Sunday, January 3, 2016

Shōnen Ashibe (SFC) Review

Received: April 1st, 2013 / Written: December 30th, 2015-January 3rd, 2016
Year: 1992 | Developed and Published by: Takara | [|O|]

Hello everyone, StarBoy91 here; passionate about video games, big retrophile, and fan of all things 16-bit!  <=)  And welcome to the year 2016, yay!!!  Let's start with a bit of background:

on May 31st, 2012 I bought a Retro Duo which enabled me to play both NES and SFC games on it (even a couple PAL SNES carts); it was such an exciting moment in my gaming life as it had helped open up a doorway for me that many years prior to that I would've only wished in the past: I could import and play Super Famicom games from Japan and since then I gleefully imported many games from the Land of the Rising Sun and there was no stopping me--but then the SFC slot on my Retro Duo stopped working in the end of October 2014 altogether (but the back NES one still functioned).  I was at a loss at that point and I just couldn't believe it: after all this time of importing my SFC gaming days had been put on hold.  =(

And for a few months I had wondered: "What did I do wrong?"; but I did get over it afterwards, but in the back of my mind I still wanted to go back to enjoying Super Famicarts again.  So at one point I had actually considered modding my NTSC SNES console since both the NTSC and JP models of the Nintendo 16-bit console run at 60 Hz speed, and if done right then it would mark the best of both worlds.  And, no lie, I almost went through with it--but I just couldn't do it.  The SNES console that one of my cousins loaned to me two days shy of 2009 holds a lot of sentimental value to me (not to mention it's one of the very consoles I grew up playing whenever I visited some of my relatives), and I didn't want to risk ruining it for good if I did it wrong.

So I decided not to worry about it for awhile, but on Christmas '15 something surprising happened:
Introducing the game I'm reviewing today  =)
first off, this past Christmas was great.  Among all the gifts I got, I got much to my surprise a Super Famiconsole (with a few games).  When I actually saw it and carried it that day, I was amazed; never in a million years did I expect to actually see an SFC console in person, let alone own one, yet here it was!  <=}  As much as I liked the Retro Duo when it worked between 2012-14, the sole reservation I had with it was that it had no eject button (which meant I had to carefully pull the cart out by hand); something which I'm grateful the SFC console has.  And seeing that it works great and is much more preferable, it makes me wish I got a Super Famicom console years ago.
And to complete the package, it also came with a Super Famicom controller along with it, as it should've appeared worlwide.  Goodbye awkward NTSC purple concave/convex buttoned controller with a long wire length, hello Japanese Super Famicom controller with Super Mario World's red-blue-green-yellow color theme with a short wire length!  O.O  Wait, what??  Bottom line: it's perfect!  =D  Thanks, Santa!

Now, seeing as the New Year has just started it is a time for new resolutions.  The last six SNES video game reviews I made probably did not sit well with retro-loving readers because the aspect ratio was stretched as opposed to square on account that my old laptop will not load up properly and my videos from my video camera will not play on my new laptop (but my snapshots taken from said camera can be opened in said new laptop... it's complicated).  So, for the most part when it comes to future SFC/SNES reviews I will try to take my screenshots while my TV is on Normal mode (I don't own a capture card for my TV), and if I can't--well, what you see is what you get.  Just a bit of fair warning.
Left: How I usually view SFC/SNES games on my TV, on Wide setting (I'm accustomed to it)
Right: How SFC/SNES normally look like, on ... err, Normal
If you wanted to have a proper idea of what I'm talking about, here it is for the sake of comparing and contrasting.  I make this sacrifice for you as not just a reviewer but as a friend as well.

Roaming on a brightly colorful plain
I'm not too familiar with the (manga?) series this is based on to be perfectly honest with you (as there were games based on it made for the Famicom and the Game Boy as well), but I do recall having first heard of the NIntendo 16-bit adaptation of Shōnen Ashibe on my friend RVGFanatic's website long before I actually started importing video games in general several years ago.  I liked having read his impressions on it as they had me intrigued, and I thought that based on the screenshots he presented that it looked like it could be a bit of fun.  =)  Back when my Retro Duo was still working in 2012 I was excited for it helped broaden my horizons and opened up a new world to me: the world of the Super Famicom (which I will from now on play on my Super Famicom... wow, that wording was bad), and sometime early in 2013 I considered wanting to play Shōnen Ashibe (my twelfth Super Famicart) as I had still wanted to play it after years of curiosity.  And when I received it (no, that date is not a joke), I was quite pleased with it.  So how did Takara handle this game?

Try shooting some baskets there using your head
In Shōnen Ashibe there are two different viewpoints: the topdown overworld with all the islands yet to be connected, and the sidescrolling sections which form the meat of the game.  In the overworld you move in a square pattern as you must enter caves, mansions, tents, and other openings on your journey.  From time to time you'll get to converse with characters as a boy, and if you tried walking to the areas the white sea lion (that's you) has left his mark on you have a choice to explore them again or bypass them entirely.  More on the overworld segments later, on to the most important part of the gameplay: in the form of sidescrolling.  =)

During the sidescrolling segments you control an adorably small white sea lion whose main objective is finding eight of certain particular items or animals (i.e. apples, squid, canaries who look like they've sprung up from The NewZealand Story, et al) and reaching the goal when you've gathered them all in each stage, but it's not as simple and straightforward as I make it sound.  As the seal you can jump up platforms with the B button and bounce ahead and/or bump into props with the Y button; while some of the particular items/animals will appear in the open, there are plenty of them that are hiding behind props which the seal can bump his head in to reveal them or nothing.  It's best to exercise caution though, as sometimes bumping a prop will make a child or a creature appear, and you don't want them to get too close to you.

*breathes* I'm a sucker for all Aurora Borealis
in the sky  <=)
There is also the matter of area design as well.  While only a small handful of them are ever truly straightforward, the vast majority of the stages are quite open-ended in terms of design which allows for a good sense of navigation; and the goal for when you've gathered all eight things/animals might not necessarily be at the far right end of the area.  Nothing overwhelmingly complex, mind, but it was nice of Takara to create wide and spacious areas that are not too simple when it comes to searching what you're looking for.  =)  Some of the ways in which you progress far are by pushing blocks to make room, jump from moving platform to moving platform, or by bouncing high on bouncy surfaces such as trampolines or in a few instances by swimming.

(Are these critters really worth all this trouble?)
Shōnen Ashibe's pastel-toned visuals are charming and appealing, and the vibrantly quaint color selection throughout really helps.  The outdoor areas look inviting and I liked the gradually moving clouds in the sky and/or the water on the ground; the cavern areas have got an in-depth look and feel to them with the quasi-parallax scrolling with the rocks and stalactites (some with relaxing blue color layering effects with bubbles for when you're swimming underwater); the haunted mansion areas look abandoned (with a bit of lightning flashing outside) which sometimes have eerie mist surrounding it all.  One of my favorite visuals from the game is the snowy environment; the way the snowcapped mountains look are incredibly photorealistic for 1992 (especially the way they scroll smoothly), and I liked the Aurora Borealis set up in the sky (they look just like curtains) as it lends a good sense of atmosphere.  =)

"EEEEK, A GHOST!!!!!!"
The character and enemy animations are pretty basic in this game, but that's okay because they're still sufficient to look at with their anime charm.  The white sea lion has got smooth moving and swimming animations, and he is very cute and appealing with all his motions (his life icon has his eyes blinking from time to time).  I like how he cheers and dances standing upright on his tail when he reaches the goal with all eight items/animals accounted for, and his expressions are adorable even when he's being idle or when he's in precarious situations (like when he's sliding down on his back, for instance).  The items and animals that you're trying to recoup have minimal animations, while the enemies that you're trying to avoid touching--comprised of girls, boys, specters, bears, moles, bats, and various fish to give some examples--are simple in terms of design but have quaint animations to their benefit.

The music is very bouncy, lighthearted, and upbeat throughout, and I really enjoy listening to their nice-sounding compositions.  The areas next to the water have a very relaxing and inviting feel to them in terms of sound, the cavern segments don't sound complex and yet they have a fascinating aura about them, and the underwater segments are slow and quaint even as you swim underwater.  =)  The sky area theme is exciting even with the brass instrumentation, and the mansion sounds lightheartedly menacing (though I'd be remiss if I didn't feel that at times it would threaten to sound like stereotypical circus music early on).  The sound effects are decent yet limited: I like the bonk sound for when the seal hits his head on a hard surface, the sound for when an enemy comes into contact with you is interesting, and the little white sea lion's high pitch squeaks he sometimes makes are so adorable.

But it's not all platforming in Shōnen Ashibe as sometimes you get to do stuff on the topdown side:
Oh no, it's Alex Kidd all over again, RUN!!!!!!!!!  D8>
Never mind that little to no one actually likes Sega's first mascot's games, or Alex Kidd as a character  =<
for instance if you talk with a kid who's got a part of his head shaved off he will challenge you to a game of Janken (the equivalent of Rock, Paper, Scissors), and if you beat him you'll get a free life.  But that's very optional.
What's not optional is that you must talk with certain shady characters in order to partake in events where you must swim on the surface of the water and try to either reach the goal, or try to get just enough things said shady characters throw at you and then reach the goal when you've got enough.  But be careful because there are obstacles and whirlpools in your path that you need to avoid.  I'll explain shortly why these events are mandatory.

"If you stray your foreflippers from harming me, I
promise to have Yooka-Laylee released far earlier
than October this year"  =3
The overworld is interconnected by small islands, and the only way to access the bulk of the playing field is by reaching the goal in each stage.  While plenty of stages just have one goal, many in question will have two; which means that depending on which one you take you might either make a path should you succeed or reach a dead end if you chose the wrong one.  Good thing for trial and error and playing these stages as many times as to your heart's content, unless you feel you're done with them and can just bypass them by selecting "no".  In certain stages you might have to press a switch in order for something important to happen, and sometimes paths in the platforming segment that are seemingly blocked by rocks (or if there are just rocks) can be smashed by having your seal smash it with his head.  Just a few examples to bear in mind.

Occasionally in the overworld you get to talk with people, most of them giving you brief conversations while certain people will give you a simple sixteen character password (comprised of letters and numbers) so that you can continue your progress later if you've taken a break.  At the very center of the overworld is the final stage, which you cannot just access the moment you get to it; the only way you'll be able to access it is after you've cleared all the stages and partook in all the shady characters' surface water events.  It might take a bit to clear some stages due to their vast spaciousness, but in the long run when all is said and done these stages will all have to be done for you to enter the very final stage.

"Ice Bear heard a sound.  Ice Bear's going to
scout it out."
If I had to make a comparison when talking about this game I would probably compare Shōnen Ashibe to Good-Feel's Kirby's Epic Yarn.  And honestly, that comparison's pretty apt in terms of structure: you don't lose a life if an enemy touches you, but you do lose one or more of what you gathered in the process which you can recoup by heading where said items/animals got spread out; and both games are very easy in terms of difficulty.  The only difference is that while in Kirby's Epic Yarn you never lose a life, your main enemy in this game is time, and if it counts down all the way to zero before you managed to get all you needed to look for only then will you lose a life and will have to start the stage over again.  Aside from that, there is another thing both platformers have in common: they're both very lighthearted feel-good entertainment.  <=)

"Yo hey, don't try to nuzzle your head against me;
that would not be good for my system!"
Aside from the usual controls there is one control that I feel is worth mentioning: you can hang off of blocks.  If you're really near an edge (whether facing out or inward) then the white sea lion will show that he's almost on the verge of falling.  I know it doesn't seem like much, but it can be a lifesaver on certain occasions.  If there's really a downside in Shōnen Ashibe it occurs during a handful of enemy respawning moments.  You know how in the first two Ninja Gaiden games there would be inexplicable enemy respawning from enemies even though you turned around and then refaced the other direction again (despite having ousted them)?  Well in this game there is a similar case where if you move only a few steps away from where the enemy came from (to the point where their position is offscreen) and then you came back a few steps (where said enemies are now onscreen) then they would reemerge once more (namely flying enemies like bats and seagulls).  It's a bit distracting, but fortunately it does not permeate throughout the whole deal and only during a couple instances.

Well, now I've seen everything
Shōnen Ashibe might not have much difficulty (or length) going for it, but on the whole it's a fun game to play once in awhile and it is largely relaxing.  =)  I like the sense of atmosphere when it comes to perusing these stages and I like how trying to find all eight important items/animals is not entirely straightforward as you must do a bit of searching here and there.  It is also a very charming game with its fun lighthearted nature and its very cute protagonist, and for that reason among others Shōnen Ashibe is not just a solid game on its own merits but solid feel-good entertainment as well, and I think Takara did a good job crafting this amiable sidescroller.

Hurray!  ^-^
If you want to play a good platformer then this game is not a bad option as it is quite enjoyable.  If you're looking for something (overtly) challenging, you won't find it here; but if you want to take a break from a challenging game and want to play something easier (but not necessarily simple) then Shōnen Ashibe is good.  If you're feeling down and are looking for something to lift your spirits up, then this game is absolutely perfect for the job as it's well-done feel-good entertainment, and if you search for it on eBay it doesn't cost much.  =)  It might not exactly be great, but for what it is it's good.  There are admittedly better licensed games you could play on the Super Famicom/Super Nintendo, but you could do far worse.

My Personal Score: 7.0/10
<( ^o^)^TO EACH THEIR OWN^(^o^ )>
P.S. I look forward to talk about more Super Famicom games in the future.  ^~^

P.S. 2 And speaking of feel-good entertainment: oh, Yoshi's Woolly World, where have you been for the past two decades?  <=)  This is seriously the best Yoshi platformer since Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island twenty years prior!
Thank you for reading my review, please leave me a comment a let me know what you think.  Happy New Year, and take care!  =)
(Aagck!!!  Why did I have to be so cute???)  T_T


  1. Oh goodness this looks maybe too cute NOT to play. That skateboard though. I guess I'll have to check this out XD