Otto & The Ancient Worlds combines the moves and weapon formulas from Mega Man with the whip from Castlevania to make a unique platformer that is both fun and fresh.
Taking inspiration from the great platforming games of yesteryear can be a good way to develop a game. Tight controls, expertly crafted pixels and amazing, toe-tapping soundtracks were the norm back in the eighties and nineties, and certainly something worth studying if you’re looking for a good foundation for your next game. Otto & The Ancient Worlds not only borrows from the best, it surpasses the original by combining two of the greats, making a PB&J of platforming — without the nut allergies.
Otto’s arsenal consists of his whip and variations thereof; stronger versions are found by collecting artifact weapons from bosses. He can use the whip to crack it at enemies, deflect projectiles coming his way and break fragile walls, revealing secrets or perhaps a shortcut. With health a rarity and checkpoints few and far between, you have to make sure each strike counts against the plethora of creatures out to get you. Each level is based on a specific fairy tale, including its boss, and once you beat it and gain your first artifact weapon, you’ll be able to use that weapon to help you defeat specific enemies and bosses easier, but only if you find the correct route.
Otto, despite the Robinson Crusoe beard, proves to be a rather spritely fellow. You can wall-jump back and forth, slowly slide down walls to help perfect the trajectory of your next jump, and slide under tight gaps in the environment to move quickly through the level. It takes a bit of getting used to the height of jumping at first, as I remember a particular spot in the demo where I fell and had to climb back up repeatedly. Once you get the jumping down, however, the rest of platforming is a breeze.
The pixel art style, provided by Oxcoxa and the legendary Nick Wozniak (who worked on Shovel Knight), is an endearing tribute to the classics. Every character or creature has a personality to them that is amplified by the simplicity of their designs. Naturally, using the pixel art which defined the era that Otto & The Ancient Worlds draws inspiration from makes sense, but the game is wholly gorgeous, nonetheless.
There’s an expert level of detail in the design of the six selectable stages, with appropriate scenery and parallax backgrounds that accent movement through the fantasy worlds. The animations, while restricted mostly to the 8-bit limitations, showcase a honed talent for demonstrating believable motion, both through Otto’s movement and through the larger-than-life, cleverly crafted boss fights.
Otto & The Ancient Worlds may seem like a classic game you’ve played and thrown your controller across the room from before, but it plays much better than expected. The art, music, and tight controls reminded me often of the joy found in playing Shovel Knight, and that’s about as high a compliment that I can provide, given it’s one of my favorite games of all time. I’m excited to see more of the bosses and level designs in the full version and find out what kind of mischief Otto gets himself into on his epic adventure.