Imagine a game with “Pikmin’s” real-time critter management and the Poltergust 3000 from “Luigi’s Mansion’s” meshed together into a gorgeous “Where the Wild Things Are”-styled adventure that takes you to an alternate dimension. It’s a striking pitch that sums up the brilliance of the indie adventure game “The Wild at Heart.”
Developed by Moonlight Kids, a small team spread between Portland and Atlanta, “The Wild at Heart” follows two kids as they defend a supernatural world from an unknown evil. The demo at the ID@Xbox event at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco featured a young boy named Wake walking through a dreamlike environment before getting dropped into a fantastical world full of monsters.
“You fall into this other world that’s in-between realms,” Moonlight Kids programmer Chris Sumsky tells Variety. “Eventually you’ll find out it’s this dimension that’s been holding back a dark presence. That’s been its purpose for a long time.”
“The guardians who are supposed to be doing the protecting have forgotten the whole ordeal,” he added. “That’s where this Wake comes in.”
“The Wild at Hearts” gameplay features Wake collecting small Pikmin-like sprites in nearly the exact same why that Nintendo’s real-time strategy game does. Wake walks up to them and they follow, he can then pick up, break down, and interact with the environment by throwing them around. Wake also has a vacuum, the guster buster, that can push and pull items in the environment as well as the ability to craft bombs, missing parts, and other items that help you progress.
“We call it an action-adventure because there is a lot going on but we’re trying to coin a new term: herd-like,” Sumsky said jokingly. “‘Pikmin’ is the original herdlike, obviously.”
“You’ll find these little creatures that start following you around, letting you build up this little army,” he added. “Everything should be an experiment as you throw them around. It encourages you to try new things. They’ll break things down, they’ll fight enemies for you, they’ll collect resources that’ll help you craft things.”
Playing “The Wild at Heart” was nothing short of fantastic. While some bugs, graphical issues, and other hiccups brought laughs from Sumsky and fellow Moonlight Kid Alex Atkins, the joy of collecting sprites, gathering items for a giant cat-dragon creature, avoiding bees, and exploring the small island was intense. It felt like a more-intimate take on “Pikmin” while also introducing original aspects to the real-time strategy-like formula.
The most interesting part is that Sumsky, Atkins, and the other members of Moonlight Kids only began serious development in September of last year, the idea was around much longer– but the demo I played was built in a few months. They showed the game, which is coming to PC, Mac, and Xbox One sometime in the distant future, for the first time at Day of the Devs last November.
Even though the build was impressive, it was easy to tell that it was early on in development. Sumsky mentioned how different environmental clues, interactive objects, and other things would change to make them easier to understand. “We are pretty early on in a lot of the environment and mechanical development, we haven’t fleshed it all out yet,” Sumsky said. “We want a wide visual variety, different mechanics for different areas, more obstacles and different types of spritelings.”
“The Wild at Heart,” like “Stardew Valley” and “Wargroove,” wears its inspirations on its sleeve and it works wonderfully. It’s a title to keep an eye on as Sumsky and team continue to build off their stellar foundation. “Obviously people are going to compare us to Pikmin, there’s no avoiding that,” Sumsky said. “But we’re trying to do this in our own way, add in these other systems, and create it in our own world.”