WayForward, I love you


I just wanted to spend a few minutes expounding my great love for WayForward.  They are one of my top ten game developers of all time. They aren't  in my top five, for reasons that I will get to momentarily, but definitely, definitely in my top ten.  

I popped in a Boy and His Blob late last night and promptly played through a little over half of the game in one sitting.  Every little detail in that game just makes me want to play more.  This is a game that has an entire mechanic that neither hinders nor helps your progress, but was left in the game simple because it helped to present the relationship between the boy and his blob.  If you have read any reviews of this game you always see that line that goes something like, "...and there is a hug button! Yeah, it's so cute that there is a button just for hugging!"  and it's great that people mention this, but it's kind of missing the point.  There is a hug button, yes, but there is also a scold button.  The blob also has moods that are shown by his color and general behavior.  When the boy is just out of the blobs reach he gets frustrated, turns red, and hops around frantically.  When the boy is not in sight, the blob darkens and slides listlessly around in little circles.  When the blob finds the boy, he instantly brightens up and starts to hop about happily. By hugging and scolding him, the boy can affect his current mood, and that damned hug makes such a cute sound that you will feel like you just mainlined a gingerbread house.

All of that is in there purely so that you empathize with the characters.  It in no way affects your progression; but when that poor little blob seems frightened, you sure as hell are going to push the hug button.  Unless you have no heart.  Then you are a bastard.  Just so you know.  Anyway, I heard form one of the developers on Retronauts #79 that there used to be an actual gameplay altering system built around this mechanic.  They took out the system because it made the game to complicated, but left in the mechanic because it made you feel for the characters more.  

That is just fantastic.  Little details like this are why I love WayForward so much.  There are a ton more such details in a Boy and his Blob, such as the clever and florid animations or the little touches of life in the various hub areas that make them seem like a real, vital place.  Most of WayForward's games are brimming with this kind of stuff.  Whether it's the way that Shantae shakes her little butt like a cat ready to pounce when you duck, or the fact that almost everything that happens to Daffy in the cartoon Duck Amuck can be inflicted on Daffy in the game by the same name, WayForward's games are all practically made out of these kinds of details.  (If you don't know what Shantae is, then for one, shame on you, and for two, it is one of the secret best platformers of all time.  That is however, another discussion entirely.)

Onto the dark side I suppose.  You see, WayForward is a hired gun for licensed games.  You might think that with such awesome design chops, (O yeah, did I mention that their puzzle/level design is top tier?  Well, I think I just did now.) and super attention to detail, they would make great, if not the best, licensed games around.  Then you would have to face the grim reality of what working with an established brand can be.  You are working with someone else's precious baby.  Every idea that you you have has to be pushed through not just your design process, but also a whole brutish and bloody bureaucracy built around  maintaining consistent IP.  Sometimes that works out ok.  There are people out there that actually understand that expanding established IP into videogames isn't always as easy as reskining Mario or Halo with brand X mascot/cartoon character.  Most people in these positions are not that smart though.  You see, for every Duck Amuck or Wendy: Every Witch Way, there is a Shrek the 3rd: Ogres and Donkeys or Space Chimps.  Try as they might, and I am sure they do, you just don't always win in these situations.  

That is why WayForward is at their best when they are working in purer videogame waters.  Their original IP is almost universally stellar (see Shantae or the recent Mighty Flip Champs for DSiware) and, when they work with established videogame IP the results are pretty fantastic, too (A Boy and his Blob is great, and a little game called Conta 4 wasn't to bad either).  If they could just stop making stuff like Where the Wild Things Are I would be so much happier.  They could easily fit into my personal top five then and hopefully replace all of those for hire games in their roster with original stuff.  You know, like their up coming episodic Shantae DSiware sequel, which I could not be more excited about.

Also, if your company name is based on fictional company in Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, how can you not be awesome?  I mean really?