While sauntering through the Seattle Convention Center at this year's PAX West, we saw hundreds of developers showing off their biggest, flashiest games to the enthusiastic crowds — many of which had already been announced and were highly anticipated by fans.

However, in a tucked-away corner of the show floor sat an unassuming display featuring a well-loved NES system and a small board signifying its role: demoing a brand new title called Rugrats: Adventures in Gameland.

Many curious passersby were stopped by the colorful visuals of a show they recognized and loved from decades ago; confusion crossed their faces as they tried to remember when they had played this particular title. The nostalgia created a sort of Mandela Effect, evoking an amused glimmer in the eyes of the game's lead developer, Tomas Guinan, each time someone inquired about where they'd seen this game before.

The game was actually announced just before PAX West at The Media Indie Exchange Showcase, and our eyes lit up when we arrived at the Limited Run booth and saw it for the first time. It was dubbed as an "unannounced title" in all previous communications we'd seen — but we were all enthralled by this retro trip down memory lane, and immediately needed to check it out.

Developed on his original childhood NES, Guinan painstakingly built a unique co-op design allowing players to explore six different levels throughout the Pickles' residence, featuring Tommy, Chuckie, Phil, and Lil as playable characters. The game will be released for NES through Limited Run Games, as well as on PC and all modern consoles. In the modern versions, players can toggle between 8bit and HD art — which features hand-drawn animations to match the cartoon’s style (and believe us, it looks awesome).

After playing the game firsthand, we were lucky enough to be able to speak to Guinan and get his take on the inspiration behind it, his personal love for Rugrats and other nostalgic titles, and the secret behind developing games players will love at first sight.

Rugrats: Adventures in Gameland at PAX West 2023
Image: Austin Voigt / Nintendo Life

Nintendo Life: So, let's start from the top — what inspired this game for you?

Tomas Guinan: Basically, what we wanted to do was make retro games based on retro properties that didn't exist, that should have existed.

And this is the first Rugrats game that's come out in almost 20 years, right? That makes me feel very old...

Yeah, same! Very old. I think the last one was on the Game Boy Advance?

HD mode
Image: The MIX Games

What were your favorite aspects of developing the game?

I mean, just the fact that it exists, and the fact that it's been getting such great feedback with our stealth reveal, I just absolutely love seeing people play this. It's been in development for close to two years now, so seeing people playing the game, enjoying the game, I just can't wait to get it out into people's hands. I think people are really gonna love this. It was definitely made with love, and I hope that comes through.

Even just playing it here at PAX West, it's clear this is something you're pretty passionate about and there's obviously a lot of nostalgia going into this for you.

It's been in development for close to two years now, so seeing people playing the game, enjoying the game, I just can't wait to get it out into people's hands

Yeah, it's kind of trying to bring back those good, 8-bit licensed, Disney Afternoon (DuckTales, Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers, etc.), Tiny Toon Adventures-kind of quality of games. Taking all of those aspects of those classic platformers and just mashing them into one thing.

It's been awesome to see people walking past the booth here and going, "Oh look, Rugrats!" We talked a little bit about the 'Mandela Effect' and people thinking that this was a remake of a game that previously existed — but that's not the case.

Right — definitely not a remake. So, to give a little background on what it is: Rugrats: Adventures in Gameland is a modern game, developed on the original 8-bit NES console, so it plays on original hardware; we are releasing a physical cartridge through Limited Run Games, as well as releasing the game on all modern consoles.

What are some of the things you've heard people saying about the game here at the booth?

There are so many people that just sit down and go, "Wow, this is my childhood, man!" You know what I mean? And I think the fact that we could use a nostalgic IP and make a nostalgic game is sort of a magical combo, because people recognize the characters and they love them already, and then they sit down and play a game that speaks to them. Even if they didn't grow up playing the NES, it feels like you could have.

Not just any developer or any team can make something like that. You have to do it with a certain amount of love behind it, or you'll ruin the IP for its fans and the people who are true fans and have their own nostalgia for IPs like this are going to pick up on that immediately. What do you think is the key to that? Is there a special sauce you try to ensure you have when you're developing games?

8-bit mode
Image: The MIX Games

I think it's when you truly love what you're doing, that shows through. If I was doing this every day and just hating it and doing it because I wanted a payout, I wouldn't be creating something that I genuinely care about. And I think it came through even when I did the previous game — I'm a big fan of the Jay and Silent Bob movies, and I think we put together an awesome game [Jay and Silent Bob: Mall Brawl]. It sort of had that River City Ransom / Double Dragon feel, and those are games I played. I love those games, I love platformers, I love DuckTales, Mega Man, Little Samson, and all that stuff.

I tried to put in as much DNA from all those kinds of things as I could, and not just copy one thing but make it that sort of experience of that genre. Take the good ideas, and make them your own — that's the important thing.

This game ended up having a bit of a stealth reveal — tell me more about why that was.

That part's a little hard for me to say. We just wanted to be able to release it in a way that made people go, "Wow, what is this?!" and catch them off guard, you know? And I think it worked because it's definitely been gathering attention.

Can we talk a little bit about the HD mode? Because this is incredible; I love that the game is 8-bit, but there's an HD mode that looks EXACTLY like the cartoon, and it looks awesome. Will that be available at initial release?

We just wanted to be able to release it in a way that made people go, 'Wow, what is this?!' and catch them off guard, you know?

Yes, it will be available on the modern console releases. We worked with the studio Angry Metal — they did amazing animation — and it's the same game that you're playing, either 8-bit or HD; everything is exactly the same in the game, but you can either play it with the original 8-bit visuals or with the visuals that match the cartoon. And there's also the music, as well — so, you have either the 8-bit chiptune sound or the music and sound effects that have been pumped up to modern standards.

So, why Rugrats?

Honestly, why NOT Rugrats? Everybody loves Rugrats, right? It sort of started out that the first team behind The MIX Games developed and released together was Jay and Silent Bob: Mall Brawl. We released that through Limited Run Games, and it did quite well, so we wanted to look for more retro licenses that deserve to have this kind of treatment — to have a retro game made. Rugrats was just a great fit.

Who's your favorite Rugrat?

Personally, it's Chuckie. He's the glasses kid, I'm the glasses kid. He's kind of anxiety-riddled... it makes you root for him; he's the underdog, right?

Outside of developing your own games, what are your favorite types of games to play in your free time?

I'm a bit retro gamer myself, so this is the kind of game I love to play. I put a lot of time into Tears of the Kingdom recently and just finished it, and that was a great game. I spent like 200 hours, I found all of the shrines, and it's like, "How much more of my life am I gonna put into this game?" But it's a good game, right?

HD Mode #2
Image: The MIX Games

Absolutely and games like Rugrats are a good palate cleanser after something like that.

Exactly, that's how it is. It's like, you either have these big games you put 200 hours in, or games like [Rugrats: Adventures in Gameland]. This game, I would say, is very similar in length to DuckTales or Mega Man or something similar, where it's kind of that same difficulty curve. It's like, technically, if you're a speedrunner and you play this, you could beat this game in under an hour, I'm sure — but nobody is going to do that on their first try.

And it's clear that that's not what this game has been developed for. It's not for speedrunning; it's for sitting there and hearing the songs, playing through all the characters...

Definitely, it's for the experience — I want people to feel like they're a 10-year-old kid again.

I'm guessing the NES is the system you grew up on?

It's definitely what I grew up on. I'd say it's my favorite — it was my first real system, so you get that emotional attachment. I saw this meme once with people arguing about what the best Zelda game is and it's like, "The best Zelda game is the one that came out when I was 12 years old," ... "No, it's the one that came out when *I* was 12 years old!" I look back and my favorite Zelda game was Link's Awakening, and I was 12 years old when that came out!

I always like to ask this: What do you enjoy doing outside of developing games?

I like doing stuff outside; I actually live in a pretty rural community, so we have like a nice park we can walk through. I'm a dad, I have kids, so there's that.

I want people to feel like they're a 10-year-old kid again.

I'm guessing your kids are younger and didn't really grow up on Rugrats? What do you see with the younger generations, when we've been having a lot of these older IPs coming back into the zeitgeist, older games being re-developed and brands being brought back in? How do you see your kids, or the younger generations, interpreting that? Is there the potential for Rugrats to become beloved by another generation?

I think so, it's definitely there. We made the game with co-op gameplay in mind and tried to add little quality-of-life features; if one player gets through a screen, then the other player gets teleported through, and a lot of that was sort of intentionally put in there for, like, if you've got a parent that was nostalgic for Rugrats and they still have their NES, they can pull it out, and play it with their kid and have fun that way. Even if they don't necessarily beat the game right away, they have a good time.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

Thank you to the team at The MIX games and to Tomas Guinan (@SpoonyBardToma on Twitter) for taking the time to answer our questions. Rugrats: Adventures in Gameland will be coming to PC and consoles 2024.

Will you be playing Rugrats: Adventures in Gameland? Perhaps on your OG NES? Let us know in the comments.