Pop-Up Pilgrims is a PlayStation VR exclusive from Dakko Dakko, the studio that previously made such offbeat gems as Scram Kitty and His Buddy on Rails, The 2D Adventures of Rotating Octopus Character and Floating Cloud God Saves the Pilgrims (if experience has taught this studio anything, Pop-Up Pilgrims suggests it's how to craft a snappier name for its efforts).
"We're a 2D-focussed studio," Dakko Dakko's Rhodri Broadbent says of how we decided to pursue such a strange concept. "When we first saw VR we were a bit unsure, but then when I tried it we took one of our games and put it in a 3D space wrapped around you, so could look at anywhere in the stage at any one time, and that was cool enough. And then we thought what if we layered it back - so we put three instances of the game and you jumped between them and you controlled the action in between, and it was fun. We threw this prototype out and it was basically this 2D platform game with multiple layers of platforms in 3D."
Pop-Up Pilgrims doesn't deviate too far from that original prototype, and it feels ostensibly like an extension of Dakko Dakko's earlier work; something entirely original yet something that also draws upon Broadbent's impeccable taste in games. There have been traces of Treasure and Nintendo in Dakko Dakko's previous work, and here you can see a little Chu Chu Rocket as you lay down markers that help guide your pilgrims to safety.
As a 2D action game it's expertly crafted, but as a VR experience it's something else entirely. There's something surreal and brilliantly vibrant about being pulled into a pop-up world as you lean in to get a closer look at the exquisite artwork of Gary Lucken.
"The most exciting thing about it was the fact you could go up to a sprite and see how detailed it is," says Broadbent. "Gary's art in this is so beautiful and you can get right up close and personal with it, which makes you appreciate it all the more. It was a technical challenge - we tried a couple of engines at first, but there wasn't anything that was adequate to our need so we ended up writing our own custom 2D VR engine. It was interesting having no precedent - in the end I think it's this quite satisfying pop-up world. It doesn't feel like it's come out of nowhere - it feels like it's come from this 2D lineage."
It all makes for a unique prospect, and another feather in the cap of PlayStation VR to which Pop-Up Pilgrims is staying exclusive to for the foreseeable “The gameplay is 180 degrees sitting down VR, we don't need room scale,” says Broadbent. “This has been built very much around the comfortable relaxed nature of PlayStation VR.
Pop-Up Pilgrims is another example of VR pushing forward into new frontiers, only this time doing so by plundering some slightly more traditional territory. You can have a look for yourself when Pop-Up Pilgrims comes out on February 13th.