Hitgrab Game Labs, a local Toronto development team is well on their way in creating what could very well become the next indie-darling, Clan O’Conall and the Crown of the Stag. Most notable for their Mouse Hunt series, Hitgrab Game Labs is a small, yet agile studio whose latest title brought new elements to the battle royale genre. Outworlds Battleground is deeply cemented in pixel art, chip-tune stylings, entrenched in the latest gaming craze. Clan O’Conall on the other hand centers around 2D platforming, baked in Celtic lore.
Clan O’Conall and the Crown of the Stag focuses on three sibling characters, Haggish, Clappshot, and Kilcannon. The trio is the successors of Arden, the Clan O’Conall chieftain. Keeper of the Crown of Stag, Arden oversees the land and keeps the peace between the world of men and the faerie folk, thanks to the powers of the crown. The Mother of Demons, otherwise known as Caoránach, arrives in the city and deceives Arden, who grants Caoránach access to the crown. As Caoránach steals the crown and flees, Arden begins to become sickly. For the crown to instill power in its new owner, its previous bearer must die. So Arden sends our group of characters to retrieve the crown and save his life. During EGLX, I was able to get a bit of hands-on time with one of the levels in the game, as well as a boss fight to gain a full understanding of the game’s mechanics.
The main hook of the game is that you’ll be switching between the three characters on the fly. You will begin to utilize their specialty to progress through a series of levels, solving puzzles and fighting enemies. Clappshot is the archer character and she’s incredibly quick. She possesses a double-jump technique, allowing you to reach higher platforms. With her arrows, you can spam her shots, which do a bit less damage than her brothers, but you have the advantage of being at a distance. For puzzle-solving, Clappshot can hit door switches and other items by way of shooting an arrow.
Kilcannon is a soldier, who uses a sword and shield to defeat anything standing in his path. Kilcannon can be able to cut through vines that uncover sections of the level needed to progress. He can also cling to walls for a short period, allowing you to jump a begin scaling a tree. With his cape, you can float down from a jump at a slower pace. At times, air would be shooting from the bottom of the level and you can float between each collum of wind to get across a gap.
Finally, Haggish is the tank of the team. He’s a slow, burly fellow who packs a punch. He’s not as agile as his brother and sister, but he can push heavy objects to open up pathways or solve puzzles. For instance, one puzzle required you to move a broken head of a statue back to its resting place on the shoulders of the statue. Swapping between the three, you’ll scale a system of intertwining trees to find the head, but only Haggish can complete the puzzle and move it to its destination.
That’s what made Clan O’Conall so superb in my books. Each character is equally as important as the other two. They all have equal advantages and disadvantages. The demo I played did a wonderful job showcasing their moveset. What stands out is how fluid the swap between characters is. It’s not a chore, there’s no waiting or loading. It was a simple click of a button (for reference, I was playing on PC with an Xbox One controller). The puzzles were fairly straightforward in the demo, a large portion acted as introduction points for the mechanic of switching characters and using each one. It was later in the demo when the game shifts and requires you the constantly swap between the three of them on the fly and string together their abilities to either progress through a platforming section or solve a puzzle.
The boss battle in the demo had me face one of Caoránach’s lackeys. This boss was heavily focused on using Haggish’s Slam attack, which can destroy large rocks. Seeing as how the boss will periodically turn his head into stone, Haggish came in handy. It was a traditional loop of avoiding the enemy’s attacks and dodging them, which I found Clappshot to be very handy for this section. Afterwards, the stone head of the boss would fall to the ground, allowing you to get in a hit with Haggish. After, this opened the boss up for a beatdown by any character of your choice. Then it was a rinse and repeat of that until the enemy was defeated.
From a stylistic perspective, the game is reminiscent of DrinkBox Studios’ Guacamelee! In place of the luchadors and Mexican culture, Clan O’Conall is heavily inspired by Irish folklore, taking bits and pieces to create an original story. Many of the visuals feel authentic. When speaking to the development team, I had learned the creative team had been inspired by Samurai Jack when developing the visual aesthetic of the game. You can see how they played off the artwork of Genndy Tartakovsky’s show and put their spin on it. There a sense of minimalism in the backdrop and foreground. Without the use of exposition, you can gain a sense of story and perspective from taking in the environments. The colours pop and there are a lot of subtle details on the playable characters.
Hitgrab Game Labs is aiming to release Clan O’Conall and the Crown of the Stag on Steam sometime in 2020, with a possible console release. You can keep up to date on the development by subscribing to the studio’s newsletter.