For this bonus edition of "Game On," The Fly spoke with Dlala Studios CEO Aj Grand-Scrutton to discuss the studio's upcoming video game "Disney Illusion Island," a 2D platformer based on Disney's (DIS) classic Mickey Mouse characters. In the exclusive interview, Grand-Scrutton also talks about Dlala's relationship with Nintendo (NTDOY), the release of its 2020 Xbox (MSFT) title "Battletoads," and more. The following interview has been edited for clarity.
'ILLUSION ISLAND': Dlala's next title "Disney Illusion Island," which is set to release exclusively for Nintendo Switch on July 28, 2023, was featured in a recent Nintendo Direct presentation. “In terms of the feedback, it’s been fantastic, it’s been really positive," the Dlala CEO said of the feedback the game has received so far. "We’re getting some lovely comparisons – when your stuff is being compared to previous Mickey games and ‘Rayman Legends,’ it’s hard not to take that as a gigantic compliment. What’s really interesting is that we announced [the game] at D23, and that was great because it was a big announcement for Disney fans, but this most recent Nintendo Direct put us in front of an actual gaming audience, so we’re seeing a lot of excitement come through. We’re seeing a combination of older players and teen players getting excited about what the gameplay and abilities might lead to, and we’re seeing excitement come through from families around four-player couch co-op.”
When asked to describe Dlala's relationship with Nintendo, Grand-Scrutton said the Japanese game giant has been "fantastic." "Obviously, the game is releasing exclusively on Nintendo Switch," he said. "If you told me as a four-year-old boy playing the NES that one day I’d be making a Mickey Mouse game with Disney and Nintendo, I wouldn’t have believed you! But yeah, it’s been a real honor. Being part of a Nintendo Direct in general is a real honor. I wish I had some nasty gossip for you, but it’s honestly been a really positive experience.”
NINTENDO SWITCH: Given that the Switch is underpowered compared to the modern Xbox and PlayStation (SONY) consoles, even smaller developers and publishers have discussed the unique challenges of making games for the platform. In Dlala's case, however, Grand-Scrutton said that his team hasn't faced too much difficulty so far, since "Illusion Island" was built specifically with the Switch in mind. “To be honest, we’ve been doing great," he told The Fly. "We knew what we were doing from day one. We knew the crossover of the audience with Nintendo and Mickey was perfect for the Switch, so we’ve been developing this game with the Switch in mind from day one. From basically the first day of development, we’ve had this game up and running on a Switch.”
“Each step of the day, we are playing it on Switch and Switch Lite, we’re making sure it feels good," Grand-Scrutton continued. "Obviously, Nintendo has been really great in supporting us. We’re developing the game in Unity, but we’re also using a lot of the toolset we’ve developed ourselves over the last ten years.”
“We’ve had a lovely transition from ‘Battletoads,’ because when we were making ‘Battletoads’ we were making it for the last-gen Xbox, which comes with its own restrictions," he added. "So a lot of the lessons we learned the hard way with ‘Battletoads,’ we handled a lot easier going into this project.”
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DISNEY: When asked if Disney has been particularly involved in the development of "Illusion Island," Grand-Scrutton said the media conglomerate has not meddled too much with the project and has been largely supportive of the studio's creative decisions. “Disney has been there for us every day," he said. "We’ve had access to them on a daily basis, whether just with casual catch-ups or checking in…we always have access to our liaisons if we needed anything, such as reference materials. They’ve been there for us, but this is a Dlala game. This is not Disney giving us a brief, or telling us ‘Mickey has to do this’ or anything. One of our key pillars for this was that we wanted something that would be distinctly Disney but uniquely Dlala, and that’s what they wanted [as well]. So there’s been no pressures. We’re all Mickey fans, so we’ve been respectful of the IP. And when there have been areas where we want to push things in the game, those conversations [with Disney] have been really comfortable… Most of the time, the answer is yes. If the answer’s no, it’s never a hard no.”
“There’s been no agenda pushed on us," Grand-Scrutton added. "It has literally just been like, go be Dlala and show us what a Mickey Mouse Dlala game looks like.”
'BATTLETOADS': Dlala's last game, the 2020 "Battletoads" reboot, released on PC and Xbox One to mixed-to-positive reviews, with Grand-Scrutton telling The Fly at the time that he felt the reception was "fantastic." When asked for this interview what lessons he learned from the release of "Battletoads," he replied, "Don't read Twitter posts!"
"Ithink we learned more from making it than from the release," he said. "We have partnered with large corporations who handled most of the release side, so we don’t handle marketing ourselves.”
“We had a great response to ‘Battletoads’ and a negative response to ‘Battletoads,’ and we knew that would be the case from day one," Grand-Scrutton noted. "We knew the reaction to ‘Battletoads’ would be completely diverse, and really split the audience. We felt more comfortable going into [‘Disney Illusion Island’], because Disney fans are different from ‘Battletoads’ fans. I’m not saying that ‘Battletoads’ fans are bad and Disney fans are good, but they’re very different, and we understood going into this that Mickey means something to a lot of people. What Mickey stands for is really, really important, and that has to be a core tenet of what we’re creating. There’s a nearly 100-year history of Mickey that already exists, so we wanted to absorb that.”
“When making ‘Battletoads,’ we didn't want to make a sequel to ‘Battletoads Arcade,’" he added. "This isn’t the right time or the right audience. For Mickey, it’s not about doing a sequel to an existing game, it’s about taking this beloved [character] and bringing him back to a medium he’s had success in before.”
SONY: Given that Dlala has recently made an exclusive game for a Microsoft platform and will soon release a game exclusively on a Nintendo platform, The Fly asked the Dlala CEO if the studio sees itself working on a PlayStation exclusive sometime in the future. “The honest answer I have for you is we’d never say no! These exclusive releases weren’t necessarily things we set out for, it was more that the right opportunities presented themselves for the right platforms and the right IP," he said. "We’ve had great conversations with PlayStation and Sony in the past… We’d 100% be open to conversations with any of the platform holders as long as it made sense for us, made sense for them, and made sense for the IP.”
"Game On" is The Fly's weekly recap of the stories powering up or beating down video game stocks.