Before sitting down to trying out a demo for Playful Corp’s side scrolling Star Child, I was given a quick overview of what this game will become as it proceeds through development. The person speaking with me was Paul Bettner, creator of Lucky’s Tale and Creativerse, both known for being among the better virtual reality titles early in the life of the consumer grade version. “Star Child is a game that pulls from Metroid and Flashback,” he told me. That last one was concerning, as Flashback is remembered for being ahead of its time for cinematic quality in games, but horrible to control. Turns out that wasn’t what Paul had meant. It is also a game that will work great in VR or on a normal screen.
Starting the demo, in VR, the player is treated to a long sequence where the heroine flies in on a ship that was obviously inspired by Samus’ gunship. Landing on a platform, an elevator descends into the depths of a cave. Reaching the bottom, our hero jumps out and I take direct control. Immediately, I am struck but just how darn great everything looks. The player character is like an action figure moving seamlessly through the environment. She jumps responsively and pulls herself onto ledges with no issue. She can also move at a brisk pace.
While the player character look great, it’s the environments that steal the show. A mixture of caves and machines, the player can lean in close to examine the various touches in closer detail. Looking left or right and up and down gives new perspective to size of the world. Having played side scrollers in VR before, I know how the effect can feel like playing a puppet show, which is charming. It could be said that the same applies here, except the sets are so incredibly realized. The etchings of erosion mark the cave walls, pinkish purple plants sprout from the ground, changing colors when the heroine walks through a patch. Life springs up and swims through the air in the background, making the caves feel more…real. The art style and attention to detail is quite impressive.
Soon, I came across a couple of puzzles. These weren’t difficult, involving using a drone to connect power lines and then using said drone to finish the circuit to power machines. The relaxing moment was soon cut short, as a giant bug like thing poked its head out from the shadows. Clacking mandibles that were approximately the size of Dwayne Johnson, but with more jagged bits, it remained in the background and moved ahead. Solving another power puzzle opened up a giant door, revealing an ancient machine behind it. This is the moment that the bug decided to strike. Knocked to her feet, the heroine was stunned. I desperately tried to get her to crawl away when the machine that I just freed came to life and slammed a hand down, protecting her from the bug. Chastened, the creature retreated. The robot turned to me with an outstretched hand. I climbed on, the machine lifted me, and the demo ended.
Now, this was a very short demo, but it also leaves a bit of an impression. I was able to speak a bit to Paul afterwards and inquired about a couple of other items. He assured me that combat would play a big role in the game, but it’s not what Playful wanted to use for its first public showing. I appreciate that. Shooters are common, but the feeling of wonder I experienced here is much more difficult to capture. He also insists that the game will be just as effective on a normal screen. This left me a bit incredulous, as the ability to turn my head and focus on specific aspects made the moments more interesting. Paul explained that they are taking inspiration from Playdead’s Inside, using a panning camera to capture cinematic moments in a 2D platformer.
I also inquired about one last thing, though something I felt bad about broaching: the giant robot at the end. I didn’t know what the game was due to the madness of the show, but had seen comments about something being the “kaiju version of the Schick Hydrobot.” As soon as I saw it here, I knew that this was what was being talked about. Was the studio making an intentional dig at corporate culture that would play out through the game? It turns out that it was nothing so witty as that. Nobody noticed the similarity until the trailer hit and the public pointed it out. Paul was in good humor about the question (thank goodness) and still contends that it looks cool. In the context of this game, I have to agree with you, Paul. Sadly, Star Child is still a work in progress and doesn’t have a firm release date. Playful is committed to getting the game right instead of fast, shooting for 2018.