Spud's Quest

A game by Mouldy Toof Studios for PC, originally released in 2013.
At the start of Spud’s Quest, Spud lies sleeping in his bed when a talking frog bursts in through the ceiling and asks for his help. Apparently the frog is actually Prince Charming, and he has been changed into the hopping green creature by an evil wizard… a wizard that he accidentally freed when opening a mysterious chest in the mines under the town. Spud tells the frog that he had a dream where a voice called to him, telling him about an ancient evil that has awakened and taken someone prisoner.

The frog prince asks Spud to help him get into Redwood Castle to speak to his father, the king, but he can’t gain access to the castle because of his condition. When Spud asks why the frog can’t simply explain who he is – given that he can talk – he says that he doesn’t want anyone to know what has happened to him. And so, Spud agrees to help and sets off on a journey to help his friend, and ultimately to save the world.

Spud mixes platforming with inventory puzzling, as inspired by the Dizzy series. Spud has a 3x variable jump (though he gets stunned if he falls too far), a ledge grab that allows him to auto-climb to higher platforms, and he is able to toss an infinite supply of apples in a low arc. The ACTION button serves many purposes, allowing him to speak to NPC’s, access his inventory and other menu items, and eventually to push and pull blocks. Lastly, pressing the SWAP button allows the player to take control of the frog and move him independently while Spud stays behind.

The game world is comprised of interconnected single-screen areas, and Spud is able to travel freely, exploring the environment and returning to previous areas as he likes. Large sections of the world map are inaccessible from the start, however, allowing the player to learn the controls and inventory system within the relatively harmless opening areas.

NPC’s in the starting village send Spud off on a variety of small quests, tasking him with knocking down beehives and finding packages dropped by the local postman. The player also learns of the game’s day-night cycle – accompanied by some nice palette shifting effects – that affects when certain activities occur within the game’s residential areas, and occasionally the presence of enemies. Sometimes, it even rains. All the while, Spud’s frog companion hops along behind him, occasionally interjecting to question why Spud is spending so much time assisting villagers instead of helping him get into the castle.

Of course, completing these fetch quests is actually the key to moving forward, as the postman rewards you with a “pass” to enter the castle. In a humorous touch, the pass is actually a crowbar, and the postman advises you that it only works on the castle’s upstairs window. Simple cutesy humor like this is found throughout the experience when speaking with some silly NPC’s and encountering oddball signposts like: “Wanted Dead or Alive: Bom Tombadil for possession of an offensive wife”, a reference to Tolkien’s Tom Bombadil.

To use inventory items, Spud simply drops the item in front of the proper interactible, such as dropping a key in front of a locked door. To give items to NPC's, Spud needs to speak with them first and then press the ACTION button at the end of the conversation in order to access his inventory.

Spud can only hold four items at a time, and there are loads of items to be found across the game world – including some red herrings – so players are required to drop some and return to them later, preferably in an easy-to-reach location, such as warp points. Things are made somewhat easier by the fact that items are permanently removed from the game world once they have been used.

Warp points allow for fast travel between each of the game’s four major regions, but they are inactive when the player first encounters them, requiring that he find a warp stone elsewhere in the environment.

Saving is an entirely manual process which may only be done near floating blue crystals. At the start of his adventure, Spud has 30 hit points, with most enemies taking off at least 3 units, along with the occasional insta-kill trap. If Spud is killed, he returns to the last save point, but retains the amount of health that he had at the time the game was saved.

The player may extend Spud’s maximum health by finding hearts hidden around the environment, adding three hit points with each heart found, and also restoring Spud’s health. However, there are no other health restoratives to be found through exploration or by killing enemies. Health restoration is only done by buying health from certain individuals, with a small, medium, and large restorations given for ever-increasing prices. Enemies drop golden coins that are worth one unit each, and enemies respawn when leaving a room and returning. Spud can also sell books and flowers that he finds in his travels, although he can only hold a maximum of 99 coins.

When Spud reaches the castle, he finds that the king and queen have also been turned into frogs, and he is sent to speak to Merlin to ask for his assistance. Completing a few more fetch quests eventually sees the player earning a boat motor, which he must give to the ferryman in order to cross a lake. Merlin explains that the player needs to find the four elemental essences spread around the land in order to remove the curse, and this is done by overcoming the game’s four temples (and a fifth one leading up to the game’s final boss).

Each of the temples is entirely self-contained, as inspired by the temples in The Legend of Zelda series, and the player is advised that no outside items are required inside them. Where the overworld is entirely inventory-driven, temples mix inventory puzzles with puzzle-platforming challenges. Many of these challenges center around using a new skill, such as the ability to push and pull blocks or the ability to swim.

As players move through the temples, they must flip switches to open doors, complete lever-pulling puzzles to line up symbols, and make regular use of the frog’s ability to move through narrow openings. Since the frog can use Spud as a platform to jump slightly higher (though he has no ledge grab), the player can swap characters and move the frog into new areas. The frog cannot pick up any items or attack enemies – and he will return to Spud’s position if he takes damage – but he can activate switches to open doors that let Spud make additional progress.

When following Spud, however, the frog does sometimes get caught up on objects and doesn’t follow him into new rooms. This is especially true in underwater areas, since the frog (illogically) cannot swim. There are some occasions where you will want the frog to remain behind and activate switches, but it can be surprising to hit the SWAP button and suddenly find yourself in another room. However, pressing the ATTACK button allows the player to warp the frog immediately back to his location.

That said, there are occasions where it is possible for the player to get stuck if he does not yet have the proper inventory item, requiring a manual restart which sends the player back to his last save point. Because death is much more likely in temples, and there are a few areas where Spud can be killed instantly, it is advisable to return to the temple's save point whenever progress is made, especially since players will need to leave the dungeon to buy more health if they take too much damage.

Atypical of single-screen action-adventures, it is actually possible to push and pull blocks from one room of the temple to another… sometimes requiring the player to move them across several screens, and this adds to the game’s overall complexity. However, it can also be difficult to recognize which blocks can be pulled and which cannot, especially in underwater areas where colors are muted. This makes some puzzle solutions more difficult to recognize and leads to situations where the player may walk up to a block and accidentally open the inventory menu (since the function is assigned to the same button) rather than grabbing a block.

Items are occasionally obscured as well, as there is no additional indication of which items may be picked up. Most of items are clear because they stand out as unique in the environment, but some appear to be background elements and may be ignored by the player, leading to situations where he may find himself stuck with no indication of how to move forward. And, like most inventory-based puzzlers, puzzle solutions can sometimes be incredibly obtuse…

For instance, when the player finds the ice temple, he cannot gain access to it because the door is magically sealed. None of the nearby NPC’s offer any assistance as to where the player might find a magical item to open it, and nothing in the player’s inventory seems to have any effect. As it turns out, there’s a dog in one of the houses who has a newspaper in his mouth that he has properly fetched but will not let go of… an old joke, and one that may not make it readily apparent that the player needs the newspaper.

However, the dog’s owner remarks that the pooch has been seen digging near a windmill, which is your only hint that you need to retrace your steps and look around that area. Near the windmill is a barely-noticeable hole that opens to an underground area leading to a buried bone. Grabbing the bone and returning it to the dog lets the player retrieve the newspaper. The newspaper has to be given to a fellow who is repairing an oil rig, inspiring him to take a break, whereupon he leaves his blowtorch behind. The blowtorch may be collected by the player and used to melt a patch of ice to go underwater and find a magical horn that can be used to open the ice temple... far from a logical chain of events.

It is possible for the player to get lost or forget where he has left a needed item, especially since neither the overworld nor the temples are mapped. In temples, the player is left on his own to slowly make progress as he figures out how to overcome puzzles within a limited environment. On the overworld, there are a couple of characters who will point Spud in the proper direction, essentially reminding him of his next objective. Players looking for an additional challenge may also seek out 50 trinkets that have been spread around the land, many of which require thorough exploration to locate, as well as overcoming platforming challenges and keeping an eye out for breakable blocks.

Spud’s Quest was developed by Chris Davis under his Mouldy Toof Studios label, based in Derby, United Kingdom. Development on the game took place on-and-off over the course of 10 years, and it was eventually funded via Kickstarter in 2012. Following the release of Spud’s Quest, Chris went on to develop the top-down prison escape game The Escapists.