When tiny studio Hipster Whale created the smash hit mobile game Crossy Road, it did so over the course of just 12 weeks with a team of just three people. But the follow-up, the recently announced Disney Crossy Road, isn't quite so small. The game, which launches today on iOS and Android, took nearly a year to create, a collaboration between Hipster Whale and developers at Disney. It features nine different worlds based on franchises like Toy Story and Zootopia, and nearly 150 characters to collect and play as. "It's been a much bigger project," says Hipster Whale's Matt Hall. "We can solve some of the problems that we saw in Crossy Road by rebooting it, so to speak."
Crossy Road launched back in 2014, and it features what its creators describe as "endless Frogger" gameplay. You're trying to get a character across the road, avoiding cars and other obstacles. What makes it different from Frogger is that there is no end point; you keep on playing until you're crushed, and the goal is to get as high of a score as possible by surviving for longer and longer. It sounds simple, and it is, but that was by design. "We had this philosophy early on with Crossy Road where we wanted every character to essentially play the same, so that it was a level playing field," says Hall. "The other restriction that we'd set on ourselves early was, it doesn't matter which character you played with, you're always having the same game."
What that did, though, was limit the original Crossy Road to one type of game, making it harder to keep players engaged with new updates. Disney Crossy Road goes in a different direction. While the first area is exactly the same as the world from the original game, the rest are all based on different Disney properties and feature new gameplay characteristics to suit them. Some of the changes are just visual — in the Lion King world you're avoiding charging animals instead of cars — while others are twists on the Crossy Road formula. In the Tangled world you have to avoid barrels falling down a hill, while Inside Out tasks you with collecting colorful memory orbs.
Disney has a history of partnering with indie game studios to create new versions of popular games. It's done so with everything from Temple Run: Brave to Tiny Death Star to Monsters Inc. Run. But Disney Crossy Road is a bit more ambitious, tackling multiple popular Disney brands in one game. When it came to selling the idea to people within Disney, it was actually another game — the toys-to-life title Disney Infinity — that helped make it a relatively easy process. "Having multi-franchise games here at Disney is actually really challenging," says Travis Marshall, a producer at Disney. "You have different artistic styles, sometimes we don't want the worlds to mix. But Infinity definitely paved the way for people to understand that there are ways to accomplish these universes coming together into one game, but still keeping each franchise true to itself."
"Sometimes we don't want the worlds to mix."
Hipster Whale worked alongside the original creators of these properties, who offered tips and help for making sure that they were all integrated properly. "Being a Pixar nerd, it was a thrill to be able to work alongside the original creators of those characters," Hall says. In some cases the studio was even able to incorporate original elements from the different properties. In the case of the Haunted Mansion world, based on the long-running Disneyland attraction, Hipster Whale was able to include the exact same voice-overs that are featured in the ride.
The result is a game that doesn't stray too far from what made Crossy Road such a breakout hit, but still manages to make it feel not only different, but also like a real Disney experience. "It's sort of like nine different versions of Crossy Road in one," says Hall.