The Showdown Effect: Magicka dev does Smash Bros
11th Feb 2013 | 09:35
The origins of Showdown Effect were forged during the strenuous stages of developing Magicka, the critically acclaimed freshman effort from Arrowhead Games.
In the words of studio CEO Johan Pilestedt, it was at hectic time when the Arrowhead team was "knee deep in shit" and in their most trying moments, relieved stress by slapping each other around on Smash Bros Brawl.
"We could be sitting at 11 in the evening saying 'this bug is killing me, I can't get rid of it, I need to clear my head'," Pilestedt recalled. "You'd just shout "SMASH BROS" and you've got people gathering round to play."
Eventually reprieve turned to inspiration, and when a Paradox producer came calling about something new, Arrowhead's passion for the Nintendo brawler became its next big thing for PC and Mac.
Get to the Choppa
The idea was to take the side-on, four-player brawling gameplay of Smash Bros and marry it with the multiplayer options and approachability of Rare's Nintendo 64 shooter GoldenEye, then wrap it all up in a hammy classic movie motif.
The Showdown Effect attempts to charm the pants off of players by playing up classic movie clichés. It opens with a bodacious (yes, we're bringing that back) electric guitar solo during the logo splash screen, and almost-obnoxious buttrock plays as you navigate the menus.
Hop into Neo Tokyo and you'll see Godzilla in the background punching down buildings and the character roster is a who's who of movie archetypes too, all played up to the ridiculous extreme. Dutch McClone is an Austria-born kindergarten teacher living in America, and yes, he sounds just like Schwarzenegger.
Sgt. Lance Koboldski is a long-suffering, undervalued beat cop. He's got his cheap gold watch and is ready to end his last shift before retirement, but ends up getting dragged into this ridiculous battle royale. There's also a wise old kung-fu monk that awkwardly stutters his way around the Engrish language. Our favourite, Mizu Ichiban, is Japanese school girl that alternates between 'I'm so kawai' and Gogo Yubari-type psycho.
In terms of gameplay design, The Showdown Effect plays it simple. Each of the game's six characters has a close range melee attack and a long-range attack using a firearm. Both are executed simply by left-clicking with the appropriate weapon equipped.
Smaller weapons such as knives are quick, but require the player to be really close to the target. Heavy weapons inflict a lot of damage, but are very slow. Mid-tier weapons such as Baseball bats and swords offer a nice balance of both, while certain items such as pillows are designed primarily to block damage.
Characters also have a special ability themed after the particular movie stereotype he or she is based on. Dutch has a futuristic personal shield, while Lance has a medpack. Mizu can activate a mode styled after Kill Bill's black-and-red silhouetted sequence,in which she recovers life when making contact with blood (even her teammates'), and Mr. Shun Foo has a flying kick, obviously.
Although melee is simply a matter of picking your battles and timing your attacks, the gun game is far more nuanced, entirely because players are required to manually place their crosshairs on the enemy to land a hit. Damage is the same regardless of where your bullet lodges itself, but just managing to tag someone is much easier said than done.
Showdown's cast of combatants are a sprightly bunch, bounding around levels like stones skimming a pond. They can leap across gaps like Nintendo's own portly plumber and there's also a degree of in-air manoeuvrability. On top of that combatants can hang off ledges and scurry up walls like some sort of Persian prince.
Double tapping left or right executes an evasive roll, while holding down while running launches a character into a slide (fire your guns at the same time to maximise badassery), and hugging a wall will slow your fall during a jump. Needless to say, your quarries aren't exactly fish in a barrel and players will have to be dexterous enough to keep up with their targets.
Each character's parkour-like abilities create ample opportunities for devious strategies like ping-ponging between walls while firing off bullets, hanging off ledges long enough to trick enemies into thinking you've retreated, or leaping into crevices then slowly sliding down to fall behind passing players.
By our second match we were zipping around environments grabbing weapons, using and then tossing them at enemies, bouncing in and out of various skirmishes around the map and generally running rings around everyone. The fluid, balletic movement is very much at the core of what makes The Showdown Effect so fun to play. It's also the aspect of the game we think the more technical minded players will find most mileage.
Although Arrowhead has said it isn't developing The Showdown Effect to be played competitively (more on that in our upcoming interview) it has built in the ability to stream gameplay directly to Twitch, which is handy since it makes for a great game to watch.
We had the opportunity to witness some of the devs duke it out in a tournament, and when not being dazzled by the bright colours, or trying to pick out the umpteen references, we were watching in awe as they pirouetted through the air and gracefully danced around each other.
Matches flipped back and forth between moments of calm, where players gingerly stalked each other, and chaotic moments of action. It's kind of like thumb war, except with more blood, guts, broken glass and bullet casings.
Once you've seen The Showdown Effect you'll know its immediate appeal; it's a simple concept with just enough fine detail to introduce subtle depth to gameplay. Throw in the charming presentation and humour and you've got something special in the making. The game is currently in beta and pencilled in for a release early this year.