|Dev: Spicy Horse|
|Pub: Spicy Horse|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p|
by Shelby Reiches
American McGee has a mixed record as a developer. While his first self-titled project, Alice, was an unambiguous success (despite mixing platforming with the Quake 3 engine), subsequent attempts such as Scrapland and Grimm were somewhat more middling, while Bad Day L.A. was absolutely execrable.
In 2007, though, McGee founded Spicy Horse in Shanghai, the first big release from which was a sequel to Alice, titled Alice: Madness Returns. It was fairly well received, paving the way for the upcoming Akaneiro: Demon Hunters. Akaneiro had an open beta test that ran up until January 16, so we put on our little red hoods and jumped in.
Red hoods? Why, yes, that does sound strange, but Akaneiro uses a mythology that is, at least tenuously, based on the classic Red Riding Hood fairytale (which might explain the prevalence of wolves as an enemy type in the game’s early missions). This is American McGee’s trademark, adapting classic stories and fairy tales to a different style. In this case, the aesthetics are all Japan-inspired, from the feudal character designs to the watercolor-like art style. It’s certainly a beautiful game to look at, drawing favorable comparisons to Okami.
Okami, though, wasn’t an action RPG. The core gameplay in Akaneiro is drawn directly from Diablo and its ilk, with mouse-driven controls, left click to attack, hold shift to do so in place, and click the right mouse button to use one’s equipped ability, with more abilities assignable to hotkeys. Even from an isometric perspective, though, this game looks positively striking.
The first decision Akaneiro tasks you with: How will you play it? While there are downloadable clients for both the PC and Mac (and a confirmed Steam release), the title is also wholly playable in one’s browser, courtesy of the Unity web engine. The downloadable client certainly offers a higher-fidelity experience, with the ability to set visual options (a space for audio options is presently unfilled, but the promise of such settings remains) and the lack of a slight lag that plagues the in-browser edition, but I still found myself drawn to the website to play, time after time.
In addition to the in-game chat, Akaneiro’s browser-based client has a chat sidebar constantly running, which allows players to freely converse with one another and, often, the developers of the game. I don’t usually buy into community features like that, but the visible presence of the developers really made it an intriguing experience, and one I was willing to sacrifice performance to see. This is, apparently, a feature Spicy Horse has integrated into its other online projects, and one of the most compelling reasons I’ve ever seen to play online.
Otherwise, the two clients are practically identical. They access the same servers, thus exchanging one’s progress seamlessly from one to the other.
And the progress you shall make will be fairly discrete. After a brief tutorial mission, Akaneiro drops you into Yomi Village, which serves as a hub. In the hub, it is possible to buy new abilities and equipment, as well as recruit other players' characters for the game’s quests. For now, playing alongside another person isn't possible, but their hunters are instead summoned "in spirit" as A.I. companions to accompany you into battle.
Quests (or hunts, rather) are standalone experiences that one accepts from the quest-giving NPC, which then thrust the player into an isolated, instanced scenario. They consist of fairly regular tromps through enemy-infested maps, cleaning them out and fighting a boss creature or two. Beating a quest results in a higher difficulty being unlocked, along with a new hunt. There are some twists and turns from a narrative perspective, but the gameplay plays things on the straight and narrow. This is fine, since the combat is fast-paced and visually appealing.
While the player’s input is what one would expect, consisting of rampant clicking and the occasional button press, Akaneiro’s pace is accelerated by Karma, dropped by enemies once they are killed. Blood-red crystals, these act as the game’s main currency and can also be obtained by “Transmuting” (selling) items one doesn’t need or buying it through the game’s cash shop. Picking one up from enemies, though, has the added benefit of restoring a small amount of one’s health. This allows one to be more aggressive in combat, though one still has to resort to hit-or-run tactics on occasion, depending on one’s playstyle.