Developer Interview: WayForward Technologies on the First Days of the Wii U eShop

High and Mighty

Californian developer WayForward Technologies is a long-time supporter of Nintendo and its hardware. Often noted for its proficiency with 2D, the company has worked on all manner of titles on several Nintendo platforms, from licenced games to its own original properties such as Shantae and the Mighty series. For the launch of the Wii U eShop, WayForward prepared a high definition version of the latest entry in the latter series, Mighty Switch Force, which was previously released on the 3DS eShop.

Mighty Switch Force: Hyper Drive Edition puts you in the big metal boots of futuristic cop Patricia Wagon as she attempts to put escaped convicts the Hooligan Sisters back behind bars. With your siren-emitting helmet you can move certain blocks between the foreground and background to create platforms or crush enemies, which makes for some very clever puzzling that often requires a decent sense of timing. The HD release includes five additional bonus stages, plus Hyper versions of each level. It's all presented in a gorgeous cartoon style that bursts from the screen, whether you're playing on the television or off-TV on the GamePad.

WayForward received Wii U development kits “very early on” and decided to work on an eShop title for the system before the digital store was even formalised. It's a familiar approach for the team which, being close to Nintendo, took the same stance when it came to WiiWare and DSiWare. “If Nintendo offers a service, you can bet we're interested,” enthuses Matt Bozon, WayForward's creative director. “Heck, we even tried to get on the card e-Reader back in 2002 and got – as far as I know – the only external US dev kit. But alas, that's the one that got away.”

Despite the early start, Mighty Switch Force: Hyper Drive Edition's development still went down to the wire. “For all our planning, we still ended up scrambling,” Matt laughs. “It's the nature of a launch. It's kind of a moving target, with minor features being improved up to the last minute." He reveals that WayForward took a cautious approach in developing two launch titles simultaneously, though along the way one project was diverted into a different eShop altogether. "We actually hedged our bets by creating two launch games, and Plan B was Mighty Switch Force HD. Good thing for Plan B! Plan A transformed into the Shantae 3DS game we announced recently.”

In terms of working with Nintendo, WayForward seems very happy indeed. “Nintendo has rolled out the red carpet for us since WiiWare,” says Matt. “They know we love them and want to bring something special to every launch if we possibly can. I felt like we received a very warm reception and got excellent placement in the shop.”

At $9.99 / £8.99, Hyper Drive Edition is just under double the price of the vanilla 3DS version, which comes in at $5.99 / £5.40. Matt explains that the team felt it was a fair price given that, with the introduction of new levels and the Hyper mode, the Wii U release contains roughly twice the amount of content. “As part of the first round of indie titles, it didn't make a lot of sense to kick things off feeling oddly cheap relative to Virtual Console titles. Mainly we felt that it's the appropriate value for how much work and expense goes in. At $10 we can make a little bit of money and help fund the next game.”

Matt claims that Nintendo did “an excellent job” of showing WayForward whatever it could when it came to the eShop, but it wasn't until launch day that he was exposed to the final “consumer's experience” — when he purchased his own Wii U. Matt's enthusiasm shines through in his tale of the system's launch night. “We were so excited,” he laughs. “Though we have access to some release hardware, the fan in me needs to stand in the long line at midnight and swap stories and nerd out. I have to buy one myself, otherwise it’s like I missed out on the launch, you know? We hit up every store in town at midnight and then at 7:00 AM the next day to watch the action. I think by around 4:00 PM we walked out of Toys R Us with one more Pro Controller, and hit the sushi bar. And yes, I drag my family with me. It’s a bonding moment, like downloading Jirachi.”

“So far I like it,” Matt comments on the eShop's current layout. “But I'm eager to see a billion Virtual Console games in there. I'm not sure how all that's going to work, assuming it's coming.” The reaction is positive from a functionality point of view, with "fast loading videos, ratings, Miiverse" mentioned as particular positives, though Matt has a few suggestions for further features down the line. “I'm anxious for ways to view or share my game collection," he adds. "And I'd love to get some kind of editorial feature on there. Maybe that's wishful thinking, but I'm already missing Nintendo Power." The eShop's GamePad-centric nature is also an early winner: “I really like that it's all contained on the controller screen. I use the Wii U with a TV turned on only 25% of the time, on average.”

The reaction to Mighty Switch Force: Hyper Drive Edition has been excellent, both in terms of reviews and direct user communication. “We were receiving Miiverse posts immediately!” Matt exclaims. “And for user feedback and review – incredible. We’re still the top rated Metacritic score for Wii U launch worldwide, including the retail titles. […] Oh, update on that… it looks like Mass Effect 3 has tied us now. Nintendo Life, could you bump our score up by point zero one percent?”

Currently Matt and Austin Ivansmith, the director of Mighty Switch Force: Hyper Drive Edition, are monitoring Miiverse for feedback on a “daily” basis. The developer plans to integrate Nintendo's social network into its titles more at some point in the future. “We're definitely supporting it. We'd also like to try some innovative ideas with Miiverse, since there could be options for sharing data of some sort.”

For now WayForward is remaining tight-lipped on Mighty Switch Force HD's sales figures, since the console has only been out for a short time and Christmas is just around the corner. “Really, it's too early to tell. We imagine a lot of Wii U systems are under the tree right now,” Matt notes. However, there are “definitely” future plans for the Wii U eShop and the console as a whole. He spells out a positive outlook for WayForward and Wii U to conclude.

“If it’s anything like DSiWare, we’ll test the waters a bit and then try to roll out something a bit heftier. That’s a prediction, not a reveal of some secret project. I just see a lot of patterns in the way we work. Multiple Wii U retail titles for sure, and Wii U eShop exclusives are very likely too. From my own experience, the system is a game changer.”

We'd like to thank Matt Bozon for his time. Look out for our Wii U eShop launch interview with Tomorrow Corporation soon, as well as a staff round table focused on the platform.

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