PAX East 2013 was filled to the brim with the usual assortment of big budget, blockbuster AAA titles that everyone knows about, plus a large contingency of indie games, the stuff that’s actually interesting. The popularity of the latter has dramatically increased in recent years, with the more high profile offerings residing within the confines of the Indie Mega Booth, or immediately surrounding it.
And many of these games were quite excellent, though perhaps the best independently produced title was nowhere near, but was instead fond in a very far away corner of the entire show flow. A little something called A.N.N.E. from GamesByMo.
Upon first glance, one is immediately reminded of Cave Story; both share pretty much the same aesthetic, except A.N.N.E. is a tad bit more colorful. Control-wise, they’re also very similar; you shoot and you jump, with the controls resembling many classic platformers, though you also have special attacks that are executed with its own dedicated button. A.N.N.E. even stars a robot, though unlike in Cave Story, it’s clear from the get so that the lead is mechanical.
Gameplay-wise, it’s an even mix of Cave Story and Mega Man, with a healthy dose of Super Metroid. In regards to the latter, there’s a ship that also serves as your home base, but unlike Samus’ HQ, “You can actually use it!” explained the game’s creator, and quite enthusiastically.
Once more, A.N.N.E. is from GamesByMo. To be more exact, it’s a game by Moise Breton. Just like Cave Story was, A.N.N.E. is being made by just one person. Well, mostly; Breton has someone else taking care of the soundtrack, plus a friend is helping out with the animation. But the similarities don’t end there; the reason for such a strong connection with Daisuke Amaya’s game is because A.N.N.E. is being built with the same engine that was used for the original Cave Story, and not the enhanced one that has utilized for its more recent iterations, by Nicalis. As for the audio, it too is based upon the original sound tools, but which has been enhanced via the composer, and which he has dubbed PxTone.
Previously, Breton had been working at Beenox, working on various Spider-Man games over the past few years. But well before that, he was one of the people involved in Chrono Resurrection, the ill-fated 3D remake of Chrono Trigger that some might recall almost a decade ago.
Breton explained how, after Square Enix had sent their cease and desist, the team decided to keep the work in progress available for download for just one more week. “During that time, we got million downloads!” explained Breton. “And we were able to check where they were coming from; it was mostly from Japanese game companies!”
Breton implored his partners to quick hash together a proposal for an original game, to possibly sell to a Japanese studio. But one of the chief architects, the programmer was against the idea. “How dare we come up with another game when we haven’t even finished the one? We need to complete Chrono Resurrection.”
Breton’s responded, “But… what’s the point? It’s not our game to make!” With that, he went off to forge his own path. Like many game makers, Breton eventually found himself working in a major studio, and again like plenty others, dreamed of making games all by himself, the kind he grew up with.
The funny thing about the similarity with Cave Story is how, “I actually only played about two hours of that game and came up with all these ideas… I then told them to my friend [a colleague in Japan, the aforementioned animator] and he would go ‘um, Cave Story already did that. Like how your robot in the beginning has no memory’… I was sad! But I guess I was on the same wave length as Amaya.”
The plot of A.N.N.E. is fairly simple; you play a blue robot that has been “infected” with emotions, and the other robots are out to get him. Plus, he’s out to put together to put together a pink robot, his girlfriend, whose parts are scattered across the environment, which serves as the primary goal of the game.
Breton’s aim is to create something “retro, but with a modern twist. I want more freedom; many games have weapons you don’t want or like, but you’re forced to carry around and use them anyway, to defeat a particular boss. So the weapons here will have plenty of flexibility, via enhancements.”
Again, the game is bright and colorful, whereas gameplay is also fast and fluid. Controls were nice and tight, plus the level design in the admittedly brief demo, exhibited a great sense of scale. Case in point, in the demo, one of the objectives is to get your character’s ship operational. Once that is possible, it can be used to fly to other locations. As noted before, you couldn’t fly Samus’s ride around in her game. The camera pans back and the large chunky pixels become small, finely detailed ones.
Breton has been working on the game since last September and hopes to have the entire thing done by the end of this year. “I’m pretty good at level design, and can come up with those easily, so right now, I’m mostly working on finishing the systems, getting that right.”
The initial platform is PC, but there is hope to have an iOS version shortly afterward. It would play largely the same, except there would be auto aim and fire. Breton was adamant about having a few virtual buttons as possible, possibly none. It was clear that Breton has much fondness for the traditional ways of game playing.
When talking with Breton, he also made it quite clear that he hopes A.N.N.E. finds an audience with others whose dream is to go back in time and work on Secret of Mana. “I hope my games smells a little Japanese!”