Ni hao everyone. Yes, you can stop chiselling pieces of your flesh off your bodies, I'm back from my extended vacation/holiday/new relative-meet in the … interesting land of China and the first thing to do, naturally, is find out just what interesting freeware games have been released. The bags are still packed and the jet lag is furiously biting at the back of my eyelids, but I've got a job to do and by crikey I'm going to do it.
So without further ado, the first game for your perusal this week has been around for a while, but that doesn't stop Straw Hat Samurai being of interest. It's not quite China-related, but if you pretend you're controlling, say, a Shaolin monk instead of a samurai, it links to my first paragraph quite well.
Anyway, as the aforementioned Asiatic antagonist, you've got to battle ne'er-do-wells using a relatively novel mechanic, which usually only gets used in games like Cut It and such. That means you'll be drawing lines to indicate a slash of your sword instead of mashing buttons to attack, while using the arrow keys to scroll the screen left and right.
You're given the task of preventing the enemy building up fortifications that will make them impossible to drive from your lands. The gameplay is split into two parts, one on a map that allows you to choose your path forwards, each spot taking you into a combat situation.
Combat takes place on a 2D plane with enemies coming at you from both sides. To kill them, draw a sword slash and your guy will move swiftly to that location swish his blade about. If there are no enemies there, he'll miss and might take damage, so you have to predict the movement of your foes before striking.
Along the way you'll grab items that improve your hit points, your chance to dodge and so on. After a little while, you'll get a bow, which allows you to change up your tactics if the sword is going to be too dangerous a weapon to use in a given situation. Once archers come into play, it gets tougher to stay alive, as at first it does seem a bit too easy. When guard towers start to appear, you'll know you've been in a fight.
Once you've found your first guard tower in fact, the map opens up as you'll be granted a greater view of the field of play. Now you'll have worked out that your hit points are precious and you'll not necessarily be wanting to explore every single circle if you want to make it to the boss battle. You'll need to choose your way carefully.
Enemy forces might also move once you've lost sight of them, so a safe way might turn out to not be quite so easy to traverse after all. Once you've got to a certain point too, you'll get the chance to enter 'strategy' mode, which means you can attempt to capture territory using friendly warriors.
It's quite simplistic in the end, but it's got a lot going for it and there's plenty of content for a browser game. It's also got sword-swishing sound effects, which is as good a selling point as any. Definitely recommended.
Next up is Steamlands which sadly has nothing to do with China. Do you remember a game called Captain Forever? Well, it's like that, just with tanks and steam-related machines instead of spaceships. Starting off with a small base contraption, you need to bolt on new blocks to make it better and able to take on stronger enemies.
Use the mouse to pick up and drag blocks over onto your machine, building it up and giving it extra defences. Attack by clicking on your control room and then on the enemy's. Guns can be picked up, but they need to be placed within range of your engine room or they won't be able to fire. If you take damage, use the spanner to repair any beleaguered parts of your machine.
You can also use Z, X and Space to move left and right and quickly select your engine room. Extra challenges like protecting VIPs and having an explosive munitions room that can be targeted also come into play. Groups of guns can be assigned an RTS-style hotkey by dragging a box around them then hitting a number between 1 and 3 inclusive.
While some got really into Captain Forever's pick-and-mix stylings, I found it lost appeal after a short while, so did Steamlands succeed where CF failed? There's certainly an immediate feeling of there being more to it than its inspiration, with saboteurs to destroy rival machines' blocks, for example.
It starts off simply, easing you into things with a grainy black and white video tutorial, and the first few levels are just designed to offer you a taster of what's to come and can therefore be boring to plod through. Shops offer you a chance to start customising your machine with new flags, more engine room health or perhaps you'd rather spend some dough on gossip that might lead you to a juicy secret.
If you don't like your flag, you can also design your own flag using an in-game designer, which you can also save to or load from your computer, if you so wish. A very neat little feature considering it's a browser game.
Soon you'll be fighting tougher enemies that require you to tweak with the design of your machine in real time in order to grab the victory. The first big 'un you face has vulnerable power cores and swivelling guns that can't be hit without some repositioning of your currently rubbish firepower. Once you've opened up a path to their cores, a coal throw can blow up the whole vehicle quickly.
It's this sort of tactical combat, which is better than it was in Captain Forever, that makes Steamlands a worthy play. It's got loads of levels, lots of tough enemies to face and a cutesy look that doesn't alienate, although a question over the visuals being too small could be asked. It's also puzzling why the shop area needs to have you scrolling slowly across it before it opens up.
Finally, we have FoldingStory, which could get very big indeed (if it hasn't already). It's a game where you can, with other people, write a story in which you only see the last few lines, making some of the created tales increasingly bizarre as you read through them.
Each story has a limit to how long it can be, so it doesn't get to the point where these things just go on forever. Add a few lines then wait for the final article to get sent to the address you registered with. Though a lot of what's been written might be awful, it's certainly an interesting experiment, though one wonders just how many of the stories turn out to be about sex or things like that.
You've got 180 characters to make your mark, your first story ending after 10 lines. We've created a sample story (that might not be there once you've read this, but you never know) here so go take a look at the potential of this story-telling device/game.