Bend it like Platinum
Why the Japanese studio behind Bayonetta is working on a Nickelodeon licence
Why the creator of Bayonetta is making a game for Nickelodeon
PlatinumGames stands among the finest studios in the world thanks to its pursuit of new IP and original ideas, both of which have come to define the studio since its formation following the closure of Clover. So why would an outstanding Japanese developer with a history of carving its own path elect to take on a licensed game for Nickelodeon based on an American cartoon?
The Legend Of Korra is a popular animated spinoff from Avatar: The Last Airbender, with 52 episodes planned to span over four ‘books’, or seasons. While it has been praised for its subversive story arc, which addresses the societal ills of its fantasy world, the main draw is still the action: the titular heroine is able to ‘bend’ the elements of water, earth, fire and air to unleash brutal attacks.
It was this action that inspired Activision to pick up the licence from Nickelodeon, with which it has previously worked on games based on SpongeBob SquarePants and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and in turn to engage Platinum to develop the game for 360, PC, PS3, PS4 and Xbox One. “We couldn’t think of a better studio than PlatinumGames for this project – in terms of everything they do, it was right up their alley,” Activision producer Robert Conkey says.
When the tie-up was announced, Platinum fans and game journalists alike were sent scurrying for Wikipedia, having never heard of the TV series – but the staff at Platinum were in a similar situation. “The Legend Of Korra hasn’t been shown in Japan, so I didn’t know it,” Platinum producer Atsushi Kurooka admits. “Activision sent us some video, and I thought the quality was amazing. Also, the direction Activision wanted to take, with smooth action and kung-fu attacks, seemed like a good fit for us.”
Even so, Korra is an outlier for Platinum. The closest the studio has previously come to a licensed game is its rescue job on Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, and its key names’ focus is absorbed on Bayonetta 2 for Wii U and Xbox One exclusive Scalebound. Kurooka and director Eiro Shirahama, meanwhile, are relative unknowns. With a background in programming that includes a stint at SNK subsidiary Nazca on the Metal Slug team, Kurooka joined Platinum in 2012 as assistant producer on The Wonderful 101, while Shirahama is a Capcom alumnus who worked on Platinum’s MadWorld and Anarchy Reigns as designer and lead designer respectively.
Still, Platinum’s reputation is hard-won, and Korra’s action seems fast and fluid, focused on a mix of martial arts and ranged magic. It’s all as you’d expect, despite a novel way of working for the studio. “The approach is completely different than making an original game, because we have to regularly check in with the licence holder for approval as we go,” Kurooka says. “But the upside is that the character and enemy design had all been done for us, so the burden of art design was greatly reduced.”
The team size and length of the development cycle remain secret, but Conkey says the project was started last year for release by the end of 2014 – tight, but not unreasonable for a budget download title with a short play time.
“There’s also an extreme mode, which has the craziness you’ve come to expect from Platinum”
“We’ve customised elements from the show with great care so that they suit being in a game,” Kurooka says. “It’s a downloadable title being sold at just $15, but I believe it offers much more value than you’d expect at that price. I think it will appeal not only to fans of Korra, but to Platinum fans, too.”
Those demographics couldn’t be more different. Platinum is celebrated for its punishing-yet-rewarding combat, but with the licence comes a story-focused fanbase that won’t necessarily be expecting much of a challenge.
An easy setting will address this and, as Conkey says, “There is also a normal mode, which is designed for players who are decently versed in action, and then there’s also an Extreme mode, which has the craziness that you’ve come to expect from a Platinum game.”
But this isn’t just a Platinum game – Nickelodeon is closely involved, as are the show’s writers. And while the show draws inspiration from Japanese anime,
Korra marks the first game to be born outside the studio’s home nation. Series fans should have a treat in store, but far more intriguing is how the collaboration will affect the output of a studio that has always played by its own rules.
Activision producer Robert Conkey says Platinum’s gift for strong female lead characters is one benefit of working with the Osaka studio
TheLegendOfKorra is licensed from a TV series lauded for its animation as well as its storylines