If there’s one thing that video game history has taught us, it’s that cute animals and platformers are a perfect match. Games like Crash Bandicoot, Spyro the Dragon, and more recently Stray are great examples and Sydney-based developer Vivink Studios will be joining the ranks of cute animal platformers when they release their debut game Ailuri, a 2D side-scrolling platformer featuring a red panda. I was able to chat with Vivink Studios Artist and Studio Lead Liezl Ronquillo to find out all about Ailuri and discover why it’s one of the most anticipated Australian-made games.
WellPlayed: You’re developing a game called Ailuri – what’s the elevator pitch?
Liezl Ronquillo: Ailuri is a hand-drawn, 2D platformer centred around raising awareness for endangered species. You play as Ailuri, a small, red panda-inspired character as you rescue fellow animals from danger.
WP: What made you choose a red panda as the game’s protagonist?
LR: Ailuri went through many concepts before choosing the current version. Red Pandas are (or were) underappreciated at the time and why not give endangered species a chance in the spotlight? Red pandas are fluffy and red, something we wanted in the character design to make it stand out from the environments the player explores in the game.
WP: It’s been mentioned that one of the aims of the game is to raise awareness for the red panda and other animals in the game as they are endangered. How is this translated through the gameplay?
LR: Players can rescue a unique endangered animal in every level of the game. This will update the player’s Encyclopedia, which has information about the species’ real-life endangered status. These characters also reside in the Sanctuary, which acts as a sort of customisable hub for every character you rescue in the game.
WP: Where did the idea for the game come from?
LR: We started the game as a rope-swinging, grappling 2D platformer prototype and it grew from there.
WP: How long has Ailuri been in development?
LR: Around four years. Between balancing real life, work and contract jobs, Ailuri has been in steady development for a while now. Production has picked up since our Kickstarter last year.
WP: What are some of the inspirations for the gameplay?
LR: The main bulk of inspiration is Yoshi’s Island, SMW2. Level-based gameplay with natural-esque platforming, full of items to collect and heaps of interesting characters to meet. Other inspirations include Silver Grapple, Seasons After Fall and Rainworld. It goes without saying that Ori and the Blind Forest and Hollow Knight are also major inspirations.
WP: Ailuri can be played either solo or co-op, can you explain how the co-op will work?
LR: Drop-in and drop-out co-op had an amazing response at our PAX conventions. We wanted people to be able to play with their friends or family together in an easy but exciting way. Every level can be completed solo, but we also want to make co-op-only levels in the future. There may be some plans further in development.
WP: The game’s art is absolutely gorgeous, and it’s all hand-drawn too. What inspired the art style?
LR: Older Disney movies such as Bambi, as well as Ghibli works. In the end, it’s largely my own blend of flat, animated characters with intensely hand-painted art.
Seriously, how good is the art style?!
WP: Ailuri features combat, can you explain how this works?
LR: Since our backers pledged enough for an upgradeable combat system, we decided to revamp and completely update how Ailuri attacks. There’s now a versatile range of ways Ailuri can attack an enemy. Air slam, three-hit combos, projectiles, we’re working on ways to really energise the gameplay of Ailuri.
WP: Tell us about the upgrade system and how it impacts the gameplay.
LR: Players need to collect Essence from each level by defeating enemies. We thought it would make sense for the combat to be upgradeable through fighting so players that enjoy that type of gameplay get rewarded with more options.
WP: How did you find the right balance between making people want to upgrade skills and not encouraging a particular playstyle?
LR: The idea is to give the option of a more complex gameplay style to those who want it, so each level in the “main story” can be finished without it. It takes a lot of balancing to ensure players of all types enjoy the game at all difficulty levels.
WP: Ailuri was originally scheduled to release in 2022. Are you confident the game will release this year?
LR: We’re aiming to release the game when it’s done!
WP: Ailuri’s Kickstarter was super successful, bringing in over $70,000, which must have been a great feeling. How has the Kickstarter’s success impacted the game and the vision you had?
LR: We are incredibly grateful for the support we received for Ailuri’s Kickstarter. The development for Ailuri has been extended to enhance features already in the game as well as add even more replayability and content. We have also been able to expand our team which really ensures a better final product.
Ailuri will meet many friends along the way
WP: What’s one thing from Ailuri you’re most excited for players to experience?
LR: Players discovering all of the endangered animals and interacting with them is definitely something we are looking forward to. When we showcased our game at PAXAus in 2019, so many people had a positive response to the art and characters in the game.
WP: So far Ailuri is coming to PC and Nintendo Switch. Have you given thought about releasing it on other platforms?
LR: We have, but we’re now considering just sticking to PC and Switch.
WP: Thanks so much for your time. All the best with the rest of the game’s development.
LR: Thank you so much for your interview.