If you’re an animation nerd, your jaw is going to drop when you see MythForce. I know, because I am one, and that’s exactly what happened to me.
MythForce is the first original IP from developer Beamdog, the studio best known for publishing enhanced editions of classic RPGs like Baldur’s Gate. The team’s latest game is quite a departure from those projects. It’s a first-person roguelite that draws visual inspiration from 80s cartoons. If you’re having trouble picturing what that looks like, imagine if you could actually step into 1983’s Dragon’s Lair rather than play it like an interactive cartoon.
When I went hands-on with MythForce at this year’s Game Developers Conference, I was instantly stunned. I have not been so blown away by a game’s art style since the first time I saw Cuphead.
Loot the castle
MythForce is an easy game to explain. It’s a first-person game where up to four players can explore a castle full of procedurally generated rooms. Players slash enemies like sword-wielding skeletons while collecting gold and gear. Since it’s a roguelite, the goal is to complete a successful “run” through the castle, upgrading their skills and gear as they move from room to room. Die and they’ll have to start again from scratch with basic gear.
The game contains some progression hooks, making it more roguelite than roguelike. MythForce is a character-based game, starring four heroes that have specific abilities and tools. For example, Victoria is a sword-wielding knight who can ram through enemies with a shield bash, while Rico is a rogue who has the ability to teleport behind an enemy and stab them with a dagger. The more players use a character, the more they’ll level them up, unlocking permanent perks and stat upgrades.
It’s all relatively straightforward, which works to the game’s advantage. Combat is a matter of right-clicking on enemies to attack and left-clicking to block if I have a shield equipped. Damage types, magic spells, and abilities, which operate on a cooldown, add more strategy to the mix, but I was able to start playing with hardly any tutorial. It’s less attention-demanding than, say, Hades, which makes it a potentially great co-op game for friends who want to casually chat over a run.
There’s a lot of potential here, though we’ll have to see how it develops over time. MythForce is launching in early access with just a bit of content to explore to start. Presumably, Beamdog is going to build the game out alongside its community, adding more features and tools to make builds more impactful. But for now, the studio is starting with a strong foundation that’s simple enough to build on.
Capturing the 80s
When Beamdog says that MythForce draws inspiration from 80s cartoons, it’s not exaggerating. The game has its own animated intro sequence, complete with a hair metal theme song. For those who grew up on shows like He-Man and ThunderCats, MythForce could easily be mistaken for a forgotten Saturday morning cartoon that played just before you woke up on weekends.
In discussing the game with its developers, it’s clear that Beamdog wants to pay homage to those shows, not parody them. Doing so would mean that the game would really need to look the part, right down to the finest details that less committed studios might overlook.
That’s immediately apparent even seeing a loose screenshot from the game. It uses solid colors that really pop, but they’re a touch muted, almost mimicking the more analog nature of older animation. The developers especially emphasized their use of thick line weights, giving assets a much more pronounced black outline. Objects have the slightest bit of texture too, with walls and floors looking like they were created via brush stroke. All of that is bathed in the slightest layer of film-like grain.
My biggest geek-out moment came within five seconds of playing. When I loaded in, I turned around to look at the scenery behind me. The landscape looked exactly like an old-timey matte painting. I was even more impressed when I realized the game wasn’t using static backdrops. I noticed the same effect when actually in the castle itself, with scenery off in the distance looking like a painting. As I approached, objects like trees that looked flat seamlessly popped into 3D as I approached. That effect is intentional, as Beamdog invented several art design tricks to capture nuances like that.
While it looks great in screenshots, it’s even more impressive in motion. Enemies almost look rotoscoped when they move, with giant mushroom creatures walking like they just stepped out of Fantasia. Even the tiniest animations are heavily stylized here, capturing the unique quality of hand-drawn animation. When I cut a skeleton down, it explodes into a puff of yellow magic that looks like it was pulled from a Disney classic. At one point, I held up my adventuring party just to admire a fire trap as it gorgeously sputtered out flames in a hypotonic pattern. I never thought I’d see this style of animation faithfully recaptured again, let alone in a video game, but MythForce gets every nuance right.
From what I’ve played so far, I’m absolutely enamored with MythForce. I can’t think of the last time I’ve fired up a game simply to marvel at its visuals. No other video game looks like it. With easy-to-understand combat and a four-player co-op on top of that, it’s exactly the kind of game I’m going to bug my friends to play with me. And it’s exactly the kind of game they won’t want to play with me because I’ll spend our entire play session gushing about animation history.
MythForce launches into early access on April 20. It’ll be available on PC via the Epic Games Store.