"As a huge Metroid and Castlevania fan, the gameplay is exactly what I was hoping for, and the promising story to tie the world together sounds great."
Developer and filmmaker Alonso Martin conceived Heart Forth, Alicia eight years ago. After working solo on his Metroidvania/action RPG hybrid, he launched a Kickstarter campaign
in April 2014. Now, after hitting nearly 400% of his funding goal, Alonso continues to work on the game with a team of other talented people. Based on what we saw here at E3, there seems to be a lot to look forward to.
As much as I hate relying on comparisons, if you have an idea of how the 2D Metroid titles and the more RPG-slanted Castlevania games are set up, then you have an idea of how Heart Forth, Alicia plays. Even unfinished, HFA offers extremely tight and precise controls, exploring environments both above and below the surface. In our demo, we got a taste of the first dungeon, introducing us to the combat and puzzles we can look forward to. The Metroid influence is apparent as you explore these areas, and pass by things that you know you'll later be able to interact with, or a passage that you can't get to now, but you know will be important later. The puzzles can be simply finding a way to get a block on a button - which sometimes involves finding a hidden passage through a wall - or a timed sequence requiring you to hit two switches in succession and hop on a lift before it's out of reach. These are very specific examples from the demo, but even in this first area, there's enough variety in the puzzles that I'm intrigued to see the kinds of experiences later dungeons will offer.
Combat controls are just as precise as general exploration. There's never a moment when you'll get hit by an enemy and feel it was unfair because you struggled with loose or floaty controls. There will be more weapons and spells in the final game, so all we were able to try out here were the basic whip and its charged version. So far it feels good, and while Heart Forth, Alicia won't be a game that becomes a gear hunt, I look forward to seeing what other combat options we'll see later.
Beyond the Metroidvania roots of its gameplay, Heart Forth, Alicia is also heavy on story elements. Our demo opened by introducing us to Alicia and her village. Each of the other villagers have distinct personalities and well-written dialogue. What we saw were full conversations beyond the basic "hey, go over there and do things" style of dialogue seen in similar games. While we only saw the beginning areas, meeting with Alicia's friends and a mysterious character who knows more than he or she lets on, it's clear that story really is a driving force here, making for a nicely in-depth experience.
By now, you can see the graphic style is somewhere between 16- and 32-bit, with simply gorgeous sprite work. The world of HFA is full of lush animations, making this pixel art world feel lively and interesting.
The music is being composed by Jonathan Geer, whose work covers a wide variety of genres, from game, to orchestral, swing, and many more. His work has appeared on shows such as American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance, so it's fair to say a few people have heard his work. For Heart Forth, Alicia, we have a couple tracks we can share to evoke the exact type of world the game presents: Bright and energetic, with a real sense of wonder and adventure.
Heart Forth, Alicia is shaping up nicely. We may not see the game until 2016, but finally having a chance to play it sets my mind at ease. As a huge Metroid and Castlevania fan, the gameplay is exactly what I was hoping for, and the promising story to tie the world together sounds great. It sounds like the final game can be anywhere from 5-15 hours, based on how much you want to plow through the game vs your love of exploration; a good length for this type of game. We'll certainly be covering Heart Forth, Alicia as it nears release to see if it follows through on delivering what it aims to.
Full disclaimer: I was a backer for Heart Forth, Alicia on Kickstarter, but as you should know, I don't gain or lose anything if the game does well or not. In fact, as I purchased the game before it was even a game, I'd potentially by more critical of any possible shortcomings. In short, my backer status has zero effect on my opinion of the game, which are entirely based on my hands-on time on the show floor.