Walking into the Devolver’s booth for The Plucky Squire at Summer Game Fest Play Days, we felt like we were going back to our childhood. There was a huge, colourful mural on the wall, depicting All Possible Future’s upcoming adventure game in front of us. A cute, cosy couch was positioned to our left; soft plush, and a deep orangey-red. There was a bright geometric-print rug on the floor. And a little desk with a book titled ‘The Plucky Squire’, written by E.N. Arthur and published by Peanut, was tucked in the corner. The finishing touch? A big TV with the game glowing from the screen, an Xbox controller, and a PC tucked away in a cabinet. It felt like the childhood den of our dreams.

The book itself was empty – sorry to James Turner, co-director of The Plucky Squire, that we’ve revealed the secret – but that’s kind of the point. The Plucky Squire is a game about discovering the story of hero Jot, preserving that story, and saving creativity, all to preserve the innocence and imagination of kids. In the game itself, it’s a boy called Sam, whose favourite book is the titular tome, but in reality, we couldn’t help but think of kids everywhere and want to protect that creativity that youth gives us – and that age can sometimes take away.

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Image: Devolver Digital

So we got a little misty-eyed booting up The Plucky Squire, even with Turner sitting next to us. It’s a clear passion project from the former Pokémon series art director and his co-director Jonathan Biddle (or Bidds, as he’s affectionately known) who was a designer on The Swords of Ditto. And that passion bleeds from every single colour on the in-game book's pages and every nook and cranny of the table that book lays on. “We love Nintendo games,” Turner told us while we were playing through the demo, “A lot of that comes through, I think.”

And we couldn’t agree more. Even from our short time with it, The Plucky Squire felt like something Nintendo itself would make, even without playing it on Switch. The parallels to Zelda, in particular, are evident, but it’s all done in such a whimsical, child-like way that pays loving homage to a particular green tunic-wearing adventurer. Jot’s feather cap, brown boots, and simple design all fit the template for a kids' hero, one that the player can create a range of possible futures and storylines for outside of the one the book presents.

The Plucky Squire plays in both top-down 2D and 3D. The 2D sections all take place in the book itself, while the 3D sections see Jot jump out of the book and onto Sam’s desk. We played through Chapter 6, which takes place in a mountainous region leading to a mining town in the book, while the desk is more space-like, with rocket ship art, alien stickers, and more adorning the surfaces. Every single sticker in the game is designed by a different artist or friend of Turner and Biddle. The parallels between the desk and the book in this level are clever, but the visual and thematic discrepancies are just the start of the relationship between these two worlds.

The goal of the chapter, and the main plot point of The Plucky Squire, is to get rid of the mechanical – the “anti-creative” as Turner puts it. Enemies throw tomatoes at Jot – kind of like how dissatisfied theatre audiences once threw tomatoes at performers — a really delightful touch that hammers home that fracture between the creative and mechanical. Progress in the book will be blocked by machine-like structures that use a completely different art style to the sketched-out, thick line art of the storybook. Gears separated the mountains from the mining town, and the only way to fix that was by leaving the book.

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Image: Devolver Digital

To do this, Jot has to use the green portals. Once on the desk, Jot can collect items or change things to progress through the book. If the book-based sections are like top-down Zelda, then the table part we played through is much closer to a small, explorable Super Mario Galaxy-type level with secrets to uncover. Every single chapter has a 2D and 3D section, with the table levels taking place at different times of day — it was nighttime for the space one we played through, for example, which set the tone perfectly for a space-inspired adventure.

Almost everything Jot can do in the book, he can also do on the table. Sword slashes are identical, and of course, he has his own little spinning sword-slash. The hero can even throw his sword like a boomerang and call it back. On the page, perspective isn’t an issue, either – because the 'world' is flat, Jot can swipe enemies that are technically a level above him, because that plane doesn’t really exist in the book. You can’t do that on the table, but you can attack in all directions. Eventually, you'll be able to buy new attacks and skills using the Lightbulbs you collect throughout the level, too.

Chapter 6’s table does give us something new to play with, though – a jetpack. Turner told us not every single level will have a gimmick like this, but the more open structure, and theming, of the table for this level allowed the team to get creative. We had to save a little jetpack’s dad – who is on one of the mugs on the table – by collecting the dad's three broken pieces, and this involved completing objectives or minigames.

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Image: Devolver Digital

We got a little lost on the table, and Turner admitted that there was still work to be done regarding signposting. But with his guidance, we were able to uncover these. One piece involves helping out the Jelly King, and you have to light multiple tea-light candles on the table. Some of these were hidden behind the books on the table; others off to the side which involved some tricky platforming to get round the front of the table. The Plucky Squire’s 3D sections play with perspective in fun ways and let you soak in the design and layout of the table. This felt like a desk we could’ve had as a kid, with paper clips, tape, toys, and more just dotted around. And how do you light the candles? With the jetpack, of course.

Because of the care and attention to detail, the 3D sections feel much bigger than they really are. You can jump into many of the drawings on the table – as long as those portals are there – and oftentimes you must to get to the next location. 2D action is not locked to the book either, which is demonstrated perfectly when we collected the last piece, which takes place in what looks like an ‘80s cartoon illustration set in an apocalyptic world.

What’s great about these 2D worlds on the table is that they all utilise very different art styles. One long strip of paper looked like a child had scribbled all over it; others looked like night lights. But this ‘80s cartoon section goes a step further and throws you into a completely different kind of game – a side-scrolling shooter, complete with Jot buffing and becoming an ‘80s action man. The art style, mixed in with the fantastic arcade-style music accompanying the section, came together to create something magical to make us gasp. It speaks to that level of creativity and passion that All Possible Futures seems to be bursting with. Plus, we were promised there would be plenty more sections like this throughout the game. We can’t wait.

Everything about The Plucky Squire filled us with child-like glee and captures the idea of finding “a new surprise on every page,” as Turner put it. From the minimalistic UI to the story being narrated by British actor Philip Bretherton – perhaps best known for playing Alastair Deacon in the BBC show As Time Goes By – it feels like a story brought to life; a blend of Jackanory and projections of a child’s imagination. We miss being kids with boundless creativity and a world of possibilities ahead of us, and The Plucky Squire made us feel like we’d recaptured that feeling. We’re desperate to get another taste of it.

The Plucky Squire is planned for release later this year. How excited are you for this? Get sketching in the comments to share your thoughts.