Review Fix chats with Mike Levine of HappyGiant, who discusses the upcoming Usagi Yojimbo mobile game, which is due out this summer. A 2D brawler with attitude, Levine said the game draws its influences from classics like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Castle Crashers.
Review Fix: What was it like to create a game around such a classic character?
Michael Levine: Well, it was an amazing experience. Daunting perhaps at times, but more fun. Getting to work with so many of the characters and plot-lines was incredible, but most of all to work with Stan Sakai directly on it was something I will always cherish.
Review Fix: Is there any added pressure considering it’s been a quarter of a century since a game based on this character has been released?
Levine: Well, I guess there was. We looked at it more an an exciting new opportunity. I remember the old game and have respect for it, but we set out to make something quite different. And it’s been so long since that game, its really and apples to oranges type comparison. The comic has amazing stories, intertwined with amazing action and fight scenes, and that’s exactly what we tried to re-create.
Review Fix: Were there any other ideas for the genre of the game? Or were you guys dead set on a 2D hack and slash?
Levine: We toyed around with other control schemes – making something more “Phone Friendly” some would say, but not only did we look games like this on the phones (OMG Pirates! comes to mind), we also want to bring the game to PCs, so to make it too “phone-centric” would make that harder to do. We also thought about doing it in 3D. Our other pet sim game “Dolphin Paradise: Wild Friends” is 3D and we have this capability, but in the end, we wanted to stay true to the look of the comic. So we went 2D.
Review Fix: How closely did you work with Dark Horse on the game?
Levine: Dark Horse was incredible. I can’t say enough great things about them, and how they welcomed us into their booths at San Diego and New York Comic Cons to promote the game. They were an incredible resource for comics, art, logos and more to assist us. They have also been amazing in our press outreach. Dark Horse rules.
Review Fix: Can you discuss the story a bit? Will fans of the comic feel at home right away?
Levine: Sure. To your question of the fans feeling at home – we certainly think and hope so. And so far the comments we are seeing echo that. It was very important to us to make the fans of the comic happy and have the game be true and loyal to it. Working with Stan, getting his blessings on the story, the art and the dialog, was critical to us. We decided to go pretty epic with the story. I was honestly nervous Stan was going to shoot the idea down, but he loved it! He was so great to work with! Everything you hear about him is true and then some. Fans of the comic are very familiar with the sacred sword “Grasscutter.” They probably are the most famous of the Usagi books. They re-tell one of Japan’s most famous legends, concerning the three sacred objects of Japan. I don’t want to give it away, but our storyline revisits this, and allowed us to involve many of the characters from the comics – the different ninja groups, Lord Hebi and his warriors, and even many Yokai (evil spirits) and other creatures and boss monsters, pulled right from the comic. There are seven comic book-like cutscenes in the game, as well as many many in game cutscenes to progress the story. The story is a big part of this game.
Review Fix: What is your favorite aspect/element of the game so far?
Levine: Boy that’s tough. The dust is still settling. I really loved it all. I loved being able to work with the characters and story, and I loved the combat mechanics, special moves and combos we were able to implement.
Review Fix: What has the development process been like so far?
Levine: We created the game with Unity and its been great. We developed a fairly complex art path system, where we animated all the art in Maya, and then brought it into Unity. Since Unity isn’t really made to do this, this did take some time to get right. That was the biggest issue we faced, other than just getting in the boatload of content this game has in it.
Review Fix: What games do you think this title draws its influences from?
Levine: Mainly classic 2D brawlers, namely the TMNT old retro arcade game, which is loved still to this day by so many. Also as I mentioned OMGPirates! and other mobile titles like it. I also personally love Castle Crashers and while this is a much simpler game than CC, it was most definitely influenced by it.
Review Fix: How do you want the game to be remembered?
Levine: As a game that was fun and stayed true to the comic, and was enjoyed by fans of the comic, yet also helped to re-introduce it to new generation of fans. Usagi has been around so long, people I think tend to take it for granted – but Stan and Usagi is something that should come back to the forefront, as there is really nothing like it. Stan does it all, which is so rare and so amazing. I hope everyone runs out and picks up some of the comics as well.