Side-scrolling, retro-inspired action games have seen something of a resurgence in recent years, from the relatively straight-forward – but critically acclaimed – platforming of Shovel Knight to the bullet hell frenzy of Super Time Force.
At Play Expo 2016, we had the opportunity to get hands-on with Dragon Bros, a run-and-gun game that pays an unapologetic homage to 8-bit shooter classics such as Metal Slug and Contra. The title, developed by Liverpool-based independent outfit Space Lizard Studio, features a colourful 2D pixel-art aesthetic along with simple, accessible gameplay, and will feel instantly familiar to fans of the genre.
Although Dragon Bros is a treat for retro fans, it’s clear that Space Lizard have also tried to cater to a wide-ranging audience. Along with its cutesy visual style, younger gamers will likely feel more at home with Dragon Bros’ control scheme. Rather than relying on face buttons for both jumping and shooting, the game features an analogue-and-triggers control setup, that both classic and modern gamers can easily get to grips with.
After spending half an hour blasting our way through the title in co-op mode, we sat down with Space Lizard Studio’s Gabriele Caruso to find out more about Dragon Bros and its influences.
Chris Mawson: To start off with Gabriele, can you to give us a bit of an introduction to Dragon Bros and its core mechanics?
Gabriele Caruso: Dragon Bros is a retro-style game, which has been influenced by classic titles like Metal Slug and Contra, as well as Broforce and Super Time Force. We wanted players to be able to jump straight into the game, and have fun playing. The story of the game follows these two little dragons, whose mother was kidnapped by an evil robot society. It’s a pixel-art adventure, featuring a large number of levels to progress through, a huge selection of weapons to collect, and robots and bosses to battle.
CM: While Dragon Bros is very much a classic run-and-gun game, its gameplay is almost twitch-based in the way you utilise the analogue sticks and triggers. Has that been a deliberate attempt to modernise a classic genre?
GC: Yes, that’s correct. We’re giving the player the option to switch between control schemes, as well, so you can switch to A being jump and X being shoot. For the modern players, the default option is perhaps the best, but obviously if you want to have a different feel you can switch things up.
CM: How is the game structured? I noticed we went from an over-world into individual stages; can you give us a bit of a rundown of the levels that are in the game, and how you progress from one to the other?
GC: There is a map in-game that is very much inspired by classic games like Super Mario Bros. 3, so you can follow the path step-by-step, but you can also repeat the levels to increase your high score. There are currently nine levels in the game, and there are going to be bonus levels as well; we are building two new ones at the moment. One is a replica of Space Invaders, so you are going to have an arena with robots coming at you from above. The other is going to be a Pang (Buster Bros.) replica with these bubbles going on. We want to give the players these mini-games to break up the action a little bit. And then you’ll have boss levels as well, where you’ll fight these big bosses with huge amounts of HP.
CM: It seems to be set up so you can instantly switch between single-player and co-op. Does Dragon Bros feature a shared life system between the two players as well?
GC: The game is much easier if you play co-op, because if one character dies then the other is still alive, and then if the surviving character hits the checkpoint, then the other one comes back to life; you need to rely on the second player not to die if you want to come back to life and complete the level. There’s a cool-down system, as well, so whenever you die there is a wait of 15-20 seconds, depending on where you are, to respawn.
CM: Can you tell us about the ultra moves? It looks like you build these up by collecting coins?
GC: That’s right, you collect these scraps, which are shaped like the rings from Sonic, to increase a little yellow bar that will allow you to trigger a special ability. This ability is weapon-specific, so there are a lot of different ultra moves in the game. There’s a machine gun, for instance, that turns into a three-way gun, and the laser cannon, which triggers a laser beam from above that kills all enemies.
CM: In terms of these different weapons, are they acquired from pick-ups in-game, or do you have arsenal that you can build up and switch to as you progress through the title?
GC: For the time being we just have these collectables through the levels, in a Metal Slug-style, so it’s very classic. We want to see what happens with Early Access and the Kickstarter campaign that we’re about to launch, because it depends on the funds that we raise as to whether we can implement various features, such as a drone system and the ability to recover energy. We also want to implement a PvP mode, but these require a lot of resources and a lot more work.
CM: Dragon Bros is currently on Steam Early Access; when is a full launch planned for and will it be releasing on any other platforms?
GC: It will be released in February on PC and Xbox One, as well, via the ID@Xbox programme.
Dragon Bros is available now on Steam Early Access after successfully passing through the Greenlight programme, priced at £6.99. We’ll have more news on Space Lizard Studio’s Kickstarter campaign, which aims to raise £12,000, as soon as it is officially launched.