This is Grapple Buggy, shown here in Boston at PAX East by Nathan Fouts, the almost-solo developer behind Xbox Live Indie game Weapon of Choice. You can tell which classic Nintendo Entertainment System games he loves.
The game has come a long way since we spotted it almost a year ago. It may have missed the "holiday 2009" release date promised in its first trailer. But it has also become a more ambitious project.
Fouts is hoping to create a memorable mostly single-player six-hour adventure full of gameplay that builds on some of his old favorites. "I worship Bionic Commando," he told me at PAX East today. But not in a way that he would just copy it. "When I play it I know what I want it to do." So, motivated game maker that he is, he is making a game that renders his wishes. The buggy in Grapple Buggy can twirl on its grapple arm, or stand on its "head" atop an extended grapple, shooting enemies from that upside down position. It does more too, which you can see in the impromptu video preview I filmed with him.
Fouts stripped his PAX East demo of Grapple Buggy down to its gameplay, but he plans to release this game, through publisher Blitz Games, with a bit of story added into it. The buggy contains two characters, each from rival political factions, exploring the game's alien land, prospecting for fuel. Moral choices about whom to ultimately side with in the game will lead players through three branching paths of technology upgrades and, ultimately, to different endings.
The gameplay has changed on Fouts' whims numerous times during development, the developer told me. His reasoning: "I just follow how the fun falls out." It sounds like a joyful, if stressfully unpredicatble process. Fouts, a former Insomniac and Running With Scissors developer works from his home, getting some help from a musician friend and script writer but doing most of the programming, design and art by himself.
Fouts' company, Mommy's Best Games, released its first two titles, including the recent Shoot 1Up, as downloadable Xbox Live Indie Games. Expecting this one to be a bigger production, Fouts has teamed up with publisher Blitz Games to release this one as a downloadable Xbox Live Arcade title. He hopes for a 2011 release.
A co-op mode will allow to players to try to control the game's vehicle together.
Grapply Buggy was one of the most cheerfully fun games I saw at PAX East from any publisher. Its art-style has a garish charm to it. Its gameplay is a pleasant mix. The Bionic Commando and Blaster Master love is evident from the grappling and the truck-based driving and jumping. With a promised addition of Metroid-style level-exploration and power-up collection, this one could be a good cocktail when it's done. One year to go.