"Poor Iwata," jokes Curve Studio's Jonathan Biddle. "We think he's one of the best CEOs in the world. He needs a big hug."
Fortunately, after a fairly torrid few months for Nintendo as its Wii U has been eclipsed by the newer current gen consoles, Biddle and his team's in the perfect position to give Satoru Iwata a little cheer. Curve has made the fascinating decision to make its follow-up to the well-received Stealth Bastard a Wii U exclusive.
It's a curious decision, at least upon first impressions. Stealth Bastard was a hit on Steam when it released late in 2011, and it's gone on to further success on other platforms - via a name change to the more console friendly Stealth Inc., and through a handful of enhanced editions - so why limit its sequel to a console that, to put it politely, doesn't quite have the numbers behind it?
Take a closer look, though, and it begins to make a little more sense. Curve, a London-based studio also known for its working helping indies such as Thomas Was Alone and Proteus onto PlayStation, previously developed Fluidity, a Wii download that came towards the end of that console's life-cycle, and that we described back in 2011 as "one of Nintendo's best ever WiiWare releases." A 3DS sequel, Fluidity: Spin Cycle, followed in 2012.
"We worked with Nintendo for four years," explains Biddle. "I directed those projects and my job was communicating game design with them. And it was really eye-opening. We'd talk in extreme depth about the games I was making constantly - I'd send 2-3000 word emails every week, and Nintendo would come back with more. It was always very collaborative. It's very eye-opening in terms of the way that they thought about things. They have quite old-school ways - you want to do one thing, and they suggest this other thing they've found. It's almost as if there's this Nintendo design book that they're opening up. It's really, really good - you learn a lot while you're working with them."
Conversations about getting the original Stealth Inc. on Wii U took place while Curve was pre-occupied getting the game on PlayStation, so another solution was reached - the studio would make the sequel exclusively for Nintendo's console. Commercially, there's a good opportunity for the studio.
"There's the point that while the Wii U hasn't sold in huge numbers, there are still a number of Wii U gamers out there and a very empty digital store," says managing director Jason Perkins. "If we can capture a large percentage, albeit of a smaller market, it does make sense."
"Overall we get more coverage from everything," says PR and marketing manager Rob Clarke. "Nintendo as a company are able to push indies as they don't have any. We'll get into Nintendo Direct, whereas we wouldn't get that on PS4. They're very well connected with their fans in a way that maybe MS and Sony aren't - and if we can tap into that, that makes a big difference for us."
And, more importantly, it makes sense for the game itself. Stealth Inc. 2 is a broader, more open experience than its predecessor, blending in a Metroidvania-style exploration element with gear gating and the more quick-fire robust challenges offered by the original. "We're taking the opportunity to address some of the things we wanted to address with the first game," says Biddle. "One of the things we found is that the game is very intense - people burn out on it because it's these short loops, and you can only do that for so long."
Stealth Inc. 2 pulls the camera back a little, then, for a wider look at the facility, although it finds time to incorporate the condensed action of the first game. Different sections of the facility act as different testing grounds for new pieces of equipment - complete certain challenges and you'll gain access to the equipment which will, in turn, allow you to explore the facility further. It's elegant, as well as tough - the kind of experience you'd expect to find on a Nintendo console, in fact.
"They like hard games," says Biddle. "They're kind of painted as family friendly and kid friendly, but they like their games to be hard. They know that you get more satisfaction in defeating a challenge if there's a challenge. Quite a lot of the feedback was gauged around that there was this ebb and flow to do with different rewards and challenges - to make sure the reward was good enough, and that the challenge was enough. The systems had to be built into that, and built around it. Quite often we'd be like pull back a bit, make it a more open game, but bang, no, there'd be more challenging stuff. Stealth Bastard was born a little bit about what we'd learnt making Fluidity on Wii and 3DS. We'd learnt a lot abut how to make puzzles, how to make communicate them, and Stealth Inc. was our take on that."
It's a homecoming of sorts, then, for a team that earned its spurs working alongside Nintendo. And for Nintendo, being able to call the Wii U home to one of the year's more promising indies is surely the kind of comforting gesture it's after following a trying few months.