Why Annapurna Interactive is the most exciting video game publisher

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TThe power of a brand lies in the enthusiasm that its logo gives you. We’re used to seeing studio and company logos appear at the start of trailers, whether for movies or games, but for a few years now, if there is one that has been proven to work. , it is indeed that of Annapurna Interactive. .

Since its founding in December 2016 as a division of Annapurna Pictures – renowned for producing acclaimed films, including Oscar winners Dark zero thirty, Phantom wire, and american unrest – the publisher has been a force to be reckoned with, confidently putting one true independent sweetheart after another. After all, having a magical, realistic family drama What remains of Edith Finch – beat even Breath of the wild for the best BAFTA game award in the same year – is a start others could only dream of having.

On the one hand, Edith Finch looks like a familiar first-person narrative game that populated indies at the time, walking simulators with little gameplay or interaction aside that also had a knack for telling a story. that had already happened. But go beyond that, and it’s actually a number of surprisingly playful vignettes with a diverse range of styles and mechanics – a shapeshifter kid with a monstrously insatiable appetite, a former child actor immersed in a Comic book horror, a fantastical adventure played alongside minced fish heads in a cannery – each putting you in the shoes of every member of the Finch family before their untimely demise. A diverse range of styles and mechanics is something that also sums up the production of Annapurna.

Edith Finch. Credit: Giant sparrow

The emphasis on storytelling is something one would expect from a publisher whose origins come from the world of film (although Annapurna Pictures has dabbled in producing fictional video games for those who are remember Spike Jonze’s 2013 film Her). But where storytelling in games too often means mimicking film, television, or books, various styles of storytelling combined with playful interactions have always defined an Annapurna Interactive joint. There is incredible artistry in each of its games, and while each of the publisher’s titles effortlessly tells deep and often personal stories, none of them ever do it the same way.

There are Gorogoa, a graphic novel played as an incredibly complex puzzle game, time-looping Outdoor savages as you try to prevent the end of a solar system, Tell lies, a non-linear open-world game, but researching in FMV, the ups and downs of a relationship captured on the small screen in Florence, uncovering the story of a transgender girl and her queer family who grew up in rural Ireland reading and erasing the pages of her diary in If found …, and many others that escape simple categorization.

And what a record too. Although I didn’t necessarily like every version – the recursive puzzle game Model earlier this year didn’t quite match up for me – Annapurna Interactive’s quality has just been consistently high, slightly behind Sega for having the highest metacritic average in the 2020s publisher ranking table. The worst that can be said about their games is that they are maybe a little too arty, a little too ornate, such a chic and cool editor and they know it – which, frankly, is it? It’s a bit like saying you’re a gifted person when asked to describe your weakness.

Outdoor savages
Outdoor savages. Credit: Mobius Digital / Annapurna Interactive

Okay, maybe if you have an old-fashioned gaming sensitivity you might think Annapurna’s games won’t do much for you, but that’s also a misconception, because the publisher has also supported games which fall into more recognizable “gamey” genres, but which always do things differently. Thought Ash, a thought Souls-like but where you meet other travelers who are slowly turning your hub into a colony and community, or Sayonara Wild Hearts, a pure album of sweet pop music played like an old school arcade game. He’s even hit with the squad shooter with an early access title Regular procedure, where its procedurally generated maps and deadly shootouts mean you really need to communicate with your teammates.

Of course, as a member of a film company, which also worked in favor of the publisher to take advantage of real Hollywood talent for its games, and not the kind of goofy stunt casting in AAA games, like putting Kit Harrington in Call of Duty, but the kind of casting you might expect for an Oscar favorite, whether it’s an independent bedroom piece like 12 Minutes featuring the voices of James McAvoy, Daisy Ridley and Willem Dafoe, voice actors like Models real couple Bryce Dallas Howard and Seth Gabel, or just manage to catch Queen Latifah for a few lines in Sayonara Wild Hearts.

It was then inevitable that Annapurna would finally decide to take matters into its own hands with its very first showcase this year. Carefully stepping outside of the E3 bubble, her first stream was a confident, flawless half hour of non-stop fun, putting other terrible fillers to shame (looking at you Gearbox, Capcom), all the while having the production, pace and announcements that you come to see from the best in the business, Nintendo Direct.

Sayonara Wild Hearts
Sayonara Wild Hearts. Credit: Simogo

The thing about Annapurna Interactive though, is that the publisher has a totally hands-off approach where they’d rather just let the games speak for themselves, or as we’ve also seen in this showcase, let developers talk about. We had a producer who introduced us to the futuristic cat adventure Wander, developer Ben Esposito showing the incredible speedrun possibilities of Neon white, and even when there were no games to show off, there were fun and insightful features from new developers the publisher partnered with, such as Ivy Road and Outer Loop.

I’ve had to watch a lot of digital presentations where the host decides to fireside chat with a developer after a revealing trailer that doesn’t tell us anything, and they’ve all been boring. This may be due to Annapurna’s cinematic credentials for creating some great features, but her new partnerships just demonstrate her talent for picking the best people to work with, revered freelance veterans or new talent with diverse backgrounds. and interesting with a unique vision. At its most basic level, the Annapurna label is nothing but a quality mark, although the announcement of the launch of its own in-house development studio also raises high expectations for its ability to create games as wonderful as his collaborators.

12 minutes
12 minutes. Credit: Luis Antonio

Maybe developing their own games is when we’ll see the publisher stumble, as the law of averages dictates they surely can’t maintain that streak forever – certainly on the film side, Annapurna Pictures has had a period. difficult in 2019 when a debt of US $ 200 million put him on the verge of bankruptcy. But when we have a time-looping thriller 12 minutesrock opera adventure The artistic escape, and adventure platform game Solar ash from the creator of Super light drifter yet to come this year, it’s safe to say there’s still a lot to look forward to, and he’s going to ride this wave for some time to come. Annapurna’s next interactive showcase can’t come soon enough.

Alan Wen is a frequent contributor to NME.


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