At EGLX I was pretty busy watching eSports events, conducting interviews, attending panels, buying swag. When the weekend ended, the only thing I wanted to go back to was Arrow Heads, and I couldn't because there was always a queue.
This article is kind of cheating; everything about Arrow Heads and the team at Oddbird Studio is incredibly endearing. It also doesn't help my bias that the team goes to school about 5 minutes from my house and they're all around 20 years old with Arrow Heads representing their first overture to the industry. That'd be a cool story even if the game looked awful—lucky for Oddbird it looks great.
Arrowheads is a 4 player combat game in the vein of Towerfall Ascension; players take control of a an adorable anthropomorphic bird and duke it out in the arena with bow and arrows. However, once you see the game in action, it diverges from Towerfall in a big way.
The first thing you'll notice is the art style; where Towerfall employs a pixel art for gameplay, Arrow Heads' art has a crisp and cartoony look. That direction carries over into the game, which opts for an isometric view for each arena and gives the artists a chance to give the stages a good amount of character even in this early stage of development.
Gameplay is broken up into rounds, with the first player to reach 10 wins declared the victor and showered in praise. Controls are dead simple—left stick to move, right bumper to jump and right stick to control your arrow shots; press the stick in any direction to aim, and release to fire. In that function it is reminiscent of a twin stick shooter allowing you freedom of movement independent from your shot direction. Once you're hit, you're dead until the next round, although you can bounce your body around the map to cause disruption and provide endless ragdoll laughs.
There are power-ups that drop periodically (in boxes that can crush unwary players) that mix the gameplay up—these include armor, explosives, and trap items. As well, when you fall 3 points behind in the score you spawn with armor, allowing you to take an additional hit before you croak.
The gameplay is quintessential pick up and play. I was playing against small children and grown men, getting my ass kicked and kicking ass in equal measure. During the convention, the boys at Oddbird stressed the accessibility and fun of couch multiplayer as motivation for the game's development. When I spoke to team member Cody Romphf about the games development he commented;"we really like the couch co-op experience, and not a lot of games do that anymore. Being able to sit on a couch together and just have some good laughs, those are the kinds of games we love ourselves"
At EGLX, Oddbird had 2 maps available—a rooftop with a giant fan to blow players around the map as well as a precipitous drop and a ruined temple with an irascible laser eye that can slow and damage you. This was the only area that caused me concern. While the maps are pretty and function well, I worried that repetition could hurt the game's staying power. When asked, Romphf said: "That's definitely something we're looking at and we're trying to figure out how we're going to approach that in our levels. Something we're looking at is having very modular level design, keeping core elements so as not to be fully procedural but rearranging the maps for the next few stages so it always has a fresh spin on each level."
While it is the first entry from this incredibly young studio, Arrow Heads has already been getting notice, winning this year's Level Up student showcase. Romphf elaborated on what that experience has meant for the team:
After we had our success at Level Up, we were being approached by different studios, some of the bigger guys. And they were trying to pull the team apart because they wanted specific members to peel off and join their studio. It's tough, it's tough to keep the guys together when they're being offered dream jobs. But I think as a dream we realized the potential opportunity. It's not something we're gonna get to do very often, we don't have a lot of risk right now so its great to keep everyone together and actually form our own studio out of it.
I really got a kick out of Arrow Heads during my short time with it at EGLX, as a sucker for couch multiplayer I'm looking forward to new and exciting reasons to get furious at my friends. The game is slick and responsive while maintaining accessibility via simplicity and a short iteration time for every match. I'm excited to see how the rest of 2016 goes for the team at Oddbird Studio. Arrow Heads will release on Steam and the team is hoping to bring it to console as well. The game is set for a January release, let's hope it takes off.
I apologize for the bird pun.