Believe it or not, while Nintendo themselves have turned their backs on the Wii U and refuse to bring any more games to the platform, with many indie devs doing the same, there is still some devs out there who refuse to let the Wii U go quietly out into the night and one such dev is Starfall Studios’ Michael Sullivan. Not only is he a fan of the console, but he’s still brining the upcoming Sneaky Ninja to it, so out of our own love for the Wii U, we got in touch, sent over a few questions and an all-new Wii U interview happened and today, you get to see how it turned out!
In typical interview fashion. Would you mind introducing yourself to our readers and tell us about your position with Starfall Studios? How did the Starfall Studios come together and what is your involvement with Sneaky Ninja?
Michael Sullivan: Sure thing! My name’s Michael Sullivan, and I’m pretty much all of Starfall Studios. I’m the only artist and programmer, so 99% of everything you see is done by me, except for the music (which you don’t see, you hear). I started Starfall Studios out of college with a few friends, but once they got full-time jobs they didn’t have the time to directly help out with development anymore — Sneaky Ninja started with me on my own, though, so going back to (basically) being on my own wasn’t a huge deal!
Thank you, and now with the introduction out of the way, we can properly commence with the interview.
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Sneaky Ninja in a Nutshell:
Miketendo64: For our readers who have no idea what Sneaky Ninja is, would you mind filling them in on exactly what it is?
Michael Sullivan: Sneaky Ninja is a 2D stealth platformer, which I call the stealth game that Nintendo would make; it’s halfway between Mario and Mark of the Ninja, combining light-hearted platforming with tactical stealth action for a new kind of ninja experience! It’s truly a game for all ages and all skill levels, with different difficulty modes that radically change the gameplay from a casual action game on Grasshopper mode to a hardcore test of your sneaking skills on Grandmaster mode for true stealth fans.
The story centers on a lost young ninja named Taro who finds himself wandering through an ancient forest being invaded by the Samurai army. The forest had been protected by the Spirits’ magic for a hundred years, but suddenly began to fade, and the ninja are once again under attack by the relentless Samurai. Taro joins fellow ninjas Shoji the Sensei, Kaida the Sharpshooter, and Miyu the Geisha on their journey to the spirit shrine to find out what happened to the spirits and stop the Samurai before they wipe out their ninja clan for good!
Sneaky Ninja’s Inspiration:
Miketendo64: Described as being the stealth game Nintendo would make as it is a mix of Mario and the Mark of the Ninja, obviously it draws inspiration from both of those, but what other games is Sneaky Ninja inspired by?
Michael Sullivan: Mario is definitely the biggest inspiration by far. When I was trying to decide what game I wanted to make, I knew I wanted it to have its roots in Mario, my all-time favorite franchise, but I also loved stealth games, so I decided to combine the two. Fun fact: I actually started making Sneaky Ninja a few months before Mark of the Ninja was announced — October 2011 vs. February 2012. I took some inspiration after the fact, once it released, but it didn’t influence the initial idea at all (since it couldn’t have). Another fun fact: Kirby is the most common comparison I hear, mostly due to the round blobby characters, but to be totally honest (and I get yelled at a lot for this), I’ve barely played any Kirby games. It’s just an easy art style to draw and animate!
So that’s a few things I WASN’T inspired by. As for actual inspirations… Paper Mario (64) was a big one in terms of tone and story. I loved the storybook feeling it had, and how it was lighthearted and silly but could be serious when it wanted to. Sneaky Ninja obviously isn’t an RPG, but it also has much more dialogue and more of a story than a typical Mario platformer, so I wanted to capture that sort of tone. Avatar: The Last Airbender was another big story influence as well, similarly in terms of the lighthearted yet serious tone as well as some story elements themselves.
There are a lot of little gameplay inspirations too that come from a variety of sources. I’m a big Smash Bros. player for example, so that influenced certain movement elements here and there, maybe even subconsciously since I’ve put so many hours into it. Developers subconsciously train their whole lives to make games just by playing them, so who knows how many little inspirations there are!
Sneaky Ninja’s Wii U Release will Follow after PC Release:
Miketendo64: Since Sneaky Ninja did meet its Kickstarter goal back in 2015, and a planned 2017 Q2/Q3 release on the cards, how close are you to achieving that goal?
Michael Sullivan: Very close. For any of you who’ve been following Sneaky Ninja’s development for a while (thank you, first of all!), you’ll know that I suck at release dates. Partly because plans for the game got a little bigger, partly because I thought I’d have more help, and partly because, well, making games is tough. This is my first fully-realized game, and it’s hard to say how long things will take until I actually do them. So, all that added up, it’s been a struggle to give an accurate release date, but I’m in the final stretch for sure. I figured it’s best to follow the old Miyamoto quote: “A delayed game is eventually good [hopefully], but a rushed game is bad forever.” I’d hate to put all this work into Sneaky Ninja just to release it in bad shape instead of giving it the extra few months it needs.
One disappointing bit of info I always need to point out, though: the Wii U version will indeed be coming out a bit later than the PC version, since it requires a little bit more work with its extra controls and optimizations, plus Nintendo’s approval process.
Miketendo64: As disappointing as that news may be, it is the standard norm many of us are used to anyway, so it’s not that disappointing thankfully.
Honouring the 2015 Wii U Kickstarter Goal:
Miketendo64: To the surprise of a few, you are actually honoring your promise of bringing Sneaky Ninja to the Wii U later on this year. Have you considered trying to bring Sneaky Ninja to the Nintendo Switch as well?
Michael Sullivan: I didn’t have it in me to be yet another developer canceling a Wii U game, for a number of reasons. People have been waiting for it since the Kickstarter, far too long for me to just cancel it now — and I’m a Nintendo fanboy at heart and of course a Wii U owner, so I’m happy to be releasing on the Wii U even if only a few people even care at this point.
About considering a Switch release… Of course! Again, Nintendo fanboy, so a Switch release is definitely something I’m itching to get to. There aren’t any 100% concrete plans just yet, but if I had to guess my next move from here, it would be a Switch release. Maybe even an expanded Director’s Cut sort of thing!
Miketendo64: As disappointing as that news may be, it is the standard norm many of us are used to anyway, so it’s not that disappointing thankfully. But what about other platforms? Are there any plans to bring Sneaky Ninja to the PlayStation4 and Xbox Ones?
Michael Sullivan: Nothing concrete, but after PC and Wii U, I’d love to get it on as many platforms as possible!
Miketendo64: Because it is coming to the Wii U, possibly even one of the last games to do so, will the Wii U version be exactly the same as the PC one or will it feature certain differences, such as utilizing the GamePad’s touch screen controls and the Wii U’s second screen?
Michael Sullivan: It won’t be exactly the same, no. There’s no way I can release a game on Wii U and not take advantage of its unique features! Unfortunately I had to scale back on some of my more ambitious ideas, like an asymmetrical multiplayer mode (sorry!), but the Gamepad will have its uses, like an on-screen inventory for quick access. Two things I hope to implement are tilting the Gamepad to pan the camera around to get a better look at the environment, which you currently use the right analog stick for, and a special two-player support mode.
This support mode is something core gamers may not find very interesting, like Mario Galaxy’s two-player mode, but it would be great for parents helping their kids or friends helping less skilled players. You’d be able to tap on the touch screen to distract enemies, or drag the ninja around to help the player get passed any platforming obstacles they couldn’t do on their own. I’m trying to make a game that all players of all skill ranges can enjoy, and this would really help out people who couldn’t play otherwise. Hopefully I have time to squeeze that in!
Sneaky Ninja’s Chosen Art Style:
Miketendo64: It goes without saying Sneaky Ninja has a lot of great art and an interesting design to it and your characters. What made you choose this particular direction and prior to committing to the one we know now, did you try out any other particular style choices?
Michael Sullivan: Thank you! The style is basically just what popped into my head when I first thought of the game. I had been planning out a separate more ambitious action RPG first at the time, when I decided it would be better to start smaller instead (if Sneaky Ninja took 5 years, I can only imagine how long that other idea would take!). That game was still going to be cartoony, but more detailed than Sneaky Ninja with chibi humans that still have actual bodies and limbs and such. When I decided to do a simpler idea, it made sense to go with a simpler art style too. Still, it’s evolved plenty throughout the years, mostly as a result of my own technical ability improving quite a bit!
Sneaky Ninja Will Have us Playing for Hours:
Miketendo64: In terms of content, just how big is the game and are there any mini-games, additional modes or even collectables that fans can look forwards to playing/collecting?
Michael Sullivan: It’s structured similar to a Mario game with different worlds that you play through. There are 6 worlds with roughly 10 levels each for a total of around 60 levels (final count to be determined!). Each world consists of about 6 regular levels, a boss level, an almost puzzle-like spirit shrine level, and several platforming-only levels.
In terms of collectibles, there are of course coins scattered throughout the level, and also three little spirit wisps, similar to Mario’s 3 special coins. These are used to purchase and upgrade your magical powers back in the hub village, so you’re gonna wanna keep an eye out for those! There’s also a hidden golden mallet somewhere in the level, which you use to hit the gong at the end for a bonus. Otherwise, you have to use a plain boring mallet, and that’s just not as cool.
One mode I still want to try to get in is tentatively called Sneak Attack! It’s inspired by the Coin Rush mode in New Super Mario Bros. 2. One problem I have when replaying level-based games is that I can never decide what level I want to play. This mode solves that: it randomly picks a certain number of levels based on a bunch of filters you choose — how many levels? From which worlds? Boss fights only? Platforming only? — and then you play through those and try to beat them all for a reward. You can even select the challenge — beat them all without any weapons, without killing any enemies, with a certain number of lives, without dying at all, or without even getting seen once!
Miketendo64: So a sizable game then? That’s going to go down well with Wii U owners who have yet to purchase a Switch!
The Way of the Sneaky Ninja (Powers & Abilities):
Miketendo64: Okay and since the Sneaky Ninja can possess/acquire magical powers such as freezing time, which powers is your favourite one to use when play-testing the game?In terms of content, just how big is the game and are there any mini-games, additional modes or even collectables that fans can look forwards to playing/collecting?
Michael Sullivan: Good question… They each definitely have their uses. Stopping time, the most powerful, uh, power in the game, is great to use once you’ve built up enough energy for it. It’s fun to try to jump on every single enemy’s head on the screen, bouncing from one to another while they’re all frozen, or throwing a shuriken at each one of them which hangs in the air until time resumes and they all get a mouthful of ninja star at the same time. Poof, the teleport power, lends itself to plenty of flashy maneuvers too!
Each character actually has their own unique ability too, and my favorite might be Kaida’s. She’s called the Sharpshooter and as you might’ve guessed, her specialty is projectile weapons. Her ability activates whenever you start aiming, slowing down time to allow you to line up the perfect shot. It’s very natural and feels awesome to jump off of ledge and slow down mid-air to send an arrow through a row of bad guys!
All about the Wii U! (Fan love and Developing for the Platform):
Miketendo64: As far as the Wii U goes, not everyone loved it, but not everyone hated it. Where do you fall in regards to this and how have you found working on the Wii U version of the game?
Michael Sullivan: For me personally, it only takes a few amazing games to make a console for me. Super Mario 3D World, Smash 4, Pikmin 3, Mario Kart 8… I don’t even need to go on, those alone make the Wii U special to me. Like I said, I’m a big Smash player, and I’ve probably logged thousands of hours into Smash 4 by now. I can’t really call it anything but a success for me!
As for working on the Wii U, it’s been very interesting. It’s the first console I’ve ever worked with and honestly it’s brought its fair share of challenges! But developers are always excited to mess around with a new way of playing. I really wish I had the resources to put a ton of extra work into the Wii U version and take better advantage of its features, like the previously mentioned asymmetrical multiplayer mode. It’s the right call to cut it, so that the game doesn’t get delayed another dozen years, but I’ll always wonder what it would’ve been like to have that mode.
Sneaky Ninja 2 Could Happen!:
Miketendo64: Although it is far too soon to say for certain, how much of an impression has Sneaky Ninja left on you? Enough to have you develop a second instalment, or will Starfall Studios’ next game be something else entirely?
Michael Sullivan: Oh, a huge impression! Sneaky Ninja has been the last 5 years of my life (which is still crazy to say). I easily have enough ideas to make a sequel if there was interest in that, and since this game was a learning process from the start, a sequel wouldn’t take nearly as much time! … Hopefully. I’d even love to take Sneaky Ninja into 3D, since I’m a huge 3D platformer fan, but that’s a much more ambitious project that I wouldn’t want to take on by myself.
That said, I of course have a ton of unrelated game ideas, including some smaller ideas which would be refreshing to do after spending 5 years on a single project. So we’ll see!
A Message for the Fans:
Miketendo64: And because there’s always time for a final question, is there anything you would like to say to your growing fanbase and supporters?
Michael Sullivan: I’d like to say thank you to those of you who’ve waited much longer than they should’ve had to, to finally get Sneaky Ninja in their hands. It’s been a long ride, and trust me, I didn’t want it to be this long! But it’s been for the best, since the game is all the better because of it. Hopefully you’ll agree once you play the final game!
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Whatever you do next Michael, I’m sure it’s going to be every bit as great as Sneaky Ninja will be and sure I can’t really say for certain, since Sneaky Ninja isn’t even out yet, but it looks great. I have a great feeling about it and it’s one of the last games coming to a console with over 13 million owners, so for the ones who don’t have a Switch, I’m sure your offering will be well received! So thank you Michael, it’s devs like you who help keep a console alive, long after its creator has put it out to pasture!