You’re Cushion Your Luck If You Aren’t Interested In Pillow Champ

The (Pillow) Champ is here.

Pillow Champ
Pillow Champ

You might not have heard of Frosty Pop before, but the Vancouver-based developers have been around since 2014, mostly creating titles in the mobile gaming space. With 30+ original games on mobile, Frosty Pop has spent the past year or so moving onto multi-platform launches, with The Pinball Wizard launching across PC, mobile and the Nintendo Switch. Now, their quest for world domination continues with Pillow Champ, a fighting game that could have more to offer than just a high thread count.

We already covered Pillow Champ’s announcement trailer a few weeks ago, which definitely confirmed the game’s status as “best upcoming fighting game of 2024” (sorry, Tekken 8). However, after peeking behind the curtain and talking with both Frosty Pop CEO and founder Faisal Sethi, Pillow Champ definitely feels like an incredibly exciting prospect. Will it headline EVO? Probably not, but it’s gonna be a love letter to fighting games while also offering some real narrative substance too.

Yes, narrative substance in a game about fluffy fisticuffs.

At a surface level, Pillow Champ is exactly what it looks like: Street Fighter but with pillows instead of punches. The gameplay even takes a lot of cues from Street Fighter 2, with a slower, more deliberate pace that seems to be more about forcing mistakes than dealing out massive combos. In truth, Frosty Pop are hoping to use the silliness of pillow fighting to create a fighting game that’s a bit more accessible to a wider audience.

Pillow Champ
Pillow Champ

During the developer showcase, Faisal mentioned that the control scheme will be fairly similar to Smash Bros, which allows for easier special move inputs than a lot of traditional fighting games. Anyone who’s familiar with the modern control scheme in Street Fighter 6 will be right at home here, but Pillow Champ also boasts a new, special control scheme for mobile players too. Considering playing fighting games on mobile can be a nightmare, a new control scheme could revolutionize an entire genre for the mobile platform.

For those hoping for a bit of a challenge, Pillow Champ does have credentials, and we’re not just talking about the rollback netcode for online play. Faisal confirmed that the team has been working with former pro Capcom Vs SNK 2 player James Stanley on refining and testing the game’s mechanics. Faisal mentioned that James’ contributions and insight into the project have been invaluable to Pillow Champ’s development, stating:

“James has spent hundreds of hours balancing, tuning, and giving feedback. He’s assessed and created mechanics. He’s come up with animations. He knows how other fighting games work (and don’t work). He has an ability to test scenarios that even an avid fighting game player wouldn’t think of. While making Pillow Champ, he tried something we never would have thought to test. During specific character matchups, jumping backwards in the corner while an opponent walked under you opened up some unintended combo sequences.”

“We’ve since fixed those.”

Pillow Champ
Pillow Champ

As for the story, Pillow Champ depicts an idealized utopia, which is a bold premise for a fighting game, but stick with it. In an almost mirror opposite to a franchise like The Purge, Pillow Champ sees the world achieving peace as disputes are settled with pillow fights. Meanwhile, there’s a Pillow Champ tournament that offers huge prizes to the victor, but behind the scenes, an underground, punk rock-esque movement is determined to drag pillow fighting back into the darkness.

It sounds bonkers, which is probably to be expected when you’ve got Xalavier Nelson Jr writing the story, but Frosty Pop are aiming to create a story filled with human beings who have their own wants, motivations and desires. In a genre that’s arguably leant too heavily on stereotypes and broad strokes characteristics in the past, Pillow Champ wants to be more nuanced than that.

“The most important piece of how representation works in Pillow Champ is that the roster is free to be full human beings”, Faisal explained. “They don’t exist to tick a box. When on screen, they’re not expected to fulfill a stereotypical role that screams out what angle of diversity they represent. They’re allowed to be themselves, completely. It means that the types of representation Pillow Champ provides feel sincere. Not tokenized. Characterful, but not caricature.” To that end, Faisal also noted: “Many of the characters and story beats are a personal reflection of our lived experiences. People we knew, stories we’ve been a part of.”

Pillow Champ
Pillow Champ

It helps that Pillow Champ boasts a beautiful and distinct art style, one that Faisal notes has been inspired by the likes of Sayonara Wild Hearts, Kentucky Route Zero and “1930s propaganda poster art”, which is about as varied and unrelated to fighting games as inspirations go. The results, however, speak for themselves, as Pillow Champ looks completely different to any other fighting game on the market, which should hopefully work in the game’s favor come launch.

“[Creating the art style] was (is) an iterative process. Pillow Champ started more textured, in a literal sense. A multi-palette concept that has transformed into what you see today. We wanted to simplify. Focus on shape, color, motion, and typography. To be competitive in this landscape, we knew we had to come up with something distinct yet familiar. It’s a balance. We always try to add something to a genre we are working in rather than being completely derivative. It makes the development process rewarding in and of itself.”

While we weren’t able to actually go hands-on with Pillow Champ, the behind the scenes glimpses we were shown, and the insights from Faisal about the game’s development, give us the impression that this could be one of the big indie games to watch when it launches in spring 2024. Currently, Pillow Champ is only slated for PC, Switch and mobile via Netflix Games, though Faisal offered some hope for other players too.

“We have been in discussions with some other platforms. Stay tuned.”

READ MORE: 17 Best Switch Fighting Games You Should Play

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