Incredible Ape took a bold step in co-op gaming earlier this year with the release of its platformer-shooter for Xbox Live Indie Games in April. Called PewPewPewPewPewPewPewPewPew, it includes a co-op gaming mechanic unlike any other: total microphone control. With a formula that has drawn praise from various critics, Incredible Ape duo Josh Schonstal and Ian Brock brought their microphone-controlled platformer to IndieCade 2011, where I had the pleasure of trying it out.
As I mentioned, PewPewPewPewPewPewPewPewPew does not use controllers at all. Incredible Ape's IndieCade setup consisted of a pair of Guitar Hero microphones placed atop mic stands. The premise of the game is to control an astronaut with a jetpack as he side-scrolls across a 2D environment. The first player controls the spaceman's blaster, triggered by saying "Pew! Pew!" (or any other phrase) into the microphone. The second player controls the jetpack by calling into the microphone. The idea is for the first player to blast obstacles and enemies, while the second player uses the jetpack to float over spiky floors.
I played through both roles during my time with PewPewPewPewPewPewPewPewPew. The experience is co-op gaming at its best. Not only do both players play a pivotal role in the game, but unspoken communication between the two players is essential. When I was in the first player role, I was able to fire away with as many "Pew! Pew! Pew!" utterances as I could muster. Unfortunately, it didn't do much good if the player controlling the jetpack accidentally positioned me near a spike. Likewise, I controlled the jetpack with a moderate amount of skill and tried positioning the astronaut in front of a destructible wall. Unfortunately, the player controlling the blaster didn't get out enough shots and the astronaut crashed into the wall. To get anywhere, both players must be on the same page, which can be difficult since both players are occupied with their own microphones throughout the game.
So how did Incredible Ape come up with the idea for using microphones? "We each brought a microphone to Global Game Jam 2010," said Brock. "And we decided that we wanted to make a game that used a couple of microphones. We had no idea what the game was going to be. We thought saying 'Pew' was fun, so we wanted to do something with that, but we didn't really have the whole idea at the time." Schonstal and Brock said that the idea for the autorunning platformer came later.
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Even though PewPewPewPewPewPewPewPewPew has been available for six months, many people are unaware of its existence. That's likely because of the layout of Xbox Live Indie Games, which makes it easy for game titles to get lost among the clutter. Schonstal and Brock also note that developers don't get to choose their game’s release date, which caused their game to get lost in the shuffle thanks to an April Fools release date. "We've had very few trial download and very few purchases," said Schonstal. "Exposure has been pretty low on the marketplace."
So then why not bring it to another platform? Schonstal and Brock revealed that there have been requests to bring PewPewPewPewPewPewPewPewPew to mobile platforms, but doing so would violate the spirit of the game. "We think the cooperative aspect of having two people in the same room is important,” said Brock. "It's a party game."
"It's kind of a spectator game and for the players," added Schonstal. "It's almost as fun to watch it as it is to play it. I think that if you bring to mobile or online PC, it loses so much."
Having tried out PewPewPewPewPewPewPewPewPew for myself, I can say I agree with Incredible Ape's sentiment. A big part of what makes this game so fun is the atmosphere of having people in the same room and teaming up with friends to try and get as far as possible.
Those interested in trying out PewPewPewPewPewPewPewPewPew for themselves should grab a couple of microphones (or Xbox 360 headsets) and try it out. The game is available now on Xbox Live Indie Games for 240 points ($3).