Catacomb Kids is a mix between a roguelike and a platformer, with equal parts magic potions and goomba stomps. You can also chop body parts off pretty much everything. It's one heck of a challenge and a damn Cool Indie Game.
Game designer Tyriq Plummer wanted to do many things with Catacomb Kids. He wanted a game that he found fun to play, he wanted a game that could explore health systems and character bodies, and he wanted diverse heroes.
I wanted to make a roguelike since before I knew what roguelikes were," Tyriq told me. "Then I tried playing roguelikes and learned I was bad at playing roguelikes. But I was good at playing platformers."
The result was Catacomb Kids, a game that satisfied Tyriq's desire for adventurous exploration with a decidedly arcade game feel. Players assume different roles and try to last as long as they can in a procedurally generated dungeon. Movement is swift, jumping has a strong sense of control, and combat is dangerous.
I have trouble playing Catacomb Kids sometimes. It's a pretty hard game where I even struggled to get through part of the tutorial. Tyriq believes that an important aspect of Catacomb Kid's difficulty is that it has things that are discoverable and fixed. You might drink a lightning potion once and fry yourself but after that, you know not to drink that potion.
"I enjoy secrets and discovery but I also want people making informed decisions." Tyriq said. "I want players to be able to make assumptions and predictions about what they can do."
There's some pretty nasty complications thrown into the mix as well. Catacomb Kids features a simple but effective health system that adds in limb damage, extreme cold, and many other features. If you mess up fighting a goblin, they might cut off your shield arm. If you're really unlucky, you might lose both you legs and hop around on bloody stumps.
The notion of human resilience and fragility was the subject of a talk that Tyriq gave at GDC 2016 called "Made Out of Meat." It's an insightful look at the ways that games abstract health and how they can take some extra steps to make health systems more interesting.
Catacomb Kids falls into an area that Tyriq calls "simplification," where the health systems begin to acknowledge that bodies are made of distinct parts can endanger the player through alterations to movement or abilities based on damage. You can watch the talk down below. It's great stuff.
As a natural consequence of a design that focuses on human bodies, Catacomb Kids ends up being a diverse game. While you can select a class and character at the start, the bodies of the potential characters are random. Skin tone, hair, and body type are distinct. Anyone can be a hero.
"I value diversity in games," Tyriq said. "In Catacomb Kids, there's a fifty per cent chance of being a boy or girl and they play the same. Characters and be super pale or super dark. As a developer, it's easy to do that."
Additionally, in designing items and armour, Tyriq made a point to focus on practical gear, avoiding the dreaded 'chainmail bikini.' He noted that these considerations took very little time or effort.
"As a developer, it's super easy to do. It's not a challenge or something you need to go out of your way to get done. You can just do it."
It took far more time to create the game's newest dungeon layer than to toss some diversity into the title. The Anticropolis is a snowy dungeon realm that was recently added to the game. The update also added co-op to the game.
"It took much longer than I anticipated," Tyriq said. "When I first put it together, it was madness."
Catacomb Kids will continue to grow over time. The goal is to have a total of four area and a final boss. For now, player can enjoy dangerous and exciting trips into the first two levels. I lost several hours of my weekend to Catacomb Kids and definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a new dungeon crawler.