Akumanor Escape DX

A game by Michirin for PC and browser, originally released in 2019.
Akumanor Escape DX is a follow-up to Akumanor Escape, a black and white Game Boy-style title created as part of GBJAM 7, which required games to be limited to four colors and a resolution of 160x144 pixels, per the limitations of the Game Boy. The original game only includes two stages (the second is about half the length of the first) and no boss encounters, but it introduces the core mechanics, enemies, and level design concepts used in the DX version.

Akumanor Escape DX is a more fleshed-out experience, consisting of three lengthy stages with several levels in each, and a boss encounter at the end of each area, although it’s still intended to be completed in a single sitting. This version of the game is presented with Game Boy Color specifications, adding a limited color palette, reducing the number of onscreen sprites, and doing a bit of programmatic trickery to render parallax scrolling. It also introduces new enemy types, themed areas, obstacles, sound effects, and a new authentic chiptune music tracks.

As in the original game, you take on the role of a girl who has escaped the catacombs of a haunted castle called Akumanor, and she must use her sword, shield, and platforming skills to overcome enemies and obstacles. While the game offers a lighthearted theme, the challenges it presents can be quite difficult, hearkening back to the classics of the 8-bit era. The game draws inspirations from Castlevania and other gothic horror titles – particularly in its setting and enemies – and the title of the game appears to reference the Japanese name of the Castlevania series: Akumaj┼Ź Dracula.

The game’s protagonist has a 2x variable jump, and she carries a sword that can be repeatedly jutted forward as quickly as the player presses the button. By pressing DOWN, she raises her shield, which can be used to block incoming projectiles in the form of tossed skeleton bones and launched fireballs. Per GBC conventions, the HUD occupies a thin segment along the bottom of the screen, displaying the player’s health, remaining lives, number of keys, and score.

The player’s health meter consists of eight hearts. Most enemies take away a single heart when they damage the player, but tougher foes take away two hearts, and falling into spikes takes away a whopping four hearts. The player has a lengthy invincibility period, although some spike traps are large enough that it’s not possible to get out of them before the invincibility wears off. Getting killed returns the player to the start of the level and also eliminates any keys he was carrying, while using a continue requires the player to repeat the entire stage from scratch with his score reset.

Players can restore some health by defeating enemies, which sometimes drop hearts or coins. Hearts restore a single unit of health, while coins are only in place for scoring purposes (the player’s final score is displayed at the end of the game). Treasure chests may contain a set of three coins, a money bag worth more coins, a 1UP, or a cooked chicken that restores four hearts.

There are several enemy types, each with different behaviors. Rats patrol along the ground, whereas frogs hop slowly toward you, ghosts hover in a sine wave pattern, and bats swoop down and fly in a straight line toward you. Early on, the toughest enemies come in the form of skeletons that walk slowly toward you, occasionally tossing bones. You can block these bones with your shield, but you need to drop your shield to attack, so it’s important that you get the timing right.

Sometimes two skeleton are placed near each other, making their tossed bones harder to dodge, and these bones can travel through enemies or obstacles. There are a few red skeletons later on that operate just like the red skeletons in the Castlevania series; they are only temporarily destroyed when hit, eventually rebuilding themselves and continuing on their patrols.

Later, the game introduces armored halberd-carrying enemies that march slowly forward and take a lot of hits to destroy. These enemies aren’t difficult on their own, but often skeletons are placed behind them, requiring the player to dodge their bones. Also, some of these armored enemies carry keys that are necessary to move to the next level.

The main focus of most levels is to locate all of the keys to open the doors at the end. Keys are mostly found off the beaten path, and the player must look for clues within the environment that hint at side passages. Often, the player is able to jump up off the top of the screen to land on a wall, after which the camera pans up to show the new area. Some of these areas have treasure chests lying about, while others present difficult platforming elements. Completing these sequences often rewards the player with coins, health restoratives, and 1UPs.

In addition to these hidden areas, there are several levels that present an option to travel along the high road or the low road. The lower areas often feature enemies and spike traps, whereas the higher areas feature more difficult platforming sequences with moving platforms, obstacles, and flying enemies, and falling down returns the player to the lower area. Successfully crossing the high road often leads to one or more treasure chests.

Most early levels are open and allow for exploration in any direction and collection of keys in any order, but sometimes the player is prevented from moving to an earlier part of the level. In general, levels contain the number of keys needed to complete them, but there is an extra key in the opening level, which may be brought forward into later levels – assuming the player is able to stay alive – allowing the player to bypass one of the challenging platforming sequences. Alternatively, the first stage has an optional door that leads to a few treasure chests rather than the level exit.

Some levels focus on straightforward action rather than finding keys. These include a level with a spiked ceiling that rises and falls, requiring the player to find safe spots when the ceiling comes down. As the ceiling rises, the player must make haste, combatting enemies and dodging spikes on the floor in order to make it through.

One level in the second stage requires the player to complete a vertical ascent through spike traps, spinning spike balls, and moving platforms, while a floor of spikes rises up slowly from below. Players must be mindful not to dash too far ahead, lest they be surprised by a swinging spike ball, but falling too far behind results in getting hit by the rising floor of spikes.

Once you complete the first two stages, you enter the third and final stage, which represents a retreat from the castle of Akumanor, and thus does not require any key collection. Instead, you must pass through a harrowing gauntlet that features falling platforms over insta-death bottomless pits, platforming through spinning spike balls and encroaching enemies, fish that pop out of the water to send you to a watery grave, and dastardly wolves that dash toward you at the last second and can turn around to attack you from behind.

While the game's primary focus is on platforming, there are a few design choices that make platforming a bit more difficult than it could be. For instance, there isn’t much of a dead zone when it comes to the orientation of the camera, occasionally resulting in jarring swings when the player changes direction. Also, enemies stop moving as soon as they scroll off the screen, but they resume movement when the player approaches them again, sometimes causing the player to re-encounter enemies that he has successfully bypassed… although this can also be used to “cheat” a bit by preventing certain enemies – like bone-tossing skeletons – from being scrolled onto the screen.

When taking damage, the player character is bounced directly upward. This isn’t an issue when standing on solid ground, especially given the player’s lengthy invincibility period. However, when jumping across a gap, all of the player’s forward momentum is halted, resulting in him falling straight down. This makes some of the platforming sequences quite difficult, and in some cases, a single mistake can spell certain death as the player falls down into spikes or water.

Each stage ends with a boss encounter against a menacing beast. Bosses each have eight units of health and limited periods when they can be damaged. Players must be mindful of bosses’ telegraphs in order to look for opportunities to strike, but it’s only possible to land a single hit before they become invulnerable again. As a result, players must move in quickly to deliver damage during this limited vulnerability period and spend the rest of the battle dodging attacks, which is in line with the game’s focus on platforming over combat. Even so, bosses open themselves up to attack frequently, so the pace remains high.

Akumanor Escape DX was developed by Michirin, who is based in California. The game was developed using Construct 2 and is an expanded follow-up to Akumanor Escape, which was developed in August 2019 as part of GBJAM 7. Music for both games was composed using Deflemask, which allows composers to create authentic music designed to run on classic sound chips. The developer used 4-channel limitations for the Game Boy and created audio files that will run on an actual Game Boy system.