Game Jams, which group together developers and challenge them to produce a working game under a time limitation and against a specific theme, are fast becoming one of the key ways that new game concepts emerge. They gave us Surgeon Simulator, the bizarre (but wonderful) physics-based puzzle game that allowed us to outdo the crew of Casualty. They gave us SUPERHOT, the upcoming and supremely stylish first-person shooter, where players control the flow of time by simply moving. And now they’ve given us Timmy Bibble’s Friendship Club, a new challenger in the growing list of exclusively-local multiplayer PC titles.
Described as a “bullet-hell party game”, Friendship Club is a competitive, local multiplayer experience for 2-4 players. Trapped in a small arena with a gun (but limited ammo), it’s up to each player to take on the role of one of Timmy Bibble’s imaginary friends (from sentient rubber duck ‘The Cardinal’, to Western stand-in ‘Old Man Ricketts’) and be the last man standing in an instant-kill showdown.
This might seem like pretty standard stuff (especially if you’re familiar with other competitive titles on Steam), but Friendship Club has two key gameplay twists up its sleeve: firstly, stray bullets unleashed by players bounce around the arena forever; and secondly, combatants can ‘catch’ bullets by performing a melee dash attack, refilling their limited ammunition for well-placed counter-attacks. This completely changes the dynamic of the game, transforming it from a simple arena blaster into something requiring considerably more strategy, especially against sneaky opponents, who might just figure other ways to gather ammunition (try camping another player’s starting rug!).
And even if you get taken out, which can happen all too quickly for newer players, you may still have some influence on the match; in a mechanic that draws comparisons to the possessions seen in Crawl, deceased players can evoke the ‘Finger of God’ and stagger the movement of living rivals, an especially nasty move when two remaining players are locked in a stand-off with limited ammo. All of this results in an addictive, fast-paced game that, while currently suffering from a couple of balancing issues (especially for matches with fewer players), is sure to build (and destroy) many friendships over the coming months.
Although only two ‘environments’ are present in this early alpha – a gloomy bedroom-like structure, and a bar evocative of old-timey Western saloons – procedural generation is used to mix up the layouts, ensuring that every match is a (somewhat) fresh experience. In our early multiplayer matches, these alterations didn’t make too much of a difference as of yet; in future, it’d be nice to see each environment type offer specific advantages and disadvantages which players can work into their strategies.
That said, developers Force of Habit should be commended for following the example set by other popular local multiplayer titles such as Nidhogg and TowerFall Ascension by packing Friendship Club full of game modifiers, allowing parties to tailor the play experience to their liking. Not only can you set the round number and game speed for each default game type, you can actually combine any number of advanced modifiers and save them as a named, custom game mode, accessible on the main menu. Very cool!
But if all of that sounds far too complicated and you just want to dive into combat right away, then Friendship Club has you covered with its multiple default match options. ‘Classic’, as the name suggests, is the basic mode, wherein players have limited ammunition but can gather more by catching bullets or resting on enemy rugs. ‘Bullet-Hell’, on the other hand, evokes memories of the likes of Smash TV with the sheer number of projectiles on screen, equipping players with eight bullets from the get-go. Then you have something like ‘Stand-off’, a unique variant that punishes players who get a little too trigger-happy and attack before the 3-2-1 countdown has expired.
Although it’s clearly very early days at this point – one area where Friendship Club already stands out is its solid aesthetic. With bright, bold colours and excellent use of flat shading, the visuals appropriately reflect the child-like wonder that birthed the game world and its characters.
The developers have even managed to throw in some other neat visual flourishes, such as destructible background objects (try firing at the picture frames or bed-side lamps), and a post-match statistics screen consisting of clear pie-charts which quickly outline the essential details of each victory. Though only a few background tracks are currently present, the audio is similarly strong; the music features a unique mix of R&B and Country/Western sound-bites, which fits the style of the game and the blistering pace of player skirmishes.
Force of Habit have promised that what’s here is only the beginning, and as Friendship Club entered Steam Early Access on 24th March this year, we can expect substantially more updates in future which build upon the modes, characters and level environments on offer. What’s clear from this sample is that Timmy Bibble’s Friendship Club already has a good foundation in place for its core game, and with the proper care and attention given to balancing and content, it can hopefully stand tall and proud among other local multiplayer hits on Steam upon its release.