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.

Pode – Experience The Warmth That Companionship Brings

Companionship, we are always looking for it, be it in form of friendships, family, colleagues at work… A lover. We like to think we need only ourselves but when we feel empty and alone it’s companionship that saves us, picks us up and reminds us: it’s ok.

Without companionship, I doubt I’d be here, writing this very article, for you.

Pode is a 3D puzzle game developed by Henchman and Goon. You play as Bulder (rock character) and/or Glo (Light character) who explore an ancient ruin of a lost civilization to help Glo return home. Each character has their own unique abilities to help to solve the puzzles littered within the game, however many of the puzzles rely on both characters working together.

As this game is best played as a couch co-op experience you can also play it single-player with the capability of switching characters on the fly.

Both characters influence the world differently, with Bulder controlling rock formations and Glo blooms life in the environments that you help traverse the levels. Each character are opposites, and this is shown through the mechanics; this even extends to some of the slight physic-based puzzles too. It adds to the game an emotional depth, through the gameplay, which is rarely seen in others – one can’t simply complete a level without the other and this is further expressed by using each other as a platform to reach inaccessible areas.

Graphically the game has a very minimalistic style yet it’s utterly gorgeous, taking inspiration from Norwegian art and nature. It has this painted look using a lot of flat tones and colours, where these darker tones combine with brighter lush primary colours. It complements the gameplay by enhancing the relaxing gameplay experience. You’ll find yourself as Glo wanting to bloom life in the whole level just to add the bright colour pallet unfurl in a hollow and lifeless landscape; a great mechanical metaphor of the game’s central themes.

It’s hard to talk about the game because it’s fairly basic, but that’s the point. Minimalism is the heart of the design. Why you ask? So, it doesn’t distract from its main point, companionship. With a button to hold the other character’s hand, we see a game that’s inherently positive. You can’t help being touched by the game when you see these two opposite characters slowly begin to understand each other – especially in today’s social division. You can’t help but smile to yourself at those little tender moments.

Talking with Linn Sovig, the Marketing/Publishing Manager for Henchman and Goon, Linn explained the concept came about so that parents could play a game with their children that they could enjoy. That they both could experience the same positivity together and that they must interact with each other not just through the game’s mechanics, but verbally too.

Linn told me that there are hidden sections within the game and that these hidden sections are each dedicated to loved ones lost during the development cycle.

There is so much heart within this game, so much love and you indulge in the same passion while playing. You can play this game solo, but you will be robbing yourself the entire purpose of this game.

What Henchman and Goon have created here is a rarity within video gaming, something you feel. I urge anyone who plays games with people to buy this game and just experience the warmth the game has to offer.

Pode is out now on Switch with a PlayStation 4 port currently in development. Enjoy and remember what it’s like to feel something again.

Past Blast: Chase The Express – Staying Above 50mph

What to say about the 90’s? Take That, Shell suits, Cassettes, the rave culture, Brit-pop, The X-files, The Outer-Limits, Steps, Strange but True, Sony PlayStation, VHS, Eclipse clothing, tramlines, the ear stud, Pokémon, Nintendo vs. Sega, Eerie Indiana and the Hollywood Blockbuster action movie.

In the 90’s, TV, clothing, music, brands and movies were events; they meant something. One burst out of nowhere, full of high octane action and was all thrill; that movie was the legendary ‘Speed’ starring Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock and Dennis Hopper. An action movie that defined a generation with cheesy dialogue, a simple plot and a 1 hour and 56 minutes adrenaline rush.

I imagine any youth of today may laugh at the above comments on Speed, yet, I’m not kidding. Speed was the must-see movie that even had its own simulator. Speed later influenced one of gaming’s beloved franchises: Metal Gear Solid. With the first Metal Gear Solid soundtrack ripping off the Speed soundtrack (seriously, someone should have been sued) and Metal Gear Solid 2’s Fat Man being inspired by Dennis Hopper’s character.

But there was one game that feels like Speed the game just without the staying above 50mph, being on a bus and Sandra Bullock – that game is Chase the Express.

Covert Ops: Nuclear Dawn (let’s be honest, that title sounds like a prog album) in America, was developed by Sugar and Rockets, and published by Sony Computer Entertainment in Japan/Europe and Activision in America. It was released in the dawn of the new Millennium for the PlayStation.

You play as Jack Morton (maybe I’m reading into it too much but the main character from Speed is called Jack) a NATO officer sent to board the Blue Harvest, a train carrying the Ambassador that’s been hijacked by the KGB who now have access to nuclear bombs.

You are the sole survivor of your team after missiles strike your helicopter, nevertheless, you’ll see many characters on the way, Christina Wayborn – one the ambassador’s special police, Philip Mason – the ambassador’s secretary.  As Jack, your job is to stop the terrorists and ensure none of the nuclear bombs are detonated.

Ok, but what about the gameplay? I hear you say that – I was going to tell you if you calm down and listen. Patience is a good thing.

Chase the Express is a third-person action game with puzzle elements and item management. It features the obligatory tank controls suited for the fixed camera angles you’d expect from a game of the genre and time; however, the environments are modelled in 3D meaning you can slightly alter the camera angle.

The puzzles are your typical ‘find item, and place item in said obvious place’. Firearm combat auto aims at an enemy with a ring that will appear around them – changing to a darker colour, it indicates you can deal more damage and if you run out of ammo you always have your fists.

Stealth mainly consists of you walking to one of the side cabin, waiting for a geezer to walk past, and walking out while his back is turned. Another option is popping out of cover with an action roll or dodging certain attacks; you Souls veterans will feel right at home. The game does it’s best to mix the gameplay up with controlling the speed of a train to match another train, multiple scenarios/endings and a bomb disposal section where the wirecutter is the slowest machine I’ve had the pleasure of enduring.

The highlight of this game is by far the dialogue, writing and voice acting; it’s so terrible in that PlayStation 1 way that it provides the game entertainment and lots of charm. The lines are delivered vacantly with no emotion and are disjointed. The writing – there is a section where you speak to a character about how to disarm some missiles, his reply is just “Screwdriver”. Screwdriver… Genius.

That’s the joy of this game, it doesn’t try to be something spectacular because it knows it isn’t, the gameplay doesn’t try to wow you with some special mechanic because it’s all a poorly done version of something else, the writing and acting isn’t going to blow your mind and they know it.

What the game is, is entertainment, time out of your life for 4-5 hours. In that very 90’s way, it knows what it is and what its goal is, to entertain; not too much, but enough –  it doesn’t swallow your life in the process. If this was a 90’s movie, it would come in a triple VHS with ‘Money Train’ and/or ‘Daylight’; it’s that calibre of video game.

It cost me three pounds. If there is any PlayStation one fans/collectors who haven’t played this game and they want something they can hammer out in a day or two – give it a blast. I’ll be back soon.

Fearful Symmetry and The Cursed Prince

Fearful Symmetry and The Cursed Prince Review [PC] – Puzzling Symmetry For Everyone

The gameplay of Fearful Symmetry and The Cursed Prince shows its teeth as a mind-twisting puzzler that forces players to think for two characters at once. The unique spin on this puzzle game is refreshing at the same time as being equally frustrating. Taking on two separate screens at once is a welcome challenge for this gamer and one that tends to keep giving throughout its short but sweet campaign. From the added challenges that begin to surface, to the new characters to unlock to help change the gameplay, Gamera Interactive is helping to introduce a distinctive spin on the puzzle-solving genre.

Fearful Symmetry and The Cursed Prince
Fearful Symmetry and The Cursed Prince tells the tale of two universes, forcing the player to guide their hero through parallel dimensions at the same time.

Taking on the role of a prince who snatched the sacred cursed scroll, you’re now compelled to escape this symmetrical universe and return the scrolls to their rightful owner. Where the puzzling comes in is how the challenges present themselves throughout the game. The screen is divided into two symmetrical sides: one light, one dark. Players control their hero on both sides of the screen, navigating each side through dangerous traps and challenges. The trick is that the character on the left makes their way from bottom to top while the right goes from top to bottom. This makes controlling both your dark and light-sided hero quite the thought-inducing challenge.

A Symmetrical Experience

Moving up on one screen will cause the other character to move down, and vice versa. Right is left and left is right, making for a unique twist on what would otherwise be a simple puzzler. As the levels continue onward, more obstacles inevitably present themselves introducing a subtle learning curve. Thinking about your every move twice is a new habit to adapt to, one that is crucial in keeping your character from perishing. There is plenty of time spent on planning your pathway and perfectly avoiding any dangers.

Fearful Symmetry and The Cursed Prince
Though the standard campaign levels are complex and trivial at their own accord, the uniquely designed bonus levels are a step ahead of the campaign dungeons.

While at the beginning of the game where the dangerous obstacles stay stationary, more ghastly spirits and moving objects begin to enhance the strategy. Ghostly AI spawn in or fireball spitting plants cross your path, players must be abundantly aware of what’s occurring on both sides of the screen. If players are unaware of the dangers on one side of the screen or the other, a quick death most certainly awaits. A quick restart keeps the game flowing at an easy pace to keep hacking away at the correct path to success.

Numerous Ways To Play

Though travelling from one side of the dungeon to the other for both sides at once is the main objective, in each dungeon on one side rests a bonus key. Collecting these keys will eventually unlock bonus levels that present even more difficult challenges. However, these bonus levels award players with two new playable characters when specific ones are completed. On top of new and unique characters to play as these bonus levels are excellent ways to drive more hair-pulling puzzles out of your twitching fingertips.

Fearful Symmetry and The Cursed Prince
The first hero is unlocked from the start, after enough bonus levels, two other characters equipped with their own unique abilities offer a different perspective on the puzzling title.

Out of the three characters to choose, each one offers a unique twist on conquering the levels. While traversing through the standard way by walking around the spikes, fire and ghostly enemies in traditional strolling fashion, other unique abilities may be equipped when played as one of the other characters, such as the ability to teleport over obstacles. The initial campaign is relatively short – sitting at about an hour-long. Still, two characters to unlock – each with their own unique skill – and the challenging bonus levels add a bit more depth to the game.

There’s not too much to Fearful Symmetry and The Cursed Prince – but there is some addicting gameplay to be had. Taking on parallel worlds at the same time is a unique twist on the genre, great for gamers of any skill level to take on the challenge.

Fearful Symmetry and The Cursed Prince out now

Fearful Symmetry and The Cursed Prince out now

Puzzle title Fearful Symmetry and The Cursed Prince is out today for PC and Xbox One. It’s available on PC via Steam, Xbox Live and available as an Xbox Play Anywhere title.

Fearful Symmetry and The Cursed Prince Out Now – Boggling?

Players control two characters – the twist being that both are stuck in different dimensions and even worse, these characters have opposite controls. This, combined with different traps and obstacles in the two dimensions results in what we imagine is a tricky puzzle game. Here’s the trailer for your peepers:

Here’s what people are saying on Steam:

“For the price, and the time it will take for the average person to 100% this game, I would say they set it just right.”

Moving pictures:

“I am pleasently surprised by this game title. It is not the game I usually go for but gameplay is super fun. Looks are not always important. This game is a must have if you like challenging puzzle games. Moving pictures are better than words.”

Pixel art rocks:

“Very interesting puzzle game. I’ve never played one quite like it and it’s cool when something different comes along. The amazing pixel art is very nice to look at as well. I love the soft color’s (sic) used in this game’s art style, they are very easy on the eyes.”

There are over 30 levels in the game with multiple characters to unlock along the journey. We’ll hopefully have a review out for this one soon.