Logo courtesy of Spin Master. The following photos were taken by Faith Orcino.

Justin Gary

I spoke with lead game developer Justin Gary during AX 2019 about the reemergence of “Bakugan”.

Faith Orcino: So I remember “Bakugan” years ago when it first came to Cartoon Network and it is very interesting to see it here at Anime Expo. Is there a reason for bringing such a big display at the event?

Justin Gary: Yeah, absolutely. “Bakugan” was an amazing game and amazing cartoon and amazing toys back  ten years ago, but we have completely relaunched the whole brand in 2019. We have a new cartoon, we have better toys, we have a new trading card game to go with the toys. So we’ve made it bigger and better so not only those who loved it back in the day can enjoy it but also a whole new generation can also. That’s why we’re here, to let everyone know that “Bakugan”’s back better than ever.

FO: For someone who was a fan of the first series and may have some of the older toys, how would it be for them to pick up this relaunched version?

JG: The relaunch is of course inspired by all of the awesome things that were from the original. You still have the “Bakugan” toys that start as balls that pop up when you roll them and turn into awesome monsters. They still have a B-Power rating. They fight and the one with the higher B-Power wins. So all of that is still that same but we then added a ton of new layers. We have new trading cards that you can use to boost the power of your Bakugan. You can attack the other player’s cards. You have Baku Core which are little hex-shaped things that you can pick up to give you an extra boos. It’s very easy. There’s a basic version of the game where you just roll the Bakugan and pick up your core. Whichever has the higher number wins. The trading card version which is a little more advanced is where you can use more strategies to win. It is very easy for old players to pick up. Even if you liked it when you were just five or six, you can still love and enjoy is when you’re now 16 or 17 and have the nostalgia factor.

 

FO: That’s really great to hear that there are two ways to play the game, especially for casual players or has a younger person with them. You said that the show also relaunched. Can you tell me more about that?

JG: We have all new animation, really modernized everything. You still have Dan and Drago but now we made it modern. They’re now video stars like online streamers. They stream their Bakugan battles. The characters are really funny and they have a dog named Lightning as part of the team. We have all of the villains and all of the old Bakugans as well as some new ones. It’s an original story that kinda ties in what happened before but starts over and introduces these characters and this world that quite a bit funny. You can watch it for free online. We have it on Cartoon Network and on our YouTube channel Bakugan Official where we not only have the show but also other side clips and little bonus content to give you behind-the-scenes look like “What are the Bakugan doing when they are not battling?” and cool inside scoops of their strategies. It’s great to take advantage that it’s ten years later and we live in this very interconnected world.


FO: How was the development process for creating the relaunch?

JG: That is a good question. I was the lead game designer on this project and we worked on it for three and a half years before I could even tell about it to anybody. We’re working on this and we know “Bakugan” is such a great brand with great toys, so we wanted to make a great job with it. We built the toys and tested the gameplay. We spent an enormous time working with everyone including animators all over the world. I’ve been making games and designing stuff for 20 years and this is the biggest and coolest thing I’ve been a part of. It’s been great working with the team and even better now going to places like Anime Expo where we can actually interact with fans and see people love the stuff. People get excited when the new toys go up and being able to battle in a cage match against me to win exclusive ones. It’s been such a rewarding process to work so hard so long and see people really love it and the community grow.

Special cage match area.

FO: What year did you start the process?

JG: That would be 2015. It’s crazy to think about it now. It’s been such a huge amount of time to get it together but it’s now here and it was worth it. We’re even working on plans three years ahead. I’m working on designing the game, the show and stuff that nobody else is going to see for a while. It’s pretty cool that this is out while we have more cool surprises that I can’t wait to show.


FO: you guys are still work with the same animators from the old show?

JG: We’re working with some of the guys from the original animators and toy company. They brought me on to upgrade the game and build new stuff. A lot of the original people that were there are now with people who are the best at what they do. We never had a setup like this before where we could interact with fans and get people to play and battle. But it’s the same core people and modernized to be bigger and better.


FO: Do you know any of their thoughts on the relaunch? 

JG: They’re thrilled. They’re as excited as I am. It’s something we have all talked about. You can imagine what it was like for us for years working on it. Like “Oh my God! This is cool!” seeing the art coming in then the animation. Everyone was so excited because we wanted to do justice for such a great property and brand that everybody loves. I feel like that and they do too. Everybody’s excited we made something awesome that was already awesome even more awesome.

FO: Anything beyond Anime Expo, like upcoming appearances?

JG: We’re working on getting our schedule together for next year. We’re going to have a world championship where we invite people from all around the world. We’re going to do some pre-release events at local stores around the country so people can see the cards and play at their stores even before they’re normally released. We’re going to have more big scale events like this next year as we start ramping up and are able to travel. The best places to find out are our social media where we are very active: Bakugan Official on YouTube and Facebook and @Bakugan on Twitter and Instagram. We’ll be posting updates and launching stuff as news comes out.

Final message from Justin Gary: I’m just so grateful to be able to work on something that has so much impact on so many people’s lives. I get really my dream job of making these games and getting to see people that love it. I’m so grateful for everybody that comes to the shows, that come and play, those that message us online. We read all the comments from everybody’s that engaged and built this community. It’s what gets me excited to get up everyday. It’s the whole team,people who did this for the last ten years, people who worked the last five years; all of us are so thrilled and so happy to be part of this community for many, many more years to come.

Anime Ushi thanks Justin Gary and the “Bakugan” team for taking the time for the interview. To check out more information, visit the “Bakugan” website.

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