Following Peppa Pig’s capable reign as the most bearable option for overwhelmed parents looking for respite from the gaudy assault that is preschooler TV, a family of Australian dogs has set a new standard for what kids’ shows can offer grownups. That family are the Heelers, stars of the tremendously popular children’s animated sitcom Bluey – at one point Australia’s most watched television programme, and more popular than Succession in the US.
Sharp, funny, beautiful and poignant, Bluey is focused on the misadventures inherent in life aged six and under; but also, it frankly reflects the parenting experience. For half its audience, its most touching moments are those where canine mum and dad, Chilli and Bandit, juggle the stress and pride of watching their offspring learn a life lesson, or joke with one another when their parenting isn’t quite on point.
Considering the success of Ludo Studio’s creation, a video game adaptation was inevitable. Getting that right would mean trying to make something primarily for youngsters, that was also a game about parenting. The task fell to Spanish studio Artax, working with UK publisher Outright, previously known for games based on the merchandising-industrial complex that is Paw Patrol.
“You can see the parents in Bluey as almost perfect parents, but they’re very real too, with the flaws we all have,” says Vincent Grogan, an Outright production director – and parent – who has spent months steeped in Bluey lore. “They are so full of play, and these great ideas for play. And I really think watching Bluey has helped me be a better parent. Bluey is a show about playing together as a family, so we started to consider how we could do all that in a kids’ game. And that really began with Ludo and the BBC.”
A relationship with the animation studio behind Bluey and the broadcaster that co-commissioned it granted Artax and Outright the opportunity to bring on the voice talent behind Chilli and Bandit, and secure access to Ludo’s artwork and materials.
“We had regular calls with people from the team that have worked on the show from all different aspects, including visual design, which let us scope out and recreate the house,” says Grogan. “Dan Brumm, the sound designer for the show, provided the sound effects. He also plays Uncle Stripe, so we gained that too. And we have Joff Bush’s Bluey music … we and Artax really immersed ourselves in the show.”
The result of that effort is an adventure game set in the Heeler household and other locations from particularly popular Bluey episodes. The gameplay borrows a fair amount from classic point ’n’ clicks such as the renowned Monkey Island series, letting you explore, collect items and solve puzzles. Tucked away areas reveal balls or toys that can be played with just for fun, letting you behave like a true Heeler. And while it’s entirely playable solo, Grogan and the team were keen to make sure families could play together.
“It’s possible to play with any of the four main Heeler family – Bluey, Bingo, Mum and Dad – at any time with up to four players at once,” Grogan says. “This provides the opportunity for parents and families to play along with their children or family members just like we know many families watch the show together.
“You can play in your regular roles, with the parents attempting to keep things on track and focus on the mission at hand, or explore at your own pace … There’s nothing to say you can’t swap roles and allow the kids to become the parents.”