Inti Creates: Introduction and History

This month on MoeGamer, we’re taking a look at a group of games that are connected primarily through the developer that created them.

That developer is Inti Creates, a group formed by ex-Capcom staff in 1996. It’s a company that is much-beloved by its fans, but which has, over the years, tended to beaver away at things quietly in the background rather than becoming a real household name like some other more high-profile Japanese development outfits.

That’s a bit of a shame, so that’s what this month is all about; specifically, it’s about the company’s recent output, presenting a variety of modern-day takes on traditional side-scrollers from the 8- and 16-bit eras.

Inti Creates released its first game in the year of its formation: the Japan-only (and rather gloriously named) Speed Power Gunbike for PS1, a title in which you took control of a transforming mecha that could switch between bike, rally car and bipedal robot forms.

This early title is immediately recognisable as an Inti Creates game thanks to its inventive combination of an anime-style aesthetic and concept with tight mechanics and a strong emphasis on challenging, technical gameplay. Right from the outset, you have to make use of both racing and combat skills — often switching at a moment’s notice — to progress through the various arcade-style levels. Critics of the game noted its high degree of challenge could be offputting to some, though this would prove to be nothing unusual for an Inti Creates game over time — or indeed for the more arcadey side of Japanese games in general.

Speed Power Gunbike was followed up a year later by Love & Destroy, another Japan-only mecha-centric game for PS1, focusing more on the “giant stompy robots blowing things up ” aspect this time around. This title also heavily played up the anime-style aesthetic with fully animated cutscenes as well as line-art character overlays atop the polygonal 3D action to emphasise various happenings. This helped give the game a lot of personality and character to it — something that is extremely important to mecha anime, but which was often lacking in mech games of the era, particularly those from Western developers.

Love & Destroy featured a great sense of physical scale with dramatically presented combat against giant enemies, and also gave us an early look at what would become a commonly recurring theme in Inti Creates titles: heavy use of futuristic, virtual reality-style computer interfaces and a “digital” aesthetic… plus cute girls.

The company’s next game was Kurohige no Golf Shiyouyou for Game Boy Advance, released in 2002. Rather impressively for the diminutive system, this was a fully polygonal (albeit flat-shaded) 3D golf game featuring course flybys, the now-expected “ball-following” camera after you make your shot, and a selection of colourful characters presented as 2D sprites atop the polygonal scenery.

Predating the PSP version of Everybody’s Golf by two years, the game remains an impressive technical achievement and recognisable as one of the earlier examples of what we now know as modern-style golf games. The game’s cast is pure Inti Creates, too, incorporating cute girls, strapping young teenage boys and comically exaggerated “villains”, all presented in a distinctive art style that isn’t quite “chibi”, but which nonetheless infuses its whole cast with considerably more cuteness than they would have if they were depicted in more realistic proportions.

It was later that year that the world as a whole would become more familiar with Inti Creates’ work, however, when, in collaboration with their former colleagues at Capcom, the company produced the well-regarded but challenging Mega Man Zero. This was an interesting time both for the series and for Inti Creates; in the latter’s case, although the company’s previous work had been reasonably well-received, the venture as a whole had not, according to producer and director Takuya Sotsu, been as successful as they had hoped it would be. This led to some members of the team joking with Keiji Inafune, who was still with Capcom at the time, about him hiring them to make yet another Mega Man sequel.

To their surprise, Inafune took them seriously, and thus Inti Creates was commissioned to produce a new game, and what would become the start of a new subseries. Even more unusually, Inti Creates was given pretty much free rein on how they handled the project; Inafune’s only input was to require that the team incorporate Zerowho had previously appeared as a secondary character in the Mega Man X games, as the primary protagonist.

Mega Man Zero was well-received and sold well too, but some critics drew attention to its high degree of difficulty. This was, in fact, a sign that Inti Creates had achieved exactly what it had set out to do, however; part of the developer’s stated goal for the new game was to make it the most challenging Mega Man game to date.

A little leeway was given to newer or less skilled players with the game’s customisable “Cyber Elf” system, which allowed the player to equip Zero with various ways to make the game a little easier, ranging from slowing down all the enemies in a stage to reducing a boss’ life bar. These benefits weren’t just given to the player, mind — you still had to track them down, and some wouldn’t activate their effects until certain conditions had been met. It was an interesting addition to the overall metagame that most reviewers acknowledged helped take a little of the “edge” off an otherwise difficult game.

The Mega Man Zero era was a time when Capcom and Inafune were seemingly trying to distance themselves from Mega Man; according to Sotsu, speaking at a lecture at the Japanese computer school Trident in 2005, later conversations with Inafune revealed that he did not intend to continue either the Mega Man Legends or the main Mega Man series any further — a fact which some fans to this day remain somewhat bitter about.

And indeed it was kind of true; the Mega Man games that would follow the original Zero were all developed by Inti Creates rather than Inafune’s own team at Capcom. These titles would include three sequels to Mega Man Zero on Game Boy Advance, two installments in new subseries Mega Man ZX for Nintendo DS and, to the great surprise of everyone in 2008 (and again in 2010), two brand new mainline installments in the original Mega Man series as downloadable titles for Wii, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, deliberately making use of an authentic NES-style audio-visual aesthetic despite being on the more modern systems.

This was a company that had clearly found its niche. And that niche was to produce games which combined the best parts of old-school gameplay sensibilities with more modern aspects of overall game design and quality of life improvements. Inti Creates had proven itself to be a team that understood the reason why retro games hold such an enduring appeal for people even as technology continues to improve — and a company that also understood what modern gamers wanted from their favourite hobby.

Inti Creates’ clear understanding of its niche remains obvious even in its titles that are less explicitly “retro” in flavour. Perhaps most notably, in the Gal*Gun series, the team effortlessly combines elements of dating sims with on-rails lightgun-style arcade shooters to create an experience that is engaging and satisfying from both mechanical and narrative perspectives.

Gal*Gun Double Peace in particular is a game that is highly enjoyable to play whether you’re chasing high scores or trying to get into Shinobu’s pantsu, and has considerably more depth to both its gameplay and story than many people give it credit for, especially once you unlock the “True Love” route and the game becomes a full-on dating sim with stat manipulation aplenty.

It’s those retro-style titles that helped make the Inti Creates of today into what it is, however, so it’s the most recent examples of those games that we’re going to be exploring over the course of the next few Cover Game features. Specifically, we’re going to be looking at Blaster Master Zero, the two games in the Azure Striker Gunvolt series, the company’s controversial collaboration with Keiji Inafune’s Comcept Mighty No. 9 and the delightful “crossover” title Mighty Gunvolt Burst.

Each of these games provides a distinct take on the theme of the “retro side-scroller”, and each game is very much worth spending some time with in its own right — yes, even Mighty No. 9, one of the most widely scorned games on the Internet at the time of writing, for reasons we’ll explore further when we come to it.

Over the course of these games, we have the opportunity to see Inti Creates tackle a variety of 2D gameplay styles: free-roaming Metroidvania-style exploration with an 8-bit aesthetic in Blaster Master Zero; structured 16-bit style platforming and action with the Azure Striker Gunvolt games; an attempt to modernise the traditional Mega Man formula with Mighty No. 9; and an intoxicating blend of character customisation and NES-era Mega Man gameplay and aesthetics with Mighty Gunvolt Burst.

And then, of course, in a couple of months, we have Gal*Gun 2 to look forward to, but that is a story for another day…


More about Blaster Master Zero
More about Azure Striker Gunvolt
More about Azure Striker Gunvolt 2
More about Mighty No. 9
More about Mighty Gunvolt Burst
More about Gal*Gun Double Peace

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5 thoughts on “Inti Creates: Introduction and History”

  1. Then it begs the question … what happened with Mighty No.9 ? In term of aestethics? Because I think that is one of the big points of contention , well also add the terrible marketing insulting their primary market.

    Like

  2. One thing I appreciate about Inti Creates is that it embraces the 8/16-bit aesthetic but maintains an authentic feel. Compare that to practically every “indie” western studio just slapping on a pixel-art coat to some half-baked play mechanics, and Gunvolt or Blaster Master feel like such a breath of fresh air. It may seem harsh to generalize, but I really felt studios like Inti or even Tokyo RPG factory really “get” the aesthetic without it feeling hamfisted or precious. Great article.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. They get the 8/16-bit aesthetic right because a lot of the people involved were there first time around and aren’t just doing “wow, pixel art” to try and be fashionably retro-hipster.

      This means that they understand what makes good pixel art — along with, crucially, the limitations that pixel artists had to work with back in the day, such as limited colour palettes, limited memory to store frames of animation and suchlike.

      There’s also little things that a lot of (usually Western) indie devs jumping on the pixel art bandwagon tend to forget, chief among them being good quality pixel scaling at higher resolutions. Pixel art should look incredibly crisp and sharp-edged at HD resolutions; moreover, all the pixels should remain completely square regardless of which line of the screen they’re on. All too many indie devs forget this latter bit in particular, leading to some lines looking like they have “thicker” pixels than others, which makes the whole thing look a lot less authentic.

      Also fuck that popular trend for indie games with stick-legged, faceless, personality-free insectoid protagonists. (Sword & Sworcery is the best example I can think of; I really hate that game for a variety of reasons).

      And you’re absolutely right about the “feel” being spot-on, too; the recent Switch ports of Gunvolt are particularly good in this regard, as their slick 60fps performance really channels the spirit of 16-bit platform action.

      Liked by 1 person

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