Get connected to all the details on Vitamin Connection, straight from the game’s director!
Full of colorful characters, a variety of play mechanics, an epic soundtrack, and bacteria-blasting action for one or two players, Vitamin Connection is the next original title from WayForward, coming soon exclusively to Nintendo Switch! It arrives in the eShop on Feb. 20, 2020, and it’s currently available for preorder in physical form from limitedrungames.com — there’s even a collector’s edition featuring adorable plushies of the main characters and a whole lot more!
But what is this crazy, innovative, inner-body journey all about? How does it take advantage of the Switch’s unique features? How does it provide a co-op experience like no other? And what does that title, Vitamin Connection, actually mean? Even if you’ve seen the trailer, you may still have questions, but look no further — we’ve got all that info and more, straight from the mouth of the director, WayForward’s very own James Montagna!
WayForward: For starters, can you introduce yourself and tell us more about your role on Vitamin Connection?
James Montagna: Sure! I’m James Montagna (mon-tonya), designer/director at WayForward and the creator of Vitamin Connection. As designer, my job was to come up with the vision of what the game would be, and as director, I lead a team of artists, programmers, and audio staff to bring that vision to life.
WF: Where did the idea for Vitamin Connection come from, and what drew you to the concept?
JM: Vitamin Connection started as a love letter to Nintendo Switch. The moment WayForward first got Switch hardware in the studio, we wanted to create an experience perfectly suited to the unique aspects of the system. For whatever reason, my imagination went to players working together to copilot some kind of ship using the Joy-Con. One great trait about the Joy-Con is the ability to orient them either horizontally or vertically, and our response to that was…“why not both?” So we came up with a co-op mode, called “Together Play,” where players 1 and 2 have their own distinct role to perform, and even hold the controller differently from one another. There’s also “Solo Play,” which has one player taking over both roles! That’s three very different ways to enjoy the same game, so make sure you try them all!
The rest was a completely natural process. After the basic gameplay style was figured out, the concept of the ship being a vitamin capsule and navigating inside of a body to fight bacteria was like a bolt of lightning. Over the course of a few minutes, the idea was fully formed in my mind right down to the characters’ approximate looks and even their names. Further ideas flowed from there, stacking on top of that foundation, and it was turning out to be a unique setting as far as video games go, so we stuck with it.
WF: How would you describe the game for someone who’s never seen it before?
JM: In this game, you and an optional partner take on the roles of Vita-Boy & Mina-Girl to copilot the Capsule Ship, which is actually a tiny vitamin capsule. Together, you’ll embark on a journey to heal members of a family, called the Sable family, from the inside of their body. Starting with the family’s son who has caught a cold, you’ll use the ship’s Vitamin Beam to zap bacteria monsters, and engage in challenges called “Sub-Games” to further cure the host. Along the journey, you’ll meet an interesting cast of micro-sized characters both friend and foe, and take on increasingly unhinged missions. You’ll have to play for yourself to see just how the story escalates!
Narrative aside, the game will have you carefully rotating the Joy-Con controller to turn the ship through tight corridors, as well as using the Control Stick to precisely steer, all without crashing into the walls. At the same time, you’re also coordinating with each other to fire the Vitamin Beam and wipe out bacteria enemies — it’s a lot of fun!
WF: It seems very hard to classify this game into a genre, but if you had to, what would you call it?
JM: I always find this to be a challenging question. It certainly has similarities to the “shoot-‘em-up” genre, but I wouldn’t exactly categorize it as one. There’s even rhythm elements, but not as the core experience. If I absolutely had to categorize it, I would call it an action game, though I know that’s a vague descriptor at best.
Despite once developing a game that contains every genre ever, game genre isn’t something I think about all that much personally. After we create a game, if it just so happens to fit in a category that helps people understand it better, that’s convenient. But if we were to establish a game like this as being of a particular classification during development, it might start to steer our choices and be a bit restrictive.
WF: How does it take advantage of the Switch’s features?
JM: First and foremost, central to the cooperative concept is the fact that the standard Switch has two Joy-Con, so you’re always all set to play with a friend. Vitamin Connection makes extensive use of the Joy-Con motion control, with P2 tilting the controller to rotate the ship, and P1 aiming the Joy-Con like a laser pointer to control something called the Claw Module. Next, my personal favorite, HD Rumble gives a variety of unique sensations such as a ratcheting in the Joy-Con as you rotate the ship, or a pulling tension as you cut through Bacteria Ribbons.
One of the Sub-Games, Grab Fever, uses the IR Motion Camera in the right Joy-Con, which is a not-often-used feature. To play, you hold the Joy-Con with one hand, and move your other hand in real space toward and away from the Joy-Con. This controls a pantograph apparatus, and you use it to stretch a hand-shaped ship out to grab and pull away toxic mucus blobs. As you are moving your hand through thin air, you’ll feel an accordion-stretching tactile feedback with HD Rumble in the other hand — the more I explain it the crazier it all sounds, but the result feels a little bit magical and I hope you’ll enjoy playing with it.
WF: What makes this game special as a local co-op experience?
JM: When first proposing the concept, I described the experience of playing Vitamin Connection a little bit like…let’s say you and a friend were driving a car…except one of you had the wheel, and the other the gas and brake. Try to drive on the freeway and reach your destination! Sounds dangerous! And thrilling! You’d have to really coordinate well with each other to get where you’re going unscathed. In a world without consequence, it sounds like a lot of fun to try.
Anyhow, Vitamin Connection is far less dangerous, but also a similar sort of fun when playing with another person. We call the main mode “Journey Together,” because there is a story unfolding as you and your partner are going on this adventure with one another, and the sense of accomplishment you get when seeing how far you’ve come together is part of the magic, I think. Compared to other co-op experiences, Vitamin Connection in particular is a noteworthy ice breaker, and you’re likely to feel a little bit closer to your partner when you accomplish a goal together in the game under the amusing constraint of a virtual three-legged race.
WF: What things helped inspire the aesthetic and outlook of the game?
JM: Part of the look is to serve the gameplay. By having these high contrast, flat-colored environments, you can easily discern the walls you are avoiding colliding with. Even though the game takes place inside the body, the brand guidelines we established are to never show anything grotesque. That’s why it’s all super vibrant and abstract; we want it to feel welcoming for a wide variety of players.
Regarding the visual styling, we used the term “retrofuture” to define our direction. That’s in part inspired by my own upbringing, because my parents collected vintage 1950s’ decor and adorned our house with it. But it was a house of modern technology and conveniences too, so this concept of sensibilities colliding has always been interesting to me, and worked its way into the game. Lindsay Collins, lead artist on Vitamin Connection and my most frequent collaborator, has a deeply rooted understanding of this styling too. That’s why I could entrust Lindsay with the task of establishing the game universe we had our sights set on. She would present me with these sheets of explorations and possibilities, and we worked together whittling them down until we zeroed in on Vita-Boy & Mina-Girl as the versions of them you see today. Lindsay put so much thought into each member of the Sable family through this process as well, and the result is a very endearing and stylish cast of characters.
WF: What role does humor play in the game?
JM: Humor is found throughout Vitamin Connection because…there’s just no other way to tell this story. It’s nearly impossible to take a premise as ridiculous as the one in Vitamin Connection seriously, so embracing the fact that it’s weird — and it KNOWS it’s weird — is the only way. Naturally, this leads to a lot of truly hilarious scenarios all throughout the game. So many people watching the cinematic sequences for the first time have been very verbal, like “Bad dog! Don’t do it! Don’t eat that!” or “How did that just happen?!” I hope this means they’re being entertained.
As for the micro-sized side of things, the oddball cast of in-game characters themselves are made to be preposterous in order to drive players to keep playing. You’ll find a strong incentive to continue the journey is finding out just what the characters will blurt out next.
I also feel comedy runs in our DNA as a developer. Looking at the Shantae series, Cat Girl Without Salad, and recently River City Girls, my favorite experiences we’ve made incorporate a fair bit of comedy, which is probably a reflection of the folks that make up our studio. Vitamin Connection carries that same absurd WayForward spirit onward.
WF: Tell us about the music. How does music enhance the experience, and who were your musical collaborators on the game?
JM: Okay… there’s a lot to share on this topic!
From the very start, we knew the music for Vitamin Connection needed to be something extra special. I enlisted the help of Jake Kaufman’s music-production studio Mint Potion to do this, and Jake tapped Tommy Pedrini and Maddie Lim to take the lead. Tommy and Maddie both expressed that same desire to create something outstanding, and without a conscious effort to do so, it resulted in the most ambitious WayForward soundtrack of all time. Along with their own contributions, they reached out to a global network of talent to get in on the game, making Vitamin Connection into an international collaboration project of artists. The result of this is not only the most stylistically diverse soundtrack we’ve ever been able to present, but the most vocal tracks, and the longest runtime minute for minute. As for who the additional talent is, we will gradually be revealing further details on WayForward’s social media channels as we near release.
Tommy and I share a fondness for groups like Pizzicato Five and Fantastic Plastic Machine, so we wanted to inject a lot of Shibuya-kei inspired music into Vitamin Connection, which seemed like a great match for the visual style. Maddie also pulled from similar influences like the work of Yasutaka Nakata, and the result is a contemporary and cool vibe to many of the tracks. All in all, we explore future bass, hip hop, j-pop, funk fusion, jazz fusion, eurobeat, prog-metal, drum & bass, bossa nova, ondo, folk, chiptunes… I’m still forgetting a lot of them right now, but you get the idea! Hopefully there’s something that resonates with everyone in the soundtrack. And if you’ve never had an appreciation for traditional Japanese enka style music, we’ll get that sorted out too.
There’s one more detail I’d like to mention. Vitamin Connection features music in a unique “6-channel audio” format, which was actually a bit tricky to pull off, but provides some really cool dynamic results. When players move the Capsule Ship on screen, and when they fire the Vitamin Beam, their actions are directly altering the music. It creates an immersive and beautiful effect, so please listen for it while you play!
WF: What are Sub-Games, and how do they fit into Vitamin Connection?
JM: Over the course of the story, you’ll encounter special areas known as vital locations. It is here that Sub-Games take place, which are challenges presented in a new play style — essentially a brief break from the standard gameplay. If you clear that challenge, you will cure that vital location and continue on with the journey. There’s a variety of Sub-Game types, each with its own unique gameplay twist. As you progress, you’ll unlock the games as their own standalone experiences, complete with their own title screen from the main menu!
My personal favorite Sub-Game is called Dance Festival, and it places the players among other Capsule Ships with a series of dance steps on screen. The players follow the steps closely to make the ship dance to the rhythm of the music, stepping the ship up and down, tilting, clapping, and even spinning around 180 degrees. If done properly, you won’t collide with the other dancing ships as you move! In the end, it looks a bit like a synchronized swimming routine, but in actuality this game was inspired by my own experiences performing “Bon Odori,” a folk dance associated with Japanese festivals.
WF: For clarification, what controllers can be used to play the game? Is it playable on Switch Lite?
JM: A goal of ours was to make every configuration a valid and unique way to enjoy this game. You can have a fun solo experience playing Vitamin Connection on a Switch that is in handheld mode, and naturally that compatibility extends to Switch Lite (though there’s no HD Rumble to enjoy on Switch Lite). You can also play in TV mode or tabletop mode. If playing Solo Play in these configurations, the game will suggest you use the Joy-Con Grip or Nintendo Switch Pro Controller. Together Play will have you using the Joy-Con (L) or Joy-Con (R) depending on which role you play as. Naturally, your partner plays the opposite role.
WF: When playing Together Play mode, would you rather be player 1 or 2?
JM: So, player 1 is Vita-Boy, and they’ll use the Control Stick to move the ship, and ZL to fire the Vitamin Beam. Player 2 is Mina-Girl, who tilts the Joy-Con to rotate, and uses the Control Stick to aim the Vitamin Beam. I’m proficient at both roles, so I like to step up the challenge by choosing Together Play and controlling both Player 1 and Player 2 by myself with a Joy-Con in each hand, held in their correct orientation. I had to do this a lot during development to test things out, and I consider this a totally valid way to play. I kind of hope players will get experimental and try this out for themselves. Maybe it’s the most authentic solo Vitamin Connection experience after all. Recommended just for hardcore players.
I guess my answer is, selfishly, I’d be both players.
WF: Who is your favorite character aside from Vita-Boy and Mina-Girl?
JM: I love them all; I seriously can’t pick one! My answer changes by the flavor of the week.
Right now, I think my favorite character is Malady. And it’s tough to talk about her without spoiling anything since she is the final boss of the game. But I love her because she is such a strong contrast next to all of these other silly characters and it makes for some of the most heartfelt moments in the game. She’s well spoken, powerful, and dare I say beautiful. Sometimes.
However, Pro-Biotic, the bacteria anti-hero character, was probably the most fun to write lines for. Being a samurai, there’s a certain expectation of elegance and nobility in his mannerisms, which creates a fun combination paired with his constant obliviousness. I’m not sure if this is a secret or not, but after you clear Journey Together or Solo Journey, there’s a whole other game in which you can play through a new journey as Pro-Biotic. Pro-Biotic’s mode is a truly incredible story. As in, it has no credibility whatsoever.
WF: Can you tell us one secret about Vitamin Connection?
JM: Hmm… About the name Vitamin Connection itself, it’s actually the name of a radio station that Vita-Boy & Mina-Girl are listening to in their ship. So, different from other games, the songs have a start and an end like what you might hear on the radio, and there’s even little interstitials and occasionally commercials between the songs while you play. The sheer musical variety keeps the journey very interesting and delightful all the way through — you don’t have to get tired of hearing the same song! That’s Vitamin Connection!
WF: Finally, why is this a must-have for Switch owners?
JM: The experience we ended up creating with Vitamin Connection is pretty unique among other games, and when you add it to your Switch library, you’ll always have this quirky and interesting ice breaker to enjoy for yourself, or with friends. The stand-alone Sub-Games are well suited for a quick burst of entertainment when you have only a few minutes, and the main gameplay mode is sure to draw you in with its charming personality and satisfying sense of progression. Also, Vitamin Connection is a game everyone can play. It’s great for friends, couples, parents and kids… You could even play it with a complete stranger. Perhaps you’ll become friends by the end of your journey together.