Friday, November 9, 2012

Impressions: Pocky & Rocky (SNES)

Received: May 24th, 2012 / Written: November 6th-9th, 2012
Pocky & Rocky
Year: 1992, 1993 | Developed and Published by: Natsume | Licensed by: Taito

"Hey!  Quit hoggin' all the food!!!"  >=(
I've got a confession to make: two days before I got this game I had received my very first Super Famicom cart Alcahest, but sometime before that I had gotten a Game Genie.  It was at that point that I really wanted to start importing SFC games from Japan; I was under the impression that the Game Genie could play SFC games.  The SFC cart didn't fit on the Game Genie slot, and I was let down.  And yet some websites say that it works for SFC games, so either someone's lying or I'm missing something, and I probably am.  I really wanted to play Alcahest and I was sad that I couldn't do it and had lost all hope for a chance to import SFC games.  ='(  Two days later I went to 3D Games to buy some games, when I saw a system that caught my interest.  It was a Retro Duo, and the employee there said that it worked for NTSC SNES games and SFC games from Japan.  That day my hope was restored, and I would go on to purchase the system the very following Thursday.  It cost a bit, but it was worth the price, and it turned out to be one of the best gaming decisions I ever made!  =D

Sorry, slightly offtopic.  Anyway, on the 24th, I had decided to buy some games, like I said before.  I bought three SNES games that day: the always classic Pilotwings (which I enjoyed since I was little; now that I have my own copy, I no longer have to wait until I visit my relatives in order to play it), X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse (which was new to me, and is a decent brawler based on the '90s X-Men animated series), and finally there was the game of the day, Pocky & Rocky.  I've oft heard of this game online, as it's highly lauded as a cult classic among many, and I heard that it was pretty good too.  When I saw a copy of the game with that name on there, I knew I had to buy it.  What's cool is that I got to try it for a little bit at the 3D Games store on the displayed Retro Duo, with the employee's consent.  It was a pretty neat experience, and it's not often that it happens.  From what I had played at the game store, it was good, but when I played it at home, it was even better.  Pocky & Rocky (known in Japan as KiKi KaiKai: Nazo no Kuro Manto) is the SNES-exclusive follow-up to Taito's 1986 arcade game KiKi KaiKai (known outside Japan as Knight Boy for some reason).  Unlike the arcade original (which I have not played), this 16-bit SNES game was made by Natsume with the license by Taito.  And yet, surprisingly, Natsume managed to create a console-exclusive experience with a rather arcade-like feel to it; but I'm getting ahead of myself.  So is the game really that good?

Trailing through the big bamboo forest
This game takes place after the events of the original arcade game, from what I looked up (and from what I could gather in the first part of the intro).  In the past the Nopino Goblins went rampant around the land during Feudal Japan, until they were stopped one day by the young priestess named Pocky who then led them the right path, and all was well with the world.  One day, a raccoon dog named Rocky visits the priestess' shrine in a panic.  He asks for her help when his fellow Nopino Goblins have gone awry due to a mysterious force; oh, and Rocky's a Nopino Goblin, too.  He tried to pacify them by himself before, but to no avail.  Together, Pocky and Rocky would venture forth to free the Nopino Goblins and defeat the force behind the trouble.  During their quest they discover that the Black Mantle is the one behind the mayhem, and that he's also taking advantage of a group of monsters known as the "Gorgonzola Goblins".  That name is just too funny, and it's nice to hear the word outside of a kind of cheese.  When it comes to discussing about games, I try my goshdarn best not to reveal the majority of the plot (just minor parts) or give away any plot-related spoilers (though that applies to games that have a good plot), and if it's a game with a really good plot, then I try to be as non-spoilerish if possible; but considering it's not that long a game, I can't help but explain some of the plot.  Will the duo Pocky and Rocky break the spell controlling the Nopino Goblins?  And will they be able to defeat the Black Mantle--who for some reason looks like a cross between Empress Sonia from Equinox and the evil cult worshipper Shaft from Akumajō Dracula X: Chi no Rondo--before it's too late?  Play and find out the answer!  The fate of Feudal Japan rests in your hands!

"Fear me, foes, and behold my Leaf Power!!"
Pocky & Rocky's gameplay is just awesome!!  =D  Basically it plays like a shoot'em up, only you have the freedom of movement and direction of your character and you fight off creatures from Japanese culture and mythology in Japan, as opposed to just heading towards one direction and fighting off opposing alien/ship armadas in space and outer planets.  That works really well for this game, but that's only the icing on the fun cake.  In the game you can decide to take control of the priestess Pocky (who throws cards) or her round tanuki friend Rocky (who throws leaves), or if you have another friend alonside you, then you can play with both characters simultaneously.  The controls are really responsive and great as well.  The default controls go like this: holding down the Y button has you unleash a vast unlimited array of projectiles toward enemies in a rapidfire manner (I love it), pressing the A button has you throw one projectile at a time (why would anyone want to opt for that when the rapidfire button is available?), pressing the X button and a certain direction while make you slide in the direction of your choice, and tapping the B button repeatedly will have your character deflect most enemy projectiles (very useful in many situations, especially during midboss and boss fights).  By holding down the B button until just the right moment, your character will unleash a special temporary move that will make enemies bounce away; Pocky will make a short rotating fan attack while Rocky will become a solid tanuki statue.  Both heroes will execute a special devastating attack that will wipe all enemies who overwhelm you by pressing either shoulder button, as long as you have the special green power-ups at your disposal.  And while the impact will be the same, the execution is done a little differently.  However, it's best that you use these sparingly, since those power-ups are few and far between.  Whilst contending with the enemies, you'll come across various power-ups such as spread shots (purple), fire (red), forcefield (which goes away after it's been in contact a few times), and food power-ups to augment your health.  For example, if you get several purple power-ups in a row, then you'll have amass a very powerful projectile attack in big numbers.  If you get hit a few times or if you get a different power-up instead, then the power-up will (gradually) level down.  My favorite is the spread shot, as I think it's the better main weapon and the most highly effective out of the two, but it all goes down to personal preference in the end.  After defeating each boss you're awarded an extra increase in health capacity, furthering your chances of survival.  Here's the catch, though: if you lose all your lives, get a game over, and decide to continue, you'll start at the beginning of the stage you lost all your lives in with the exact number of hearts you started the game with.  It just seems like a step back to me, but it's not too much of a problem, it's just an observation.

The visuals here are colorful, detailed, and great, for they do a really good job at presenting the world of Pocky & Rocky, not to mention it's got an arcade-like, anime look to it which I like very much.  The first stage takes place near a shrine, which looks neat; there's a moment when it becomes dark and rains hard only to clear up again, and in a later part you'll cross a bridge and see enemies pop out from the water (they even have watery reflections, that's so cool).  The second stage, the bamboo forest, is my favorite, in terms of visuals.  I like how the majority of the area is filled with green bamboo trees, and there's a sense that you're setting foot in a special, myserious foreign location.  The third stage takes place in a cemetery, during the night with the creepy mist filling the air, until you step inside a building and then a cave, where things are just as weird.  One of the first rooms you step in has lights coming from windows, and what's neat about them is how there are clouds that are moving alongside it, which is a really sweet detail (one of my screenshots illustrates what I'm talking about).  The rest of the stages I'll leave up to you to discover, but I will say that each area has a real sense of atmosphere all around, mostly due the fact that it takes place in a foreign land.  Clever usage of shadows and shadow layering effects on the characters, too.  A lot of the enemies are based on Japanese myth and folklore, like obake and tsukumogami, among others.  The main characters Pocky and Rocky animate smoothly, and I like how swiftly their throwing animations are like when they rapidfire.  There are times when they might look humorous, and Rocky I feel plays a big role in comedic relief.  The bosses and midbosses are big and look good, and after each stage there is a cutscene telling the story with some nice artwork on there.  This game has a lighthearted anime feel, and I like it.  =)

Darn it, Rocky!  What did I tell you about lying
down on the job?!
One of the greatest aspects of the game is the background music, composed by Hiroyuki Iwatsuki, which really compliments each area's atmosphere, and as a result it creates a fitting mood.  The soundtrack is notable in that he combined an electric beat with traditional Japanese music, and the result is quite marvelous.  They are all fun, catchy songs to listen to, and I quite enjoy the sound quality.  The different themes for each cutscene is good, and in some cases the songs can be very effective.  The bamboo forest theme is wonderful due to the melody that was used and the way it sounds relaxing and action-packed at the same time.  The cemetery themes are appropriately thrilling, and the last one out of the two I find to be truly haunting.  The fourth area theme packs some epic sounding punch to the action, and it gives the feeling of doing something big, even though the theme is really simple.  The boss themes are rather energetic, especially the final one against the Black Mantle, which is excellent.  What I find interesting in this aspect is the sound effects: they don't sound at all like 16-bit sounds, they sound like they were lifted from a mid-80's arcade game; which I suppose is befitting considering when the first KiKi KaiKai title came out.  I don't say that as a bad thing, though, as I personally feel that it gives this game a solid edge over others of its kin.  Several of the sounds are fun and engaging, like the devastating attack sound effect, the sound effect used whenever an item is being deflected, and the sounds each character makes when they lose all their health.  It's rather cool, really.

Red bridge crossing
When I tried Pocky & Rocky at 3D Games for the very first time, I thought it was pretty good, but when I played it at home for a much fuller experience, I grew to like it more and more, and it has quickly become one of my favorites these past several months.  I like the execution behind the game, and the result is rather spectacular.  Pocky and Rocky are cute, likeably charming protagonists, and the Japanese theme, content, and enemies really make an out of this world experience; it's like you really are in feudal Japan.  The visuals and sound are great, but what really steals the show is the controls.  It is non-stop, fast-paced action throughout the whole adventure, and the controls are some of the most fun I've had in this type of game, especially considering that you can attack in a rapidfire fashion.  Awesome!  =D  I brought up from time to time the word "arcade" when talking about this classic, because that's what I honestly felt: this is a well-done console-exclusive arcade game, which an arcade feel and look to it.  It's even about as long as a regular mid-80's arcade game, at six stages.  Considering the difficulty, that's not such a bad thing.  Speaking of difficulty: Pocky & Rocky is quite a hard video game, even on Easy mode it's very challenging.  The action is hectic, enemies appear frequently and often, plus it shares the difficulty that's often found in arcade games (not to the point of being impossible, but rather just enough to be of great challenge).  It's manageable if you go at a steady pace, which does soften the challenge flow a tad bit, though it's best to keep advancing forward, especially since there's a timer at the bottom of the screen; so no lollygagging about in here.  So far I've only beaten Easy mode a couple times, and I've yet to try the subsequent two difficulty settings; one day I'll try to attempt that.  Fortunately the game offers unlimited continues, so you could play as long as you want; you'll just have to start the stage over again, that's all.  The boss fights are fun, and some of them require special patterns for them to be taken down.  Pocky & Rocky is a fun arcade-like experience, and one such game that's fun to visit every once in awhile.  I quite love it.

Online I looked up that it's often likened to Konami's The Legend of the Mystical Ninja (the first 16-bit Ganbare Goemon), and, yeah, I can see that; both games present a lot charm, there's Japanese quirkiness on the horizon, and the gameplay is a tad bit similar.  Personally though, I felt that Pocky and Rocky's venture was more fun and more fair than Ganbare Goemon's, because I felt the latter was plodding, slow, and unfair, if not frustrating at times (not necesarrily because that game is hard, it's not; but because the password system is ridiculously hefty, losing lives makes me feel like the game is to condescending me, the power-ups keep decreasing the more I get hit by enemies, and it's just too damn time-consuming for me).  I honestly felt that The Legend of the Mystical Ninja was unenjoyable, though that's just me.  Nothing personal against you, Konami, but Natsume's game is far superior as far as I'm concerned.  I digress, though, Pocky & Rocky is awesome and deserves to be played by all!  =)

This classic was successful enough to spawn two sequels, Pocky & Rocky 2 on the SNES and Pocky & Rocky with Becky for the Game Boy Advance, even though it's quite obscure.  Though not quite as obscure as the second and third games.  And when I looked up the second SNES game on eBay, all I've got to say is damn, man!  Is the game really that obscure, or that good (if not better) than the first SNES game?  I ask that because it sells for outrageously high prices on there!  Maybe I'll ask for it on my Christmas list.  Considering how much I like Pocky & Rocky, I'm curious to see if the second one delivers just as much enjoyment, if not more.

Thank you for reading, please leave a comment!  =)
P.S.: This game deserves a 9!  It's just that much fun to play.
P.S. 2: From what I looked up, whilst the American and Japanese versions maintained the plotline, the European version totally axed it.  It seems like a poor excuse to not have it translated in different languages to me, though I don't know that for a fact.
P.S. 3: If you like The Legend of the Mystical Ninja, then that's great, different strokes for different folks, to each their own.  It just didn't do it for me, personally.

1 comment:

  1. Pocky and Rocky 2 is just as good if a bit different. Go ahead and get it for yourself for Christmas and enjoy!