“Have you ever played Minesweeper?” is one of the funniest questions I’ve been asked in a while.
Two things are immediately apparent. Michael Highland, creative director of Let’s! Revolution!, is dead serious, expecting a response that takes me a moment through my chuckle. The query also tells me he hasn’t spent much time in game-centric circles outside his studio talking about the upcoming project.
Which makes sense. BUCK is an established animation house, working on projects ranging from Netflix’s We The People series to a video campaign for Microsoft products. The studio does work with video games in supporting roles, but Let’s! Revolution! is the studio’s debut, self-developed title.
Highland explains part of the push behind creating its own game is to get BUCK’s name out there, as it’s hard to generate household recognition out of assisting other companies’ projects. Judging from what I saw of Let’s! Revolution!, he’s likely to get his wish.
Popping off the screen with pastel desert scenes, verdant jungles, whimsical cloudscapes, and a jeweled city, the studio’s first release is a hand-drawn feast for the eyes. But the 2D art style wasn’t the team’s initial vision.
Rather ambitiously, HIghland, with senior producer Marla Anyomi and art director Emily Suvanvej, explains the game was conceived of as a 3D experience. Reality got in the way as they soon realized making this version of the game in-engine would require vastly expanded resources and team. So, they pivoted. But it’s hard to see the game’s rich aesthetic and imagine it in any other way.
As I’m the first of the team’s GDC appointments, I’m also one of the first people wholly unconnected to the studio to go hands-on. Pressure to play well is, therefore, high. Blessedly, the gameplay is inspired by a familiar title.
This is where the question at the top of the article comes in. Let’s! Revolution! is an intriguing mash-up of roguelite and Minesweeper. My task is to find the dastardly king — fantastically voiced in a snooty tone that makes him easy to hate from the get-go — on a board consisting of face-down tiles. I move my character across the grid, choosing which tiles to flip as I go. But every overturned card is just as likely to bring me to danger than success.
Guards hide along the unrevealed road. They are willing to give their life for the pompous ruler, and more than happy to kill me to do their job. Helpfully, some of the board’s tiles have numbers in the corner, indicating where danger might lurk and helping me to avoid the proverbial landmines.
The starting desert location’s main hero is a fighter. The hulking figure is happy to roundhouse kick through the dusty trail and fire a bow blindly into the ether to catch foes off guard. Every attack takes stamina and has an associated cooldown. While stamina is easily gained by simply moving around the board for a breather, using both attacks back-to-back leaves me open to armored baddies. Once revealed, enemies take their turns moving, plotting, and damaging me automatically. So, it’s important to keep a strategic eye on them at all times because there are no second lives.
You will die in this game. Despite its comforting art style, this is a roguelite, and death brings you back to the beginning. With ten levels to fight through, the challenge of staying alive is bound to grow larger and larger. However, the team assures me it’s possible, once you master the different characters and locations, to get through the game in a matter of minutes, rather than hours. Finding shops along the way, two of which — the smith and a more generalized store — I uncovered, helps unlock more techniques and powerups to aid you on your journey.
Every character and NPC is wonderfully designed to communicate their personality and make me want to know more about them. How did this sentient mechanized being become a smith? Why do the heroes want to dethrone their sovereign? Sadly, this Let’s! Revolution! preview didn’t delve into the narrative, but I’m excited to hear more on that front soon.