There were enough indie games on the PAX East show floor to fuel the next dozen pay-what-you-want bundles. Tucked away on the outskirts of the floor was the adorable A.N.N.E., a 16-bit style game developed by the one-man team Gamesbymo.
A.N.N.E. puts you in the role of Goomi, a blue, rectangular-headed robot whose girlfriend A.N.N.E. has been infected with a love virus that shattered her into 110 pieces. Now you must track down the pieces to reassemble her and get your robo groove on. Lead Designer Moise Breton was mum on details about who created the virus or if there was a true antagonist, but implied those details would be revealed throughout the final game.
Breton is basically attempting to take everything that you know and love about classic games and cram it into one game. Start with a Metroidvania adventure, add a splash of RPG elements and a dash of shmup action and you wind up with A.N.N.E. “There’s not as much time to play (games) as when I was a kid. I wish I could mash them all up in one and play them at once,” explained Breton. Regardless of whether or not you share that sentiment, there was definitely something special about his ambitious project that feels as if it could turn into something remarkable if he’s able to assemble all the pieces.
A.N.N.E. certainly pulls off the adorable, chunky, retro graphics of games like FEZ, but thankfully it also handles with the precision that 2D games demand. Fans of 2D shooters will feel at home with Goomi’s locomotion and jumping, but there are a few twists. You can hold in the right trigger to lock the gun in a one direction and move Goomi in a different direction. This enabled me to move to the left while firing to the right or even move to the left while firing in the up-right diagonal.
Enemies leave behind little green energy bubbles that act as experience points, and Goomi can level up to gain more life and increase his energy, which is used to deploy temporary shields. Breton plans on adding a weapon upgrade system that will allow for new weapons and elemental modifiers that can be swapped on the fly, but I was stuck with the standard blaster during the demo.
I eventually encountered a passage that was obstructed by boulders and climbed a ladder that led to a control room with a console. The camera zoomed out to reveal a red rectangular spaceship nearby. This view provided a sense of scale to the areas I explored as the tiny adventurer and revealed how miniscule the passageways were in the grand scheme of the world. The seamless transition between the ship and exploration modes is key to the open world that Breton is building, and it really helped immerse me in the world.
I remote piloted the ship and used its tractor beam to latch onto the giant boulders and uncork the corridor. I landed the ship by the opening, swapped back to Goomi, and reunited our hero with his vessel. The rest of the level was spent exploring the area and a mixture of flying around in the ship and exploring on foot. Beneath the rubble of a few boulders, I also discovered a tiny pink fragment: the first piece of A.N.N.E.
Breton plans to have the accumulate experience and also have its own set of upgradable components. The goal is to have Gradius-style shmup elements when venturing between areas. He stressed the importance of adding new features to ensure he wasn’t merely mimicking retro games, but improving upon them. “A lot of retro games go all retro. They’re stage-based with a beautiful retro style, but have shallow gameplay. I want depth to the gameplay. Upgrades to the character, upgrades to the ship, an open world.”
Breton speaks with a great enthusiasm about his passion project, and although many of the features he wants to include weren’t available in this early version it’s exciting to hear about his plans and the framework he’s built is already extremely impressive. He’s planning to launch a Kickstarter soon so he can continue working on the game full time.