For many years now, we at Power Up Gaming have bemoaned the lack of modern kart racers that successfully capture the spirit of classic titles such as Crash Team Racing and Diddy Kong Racing. While Mario Kart 8 and its contemporaries are undeniably fun, they just don’t pack in the same level of personality or fill us with as much joy as those games of our youth.
Amongst a sea of indie titles on display at this past weekend’s EGX 2015 in Birmingham, however, we might have found the answer to our prayers. Strangely Named Studio’s Bears Can’t Drift?! is a throwback to the kart racers of old, with its simplistic gameplay and vibrant, cartoony graphics clearly influenced by some of the PS1 and N64-era titles we keep coming back to.
We had the opportunity to chat with the game’s developer Arran Langmead to find out a little more on what players should expect from the Steam Early Access and upcoming PS4 title.
Chris Mawson: Hi, Arran. Can you tell us what Bears Can’t Drift?! is all about?
Arran Langmead: Sure thing. Bears Can’t Drift?! is a split-screen, action-packed kart racer. It’s on Early Access right now for £9.99 and it’s coming out onto PS4 and Steam towards the end of November or the beginning of December; ready for Christmas so that everyone can play it. It’s got three different game modes: single race, time trial and picnic, which is our battle mode. There are different hub worlds that you can explore and mess around with; we’ve got a ton of different things for you to run around and do… And it’s got bears in it; what more do you want in a game!
CM: It’s very much in the style of a classic kart racer, then. What are some of the titles that inspired the game?
AL: Oh, absolutely. Before I started working on this, I went back and played the three classics that really defined the genre, which are Crash Team Racing, Mario Kart 64 and Diddy Kong Racing. So I sat down and played a ton of those, and then I just tried to take everything that made those games really great, and just create something that’s a modern version that people can really have fun playing.
We’ve got split-screen in there, and it’s just something that you really don’t see anymore; it’s really hard to find on Steam and PS4 is really lacking in that at the moment. So I just wanted to make something where people can get together on the couch, and have a bit of fun with it, mess around and have a pizza; have some fun.
CM: I notice that the characters we’re seeing at the moment essentially seem be the same bear, but with a palette swap. Will there be different characters with their own abilities in the full version?
AL: Yeah, so there’s going to be eight different characters in total. This guy at the moment is kind of our placeholder bear; he will still be in the final version, but we just put a random colour on so people could easily identify which bear they are. He’s our base bear, but I want to get a skeleton bear, a ghost bear and a zombie bear out in time for Halloween, and we’re going to have a load of different variations, like pandas and polar bears; that kind of thing.
Game-wise, they’re all the same stats; they’re just aesthetic changes. The big thing for me was that a lot of people [when playing kart racers] will find the best player, and they’ll only play as that character – because it’s the best one, and not necessarily because they like that character the most. So people can choose their favourite character, and they can always play as that one knowing that they’re going to have a fair fight with everyone else.
CM: Could you tell us a little bit about the items and pick-ups that we’re seeing on-screen at the moment?
AL: Sure. So again, when I started working on the game, we looked at loads and loads of different kart racers and found that really, it all distills down to a few different types of weapons: there’s the shield, the boost, the forward attack and the rear attack. So we created four different items, which are in animal form: we’ve got the chameleon, which is our shield; the bird, which is our boost; the bee, which is our drop – it lets you drop a beehive behind you that will get your opponent covered in honey and attract bees to start attacking them; and then we’ve got a salmon rocket, which you can fire forwards like a massive rocket launcher and that will explode and hit an enemy, and knock them down.
But on top of that, we’ve got another layer of complexity. You can actually pick up the same item twice to combine it into a super power-up. For example, if you pick up two salmon rockets, you can launch a mortar strike – a salmon mortar strike – on whoever is in first place.
CM: *laughs* Salmon mortar strike; that’s not a term I thought I’d hear this weekend! You mentioned earlier Crash Team Racing and Diddy Kong Racing, which are two of my favourite games of all time. One thing they had which others which many modern karters lack is an adventure or story mode. Is that something you’ve looked at for Bears Can’t Drift?
AL: At the moment, we haven’t got a set story with cutscenes and stuff, but we’ve tried to create a world that’s filled with mystery. You might have noticed that every now and then there’s a CCTV camera, and we’ve actually got a sci-fi monitoring station that you can find hidden away in the Forest world. So while there’s no explicit story, there is this world that we’ve created, and we’ve tried to add a little bit of mystery in there that you can discover for yourself.
CM: Tied in with that, you mentioned before that there are a number of different hub worlds, which we saw a lot of in the likes of CTR and DKR. Can you tell us a little bit more about those?
AL: Yeah, so we’ve got three different hub worlds for you to choose from: Forest, Arctic and Ancient Ruins. And they all get harder, as well, so the Forest one contains our easiest tracks in the entire game, just to start people going. And then the Arctic – and Ancient Ruins, especially – can get really, really brutal!
We’ve got difficulty modes on top of that as well, so we’re trying to create a game that is suitable for all age ranges. It’s something a little kid can pick up and have fun with on easy mode – we’ve got little guides, it’s much slower and they can take their time and have a bit of fun with it – and then we’ve got the hard mode, which is really quick; it’s like our 200cc version that can really put the pros through their paces.
CM: How long has the game been in the making, and how many people have you had working on it?
AL: It’s mainly just been developed by myself, and it’s a 12-month project that we’ve been working on so far. About eight months of that was solo development – me working in Unreal Engine, doing all the hard code and all of that kind of stuff – and then I brought in a mate to help me out on the last leg to help build up some of the game, including the animations, track design and AI.
CM: I’m really interested to know a little about your background in the industry. I’m guessing this is your debut project of this kind?
AL: Yeah, it is my first time doing a proper game, game. I used to do commercial work for clients, like gamification, sales and stuff like that. But I found it a little bit boring; a little bit dry. This is my real passion: making stuff that’s really fun and the kind of games that I would’ve got when I was a kid, as well. I also actually work at Solent university, teaching game art, so it all ties in; I do that part-time, and I make games part-time, as well.
CM: Thanks so much, Arran. I’m looking forward to getting home and spending some time with Bears Can’t Drift?! myself!
Bears Can’t Drift?! is currently available on Steam Early Access for £9.99 ($12.99 USD), with a PS4 version also coming soon. For more information on the game, check out Strangely Named Studio’s official website and look out for our full preview in the near future.