Wild Country Nintendo Switch
Image: Lost Native

Revealed at Gamescom back in August and coming to Switch (and Steam) in 2024, Wild Country is described as "a cozy-competitive card game with city-building elements" by its developer, Lost Native.

The game involves constructing buildings for the critters of Big Sky County while collecting cards and engaging friends and/or family in a competitive game of strategy. The deck/city-building elements bring to mind classics like Slay the Spire and SimCity, and the emphasis on competition appears to add some humour and spice to the cosy aesthetic, something we've seen plenty of over the past few years.

With a host of influences, Wild Country looks like a veritable fountain of meets-meets in the genre and presentation departments; add in a third-person campaign and there's an awful lot going on here. The game recently got a PC demo as part of Steam's Next Fest event, and we caught up with CEO and co-founder of Lost Native Becky Matthew via email to find out a little more about this intriguing mix...

Nintendo Life: Wild Country seems quite ambitious in its genre-blend, mixing city-building with deckbuilding and cosy cardplay. Can you talk a little bit about its genesis – did it have all these elements from the beginning or did some evolve over time?

Becky Matthew, Lost Native CEO and co-founder: Inspired by games like Machi Koro and SimCity, Wild Country’s card-based city-building mechanics began as something I designed back in University. I wanted to create a city-building game that I could play quickly and on the go.

we modelled the online play menu after the original Banjo-Kazooie

For those who haven’t had a chance to play yet, in the card game portion of Wild Country, you manage a city and build it up with cards. It’s a little like playing Hearthstone, but instead of placing minions, you place buildings! Cards are played similarly to spells in most major card games (like Hearthstone and the Pokémon TCG) and create buildings that appear on the game board. These buildings ‘click’ together to form quaint miniature cities, hence its initial codename - CityClick.

The game has undergone numerous transformations since its conception, from significant changes, like adding a third-person campaign, to minor changes, like adding a new character or cosmetic. Despite these changes, Wild Country’s core mechanics have remained intact.

The tactile feel of building a city piece by piece was (and still is!) so satisfying. Game feel is essential in games like this; it’s everything. There’s a genuine design knack in making the core loop — the repeated actions within the game — feel as gratifying and fun as possible. A series of tactile toys to play with that are easy to understand and satisfying every time.

How long has the game been in development? How big is the team at Lost Native?

Wild Country started during the pandemic as a hobby project. Kate [Morris, Lost Native co-founder] and I worked on the game for about a year (on and off) in the evenings after work when we usually commute. We remained a team of two until we secured enough funding to assemble a team.

In late 2022, we partnered with Private Division as part of the Private Division Development Fund to help Wild Country reach its full potential! Since then, Lost Native has grown to a team of eight full-time, with a handful of regular contributors.

Dorfromantik meets Slay the Spire” was one shorthand PR descriptor for what Wild Country is aiming for. Were there any other influences that the team drew upon or wanted to put their own spin on?

Oh, absolutely - this could be a whole article in itself!

For the overall ethos of Wild Country, we have primarily studied Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle and Sparks of Hope, taking notes on how they took inspiration from a conventionally hardcore franchise, XCOM, and expertly redesigned it to appeal to a new audience that may otherwise have yet to try the games. It’s a shame how many fantastic game mechanics and features are bound to traditionally hardcore games and genres, many of which we take for granted as conventions.

Game feel is essential in games like this; it’s everything

Beyond the Mario + Rabbids series, Wild Country is very heavily inspired by popular card games (Magic the Gathering, Legends of Runeterra, Hearthstone), board games (Machi Koro, Settlers of Catan, Everdell), and simulation games (SimCity, Civilization, Rollercoaster Tycoon) for the card interactions, building interactions, and random events within the core gameplay.

The campaign mode was entirely powered by our nostalgia for adventure games we played as kids, most notably Spyro, Zelda, and Croc. Childhood nostalgia is a huge aspect we dip into for inspiration. Our innovation on card packs was heavily inspired by Pokémon foil packs we collected as kids, and we modelled the online play menu after the original Banjo-Kazooie.

Outside of games, Parks and Recreation and Zootopia [known as Zootropolis in the UK] have been pivotal to the tone and aesthetic direction of the game. The world Disney created with the Zootopia IP encouraged us to turn Wild Country from a card game to an entire universe.

The game had a demo available at the Steam Next Fest. What was the feedback like from that, and will it factor into any tweaks or adjustments before launch?

The feedback from Next Fest has been primarily positive! We were fortunate enough to receive a lot of constructive feedback on Steam, our community Discord server, and through video content on YouTube and Twitch [see below].

Next Fest was the first time players were able to get their hands on Wild Country from the comfort of their own homes. In addition to the feedback, we gained a solid boost for our wishlist numbers and media coverage from a broad range of creators, which we had a blast watching together.

It was a highly validating experience and a great way to see what parts of the game resonated most with our audience. It has helped us identify pain points and double down on the most exciting parts of the game. Being a small team, we have a high level of reactivity and can shift priorities to focus on what’s important.

What challenges have you faced on Switch implementing menus and systems that can make a small handheld screen very busy with icons and text? Will the game have touch support or any other Switch-specific features?

Effectively communicating information for small handheld screens is difficult at the best of times. Finding the balance between displaying enough information to stay true to the city-building and card game genre while keeping the game approachable for a new audience has been a significant challenge, that's for sure.

We hope this sparks a new space for online play that is less about ruthless competition and more about sharing a relaxing experience

With Wild Country, we looked to take a page out of Nintendo’s book. Nintendo games tend to teach game mechanics through discovery and intuition rather than a bunch of upfront information; it’s clever, incredibly difficult, and often goes unnoticed. Working with this method really does make you realize how impressive first and second-party Nintendo studios are.

Finding the Goldilocks balance for how much we display has taught us some tricks and tips we will undoubtedly take into future games. We nest as much information in easy-to-find menus as possible to ensure you’re only ever exposed to the essential knowledge.

Occasionally, we sprinkle in opportunities to uncover optional depth for those looking for it. By doing this, we hope that we’re providing something familiar for veteran players of the genre while teaching new skills to newcomers.

It seems that wholesome, cottagecore games have risen to rival roguelites and Metroidvanias in popularity over the last couple of years. How do you go about standing out in the cosy crowd?

Wild Country presents something new to the cozy crowd with a fresh approach to playing together. With Wild Country, we’re looking to approach online play (and card games) from a fresh new angle.

We call Wild Country a CCCG - a Cozy Competitive Card Game. We hope this sparks a new space for online play that is less about ruthless competition and more about sharing a relaxing experience with friends and family where each player can progress along their own individual journeys.

It’s like a family board game night. You may be frustrated, but it’s not personal. It’s more about spending time with one another and having a good time.

Finally, what has the Lost Native team been playing and enjoying recently, on Switch or elsewhere?

It’s been a mixed bag lately!

The games we’ve been talking about the most are Super Mario Bros. Wonder, Dave The Diver, Alan Wake 2, and Baldur's Gate 3. I’m pretty sure some of the team spend more time in Baldur's Gate than out of it, but if you’ve played it, you’ll probably understand why. Maybe when it comes out of Switch, we can tempt them outside again, haha.

A bunch of us are also presently glued to Disney’s latest card game, Lorcana. It’s fantastic to see someone as big as Disney identify a similar opportunity and enter the playing field with something interesting. It’s great to see and makes us enthusiastic for the future.

Many thanks to Becky. Wild Country is scheduled to launch next year on Switch. Check out the reveal trailer below, and let us know in the comments if you like the sound of this CCCG.