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Tales of PAX East: Delver's Drop

I went to PAX East a week ago, and came back with all sorts of games I want to write about, but also came back sick and tired. So dragging myself to and from work all week was about all I could manage, and I took this last weekend to recover. (And to beat Bioshock Infinite. You really, really need to play Bioshock Infinite.) Having gotten back to a place of feeling relatively human, there are some things I think you might enjoy, if your tastes run similar to mine.

The first of these, and the most exciting thing that I personally played on the show floor, is Delver's Drop.

The product of a Kickstarter project I was proud to help fund, Delver's Drop has been described by its creators (a small and ambitious team calling themselves Pixelscopic) as "a sexy HD Zelda roguelike", which is (1) just about the best 5-word pitch for a game I've ever heard, and (2) pretty much entirely accurate, based on my time with the game at PAX.

What does it mean? Well, in their own words,

Delver's Drop is a 2D Action RPG with fluid physics-based movement, snappy combat, shifting dungeons, and a rogue's gallery of individually leveled character classes. With an emphasis on mystery and dynamic gameplay experiences, the game features randomization for infinite replay, enigmatic puzzle permutations to unravel, multiple narrative paths, customizable character growth, and layers of secrets to unearth. 

I spent probably 30 - 40 minutes with the game over the course of three days (I kept going back, to the point where the team was pretty familiar with me by the end of the weekend), and as one of the many people who believe that The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past is one of the finest games ever made, I'm happy to report that Pixelscopic clearly thinks so, too, and they've built a game that wears that opinion proudly on its sleeve.

Everything about Delver's Drop looks and feels like a validation of the assumptions we might have made about the future of gaming back in 1992, based on what we were playing on the SNES. The combat, the items, the puzzles, the movement and physics... they all feel deliciously familiar, but modernized and made incredibly pretty. Before I talk about what I played, just take a look at this thing in motion.

Look at the colored lighting bouncing off of every surface, and the shadows being tossed around by that lighting, and the parallax that's being used on the walls to give the illusion of depth as Link (he's not Link, but I'm just going to call him Link) moves around the room. Look at the sliding block puzzles, and the bombs being tossed and the arrows being fired, and the rupees (they're not rupees, but--) spilling out of crates and jars. Look at the sheer number of enemies being rendered and how smoothly it all moves. Look at the not-at-all-subtle Triforce reference in the logo! (That last part doesn't matter for the gameplay, but I'm not ashamed to say it made me happy.)

Different gameplay modes are promised, one a story-driven campaign and the other likely more of a "challenge mode" where players compete to dive as deep as they can into a (presumably) endless dungeon. Something like the latter was on display at PAX, with 60 randomized floors on offer. I managed to make it 21 rooms down, only two shy of the PAX East High Score of 23. The final game will have multiple character classes, a bevy of items and upgrades to find or purchase, and all sorts of other fancy stuff, but really, it all boils down to "Sexy HD Zelda Roguelike," and my answer to that is, "yes."

It's still in an early state, and of course things are being tweaked. The hit detection on some things is a little off, and the bottomless pits are a little too eager to suck Link into an instant, demoralizing death. The timing on bombs might be changed. Obviously they've got lots more content to build. But I didn't want to stop playing what they already have - navigating the environment and swinging the sword into enemies feels great, the level and enemy designs are fun and clever, the roguelike-inspired tension of permadeath is palpable, and the whole thing just looks stupendously attractive.

My hope is to get someone from Pixelscopic on Skype for an interview in the near future, and if that happens I'll certainly link it here. In the meantime, if you have any love for the Zelda series, action RPG's, roguelikes, 16-bit game design, or a combination of the preceding, keep your eyes peeled for Delver's Drop. It's slated to come out late this year for PC, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android, and OUYA (vote for it on Greenlight right here so it'll end up on Steam), so you're pretty much guaranteed to have something that will play it. For my money, if re-imagining SNES classics in HD is going to be Pixelscopic's bag, a proper 2D Super Metroid-style game next sure wouldn't go amiss.

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