I wrote this up back in 2010... I don't know if all the links work at this point, but if anyone finds some that are broken, just let me know and I'll see if I can find the game elsewhere.
> I will link to one legal freeware game in this topic each day, ending on the best of the best. These will all be games that are good enough to give commercial games a run for their money, some inspired directly by famous titles, others unique and all their own. So, without further ado...
On the twelth day of Christmas, Mario gives to you...
Twelve unlockable weaopns
Eleven thousand dungeons,
Ten pinball tables,
Nine tower defenses,
Eight pivotal decisions,
Seven default name sets,
Six party members,
Five faaaaan games!
Four boss rushes,
Two guns a'blazing,
And the Soul of Dracula!
Day 1: The Soul of Dracula (Action, Platformer)
The Soul of Dracula is an excellent Castlevania clone... And if you've ever played the 8-bit or 16-bit era Castlevania games, there's really nothing more I need to do to explain it to you. For those of you that haven't had the luxury, it's a simple platformer that makes up for what it lacks in complexity with excellent level design. The graphics and music are both entirely original, but very remiscent of the series it pays tribute to.
The download page is in Japanese, but the game itself is in English... And besides, no reading is required to play, so just go right ahead and play; without further ado, I present to you the first game in my little song, The Soul of Dracula:
Day 2: Action Fist (Action, Platformer, Shmup)
Action fist is a white-knuckle platformer shooter similar to Contra, Rockman, Gunstar Heroes, and Alien Soldier. But make no mistake, unlike the previous title, this isn't merely a clone of any one game, it has a unique style and feel all its own.
You get two weapons which you can upgrade and switch out as you see fit, although each of them can only hold two different upgrades, so you'll constantly want to be trying new combinations. Graphics are good, although not the best, and controls are smooth, you should only have to take a few minutes to get used to it. There's no controller support, but it's simple enough that Joy-to-Key should be sufficient. Difficulty is variable, with the lower levels being a joke, and the upper ones being enough to challenge even the most hardened veterans of the genre.
Day 3: Iffermoon, Flan Rising, and The Desolate Room (Adventure, RPG)
I was originally just going to do Flan Rising, but I figured since all three are on the same page, I might as well give credence to all of them. These three freeware games are all quite strange, but bear with them long enough to get used to them, and you'll find some very unique and interesting games. Their battle systems are all very different from one another, and although the screenshots may make them seem like your typical JRPG, make no mistake, they're each quite different from any commercial game that I'm familiar with.
If you're looking for a deep plot, you'll want to skip these, but if you want some humorous RPGs that have some very interesting twists on a tried and true style of play, you'll definitely want to check them out... Just make sure that you bring a pinch of salt.
Day 4: rRootage (Action, Shmup)
rRootage is a boss-rush-only shmup by Kenta Cho, a programmer who's done quite a number of freeware shmups (and even one game for the Wii). In this particular title, levels consist only of multiple boss fights, and each can be fought in one of four ways: Normal mode, in which you get the standard weapon and three bombs of the genre, Giga Wing mode, in which you can charge a short-lived shield which will reflect enemy bullets back toward them, Ikaruga mode, in which there are two colors of enemy bullets and you absorb one type at any time, and finally, Psyvariar mode, in which your firepower increases as you draw closer to enemy bullets without colliding.
If you enjoy this, I strongly suggest looking into Kenta Cho's only commercial game Blast Works: Build, Trade, Destroy for the Wii, which GameStop sells for less than 10 USD, and is pretty easy to find.
This is the only time I'm going to list games directly intended as fan games. Granted, I probably could have put Soul of Dracula with today's games, but hey, what's wrong with having an extra game?
Day 5: Star Wars: The Battle of Yavin and The Battle of Endor (Action, Arcade-Style Flight Simulator)
These two are some very well done simplistic flight simulators. Don't go expecting the detail of the X-Wing/TIE Fighter series, but as a simplistic yet challenging pair of arcade style flight games. The first one diverges from the movie for the sake of gameplay, but the second stays closer to the source material, yet sacrifices variety for it. Still, all in all, I'd probably say that Endor is the superior of the two, if only because it's amazing that a lone programmer could pull off the battle so well, with an entire fleet of allies at your side, and swarms of enemy fighters constantly coming at you.
Scroll down to find the games, I can't speak for the soccer game, and it's not freeware anyways, so even if I could, this wouldn't be the place for it: <http://www.bruneras.com/>
Day 5 (Again): Zelda Classic (Action, Adventure)
I'm hesitant to add this one, not because it's of low quality, but rather, because it's not actually a game so much as an engine... But to make up for that, I'll link you to three of the best games that can be played with said engine as well.
Anyways, in short, Zelda Classic is a PC engine made to emulate the original Zelda game, and allow players to build their own levels and even entire quests based upon said engine. And to anyone that questions the legality of it, I'm not entirely sure myself, but it's been featured in Nintendo Power before, so if Nintendo was against it, I'm sure they would have shut down the project by now.
Zero Quest: <http://www.purezc.com/index.php?page=quests&id=119>
Hidden Duality: <http://www.purezc.com/index.php?page=quests&id=52>
Hero of Dreams: <http://www.purezc.com/index.php?page=quests&id=139>
Day 5 (Still): Super Mario Bros. X (Action, Platformer)
And what Zelda Classic is to the Zelda games, Super Mario Bros. X is to the Super Mario series. Super Mario Bros. X hybridizes Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, and adds some entirely original touches to it. The "Invasion 2" level set which is included with the game's core engine really shows off the game well, so even without additonal levelsets, you should get a decent amount of play from this:
Day 5 (Last one, I promise): Super Mario 63 (Action, Platformer)
And finally, we come to what may well be the best fan game to date... And yet it's all built in Flash. A huge 2D Mario game taking elements primarily from 64 and Sunshine, Super Mario 63 has 64 stars spread out over levels which feel very much like a professional game from the series, and truly can hold its own against all but the best of the official games.
FLUDD, Wing Metal and Invisible Caps, triple jumping, awesome boss fights, and a surprisingly decent (although nothing epic) plot make this an excellent game which no fan of the official Mario series should miss out on. The only complaint I have is about the static noise which sometimes pops up when too many sounds are trying to play at once.
Day 6: Exit Fate (Adventure, RPG, Tactics)
Exit Fate is a full length RPG that has two main types of battles: One is similar to Final Fantasy, the other feels a lot like the pre-weapon triangle Fire Emblems. There are dozens of different characters to find, each with their own unique stats, and you'll definitely want as many as possible for when the large scale tactical battles take plac, in order to get the upper hand on your opponents.
In addition to a sprawling and well designed main campaign, there's also hidden bonus levels for the tactical mode, for those of you who find the game too easy... Which if you're a veteran of the Fire Emblem series, you almost certainly will. Regardless, it's still an excellent game, with a well written plot. The only complaint that I have is that with so many characters, most of them join you only to never be important to the story afterward... Still, it's a minor fault for all that the game does right.
Day 7: Dubloon (Adventure, RPG)
This is, by far, the easiest game I'm going to link to. Why? Because I hate easy games... They don't make me think, and they rarely have as much replay value as their more difficult counterparts. However, this one stands above the rest, despite its lacking difficulty. It's original, genuinely funny, and makes a lot of references that fans of other series will recognize.
In particular, look through the default names for each character... There are four themes which I've recognized: Monkey Island, Disney's Pirates, One Piece, and Earthbound/Mother 2 to be exact. The plot isn't deep, but rather attempts a Paper Mario style plot by going for a more comedic plot than the genre generally leans toward. Certain items and attacks initiate Mario RPG-style minigames to enhance their power, and bosses usually have an attack that can be weakened in a similar manner.
The soundtrack is completely rippable, so if you like it, you can listen to it separately... Just be warned, this game IS a pushover, no ifs ands or buts about it. But aside from its laughably easy difficulty, I really can't fault it. Graphics are clean and clear, music is catchy and sets the mood well, characters are likable and funny... All in all, it's a very good game, aside from the one flaw I'm going on and on about.
<http://banov.blogspot.com/p/games.html> (Second one on the list).
Day 8: The White Chamber (Adventure, Puzzle)
Yeah, I'm REAAAAALLY stretching for the song, but ignore that, this game is actually rather awesome. It's a completely original point and click adventure game with a sci-fi/horror/mystery theme about it. I really can't say much of anything without spoiling the game, so I'll just say this: For those who haven't played this sort of game before, a guide COMPLETELY ruins it, so make sure you play through at least once before looking one up.
Graphics are nice throughout, music and sound effects really set the atmosphere, the only complaint I have is the voice acting... If anyone here can understand German, please tell us if the German voicing is any better. And for international users, in addition to English and German, the game's text has also been translated in Czech, French, Greek, Italian, Polish, Portugese and Russian; so chances are, you'll be able to read it in your native tongue if you're from Europe.
I can tell you this much without spoiling anything: When you see an NES in game, activate it. You'll get a fun little cameo which adds nothing to the story.
Day 9: Various Tower Defense Games (Puzzle, Strategy, Tower Defense)
I was hesitant to post this as... Well, honestly, they're mostly flash games. Granted, you can rip most flash files with ease, but still, that doesn't really matter... Anyways, I'm not going to write a description for each of them, just suffice to say that Don't Touch My Gems is probably the best of the genre you'll find, with the possible exception of Revenge of the Titans, but that's not freeware; anyways here are the best that I've found:
Cursed Treasure: Don't Touch My Gems: <http://www.kongregate.com/games/IriySoft/cursed-treasure-dont-touch-my-gems>
Bloons 2: <http://www.kongregate.com/games/Ninjakiwi/bloons-tower-defense-2>
Bloons 3: <http://www.kongregate.com/games/Ninjakiwi/bloons-tower-defense-3>
Bloons 4: <http://www.kongregate.com/games/Ninjakiwi/bloons-tower-defense-4>
Bubble Tanks Tower Defense: <http://www.kongregate.com/games/HeroInteractive/bubble-tanks-tower-defense>
Base Invaders: <https://www.digipen.edu/fileadmin/website_data/gallery/game_websites/Base_Invaders/>
Day 10: Future Pinball (Action, Pinball)
Well, we're now at the big three... And let's start off with what I will go on the line and tout as the best pinball game out there period. Well, sort of... Future Pinball itself is actually more an engine than a game, but it's allowed for some excellent pinball tables, both original works and replicas of real pinball tables. In here, I'm going to try to include the pinball tables that have a lot to do... Plain, empty tables will be avoided. I'll first list the link to Future Pinball itself, and then the tables. For tables on Pinball Originals, you will have to make an account before they will let you download; the others you should be able to get without any trouble.
Future Pinball w/Sci-Fi table: <http://www.futurepinball.com/>
Truxton table: <http://www.pinballaddicts.com/index.php?option=com_remository&Itemid=26&func=fileinfo&id=9>
Medieval Castle (Easy and Hard versions): <http://www.roneypinball.com.ar/fabio/Archivos/RP-I-Medieval%20Castle%201.0.zip>
Eight Ball Champ: <http://www.scapinosvpins.com/FuturePinballHome.htm>
Metal Slug: <http://www.pinball-originals.com/dload.php?action=file&file_id=1184>
Flame Reaper: <http://www.pinball-originals.com/dload.php?action=file&file_id=1189
Bubble Bobble: <http://www.pinball-originals.com/dload.php?action=file&file_id=742>
Monster Land: <http://www.pinball-originals.com/dload.php?action=file&file_id=836>
Day 11: Dungeon Crawl - Stone Soup (Adventure, RPG, Rogue-like)
Once again, I rather cheated with the song here... The dungeons are randomly generated, so there's no set number of them, and "eleven thousand" is nothing but a filler for the song. Regardless, Stone Soup is a very intricate and complex RPG with contrastingly simplistic graphics. There are 23 different races, and 28 different classes which can be played in any combination (albeit, some combinations aren't truly viable, but you can still try playing as them anyways), each of which has their own specific advantages and disadvantages.
Since there's so much to do, let me make it easy for those of you who want to just jump right in: Play as a Troll Monk. Trolls have good physical stats, making them perfect for the simplistic unarmed melee fighting of a monk, and you'll have awesome regenerative abilities. The only downside to this is that your character needs to eat constantly, however, trolls have a two-fold way to deal with this: Firstly, they can eat raw meat with no penalty check for sickness, and secondly, they have claws, so you don't have to carry around a knife to cut the meat. This allows you to turn most of the corpses you find into meals, and keep your character full despite their hyperactive metabolism.
Day 12: GENETOS (Action, Shmup)
Well, here it is... Quite possibly, one of the finest examples of gaming ever, and I'm hard pressed to think of another game in the genre worthy of being compared to it. Touhou? Not even close. Ikaruga? In your dreams. Radiant Silvergun? Well... Okay, I've never actually played Radiant Silvergun, so it's hard to say... But anyways, back to the subject at hand: GENETOS is simply amazing.
Each level represents a different era of games for the genre, with the first being a simplistic Space Invaders-style level, with your ship only being able to move left or right and only being able to fire a pair of weak shots. Then, during the first boss fight, your ship levels up... And this is when you start to realize just what makes GENETOS so unique: Near the end of each level, depending on secrets you've found thus far in the game, your ship will upgrade.You'll get better weapons at the end of each level, improved movement range at the end of the first and second level, access to bombs at the end of the second level, and your sub-weapon at the end of the third level. There are 5 types of each weapon (Main, Sub, and Bomb), and getting all of them in your collection will require a good number of playthroughs- even on Beginner (Easiest), you'll have a hard time meeting some of the requirements.
And therein lies one of the beauties of GENETOS: Its variable difficulty. On Beginner (Easiest), even non-gamers should find things rather simple; there's little pressure, and bombs and extra lives are plenty abundant. However, by time you start Hacker (Hardest), even those who have absolutely perfected games such as Touhou will be given a decent workout. On top of that, once you beat the game at least once, you unlock Free Play mode, which you could consider to be a built-in Game Genie (or Game Shark or Action Replay to you youngin's out there): This lets you set the number of bombs or lives you start with, even allowing to make your ship invincible, or start it at max strength in the first level; on the other side of the coin, you can use this mode to make things more challenging for yourself: Try a run without any bombs, or with only one life, or maybe try beating later levels with a weaker ship than you'd normally have by that point.
Let me close by saying that this is only the tip of the iceburg; there are plenty more freeware games out there, and while there's substantial reason to get commercial games, never think that money alone is a reason you can't get into gaming; can we all have an awesome $5000 PC which will be replaced within the year with a new one? Can we all afford to buy 3-5 new platforms every five years, with games costing 30-60 USD when they're brand new? No, but the fact of the matter is that when games are getting too expensive, there's freeware games to fall back on. So, when life refuses to throw you some lemons... Go pick them yourself. And here are some great places to glean fruit:
Freeware Database: <http://freeware.remakes.org/>
Acid Play: <http://www.acid-play.com/>
The Game Hippo: <http://www.thegamehippo.com/>