Started in 2001, Shawn Smith's line of Shawnimals plush toys has continued to grow in popularity. His Wee Ninja character has been such a hit that it's now branching out into other mediums. Recently, Shawn partnered with Devil's Due Publishing to produce "Ninjatown: Adventures of the Wee Ninja," a 48-page comic by the creative team of Art Baltazar and Franco Aureliani ("Tiny Titans"), which hits stores this week.
In early October, the inhabitants of Ninjatown will make the leap into video games, when the Ninjatown game debuts on the Nintendo DS handheld console. Developed Venan Entertainment and published by South Peak Games, "Ninjatown" will allow players to control the Wee Ninjas in their epic struggle against the evil Mr. Demon and his minions.
CBR News spoke with creator Shawn Smith and Venan's Brandon Curiel about the roots of Ninjatown, and what fans can expect from the upcoming game.
CBR: With the imminent release of the comic book by Devil's Due, some people may be familiar with the Ninjatown name but not realize the larger world that Ninjatown is a part of. Could you tell us about the origins of Shanwimals and how Ninjatown fits within that world?
Shawn Smith: That's right; Ninjatown is one 'country' within the world of Shawnimals. Ninjas, like all Shawnimals, are born from an act of kindness or friendship, so they're inherently good. There are 20 different sections of Shawnimaland, each with a different species or group of species. Of course, with all good things comes evil, since balance has to be maintained. Most of this evil comes from the Dark Forest where Mr. Demon and his dark syrup tapped from the trees within change good Shawnimals bad. There are hundreds and hundreds of characters in the overall world -- over 450 at last count.
What is the basic storyline of the Ninjatown game?
SS: At its core, good versus evil. Mr. Demon who is the head bad guy is always causing trouble for Shawnimals and especially Ninjatown. The problem is he has a lot of hair-brained schemes for world domination (as any evil genius should). At the outset of this game, he comes up with a clever way to gain control of Ninjatown and eventually all of Shawnimaland by way of cookies (seriously), so he gathers his Wee Devil henchmen, and starts his advance. You'll meet Feroshi, the Mayor of Ninjatown, many new enemies and, of course, all of the Ninjas.
What made you choose the DS as the platform for the Ninjatown game?
SS: Even though we're confident about "Ninjatown," the truth is it's new and different, and the designer toy stuff we do is niche compared to the big world of gaming, so there was a practical angle to the DS focus. But way more than that, I personally love pixel-based graphics with a top-down view, and the simple, colorful world of Ninjatown jived with that perfectly. Besides, it's an incredible system that has huge potential for gameplay stuff (stylus, mic, etc.), not to mention millions of users. It ended up being a no-brainer for all of these reasons.
What are the gameplay elements we can expect to see in "Ninjatown?"
Brandon Curiel: "Ninjatown" is at its heart a strategic game with RTS and action elements, but I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to straight RTS fans.
Is the game structured into missions or chapters, or is it more open world? Â
BC: The game is broken up into nine chapters of up to four missions each, with each chapter taking place in a new area of Ninjatown (suburbs, business district, dark forest, etc). The game is linear in its progression, but players can always go back and replay previous missions.
Will there be a multiplayer mode? Â If so, can you play with one copy of the game, or will each person need to have a copy?
BC: There is competitive multiplayer, and we support playing the game with one copy.
What is the expected length of the game?
BC: Depending on your skill level, the single player will probably take about 8-10 hours (not counting the maps you will want to replay over).
Shawn, In a previous life, you worked in the videogame industry. How did that experience inform what you wanted to do with the Ninjatown game?
SS: It was surreal for the longest time, but early on being on the 'other side' of it helped me stay objective. Of course, there's that initial 'holy shit!' moment when we played it for the first time, but after that since the visuals were early and the gameplay itself was just a skeleton with AI, I could take off my Shawnimals hat and put on my reviewer hat and look at it through that lens. Strip away the ninjas and ask: Does it play well? Is it fun? What would make it better? A lot of the same questions I asked myself when I reviewed games back in the day, ultimately making for a better game.
Do you see "Ninjatown" as the start of a franchise? What other elements of the Shawnimals world would you like to see in a video game?
SS: I hesitate to say yes only because it's strange to think about, but nothing would please me more. I grew up playing all of the great 8- and16-bit franchises, so to think there could be more Ninjatown or Shawnimals games is a trip. As for other elements, the world of Ninjatown still has a ton of untapped storylines and tangents, and beyond that, we have many developed countries (Hot Dog Kingdom, Moustachio Territory, Foodlandia, etc.) so the sky is the limit.
Is the Ninjatown game still on target for an early October release?
BC: We're right on schedule.
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