In the early stages of its development, the original Sonic the Hedgehog didn't feature a hedgehog at all - in those days, Sonic was instead a rabbit who used his ears to manipulate and throw objects. The simple change of a species can produce vastly different gameplay, as developers think up ways to cater to that animal's strengths. But why choose only one?
Mekazoo from The Good Mood Creators will bring five animals to Xbox One, PS4 and PC later this year; an armadillo, frog, wallaby, pelican, and panda. Its old-fashioned platforming gameplay - full of bounce pads, enemies to bop on the head and shinies to collect - challenges you to switch between them on the fly as you navigate neon-tinted worlds teeming with mechanized flora and fauna.
Putting your hands on Mekazoo, its influences are obvious; Mario, Sonic, and Donkey Kong Country players would all feel right at home here, swapping between animals to suit their playstyle and overcome obstacles.
If you've got the reflexes and want to go as fast as possible, you can curl up and roll as the armadillo. If you're a fan of grappling hooks and don't mind moving a bit slower, the frog's elongated and sticky tongue makes for an excellent tether. Each animal feels unique, and you quickly learn the limits of what each one can and can't do.
That's important, because oftentimes, one animal is not enough. To get over a sharp incline you might, for example, need to spin and roll up a hill's bank as the armadillo, leap off, change mid-air into the frog, use your tongue to latch onto a pivot point, and use your propulsion to fling yourself back over the tip of the hill. You're able to switch between two forms at any given time, though more difficult levels will swap out one animal for another mid-way through.
It's an interesting twist, challenging your reflexes and memory simultaneously. You learn to recognize obstacles very quickly and think ahead how many button presses it will take to successfully circumvent it. There's a bit of creative problem solving mixed with logistical planning in Mekazoo's gameplay, and when executed well, these disparate elements create a satisfying sense of smoothness and momentum.
A well-crafted soundtrack backs the action, and much like the gameplay, it feels retro mixed with new age. Think the soundtrack from Sonic 3, but composed by Daft Punk and Skrillex. I bobbed my head along as I played, and the game's website has several more samples that are equally catchy.
I always enjoy a trip to the zoo, and I can't say different for a mechanical one inspired by the games that defined my childhood. If Microsoft positions the game right and quality remains high throughout, Mekazoo could be the current generation's next great platformer. Their very own Sonic the Frog-Armadillo-Wallaby-Pelican-Panda. Mekazoo opens its doors later this year.