When I get a chance, which is becoming increasingly unlikely each year, I like to walk the PAX East showfloor and see what catches my eye. That's how I stumbled on Refactor, one of the more unique games at the show this year.
The core of Refactor came from a simple realization by the studio, according to Next Gen Pants lead developer Bob Webb. When looking towards their next title, the team noticed that the maps of Metroid looked an awful lot like the simple shapes of the Tetrominoes from the hit classic Tetris. The exploration of this idea lead to Refactor, a game where you explore the world as one of the errant puzzle pieces. Thus is the world's first "Tetroidvania", to use Webb's own words.
You technically play two characters at the same time, a pair of incomplete Tetrominoes - one a single block and the other made of three blocks - who are working together to escape a totalitarian state.
In your base form, you roll around as a 2x2 square shape. While in this form, you can move and double jump, using momentum to carry you forward and over obstacles. Tapping one of the triggers turns you into the 4x1 flat shape, sending you forward in a dash that can destroy enemies and break through walls. The other trigger turns you into the T-shape, with the sole point acting as a grappling hook to attach to specialized points.
Having the shape of Tetrominoes isn't the only hook that Refactor has though. At the outside of each level, you're given a starting point and an end point. In between, there are a series of rooms and corridors shaped like Tetrominoes. At specific control rooms, you can shift this pieces around the map, building your own way forward.
To account for this mechanic, the team at Next Gen Pants has built each section to be playable in multiple configurations. The floor becomes the ceiling or what was once a wall becomes the floor. The platforms you used to move onwards and upwards previously are now taking you down into the depths.
This mechanic also offers players a chance to change the difficulty. If you're having trouble with an area, you can choose not to use that chunk later. If you're more into platforming than puzzling, the game will offer an outline guide as to where you should place each level piece.
It's a compelling hook for a platformer and the demo I played is a great proof of concept. It's all a matter of how Next Gen Pants wants to expand on the idea before the game's 2017 launch on PC and PlayStation 4.
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