Local multiplayer curio collection Sportsfriends is due this autumn on PS3, PC, Mac and Linux, and I had a chance to catch up with half of its development team at XOXOfest in Portland, Oregon to see how things were shaping up with two of its four games: Johann Sebastian Joust and Super Pole Riders.
Poleriders has already made the rounds as a free Flash title by QWOP creator, Bennett Foddy, but this latest version of it tightens up the hilariously awkward competitive vaulting gameplay. The goal remains the same: hit a ball tethered to a horizontal rope into your opponent's goal. Welding a cumbersome, bendy pole, you'll have to launch your body into the ball to smash it across the screen. Due to the peculiar controls and disarmingly complex physics engine underlying it, this seemingly simple concept tends to result in insanely drawn out bouts of physical comedy as the two players leap, slip, kick, and tumble their way to glory.
Aside from a visual makeover and the fact that the game now runs in 60fps, one of the main differences in this new version is that you can use the analogue sticks on a DualShock to control your pole, which allows for a freer range of movement than simply up and down, as was the case with the original release. "Now you can stand up on your pole and perform other high-level tricks and techniques," Foddy explained.
Additionally, there are four different shaped maps that add further challenges. One level places a thin bridge in the middle of the stage, which you can run across, but not plant your pole in. Another level has a pool in the middle. The lower ground makes it substantially harder to vault your avatars into the ball.
Other neat additions include four-player mode support, the option to share controllers (two players each use one DualShock), some secret maneuvers, new sounds (recorded by Foddy on a viola), and a Sudden Death mode for those longer tussles, in which the players' poles get turned into mallets in two-player or opponents share giant poles in four-player.
It's stupendous fun, as one might expect if they played the original release, or indeed any of Foddy's bonkers body of work. It's a skill-based game that's easy to grasp, hard to master, and impossible not to laugh at.
Elsewhere, Johann Sebastian Joust has seen a colossal upgrade as well. But first, for the uninitiated, J.S. Joust is a physical game - as in played in the meatspace - about players trying to disrupt other players' controllers by hitting them. Move too aggressively and your Move controller will vibrate, your light will turn off, and you'll be out. As a piece of Bach music plays in the background players are allowed to move faster as the music speeds up and must be more careful as the soundtrack slows down. Even in its most basic form J.S. Joust is a timeless classic, so what's new this time around?
Quite a lot, as it turns out. For one, players can now choose their own music from their personal collection to provide the soundtrack. Additionally, the game will now be playable with DualShock controllers as well as Moves, to make it more accessible to a wider audience. Of course Move controllers are ideal due to the glowing light on their apex, but beggars can't be choosers and it's better to have the option to play with DualShock controllers than not at all.
But the most noteworthy additions are a huge host of new game modes. Resurrection will make it so any defeated players can rejoin the fray by holding down a button for about 10 seconds while not moving their controller too much. Invulnerability allows players to hold down a button to remain invincible for a few seconds. This will slowly recharge over time, so you'll have to use it judiciously. Hold it down too long, however, and you'll self-destruct. There will also be colour-coded team-based modes, including a variant where one person on each team is a traitor, indicated by a rumble at the off that only they can feel. The traitors on each team actually make up a team of their own, so watch out for those conniving cutthroats.
There will also be loads of player options to tailor one's own version of the game. Want an observer to control the music's tempo? That's a thing now! Want to make the game more forgiving and longer-lasting by implementing a multiple lives system? Go for it! And perhaps most appealing of all, you can set up asymmetric modes like making it so one player can move much quicker, while they're surrounded by other players with more sensitive controllers; a bit like the capable survivor in a zombie film enclosed by the weak, shambling undead. There's even graphics now in the form of an animated classical musician representing each player.
Regrettably I didn't get a chance to sample the new additions due to inclement weather, but I've played the original form of J.S. Joust and it was revelatory. These new modes and options are sure to only add to that.
Players can try the alpha of Super Pole Riders and other Sportsfriends games Hokra and BaraBariBall on PC by pre-ordering the full game for $30. This also comes with a Mac alpha of Johann Sebastian Joust, which in this early form only supports Move controllers.