Monday, November 12, 2018

Cacoma Knight (SFC) Review

Received: December 21st, 2017 / Written: November 11th-12th, 2018
Alternate Title: Cacoma Knight in Bizyland
Year: 1992 | Developed by: Affect
Published by: Datam Polystar | [ ]

Hello everyone, StarBoy91 here, passionate about video games, big retrophile, and reviewing more content from Datam Polystar.  "What?  Two Datam Polystar video game reviews in the same year, and it's back-to-back?  Oh, StarBoy, you spoil us!"  =D  …is how I presume some of my followers might react; but then, there's a chance they might not react that way.  Shouldn't really second guess stuff like that.  ………  Anyway!

Following Jorudan's unpolished platforming misfire Gōsō Jinrai Densetsu Musya, which was Datam Polystar's first published video game for the Super Famicom in April 1992 (which saw an American SNES release under Seta's USA distribution company as Musya: The Classic Japanese Tale of Horror eight months later), the developer stopped making platformers and the publisher would seek a change in direction, and all for the better if you ask me.
One change involved a new developer to publish games for: enter Affect, a company that began making games in 1990 and whose prior credits involved the Japan-exclusive horizontal shoot'em up on the MegaDrive XDR: X-Dazedly-Ray co-developed by Unipacc followed by 1991's Super Stadium on the Super Famicom which got localized for the SNES in America over half a year later as Nolan Ryan's Baseball.  Their very next game would be today's game Cacoma Knight which was released on the Super Famicom on November 1992, and would be the second game published by Datam Polystar, and like Musya before it this game would see an American SNES release by Seta's USA distribution company as Cacoma Knight in Bizyland on June 1993.

The Kingdom of Fieldland was a lively and prosperous place,
especially since it was ruled King Cacoma, who decides to choose today to partake in a game of golf.  But alas, all good things must come to an end.
Meanwhile Wagamamā, the Queen of Lasyland, was extremely jealous of Fieldland's hard working style, so she began to concoct her evil scheme.
So in her impractically and impossibly designed castle she looks around in her treasure room for the very thing she needs to fulfill her plan.
Eventually she finds a magic mirror where she casts a wicked spell to trap King Cacoma's daughter Princess Ophelia in it, thereby corrupting Fieldland's inhabitants and rendering the locales gray and dismal.
The benevolent monarch searches high and low for someone, anyone, to rescue his daughter and restore Fieldland to its former glory.  So, who will right these wrongs committed by Wagamamā?
That's quite the outie ya got there, Kakomaru, hope no one decides to walk up to you and poke at it
This random trio--all three of whom were unaffected by the spell.  There's the girl Jin, the boy Hii, and the sentient automaton Kakomaru.  King Cacoma beckons them to bring back Ophelia and restore peace to Fieldland and promises them upon foiling Wagamamā's scheme that he will reward them with anything they desire.

Yes, one of the enemies is an ocarina--
where's Link when you need him?
Cacoma Knight is an action-oriented puzzle game done in the vein of Taito's 1981 coin-op classic Qix in that the goal throughout each area is to claim just as much, if not exceeding, the eligible percentage required to clear the given area.  Before starting each game you can choose in the Player Select screen to take control as Jin, Hii, or Kakomaru, and from the moment you begin the game proper you're given magical chalk to ensure Fieldland's gradual return to normal.  Each time you start off on the edge of the frame which you can ride on (with one button you can speed up your sliding on the edge depending on who you play as), but to enter the unclaimed portions of the area, regardless where you are each time, you must hold down a button in order to accomplish that.  A bit of forewarning before I continue, I never had to thoroughly describe this kind of game before, so please bear with me as I elaborate on its gameplay further for I might be struggling a bit to search for the words to accurately describe it.

Beware the large cymbals
Each round is comprised of three parts, and before starting you're given a brief glimpse of what the current area used to be like before fading to reveal the corruption it had endured; and anytime you draw a big or small amount of space bits of Fieldland's former glory will be revealed once you move either back to the edge you came from or towards any other edge of the screen (including ones you added inside the frame).  Occasionally restoring certain segments of the current area will reveal a concealed treasure chest which will include any one of the following: a magic piece of mirror, a faerie, a pair of boots to momentarily increase your speed, an arm for what I presume must be arm strength, a 1Up to give you an extra life, an hourglass to momentarily remove all enemies on screen, and a clock to give you extra time.  Yes, there is a timer, as represented by a chartreuse line that gradually highlights the frame from the bottom to the top, and if the frame's edges are completely chartreuse then your time is up and you'll be forced to start the current area from scratch.

"'Owl' do you do?"
Throughout each area you will have to contend with varying kinds of enemies; there are those who will roam and bounce around the edges of the corrupt segments of Fieldland and those that will ride on the edge (including the one you're currently in the process of making with your magical chalk).  Being touched by any one of them or their projectiles will cost you a life, at which point you'll resume right on the spot (after two seconds of seeing your incapacitated character rotating around), but if you lose your last life you'll be brought to a game over screen where you can choose to continue from the start of the current area you're in or give up the game.

In-game comparing and contrasting
There are some enemies that will cause you damage even if they don't touch you just by bouncing off from the unclosed chalk line that you're making, so exercise caution whenever you utilize this magical tool.  Since you can use the chalk in any portion of the field, it is possible to encase certain enemies inside the claimed portions of the land, which will either dispose of them until they respawn again shortly after or they'll still be around but will not be able to go any further.  Once you reached or exceeded the qualification to graduate to the next area the entire playing field of the current one will revert back to Fieldland's former glory, and at the end of the third part of each round you'll be brought to a screen and see the mirror pieces comprising of pieces of Princess Ophelia--always randomized in each playthrough.

Time is not always on your side
Cacoma Knight boasts really vibrant and colorful visuals through and through, and it is always fascinating on a visual sense to see both versions of the same area you're currently at.  The glorious portions of Fieldland are rich and colorful and pleasant to the eyes, while the corrupt portions are brown, barren, and devoid of life; the contrast is especially striking when comparing the restored and corrupt portions of the land side by side as you play it.  A few examples are Round 1-3 where the water has been seeped away with a rotten, decrepit ship versus a wholesome ship with sails on a body of water attached to a port with green pasture towards the right side, Round 3-3 with a stale and unappealing locale versus an inviting and colorful place with gingerbread houses, and Round 4-2 with rotten landscape that has a purply toxic pond in the middle versus a healthy green locale with a refreshing blue pond in the middle with some lily pads for extra measure.

Careful not to have your line hit by the
projectiles of the crystals
The main characters Jin, Hii, and Kakomaru are designed decently in-game and animate well when it comes to switching directions and rotating around any time you lose a life.  The enemy roster comprises of ocarinas, an owl who spins its head in a (counter)clockwise manner, evil sentient clocks, a big umbrella that occasionally sprouts tiny umbrellas from the top of the playing field, a sentient airplane that flies and bounces up and down, magnets that every so often move up and down and fire off a three-way projectile spread shot, and slime, et al.  Wagamamā is designed decently in-game when you reach Round 6-3 and has got minimal animation, and I love that the entire game has got a golden leaf frame adorning the playing field just like the first four games of Nihon Falcom's Ys A-RPG franchise--even when it fades to black as it transitions you to the subsequent area and when you get the game over screen the frame is still there which I appreciate.

Rotted versus fresh
The game's characters were designed by Ano Shimizu, whose prior credits involved the isometric-viewed 1988 N.H. System-developed Namco coin-op Märchen Maze, Whiteboard's 1989 MegaDrive adventure/Mahjong game Mahjong Cop Ryū, and the 1991 Santos game on the MegaDrive Battle Golfer Yui.  Shimizu's characters in Cacoma Knight evoke a simple yet lighthearted design in the opening cutscene, manual, and cover art, and there is an anime-like charm to it as a result.  During the game over screen there is an over-the-top exaggerated chibi design of Princess Ophelia in the middle and the character you chose to play as has got a flustered and/or annoyed expression that reverts back to a happy one once you choose to use up a continue, and finally when you beat the game you see King Cacoma's daughter in one piece minus the exaggeration.  Shimizu would also go on to serve as character designer for Affect's subsequent Super Famicom venue Makeruna! Makendō and its sequels.

Chocolate, chocolate everywhere
Cacoma Knight's music was composed by former Human Entertainment composer Takahiro Wakuta and was the first music he did for the developer Affect; afterwards Wakuta would provide music for subsequent Affect games like the aforementioned Makeruna! Makendō and PlayStation One titles Finger FlashingPhix no Daibōken: Phix in the Magnetix World, and Tetris with Cardcaptor Sakura: Eternal Heart.  The soundtrack isn't big as there aren't that many songs in it, but what is there works well in conjunction with the game as it is largely lighthearted.  The only downside is that if you press Select to look up how many lives and continues you've got remaining it will cut to a different song, but then when you return to playing the song in the current area will start again--don't like it when that happens, but luckily there's an in-game sound test in the options screen.  The sound effects are interestingly chosen as each character has their own sound for when they lose a life, the sound for when you get the boots and go fast sounds appropriately whimsical, and the sound for when you uncover a chest is satisfying to hear.

Gingerbread houses
There are three different difficulty settings to choose from (Easy, Normal, and Hard) in the options screen, and they vary regarding the amount of challenge enemies dish out at you and how much of a percentage of the playing field you need to recover in order to qualify to go the next area; in the options screen is also a sound test and monitor and pad test.  Speaking of elements that vary, the three main characters have got different attributes that distinguishes them from the other in terms of speed: Jin is the fastest of the three and is the go-to character because of this, Hii is the median character and moves at a reasonably steady pace, and then there's Kakomaru who is the slowest character in the game (more on why that is a bad thing later).  In the mode select screen you can choose to play the normal game by yourself or with another player, and there is also a competitive player versus player mode.
Special presents indeed, best to make good use of them
In the mode select screen there is an almost Konami-esque code sequence where you can augment the number of lives (up to five) and continues (up to nine) to prolong your adventure: simply press up, up, down, down, right, left, right, left, B, A.  If you did it right you'll be brought to a Special Presents screen where you can also choose to start from the beginning of the first round to the sixth of your choice, especially if you're picking up where you previously left off.  I sincerely recommend accessing this screen any time you play it because your chances of making it to the end with the default settings in one go are slim at best.

Restore the yellow brick road
Affect was a largely Japan-only company as many of their titles remained in the Land of the Rising Sun, for the only games of theirs to reach American shores in physical format was Super Stadium (as Nolan Ryan's Baseball), Cacoma Knight (in Bizyland), Makeruna! Makendō (as Kendo Rage), and Phix no Daibōken: Phix in the Magnetix World (as Phix: The Adventure, which took thirty-eight months after its original May 2000 Japanese release to reach American shores; that's three-plus years in layman's terms); some of their other PlayStation One venues would be released in America for the first time later in life on the PlayStation Network downloadable service under the PSOne Classic label.  Affect is still around today, but no longer as a video game developer as in 2008 they began their business making and producing web apps.

In the Summer of 2012 I got a Retro Duo when my desire to play games from Japan was growing intensely which opened a doorway for me as I could now play Super Famicom games; in Christmas 2015 I got a Super Famiconsole which in hindsight I wish I got from the start (had I known that they shared the same outlet plug as American products, I would've gotten it without question) because it's better made and has got an eject button.  That Christmas I got Namco's Libble Rabble, which was my ninth physical Super Famicart that I got, a 1994 direct port of their 1983 16-bit arcade game and is a game I enjoy a lot.  =)
On February 2013 I shared my impressions (not a proper review, but I hope to rectify that sometime in the near future) of the game which were positive.  Bard Oly left a comment on there remarking that the game looked like Cacoma Knight, a game he said he liked.  I can see how one would arrive at that conclusion as there are hidden treasure chests scattered about and it's a colorful game through and through; Affect must've been influenced by Namco's coin-op in some form or another when making today's game--but whereas Cacoma Knight played exactly like Qix, Libble Rabble played with the formula in a way that made it stand out.

I had heard of today's game prior to Bard Oly bringing it up, but it was afterward that I decided to browse MobyGames to look at its screenshots out of curiosity.  It seemed interesting, but I was a bit uncertain of trying right away; there are only so many games to play on the Nintendo 16-bit console (I have almost two-hundred physical carts in my collection), and my go to genres were mainly platformers and RPGs and occasionally puzzlers, or sometimes a hybrid of two or three of them.  Cacoma Knight, despite fitting the criteria, was not high on my curiosity list.
Then in the Summer of 2016 my Datam Polystar kick began when I imported Success' Super Famiport of their charming 1993 Sharp X68000 block pushing puzzler Keeper which I was curious about for years and absolutely adored it upon playing it, then weeks later I imported Success' colorful cute'em up Märchen Adventure Cotton 100% which was the most I spent on a Super Famicart and was worth every penny as I enjoyed it a lot.  =)  These two games made me want to explore more Datam Polystar games on the Super Famicom, and this game turned out to be among them.
Early that December I caught up with Jorudan's Gōsō Jinrai Densetsu Musya which had a genuinely creepy atmosphere but was a bit of a struggle to play because the main character was so slow and his jumps so awkward that it contributed to its unpolished structure; not impossible, but not very fun either; at best, it was average fare.  That Christmas in 2016 I got Affect's Makeruna! Makendō, among other games, inside with the manual in the box which in my opinion was solid feel-good entertainment and was cathartic to play after Musya.

Yes, I am in the mood for a Frogger game
If you can't tell, there are frogs riding the bottom edge
Affect's prior game Cacoma Knight was the next game released by Datam Polystar that I wanted to try, but I wouldn't be able to play it until the next Christmas in 2017; well, technically I got it days earlier.  It was the first time in three years that my family and I had an early Christmas as we celebrated the actual Christmas day with relatives out of town.  Like Makeruna! Makendō the previous year I got Cacoma Knight in CIB; when I got to play it I left my expectations in check and knew it would not be up to the standards of the Success games I played.  If by chance you're reading this, Bard Oly, and you read my previous review before this one and are expecting a similar kind of reception to this game from me, I'm afraid you might not like some of what I have to say.  =(
Let's just get this out of the way to set the record straight, it's above the quality of Jorudan's Gōsō Jinrai Densetsu Musya; but that wasn't hard.  That game was in desperate need of polish and was frustrating at points due to its deliberate pacing,
The only thing more horrific than its atmosphere is the prospect of playing through it
not to mention its tone was very dour, dreary, and grim; sure, it had a creepy atmosphere and was replete with horror elements, but that's about it as far as positives go.  Yeah, I admit there are certain games I like based purely on an atmospheric level (like Software Creations' Solstice II/Equinox and Team Cherry's recent indie hit Hollow Knight to name a couple examples), but at least those were backed up by good, solid gameplay and a fair structure which Musya simply lacked.

I got a mirror
One good change that came from Datam Polystar moving on to publish for Affect was that the tone was more lighthearted and palatable, and its bright abundance of colors in its aesthetic designs was really welcoming versus the serious nature and heavily detailed location settings evinced by Gōsō Jinrai Densetsu Musya.  The fact that Jorudan's game was the first video game published by Datam Polystar is still surprising, but from Cacoma Knight onward they focused on lighthearted and colorful fare when it came to their Super Famicom content, which frankly speaking is a good thing.  But with all that said, this Qix-styled action puzzler is not devoid of faults either.

Mechanisms and DIP switches galore
The three characters all have differing speeds, and having to wait two full seconds each time you lose a life is a bit annoying.  Jin is the best character to control as based primarily on her swift speed, Hii's steady pacing is tolerable to a point, but what really sinks it is Kakomaru's pacing.  Look, I get that they had to be given different attributes so that any time you play as one of them it doesn't feel like you're controlling the same character, I really do, but I draw a line if it entails the character moving at such a sluggish pace to the point where he becomes such a huge target, especially since there's a timer working against you and you cannot defend yourself in any way from enemy attack, because that equates to good design, right?  Wrong!  There is also an unhealthy amount of slowdown when you take control of Kakomaru at points which can simultaneously be alarming and distracting.  I'm okay with a slow pace if the game in question warrants and justifies it, but this game is not among them.  And when I say Kakomaru is slow, I mean he is slower than even molasses which I'm not sure how it was possible, but somehow Affect managed to accomplish that.  As a result it's fairer to play the game as Jin than as Kakomaru.

More comparing and contrasting
Some of the treasure chests you reveal contain a magic mirror or a faerie, and anytime you beat the third part of each round you'll see some puzzle pieces appear comprising of Princess Ophelia appear provided that you get one or more of them.  Because you'll progress to the next area after restoring the qualifying amount of the current playing field you won't get a chance to get everything and upon beating it the restored playing field reveals what treasure chests you overlooked if any.  However, once you vanquish Queen Wagamamā in Round 6-3 you'll have rescued Princess Ophelia who's been restored full.  Well,... what was the point of collecting the mirror pieces if you're just going to free her at the end anyway?  =/  Seems like a waste.  In the Special Presents screen you can choose to start from the beginning of the first round to the last one, and even if somehow you didn't get much if any you'll still see the same result.

Magnetism, to be utilized further in Phix
Cacoma Knight is a also very, very short game; shorter if you play it as Jin and longer if you go through the indignity of playing as Kakomaru, whereas it is somewhere in-between if you choose to play as Hii.  I checked a World of Longplay video on YouTube, and shockingly enough it was roughly fifteen minutes in length with Hii as the chosen character (less if you don't count the opening and ending credits).  If the game is fifteen or twenty minutes short by yourself, imagine how short it must be when played by two people.  Another reason I checked was because I wanted to double check to see if there was an extra ending, as the ending theme that played whenever you beat the game was not exactly my idea of a happy ending theme, and I checked the sound test to see if there was another ending-like theme.  Nope; it really is that simple.  -_-  I couldn't help but feel cheated because of that, and as a result I found Cacoma Knight to be rather slight.
Disappointingly, though, there is no ending on Expert mode like I'd think there would be for if you eventually manage to beat it you'll be treated to "Try the other level"; what "other level"?  It's over!
I much enjoyed Capcom's 1992 Super Famiport of Mitchell Corporation's 1990 coin-op Super Pang a lot more in terms of action puzzling arcade fun, and it felt more wholesome in and out of comparison.  =)  Why am I not playing that game instead?

Slime attack
Okay, to be fair, Affect worked on today's game around the same time they worked on Makeruna! Makendō, as those games were released two months apart from each other (the latter came out in Japan in January 1993), and generally speaking when two projects are being worked on at once there is going to be a dip in quality somewhere along the line, and Cacoma Knight received the short end in that regard.  Of course, one was an action puzzler done in the vein of Qix and the other was a sidescrolling platformer, but regardless of what genre the games in question are if both are being worked on at once some quality will be lost in transition.
To be honest, I felt that Affect put their heart into Makeruna! Makendō more than they did for Cacoma Knight; no, it wasn't perfect either, but it was playable and had a good dose of challenge and replay value and had a reasonable thirty to forty minute length and above all was a lot of random, silly fun and was the closest the Nintendo 16-bit got to having a proper Valis game, the very series by Telenet Japan that it was lampooning and poking fun of that came before it.  Basically, it was feel-good entertainment.
And when you think about, Datam Polystar and the public that played it must've felt somewhat similarly or pretty much the same.  Consider the following: Makeruna! Makendō had franchise potential and it spawned one after it came out (a short-lived one, but it spawned a franchise nonetheless) in Japan only for it got two sequels (each a different genre than the last each done by a different developer), an OVA series,
and in Success' Keeper both Mai Tsurugino (as "Makendō") and Maririn would turn up as playable characters courtesy of Ano Shimizu apart from just the highly adorable eponymous creature.  That should speak volumes about how much of an impact Affect's platformer made on release compared to their previous venue Cacoma Knight which made little to no impact and lacked franchise potential.
I feel I should reiterate that this game is no better than Makeruna! Makendō in my opinion, but it is an improvement over Jorudan's Gōsō Jinrai Densetsu Musya that came before it, but not by much I'm sorry to say.

Elegant versus not so elegant
Anytime you play the game the chests will always have to be revealed in different spots of the playing field than the last time you played it or whenever you use up a continue in the current area you lost your last life in.  I appreciate the randomization so that you don't have to look at the same spot each time you play it, and it does add a slight bit of replay value.  The gameplay is simple, which is fine, but it's ultimately let down by the execution and the feeling that there could've been more to it than there actually is.  I didn't expect much, if anything, before having played it, but it was still a bit disheartening over the slightness of its quality.  The brevity feels slight, the lack of a different ending despite the game hinting at one feels slight for the next reason I'll bring up, the fact that you occasionally get mirrors feels slight because it doesn't matter in the end whether you get any or not because you still save Princess Ophelia anyway, Kakomaru's unbelievably slow pace augmented the slight value, and the game as a whole felt slight to me--which is too bad because there are things to like and appreciate about it and there was some potential for something great, but all those aforementioned downsides let the game down for me.
When it comes to games that have different characters I'd personally like most if not all of them be fun or decent to take control of, and if that doesn't end up being the case then there's a problem: Hii's steady movements make him tolerable to a point, but Jin's swiftness makes her the ultimate go to character here and is practically the only one worth playing as.
Different genres, I know, but my point stands
As far as games with the word "Knight" in the title go, I personally had more enjoyment and satisfaction playing Yacht Club Games' Shovel Knight and Team Cherry's Hollow Knight.  They are also better both subjectively and objectively speaking.

Chalk this one up in the okay department
I realize I sound like I'm coming down hard on Cacoma Knight and I know there are people who like it, and I respect them if they do, but this is just how I personally feel.  I don't mind a good arcade-like experience on the Nintendo 16-bit once in awhile, but this one fell just short in that regard.  I don't hate or dislike Affect's first venue for Datam Polystar, but ultimately it in my opinion was okay but slight; the developer would have better success with Makeruna! Makendō.  If you like or appreciate Qix or its variants and were curious about this game, it plays with the coin-op's formula to a T; if you wanted to play something with a little bit more depth beneath the surface (and I don't just mean on a visual sense) then you might end up disappointed.  If you wanted to play a game with replay value, there is some but whether you get enjoyment out of the proceedings depends on whether or not you can overlook its slight elements and blemishes.  I'm glad I played it, but it could've been something more.

My Personal Score: 6.0/10
d(^-^)bTO EACH THEIR OWNd(^-^)b
P.S. For the first time year I reviewed a game not made in the year that ends final digit 3 or 8, so no anniversary ribbon this time.

P.S. 2 In irrelevant news, the award for the most unexpected way to end a chapter in a video game goes to: Chapter 1 of Deltarune!  My God, that was so genuinely creepy, I did not see it coming one iota.  O_O  When is the second chapter coming out, Toby Fox?  I MUST KNOW!!!!!!  =O

P.S. 3 Stan Lee passed away, aww.  =(  Man, we lost an amazing legend.  Rest in peace, man.

Thank you for reading my review, please leave me a comment and let me know what you think (neither spam nor NSFW comments are allowed); hope you have a great day, take care!