Another day, another Goomba.
It's World 1-1 and Mario sets off on another adventure. He runs to the right to find the obligatory '?' Blocks and the first Goomba dutifully trundling towards him. The lowly henchman - if that label is appropriate for a 'mushroom' with feet - never stops, and probably doesn't believe he'll ever 'get' the plumber; he's a test subject, a squidgy stepping-stone as the player gets to grips with the basics of running, jumping and, yes, landing on enemies. That is his lot. Poor little guy.
Well, Swedish developer Retroid thought it was about time that gamers got to see the world from the side of the lowly enemy fodder sent to intercept 'heroes' with abilities far superior to their own. One-button 2D platformer Wunderling is coming to Switch in early 2020 check out the trailer at the bottom of the page) and puts you in the shoes of a Goomba-like creature gifted the ability to jump and tasked with tracking down Carrotman before he can save Princess Pea.
We had the chance to ask Niklas Istenes, CEO of Retroid, about the game, its inspirations and what a Wunderling actually is...
Nintendo Life: Your last in-house developed game was PictoParty for Wii U back in 2015. Tell us a little about what’s been happening with Retroid in the past four years.
Niklas Istenes: We made PictoParty with a technology called NWF (Nintendo Web Framework) and we focused on games we could make with that kind of technology. However, after a meeting with Nintendo we knew that they wouldn't support NWF for their next console (at the time codenamed NX), so our development stopped for those game ideas and we ported PictoParty to Android and iOS using chromecast as the TV receiver, creating an environment similar to Wii U. It didn't remotely sell as well. After that we hired more people for our upcoming title (Wunderling) which is made in Unreal Engine 4, started porting games and rebranded our logo.
In Wunderling you take on the role of a waddling enemy goon in the Goomba mould. How did the idea of playing as lowly, common enemy develop into a full game?
Some game designers think that limitations stagnate creativity while others think it can boost it. I've always been fascinated by limitations in games, especially one-button games. There is so much you can do with a single button to both create interesting challenges but also make it accessible for people having a hard time using multiple buttons and analogue stick at the same time. We wanted to create an accessible platform game that just required one button.
We started with just a black square that moved back and forth, bouncing against the walls and could jump when a button was pressed. When it came to story we asked ourselves "what creature can't stop and can only change direction when hitting a wall?". Then it became clear, a lot of early low-level platform game enemies had this behaviour! And so, the Wunderling was born.
Were there any particular inspirations when it came to designing and developing Wunderling?
We based a lot of it from one of our older games called Cow Dash, but also Wind-Up Knight was an inspiration. We truly believe that Wunderling is unique in the way we mix platforming, story and puzzle elements.
The game is perfect to play on the bus or train as most levels are bite-sized
The ability to jump really turns the protagonist’s prospects around – what other moves or tricks does he learn throughout the game?
We experimented with a lot of different mechanics, everything from being able to slow down, to do some sort of downward attack. In the final game you'll learn to boost (limited by a cooldown), wall jump which changes the game drastically (since you only change direction when on the ground, you can now do it against any wall that allows wall jump) and finally a dash attack which lets you do a straight forward airborne attack.
The game can be played with a single hand, which sounds very mobile-friendly. It’s also coming to PC, but how do you think Wunderling benefits from being on Switch?
The game is perfect to play on the bus or train as most levels are bite-sized. Also, the pixelart looks fantastic in handheld mode! One of the features of playing on Switch is that you can play the game with just one joycon, leaving the other hand free for other activities such as eating cake or drinking soda.
In a similar way to the ambiguously fungal Goombas, Wunderling looks a bit like some sort of fruit and vegetable hybrid. Maybe a potato or a lemon? What exactly is Wunderling?
So the game takes place in a world called the Vegetable Kingdom. Every creature here is a vegetable, the citizens, Princess Pea, Carrot man, the evil witch Kohlrabi, [everyone] except Dash the Cow and the Wunderlings. So we haven't actually defined what a Wunderling is, but we've asked at every event and convention we showed the game and these are some of the answers we got: Mango, Potato, Lime, Lemon, Pear, Fat Banana Man, Pumpkin and more. We seriously don't know, what do you think?
Retroid has a growing number of Switch ports under its belt, so you must have got to know the system very well. Is there any particular area that you’d like to see improved upon in future iterations of the console that would make your jobs easier?
The Switch is an amazing system to develop for! Sure, it is a bit underpowered because it's a mobile device, but it has a lot of modern tech inside of it making a lot of different titles easy to port. Of course it would help if the system was even more powerful to compete with PS4 and Xbox One to have the ports more on par with those systems. But aside from performance it has good tools for getting the job done, from HD rumble to input and the title submission process.
You’re now involved in a partnership with publisher Thunderful – will they be publishing Wunderling? What’s your relationship with them?
We have a great relationship with Thunderful! We are based in the same town, we have a lot of friends who work there and we've been working with them since Hellfront: Honeymoon. We always try to help each other out and see if we can collaborate on events and conferences. Thunderful will not publish Wunderling, we've always treated Wunderling as a self-publish project. That said, we are not ruling out any future collaborations.
With the studios like yourselves, Image & Form, Zoink, Rising Star, Elden Pixels and more in Gothenburg, it seems that the city is a real hub of indie game development. From the outside it seems like a very friendly community – what is it about the city that you think attracts game makers and studios?
It’s the tropical weather and sandy beaches. No, but seriously, it’s a very friendly town and people are very easygoing. I think we all want to show the industry that Gothenburg should be on the game dev map, even though we don’t have big studios, we have big titles.
Finally, with the end of the year approaching, are there any Switch games that you’ve particularly enjoyed playing in 2019?
This year has had so many great games coming out for Switch. One of my favorite games of all time is Link's Awakening, so playing the remake was a blast!
Our thanks to Niklas for his time. So, what do you think a Wunderling is? Our money's on some sort of squash, but we'll be keeping an eye out next time we head to the supermarket. In the meantime, let us know your ideas and what you think of Wunderling below.