PAX Aus 2017: Spryke is a cyberfish taking on the world platform by platform

Feature article

There was a time in video game history where it was all about animals and platforming. There were Hedgehogs that ran fast, Toads that battled, a Gecko who fancied himself a James Bond type, and how could we forget a Bug… named Bug! A golden age of sorts some might say, where it was all about colour, varied levels and action.

Local Melbourne studio Volnaiskra are currently working on a game that intends to embody the soul of the classics but with modern gameplay and graphics. It’s called Spryke and at PAX Aus this year I had the chance to speak to Dave Bleja, who makes up the entirety of Volnaiskra, and have a go at the game itself.

Spryke is a cyberfish who discovers the joy of dry land. She is able to run, jump, cling to the ceiling and also has a handy bubble that can be deployed to stay in the air a few precious seconds longer. The adventure will take her across multiple levels all with striking art design.

The gameplay is platform based with your classic “get from A to B” structure with some puzzles along the way. The controls are very responsive, perhaps overly so, and the speed of the game and fluid level design lends itself to speed running.

“Even when blasting through a level, Spryke is graceful in her movements”

Spryke is a labour of love and a passion project. It has been in development three years so far and Dave expects another year or so before it is ready for release. It is clear just by looking at the game that the art style has been painstakingly crafted. The levels I played were gorgeous and remind me of games such as Rayman.

Aside from looking pretty, the game moves pretty nicely as well, which is no easy feat at high speeds. Even when blasting through a level, Spryke is graceful in her movements, whether it be via jumps and bubbles or a quick jump over an obstacle followed up by hugging the ceiling and sliding.

Platform game design appears easier than it really is. Mario Maker, for instance, gave us the tools to develop a platforming map, but for most of us we quickly realised that platform level design is best left to the professionals. It is extremely difficult to create a level that works and is enjoyable to play. And yet Spryke’s level design was great.

The Spryke stand was busy all PAX, Volnaiskra were holding a speedrun competition where the winner gets their photo in the game. I saw the leaderboard and I had a go, I was nowhere near close. For Dave, watching the PAX crowd play his game (and get through it faster than he can, mind you) was an experience. The players were using tricks and skills the developer had not realised were possible. As a result they posted incredible times, Dave estimates he himself would be in the top 5 but not number 1.

As for my experience, parts of the levels are just downright tricky, but that’s the beauty of it. It’s different enough to create a new experience for gamers but it still contains platforming conventions allowing a player that enjoys these types of games to translate their skills and break a record or two.

Spryke is on track to be completed sometime in 2018 and will be released on PC first but may go cross-platform in the future. I am certainly interested to see how the finished product turns out.