Tag Archives: 2D Platformer

Down Ward Header

Down Ward: First Impressions

Following on from one of my interviews I conducted this month, I thought I would finally write up a first impressions article about a game that has done exceptionally well to catch my attention in recent weeks. Down Ward, under development at Fisholith Studios based in Costa Mesa, California, is an 8-BIT 2D sidescroller with a heavy focus on combat, unique mechanics, and exploration. It follows the story of an owl named Gable, who must traverse the remnants of a forgotten civilization in order to rekindle its dormant relics. Following a successful Kickstarter campaign, the currently free-to-play game is set to be significantly improved upon by the developers with the backing it has received, which bodes extremely well for this already well-received title. You can play the current build from the game’s Steam, Page via the link below:

https://store.steampowered.com/app/904700/Down_Ward/

 

You can also read my interview with Fisholith Studios ahead of the game’s overhaul via this link:

https://scousegamer88.com/2021/04/17/down-ward-fisholith-interview/

 

But in addition, I have also decided to write a first impressions article about what I think of the game in its current form and to get a better idea of what kind of a game it’ll be like when it does get further developed upon. So here’s what I thought about Down Ward in its present state:

Graphics

The game makes use of 8-BIT monochromatic visuals similar to several Game Boy classics such as Duck Tales, Super Mario Land, Tetris, and Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins. The color of the visuals is also interchangeable and can be modified by the player at any time, similar to how the Super Game Boy add-on worked for the Super Nintendo back in the day. But what is most striking about this game is its conceptual design. The use of pixelated art is outstanding and handled with great detail. This was to be expected, as the lead programmer Fi is an artist himself, but I’d only gotten half the idea prior to playing the demo. When looked at more closely, only then does the player get the true feeling of how excellent this game actually looks. 

 

Gameplay

The gameplay is also very wonderfully varied, which to a certain extent, the visuals themselves assist with. The objective of the standard model is to collect feathers, combat enemies and accomplish one or two side quests within each stage by finding secrets hidden throughout. There is also a speedrun mode for the many aficionados of that particular game mode on Twitch and YouTube, similar to Axiom Verge. The developers have billed this game as challenging, and it’s not hard to see why. Although thankfully, the level of challenge is not to the point of the game being completely inaccessible. The challenge involved lies in being able to identify certain obstacles or traps the player can fall for, or watching out for enemies, as they blend in well with the scenery in most instances. But as well as it is challenging, it’s above all, a very fun game to play even in its current build, so it makes me quite excited about what kind of a game it will be following the modifications to be made. 

 

Controls

The control scheme is also particularly unique for a 2D platformer with having to run and jump in order to fly across stages and explore higher areas. The game fully supports controller functionality at this point, which is preferable to playing a game like this with a keyboard and mouse. Curiously, the combat system reminded me somewhat of the Ori games, so it’d be interesting if the developers decide to build on that aspect of the game even further as well, and whether or not, a small RPG element could possibly be introduced in the form of a leveling up system or different means of attacking enemies, etc. 

 

Lifespan

Potentially, this game could be made to last a significantly long time. It would depend on just how far the developer is willing to go in terms of modifying the game they already have, and what more could possibly be added in order for it to warrant lasting a considerable amount of time more than what it already does last. According to my interview with Fi, the team is looking to expand on the game mechanics vigorously. If true, this game can certainly be made to last many hours. 

 

Storyline

The story of the owl Gable is, in-game anyway, secondary to gameplay, as is the way it should be in my opinion. So even at this early stage, if the developers were to neglect the progression of the story in place of modifying the gameplay as much as possible, I don’t think I would feel particularly bothered by that. It would be nice to have a more in-depth narrative to complement the greater depth in gameplay (for example, there could be a story implemented similar to that of Ori & The Blind Forest or Dust: An Elysian Tail, but even if the level of depth in the story stays the way it is, then so be it; it will probably still turn out to be an exceptional game. 

 

Originality

Out of all the retroactive gaming experiences I’ve indulged in since the start of the eighth generation, Down Ward is set to be one of the more standout of the lot of them. Again, it would all depend on what kind of modifications the developers are looking to bring in terms of gameplay, and whether or not they will be implemented well enough to make it as separate as possible from the plethora of games made of the same ilk to come before it. With the unique mechanics and gameplay premise, I wouldn’t see why they couldn’t do that, but time will tell in that regard. 

 

Overall, playing the demo of Down Ward has made me further realize how much potential the game has to break new ground within the indie community. It’s set to be a standout title with an excellent implemented visual style and hopefully plenty to do throughout.

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Q&A With Chris Totten

In my efforts to discover yet more indie titles in the making on crowdfunding platforms, I found another Kickstarter campaign for what is a very promising passion project based on a beloved comic book series. Little Nemo and the Nightmare Fiends is a 2D  non-linear sidescroller based on the works of the innovative US comic book artist and animator Winsor McCay. Having inspired famous animators and artists since, including Walt Disney himself, he left behind a legacy and a mythos in equal parts beautiful and surreal, and this all serves as the inspiration for this game. The player controls 4 different characters throughout, including Peony, a character added to the mythos exclusively for the game, to explore non-linear 2D sidescrolling levels whilst along the way collecting hidden items, engaging in different varieties of combat, and making each character stronger as time goes on. Similar to Mickey Mania, the levels are based on classic Little Nemo episodes and stay faithful to the art style that McCay perpetuated throughout his career.

Wanting to know more about this gorgeous-looking and ambitious title, I contacted the project lead Chris Totten, head of Pie for Breakfast Studio based in Kent, Ohio, to get a better idea of this game amidst its Kickstarter project, and a better idea of the varied team behind it ranging from a variety of different indie development studios who are also helping out on the project. Here’s what Chris Totten had to say about little Nemo and the Nightmare Fiends:

 

Little Nemo 1

Of course, the main influence behind the game was Winsor McCay’s classic comic book series of the same name. But what video games have been kept in mind most throughout development?

We’re really big retro gaming fans so when coming up with a game that involves a cast of characters like this, we take a lot of inspiration from games like Little Samson or Demon’s Crest (where the player character could change his form.) We’re asked about Little Nemo the Dream Master a lot as well and while we can’t remake that (it’s not public domain like the comics), we are going to make lots of nods to it.

 

What has the developmental process been like?

Our team is geographically distributed so that’s always a challenge, but one we’ve dealt with before. Making a game during a pandemic has been a bigger challenge, but it’s also provided something to keep us occupied. I’m mainly responsible for the art and animation so far (with bits of level design alongside Adrian Sandoval) so that’s been a lot of intense drawing – each character has dozens of frames so far and will probably need dozens more before release!

 

Little Nemo 2

How close are we to seeing the finished product?

Our production schedule is mapped out as an 18-month project from the end of the Kickstarter, assuming we’re funded, of course.

 

What has been the most exciting aspect of development?

In my day job, I teach game development at a university and my research is on the intersections between games and older fiends of art, design, and animation. For me, this is an opportunity to use the process of making art to explore an important piece of comics and animation history.

 

What has been the most challenging aspect of development?

For me specifically, all that drawing! In general though, when you’re working on the first stages of a project trying to produce sample gameplay on nights and weekends, it can be very difficult to balance when you’re trying to put something out.

 

Little Nemo 3

How well has the game been received so far?

Incredibly well! Folks seem to love the characters and the art style. Either they know the original comics and are excited to see someone use public domain stuff in that way OR they didn’t know about the comics at all and we’re educating them!

 

How did the collaboration with so many other indie developers come about?

These are all friends that I’ve made through years of going to conferences and conventions. We occupy a lot of the same spaces.

 

Do the additional developers share the same love for Little Nemo that you have?

Yes, the team is pretty passionate about Little Nemo. We all have our entry points: either renting the NES game or seeing the movie, but as everyone’s learned more, they’ve discovered a favorite character or comic.

 

What platforms are you looking to bring the game to?

If we reach our initial funding goal we’re going to launch on at least Windows and Mac, but we’ll consider other platforms depending on funding. We’d love to bring it to consoles!

 

Have you found many other fans of the comic book series have offered their feedback in regards to the game?

Yes! One of our main cheerleaders has been Zachary J.A. Rondinelli, a researcher doing a social media project called Welcome to Slumberland:

(https://zrondinelli.wixsite.com/welcometoslumberland).

Every day he posts a new Little Nemo strip and delivers really excellent commentary along with an audience of contributors. We’ve been able to boost one another’s projects and it’s been fun having a community like that.

 

How much fun has it been celebrating the license by adding new elements to the Little Nemo mythos?

This is the best part of working with the public domain, I think. You can add your own twist to things or address problematic parts of an original work. There are parts of McCay’s comics (from the early 20th century) that are pretty racist, so we worked with a BIPOC artist to create characters so that Slumberland can be for everyone.

 

Have there been any ideas at this stage of development that have since been scrapped or reworked?

We’re always reworking things. I don’t want to cite anything specifically but we’re always tweaking what characters can and can’t do. It’s a normal part of game development.

 

If you had the opportunity to develop a game with any company or any franchise, which would it be, and why?

I’m a shameless Nintendo fanboy so anything Mario, Zelda, or Metroid would be in my wheelhouse. I’d love to do a hand-animated Mario game that looks like the original promotional art!

 

Out of the many varied things you’ve done throughout your career, would you say this project is what you’re most proud of?

So far this has been a high point, but one of the best parts of being a game design academic is that I also have a lot of freedom to work on self-directed projects. One of the best things I’ve done has been to write a book on level design. I’m also really proud of the tabletop game I released in 2019 based on Don Quixote (which was also a Kickstarter project!)

 

Do you have any advice for aspiring developers that may be reading this?

Learn the tools, but don’t think that’s the whole game development experience. Games are about the player experience, and you can make wonderful things no matter what tool it’s in. Make lots of little games, don’t just try to make something that looks like the big commercial games.

 

Where on the Internet can people find you?

My Twitter is @totter87 and my studio’s website is www.PFBStudios.com. Little Nemo and the Nightmare Fiends can be found at www.LittleNemoGame.com (redirects to the Kickstarter campaign)

 

Do you have anything else to add?

We hope you love Little Nemo and the Nightmare Fiends! Please support and share the campaign so we can make this the game of our dreams!

 

I’d like to close out by thanking Chris for taking the time out to talk to me about this wonderful-looking game, and to wish him the best of luck with Little Nemo and the Nightmare Fiends and its Kickstarter campaign. Little Nemo is clearly a labor of love, and if it sees its full release, I have every confidence that this will be a gaming experience loved by fans of McCay’s work, as well as fans of the 2D sidescrolling genre, and that it will be a fantastical journey that McCay himself would’ve been proud to see. In the meantime, you can check out the Kickstarter page of you would like to back the project via the link provided by Chris, but I hope you guys enjoyed reading this Q&A because I certainly had a fun time learning more about not only this game but also about the inspiration behind it.

 

Game on,

Scouse Gamer 88.

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Wandersong (PC, PlayStation 4, Switch & Xbox One)

Developer(s) – Greg Lobanov

Publisher(s) – Humble Bundle

PEGI – 7

Released in 2019 to an overwhelmingly positive reaction from gamers and critics alike, Wandersong is a 2D platformer centering around music; puzzles are solved with music, new areas are uncovered with music, and abilities within the game are taken advantage of through music. Developed by Greg Lobanov with the music and sound put together by Em Halberstadt and Gordon McGladdery, it’s one of those games that is a true labor of love and is evident within every aspect of it. I interviewed Greg Lobanov sometime before the initial Kickstarter program was successfully funded:

https://scousegamer88.com/2016/07/09/qa-with-greg-lobanov/

And I’m glad I did; looking back, I’m thrilled that this game has since garnished the critical and commercial acclaim that I felt it deserved before release, and the game did not disappoint by any means. 

 

Graphics – 8/10

Firstly, the conceptual design of the game is nothing short of beautiful. Each area is vibrantly colorful and a pleasure to beyond, be that whether the game takes the player into dark caves, skyward temples, and peaceful towns. Each area has a different main color palette, similar to the original Yoshi’s Island, and works flawlessly to distinguish each area as the player visits them. Influence from several cultures and periods in human history is also evident in the architecture of the game, such as Indian culture and even modern-day culture, and overall simply adds to its visual diversity. 

 

Gameplay – 8/10

As I alluded to, the gameplay involves the player taking control of a young bard and must progress through the game by singing. Singing is at the core of the gameplay; the player sings to move platforms for jumping across, to manipulate wind traps to move ahead, to advance the story, and to solve puzzles among many other things. It’s definitely one of the most interesting and innovative platformers to have been developed in recent times, and to me, even outstripping many other indie titles in terms of gameplay, including Journey and Flower. There’s much more to play for in this game than in many indie titles to have been developed throughout the eighth generation; players will not be disappointed going into it. 

 

Controls – 10/10

The control scheme has been handled as well as any other platformer; in that respect, there are no negative issues to be addressed. I’m actually quite impressed with just how singing and dancing are incorporated into the game’s control scheme very effectively to allow for a lot of things the player must do in order to progress through each area of the game. There have been indie games released, such as The Swapper and Contrast, that have had innovative gameplay mechanics but have arguably not been used to their full potential to provide as great an experience as what could have been; but Wandersong delivers on that spectacularly. 

 

Lifespan – 7/10

What the game also delivers in a big way, compared to many other indie games, is lifespan. Taking around 12 hours to complete fully, it’s definitely one of the longest linear 2D side scrollers I’ve played in a long time. Side scrollers that long don’t normally get released unless it’s by a mainstream development company. It could be argued that it was to be expected given the somewhat lengthy development cycle this game had, but it still excels compared to many other indie games that have taken just as long to develop, if not longer.

 

Storyline – 7/10

The story follows the young bard, named by the player in-game, who embarks on an adventure to learn what is known as the Earthsong, which according to prophecy, is the only way to prevent the upcoming end of the world. Along the way, the players will meet a massive cast of characters, each with their own stories and situations to be resolved, which all add so much depth to the story. A lot of the different situations in this world can be seen as very true to life and it does incredibly well to connect with gamers. This game actually has a better story than a lot of other indie games that focus on story sacrificing gameplay in the process. With Wandersong, there is a clear equilibrium between the two. 

 

Originality – 10/10

Simply put, there is no other game like Wandersong. I’ve never played a game whereby music and singing are so integral to how the player must progress through it, and enjoyed it as much as this. Games like Parappa the Rapper and Guitar Hero are obviously titles that make use of music within the gameplay, but Wandersong does even better to integrate it into gameplay, making for, as far as I’m concerned, better titles than the two formers. Platformers have been coming and going since the 80s, but never handled in the way as what it is in this game. 

In summation, Wandersong is an excellent game from start to finish. Any platforming fan needs to give this game a try; it’s innovative, enjoyable to play, beautiful to behold with a wonderful soundtrack to listen to along the way, and again, I’m happy for Greg Lobanov and the team to have gotten the recognition they deserved for it.

 

Happii

Score

50/60

8/10 (Very Good)