I have been playing a lot of platformers lately, so I got myself a Dualshock 4 controller in anticipation of one day being able to afford a PS4! For now, I will settle for using one on my PC. And today it really paid off. Today I was able to burn through the Anti-Hero demo a couple times and get associated with this upcoming indie title.
Anti-Hero is a fast-paced puzzle platformer that takes you across the universe. The main character is some sort of spaceman with interesting powers. Now they aren’t terribly amazing, so don’t get all amped up for some crazy fucking ideas that will rend the universe itself, but the way the mechanics of the game are woven together provides a fun and challenging game that gets me excited to wear in my new gamepad.
First among the mechanics employed by Anti-Hero is the wall-run. Apparently this space wanderer character is from a distant place where they still have ninjas, because he can run straight up a fucking wall. As of right now there is even a tutorial that lets you practice wall running. You run at a wall (moving forward while pressing L1 for me ) then press the jump button (X in my case) twice in order to start running up it. Simple enough, but as high school does not offer extensive preparation for the real world, so, too, the tutorial is just child’s play compared to some of the wall-run challenges offered by the game even as early as the introductory level. Now, don’t get it twisted: this mechanic has been woven into the game well. It feels right, it isn’t terribly hard, but the game doesn’t hand you anything. After speaking with Matt Lewis, an Artist and Animator on the project, I have a firmer idea on the thought going into the mechanic.
We do think about how the player is going to react to situations like wall-running. People have said “it’s too punishing, I need check points.” We respond, “The level takes 60 seconds to run through and you want a check point?” That’s what I thought, wall running shouldn’t be an automatic thing; it should require timing and skill. The idea was that we didn’t want sticky walls. We want wall running to be a platform challenge, just like clearing a gap or timing platforms.
– Matt Lewis, Artist and Animator, Couch Fort Gamez
Paul DiDomenico, Lead Developer at Couch Fort, also had his own thoughts regarding difficulty of the gameplay:
There are too many follow missions these days. Personally, I want kids to hate me like I hate whoever programmed Mega Man 7
– Paul DiDomenico, Lead Developer, Couch Fort Gamez
So the developers don’t want anything to be too easy, so the game feels satisfying with objectives and challenges that are fun and attainable. But how attainable is wall running? Well, I am glad I played it with the gamepad. Despite my preference for my PC gaming input apparatus, the gamepad made the entire mechanic smooth and intuitive to get your hands around. It is kind of like every other PC platformer in that it should have a warning label: DO NOT TRY THIS AT ASDF! What is unique about this mechanic is the way it is presented in the demo. There is a section of it where you have to wall jump up a mine shaft. Everything about the mine is well-crafted, too. You are running up a couple walls and jumping back and forth between them in time to catch the other side and keep running. It takes some practice, but if you get it right, you can end up running up higher than your goal and coming back down to reach the objective.
Another mechanic in the game that adds to the momentum of gameplay is the slide. Pressing a certain key on the gamepad ( O for me ) triggers a slide, and when executed in certain locations you can slide even further. Various obstacles throughout the level make you slide on your side for a good distance. This results in a platformer with a speed and synergy that gets you moving fast and keeps you on your toes. You want to maintain the momentum you feel with the main character, and it is definitely going to be a good title for speed-runners.
Through the game, you will also be tasked with some fairly simple puzzles. These include throwing an object through a hovering hoop to unlock a door. Throwing is accomplished with the left stick, and the character thrusts out his hand like a damn jedi. You then control the object as it flies through the air. Since this is a preview, you might have guessed the game is in early development. The objects, for now, are blue cubes. As you might expect, the game rapidly builds on the throwing mechanic by immediately having you take an object, throw it through a hoop and over an obstacle, while you slide underneath and catch it to continue the trajectory through to another hoop, which then opens a door. If it touches the ground, the door doesn’t open. It sounds like a bitch, but the way the game plays, it is very doable and very satisfying when you complete it. I have replayed the demo 5 times just to be like, “hell, yea, just another space traveler doing some wicked slam dunks, comin’ through here.” Using this ability also helps you kill your foes as early in the game you notice the blue cubes just chilling there. You can take these babies and lob them at your foes, but many times I used them too hard and they landed in a bottomless pit. Weaponizable objects are best used as “magic bullets” than dumb-fire missiles, swinging them through the air and guiding them closely. Now, in a game driven toward momentum, this takes you out of the speed a bit, so the best way to just get through it is to watch your foes’ movements and run past them.
Some other elements that I enjoyed were the scenery layering. Although the level platforms cut a bit suddenly in some places, overall the way the foreground reaches back into the background is great. That is then layered with various elements that move naturally. It is not like playing in a diorama but it feels like you are just on a hill in a busy forest-bedecked town. One point of this game that still feels a bit rough is the music. The music in the trailer on the site is pretty exciting, but that in the game is comparatively overworldy. It can be best described as platformer jive and it gets you rolling with the game, but it just feels like it should be in a version of this game retailed by Old Navy. A game this fast-paced featuring a space traveler might feature something a little more techno-sprinter and a little less polo shirt overworld.
Finally, the storyline, though largely conceptual, also has a number of fantastic elements to it. In the title screen you see a balloon that is rocketing out of the atmosphere to scintillate gently in the starlight. Paul DiDomenico, the Lead Developer at Couch Fort, revealed to me that this symbolizes a key theme in this game’s golden heart: a child’s wish, which thrusts him into the heart of the story.
The idea is that a true wish from the heart can hold great power, and that power always draws more power. It comes from a place of light and innocence, but it is coveted by those who wouldn’t use it for the like.
– Paul DiDomenico, Lead Developer, Couch Fort Gamez
So right off the bat, I get the sense this game will have some serious feels. But in a brilliant manner of true “yin and yang”, the main character, our space traveler, has a story that is dark and sad.
Eons ago his home world was at the brink of destruction. He and a small council performed an ancient and forbidden ritual as a final effort to save their planet and species. This effort, though bestowing upon them incredible abilities, ultimately failed and left them with the curse of immortality. They have since wandered the cosmos decaying until they are mere husks of their former selves, unable to die. Then, suddenly, one by one, they begin to disappear until only our main character remains, which is where his story and the child’s meet and our game begins.
-Paul DiDomenica, Lead Developer, Couch Fort Gamez
I am not sure about you guys, but this game looks and sounds like a lot of fun. Though it is in its early stages, the amount of heart and work being poured into it makes me optimistic about the final product. Through everything I have come to understand about Antihero, the only thing that get me feeling frustrated is that it will be some time before this title is finished. Keep this title in the back of your minds, though. This is a first look into what is going on with Couch Fort Gamez inaugural title. Let’s wish them luck and get them the support they need and deserve! Check out their site and keep an eye out for Antihero.