Preview: A.N.N.E. is a charming Metroidvania you can't help but root for
A.N.N.E. is one of those games that you just want to see succeed. After developer Moise Breton launched a Kickstarter campaign for the open world Metroidvania game, it was obvious fairly quickly that people dug its concept and style. Fast-forward to the end of the crowd-funding window, and this upcoming project was able to hit over $100,000 in pledges, far surpassing its $70,000 goal. After playing a preview build of the title, I can honestly say that it's exciting to think that Breton has some extra cash on hand, because this endeavor has all the potential in the world to be a stellar indie hit.
Rather than relying on a single gameplay trope, A.N.N.E. features a number of mechanics and combines them to create a multifaceted experience. I started out by doing a bit of platforming, but I quickly encountered armed enemies, and I was forced to gun those suckers down. You can aim in eight different directions, and there's a clear old school shoot 'em up influence that melds well with the 2D platforming. Some enemies simply come at you, requiring you to jump over them or back up as you fire away. Others fire their own guns, and shooting back at them while moving around their fire can be challenging.
Defeating enemies yields green gems. Collecting enough of these makes your robotic little character level up, increasing your stats in the process. This not only makes you more of a threat by upping the damage you dish out, but it also boosts your health. This light RPG mechanic isn't all that deep, but it doesn't need to be. It simply enhances the action-platforming gameplay in a nice way and makes collecting gems a worthwhile activity. It also makes losing gems when you get hit feel like a total bummer, further pushing you to take as little damage as possible — no small feat in retro-style platformers.
One of the bigger shifts in gameplay comes when you enter your spaceship. While flying around your airborne vessel, you can fire guns and take out enemies with unrelenting force. You can also use a beam to lift rocks and other obstructions that may be blocking your way. This ability also lets you create platforms to climb on when you hop out of your ship, granting you safe passage to otherwise inaccessible areas.
The build I played, for example, tasked me with collecting wooden logs. One log was up on a high ledge across a big gap. In order to reach the log, I had to take a massive rock and place it within that gap using the spaceship's beam. I then exited the spaceship, jumped on the rock over the gap, and made my way to the secluded log. This added a fun puzzle element on top of all the other gameplay mechanics, requiring me to constantly adapt to different situations.
Another thing worth noting is just how nice A.N.N.E. looks. Breton has cited various 8-bit and 16-bit classics as some of his major influences, but this title features a pixilated art style that isn't derivative of its inspirations. Like Fez and Cave Story before it, it's apparent that, while this indie game harkens back to the old school NES, SNES, and even Genesis days, it's very much a current project that takes advantage of a more modern color palette.
Despite the difference in formulas found in A.N.N.E., nothing felt forced during my time with the short demo. Instead, the game remained fresh and interesting throughout due to the fact that it did a bunch of things quite well. The running and jumping is fun, as is the shooting. Riding around the spaceship takes some getting used to, but it's functional overall. Moving platforms around adds a puzzle element to the game that serves to deliver a welcome of change of pace in between all the action.
When I finished playing the A.N.N.E. preview build, I was a bit disappointed that it was over. The game is a lot of fun thus far, and I can't wait to play more of it. It's still going to be a while before we get to enjoy this title in full, but the wait could very well be worth it. A.N.N.E. is currently scheduled to launch sometime in 2014. Breton is hoping to release the game for the PC, Mac, and Linux, but he would also like to get versions out on digital platforms for home consoles including the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Wii U.
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