EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Jungle Rumble!!’s Trevor Stricker

In making the rhythm game Jungle Rumble!! for iOS devices and, soon, Android ones as well, the good people at Disco Pixel could’ve had you controlling lions or tigers or giraffes, oh my. But in talking to Disco Pixel’s Trevor Stricker, he revealed that, no, it was always going to be monkeys. Sweet, sweet monkeys.

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Let’s start with the basics: What is Jungle Rumble!!, how do you play it, and what games do you think it’s similar to?

Jungle Rumble!! is a rhythm game where you drum to control a tribe of monkeys. A rival tribe invades to steal bananas, so the player taps on the screen to send monkeys into the fray with a rhythmic grammar.

It’s Patapon meets Advance Wars. It’s a rhythm-R.T.S.

But as a rhythmless white guy, is Jungle Rumble!! goingto be super frustrating or are there elements to it so people who can’t keep a beat will still enjoy it?

It’s a rhythm game. If Rhythm Heaven, Space Channel 5, or Donkey Konga release pleasure bubbles in the brain, then it’s a fit.

It’s about drumming and strategy. It’s not about grading the player on perfect timing. It requires no more rhythm than keeping the beat with a pen.

If I do badly at the game, will the monkeys fling their poo at me?

No. Only if you do well!

What about pies? Did you ever think of having the monkeys throw pie at you when you fail?

Monkeys would never throw a banana cream pie. They’d eat it.

So who did the music for the game? Did you hire any cool drummers like Clyde Stubblefield, Jack DeJohnette, or Neil Peart?

Clyde Stubblefield didn’t return my calls. Maybe you could put a good word in?

The music was done by Richard Gould of Hexany Audio. He is a total nerd of Afro-Cuban percussion. We had a long learning process during development of finding beats that were a balance between having interesting things going on while being easy to follow.

Richard was recently asked to sing the national anthem at Fenway Park. We’re in Boston, where this is considered a big deal. However, I don’t think they realized that he’s a Brit who knows neither the words nor the first thing about baseball. This is a true story.

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Jungle Rumble!! also employs some strategy elements. What other strategy games were an influence on how this aspect of the game would work?

What makes the game cool is that your attention is taken up by drumming while the recesses of your mind plot out the strategy. For that to work, the strategy has to be very accessible. The enemies have different behaviors, and learning them is part of mastering the game. In that respect, it reminds me of Metal Gear where you have to learn the guards’ patterns.

Jungle Rumble!! has an interesting art style. What are some of the things that influenced it, and why did you go with this kind of artsy, paper cutout style?

I really wanted iconic monkeys. Luigi, the artist, and I spent a few months contemplating the essence of monkeyness. This is a true story.

Did employing this kind of art ever cause problems when you were making the game?

It causes people to think that it’s a kids’ game. It’s actually a very old school game with a learning curve and some difficulty. When we’ve shown it at conventions where whole families come, like the Boston Festival Of Indie Games, we’ve had some frustrated kids who can’t quite grasp the mechanics yet. On the flip side, we’ve also had kids who pick it up instantly and then try to explain this weird mechanic to their flummoxed parents. That’s a lot of fun.

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Now as a rhythm game with monkeys, you’re obviously going to be compared to Samba De Amigo and Donkey Konga. Are either or both of those an influence or an inspiration for Jungle Rumble!!?

They are the water lilies to my Monet. I’m not sure gaming gets any better than four player Donkey Konga.

But those are also games where the player is graded on following a script. In Jungle Rumble!! the player has agency, makes choices, employs strategy. Drumming is just the means of control.

Of course, some people are also going to assume that Jungle Rumble!! is a boxing game set in 1974 with Muhammad Ali and George Foreman. Did that ever prompt you guys to rethink the name?

We had some other names in mind, but they got nixed. Bananatron was too ’80s. Mofongo Tribe was too cryptic. Monkey Finger was too…hairy.

Jungle Rumble!! is available for iOS, and will soon be available on Android devices as well. Are there plans to bring it to game consoles? And would it even work on them? I can see the PlayStation Vita, since it has a touchscreen…but then nobody owns a PlayStation Vita.

Nobody owns a PS Vita…except for a bunch of people who love it and play lots of games on it. It might not have the install base of the iPhone, but install base isn’t everything. Which is why we’re talking to Sony. The Vita is a great platform.

Unlike a lot of mobile games these days, Jungle Rumble!! isn’t free-to-play with microtransactions. But a lot of games that are end up irritating their fans by being too aggressive about making people pay for stuff. Is this why you decided not to go this route?

I’m old school. I make games because it’s what I loved when I was young. So my design sense comes from what I played when I was young and my mind was a sponge for how the world worked.

Jungle Rumble!! is a weird new type of rhythm game. Players should experiment, try things, figure it out. It would not be the same sense of freedom if I stuck my hand out to collect a toll every so often.

 

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So if you could get anyone else to be in the game, even if they weren’t still around, who would you most want to get? John Bonham? Keith Moon? Fay Wray circa 1933?

Tito Puente!

But seriously, what ever happened to Fay Wray?

That delicate satin draped frame? No idea.

 

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