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TowerFall brings the bow and arrow craze to indie games

Chris Plante co-founded Polygon in 2012 and is now editor-in-chief. He co-hosts The Besties, is a board member of the Frida Cinema, and created NYU’s first games journalism course.

The bow and arrow has made its way into the indie game scene.

Bow and arrow was the weapon of choice at last year's E3, the bacchanalian celebration of million dollar, big-publisher video games. Computer-animated trailers showcased AAA shooters in which steel tips whizzed into the guts and necks of hyper-realistically rendered humans. Franchises like Tomb Raider and Crysis came out as "pro"-and-arrow. Some opinion writers questioned the role of violence in video games. It was a thing.

Yesterday, at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, we had the chance to see TowerFall, a same-screen competitive multiplayer bow-murder simulator.

TowerFall is the antithesis to its AAA counterparts. Drawn in 8-bit pixel graphics, its characters look like adorable elves, their heads topped with pointy hats that can be shot off.

It's plenty violent. For example, characters can be pinned to walls by a perfectly placed arrow, their feet dangling inches above the floor. The kills feels just as visceral as those in a first-person shooter, but just as lighthearted as Wile E. Coyote being squashed by a three ton boulder.

Fights take place on static 2D battlefields. Navigation is reminiscent of the original Mario Bros. arcade game. Exiting screen right teleports the player at an entrance screen left; falling through the bottom of the screen sends the player to the top.

Matches can be played on teams or death match style.

Arrows are limited, and must be collected from walls and dead bodies. Treasure bodes provide upgrades like explosive ammunition and bubble shields. The characters have a floaty jump, and can stick and leap off vertical surfaces. It feels familiar, making for instantly intense pick-up and play match-ups. My rivals were screaming at the screen drunkenly, and sure, that's partly because they were drunk, but also because the game elicits competitive spirit.

In my head, the combination of arena fighting and one-hit kill life bars felt like a mash-up of Super Smash Bros. and Bushido Blade, two non-traditional fighting games.

Non-traditional is a nice description for TowerFall. In the land of bow and arrow games, it is different.

The next level of puzzles.

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