Nintendo’s DSiWare portal has been with us for a few weeks now, and while the opening salvo of software has been mildly interesting it could be argued that service lacks a true ‘killer app’ to convince gamers that it’s able to go toe-to-toe with Apple’s App Store.

Thankfully, we may not have to wait much longer. WayForward Technologies - the chaps responsible for the sublime Contra 4 on the Nintendo DS - are currently hard at work putting the finishing touches to Mighty Flip Champs.

Understandably hungry for more information, we spoke to Matt Bozon (Designer/Director), Mark Bozon (Co-Designer) and Chris Losorelli (Lead Programmer).

Pocket Gamer: Can you explain the basic premise of Mighty Flip Champs for us?

Matt: The player controls this tiny girl we named Alta, who can run around and climb on fences in miniature rooms, almost to the scale of the classic game Burger Time.

You're given two rooms: the one you exist in displayed on the top screen, and the next room in a series of rooms is shown on the bottom screen. When you get as far as you can in the current room, you flip the next one up, and it slams into place.

Now you exist in the new chamber. Eventually you shuffle through the stack and are back in room one. It’s a new way to navigate a space that leads to all kinds of cool platforming puzzles.

Is it true that the game is entirely puzzle-based and features no enemy characters to fight against?

Mark: Back in the game’s pure concept form, Matt and I really talked out ideas around enemy types, mobility, items, and all that. In the end, though, flipping is what this game is all about. Level design makes this one, since you really feel like you’re trying to solve someone else’s puzzle, or riddle. It’s this great connection between player and level designer.

Chris: Enemies and antagonists would add a layer of complexity we hoped to avoid. Questions would come up around interactions between the player and the enemy, and what effect it has on the puzzle.

There were some ideas involving the ‘fish man’ and the keys moving throughout the level, but, again, that added a layer of complexity and interaction that would change the game (not to mention some really mind boggling level design).

Mark: When you play Mighty Flip Champs, it’s just you and the puzzle, and I think players will appreciate it for in that sense. It’s a fresh take on traditional puzzling.

How will players control the game? Can we expect to see the stylus being used at any point?

Matt: The game controls are purposefully limited to the D-pad and the “Page Flip” move, which is assigned to every face button. We use the touchscreen as a way of marking your position, which is a handy feature. But the real innovation comes from how we’re using the dual screens.

Mark: Exactly. I’m amazed at how often developers use the touchscreen for DS, but the second screen has been pushed aside, using it for things like maps, stats, and the like.

DS needs more core ideas, and while you can’t look at both screens at once, you can use both within gameplay in ways no other platform can. The idea of making a game that only works on a specific system - like dual screens with DS - is where real innovation is going to come from. It’s an idea that only works on DS.

How does the ability to ‘flip’ the screen affect the gameplay?

Chris: There was some debate as to how to do it, but with the help of technology we developed on previous games, implementing the mechanic was very easy. The visual effect took a little bit of magic to make it look just right.

Mark: The screen flipping really IS the gameplay. Rather than moving from left to right like a conventional puzzler, or going through Zelda-like labyrinths, each room is taken on one at a time, but you may not see the paths you need to take until you’ve gotten a feel for each stage in its entirety.

There’s a serious ramp-up in this game, but it’s also a balanced difficulty increase for sure. Most players won’t have problems getting through the first half of the game, but it’ll take some creative minds to see the finale.

What’s really interesting, though, is that designing levels for this type of game is almost as tough as playing them. When you play it, you’re trying to get into the designer’s mind.

When we build it, though, we have to do the same thing. Build the concept, account for player movements, and then patch things up through lots of testing to make sure players can’t sucker-punch the game with any exploits.

Oh, and once you think you’ve got a level done, you’ve got the ranking system encouraging you to go back and speed run them. The first way through isn’t always the fastest…

Did any other games influence you when it came to creating Mighty Flip Champs?

Matt: We took some inspiration from our Game Boy Color game Wendy: Every Witch Way, which in turn was inspired by Metal Storm on NES. But we all learned about navigating parallel worlds from Zelda: A Link to the Past, so ultimately that game is the grand daddy of these kinds of concepts.

Mark: I’ve always felt like Wendy for GBC was really my first project in the industry, so for Matt and I to create a game that feels like a spiritual successor to a lot of the concepts and feelings we put into Every Witch Way is a pretty special thing for me.

Like Wendy, Flip is a tiny team, it has a lot of ideals and originality that the old “WayForward Pocket Team” got its initial fan base off of, and I can’t wait for gamers to give this one a shot. It may seem like an entirely “out there” concept, but there’s a lot of history building up to this one, and it’s been awesome working with my bro again on it.

Roughly how long has it taken you to get Mighty Flip Champs to the stage it’s at now?

Matt: The game is complete now. The entire development was around two months, with the testing and publishing process adding a third.

Chris: I had jumped on the project full time about a week or two in after helping get it going part time the first two weeks.

I'd never been described as 'Pepto-bismol for the soul' before. Like Matt said though, about two months and it went very smoothly because we stuck to the core gameplay mechanic of simply flipping.

How long will the game take an average player to complete and can we expect any additional gameplay modes?

Chris: I'd venture a guess at about 3-5 hours to simply finish all of the levels, but to gain an S-Rank on every level could take several more hours. We had another director at WayForward who became obsessed with speeding up his times for the S-Rank, which was nice to see and I hope the player gains the same obsession.

What kind of price point will the game retail at?

Matt: We aren’t able to announce the price yet, but it’s going to be a great value. Get your Nintendo Points ready!

What’s it like developing such a game within the 40MB limit imposed by Nintendo for DSiWare titles? Have you been forced to leave anything out of the game?

Chris: The 40MB limit is larger than many of the retail games we've made before. 40MB was actually a nice bit of breathing room in case we needed it, but since we've been making handheld games for so long, the ROM-size was never an issue.

Given the easily updatable nature of digital downloads, are you open to the idea of offering additional levels for Mighty Flip Champs at a later date?

Matt: We could, but I think we’d rather do a sequel. It’s nice to get a whole new package with new ideas.

Mark: More levels are all well and good, but it’s also “more of the same”. With a service as open as DSi is, we could keep pushing the series rather than just adding on top of it.

Flip Champs will be worth your cash on its own, but if we’ve got the time, cash, and fan support to devote more time to it, I’m with Matt on this one. We’ve already got some great ideas for a sequel…

What part of the game are you most proud of?

Matt: I love how WayForward got behind the title and made it happen so quickly. We had a lot of support for this game.

Chris: The speed and overall smooth process of making the game itself. Knowing exactly what the game you're making is the most important part of game development.

Mark: Matt and Chris hit it on the head. I’ve had the privilege to work with WayForward a lot over the years, but as kind of an “outsider looking in” to a certain extent, it’s awesome to see the company backing both WiiWare and DSiWare so much.

There’s a huge amount of passion at the company, and it’s as if the digital download market has really let it shine. Hopefully these games take off and find their fans, because there are a lot more designs out there!

Regarding your previous titles, Contra 4 was particularly well-received. What was it like working on such a highly-regarded franchise? Did you feel any pressure to perform?

Matt: There was a lot of pressure. We were given the chance to create a new Contra, but we weren’t satisfied to stop there. We also wanted to bring the franchise back by cataloging all of the winning concepts from past games, tossing out parts that felt wrong for the series, and then collecting all of the memorable works from the series history to celebrate the 20th anniversary.

These weren’t required by Konami. It was something that we felt we owed the series. So we worked tirelessly to achieve all of those goals, and I think it’s going to be easier to create new Contra games now that the series is back on rails.

Amazingly, Contra 4 still hasn’t been released in Europe – can you shed any light on this?

Matt: I wish I knew more. We created a lot of content especially for Contra fans in Europe. Including Probotector as an unlockable hero was sort of an “inside joke” between ourselves and Contra fans in Europe.

Can you tell us a little about A Boy and His Blob? A while back it was announced for the DS - is that still the case or is it Wii-only now?

Matt: Before WayForward pitched the Wii game, I heard there was a DS Blob being developed at Majesco. But there’s no connection to the Wii Blob game currently in development.

I’m hoping to see the WayForward take on this classic franchise so we can see it on other platforms. I really like what the Blob team has done to streamline the experience, and the new look of A Boy and his Blob is very endearing.

It wouldn’t be fair of to conduct an interview with you guys without mentioning the incredibly popular Shantae. Are there any plans to resurrect this franchise in the future? Possibly on the DS, or maybe even as a DSiWare title?

Matt: We’re using Mighty Flip Champs as a way to gauge fan interest, and to see how the DSiWare service performs. We’d like to do a Shantae sequel for DSiWare.

What’s your opinion of the DSiWare service so far?

Mark: DSiWare is what the DS truly needed. Here you have a system with limitless possibilities, but getting games published and manufactured can be a pain.

With DSiWare, one great concept can carry a game. It’s a return to roots, in a way. NES games were always about that “one great idea” you just couldn’t find anywhere else. DSiWare allows for quick bursts of great concepts, and removes a lot of the red tape in the process. A good idea can really thrive.

Plus, with a company like WayForward (and I’m sure many others), you’ve got guys that know the hardware, are dying to get ideas out there, but have all these hurdles that stop it from happening. DSiWare is a way of allowing awesome games to be made without any red tape, and it’s a direction our industry needs to move in.

Chris: I like not having to compete for shelf space. A year from now, you'll be able to find any game you want with ease.

If you have a great, focused idea, then it can flourish on DSiWare. The great idea you have might not warrant the scope and production of a $30 retail game, but it's still a very fun idea that is a great deal at DSiWare prices.

Matt: We’re hoping players will regularly download games and keep the service booming. Really. You can’t beat the prices, and so far the quality bar in what we’ve seen so far is very high.

Have you considered branching out on the PSP and iPhone, or are you sticking with Nintendo hardware for the time being?

Matt: We love PSP and iPhone and want to develop for them. But, many of us were cut from the Nintendo cloth… the plumber blood runs thick. For now, we’re buried in Wii and DS development, and it’s a happy place to be. That said, expect to see WayForward show up on other platforms in the future.

Our thanks to Matt, Mark and Chris for their time.