Chambara embodies stark beauty with its stylish landscapes full of brilliant gem tones or simple blacks and whites. But its colors aren’t just there for visual effect. It’s a split-screen local multiplayer game where you must elude your enemies, camouflage by changing colors, and strike when your victim least expects it. Though developer Team OK originally debuted the game in 2016 for the PlayStation 4, it launched a PC and Mac version on December 12.
Team OK project lead Kevin Wong says the team studied a lot of samurai films to replicate their tense atmosphere, slow buildup, and consequent explosive action. Iconic film director Akira Kurosawa was a big influence, as was an episode from Genndy Tartakovsky’s Cartoon Network series Samurai Jack.
“Chambara is a term that refers to a genre of samurai movies that we studied during the game’s preproduction,” said Wong in an email to GamesBeat. “Broadly speaking, it refers to more action-driven films centered around stylish violence like the Zatoichi series, but broader considerations would include more character-driven stories like [Kurosawa’s] Seven Samurai or Rashomon.”
Up to four players can battle it out, each appearing as a ronin bird who’s as deadly as they are stealthy. Wong says they chose to make it purely multiplayer because of scope, eschewing a story mode or a single-player campaign for a more focused game. The team also playtested and demoed the title often, setting frequent milestones and forcing themselves to scale back on the number of features.
“We narrowed our focus to deliver the most polished and engaging experience possible within our demanding constraints,” said Wong. “Naturally, that meant an innovative local-multiplayer game that exploited the interpersonal relationships between couch players to create elegant play. This manifests in elements like the ‘close eyes’ mechanic, which empowers players to control the economy of information between them to win by denying screen visibility to themselves and others.”
Team OK came together while the members were still students at the University of Southern California. It formed in 2014 to participate in Abertay University’s Dare to be Digital video game competition, which it won with an early version of Chambara. The prize was the Ones to Watch Award from the British Academy Games Awards (BAFTA) in 2015.
Winning a BAFTA put the team on the map, and they shipped Chambara as a PlayStation exclusive in 2016. Now, more than a year after its initial console release, Team OK has made the title available on PC. This is a departure from most indie studios, who often go the opposite route and eventually port PC titles to consoles. The studio likely benefited from the prestige of a BAFTA, which enabled it to start the conversation with Sony. More than that, though, it’s a couch co-op game — so it makes sense that the studio wanted to go to a console first.
Since Team OK is still supporting Chambara more than three years after its initial conception, perhaps we’ll see it pop up in other places as well. The colorful aesthetic, fast-paced matches, and multiplayer gameplay would make an excellent fit on the Nintendo Switch, for instance. And we’ve already seen that Nintendo is keen on getting more indie titles on the eShop.