With thanks to Mark Lovegrove of Screen 7, I have had the pleasure of playing SummerBatch: Volume One. Some of the games have clearly had much more time and effort spent on their creation, but all five are a lot of fun, and I enjoyed playing each of them.
I’ll start with Barely Floating, which entertained me from the very beginning with its dry, quirky humour and loveable characters. Pirate Captain Anders Vanders has kidnapped a pile of hostages on his vessel, the Sea Krait, leaving them in the hands of his hardened, yet slightly dim crew. As a grouchy old man, it’s your job to solve the mysteries of the stolen ship, save the rest of the hostages, and of course Agent Morris, who is clearly clinically insane. Oh, and he takes a bullet to the head, fun times.
Barely Floating impressed me at first because of the striking colour quality, and how smoothly the characters and interactive objects moved. Further on I noticed some annoying graphic issues, and occasionally it was difficult to locate the connecting rooms with the cursor, but the witty comments and random character traits more than made up for this.
Quite often I found myself going round and round, literally clicking on everything and anything for lack of any clue what to do next. Combining inventory items becomes mundane when you’re left with nothing more than a cane and three sets of seemingly useless pills,
Despite the frustrating circles I often found myself in, I enjoyed Barely Floating a lot, and I reckon I’ll start a new save up in a few years, only to find that its charm and mystery have been retained. I highly recommend this beautiful 1280×720 AGS cracker – after all, you get to wallop bad guys over the head with your walking stick!
Next in Volume One I attempted to make my way through Jalibreak, which has an aerial view and is keyboard-controlled. The gameplay is very simple and easy to get bored with, and the characters’ movement is oddly robotic during fight mode. It’s hard to get stuck into due to the feeble storyline and glitchy graphics, but this didn’t stop me having a go. In fact I ended up having quite a lot of fun, in a ‘Grand Theft Auto’ kind of way, beating up police officers in their own territory.
Once I got the hang of the fighting aspect (literally just fury-tapping the ‘9’ key furiously over and over until the son-of-a-bitch dies), levelling up became a doddle, and I was soon facing enemies with less than half my strength. Once they caught me that was, as I managed to find a brilliant little anomaly where you wait for them to run at you, and then you turn your back on them, meaning they have to come around to your front. Turn, wait, repeat. Endless fun. Nearly.
Similar in terms of the graphics properties is Nancy the Happy Whore and the Perfidious Petrol Station, to use its full title, which from the very beginning is an on-screen information overload. With Barely Floating, the player has to search for and work out where the bloody hell the next useful object is, whereas in Nancy there are hundreds of interactive objects and potentially useful items. Why is there a barbeque on the roof of the petrol station? Why is there a nerdy druglord parked outside trying to save the planet? No idea, but I love this game all the same.
It’s the quirky little details that do it for me, like the way in which Nancy bends over provocatively when you click on an object, and how nobody gives a shit about the armed men in balaclavas loitering in the gents. There’s a sense of freedom in playing Nancy that I admire in this gem from Technocrat, and whilst the storyline itself is all about prostitution, crime and drugs, it’s really quite an innocent little game.
My overall favourite is definitely Piss because of its proto-medieval style and sarcy adult humour. At first you believe that it’s completely harmless, chatting to zombies about morgue tours and helping to inspire a whimsical poet… then all of a sudden, you hit a crazy heated lesbian sex scene, backed by a detailed image of the two women. How random, I ask you? Anyway, this game has beautifully coloured landscapes and fluid, interactive characters, each with very different personalities. I personally love Yktor the gatekeeper, who has a never-ending supply of peanuts, and is always willing to tell you his adventurous stories.
Moira, the protagonist, doesn’t walk too slowly, there’s not too much random circling in missions, and much more of the clues given are structured, which makes a nice change. Piss revolves around resurrecting an old accomplice who owes you money, which may come across as simple and straightforward, but you really have to think… or get distracted for half an hour chasing a blue beetle round a courtyard… It’s interesting to see how magic, futuristic power sources and the undead mix so well in such a simple game, giving it that 40K feel you secretly love.
Whilst Piss is an attractive game to play, I have never played a point-and-click as stunning as Patchwork. The crisp imagery could quite easily pass for a mid-price Xbox 360, and though I find the sideways walking sticky and clumsy, there has clearly been a lot of hard work put into this one. I like the clever extra details, such as a blurred screen when one character takes off his glasses, and when you switch between characters, certain details seen by one character morph into something entirely different. The extra details give another layer of complexity to this pretty yet simple game.
The notion of a scientist lost in a parallel universe is perhaps slightly overworked nowadays; you’ll have to decide for yourself. I expected with such a handsome game to see much larger zones, but soon decided that with two main storylines intertwined with each other, Patchwork has enough on its plate as it is.
When put together, these five games really make getting the SummerBatch worthwhile. As you’d expect some games are much better than others, but all of them are fun and will give you hours of entertainment for such a little cost. I highly recommend getting your hands on SummerBatch: Volume 1 as soon as possible. It’s available for a “pay what you want” price (minimum 50p) from www.summerbatch.co.uk but hurry, sale ends November 11th!