it would take some really great voice acting to do justice to some of these lines. However there is some good music, a MIDI soundtrack by Chris Moorson (a.k.a. 'The Scorposer') that not only enhances the game, it is also well worth listening to all by itself.
In many ways, this game reminds us of some of the famous old classic games from Lucas Arts and Sierra, as it contains many of the same elements that made them so memorable. The story, the setting, the lovable characters, and, most of all, the humor, are all unique and unforgettable. In our opinion, somebody's missing a real bet by not turning it into a longer, commercially viable game... maybe even a series, like Monkey Island.
Yes, as it stands, the game is relatively short and unpolished. But it is totally immersive, and it leaves you wanting more. We loved it, and we highly recommend it!
© July 2008 Mr. Bill and Lela
Developed (2006) by Erin Robinson ( The Ivy ). Her website is Lively Ivy where you can easily spend an hour or two, as we did, on her comics, blogs, and other game (Nanobots), etc.
Not Rated: (mild language, rarely)
Minimum System Requirements:
PC: Pentium 233 MHz Processor (500 MHz if the option to run at a resolution of 640 x 480 is chosen); Windows 95 OSR2 / 98 / 2000 / ME / XP; 32 MB RAM; DirectX 5.0 or Above Compatible Sound and Video Cards; 1.5 GB of Free Hard Drive Space; DirectX 5.0 or Above; Mouse, Keyboard and Speakers
Where To Download This Free Game:
Walkthroughs or Hints: