Twin-stick shooter AK-xolotl launches Kickstarter

Today, the Kickstarter campaign for a new twin-stick shooter roguelite featuring a gun wielding axolotl launches. AK-xolotl comes from the developers 2Awesome Studio, who have made multiple games including Burning Knight, Dimension Drive, and Aeon Drive. However, AK-xolotl appears to be their largest project yet. AK-xolotl is proposed to hit Steam and consoles in March 2023.

The game itself is a twin-stick shooter roguelite with inspiration from games like Enter the Gungeon and Nuclear Throne. You’ll play as a hungry axolotl hunting for dinner in procedural and handmade maps, fighting land animals who are trying to protect their insides from consumption. And just like real axolotls, once you’re down, you’ll regenerate and start over.

The Kickstarter campaign includes rewards like closed-beta access, a plush of the mascot, or for $3000, a trip to Barcelona to meet the developers! The campaign seeks to end at the start of July, with a goal of $16000. The campaign hit its goal within only 4 hours of starting!

I had the incredible opportunity to ask Daniel Piqueras, the creator of AK-xolotl, a couple questions. I learned a lot about the thought process that went into making AK-xolotl, as well as a couple hints towards features that may be revealed in the future.

puppeht: It’s clear this is a very creative game concept, how did the idea for an axolotl wielding a gun arise, and how did that grow into the current concept?

Daniel: The AK wielding axolotl was the spark for the project, it has always been the most important thing for me. I’ve always tried to add mechanics and elements that enhanced it so that we could keep it as our main driving force. All the design decisions are taken around the axolotl. When we thought about playable characters, for example, we took inspiration from how axolotls are born and how they grow. Axolotls in real-life are very powerful creatures that can regenerate whole parts of their body, so again, we went with it and when you “die” in a run you just regenerate and go at it again (so technically you never die).

puppeht: The roguelite genre is notorious for its high volume of games, so what sets AK-xolotl apart from the rest?

Daniel: The cutest mascot ever, of course! Joking aside, we have some features that are unique to AK-xolotl. The biggest example is the mascot management aspect of the game that we have just revealed with our Kickstarter campaign.

As a player, you will have to find, nurture and care for baby axolotls that grow up to be playable.”

Daniel Piqueras on meta-progression

This is more involved than just unlocking different characters as you really get to decide how that new character will turn out to be. We still have not revealed all the details of the baby axolotl mechanic yet, but we can promise it will be very interesting.

Also, we will have an area in the axolotl pond where you can cook meals with the spoils of your hunt that provide persistent buffs. This is not new, many roguelites offer persistent buffs, but implementing these through a cooking mechanic in combination with growing your own characters, provides an extra level of depth to the core gameplay loop that we think will be really enjoyable.

Besides that, we are bringing ideas we like from other games in the genre and mixing them up in our own way. For example, we have tons of weapons (which is very common to the genre), but the way we only allow you to carry two at a time with limited ammo and frequent weapon drops keeps the gameplay fresh and prevents player builds from becoming stale.

In any case we are not here to reinvent the wheel, we want to make a roguelite that feels fresh and unique yet familiar at the same time so that any player can pick it up and have fun from the get go.

puppeht: “Roguelite” is generally defined through meta-progression, with a focus on replay-ability. For AK-xolotl, what does meta-progression look like, and what will make players want to keep playing?

Daniel: Replayability is probably the single most important feature to nail down on a roguelite. If after playing the first run you do not want more, something is fundamentally wrong with the game. There are many factors that lead to having good replayability from moment to moment gameplay and game feel to the meta-progression as you point out. We have several systems in the works that are linked to meta-progression. As mentioned before, some of our examples are getting new characters by growing them, or the cooking station but we also have a weapons shop and an item shop. These shops can be used between runs to buy new weapons and items that get added to the drop pool for next runs.

For us it is very important to make sure we grow the game giving the player variety and options instead of just stat upgrades.”

Daniel Piqueras on run variety

There is a fine balance between designing a fun and replayable meta-progression and turning it into a boring grindfest chasing higher stats. We are very conscious of this, and we are making a big effort in the former. We always think about giving variety, modifiers and new ways to play the next runs instead of just giving players a hamster wheel with a carrot at the end just to grow stronger.

puppeht: I think the roguelite genre is great at providing different levels of difficulty, where does AK-xolotl land in the scale of difficulty?

Daniel: We playtest and tune difficulty constantly, and we are very aware that balancing is one of the hardest aspects of a roguelite. I would say AK-xolotl is on the challenging side of the genre (next to games such as Enter The Gungeon or Nuclear Throne). However, we also want to make sure the game is fair and that when you die you always feel agency for it or to say it more bluntly the game never cheats you. Attacks are properly telegraphed, drops are randomized but there are also rules that prevent too many or too few to spawn frequently. Obviously, like with all roguelites, some weapons and items are more “OP” than others and make the game easier when you have them equipped, but we balance that with lower chance to get them and a lower duration. All in all, we are making a game that is similar in difficulty to other references in the genre while making an effort to have a fair game. Finally, we are planning to have a “New Game+” mode once you complete the game in base difficulty level.

puppeht: I’m curious how you built the environments around the axolotl theme? Axolotls are amphibians, are there water levels?

Daniel: The water is really important for axolotls so we always try to incorporate water elements to the maps, but for the sake of the theme (going out to get dinner), the gameplay usually occurs on land.

And if there are water maps or not, we’ll keep it a secret for now…stay tuned! Also there is a mobility mechanic that involves water but we can’t reveal that one yet.”

Daniel Piqueras on water elements

puppeht: Your Mecha-Kitty enemy caught my eye, I’m really curious how this came about? What type of things do you focus on when creating bosses like this?

Daniel: I always try to add silliness to my designs so for this specific case I thought that it would be funny to have an adorable cat piloting an intimidating mecha. As a general rule I pick an animal and then I fuse it with something random or try to recreate a meme from the internet. For our trailer we went wild with the idea in the team and we thought wouldn’t it be cool if it roars!? And then we added the cherry on top by making it meow. So, it’s all silliness and fun and then we come up with attack patterns and gameplay around it but the jokes come first!

puppeht: Are there any parts of the game that you think players might overlook but you as developers really appreciate?

Daniel: Yes, the “juice”! It’s a term many game developers use to describe a lot of small details that when combined turn the feeling of the game into an extremely satisfying experience, without altering the gameplay at all. Let me give you an example: firing a gun in the game. It’s just a gun, so the gameplay is simple. The bullet comes out and moves forward and that’s it. But then we add a nozzle visual effect, gun kick, a powerful shooting sound effect, knockback when the bullet hits the enemy, a visual effect for the bullet impact, a tiny bit of screenshake and even controller vibration… The gameplay mechanic is not altered, it’s just firing a gun but by adding all this “juice” the feeling is totally different. We put a lot of extra effort on this and we are very aware that players will not notice it but, at the same time, we know that they will notice if it’s not there.

puppeht: Is there anything else you’d like people to hear about your game?

Daniel: I think the most important thing is that we are fans of the genre making this game and we want to make a game that is loved by the community. We will have a closed beta this year for our Kickstarter backers and we really want to build the game very close to the players and have feedback when doing so. For a roguelite this is key, getting frequent feedback, iterating and improving leads to great games.

puppeht: Merch when?

Daniel: Well, you should definitely check out our Kickstarter that launches on June 1st[.]

Personally, I’m excited to learn about the baby axolotl feature which Daniel teased, and how that enhances the roguelite experience!

I’m very grateful to Daniel for responding to my questions. The AK-xolotl Kickstarter can be found here! We’ll likely have more AK-xolotl content in the future, so be on the lookout!

Leave a Comment