How The Air Jordan 11 Retro Low Got Its Own Video Game

Complex spoke to 'Cosmic Climb' game designers Tia Chinai and Stefan Cohen of Krool Toys about Jordan 11s, 8-bit games, and saving the world.

Illustration of animated characters floating in space with a futuristic sneaker featured prominently in the center
Krool Toys/Sponsored by Jordan
Illustration of animated characters floating in space with a futuristic sneaker featured prominently in the center

The Air Jordan 11 Retro Low in the coveted “Black/Varsity Royal” colorway—which many associate with a certain classic movie—drops May 18 in the SNKRS App. But that’s not the only new thing to pop up on SNKRS recently. Since May 14, AJ11 aficionados and sneakerheads have also been able to play Cosmic Climb, a new 8-bit game from Brooklyn’s Krool Toys. Inspired by the Air Jordan 11 Retro Low, Cosmic Climb pits Krool Toys’ own Tia Chinai and Stefan Cohen against hordes of robo-aliens intent on destroying the world. To win, players must master the power of the Air Jordan 11 Retro Low to slam dunk their way to victory and save the world.

Only playable for a limited time online through Jordan, Cosmic Climb also features an unlockable time trial challenge. In a unique synergy, Chinai and Cohen also star in the Air Jordan 11 Retro Low campaign, which dives deeper into their creative processes in Brooklyn and Mumbai, respectively. Before the game was released, Complex interviewed Chinai and Cohen, getting their thoughts on retro 8-bit game design, working with Jordan, and saving the world. The interview was edited for clarity. 

I've seen the game stills and I’ve read the breakdown on Cosmic Climb, but I haven’t played it. Can you describe the game a bit before it drops later this week?
Stefan Cohen:
So the game is called Cosmic Climb and it’s a project with Jordan. In the game you can play as either me or Tia and you have to defend the earth from these bots looking to destroy it. There are some nods to this one classic basketball video game with shooting basketballs as your weapon against these robots. As you traverse upwards into space, you enter the alien headquarters to try and beat the game. 

Person sitting at a desk in a room with posters on the wall and various objects scattered around

How does the Air Jordan 11 Retro Low factor into the game?
Tia Chinai:
The intro to the game kind of tells you the story of what the game is. The idea is that it starts off with Stef and I in an alternate universe on the Krool Toys Studio spaceship. Then, we get a message from the The Intergalactic Jumpman Crew saying they need our help to save earth and they send us the sneakers and so we put on the sneakers and we get super powers that help us defeat the robo-aliens. 

What was it like putting the game together?
When we started doing the games part of [Krool Toys], Stef used to just make the games himself. They would be really simple. So we have done games in under a weekend but not at this scale. Obviously, we work with a really amazing team who is very passionate about games and very skilled in making games. So Stefan and I worked with them to make something of this scale.

SC: Yeah, and that's the fun part, working with retro games and designing retro games, are constraints that it gives you. You're able to be like, Alright cool, we can only make this eight pixels high or we can only go a hundred forty width. So given those constraints you can kind of be super creative and make something in a short amount of time. 

Cosmic Climb Gameplay
Sponsored by Jordan/Krool Toys

It’s interesting how format limitations can actually fuel creativity. So growing up, or even more recently, do you have any memories of the Air Jordan 11, particularly this iconic colorway in the “Black/Varsity Royal”? Did those memories go into developing the game?
: I did for sure. I used to buy my friends’ old Jordans off of them when they got tired and when they outgrew them, because I had a smaller foot. Then I think the first time I saw these [Air Jordan 11s] were probably in the movie that helped make them famous, which we all saw growing up.

For sure. So it sounds like you had a lot of Jordans growing up. I love that about buying the used Jordans off your friends, because my parents would never buy me Jordans growing up either.

Sneaker on display surrounded by pop culture posters and stickers on a wall and a computer monitor

It was always like, How am I going to get these? Like before I was old enough to have a job and stuff. Do you have any memories of Jordans going along with gaming?
I mean, they’re so iconic and I think with each Jordan you can create a whole world around it where that shoe could live and what that world would look like and the color scheme around that. This Air Jordan 11 Retro Low in particular, with the patent leather and the shine, looks like an alien came down and gave you this shoe and the translucent sole gave us a cool jumping off point to design this game.

TC: I don't know if Amy [from Jordan] told you, but originally when they reached out to us, it was just to feature us in the campaign. And I happened to be in India, so they shot me over in India and it was super cool because we've never done anything like that before. So to do that and then after all of that ended they were like, What if we made a game? Which was also great because we’re not used to being in front of the camera. So it was just great to make this game to go along with the whole campaign and shoot.

Woman standing in a shop surrounded by wooden artifacts, holding a carved item, smiling. She wears a jumper and sneakers

That makes total sense. You created the game, you’re playable characters in the game itself, but then you’re also starring in the campaign. For a duo that’s more used to being behind the scenes making games or toys, what was that like to be the stars of the campaign?
I think that the way that it came about was in the beginning it seemed like it was no big deal, like it was going to live on the SNKRS app, so we said, Cool. And then it grew into this giant project. The brand has been really cool about letting us bring our point of view and ideas and collaborating together. We actually just got off a call with like 40 people at Jordan and it was so cool. I was like, Whoa, this is a really big campaign. This is a really big deal. I just think about the fact that I grew up in India so far away from New York and America and this type of culture. It’s very cool. 

Also, I don’t know if you know but our first and only interview was with Complex, with Mike DeStefano.

I do know that. I checked that interview out before this call. The Krool Toys history is interesting. I’m a big toy collector and I’m obsessed with a certain classic puzzle game. Like I’m not really a gamer, but seeing that creativity and how you started off with toys and then got into games and cartridges is pretty unique.
Yeah, we’re not gamers either, funny enough. That's why we kind of enjoy making these things for other casual players that can take up less than a half hour of time and have some replayability and are sort of the antithesis of a thousand hours role playing game. 

Person at a desk with multiple screens, toys, and posters, engaged in a video call. Sneakers visible on desk

Yeah, I relate to that, because at a certain point video games became too overwhelming and too much work and I was like, I’m just not into this. I want to play something classic and fun and you’re filling that niche for people. In the first Complex interview, you said you taught yourself to develop these 8-bit games, right?
So the origin of us making these retro-inspired games was that Tia used to design these game boxes based on popular albums and artists that we liked. Just like, What if this album was a game for this console? So just kind of playing around with different eras of gaming and different console designs and game boxes. At first, we just made the boxes and we would ship them to people empty and they’d be so hyped and they’d put it on their bookshelf. 

Then after covid hit, we had the leisure and the time to see if we could develop a game of our own, load it on a cartridge, and put it in this box, and it would be sick to someone that it played on real hardware and that it incorporated their favorite artists, and the soundtrack would be chiptune and it coincides with the box art and there's a copyright on the back that you can read, and a booklet inside and a poster. We were just thinking about if you were a fan of this artist, other than a T-shirt or a hoodie, what would get you excited and what would you want to collect? So that's how we went about that. Shout out to the internet for helping me learn how to do this stuff. Yeah, it's been a fun ride.

Person at a table with art supplies, wearing a floral top, skirt, and sneakers, focused on writing or drawing

As you said, the music is so important in games and that retro 8-bit game style of music is so distinctive and resonates for so many people. How did you figure out the music for the games? How do you think about scoring the games?
We work with our composer, who I found online. His name's Blezz Beats and he’s pretty prolific when it comes to game music. I think he’s actually played shows just on a vintage portable game console. So we have fun discussing the different routes we can go with the music and with sound effects, because it’s something that a lot of people don't think about when they're playing, but if you take out the music it completely shifts the experience.

So we usually just start by having a strong reference point of soundscapes and the kind of mood we're trying to create. For this game, it’s definitely a “Let’s save the world”-type beat. So we started there and then kind of just scaled up with, Alright, so what about enemy sounds? Start-game? Pause-game? All the little UI elements need a sound effect. We had a lot of fun. My favorite thing is the game and the sound design.

In the preview images for Cosmic Climb, I saw that both of your avatars are in there striking that iconic Jumpman pose. That’s like everyone’s dream. What’s it like to make the game and see yourself there on the screen doing the Jumpman knowing it’s going to be on the SNKRS app?
When Stef came up with the idea and was like, Let’s just pitch them having both of us in the game. Literally before we even finished the meeting [with Jordan] they were like, We love that. Let’s go with that. So we were like, Ok, cool. And it’s kind of funny to see me, who's never played basketball, in that pose. It's very iconic. It's very cool. 

8-bit style video game character jumping over an obstacle

So the SNKRS app itself is famous now. What was it like designing this game for such a huge, global app?
It was awesome. We had to make a lot of design choices to make sure that we were able to get the game done in time. That was obviously the most important thing, making sure we have something playable and fun and beautiful on time. But also just being able to look at different parts of what Jordan wanted us to show through the game and then incorporating those things. Making sure that we show the sneaker as perfect and pretty as it is and then also having multiple screens to kind of tell that story. And also making something that will get people really excited and also the kind of Easter egg about it being humans versus robots. That was a concept that we had been really dying to do for a really long time. For it to work out in this way, it was super fun. 

Towards the end of the game, when you play it, you’ll see that once you finish the game and you’ve destroyed all the bots, the end sequence is us in the Jumpman pose getting the basketball through the final hoop, which then destroys the enemy bot spaceship. So it all comes together. 

Why do you think the Jordan 11 and 8-bit games are still so cool and irresistible after all these years?
I think everything goes in cycles of 20 years or 30 years, so everyone will hold these things fondly, that they grew up with. They’ll have a special place for people. 

TC:  Something that we found is when we take something that's so classic to people's childhood and that's globally—people in India played these games too—so it’s like you've seen this before, but we're presenting it to you in a completely new way. I think that we try to keep our games not super easy, but not super hard, so it attracts a bigger audience and it's challenging enough that you want to beat the game and spend 15 minutes to figure it out the first time. I think that makes people reminisce about a simpler time and honestly, it just brings a lot of joy to people. We’re really grateful we’re able to do that. And that's just been overwhelming… the response to all of our games, from the ones that Stef made himself to the bigger ones that we've worked with a larger team on, people are just like, Whoa, this is so cool. This made me so happy. I can't believe I'm seeing my favorite artist through just a completely different gaze. So yeah, it's been really cool.

The image is a pixelated graphic of a sneaker with the phrase "GOT 'EM" displayed, indicating a successful purchase

And then also starring in the campaign for the Air Jordan 11 Retro Low “Black/Varsity Royal,” I know you both got to wear the shoe and know the shoe. Do each of you have a favorite thing about the shoe?
They’re super comfortable. I literally wore them today on an errand around SoHo. I got two compliments on the street. I also wore them in India. The whole shoot concept was that it should be you during your real day and they got super dirty just on the streets and I was able to easily clean them, but also walk for hours on very uneven, dirty streets and I was really comfortable. So I’ll definitely be using them a lot. Hopefully they’ll send us another pair so I can keep one. I’m not a person who can keep my sneakers clean [Laughs]. 

SC: I know, I need two. 

Yeah, keep one for the archives.
My favorite part of the shoe is the icy, translucent sole. I’ll probably never get tired of looking at it.

TC: Just the design of the sole and of everything definitely gives such a cool space and galaxy and outer space vibe. We were able to take so much inspiration directly from the shoe in the game that you'll see when you play. That was fun. 

Play Cosmic Climb here.