Bakugan: Champions of Vestroia is an addition to the long-running Bakugan franchise that complements but doesn’t rely on the Bakugan: Armored Alliance anime or the franchise’s trading card game. We asked Kenny Ilko, Executive Producer at WayForward, about the process of developing a creature collecting game that is fun for fans of the series and newcomers alike.
Benjamin Maltbie, Siliconera: Fans of the show will find familiar elements, but the story in Bakugan: Champions of Vestroia is original. What approach did you take to mix the familiar with the new?
Kenny Ilko, Executive Producer, WayForward: Fortunately for us we were able to get early access to both season 1 and season 2 of the new anime series. This allowed us to really sit back and evaluate what events in the show could be either tied into directly or at least correlate to. Season 2 offered a unique opportunity to play off the idea of a Bakugan tournament or championship. While in Bakugan: Champions of Vestroia you aren’t directly interacting with that storyline, the concept anchors you to the anime’s world. And of course, it was an easy and perfect fit for the ever-social media present Awesome Brawlers (more specifically Dan) to give you tutorials in the game.
How did you decide on which Bakugan should be featured in Champions of Vestroia?
Ilko: This was primarily a list created by our friends at Spin Master. I don’t know the full inner workings, but what I do know is that they took a long, hard look at the Bakugan found in the anime as well as some of the fan favorites from the toy and created a list that just made sense. With over 80 Bakugan, there are a ton of options for fans who lean more on the Bakugan species and just as many for ones who lean more into the various factions. I’m not going to lie, one of my favorite Bakugan in the game, Darkus Cycloid, did not start there at the beginning of development.
Will the story be linear? And, if so, will it be part of a greater Bakugan canon?
Ilko: The story is primarily linear, but I say that with a lot of caveats. It consists of two story arcs that run in parallel. While ultimately both have a linear forward progression, there is a lot of bouncing back and forth that players can do freely. Additionally, there are a significant number of side quests that can be played at the leisure of the player. When you add to that the fact that you can revisit virtually every area of the game as it opens, I think players will find a lot to explore and enjoy at their own pace. And don’t forget to revisit all the shops. They offer new stuff as you progress!
What steps have been taken to make sure that this game can be a good first experience for players who might not have any experience with the Bakugan franchise?
Ilko: I think the biggest step we took is that we just assume everyone is new to Bakugan. We must take that approach anyway because the video game is full of unique mechanics tailor-made for the space. While there are certainly many aspects that fans of the animated series as well as the toy/trading card game (TCG) will recognize and appreciate, it’s not a requirement to be either to pick up and be successful at the game. The tutorial system drives all players through the basic mechanics of what makes up a Bakugan in Champions of Vestroia, how to build a team, and how to brawl. I think that if you like the monster/fighter genre in general or just enjoy an action RPG experience, there’s something here for you.
The core gameplay appears to be a mixture of action and turn-based mechanics, with an emphasis on using type advantages. It is an accessible looking system. How do you manage difficulty around a system like this?
Ilko: Very, very, carefully. I would argue that the emphasis is not on type advantages, though. It is one of the many layers of strategy that players will have to consider when building their team out and matching up in the brawl real-time. Because our goal was to always make the game accessible from both a skillset standpoint as well as a Bakugan familiarity standpoint, we knew that we would have to layer the tactics and strategy into the gameplay. What I think players will find is that the better the player you are, the bigger the gap in level you can be to compete. Some players may find themselves needing to be 2-3 levels ahead of their opponent while others might have deeper insight into the subtleties of the mechanics that allow them to faceoff with opponents 2-3 levels above them. We looked at balancing the game in a way that early on you can make more mistakes and be less strategic as you learn the ins and outs of the Bakugan, the factions, the Baku-Abilities, and the real-time mechanics of combat. By the end of the game we expect players to be able to apply more of that knowledge and experience to find success. In the end, I think the most advanced and skilled players will find new levels of challenge directly in online brawls.
When developing Bakugan: Champions of Vestroia, did you look at older games in the franchise for lessons or inspiration? If so, what are some of the things you learned from those games?
Ilko: We definitely took a long look at all the original video game titles as well as parsed any reviews and articles we could find about said games. While there was a lot of good stuff to take away from those titles, we really wanted to approach this new video game from a unique angle. We set out to establish a game that has the potential of becoming a franchise title that can be built on generation after generation. To do that, we knew it would be critical to establish mechanics and gameplay that gave fans of the show things they could relate to while not alienating fans of the toy/TCG. It went without saying that our focus would have to be on the brawling system to achieve that goal. This approach culminated in a real-time combat system with visuals and BakuCore collection that will really resonate with anyone familiar with the show; while those who might be more heavily into the toy/TCG recognizing all the familiar mechanics of team building, faction-based play styles, Team Attacks, and more. I think this approach also had a great side effect of naturally making the game accessible to anyone by assuming no one had intimate familiarity with all things Bakugan.
Thanks to Kenny for answering to our questions so thoroughly! Bakugan: Champions of Vestroia releases on November 3, 2020 for the Nintendo Switch