Interview: Pocket Rumble, the Nintendo Switch fighting game inspired by Neo Geo Pocket Color
Coming soon to Nintendo Switch, Pocket Rumble is a retro-styled 2D fighting game inspired by the 1990s handheld console Neo Geo Pocket Color (NGPC). At EGX Rezzed 2017, we caught up with Christian Stewart of Cardboard Robot Games to find out more.
Nintendo UK: What inspired you to make a fighting game in the style of a Neo Geo Pocket Color title?
Christian Stewart: Two buttons was a big, big thing about Neo Geo Pocket. Somehow SNK got really complex, complicated fighting games that felt close to the Neo Geo arcade games in portable format, with two buttons. There was some magic there that we wanted to replicate in which we could make a game that has only two buttons, but still have the complexity that something like Street Fighter, with six buttons, could have.
NUK: How have you managed to replicate a six button fighter on two buttons?
CS: There are actually fewer specials than in an NGPC game. We do have specials, for which you have to be on a diagonal and then hold the buttons for a certain amount of frames. We could’ve done quarter circles instead but we decided to make it more streamlined and make the inputs a bit easier.
A big barrier for 2D fighting games is just the execution itself. There are a lot of interesting things in 2D fighting games that require you to read your opponent and making the right calls, but a lot of people don’t even reach that point because they can’t even do the special moves. So we made a really strong effort to make sure that wasn’t going to happen in Pocket Rumble.
NUK: What’s the extent of the game mechanics that are in there? Are we talking special moves and a super-bar that you fill up, and do you get as complex as parries?
CS: Yes, all of that! We have basically everything a normal 2D fighting game has, but we have simplified as much as possible while keeping the core fundamentals. So you do have normals, you have special moves, you even have parries on some characters.
You have meters that you gain by doing certain things. Different characters gain meter in totally different ways, so, there’s one character, Tenchi, who gains meter just like Street Fighter if you do specials or hit someone. But then, there’s another character who you have to charge, like really old King of Fighters games.
NUK: Pocket Rumble has potential to be a great local multiplayer game. How important is it to you that Nintendo Switch will allow two players to fight not just on a TV screen but outside in tabletop mode?
CS: Right, that’s exactly why we need to be on Nintendo Switch! This is the first time a handheld has really had the feel of playing on one console in local multiplayer. It’s perfect. We didn’t know anything about the Nintendo Switch when we were first designing the game but as soon as we heard about its capabilities we were like "this is perfect, this is exactly what we need to be on. This is a local, multiplayer, portable console and here we have this very important local multiplayer game that’s focussed on portability.” So it was a perfect fit!
NUK: And are you planning to support online play?
CS: Yes, Pocket Rumble will have online multiplayer with ranks, scores, leaderboards and everything you’ve come to expect with online multiplayer in fighting games.
NUK: Do you intend for this to become a tournament game as well as being something fun to play at home?
CS: That’s what we’re hoping. I mean, we can’t really predict the future, but we did balance the characters as best we could. We want to make every character fun and exciting and also play tournament-friendly, where there’s no one that’s super strong or someone super weak. We tried to keep everyone around equal levels. So we do hope it becomes a tournament game, but we can’t say for sure until it comes out.
NUK: Going back to the Neo Geo inspiration, we’ve talked about the controls, but there’s also the nostalgic graphics. What were the challenges of creating a game in that art style?
CS: The resolution of those sprites is very, very small. It is very hard to convey certain things. Subtle nuances are very difficult to convey at such a small resolution. It’s absolutely worth it, because I think the Neo Geo aesthetic on top of the nostalgia just complements what the game is trying to do very well.
We’re trying to get rid of a lot of executional barriers and keeping things to their bare fundamentals, but those fundamentals are still very complex because they’re the inherent mechanics of 2D fighting games.
We’re simplifying as much as we can. So those simple, lower resolution graphics and limited colour palettes work really well with how much we’re focussing on the core combat mechanics.
NUK: Fans of 90s fighting games will be familiar with the idea of having one lead character who is very accessible for all players to learn before they try the more unusual characters. So does Pocket Rumble have its own Ryu and Ken or a Terry Bogard?
CS: That’s an interesting question, because all eight characters are kind of based on different kinds of fighting games. So, there is Tenchi. He gains meter like a Street Fighter character, he’s got fireballs and really strong anti-air dragon punches just like Ken does. But, there are also characters like Naomi who play a lot like a King of Fighters character with charging moves and really fast hyper hops and things like that. So it honestly depends on what game you are coming from. You could probably pick any of the characters and if you’re familiar with the game that we’re deriving it from, then it will click for you just like that.
NUK: What are some of the other games that have inspired the characters?
CS: There’s Samurai Shodown, obviously King of Fighters and Street Fighter but we also have some interesting ones in there too, like Bloody Roar. We take some Virtua Fighter and Tekken mechanics for a certain character and we’ve even taken inspiration from some modern games like Skullgirls.
NUK: Have you also taken the same approach to sound and music as you have the nostalgic gameplay and graphics?
CS: We went super authentic with that. With the graphics, we sometimes cheat a little bit because we have too many effects coming out at once. But when we went with the sound, we actually went out of our way to find a tracker for the Neo Geo Pocket sound chip. So it’s very authentic. At first we just tried to use a generic 8-bit tracker but none of it felt correct. Only the authentic chip actually works.
NUK: Obviously you’ll have an arcade mode and a versus mode in Pocket Rumble. Are there any other modes you can tell us about?
CS: There’s the ranked online multiplayer, there is unranked friendly matches where you can fight your friends and then there’s also a career mode. In that, we have a ghost data system that replicates human players as closely as possible. There have been games in the past that tried to do this, but in career mode you can play against a lot of the ghosts that we got from the beta. This is based on specific people, so you feel more like you’re playing a person than you do playing an AI, and you get a ranking just like you would online.
NUK: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
CS: Well, just the fact that the Joy-Con ends up feeling a lot like a Neo Geo Pocket Color, because you’ve got that analogue stick and the two buttons on the side. There are a few more buttons on the Joy-Con, but you can play it exactly like you did on the Neo Geo Pocket Color. The analogue stick feels somewhat similar to the digital stick on the NGPC and that’s kind of cool.