MythForce is a roguelike that looks just like an ’80s cartoon

If you’re an animation geek, your jaw will drop when you see it MythForce. I know, because I am one, and that’s exactly what happened to me.

MythForce is the first original IP from developer Beamdog, a studio best known for releasing enhanced editions of classic RPGs such as Baldur’s Gate. The team’s latest game is quite a departure from those projects. It’s a first-person roguelite that draws visual inspiration from 80s cartoons. If you’re having a hard time imagining what that looks like, imagine if you could actually step into 1983. Dragon’s Lair and not play as an interactive cartoon.

When I started with MythForce at this year’s Game Developers Conference, I was immediately blown away. I haven’t been so blown away by a game’s art style since I first saw it Cuphead.

MythForce game announcement

Loot the castle

MythForce the game is simple to explain. It’s a first-person game where up to four players can explore a castle filled with procedurally generated rooms. Players slash enemies like skeletons with swords while collecting gold and gear. Being a roguelite, the goal is to complete a successful “race” through the castle, upgrading your skills and equipment as you move from room to room. They die and will have to start over from scratch with basic gear.

Image used with permission of the copyright holder

The game features some progression hooks, making it more of a roguelite than a roguelike. MythForce is a character-based game starring four heroes who have specific abilities and tools. For example, Victoria is a sword knight who can pierce enemies with a shield strike, while Rico is a rogue who has the ability to teleport behind enemies and impale them with a dagger. The more players use a character, the more it will level up, unlocking permanent perks and stat upgrades.

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Everything is relatively simple, which is in favor of the game. Combat is a matter of right clicking enemies to attack and left clicking to block if I have a shield equipped. Damage types, magic spells and abilities, which work after cooldown, add more strategy to the mix, but I was able to start playing with barely any guide. It requires less attention than e.g. Hadesmaking it a potentially great co-op game for friends who want to casually chat while running.

Players fight enemies together in MythForce.Image used with permission of the copyright holder

There’s a lot of potential here, but we’ll have to see how it develops over time. MythForce it launches in early access with only a little content to explore to begin with. It is assumed that Beamdog will build the game together with its community, adding more features and tools to make upgrades more efficient. But for now, the studio starts with a strong foundation that’s easy enough to build on.

Catching the 80s

When Beamdog says that MythForce it draws inspiration from cartoons from the 80s, it’s not an exaggeration. The game has its own animated opening sequence, complete with a hair metal theme song. For those who grew up on shows like He the man and ThunderCats, MythForce it could easily be mistaken for the forgotten Saturday morning cartoon that ran right before you woke up on the weekend.

In talking about the game with its developers, it’s clear that Beamdog wants to pay homage to those shows, not parody them. This would mean that the game should really look the part, down to the tiniest details that less dedicated studios might overlook.

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A skeleton archer draws his bow in MythForce.Image used with permission of the copyright holder

This is immediately apparent even when you see a loose screenshot from the game. It uses solid colors that really pop, but are somewhat muted, almost mimicking the more analog nature of the older animation. The developers particularly emphasized their use of thick lines, giving the property a much more pronounced black outline. Objects have the tiniest bit of texture, and walls and floors look like they were created with a brushstroke. All this is bathed in the smallest layer of film grain.

My biggest geek-out moment happened within five seconds of playing. As I boarded, I turned to look at the scenery behind me. The landscape looked exactly like an old matte painting. I was even more impressed when I realized that the game doesn’t use static backgrounds. I noticed the same effect when I was in the castle itself, with the landscape in the distance looking like a painting. As I got closer, objects like trees that looked straight imperceptibly popped into 3D as I got closer. This effect is intentional as Beamdog has invented several artistic design tricks to capture such nuances.

The player faces skeletons in the game MythForce.Image used with permission of the copyright holder

While it looks great in screenshots, it’s even more impressive in motion. Enemies almost look rotoscoped as they move, with giant mushroom creatures walking like they just stepped out of Fantasy. Even the tiniest animations here are strongly stylized, capturing the unique quality of hand-drawn animation. When I cut the skeleton, it explodes into a bubble of yellow magic that looks like it was pulled from a Disney classic. At one point I picked up my adventuring party only to admire a fire trap that lavishly emitted flames in a hypotonic pattern. I never thought I’d see this style of animation faithfully captured again, let alone in a video game, but MythForce corrects every shade.

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From what I’ve played so far, I’m absolutely thrilled MythForce. I can’t remember the last time I fired up a game just to admire its visuals. No other video game looks like this. With easy-to-understand combat and four-player co-op on top of that, it’s exactly the kind of game I’ll be pestering my friends to play with me. And that’s exactly the kind of game they won’t want to play with me because I’ll spend our entire session babbling about the history of animation.

MythForce launches in Early Access on April 20th. It will be available on PC via the Epic Games Store.

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