Crystal Crisis

Nicalis is a company that will need no introduction to Nintendo fans. It has been responsible for bringing some amazing titles to Wii, 3DS, Wii U and Switch, including Cave Story+, Blade Strangers, Crystal Crisis, Ikaruga, VVVVVV, Binding of Isaac and Save me Mr Tako: Tasukete Tako-San. Nicalis' track record when it comes to software speaks for itself, and the indie landscape on Nintendo formats would be considerably poorer were it not for the firm's efforts.

However, a recent investigation by Kotaku has revealed some troubling issues at the company. Kotaku has spoken to several former staff and partners and has heard tales of racism, ghosting and exploitation of employees – as well as questionable business practices when it comes to working with indie developers.

Nicalis boss Tyrone Rodriguez is accused of ignoring development partners after signing deals, a practice which has resulted in studios having to find alternative arrangements when it comes to bringing their titles to market. The Game Bakers, developer of Furi, spoke to Kotaku and revealed that it had wanted to work with the publisher on bringing the game to consoles in 2017.

The Game Bakers co-founder Audrey Leprince said:

We sent the project, they evaluated the cost, sent a first contract draft that we sent back with changes. But then they started ghosting us. Not answering emails, Skype calls. We waited three weeks, tried to contact them several times… Finally they answered that they were sorry and would send us a mail the next week. Time passed. We were going at E3 (they were there), offered to see them there. We reminded them how acting fast was important. So eventually we sent a message saying the deal was off considering the communication breakdown.

Game Bakers' other co-founder, Emeric Thoa, posted a warning on Twitter:

If you are a small indie and consider working with Nicalis and want an opinion about them, please don’t hesitate to DM me. It’s a small industry. Actions have consequences.

There's also evidence of Nicalis ignoring or refusing to issue patches for games it has published. In February of last year, Lizardcube – developer of Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap – took to Twitter to say that it had submitted a Switch patch to Nicalis but had been ignored, something Rodriguez publicly denied not long afterwards. More recently, a patch for Save me Mr Tako: Tasukete Tako-San was submitted by the developer but never issued, because, according to Rodriguez, "the game did not yet make back what we put into it. We have a policy of stringent QA testing before pushing releases, and we do not have the space in our budget to QA test the patch so we can push it out.”

'90s Arcade Racer, a crowdfunded Wii U game which was taken on by Nicalis after hitting its Kickstarter goal, has been stuck in limbo for years, and Antonis Pelekanos – its creator – is no longer involved with the project (which now goes by the name '90s Super GP). However, Nicalis recently confirmed that the game is still in development, so there may be a happy end to that tale.

The report also details some rather worrying racial and homophobic slurs used by Rodriguez in private chats and in the workplace, as well as mistreatment and abuse of staff. Rather than detailing these accusations here, we'd highly recommend you read the entire report.

As a result of the investigation, Edmund McMillen, the creator of Binding of Isaac, has said that he will not be working with Nicalis, beyond the upcoming Binding of Isaac: Repentance:

I won’t be moving forward with Nicalis when it comes to the port of The Legend of Bum-bo or any console versions of Mewgenics. [Binding of Isaac: Repentance] will still be releasing as originally planned, the team poured their heart and soul into this DLC and it’s very close to releasing.

Nicalis has issued the following statement regarding the report:

Developing and publishing games is a dream for the staff of nearly 20 that work at Nicalis, Inc. Some of our team have been with the company almost a decade and we work hard to create an environment where we treat our team members with respect. They are what make the company.

We do not condone abusive workplace environments or discrimination and have people from all walks of life. We hope for the continued success of our internal team and our external developers.

Regarding the companies under mutual NDA with Nicalis, Devolver (publisher of Enter the Gungeon) and The Game Bakers (developer of Furi), we can only comment that we do not have any signed publishing agreements with them and never have.