Face the forces of evil with nothing but a hop and a skip and… a baseball bat. No, this is not the elevator pitch for a Kick Ass reboot. Instead, it’s the fundamental mission of Ryosuke, the sports-star hero of Sonzai Games’ latest adventure, Bat Boy. Determined to bring about all manner of twisted sporting events, Lord Vicious is nigh. It’s up to Ryosuke and company to put a stop to him.
With a mix of platforming, powers, and, of course, batting, this 2D adventure draws on both 8-bit and sentai inspirations of old. Sonzai Games, based in Osaka, Japan, developed the game. I had the opportunity to email interview Sergio Matta, lead developer on Bat Boy. Matta is best known for 3D platformer Super Sami Roll, which won the Bitsummit Sponsor Award in 2021.
How did the idea for Bat Boy come about?
The idea came to me towards the end of development for Super Sami Roll, [which] is a 3D platformer. For my next game, I wanted to do something completely different and with more developers, as Super Sami Roll was a solo project.
I am a big fan of 2D platformers, both old and new. I wanted to do something similar, but add my own set of mechanics to it, putting most of the focus on mobility and a pseudo-parry mechanic (a projectile deflection in this case). The thought of a character with a weapon that can deflect projectiles and also be used for platforming led to the bat idea. So Bat Boy not only uses the bat for its obvious purpose, he also hits enemies and objects around him in order to bounce on them.
Regarding the team, I had a good experience designing levels as a freelancer for a game called Smelter, developed by X Plus, a company based here in Osaka. I approached them with the game idea. They liked it, so we decided to develop it together.
Can you tell me more about the influences behind the game? Which sentai works and platformer games most inspired you when making Bat Boy?
The gameplay is inspired by old games like DuckTales and Super Mario World, in the sense that those [games] are classic examples of how to maximize mobility in a 2D space. More recent influences include The Messenger and Shovel Knight. For the aesthetics, the original character design was inspired by the games Viewtiful Joe and The Wonderful 101, with their simplified sentai look. However, it evolved a little bit once X Plus got hands-on with the project.
X Plus has been making sentai figurines for years. When we started discussing the character design, Sina, an artist at X Plus, quickly doubled down on the sentai aesthetic, taking inspiration from Super Sentai and Ultraman. It looked so cool, I was immediately on board!
What made you want to use the sentai aesthetic?
While I currently live in Japan, I'm originally from Spain. Growing up, I never really had access to many sentai shows. It was when I came to Japan that I realised what I had been missing. I just love the futuristic armour design the heroes wear. Since most sentai shows are now old, it looks like retro future gear, kind of like the Alien movies. I love that.
The moment the sentai aesthetic was mentioned, X Plus took it from there as the experts on the matter. The results are great. The red and white of Bat Boy's suit design is, in fact, heavily inspired by Ultraman. So most of the credit goes to them in that regard.
How has the experience been developing the game?
I've developed games within bigger teams before, but usually with everyone working in the same physical place. This is the first time I have worked with a team remotely.
Usually when you design a game, you have to create a lot of documentation about it. Things like mechanics, items, UI/UX design, etc. But working with a team remotely forces you to be way more concise and detailed, to avoid misunderstandings. I spent a great deal of time creating a wiki with all the aspects of the game. It definitely paid off in the long run.
Other than that, the game’s development has been very smooth. While I take care of the game design, level design, and coding, X Plus takes care of all the art and audio. Because we both have confidence in each other and know exactly what we want this game to be, there is no need to have all that many meetings. Each party does their part. The result is a game that is coming out very nicely, if I say so myself!
As an indie game developer, what’s one thing that you think everybody should know about game development?
Each project in game development is a huge commitment that takes years from start to finish. And after that the game may or may not sell. So basically every new project becomes a giant bet. In addition, like in any other job, a lot of things can happen during development. Both professionally and personally. While that is to be expected, small teams, especially solo developers, can be easily disrupted.
The result of all of this is a very taxing experience for most indie developers, especially so psychologically. That is just how it is. Not much can be done about it, other than trying to be supportive of each other.
I would like players to remember this before writing down hurtful reviews. It is OK to be negative about a game; it helps the developer to know what to do better next. However, it has to be expressed in a polite and respectful way. There are so many reviews on the Internet like “0/5, this game is s**t.” While a lot of them may come from children who don't know any better, there are some grown-ups that do it.
Please, remember that there are human beings behind every title, who have put a lot of effort and passion into making the game a reality. Insulting developers doesn't help anyone.
If you had to sum up Bat Boy in one sentence, what would it be?
Bat Boy is simple: you have the moveset of a ninja, the accuracy of a professional baseball player, and you are not going to allow anyone to stop you from saving your friends!
If you had ask me to describe it in a word, I would say "badass."
After reading Matta’s answers, my curiosity was piqued at his story. Moving from Spain to Japan as a game developer was something I had to know more about. I asked the Bat Boy developer if he could tell me more. Matta was happy to oblige, ending our conversation with a motivational origin story.
Could you tell me a little more about your journey from Spain to Japan, specifically as a game developer?
Since I was a kid, I knew I wanted to make games. It has always been kind of an obsession for me. However, when I grew up, I noticed that there were almost no game development companies in Spain. So I became a programmer for sales-related applications as my day job, and a 3D designer/level designer for games such as Half-Life and Counter-Strike in my spare time.
But I wanted more. I decided to move somewhere else, eyeing Japan in particular, since most of my favourite games came from here. My idea was to create my own studio someday in this country. I saved money and came to Japan in 2013, studied the language, and found my first job as a game programmer around 2015.
A couple of years later, I became a game designer. Shortly after, I was promoted to head of the development department of the company where I was working. It honestly was an amazing experience.
Just over a year ago, I finally founded Sonzai Games here in Osaka. It’s a dream come true for me. I feel very fortunate to have been able to come this far. I would like to encourage everyone else with a dream to chase it. Even if you never fully get there, it is really worth the journey.
Bat Boy releases on Steam in 2022.