Monday, April 1, 2013

PAX East 2013: Two Brothers (Ackk Studios)


"The Island" Developer Walkthrough 

If you were to travel along the outside rim of the showfloor, you would have spotted two massive GameBoy handhelds, but these were no normal handhelds.  No, these were display monitors for Ackk Studios' upcoming adventure title Two Brothers, and we got to speak with them about the game and get a developer walkthrough in one significant segment of the game.  Check out below for our impressions.


Two Brothers is an action RPG title which stars Roy Guarder, an inventor who attempts to discover a new color in the world.  After suffering a near-death experience, Roy ends up in a world where he encounters colors he has never been seen before, and after coming back to the living world, he and his brother Bivare begin on a quest to help bring those otherworldly colors into reality.

The first noticeable thing that comes to mind is the game's graphics which  are represented in a GameBoy-style palette.  The game looks like a combination of sprites from the Super Nintendo and the color tones of the GameBoy.  Larger monsters and buildings (which are living beings, too, by the way) are sprited in a hyper-realistic way, as though they were captured via GameBoy Camera or down-scaled to fit the game's parameters.  It occasionally looks odd, but it helps keep the nostalgia in tact throughout the adventure.  Ackk Studios Creator Brian Allanson explained that the GameBoy aesthetic was to help demonstrate to us how significant the otherworldly colors were to their world.  Imagine living in a world where everything was naturally colored like GameBoy tones when suddenly you see many different colors beyond your world's spectrum.  With that explanation, it really helped me conceptualize the idea of the world's unique colors.

Music in the game resembles an amalgamation of the GameBoy, retro-themed aesthetic with a touch of newer instrumentation, helping to blend the new with the old.  The music sometimes steps aside from the retro feel in order to better set the mood, and that can sometimes come off as odd, especially when you get too used to the retro feel of the graphics.  Of course, once you realize it is not entirely pulling from the older days of gaming, the soundtrack becomes more workable in the game.

While Two Brothers borrows the basic gameplay premise of games of old such as Secret of Mana, Lufia II, and Legend of Zelda, there is one specific element that takes it away from those older games: there is no Game Over.  To explain further, when Roy dies, the game is not over, but rather, players end up in an Afterlife Hub where Roy can experience the otherworldly colors once again.  There, players can see the world below and interact with the now dead inhabitants.  At times, Roy can even push these people from the world and back into the land of the living, whereas other times Roy can learn clues and pivotal story inputs from the dead in order to solve puzzles and unravel the mystery of the world and its mysterious colors.  So, rather than experience a game ending, players end up in an extension of the game world, one that is rather unique to say the least.  Even dying in boss battles sends you up to the hub where you can easily walk off the stage and continue the battle anew.  It give me some solace that my progress will not be heavily undone by a few mistakes made along the way.

Over the course of the game, Roy and his brother will work together, whether as a group together or in multiple groups separated, to find the magical colors.  When there are duos of characters in a group, a second player can join in and control the secondary character, whether it is Bivare or someone else.  Furthermore, Roy can enter his partner's item bag and enter an Item World, where he can equip weapons or explore the world for special items.  This was not specifically available to me in my playthrough, but it sounds like even item usage has more depth than just a menu screen.

In my playthrough, I only had a swamp area to venture through, and I was impressed by the graphic style and how it very much resembled a game from the past.  There was some slight collision detection that came about more often than I would like, though.  Unfortunately, as I was thrust into the swamp with little information as to what was going on, I found myself wandering in circles until Ian Bailey, the Level Designer, informed me of my next step.  Even so, after entering caverns and seemingly undoing the enemies there, I was still a little unsure of what to do going forward, but I imagine it would be easier if I knew the story up to that point.

Even though I did not play it, the Island segment of the demo was a lot more effective as it was shown to me.  Brian Allanson played through the area while Co-Founder Andrew Allanson walked me through the adventure.  The Island section was best described as a compressed version of Link's Awakening, complete with mini-dungeons, sudden plot-twists and a deceased hero with a familiar pointy hat.  The graphic presentation was delightful at points and intense in others, especially when Roy was pulled into a trial suddenly amid his adventure.  I will not spoil much of that, but I will say it takes place at the end of the demo and it was sudden, for sure!

The game looks solid as it nears its completion.  There is a lot to say about the game and its unique mechanics.  The demo felt a little stiff at times, but I think that could have been the controller's fault mixed with my absolute ignorance of the scenario going into it.  The Island playthrough helped sell it to me, and it should be a fun romp when it is finally complete.

Two Brothers releases on PC, Mac, and Linux this Summer, and the Wii U version of the game will be coming out a few months later.  Ackk Studios' other project, Project Y2K, will be unveiled soon.

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