The mash-up is a fine tradition of taking two often contrasting things, whether music, book, food or video game, and blending them together to create something new and distinct. We’ve seen it regularly in games, with shooters often adding in RPG elements, the occasional strategy games that play from a third person perspective and so on, but Concursion takes the mash-up to almost baffling lengths.
Concursion – heading to PC and Mac via the Steam Greenlight process – spans several genres, with platforming alongside jetpack-based flight, hack ‘n slash, shoot ’em up, maze puzzling (a la Pac-Man) and a few other cameos along the way. It’s a complex and tricky blend to be taking on, but what’s fascinating is the manner in which they are combined.
Rather than taking elements from one and adding it to another or featuring each game type in separate levels, the game switches between the genres on the fly within levels. One second you’ll be jumping on Lizarling heads in the platformer, before jumping into the hack ‘n slash to make use of a double jump ability to reach a higher path which might lead to the space shoot ’em up.
Speaking to Danny Garfield from Puuba, he explained, “It’s a cross section of my two favourite modes of play and styles of game. I’m a giant fan of really tightly controlled and responsive platformers, and then I’m also a fan of really experimental games that try something that hasn’t necessarily been done.
“The compartmentalisation and division of the worlds here is actually fairly critical to the idea I had and how it could work. I wanted to be able to do something where you can leave the ground as a platformer, arrive mid-jump into a Ninja-based world where you can double jump and then into a third space where you can take off in a jet pack, never touching the ground.
“So the idea behind it really is, and why they seem all the more disjointed on the surface, is that when you look forward at a bubble of space you immediately need to be able to know what you’re looking at, despite the fact that there’s so many backgrounds and locales within the game. To that end we ended up devising five completely different style guides.”
Each genre is a different dimension, with divides between the two marked by a fuzzy outline and a change from one set of simple, vibrantly colourful graphics and soundtrack style to another. Admittedly, the graphics may not appeal to everyone and are quite simplistic in some ways, but it’s the gameplay which really counts as you switch instantly between dimensions, with level design that becomes increasingly more complex and intricate based off this fact.
It starts off quite simply, with clean divides between dimensions and distinct areas, but those soon start to come closer together. A small bubble in the Ninja dimension lets you quickly get a double jump so that you can reach the Jet Pack dimension, while another level sees you platforming on the bottom half of the screen and in the space shoot ’em up in the top half, needing you to time bouncing on a succession enemy heads to get up to the dimensional divide.
However, the controls and the physics in the game are something that I struggled with. Although there is a consistency in how it will behave, the overall feel is alien to me as I pick up the controller. The platforming in particular is far more responsive to my inputs than I’m used to, but also shifting between the different game modes throws me off balance.
“I think everyone has several minutes of ‘I have no idea what’s going on!'” said Danny, “before they eventually go ‘Alright, I get this.’ I think it’s really surprising, by the time you’re in the third act and later in the game, you’re pulling off tricks and acrobatics that would absolutely not have seemed possible earlier on. Further more, tricks that aren’t possible within any of these single gameplay types on their own.”
Handing the controller to Danny, he’s able to switch to and demonstrate his mastery of later levels which highlight even more mind-boggling inventive level design. Some levels have the screen moving at a constant rate, with two bizarre creatures carrying a platform below to catch you, except that the Ninja world transforms these to spikes, others see you needing to rise up, using the jet pack and navigating a maze of bubbles that would change the game mode and the physics. Furthermore, the transformations even apply to the enemies.
Danny explained, “Every enemy in the game actually has a one-to-one equivalency with some other enemy in one of the other worlds. Beyond that, actually, we start to introduce the idea that some enemies are immune to this effect, and so a space ship could fly right into the platforming space and shoot bullets at you.”
“As the game proceeds, we have all sorts of mechanics. Think of when you’re in the outer space dimension and a circle of the platformer can actually chase you and have a bit of AI. If you’re in space you can fly around, but if the platformer bubble overlaps you, you don’t have an engine anymore and gravity takes over.”
But the variety goes beyond even these five different dimensions. There’s an amazing degree of flexibility and inventiveness woven throughout. It’s clear that these aren’t distinct and separate ideas, but rather that each dimension actually adds another layer onto the gameplay. In place of simple platforms, there’s a bubble that lets you jump again, or a whole other path with a totally different set of physics so that you can go and collect one of the collectible shards.
The boss fights also provide another avenue to explore the cross-genre gameplay. One chapter is finished by the space ship battling a Street Fighter inspired boss, while another sees the Ninja fighting a trio of RPG-like enemies, seeing you dodging their turn-based moves and attacks in real time.
Concursion brilliantly manages to blend disparate genres in such a way that they live alongside each other from second to second, with increasingly complex and tricky level design that really explores the possibilities from various different angles. To put it another way, it’s one of those ideas that is just so crazy it is bound to work.
For a deeper look behind the scenes of this game, Danny’s been making regular development videos on the game’s site.