It didn't take long for me to fall for the idea of Koira. The recently announced debut game from Brussels-based Studio Tolima and Life is Strange developer Don't Nod will see us awaken in a mysterious, magical forest as Koira, the title character who finds themselves far away from home. Roused by the sound of barking, it's not long before you encounter a small puppy who joins you on your journey back to the heart of the forest. If the beautiful artstyle and atmospheric setting wasn't enough of a draw for me, the fact that it's an experience that centers on companionship and the bond you develop with the young pup certainly is.
The pair have to work together to overcome obstacles, solve puzzles, and escape any dangers, with both Koira and the dog utilizing different skills. From what I saw at Gamescom 2023, I already got the sense that this is indeed one "poetic adventure", as studio founder and director Benjamin Lega put it, that will no doubt tug at my heartstrings.
"It's a game that's very much inspired by games like Journey or Gris," Lega tells me. "We have a very minimalistic approach, so it's a narrative game without any text, we convey all the emotional and story beats through the animation and the music. The characters can talk to each other but they are each voiced by an instrument: Koira's a flute, the dog's an accordion, the boar's is a trumpet. So we created this whole atmospheric world and we really want the player to sink in and enjoy being there."
As a small studio that was formed around the project, Lega initially started working on the concept alongside a musician, with lead developer Sander Vanhove explaining that Koira "was really built with the music in mind". As well as enhancing the feel of the setting and even inspiring story moments, I love the way individual instruments are used to convey the emotions and responses of specific characters. It speaks to the minimalist, poetic approach the team are striving for, which is also reflected in the eye-catching art style of the game - Koira, the puppy, and the inhabitants of the forest, are all black silhouettes with expressive eyes that stand out against the wintry backdrop.
At its core, Studio Tolima's adventure tells a story of companionship as you try to befriend and protect your puppy pal. I'm delighted to learn that, yes, this means you will indeed be able to pet the dog, but there will also be plenty of opportunities to develop your bond on a deeper level as the story progresses.
"I think it was one of the first features of the game [petting the dog]," Vanhove says, "But you can also do other fun things with them. You can play fetch, you can throw snowballs, you can build snowmen, you can play hide and seek together. So we really wanted to emphasize with you that this dog is your companion and you can do things with them."
Both Lega and Vanhove tease that there's some mystery surrounding the magical forest, and as you venture deeper in, you can discover "inner powers" that will help you along the way. You'll also encounter hunters who are set on kidnapping your pup, but you don't know exactly why. With environmental puzzles to solve, each character has unique abilities and traits to make use of. Lega explains that the dog is "small and nimble", meaning you can direct him to go through small passages or dig around, while Koira "can actually manipulate items and throw objects around". Overall, the team is aiming to deliver an experience that's "easy to pick up", with story beats that will present different scenarios.
"Instead of having a series of puzzles with hard to grasp mechanics, it's rather like a collection of scenes and very distinct moments," Lega says. "So there's moments about bonding together with the dog, helping others, passing obstacles, some stealth and some conflicts, using the magic around the hunters. There's a wide variety of gameplay that is always there to fit as best as possible the different scenes of the story."
While there is a linear story to follow, Koira is designed to be taken at your own pace, with dedicated moments where you can simply sit down in the forest and enjoy the scenery, or spend time with your puppy. I always love adventures that present you with the chance to just stop and simply be within the world, and I'm sure I'll relish doing just that in the intriguing setting Studio Tolima is trying to bring to life.
After speaking with Lega and Vanhove, it's clear this is a passion project for a small team who are excited to have the opportunity to be published by Don't Nod and create what they love. The release of Koira is still a ways off as of right now, with a launch date of 2025, but it's definitely one I'll be keeping an eye out for in the future.
Koira is currently set to come to PC in 2025. For more exciting releases on the way, check out our roundup of new games for 2023 and beyond.