Ninjala interview: Not just another Splatoon copycat

Ninjala Avatars
Ninjala Avatars (Image credit: GungHo Online Entertainment)

Ninjala is a free-to-play action multiplayer game created by GungHo Online Entertainment that releases for Nintendo Switch on June 24, 2020. The main action of the game centers around cartoony ninja-style battles where players use things like yo-yos, bubblegum, and katanas to prove their fighting prowess. A lot of comparisons have been made to Splatoon, the colorful multiplayer shooter series popular on Switch, but Ninjala is so much more than that, according to president of GungHo Online Entertainment Kazuki Morishita.

"We've actually heard feedback from players who thought it looked Splatoon-like, but after playing it they could tell how different it is," Morishita told iMore.

I had the chance to interview Morishita to get more insight into what inspired the creation of the game and how it differs from other multiplayer games on the Nintendo Switch.

iMore: We've been told that Japanese culture influenced and drove Ninjala's design and development. In what ways did Japanese culture inspire the creation of Ninjala?

KM: With regard to games, ninja and samurai have been familiar to us since we were children from watching historical dramas. As children, most kids have the experience of picking up sticks on the road and playing pretend chambara (sword fighting) or pretend ninja, so I was inspired by the inherent fun of this instinctive and intuitive activity of close proximity action. When I was young, I was exposed to various cultural imports such as rock, hip hop, R&B, skateboarding, dances, and fashion, and I was also influenced by Hollywood movies and animation. The world setting in Ninjala is not based on an old-school ninja style, but rather on a modern pop image that incorporates street casual clothes.

How does Ninjala help expose players to historical elements from the Sengoku and Edo periods?

KM: In the game itself, there are no elements that directly touch on the history of Sengoku or Edo periods, but in cross media like Story Mode, the 3D animation, and cartoon anime, there are parts that indirectly touch upon history in the characters' backgrounds, so I hope players enjoy that as well.

How did you decide on the art style for Ninjala?

KM: Even back during the planning stage, the art style had a pop and casual theme. The reason is that I wanted to present the exact opposite image of what we might traditionally associate with ninjas. When you think of ninjas, it is easy to picture a dark image, and I think many games about ninjas in the past have been bloody and gruesome. However, since Ninjala is meant to be enjoyed by both children and adults, the direction of the art style using pop and vivid colors was explained to the Art Director through the game concept, character direction, color scheme and form, etc. With the use of an image board, the art style became what it is today.

Ninjala Battle (Image credit: GungHo Online Entertainment)

I've seen many people online comparing Ninjala to Splatoon. Is this a good comparison? What would you say to people who are comparing Ninjala to Splatoon?

KM: I don't think it's a bad thing. I think the eight players and the vibrancy of the overall presentation is what reminds people of Splatoon, but when you play it you will understand the difference through the game mechanics. We've actually heard feedback from players who thought it looked Splatoon-like, but after playing it they could tell how different it is. The key difference is that Ninjala is a close-combat action game, and the theme of the game is to defeat opponents and earn points. In other words, the pleasure of attacking and defeating opponents is the instinctive, intuitive, and simple rule design of the game. Also, there is a 4v4 team battle in Ninjala, but the core of the game is centered on battle royale. And above all, it presents a unique brand of action based on bubblegum, which is the biggest feature of this game.

What makes Ninjala unique from other multiplayer Switch games?

KM: A key difference is the close-combat action. Many multiplayer games, not just those on the Nintendo Switch, are shooters, which is a big difference from the kind of action you'll see in Ninjala. And again, the strongest characteristic of the action in Ninjala is that it starts from Ninja-Gum.

Ninjala Gumchi (Image credit: GungHo Online Entertainment)

How did you come up with the idea for Ninja-Gum and why does it play such an important role in Ninjala?

KM: From the theme of ninjas and chambara (sword fighting) multiplayer, I was looking for a new action concept that would lead to an even more enjoyable action UI. One day, I just so happened to be chewing gum and came up with this idea. Gum is easy to transform and can be inflated to create different shapes. I felt that it could be used in various ways like how ninjas transform, so it came to be that the game's core action concept is based on "bubblegum." Ninja-Gum is the key concept behind the world setting and story.

What is the battle style like in Ninjala?

KM: Basically it is close-combat comical action, as opposed to a realistic, violent action game. For example, players can blow huge bubbles and use them in various ways, but if you blow a big bubble and your opponent attacks you with a break attack, you'll be bound up by your own gum! The Ninja-Gum can also allow you to use a transformation technique and Gum Utsusemi to tease other players, so there are a variety of comical movements that are characteristic of Ninjala.

Can you upgrade weapons in Ninjala?

KM: Weapons themselves cannot be upgraded, but new types of weapons will be added in the season updates. Also, there are passive skills that have a growth element called "Shinobi Cards" that can be customized depending on the player's preferred fighting style. Additionally, players can strengthen their "Shinobi Cards" with "Assist Codes" and "Ninja Medals" that can be earned as battle rewards. In addition to weapons, "Shinobi Cards" will also be added in later updates so that the players can continue improving and evolving, giving them more reasons to keep playing.

Is there anything else regarding Ninjala that you'd like to share?

KM: They're small details, but I would like players to pay attention to the characters' rich facial movements and intricate emotions. Regarding the background music, it's also worth noting that another opportunity for self expression within the game is that the player who places first will have their theme song played for all competitors of that match.

At the end of the day, Ninjala is a battle action game, but we have developed it with a game design philosophy where even people who are not good at action games can have fun by both winning or losing. The players who have been looking forward to Ninjala despite repeated delays are finally able to play. I hope you will all enjoy the game.

Rebecca Spear
Gaming Editor

Gaming aficionado Rebecca Spear is iMore's dedicated gaming editor with a focus on Nintendo Switch and iOS gaming. You’ll never catch her without her Switch or her iPad Air handy. If you’ve got a question about Pokémon, The Legend of Zelda, or just about any other Nintendo series check out her guides to help you out. Rebecca has written thousands of articles in the last six years including hundreds of extensive gaming guides, previews, and reviews for both Switch and Apple Arcade. She also loves checking out new gaming accessories like iPhone controllers and has her ear to the ground when it comes to covering the next big trend.