Way of the Red

A game by Corey Hardman for PC, originally released in 2016.
Way of the Red is the tale of Blackfeather, a swordsman and one of the last remaining members of a race of birdmen who have been subjugated and hunted to near extinction by their human enemies. Lacking a sense of purpose, Blackfeather leaves home to seek out the girl he loved in his youth, knowing that no birdman has ever returned from a journey into the territory of humans. But his mission is quickly cut short as he is blasted out of the sky by a huge orb of energy, and he crashes down in the forest, surrounded by humans who – despite his sword fighting skills – overwhelm him with their sheer numbers.

When he regains consciousness, Blackfeather finds himself without his sword, and his wings have been clipped. Losing his ability to fight back, he follows the orders of the guards and destroys a number of blue seeds hanging from trees in the area, but he is warned against doing the same with red seeds. He is told that he must report to the warden (who is also the king’s son) if he discovers any red seeds, with the promise that he will be given his freedom if he does so.

A number of other birdmen have been imprisoned as well, and Blackfeather speaks with them as he wanders through the forest, bashing blue seeds and fighting off dangerous wolves. In speaking with these birdmen, he learns that his former love, Sarita, previously discovered a red seed and was sent to Spire City.

It should come as little surprise that birdmen aren’t actually freed upon discovering these seeds, and in fact, the king is using the seeds to grant himself everlasting life. And so, once again burdened with glorious purpose, Blackfeather makes it his mission to regain his strength and rescue Sarita, while learning more about the nature of red seeds along the way.

After the opening prologue, Blackfeather has only a variable 3x jump to see him through the world, which is filled with insta-death long spikes, damage-causing short spikes, and a number of leaping wolves. Blackfeather has three units of health, and health is only restored by picking up hearts that are occasionally dropped by killed enemies. Checkpoints – in the form of blooming flowers – appear at a moderate pace and do not restore health, but the player’s health is fully restored when he respawns.

The wolves that appear in the opening area are a bit difficult to read, as they stand completely stationary and then leap toward you after a few seconds. Without any animation to telegraph their jumps, players may be caught off guard, and jumping on wolf while it is jumping sometimes results in the player taking damage. Fortunately, these enemies are not populous in the opening areas and are replaced by tougher animated enemies once the player gains new abilities.

Early into his adventure, Blackfeather meets a small dark-colored birdman named Fabio who teaches him the ability to grab onto walls and climb vertical surfaces. With this new ability, Blackfeather is able to move back into an earlier section of the forest and discover a tree with a red seed, but alas, it is out of his reach.

Travelling further back, Blackfeather is able to ascend a cliff face and reach a monument dedicated to Musashi, a fallen swordsman. On the monument is a sword, which Blackfeather collects for himself, allowing him to pass back through the guarded forest – which is now filled with wolves and guards – slashing his way through everything he sees until he reaches the red seed once more.

Upon slashing the red seed out of the tree, Blackfeather is overcome and finds himself drawn toward it. He eats the seed and soon awakens back at the monument. His wings have somehow healed, and now he has the ability to jump and glide over long distances, allowing him to escape the forest and continue on his quest.

While the opening area may be freely explored, and new routes open once new abilities are gained, the game is not a metroidvania. Additional upgrades beyond the wall climb and glide are combat-oriented and entirely optional. They can make exploration easier but do not allow access to new paths. Additionally, the player may not return to previous areas once they have been completed.

Environmental navigation is somewhat challenging even from the start of the game, as platforms are often placed precisely within the player’s reach, requiring near-pixel-perfect jumps in order to reach them. This can occasionally lead to frustration as players miss the mark, or miscommunication to players as platforms may seem out of reach.

Once the wall climb and glide abilities are earned, these situations are exacerbated, as platforms are placed farther away, and jumping up spike-lined passages requires very precise movement. This is further complicated by the fact that grabbing a wall requires the player to press the JUMP button in midair when near a wall, rather than simply pressing toward the wall as is traditional in platformers with a wall grab ability, and trying to grab a wall at its intersection with a ledge is not possible. Fortunately, when gliding, the player may hold the JUMP button to attach to vertical surfaces.

There are a few additional control oddities, such as the fact that players engage NPC’s and open doors by pressing DOWN instead of UP. In fact, even the very first NPC in the game must be spoken with twice before the player is able to progress beyond the starting screen, with no indication that this is the case, which gets the game off to a somewhat awkward start. Enemy wolves have similar issues navigating the environment and will occasionally find themselves jumping against the ceiling, and sometimes collision issues cause them to teleport through solid objects when jumping. It's also possible to jump off the edge of the screen in certain places and find yourself stuck, unable to return to the screen without quitting the game and restarting.

Combat, on the other hand, is considerably smoother, as players are able to perform a wide variety of sword swipes to quickly dispatch enemies. By default, Blackfeather can initiate a quick 3-hit combo, which is enough to dispatch most weaker enemies. Players must still be mindful of enemy attacks, however, as Blackfeather does not have any defensive abilities. As such, players must either rush in and attack enemies before they can strike (attacking from behind is also possible in several areas) or wait for the enemy to strike and then move in before he can perform another attack.

The fact that Blackfeather is very mobile and can glide toward enemies aids in combat strategy, and later areas require these advanced techniques as the player battles foes across numerous floating platforms. In addition, Blackfeather can perform upward slashes and angle strikes upward and downward while jumping. He can also slash while gliding, but this will cause him to fall out of the air.

Optional upgrades must be purchased from NPC’s that are tucked around the environment, often appearing off the beaten path, which means that players who do not thoroughly explore the environment are likely to miss them. Money may be found as enemy drops, or in larger quantities by discovering treasure chests, many of which are in hard-to-reach areas.

Upgrades include some ranged attacks that grant the player more combat options and can make certain portions of the game – including some boss encounters – significantly easier, as players may stand back and deliver damage from a distance with less chance of retaliation. Enemies become tougher and appear with greater frequency as the game goes on, requiring deft use of the player’s combat tactics. Some bosses and late game enemies can even toss projectiles, which may be cancelled with a properly-timed sword strike.

Players who thoroughly explore the environment will encounter additional red seeds and are given the option to hold onto the seeds or consume them to gain new abilities at the cost of mutation, which impacts some elements of the narrative.

While the game is presented as a fantasy world, its language is filled with modern colloquialisms, which distracts from the overall experience. Additionally, while a great deal of attention is paid to flashbacks showing Blackfeather’s meeting of Sarita and the fact that he is bullied in his youth, not much is made of this during the remainder of the narrative, regardless which of the endings the player achieves.

Way of the Red was developed by Corey Hardman, who is based in South Florida, with music by chiptune artist Daniel Stoker, a.ka. Zigauche. The game was developed using Game Maker Studio.