Backworlds – 9 Years In The Making

A lot can change in 9 years; I mean, 9 years ago I would have been 20 years old. I was a university student, playing Halo 3 online, being intoxicated 80% of the week and I was a smoker.

Now I have a job, rarely play an online game – unless its souls/borne or Titanfall 2, I’m lucky to be intoxicated 10% in a single month and I haven’t smoked in at least 3 years. I think of the person I was back then to the person I am now, and the pass self is unrecognizable; a mere fictious entity created by palpable imagination.

Therefore, when I had the chance to speak with Juha Kangas one of the two developers of the indie title Backworlds, I took the chance. You see beautiful reader, Backworlds has been in development for 9 years… 9 Years!

…I smoked 9 years ago.

Backworlds is a puzzle platformer where you play as this cat-like animal traversing luscious landscapes. To navigate the areas, you paint onto the world that reveals another dimension. This other universe will either exhibit hidden platforms or objects, alter the physics within the area or uncloak hidden pathways.

The game manages to adapt both lateral thinking puzzles with the unique painted dimension mechanic compliment each other, making both feel like one and the same. It’s credit to the game design, as complex as the mechanic sounds the game telegraphs the puzzles perfectly to you; never enough to hold your hand but never enough for you to feel lost, instead it gives you a wink.

Speaking with Juha regarding the concept of mechanics and puzzles he went on to say:

“We were in a game jam, it was about 8 years ago, where we got some art and based it on that. We wanted to do something with painting. We would try different concepts like drawing platforms yourself and stuff like that, and then we came up with this thing where you were drawing a mask to show a parallel world”.

Juha went on further to say:

“Other games came out during the making of the game that caused some big changes, for example the game use to be linear at one point but (games) like Fez and stuff like that came out and we was like ok we should make it more open, and now you can skip puzzles just by walking past them”.

But it’s not only the gameplay mechanic and puzzles that stand out. Backworlds art style is simplistic yet beautiful – in addition, it captures the imagination and essence of the game. Talking to Juha about the distinctive art direction, he told me:

“Early inspiration for us was an Irish movie called ‘The Secret of Kells’, an animated movie and that was a big inspiration for us. Then we looked some other things, like ‘Samurai Jack’ and these things that have, like a flat art style that purposefully don’t have a lot of depth to them and we adapted that to our own style”.

Juha also hinted that there may be more to the art style than we think:

“There is no explicit narrative, but there is something at the end of it, that will make you think about the game a bit more – after you’ve played it your like, maybe the art of the game had some more meaning to it”.

After my time with Backworlds you can’t help but think this could – and should – be one of the indie darlings. Those select few indie games that tear through the fabric and gain access to the collective conscious of the everyday gamer.

After a brief time with the game, you quickly realise: this isn’t just one of the best indie games made, it’s one of the best games ever made and I am most certain upon its release many will share the same thought.

I hit many eureka moments within the demo and I am sure there will be many more to come when the full game comes out. An excellently crafted game with a unique idea that is executed perfectly; an absolute sublime work of art.

You can listen to the full interview here and check out Jack’s podcast Drinking Games Podcast.

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Experience The Ridiculous In The Upcoming Unusual Platformer, Escape Doodland; Arriving On PC And Switch

Some games tend to take themselves too seriously, but the hand-drawn platformer Escape Doodland represents the exact opposite and it’s due to arrive on the Switch and PC by the end of November.

Before we jump into the official details of the two-person indie project, the overly eccentric trailer for Escape Doodland should help paint a clear picture of what to expect:

After a successful Kickstarter campaign from the two indie developers, Veronika Harkavenko and Piotr Karski, Escape Doodland will finally land in the hands of supporters and fans everywhere.

Escape Doodland Details

There seems to be a lot going on with this idiosyncratic side-scroller, much of which we’ll try to clarify in the details below:

  • In this 2D side-scrolling platformer, players will outrun deadly threats, including the Doodler-eating Omnomus monster, as they try to escape their looming fate in Doodland.
  • As the screen continuously scrolls players must utilize quick reflexes by running, leaping, climbing, bouncing and dodging a number of obstacles as they disrupt your path to freedom.
  • The hand-drawn visuals bring a rather unique atmosphere to the quirky platformer displaying obscene character and monster designs across various themed levels, such as burning towns, western wastelands, underwater areas and even the inside of a mouth.
  • Challenge after challenge will thrust themselves at your Doodler providing non-stop action across the grotesquely absurd campaign.

Let your flatulence loose and leap across the disturbing world of Doodland as the Switch and PC see Escape Doodland on November 30th, 2018.

Super Hyperactive Ninja

Get caffeinated with Super Hyperactive Ninja releasing right around the corner

In an awesome looking new title from Grimorio of Games comes the next speed-running platformer, Super Hyperactive Ninja.

Heading to consoles and Steam, you will need to get through sharp cartoon style levels and consume more coffee to keep your energy up and flowing.

Super Hyperactive Ninja

Taking speed running to the next level, you will need to harness lightning quick reflexes to recover the stolen coffee before the inevitable sleep inducing caffeine crash ends your game. The unique platformer has loads of cool features shown off in the announcement trailer.

Check out the blazing trailer below and soak in the hyperactive-ness of the latest platforming hero:

Along with the meteoric trailer also comes a trail of features and content within the release of Super Hyperactive Ninja:

  • Players can expect to try their speed running skills throughout over 50 levels that are sure to throw out one challenge after another.
  • The speed run friendly game is sure to be completely difficult to master but promises to be fair in punishment and execution.
  • A hidden 2-player battle mode is teased to be discovered somewhere within the game adding something a little extra outside of the platforming mayhem.
  • Your ninja skills will not be confined to one sure path as many hidden secrets and pathways can be discovered by utilizing unlockable items.
  • Awesome sharp 2D visuals that take on the charming appearance of hand-drawn cartoons.
  • New guest characters to be added to Super Hyperactive Ninja by the names of Jack from the co-op platformer Caveman Warriors, the indie game character Aragami and Ace from the comic book series Ice Cream Surfer.

Check out the live demo on PC here and get in on the hyperactive action ASAP.

Coming to PC and PS4 on May 22nd and Xbox One on May 25th, Super Hyperactive Ninja is sure to heat up gamepads everywhere once the coffee-addicted platformer lands.

Iconoclasts Review

Iconoclasts Review [PS4] – Enjoyable, Challenging and Varied

When reading about indie games it used to be that the bar was set a little bit lower for the small teams that made them. We used to be more forgiving if a title didn’t have quite the sheen that you’d see out of an ‘AAA’ studio. I mean, what do you expect when you’ve only got a team of 5 people working on a game?

Iconoclasts Review

This isn’t the case anymore. Nowadays smaller teams are measured on the same scale as anyone else. Still, it’s hard not to be impressed by Iconoclasts’ development story. This is because Iconoclasts is a smart, challenging and gorgeous ‘puzzle-action platformer’ that was made by one person. The music, the programming, the writing and the visuals – everything.

So maybe you’ve read the term ‘action-puzzle platformer’ before or maybe it’s a new term I’ve just made up. Who’s to say? In simple terms, Iconoclasts has you playing as Robin, who’s a mechanic with a spanner and a stun gun. This means you jump from platform to platform, using your wrench to fix things, move platforms around and solve puzzles. You’ll also use your stun gun to shoot at the numerous nasties that litter the levels too.

Iconoclasts Review

Yes, I could have said ‘this is a game similar to Metroid’ but that would be lazy of me, wouldn’t it? Also, whilst there is some backtracking to do, as you upgrade your moves, your wrench and your gun, there’s not as much as you’d find in a Metroid game.

The puzzles and platforming challenges are well-designed and leave you feeling clever rather than frustrated. The puzzle elements are smartly paced and placed. You’ll rarely encounter something that you ‘need to come back to’ and it’s often fairly clear what you need to do, with the challenge coming from figuring out how to do it. Some of the puzzles require a little too much controller dexterity, as you’ll need to be fairly quick on your feet to do what needs to be done.

Iconoclasts Review

What will also require some dexterous button pressing is the fighting and, particularly, the boss battles. Much like the puzzles, most of these are great and ask you to put into practice the skills that you’ve already honed throughout the last area you’ve just spent time in. Sadly, two or three aren’t that fun and introduce unique gameplay elements that don’t appear anywhere else in the game. One boss has you switching characters, which would be fun if you knew how the character controlled. Sadly, the first time you play as this new character and get to try out her entirely bespoke control scheme is during the middle of a hectic boss fight.

Another element that doesn’t always work is the story. I think the fact that I’m even going to talk about the story in a game of this type is pretty astounding, but Iconoclasts has a story that is worth talking about, is better developed than most ‘narrative-driven’ games and will engage mostly everyone.

I don’t want to give away any spoilers but it’s safe to say that Iconoclasts has a story that is full of character and covers some heavy topics. It’s a story about religion, challenging authority of any type and it wants you to question the things you’ve been told by your teachers, preachers and parents. It has a heavily atheist tone, which people that have strong religious beliefs may find off-putting, but it’s brave to see what looks like a simple platformer contain such a fleshed out story, setting and cast.

Iconoclasts Review

It’s not perfect though. Some of the dialogue goes into ‘anime’ territory for me. There are some overbearing monologues delivered throughout the game and there is a new vocabulary to learn along the way. You’ll have to pay attention and piece together just what the game is talking about when it drops in some of its unique jargon. Personally, I found it worth the effort as Iconoclasts delivered a tale that was much more dramatic and darker than its bright and breezy visuals would suggest.

Speaking of which, it’s time I address the well-drawn elephant in the room. Yes – Iconoclasts has some beautiful pixel art.

Everything you get to see throughout the game is brilliantly animated and I can think of no higher praise than to say that quality of the art reminds me of Metal Slug. Enemies bounce, sway and have a real kinetic energy to them that means you can’t keep your eyes off the screen. I may have mentioned how the varied locations are great because they’re well-designed areas to puzzle and platform through, but they’re also really nice to look at and visually varied.

Iconoclasts Review

What’s also incredibly wide-ranging is the music. From cheery upbeat numbers to dourer ambient pieces, it’s really impressive to think this was done by one person. Sure, it took this one person 8 years, but you can see where the time has gone and that none of it was wasted!

Keatz: The Lonely Bird Review [PC] – Being Lonely Never Felt So Bad

Unforgiving and unpolished, Keatz: The Lonely Bird is a dreadful story about a flightless bird whose species has been banned from the ungrateful bird community of the fowl nation – Heavens. Feeling down in the dumps and desperate to seek vengeance on all those who toss aside anyone not up to par by their standards, Keatz embarks on a 2D platforming journey riddled with flaws and errors to the core; but if dissected carefully, shows promise of much greater future endeavors from the young indie developer – Anamik Majumdar.

After a rather heart-wrenching introduction, players take over as the flightless bird, Keatz, and begin firing away with the mysterious gun they obtained in a dream. Now flightless but deadly, Keatz is able to hop around the moderately sized platforming levels in search of a variety of different coloured gems, and that precious loot we all hunger for: money. Throughout these clunky platforming levels, players may take notice that they have no ending location. They’re simply over when the player has completed the objectives mentioned on the loading screen before the level starts.

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Keatz: The Lonely Bird forces players to embark on a challenging 2D platformer, using a painful control scheme.

It’s easy to find the frustrations that leak through the cracks of Keatz: The Lonely Bird. The scavenger hunt to seek out all collectable items to end the level comes with its own share of miscues. Passing up important collectables only to be forced to backtrack across otherwise impossible one-way platforming obstacles is a rage-quit inducing tactic and happens frequently. The level design is unique and shows a decent amount of challenging traps and hazards, but still lacks the finishing touches to leave a positive impression.

Ouch, Those Controls Are Painful

The smooth controls in a platformer are key in creating a memorable and delightful experience for gamers. Both the keyboard and gamepad options feel clumsy, offering an unwelcome learning curve to manoeuvre around the sticky movements. When using a gamepad, the game forces players to use the left analogue stick to move left and right, but also using it to jump as well. The face buttons don’t exactly hinder the experience, but moving and hopping about the levels are often a wild beast that can be rather frustrating to tame.

Other than gems and cash to collect, there are also health packs, ammo crates and other similar useful items. Guarding many of these items are the enemy bird henchmen that fire away at Keatz on sight. Through a variety of different weapons, players will need to persevere through a relentless amount of trial and error to continue further in the campaign. There are a total of 20 levels to play through, both available in easy and hard modes. However, these difficulty settings don’t help with the obvious holes and clumsy mechanics featured in the game.

Keatz: The Lonely Bird
Across 20 different levels, players will find themselves in many different settings filled with a variety of deadly enemies and hazards.
Keatz: The Lonely Bird

There’s not much to the simple platformer in terms of story – a lonely bird cast out from an overruling government wants revenge. Yes really. The story seems to strike a chord of personal feelings from the developer as a positive message to not let someone’s unwelcome judgement anchor you down. It’s unfortunate, however, that the gameplay and mechanics themselves un-apologetically anchor the story down with glaring frustrations, issues and an overall unpolished feeling. Through all of the clunky moments and my rotten words towards the casual platformer, there’s still some dim light that shines through the ever-present cracks in Keatz: The Lonely Bird.

You can find Keatz: The Lonely Bird available for PC on Steam coming this January 2018.

Meet the Ghost of Consoles Past – Jak and Daxter sequels join PS2 Classics range

Which do you want first – the good news or the bad news?

The good news is that Sony has opted to provide devotees with another opportunity to indulge in some hearty festive nostalgia this Christmas, namely by rehashing three of their past greatest hits as part of their PS2 Classics range. The bad news is that if you’re tired of callbacks to console generations gone by, then you’d best stop reading now.

Takeaways:

  • Following Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy‘s three-month lead, the eponymous platforming franchise’s second, third and fourth instalments – Jak II, Jak 3 and Jak X Combat Racing – are all set to become PS2 Classics on December 6th.
  • In case you didn’t play them the first time around in 2003-2005, each member of this eclectic trio of follow-ups brought fresh new dynamics to the semi-open-world adventure saga, from Jak II‘s gunplay to Jak 3‘s weapon modifications to Combat Racing‘s visceral riffs on the Mario Kart formula (no, really!).
  • Don’t hold your breath for a full remaster, however, since all PS2 Classics re-releases are merely up-rezzed 1080p facsimiles of their former selves, albeit with recent PS4 online features like Remote Play, Share Play and Trophies thrown in for good measure.

Naturally, your mileage with each of these revived Jak titles will vary considerably depending on a) whether you’ve played them before and b) whether or not the ongoing industry trend of retreading well-trodden ground with such remakes has gotten old for you at this stage.

But Sony wouldn’t have pursued their Classics range if its offerings to date – as well as their recent Uncharted, The Last of Us and Crash Bandicoot remakes – hadn’t sold enough copies to make this a feasible business strategy. The appetite’s clearly there, then, even if the wider implications for video game innovation need further discussion down the line.

As for the two PSP-exclusive entries in Jak‘s platforming pantheon, 2006’s Daxter and 2009’s Jak and Daxter: The Last Frontier, whether they end up follow suiting most likely depends on how the latter three instalments in his original quadrilogy fare on the PlayStation Store.

Let us know below whether you’re planning to pick Jak II-X up, or want to see original storylines concocted for everyone’s favourite elf-ottsel pairing in future.

Play it again, Sam – Cuphead stokes global nostalgia with over 1m sales

Regular D-pad Joy followers will recall that our own Alisa Hail called Studio MDHR’s eclectic hand-drawn platformer Cuphead “a devilishly good time” in her review this month, awarding the studio’s stellar debut effort a perfect 5/5 score to boot.

Well, if the digital sales it’s racked up since its September 29th launch are any indication, Alisa’s been far from alone in taking great delight from this nostalgic throwback to a bygone age of gloriously ridiculous platforming challenges…

Takeaways:

  • After spending just a fortnight on the Xbox Store and PC marketplaces, Cuphead has over a million unit sales to its name.
  • It’s no small feat when one considers that the side-scrolling adventure currently costs £16 / $20 to pick up, meaning Studio MDHR has at least £16m / $20m to invest in its next – as yet unknown – project.
  • At present, Steam Spy reckons most of Cuphead‘s player base derives from PC hardware, with almost 590,000 gamers already having purchased the tough-as-nails platformer for themselves on Steam.
  • The development team’s Chad and Jared Moldenhauer say they’re “humbled and excited that so many people from around the world” have taken a trip back to the age of 1930s cartoon action with them. They add: “We could never have dreamed of the reception we’ve received from our amazing fans.”

Given how many development studios – not least Guerilla Cambridge and Lionshead – have fallen by the wayside of late due to diminishing demand, that Cuphead looks set to buck this trend will doubtless come as a huge relief for first-time devs Studio MDHR.

But complacency can soon breed catastrophe, of course, so the minds responsible for rendering the eponymous nose-laser-blasting protagonist’s psychedelic escapades would do well to brainstorm fresh ideas for further projects rather than resting on their laurels.

In the meantime, though, be sure to let us know your thoughts on Cuphead in the comments section below, as well as what you reckon the storming success of a fledgeling indie title such as this one could mean for the trajectory of our industry.

Super Lumi Live – A precise, neon platformer [PC]

The 2D platformer has become something so popular, so uniformed that keeping track of all the forthcoming releases seems to be more of a chore than it’s worth. Thankfully, there are developers out there keeping the quick-paced genre from losing its edge, tenacity and flavour. Super Lumi Live sticks it to the die-hards of modern platformers and leaves an addicting, lip-biting good time in the depths of a super-sleek neon world filled with deadly hurdles and platforming innovations.

Levels Loaded with Challenges

Running through the neon ripped levels, your little blue blob runs, leaps and double jumps their way from one thumb-bruising level to the next. Dodging a slew of obstacles ranging from bobbing spike-beds to shifting platforms, Super Lumi Live does an excellent job of giving the player control. With the absence of the frustrating “slide” annoyance found in many platformers, your blob almost satisfyingly sticks to the ground upon landing from every jump. This is an immensely helpful asset, found in an otherwise tedious and challenging platformer.

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Various platforming mechanics are littered across the entirety of Super Lumi Live.

Levels are divided into themed Seasons, with every season containing a handful of numbered levels increasing in difficulty the further you progress. Levels are required to be completed in order to move on to the next. Some also require a specific amount of points to collect throughout the levels in order to unlock. Returning to previous levels and reaching for a higher total of points will provide the player with enough credit to continue forward. The last stage in each season serves as a Boss stage. With a heightened number of difficult obstacles, a lengthier run through and specific techniques to complete the end of the season.

Excellent & Precise Handling

As mentioned above, Super Lumi Live handles with excellent, precise maneuvers, leaving little frustrations with the controls themselves. Those frustrations are found in the level designs to purposely throw players off with unexpected obstacles and dangerous encounters. Whether it’s block dissolving upon touching them, assaulting cannons relentlessly firing upon your helpless blob, deadly ground saws or shifting platforms taking you to an untimely demise if not paying close enough attention, the game is plenty full of quick-acting annoyances to keep the player humble.

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Levels are unlocked by either completing levels or acquiring the appropriate amount of points in each stage.

Throughout the levels are dozens of white points – placed in similar fashion to coins/rings in other popular platformers. The rare golden points are often found in hard to reach areas, making for a tedious playthrough for the gaming completionists. Your total number of points of both white and gold are tallied and kept in a score-style fashion at the stage select screen. Newer levels appear as you make your way through the game, and many are designed to be unlocked after the player has accumulated a total number of each color of point. The common numbered stages are unlocked with accordance to the white, while the gold points unlock tricky bonus style stages, not required to complete to move forward in the game.

Conclusion

Super Lumi Live is presented in a unique retro, neon stylized fashion with a modern platforming approach to gameplay. Providing a quality platforming experience, the challenge will turn many casual players off. The levels never feel unfair in any way, but many stages will leave you wondering if you have the knack to stick with it. Not to flush out the satisfying controls and mechanics of the platformer, the game truly shines in this aspect.

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Many challenges stand in the way of grabbing that hard-to-reach golden point.

For a quick platforming experience to help bring the hard-core gamer back down to Earth and further question your abilities, Super Lumi Live is that type of hard-hitting title. Falling in line with the “quick to learn, a lifetime to master” areas of gaming, Super Lumi Live precisely maneuvers like a dream, but seems happily stranded in a hellish world of frustrating obstacles and platforming hindrances.

Find the quick-action platforming title, Super Lumi Live, available on Steam for the PC.

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Still Time Review – Rewinding Its Way Back to 2D Puzzle Solving (PS4)

Still Time is a 2D pixelated puzzle game – created by game developer Alan Zucconi, and co-published by MixedBag – where players take control of the existing timeline of your character in each level. Falling deeper and deeper into the mysterious testing chambers of time control, you’ll have to solve your way out of dozens of challenging puzzles, manipulate time and interact with previous versions of yourself to escape the secrets that await in, Still Time.

Placed in the vaults of time manipulation and experiments, our protagonist has no other option but to continue into the depths of the test chambers, which act as the introduction levels of the game. Going over the basics, you’ll be required to open locked doors by switching levers, placing boxes on switches, avoid threatening obstacles – all while tampering with the fabric of time itself.

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The puzzles at first seem remarkably easy and transparent, however, once the usage of time becomes a factor, the mechanics start to change drastically. Flipping various switches to open doors or leaving weighted boxes on switches to help hold the exit open seems easy enough, but the catch soon starts to play its role.

In many levels the exit doors will only stay open while the switch to activate it is occupied. Cleverly rewinding time will leave your present character in place, while creating a secondary AI character who will run along your previous path – exactly as you did before. Using this method, players will flip open doors in advance so you’ll be able to turn back time and take advantage of your past self’s actions.

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Unlike other time manipulating 2D puzzle titles – cough, Braid, cough – Still Time only controls the time itself, not the physical beings and space around involved. Meaning, your character doesn’t rewind along with time, but a second, or third, or even fourth portrayal of your character will appear and complete the tasks exactly as you performed them before. This approach leaves new tactics and strategies in solving these tedious puzzles, and makes for a overall new experience in the time manipulating genre.

Death doesn’t even stand in the way of our brave protagonist. Once the player has met an untimely demise, you are given the chance to rewind time back to before you collapsed to your death. This action is only available after a life terminating action, and does not create a past version of the character. Finding an appropriate time to “revive” your character is an important detail, as once you’ve faltered once in the level, your current run will restart from the beginning.

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Of course, restarting is always an option, and not always a bad one at that. With the constant flow of time being rewound to unlock specific doors, it’s easy to go a bit overboard with “time clones”, flipping switches at wrong times, or otherwise losing a valuable object in the often times hectic levels. A quick restart from the menu is easy, as well as encouraged when things become a little too busy, or otherwise impassable.

Still time offers 40 different puzzling levels with unique gameplay mechanics, a challenging new way of approaching the puzzle solving platformer, and something many puzzle titles lack, an intriguing story of a man looking for his freedom, while uncovering truths about the time that surrounds him. If you’re looking for an inexpensive way to stress your brain and dive deep into a “timeless” adventure, Still Time provides a fresh experience with complex puzzles and level designs, waiting to be solved by using casual and simple puzzle solving capabilities in classic pixel art style.

Look for Still Time on the PS4 and PS Vita systems available now as a crossbuy purchase, and coming to Steam for PC at a later date.

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