Kumobius' games have been applauded for their nostalgia-inducing graphics, for evoking the joyous vibe and atmosphere that comes with 16-bit games and, in the case of their latest release, Time Surfer, for creating a delightful mash-up between Tiny Wings and Braid.
But while the visual and atmospheric elements of Kumobius' games may have been what got the Australian studio noticed, it's the way its games control that have kept people playing.
Speaking with Polygon ahead of Time Surfer's iOS launch, Kumobius developer James Greenaway said it was important for the studio to bring the color, joy and atmosphere of older games to the iPhone without also bringing the dated and often poorly design controls.
"There are a lot of obscure games that simply had awful control systems, particularly on the Amiga," Greenaway says. "Some of the games just had awful controls. You could barely make a character jump. You'd just walk off cliffs because the controls were so unresponsive and glitchy."
"You'd just walk off cliffs because the controls were so unresponsive and glitchy."
Another design feature prevalent in older games that Kumobius decided to leave out of Time Surfer was the idea of numbered lives and forcing players to repeat entire levels when their character dies.
"It was very natural for us to make these decisions because when you're designing your own game, you have a lot more to compare it to, whereas when we were kids we didn't have many options."
Greenaway says that many of the games he and his brother, fellow Kumobius developer Tom Greenaway, played when they were children controlled terribly — they just didn't know any better. With the power of hindsight, the brothers along with the third member of Kumobius, Ivan Neeson, have carefully avoided the mistakes of past games in an attempt to make their own games work well on mobile devices.
"He thinks it's a more enjoyable experience if you can rewind rather than dying at any point."
For their debut title, Bean's Quest, their focus was to allow players to experience a platformer without cluttering the screen with controls. For Time Surfer, it's to maintain the simplicity in the control scheme while introducing more complex mechanics — namely rewinding time and ricocheting off hills à la Tiny Wings.
"The idea to rewind time was originally conceived by Ivan in the sense that he has this strange belief that every single video game is simply better if you can rewind time," Greenaway says. "He thinks it's a more enjoyable experience if you can rewind rather than dying at any point.
"He played Super Mario Bros. 3 on an emulator and was just constantly rewinding every time he made a mistake and was just convinced that this was a better incarnation of Mario."
The idea of a time rewind mechanic made famous by Braid mashed with the bouncing and gliding movement of Tiny Wings was too compelling for the team to not try, and they quickly realized that combining the two mechanics allowed them to do things that neither Braid nor Tiny Wings could do on their own.
"Tiny Wings had to be quite simple because it's quite difficult to control," Greenaway says. "But when you're able to rewind time, we kind of realized we could throw all sorts of nonsense at the player and really make a far more hardcore kind of game."
The result is a twitchy, shiny game that travels at whoosh-worthy speeds. It's full of hazards, it's both clean and chaotic and disaster can be undone as quickly as it is experienced with the rewind button.
Greenaway admits that he is "terrified" of how the game will be received. Chief among his concerns is that players might think of Time Surfer as a rip off of Braid and Tiny Wings while failing to see the effort the development team put into the game to make it special. Another concern is the game might be too twitchy and complicated for the mobile market. And another yet is that people just won't like it. Whether players think any of these things, Kumobius will know soon enough.
Time Surfer is out today on the iTunes App Store. Kumobius is planning a series of updates that will add extra content and items that can be purchased within the game. A Time Surfer comic drawn by James Greenaway can be viewed below.