Nathan Fouts' Grapple Buggy immediately conjures up warm, fuzzy feelings of Bionic Commando, Super Metroid, Contra III: The Alien Wars and Blaster Master. Damn good retro company to be kept in.

Fouts brought the work-in-progress Grapple Buggy to E3 2009, giving us a hands-on demo of the adventure platformer, showing us around the world of VALD-END 317, its "terrifying xeno-fauna and sentient aliens" and just how the dual-armed buggy works.


Pretty simple really—one grappling arm affixes itself to platforms and ledges, helping the buggy pull itself upward, letting the vehicle swing about the massive alien world. The other attacks, both smacking enemies with its metal claw and pulling them in to crush the more resilient lifeforms of VALD-END 317.

The movement in Grapple Buggy, like Bionic Commando, takes some getting used to. Moving about the planet on four wheels is easy enough. The zippy buggy sticks to steep inclines longer than you'd expect, letting the player move quickly up walls and even onto ceilings. The swinging platforming, however, is a little tougher. More forgiving than Bionic Commando—or any of the other older titles that Grapple Buggy feels inspired by—and easier to ramp up on, but the swinging did result in a few deaths.

Fouts showed us some of the game's alien creatures that you'll encounter, including some that exhibit a force against the buggy stronger than the planet's gravity, pushing our ride into thorny overgrowth. We also got a peek at one of the game's boss fights, which was a brief, but puzzle-worthy battle—something Fouts had to help coach me on, after a few unsuccessful attempts.


Some of those challenges will be made a little more clear when Grapple Buggy gets closer to completion. The version we played was still early, even if the core mechanics and artistic design felt close to finished. There was no story driving dialogue, not cut scenes that would help flesh out the narrative. We simply cruised around and killed.

The game uses a Super Metroid-like map to chart your progress, but the game feels a little more organically level-based than the Super Nintendo classic adventure that we were reminded of during our hands-on time. And don't expect the kind of map completist stuff popularized by Metroid and its ilk. Fouts doesn't seem too keen on focusing on completion percentages are score-driven gameplay.

But we will apparently see upgrades. Fouts says we should expect more weapons, some more unconventional than what we might be used to, in Grapple Buggy.

We were pretty excited to go hands on with the game and are very much looking forward to playing the final product when it ships sometime this Winter. Grapple Buggy is slated for an Xbox Live Community Games release, but we're hoping some smart publisher picks up the title for a proper Xbox Live Arcade release.