Full disclosure: I play-tested an early build of Fifo’s Night and helped translate the game’s Steam page.
Fifo’s Night is in a difficult position as a 3D platformer. Just a few years ago the genre was knocking on death’s door, supported more or less by one mainline Mario game per generation. But tastes evolve quickly in gaming–almost as fast as the whims of publishers–and A Hat in Time and Super Mario Odyssey managed to pull the genre from the abyss and give it new life.
Indeed, Project Manager Adrian Rodriguez and his team of students aren’t trying to bring the genre back. Fifo’s Night is not the glorious return to the days of the Nintendo 64 and PlayStation 2. This isn’t even Rodriguez’s first crack at the genre–that would be 2018’s Flynn & Freckles. Reviews for that game were poor, criticizing its level design, bugs, and spotty collision detection.
Things have changed though. Rodriguez’s latest is a student project in development at Lightbox Academy, a digital arts school based in Madrid, Spain. Rodriguez is managing the project as a professor at Lightbox, bringing his experience as a game developer with him.
A Second Chance
Flynn & Freckles was an invaluable learning experience, Rodriguez tells me.
“I learnt a lot of things about video game development working on Flynn & Freckles, things that you don’t learn at school necessarily. I tried to teach all of these things to the team during the development of Fifo’s Night to avoid my mistakes on Flynn.”
Learning those lessons was important, especially as the leader of a new dev team. Not only is the team otherwise made up of students, but this is the first game any of them have worked on. As with any new crew, everyone had to learn how to be organized and work together. Having good direction and clear leadership not only helped establish everyone’s role, but set a clear vision for development.
The most important piece of advice Rodriguez could give them was to keep it simple. “The development of a video game is like a snow ball rolling down a hill. If you start with a big snowball it is very probable that you can’t control it when it grows. But if you start with a little and simple snowball, when it grows it will be manageable and you can control it to the end.”
Things You See in a Graveyard
Set in and around a Luigi’s Mansion-style mansion, Fifo’s Night sees players take on the role of Fifo. He’s a ghost but more on the Capser side of the “Spooky or Funny Ghost Spectrum” as opposed to the Vigo Von Homburg Deutschendorf side.
Fifo’s creation came about in much the same carefree way as the rest of the game.
“Fifo is a ghost basically due to a technical issue,” says Rodriguez, “because the game started as a small, individual project. So the creator found it easier to animate a ghost because he didn’t have to worry about synchronizing the legs of an anthropomorphic character.”
As Fifo is enjoying his eternal slumber, a mysterious being steals magical candies at Candywood Mansion that’s keeping the spirits there calm. Centuries-old ghosts, demons, and other nasty critters awake and terrorize the mansion. Fifo awakens too, but he just wants to go back to sleep. Thus, he takes it upon himself to find the candy, stop whoever stole them, and return the mansion to normal.
Above all, Fifo’s Night is accessible. If the description didn’t give it away, the team is aiming to make it as family friendly as possible. Even the reason for keeping the main character a ghost is charming.
“We decided to keep Fifo as the main character, among other things, because as you said, there are not many games where you control a ghost because they are always seen as something bad and we wanted to give it another focus.”
Fun is the Name of the Game
Rodriguez’s love for the genre above all else is clear. That passion radiates to the rest of the team and seeps into the game like Ecto Cooler dripping from a can of Hi-C. When asked what sets Fifo’s Night apart from other 3D platformers, however, Rodriguez simply replies: “Nothing really.” There’s a charming level of simplicity (and honesty) in his response.
He continued, “You could consider Fifo’s Night as a small tribute or homage to those 3D platforms from the 90’s and 00’s era that we love so much.”
It’s a refreshing take on development. Rather than trying something new, they’re sticking with the basics that made fans fall in love with the genre. The work is instead going into refining and polishing those systems.
Live and Let Live
That almost laissez-faire approach extends to more than just the game itself. 2020 will be the year of the 3D platformer. Spongebob: Battle for Bikini Bottom Rehydrated releases in June, and Nintendo is reportedly remaking the mainline 3D Mario games. Meanwhile. Fifo’s Night will also have to navigate a murderer’s row of indie 3D platformers coming this year alone, including Pumpkin Jack, Clive ‘N’ Wrench, Raccoo Venture, Mail Mole, Onirike, Skully, and Misc: A Tiny Tale. Rodriguez’s response?
“We don’t really see them as competitors, we see them as professional colleagues. We sincerely believe that in the indie community, collaboration is more beneficial than competition. It’s useless to attack each other if we are small, but collaborating will make us grow together.”
Rodriguez and his team talked frequently about the progress of these other games–not in a competitive sense, but as fans of the genre. The team even kept in touch with Pumpkin Jack creator Nicolas Meyssonnier, “whose dedication to his game we really admire,” Rodriguez said. “So we wish them all the best.”
Serving Up Bloody Good Spooks
Fifo’s Night is in the closing stages of development. Having played the first third or so of the game myself, I can say it’s a solid title. It won’t be the next titan in the genre, but it’s no Flynn & Freckles, either.
That’s not doing it justice though, as my time with Fifo’s Night was enjoyable, and I fell in love with the game. It controls great, the characters–from the enemies to the bosses to Fifo himself–are all charming and adorable, and aside from a couple of early bugs, none of the issues that plagued Rodriguez’s previous game are present here.
As he points out, PlayStation Spain nominated Fifo’s Night as a finalist in 2019’s PlayStation Talents competition. Previous nominees and winners from the program include Effie, Aragami, and Timothy vs. the Aliens.
But remember, nobody’s trying to reinvent the wheel here.
“We have put a lot of effort into making a coherent game with good gameplay that offers some challenges in a pleasant environment. From Fifo’s Night, we just hope people have fun and enjoy remembering those games that made them fall in love with the great world of video games.”