Since the game's release last month, Ninjala has proven to be a big hit on Nintendo Switch, attracting millions of players. GungHo Online Entertainment's free-to-play game has a unique take on ninjas, with characters that use bubblegum-inspired weaponry. Up to eight players battle it out across huge stages in the online game, and the concept is clearly striking a chord with audiences. All in all, it seems that Ninjala could prove to be the next big thing on Nintendo's handheld hybrid. ComicBook.com chatted with GungHo president and CEO Kazuki Morishita about the game's design inspiration, the potential for expansion into different mediums, and the origins of the game's unique concept.
Keep reading to see what Kazuki Morishita had to say about all things Ninjala!
ComicBook.com: First of all, congratulations on the new release! What was the biggest inspiration for Ninjala’s aesthetic?
Kazuki Morishita: Thank you. As a Nintendo Switch exclusive title, we certainly kept Nintendo fans in mind when creating this game. I’ve always been a big Nintendo fan since I was a child, and when we collaborated with Super Mario for Puzzle & Dragons Super Mario Edition, I was truly happy about that. So going back to the main topic, Ninjala is inspired by many Nintendo titles, but the overall design is mostly inspired by Hollywood animation and comics, especially Pixar’s animations. We also took some inspiration from skate culture and things like breakdancing. I personally like extreme sports as well, so I think those are also some things that inspired me.prevnext
ComicBook.com: Ninjas are often portrayed as darker characters, but Ninjala gives them a more light-hearted approach. Was it difficult to make the idea of ninjas appropriate for an all-ages audience?
Even during the initial planning stages, I knew that I wanted it to have a casual, “pop” image and world setting, so that was always the idea. The real challenge was in finding the right balance of these elements as they applied to the world setting and character backgrounds so that it would appeal to children and adults.prevnext
ComicBook.com: Ninjala has players using weapons inspired by bubblegum. What was the genesis for that concept?
I wish I could give you a deep answer, but the truth is that it’s just an idea that popped into my head. We had already decided on a ninja + chambara (sword fighting) PvP action concept and we were searching for a new game UI when I was coincidentally chewing on some gum. I imagined some kind of ninjutsu where bubblegum could be blown up, crafted, used as a projectile, or transformed. As a result, we created the gum action, which became this game’s main characteristic.prevnext
ComicBook.com: Were there any unique difficulties in bringing the bubblegum idea to life in the game?
We were fortunate to be able to develop a game with the action centered around bubblegum without really straying from the core concept. That said, there were some unique considerations that had to be made. For example, we discussed a lot about whether the blown up bubble gum would be a hindrance to the action. It’s fine when it’s small, but once the size increases it becomes bigger than the character, so in the end we decided to make the bubble translucent as it gets bigger, which added additional work to achieve the performance we wanted.prevnext
Designing the world.
ComicBook.com: What was the biggest hurdle in designing the world of Ninjala?
There were no hurdles in particular, but we did think a lot about the stereotypes and prejudices surrounding ninjas. In the past, ninjas that appeared in games were often depicted as “dark” characters. Even literally speaking, when we think of ninjas, we often imagine them in black. On the other hand, we created Ninjala with a bright, “pop” world setting that is the exact opposite of that traditionally dark image. But because ninjas have this almost mythical quality, and stories about them are often shrouded in mystery, it allows for imagination to expand and incorporate elements of history, modern times, and science fiction.prevnext
The Splatoon comparison.
ComicBook.com: Ninjala’s art style is often compared to Splatoon. Since both games are online multiplayer games exclusive to Switch, was there a conscious effort to distinguish the two games?
I think the art style feels that way due to the coloring and the number of colors used to achieve the look we were going for. The vivid coloring does feel very “Nintendo”. I think part of the reason it looks that way is because of the reduced number of colors used. And this isn’t any kind of comparison, but I hope that players will appreciate how we have given the characters detailed personalities, hobbies, background stories, and abundant facial animations.prevnext
ComicBook.com: GungHo is already making Ninjala animated shorts. Would you like to see Ninjala expand into other forms of media, such as manga or merchandise?
Since May this year, we’ve been publishing a series of comics featuring a character named Kappei in a monthly shonen magazine called CoroCoro Comic in Japan. We also already have merchandise available and plan to release new products in the future.prevnext
ComicBook.com: Is there any form of media that you think the designs for Ninjala might lend themselves particularly well to?
Despite being about ninjas, the world setting in Ninjala is very modern, so basically I think its design aesthetic translates well into various media - even things as varied as music and fashion - despite its origin as a video game or its appearance in comics.prevnext
ComicBook.com: Out of all the things you designed for Ninjala, is there one that stands out to you as a personal favorite?
I think each of the development staff has their own favorites, but for me it’s Gumchi. Actually, Gumchi was created last out of all the characters. I drew the character on a whiteboard and had the Art Director take a picture to redesign it, but I remember him giving me a suspicious expression. Now Gumchi has become popular.prevnext
ComicBook.com: Is there something that truly surprised you during the design process for the game?
I didn’t really consider this while thinking about the game design or making it, but what surprised me the most after launch was the gyro function. Since Ninjala is an action game, we initially didn’t include the gyro function as a specification, but after consulting with Nintendo, we implemented it. However, when we released the game, I was surprised at the large number of gyroplay users, so in the end I’m glad we implemented it.prev