OK K.O.! Let’s Play Heroes is a video game based on a cartoon... that was influenced by video games. One might say its whole zany universe has come full circle.
Let’s Play Heroes is a single player beat’em up that was developed along side OK K.O.! Let’s Be Heroes, an original Cartoon Network program that premiered back in August. The show’s plot centers on an overly enthusiastic young hero and his daily adventures at the local shopping center known as Lakewood Plaza Turbo. It’s a very goofy show with plenty of heart. Those unfamiliar with Let’s Be Heroes’ premise or characters can find out more in the article I wrote back in September about the show. With a staggering 42 fifteen-minute episodes already under its belt, the series has been greenlit for a second season in 2018.
OK K.O.! creator Ian Jones-Quartey is no stranger to the world of animation or video games. Before Jones-Quartey dove headlong into the realm of animation he was known around the internet for his quirky gaming webcomic RPG World. As Jones-Quartey honed his animation and writing chops on shows like Steven Universe and Adventure Time he continued to insert gaming references and easter eggs into his work. I sat down with him to discuss how Let’s Play Heroes came to be.
It’s not often a video game based on a new property is put into development before said property has the chance to prove its appeal, but that’s exactly the path Let’s Play Heroes took.
“We started talking to [developers] Capy about Let’s Play Heroes in June 2015,” Jones-Quartey recalled. “At that point the show wasn’t officially greenlit. From the outset, I didn’t want Let’s Play Heroes to be a boring tie-in. I wanted it to be an experience with its own identity and Capy really got that.”
While some creative teams might cringe at the thought of the extra workload that goes into keeping a video game on brand, Jones-Quartey and crew felt exactly the opposite. Here was a chance to make a tie-in that truly encapsulated the fighting spirit and silliness of the show, while giving Capy some freedom to blaze their own trail. In fact as Jones-Quartey played through each build of the game and exchanged new plot details with the development team he found that some of the content Capy had dreamed up was a perfect fit for the cartoon as well.
“They got to see episodes of the show as we completed them,” Jones-Quartey said, “So they’ve been clued in on characters and stories that weren’t going to air for months. Making the show and the game like this has helped both teams, as we constantly have new material to inspire each other.”
The cast of OK K.O.! is certainly one of the show’s major selling points, with a wide array of super powered weirdos and mechanical menaces featured in every episode. These characters are immortalized in both the show and game through electronic collectibles known as Pow Cards. Each card features the heroes current level along with their picture and stats. In Let’s Play Heroes the cards can be equipped to help K.O. summon friends during battle against the evil Lord Boxman and his robo-minons.
Surprisingly, the inspiration for this eccentric cast of characters comes from none other than The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening for the original Game Boy. “I know it’s not the most popular Zelda game but it holds a special place in my heart!” Jones-Quartey said, “Specifically the way that the NPCs you meet all have distinct personalities and gimmicks that intersect and really make the environment feel alive. I really try for a similar feel to OK K.O.! — to create a world with unique and weird characters that catch your eye the first time you see them, and make you wonder if there’s more under the surface.”
It seems even the world of animation can’t escape Zelda’s monumental influence.
Fans of the OK K.O.! cartoon may notice that Let’s Play Heroes doesn’t really look much like the show. It’s noticeably flatter and more simple, with the appearance of a moving picture book. There’s almost a Paper Mario vibe to the whole world. Even the music, normally composed by Jake Kaufman, has been reinterpreted by mix master doseone. Jones-Quartey explains why such a change was necessary for the game to stand on its own.
“I really enjoy when different pieces of media have styles that best fit their function. For instance, I wouldn’t want an OK K.O.! comic book to look exactly like the cartoon either. I prefer it when art reflects the personalities of the artists making it. I don’t want to simply regurgitate old ideas, I want to make new ones.”
With a fresh new art style and some chill jams, Let’s Play Heroes is a pretty slick looking game. And by this point you may be wondering, “But is it actually any good?”
Most definitely. It’s honestly a really solid little brawler. There’s a surprising amount of depth as you get further into the game and adding to K.O.’s Pow Card collection is strangely addicting. Kotaku’s Mike Fahey does a great job of breaking down just how well the visuals, audio, and gameplay all mesh into an enjoyable package.
And of course Jones-Quartey agrees. He’s proud of what Let’s Play Heroes has become over the last few years of development and planning.“Building a project like this has been a lot of hard work on the part of Cartoon Network Games, Capy Games, and the OK K.O.! show team,” he told me, “and we’ve worked hard to make sure we’re providing a great experience.”
Jones-Quartey himself is currently working through his 2017 backlog, with NieR: Automata, Breath of the Wild DLC, and DOOM for Switch currently slated for play when he finds some free time. It will be interesting to see if any of these games inspire his next venture into the realm of gaming or Let’s Be Heroes’ upcoming second season.
I ended our talk with a question that had been sitting in the back of my mind since last fall. Would ‘90s eco-hero Captain Planet, who made an episode-long cameo on OK K.O.! back in October, be making an appearance in Let’s Play Heroes?
“If this game goes well, I would love to add more Pow Cards, and Captain Planet is definitely on the shortlist,” Jones-Quartey assured me.
I’ll take it.
O.K. KO! Let’s Play Heroes is available now for PC, PS4, and Xbox One.