Boothill Heroes: A Quick Dip into the Wild West
I'll admit it, when I hear about a realtime turn-based RPG, I tend to think in terms of the fantasy RPGs such as the Final Fantasy series or the old NES Dragon Warrior series. Boot Hill Heroes from Experimental Gamer bills itself as a spaghetti western fantasy, and in terms of nailing it on the head, they got it right in one. It has all the classic Western tropes in there, and it plays similarly to other turn-based RPGs out there.
The biggest deviation from the RPG playstyle is the fact that you can't just set your controller down in the middle of a battle when it's your turn and use it as a pause button to go fetch a snack. There are timers on both your and the enemies' action bars that keep going until the battle is won or lost. What I found intriguing about this methodology is the fact that you can change what your character is doing mid-fight, so if you select an attack for our fourth character and its action bar is still charging up, but your second character falls to the enemy's attack, you can go back and change your action to a heal before that fourth character fires off the attack.
The game can be played either single-player or with as many as four players on controllers and you can divvy up control of the four party members however you like amongst the number of players. As a lady gamer, I appreciated the fact that two of the four members of the party were women, and neither felt like they were token characters or meant to fill up some forced quota. While both of them had healing skills available to them, they weren't the only healers available in the game.
Gameplay was pretty similar to many other RPGs, you wander around until you accidentally (or deliberately) touch an enemy and start a fight, or you go into buildings or talk to people to unravel the mystery of Kid's journey and stop the outlaw gang intent on doing evil. As might be expected, there was a lot of a 'get outta town, stranger!' vibe that you often see in Westerns when a hero comes into a town that's not his home, where the locals are either on the bad guy's payroll or too scared of him to stand up for themselves, the kind that 'don't want no trouble!', as they say. You've got varmints and horse rustlers and saloons and trains and all the trappings of a John Wayne flick.
Developer David Welch had playable demo available on the PAX East show floor, and it was pre-set where the four members of the party were already present and a few goodies were already in their inventories. It was entirely in-theme and appropriate for the major piece of gear for all the characters that altered their abilities was their hats, because what kind of cowboy movie doesn't have cowboy hats, hmm? While there were also peashooters, six-shooters, whips, and bows and arrows, it was the iconic hats that made this different from other RPGs and struck the right thematic vibe. Characters could also ride horses and in one segment could also play a bit of Frogger-style action on logs on a river.
The game itself is episodic, and Episode 1 was released last year. Episode 2 was the one I had hands-on time with at PAX East, with David himself showing me the way around the game. Episode 3 is due for release in June. The game was already in the works when Experimental Gamer ran a successful Kickstarter campaign to acquire funding for a composer. While playing the game, I immediately noticed the soundtrack and was informed that Jake Kaufman, aka virt, had been secured for the composer role, and it definitely shows. The game is now available on PC and also on PlayStation Mobile in the PlayStation store, so you can play it on the PS Vita or other PSM-certified devices. The PSM version has exclusive content not available in the regular version, approximately an additional three hours of content that tells more of the backstory for the main game, but isn't required to complete it or to follow along.
For a company that is just shy of its third anniversary, the amount of polish that's gone into this game is quite amazing. One of the cool things about independent developers is getting to watch their passion for their art, especially when they do the vast majority of the work on it themselves, from the writing, the animation, the coding, the debugging, wearing multiple hats much like the characters in the game itself. These days, the temptation to alter a Wild West setting and blend it with sci-fi like Firefly or go all steampunk on it is very strong, there's a healthy market for that sort of thing. However, by sticking true to his guns and keeping to all of the usual tropes for a traditional Wild West adventure, Dave's whipped us up a fine game indeed. It's currently in the Steam Greenlight process, so check it out!