If Ninjatown isn't a game currently on your radar, it should be. The DS game, due to be released by Southpeak Games in October, has a lot going for it. Not least, the involvement of Shawn Smith, creator of Shawnimals and former Electronic Gaming Monthly editor, who designed the games starring ninjas, and a concept dreamed up by Grand Theft Auto 3 and Vice City producer Jeremy Pope.
While we've seen plenty of cute ninja artwork over the past few months though, not too many details have been divulged on this action strategy game. Which is why we've spoken to Brandon Curiel, CEO of Venan Entertainment (the studio developing Ninjatown) who told us why this game will not only out-do PS3 tower defence phenomenon Pixeljunk Monsters but be the best DS game out this year...POCKET GAMER: What made you decide to partner up with Shawnimals to make Ninjatown?
BRANDON CURIEL: The game sounded like a great concept. Jeremy Pope from Cashmere Productions came to us with a very fleshed out concept he'd been working on with Shawn Smith from Shawnimals, and we were like "wow!". We had been working on a lot of mobile projects, and were dying to jump into the DS with an amazing project, so this worked out nicely. Shawn's background in the gaming industry, as well as Jeremy's background (he was a producer of GTA3 and Vice City!) gave us a lot of confidence these guys envisioned something special.
PG: Can you tell us how many different Shawnimals will feature in the game?
BC: A lot - I don't want to list them here, so people can discover them later in the game. Some Shawnimals classics are here, like Wee Ninja (pictured), Ol Master Ninja, Mr Demon etc - but Shawn created a bunch of new ones as well. I think Shawnimals fans will love the new ones, and those unfamiliar with the Ninjatown will just love the whole package. Some characters are so stealthy you'll really have to keep your eyes peeled to catch glimpses of them!
PG: Can you tell us a bit about their special moves?
BC: Don't want to reveal all of 'em - but here are a few! Wee Ninjas and Anti-Ninjas are the most utilitarian ninjas, battling invaders with melee attacks. Most of the other ninjas used ranged attacks; White Ninjas can freeze enemies, Forest Ninjas have acorn tipped arrows, Sniper Ninjas use slingshots and wasabi peas, and Ninja Droppings use a special kind of, um, 'wind' to defend themselves. Ol Master Ninja is the wisest of the Ninjas - he watches from high above in a hot air balloon, directing the other Ninjas and occasionally he'll jump down and unleash any of his many skills, such as the 'hickory lunge', where Wee Devils find themselves on the wrong side of his cane.PG: And how will getting hold of new Ninjas work?
BC: As you progress through stages in the game, you will unlock different ninjas along with new abilities for Ol Master Ninja.
PG: What genre of game would you slot Ninjatown into? The screenshots look a little similar to Pixeljunk Monsters...
BC: We describe it as 'action strategy' but there isn't really a good reference point on the DS right now. It is definitely not comparable to a turn-based strategy game like Advance Wars. It has some elements that are similar to tower defense games like Pixeljunk Monsters, but the action is faster and you can control more throughout the battles with Ol Master Ninja. Plus there is a cohesive story to Ninjatown, complete with cutscenes, that elevates it above Pixeljunk Monsters (which is a game I love btw).
PG: Why did you decide to make Ninjatown a DS-only game? Do you think there's a possibility is will be released on other formats in the future?
BC: When we all discussed what a Ninjatown game should be like, it became clear that the DS was an ideal platform for this type of game. It is all about the stylus - accessing any part of the map instantly. We love the prospect of unleashing ninja havoc on more formats! But one thing at a time.
PG: Which of the DS's features are you using in the game? And how do the touch screen controls work?
The top screen is your information screen, which provides you with details you may need while playing. Using the stylus, you can navigate the bottom screen to survey your entire map, build ninja huts and deploy special ninjas, and enact Ol Master Ninja's abilities. The game will also make use of the DS's mic, allowing players to use special powers by doing things like blowing into the mic.
PG: Ninjatown's style is very cute; is it still a game for all age groups? What's the target age you have in mind?
BC: We certainly want Ninjatown to appeal to wide range of age groups. I think Shawn's design style is extremely unusual in that little kids immediately love it, but at the same time older gamers see the humor and love the refined design aesthetics as well. The gameplay can have the same wide range of appeal; it's almost Tetris-like in its easy learning curve and immediate addictiveness, but obviously it's much deeper. The challenge certainly ramps up for hardcore DS players, but we definitely ease gamers into the action.
Did some impromptu focus testing a while ago with a 7 year old relative, who immediately picked it up and was hooked, which was encouraging. At the same time Shawn Smith lets some of his old ex-EGM cronies try it (he used to be an editor there) and we got a great response from these guys as well, who are as hardcore as gamers get.
PG: Is this Venan's first DS title? How did it get on developing for DS?
BC: It is Venan's first shipped DS game, but we've had a lot of prior experience on our staff so we knew exactly what to expect. We never felt limited by the DS, because Ninjatown was always designed with DS controls in mind, and it's not a graphics beast or anything. Shawn's design style is simple and impactful - perfect for the DS, in my opinion.
PG: What are the multiplayer options in the game? Will it support single cart play/wi-fi/local wireless?
BC: Multiplayer in Ninjatown supports single-cart and dual cart multiplayer action locally but does not support Nintendo's wi fi hotspots. Ninjatown multiplayer plays just like the single-player game with one exception - you are now competing against another Ol' Master Ninja! The goal is create the most efficient defense of Ninjatown possible by competing to clear each wave of enemies the quickest.
PG: What's your personal favourite bit of the game?
BC: My favorite feature is the special powers you can use in the later levels of the game - but I'm very proud of the cohesiveness of the game, meaning how the game progresses in difficulty, combined with the story. It just feels right.
PG: Have you given the game to any audiences to play test yet? What have their reactions been?
BC: Of course. We've tested the hell out of Ninjatown! Response has been amazing - sometimes when developing a game you get so close to it, its hard to gauge how fun it will be to the uninitiated. But so far so good with this!
PG: What are you working on within the game at the moment? Is it almost finished?
BC: The game is done and we are just in the final stages of getting Nintendo approval.
PG: What would you say is Ninjatown's biggest selling point to stand it out from the crowd?
BC: Ninjatown brings a brand new gameplay mechanic for the DS and is packaged with an absolutely top notch story and design aesthetic. It's the best DS game of the year!Our thanks to Brandon for his time. Ninjatown will be coming to DS on October 28th.
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