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It Came from Japan!

It Came from Japan! Pepsiman

Nov 03 // Allistair Pinsof
Pepsiman (PlayStation)Developer: KID Corp.Released: March 4, 1999Current value: $60-90 ($2,350+ for a new copy!!!)  Fan translation: No (It's already in English!)For fans of: Crash Bandicoot, Katamari Damacy, Muscle March Sometime in the mid-90's, Pepsi's Japanese branch decided it needed to do something spectacularly Japanese, so it contracted comic book artist Travis Charest to create a superhero mascot that could promote delicious yet affordable Pepsi. Pepsiman may look like a creepy, faceless S&M-fanatic, but Pepsi decided to further promote his image through wonderfully insane commercials and a Japan-only videogame. Pepsiman, also known as The Running Hero, doesn't have much power. He knows how to rock a skintight silver-and-blue suit (eww), carry Pepsi in his body cavities (double-eww), and run really fast. Some people use these "powers" for evil (see: Dale North), but the original Japanese Pepsiman used it for saving citizens from death-by-thirst. In accordance to the commercials, each of the game's four stages tasks Pepsiman with saving some poor individual who is in desperate need of the crisp, God-like flavor of a Pepsi. Whether it's a group of citizens stuck on a roof amidst a fire or a military man stranded in a desert, Pepsiman is on the way with a refreshing can of Pepsi. You know Pepsiman is a quality title because it's made by a developer who primarily makes adult-romance visual novels! To be fair, KID Corp. also made a beat-em-up (UFO Kamen Yakisoban) about a instant noodle mascot, so it is no stranger to making games for the consumer whore at heart. Like Katamari Damacy and God Hand after it, Pepsiman is such a gloriously twisted, charming spectacle that it's hard not to fall in love with it. That's not to say the game is in any way on the same level of playability as the aforementioned titles. In fact, Pepsiman is one of the simplest PlayStation games I've ever played -- it could easily be played with an NES controller if it were an option (which it may be these days via emulation).   Pepsiman is kind of like Crash Bandicoot on PCP-spiked Pepsi. You automatically run forward as you control Pepsiman from a third-person perspective. Since everyone in Pepsitown is an incompetent, Pepsi-crazed fool, every car, construction crane, and buffalo tries its hardest to crash into Pepsiman. You can dodge these obstacles by jumping, sliding, or sprinting, but get hit enough times and you'll have to restart from one of the checkpoints (which are generously spread out). Pepsiman hits a middle-ground between Paperboy and Muscle March, in terms of complexity and pace. The game starts off simple enough, but the later levels demand such perfect timing and precision that only the most dedicated will see the ending. Eventually, memorization becomes more important than skill and reflex. Despite having a pretty basic foundation, the game throws gimmicks that add some variety to the madness. Some levels require skateboarding or navigating the world with a steel drum over your body (forcing backwards controls on you). Additionally, every stage culminates with Pepsiman's escaping an object like in those Crash Bandicoot "boulder chase" scenes. It makes for a fun but stressful finale. The real draw of Pepsiman is the sheer lunacy that pumps through every second of the game. Much like the Japanese commercials, the game is obsessed with American values and culture. Unlike the commercials, a good chunk of the game depicts Americans as unhygienic hillbillies. Each stage is bookended by FMV footage of a fat American guy drinking unholy amounts of Pepsi while eating chips and pizza and watching TV. It's odd that the game is entirely in English, but it's the fat hillbilly's dialog that will stick with you after the game is done. It often borders on nonsensical Engrish: "Everybody Pepsi! Drink Pepsi! Pepsi only my choice!" Add some teeth rot, cocaine, and hookers, and you have a perfect depiction of what too much Pepsi can do to a mentally-addled American. It's difficult to tell if this hillbilly parody is self aware or not. In either case, it's an amusing award for completing a stage. I wouldn't say Pepsiman is a great game, but it's a highly amusing one, especially when played in a group setting. The entire premise is ridiculous, so full of little details that are easy to miss and make the game so charmingly brain-dead. I don't recommend putting up with the impossibly hard later levels, but it's worth playing while the fun lasts. It brings me back to a time when corporations had mascots, Japanese games were insane, and graphics weren't everything. Pepsi is everything! DRINK! PEPSI™ ONLY MY CHOICE! ------------------------ What's your favorite junk food mascot game? Do you drink Pepsi while you game/fap? Have you ever had PCP-spiked Pepsi? (Be honest.)   [And he entrusted them with his invented magic stick]
It Came from Japan! photo

[It Came from Japan! is a series where I seek out and review the weirdest, most original and enjoyable titles that never left the Land of the Rising Sun.] Before there was Nathan Drake, there was Pepsiman, a hero's h...

It Came from Japan! Shadow Tower Abyss

Oct 27 // Allistair Pinsof
Shadow Tower Abyss (PlayStation 2)Developer: From SoftwareReleased: October 23, 2003Current value: $50-75  Fan translation: No, and this guide is a must.For fans of: Dark Souls, King's Field, Arx Fatalis Shadow Tower Abyss was the last of its kind -- a Gothic dungeon crawler in which the player travels deeper and deeper into the darkness by every hour. Survival is based as much on skill in combat as it is on being resourceful and daring in exploration. The original Shadow Tower felt like a spin-off of the King's Field series but with a psychological horror twist (think Silent Hill's surreal, dark world). The enemies were stranger, the plot was more obtuse, and the game placed an emphasis on exploration. Very cautious exploration -- remember, these are the guys who made Demon's Souls and Dark Souls. In fact, Shadow Tower is the bridge between King's Field and Demon's Souls in that it shares many elements of both. Make no mistake, though, Shadow Tower Abyss is very much its own thing. Unlike Demon's Souls, the game takes place in one sprawling dungeon that becomes weirder the deeper you venture. I miss this aspect in modern games, including Demon's Souls. There is something unique about slowly traversing the layers of a mysterious dungeon, coming across traps, and discovering story details through random, discarded notes (not that I can read any of them in this particular case). As much as I loved Demon's Souls, its divided levels didn't capture the sense of danger and mystery you expect to find in a From Software dungeon crawler. Level hubs and checkpoints take away from the atmosphere and danger that a game like Abyss embodies. Unlike the PlayStation debut, Abyss has a decent amount of variety within its world. Through the swamp pits filled with poisonous clouds, a scenic cliff side, and the abstract neon glow of later areas, From Software provides an incentive to explore this dark, haunted world by virtue of its design and pacing. Whenever you start to grow tired of an area, you soon find yourself facing off against a boss or discovering a key to the exit. The action at the core of the game is repetitive, but that's to be expected of the genre. Whether you take to it or not will depend on how you feel about a good, old-fashioned dungeon crawl. Despite the similarities shared with the King's Field series, From Software decided to give these games a different name for a reason. They are pretty peculiar, mechanically speaking. For starters, the unorthodox controls may be hard to adjust to for some players. Looking up and down is restricted to the back shoulder buttons, and strafing is left to the front shoulder buttons. This is because the right stick is used for attacking. Moving the stick side to side registers as a slash attack, up as an overhead slash, back as a back slash, and inward (R3) as a forward thrust. Different weapons are optimized for different attacks, which also deal more damage to certain enemies. The biggest difference between Abyss and other games lies in its leveling system -- rather, the lack of one. Not really. Your strength increases through exploring and collecting defeated enemies' souls (sound familiar?), but all your other stats are completely dependent on items and weapons. You'll occasionally come across an item, usually hidden away, that will let you upgrade dexterity, endurance, and all the other standard stats. For the most part, you'll be depending on weapons to give you better stats. This wouldn't be so nerve-wracking if the items weren't always on the cusp of breaking. Like Demon's Souls, the game feels like a survival horror title during its opening hour. You creep around in the dark with very little resources, terrified of any enemy encounter. Since the enemy A.I. is pretty dumb and easy to take advantage of, you'll soon find yourself breezing through areas. Nevertheless, combat remains fun due to the variety of weapons, which range from medieval pikes to assault rifles. You can only equip two weapons at time, so choosing the right combo will go a long way toward your survival. If you are a fan of dark, moody dungeon crawlers, Abyss is a unique game that shouldn't be missed. What it lacks in detail and polish, it makes up in atmosphere and art direction. I'd love to see another Shadow Tower sequel, but sadly, I don't think we'll ever get one. The modern crop of gamers like to have their games divided up for them and conveniently sprinkled with checkpoints. The design philosophy behind Shadow Tower, or any good traditional dungeon crawler, goes against what makes modern games popular and accessible. It's too bad that Abyss was never brought to the West, despite being mostly localized. You can't blame publishers for not wanting to take a chance when similar From Software titles failed to find a market over here. Demon's Souls is a genius game for keeping many aspects of a dark, Gothic dungeon crawler intact while appealing to a wide audience. However, returning to Abyss shows that something was lost in that transition. There is something unique about being lost in the darkness of Abyss, searching for an ammo clip, that can't be replicated in modern titles. Sometimes you want to explore a game's world, and sometimes you just want to get lost and let the gloomy atmosphere consume you. In other words, dungeon crawlers are the post-punk of videogames, and I love my post-punks, dammit! --------------------------------------- What is your favorite dungeon crawler? Do you miss the days when it was possible it get lost in a large world? Would the addition of guns ruin the Demon's Souls series?   [Dale North's favorite beverage + videogames = ???]
It Came from Japan! photo

[It Came from Japan! is a series where I seek out and review the weirdest, most original and enjoyable titles that never left the Land of the Rising Sun.] Along with churros and KFC, dungeon crawlers are one of those r...

It Came from Japan! Clock Tower

Oct 20 // Allistair Pinsof
Clock Tower (Super Famicom)Developer: Human EntertainmentReleased: September 14, 1995Current value: $50-75  Fan translation: YesFor fans of: Silent Hill, Amnesia: The Dark Descent, D Although it has aged poorly, the original Clock Tower has a novelty value that makes it worth tracking down. It's like a 16-bit tribute to Dario Argento, dressed up as one of the strangest adventure games you'll ever play. Argento is one of the few masterminds of horror cinema who realized that sometimes plot just gets in the way of atmosphere. True horror comes from the unknown, so the longer the mystery stays unraveled, the better. Likewise, Human Entertainment applies a similar work philosophy with Clock Tower. As you travel from room to room, you'll gather small details of a larger picture that you will have to piece together in your head. Like the Argento films the game is inspired by -- it shares the most in common with Phenomena plot-wise -- you are given very little background information at the start of the game. You play as Jennifer Simpson, an orphan who is relocated to a remote mansion after a wealthy recluse adopts her and her friends. The children's teacher accompanies them to the mansion but mysteriously disappears after the girls enter. Since the other girls are useless, you are sent off to find her and figure out what is going on. Spooky adventure time!  Clock Tower has been around for a while. I remember renting the PlayStation sequel -- the first series entry to reach the states -- and being completely baffled by it. I have to use a mouse cursor... in a console game? I have to hide in a bathroom stall and hope I don't die? Surely, there must have been a shotgun near the entrance that I failed to pick-up! This is what I thought back then, and if this is your first time with the series, you'll most likely have similar thoughts with the Super Famicom original. At its core, Clock Tower is a very basic adventure game. You go from room to room, clicking on every notable object you can find. You'll either get an observation from Jennifer that will progress the game's narrative or an item that will be useful later. The twist on the formula, which makes Clock Tower a survival horror game, is that you are under constant threat of a strange man who is hunting you within the mansion; getting in his way means game over. As you walk/run through the mansion, you'll occasionally spot something moving behind a curtain or under a box. Sometimes it's a cat, and sometimes it's a deformed little boy with a giant pair of hedge-clippers who wants to kill you. Once you confront him (or any threat) head on, you will go into panic mode. Depending on your health, you'll be able to run past, but if you are in a less-than-ideal state, you'll start tripping, drastically slowing you down. If caught, you can rapidly press B to get out of the threat's grasp, but you'll eventually need to find a hiding space. Hearing the creepy/annoying alarm music play as you run down the halls of the manor makes for a genuinely disturbing experience when it first occurs. However, you'll eventually recognize what rooms are safe havens, which takes away much of the fear -- you just head toward one and wait the next time you come across little Bobby and his scissors. Also, since Scissorman is always triggered by certain player actions, you start to expect him whenever you click on a sketchy area of a room (uh oh, closed shower curtains!). In the sequels, Scissorman will appear randomly, making the games much scarier and more suspenseful.   What mansion in a videogame isn't haunted? The haunted mansion is the main character of Clock Tower. Each of its rooms is lovingly detailed with creepy family portraits, occult books, and the remains of a very demented family. It's impressive to see how well rendered all of it is on the SNES hardware. The limitations in color and scale give certain aspects of the world an extra haunted quality. Scissorman may look a bit goofy in this entry compared to later ones, but the characters' portraits do get under your skin. Again, the game shares a few similarities with the films of Dario Argento -- well, at least the ones he made in the '80s (the only ones that are worth watching). You have incoherent stories, distressed young girls, creepy occult stuff, and bright primary colors mixed with a dark, foggy setting. Seeing this sort of world come to life on the SNES has a lot of appeal for me, especially as an Argento fan. Discovering the hidden cave below Clock Tower's mansion and finding the dark secret beneath is a unique moment within the SNES' catalog. Unfortunately, navigating the mansion isn't very fun -- it doesn't take long before you are playing "Unlocking Doors: The Game." Resident Evil and Sweet Home have very well designed layouts that make locating rooms easy. Although Clock Tower is a 2D game, the mansion is designed with 3D space in mind, so you'll need to think of the mansion as a square instead of as a very long line. You'll go down hallways that take you from the east wing to the west wing, which can be very confusing since you are always heading left or right in 2D space. Clearly, this was designed to retain some realism for horror's sake, but it just ends up inconveniencing the player and dragging the game out. As a result of the mansion's layout, it takes longer to get to where you need to go and makes it harder to keep up with where everything is. Since you are constantly hunting for doors to unlock, this becomes a major flaw in the design. COCK TOWER!!! LOL!111!! Thankfully, the game is brief and full of little surprises that make it worth playing to the end -- well, one of its endings, at least. There are so many little decisions you can make that will alter how the story unfolds and the ending you receive . I can only imagine the excited conversations that friends in Japanese schools would have had about the game's branching scenarios and vague story. Some of the things that happen can change pretty drastically, depending on the information you discover or fail to observe. It's very much Heavy Rain before its time. As an adventure game, Clock Tower isn't very interesting. The mansion's layout is confusing, puzzles are simple, and you’ll need to pixel hunt more than once. However, the atmosphere and unique design of the game make it worth experiencing. The game can be beat in less than three hours, which makes it perfect for a a single playthrough around Halloween. It's not very scary, but the game sets such a haunting mood that it can't be ignored. Human Entertainment was at the forefront of bringing mature horror games to consoles. Along with the Twilight Syndrome series (which helped to launch Suda51's career) and Laplace no Ma (very much inspired by last week's featured entry, Sweet Home), Clock Tower is a game that helped establish survival horror as a genre and Human Entertainment as a developer. While the sequels are much scarier (due to random enemy triggers and more suspenseful hiding scenarios), there is something about the look, setting, and atmosphere of the original that makes it my favorite -- I've never played Clock Tower 3 or Haunting Ground, though. Despite its flaws, Clock Tower (or Clock Tower: The First Fear, as it was later renamed) is worth a shot. It's atmospheric horror at its most raw, for better or worse. It relies on few mechanics but still manages to tell a compelling story that will suck you in. Hopefully, you won't get too frustrated with the cheap deaths and pixel hunting to keep that from happening. -------------- Would cocks or glocks make Clock Tower scarier? Is there a mansion in videogames more confusing than the one in Clock Tower? Do mouse cursors in console games completely turn you away?   [Enter the void ...]
It Came from Japan! photo

[It Came from Japan! is a series where I seek out and review the weirdest, most original and enjoyable titles that never left the Land of the Rising Sun.] The key to eliciting fear has little to do with dogs that jump th...

It Came from Japan! Sweet Home

Oct 13 // Allistair Pinsof
Sweet Home (Famicom)Developer: CapcomReleased: December 15, 1989Current value: $15-30  Fan translation: YesFor fans of: Resident Evil, Silent Hill, EarthBound The only times I've ever heard Sweet Home being discussed was within the context of the survival horror genre. It's always thrown into survival horror retrospectives, mentioning its influence without really stating what Sweet Home is about or what makes it so special. I sense I am not alone in blindly accepting its placement in gaming history without looking into its actual value as a game. I had to correct this, and hot damn, am I happy that I did! If more had played it, I imagine Sweet Home would be mentioned in the same breath as EarthBound and Persona for showing what can be done within an RPG once tradition and standards are forsaken.  Sweet Home is a lot of things, but mostly it's an RPG. Or maybe mostly an adventure game? Like Clock Tower, Alone in the Dark, and survival horror games that followed, Sweet Home is hard to classify. It is best thought of as PlayStation-era, slow-paced survival horror where RPG battles take the place of third-person combat. Great, now you are thinking of Parasite Eve! See how pointless it is to describe a game this original? The game is an adaptation of a Japanese horror film by the same name, which makes Sweet Home an easy candidate for best film-to-game adaptation ever. The movie itself isn't very good, but it shares the same plot, so watching it would spoil the game. Just ignore it. The game came out the same day as the film, which makes me wonder just how long the it was in development. Nothing about it feels rushed in any way. Sure, it isn't very long (15 hours, maybe), but it feels perfectly paced and full of variety in setting and action. The game opens up with a documentary crew walking to a remote, deserted mansion. They have been sent on a job to preserve the deceased Ichiro Mamiya's paintings (or frescoes) within and come back with some photos. However, their plan is immediately thwarted when the ghost of Ichiro's wife appears and blocks the exit with debris. She's not very nice, and as you unravel the mansion's secrets, you learn she was even worse when she was alive. This introduction is done with minimal dialog and exposition. Within a minute, you are in control of the group and thrown into the game without any idea of how it works. Without looking at a guide or knowing anything prior, I was able to figure things out pretty quickly -- I imagine most players familiar with older adventure and RPG games will have a similar experience. Talking to characters, looking at objects, and grouping teammates are awkward at first, but they hardly sour the experience.  Hunt them frescoes!  At all times, you have access to five characters who can go solo or be grouped together into teams of two or three. This is important as each character has an item that you will need in order to progress. Akiki has a med kit that will heal any illness suffered in battle, Kazou has a lighter to burn away ropes that block paths, Emi unlocks doors, Taguchi photographs the paintings, and Asuka dusts them and cleans debris with a vacuum. Yeah, I'm not sure why a documentary crew brought a vacuum cleaner but HEY, VIDEOGAMES! You'll always be 15 or so minutes away from needing a given party member's ability, so you'll never want to keep your crew too far apart from one another. It takes some time to get used to the abilities and how they work, but they'll eventually click. When they do, Sweet Home becomes a brilliant adventure. Along with these character items, you'll also pick-up other items needed to progress. Figuring out their use is part of the fun. There are times when you'll have to struggle between deciding on carrying an extra potion or a pipe -- not that you have any idea when you would ever use a pipe. The game has a fair amount of backtracking, but it didn't bother me since it gave me an opportunity to level up my characters without the need to grind... EVER!!! We are talking about an NES-era RPG, people! Do you understand how crazy/awesome this is!?! Battles are another good reason to keep your party together. As you wander the mansion, you'll be thrown into random encounters that will bring up a Dragon Quest-like battle screen. You can attack, run away, pray, or use items, about as basic as it gets. Prayer, your magic attack, drains prayer points, which are also used for puzzles. The only way to recover them or your health are with tonics, which you'll find in random rooms across the mansion. Think of Resident Evil's herbs and you won't be too far off. It's fascinating to discover where RE got all these ideas from and to see how well they work within the confines of an RPG. You think surviving off a limited amount of tonics would drive you mad, but the game is so well-designed that you'll always find one when you are on the verge of dying. Like Half-Life and Dead Space, Sweet Home does such a great job of drawing out tension by providing health at just the right moment. I never ran into a problem, but I always felt like my situation was hopeless. The game gets easier by the end, but the bulk of it requires you to play smart and use tonics sparingly. If you don't, a character will suffer permanent death. If you choose to go on, you'll be able to find replacement items for the deceased character's key item (e.g. you can use pills in place of Akiki's med kit). However, you'll want to reload that save for the better ending, since you only get it if all five characters stay alive. A full party also makes the game much easier. Item management is pretty difficult with only two slots per character, so you'll want all of them alive to save you some serious backtracking. Thankfully, the game has a save anywhere feature -- I can't think of many console games that have this at all, not to mention one from the '80s. I can only imagine how spoiled Japanese gamers must have felt when they want from this to Final Fantasy IV's traditional town and item shop structure -- which Sweet Home doesn't have since it all takes place in a mansion. The game is nothing but fighting, puzzle-solving, and exploration. As a result, you'll always feel like you are progressing and just around the corner from a great narrative twist.   Sweet Homevania Sure, "Metroidvania" sounds good, but Sweet Home deserves to be recognized to be the first game to fully realize the potential of a cohesive game world that connects beginning to end (even if Metroid attempted it first). The structure of the game is absolutely amazing. Every area is full of secrets, shortcuts, and memorable "a-ha!"-moments. Even within the first area, you'll come across doors that are locked and items that you can't reach. You keep looking at them, wondering if you are doing something wrong. Meanwhile, you struggle against every enemy encounter. Eventually, you'll unlock passages back to the first room, retrieve that awesome sword in the distance, and get through every battle with one attack. I can't think of another game that so seamlessly connects such a large area together. Nevertheles, the mansion always feels unpredictable as you go farther out and into darker areas. The change in scenery and music helps give every area its own vibe while feeling part of a consistent whole. By the game's end, you'll feel like you went on one long, crazy journey. The top-down view of Sweet Home and RPG approach make it possible for the game to have an intricate layout that is superior to those of Resident Evil and Super Metroid.  Read between the lines (and paintings) The best games on the NES weren't known for their stories. In fact, other than adventure games, no games back then were. I wouldn't say Sweet Home has a particularly original or complex story, but the way it is told is innovative for its time and keeps it from feeling dated. BioShock may have popularized audio/diary logs in recent years, but Sweet Home did this way before anyone else. Most of the game's story is conveyed through secret messages, diary entries, and notes laid around the mansion. Unlike Resident Evil, each of these are limited to a sentence or two, so you won't have to read pages full of nonsense in order to get to the point. At the same time, important notes can often be vague enough to leave open multiple interpretations of the game's story. If you ignore most of the notes, you'll still be able to follow the plot, but you'll be missing out on the details. Another storytelling innovation in Sweet Home is the use of cinematic moments that restrict the player's actions. These scenes force you to play a role as you follow a character and watch events unfold. One scene has you following a strange man, while you trade lines of dialog. I was blown away by it, since I can't think of another game of its era that tried to do anything remotely similar. It's a great storytelling device that pulls you into the game's world and makes you feel vulnerable. The same can be said of the game's cutscenes, which depict some gruesome imagery -- there is a reason this never came to the West! The end result of all these elements is a story that feels believable and haunting. You'll buy into this bizarre world and its characters. I can only imagine the brilliant things the development team could have done in a Super Nintendo sequel. Yeah, that right there ^^^^ is kind of gross. Since you can't have dogs jumping through windows or surround sound audio on the Nintendo, you can't really have jump scares. Sweet Home may not be the scariest game ever (hint: this guy is playing it), but it carries a surreal, unsettling atmosphere despite the limitations of the hardware. Capcom made the most of the system and managed to craft a horror experience unlike any other at the time. The music isn't very melodic, but it sets a foreboding tone. The enemy portraits in battle are vile and creepy. Every element of Sweet Home works to build a distinct mood to make it a timeless horror classic. The game has so many clever concepts that add to the overall adventure. For example, you'll need to use wax candles in dark rooms for the first couple hours. This limits your view and leaves you susceptible to traps and other threats. By the time you turn on the mansion's generator and restore power, you'll feel a sense of relief -- one you can imagine the fictional characters sharing. Sure, Resident Evil was originally intended to be a Sweet Home sequel, and the games share many elements (even the door opening sequences). However, Sweet Home should be recognized on its own for being a damn good game with its own unique setting and aesthetic.   This is the part where I gush more about how much I like this game. Sorry, but I have to ... Unlike most other mediums, tracing genres to their origin is usually little more than a nostalgia journey within the realm of videogames. You'd be hard-pressed to find a kid now who would take to the original Dragon Quest or Metroid. Sweet Home is the exception to this train of thought. Even though Capcom's 1989 Nintendo classic is the prototype for survival horror, it is in many ways every bit as good as Silent Hill 2 or Resident Evil 2. It's a strange title that merges so many elements of games we love (Metroid, Resident Evil, Dragon Quest, Maniac Mansion, etc.) that it feels fresh even in 2011. It's a nearly flawless game that isn't only one of the best JRPGs of all time, it's also the best game to ever be released on the Famicom/NES. Who knew? Perhaps Japan. ------------------- Can you think of another game from the NES era that scared you? How bad do you want another game like this (a game that blends Earthbound with Resident Evil)? Who is grosser: Dude with boils or throwing-up guy?   [C'mon, this isn't funny!]
It Came from Japan! photo

[It Came from Japan! is a series where I seek out and review the weirdest, most original and enjoyable titles that never left the Land of the Rising Sun.] I love haunted house films. I hate haunted house games. They scar...

It Came from Japan! Boku Dracula-kun

Oct 06 // Allistair Pinsof
Akumajou Special: Boku Dracula-kun (Famicom)Developer: KonamiReleased: October 19, 1990Current value: $30-70  Fan translation: YesFor fans of: Mega Man, Splatterhouse: Wanpaku Graffiti, Tiny Toon Adventures  Dracula-kun is not part of the Castlevania canon, but you can think of its protagonist as a pre-teen Alucard, son of Alucard, or Alucard's brother if it makes you feel better. The elements that this platformer shares with Konami's signature Nintendo series are few and far between. For the most part, Dracula-kun is its own thing, but it borrows plenty from Mega Man, Contra, and other platformers of the time. The story of Drcaula-kun is fairly ridiculous. If the opening scene is any indication, Kid Dracula (the name given to him in America for this game's Game Boy remake/sequel) wakes up from a 10,000-year sleep to hear the Grim Reaper whine about some dinosaur who is causing havoc. So Kid Dracula sets off across the world to put devil dinosaur-thing Galamoth to rest. I'm not really sure this is the story -- I played in Japanese, so let me know if got it wrong. Either way, I'm pretty sure there is no good explanation for visiting an amusement park or beating up Spider-Man clones in New York. Instead of using a whip or robotic arm, Kid Dracula spits out fireballs. The controls feel great -- you can even shoot up or jump and fire downward. Like Mega Man, holding down the fire button will charge your shot, and you'll acquire new abilities after defeating each boss to augment your charge shot. Unlike Mega Man, the bosses don't use these weapons against you and rarely have a reason for having them anyway. These charge shots range from snowballs that will freeze your enemies to the ability to transform into a bat (used for certain platforming sections). Although you can switch between the powers with the select button, the game would have played a lot better with the Super Nintendo's shoulder buttons. You can pause the game and switch weapons during desperate moments, but it still feels awkward. To make matters worse, you need to wait for your projectiles to clear the screen before you can properly switch to a new charge power. This never caused me much trouble, however, since I mainly stuck to one weapon throughout the game.   Dracula-kun isn't a cakewalk, but making use of the homing missile weapon that you get from defeating the first boss certainly helps make it easier. Not only does the ability deal a great amount of damage, it also has a wide spread that rarely misses. Since there is no limit on charge shots, you can spam it on bosses without much difficulty. I was able to defeat some bosses without suffering a single hit, but you’ll have a much tougher time on the last stage which limits your arsenal's impact. The bosses in Dracula-kun are as random, colorful, and impressive as the game's stages. Overall, the game is one of the best-looking in the Famicom's entire catalog -- few developers knew the hardware as well as Konami by 1990. Boku Dracula-kun opens with a very traditional Castlevania-inspired stage that even borrows assets from the series, but even if you don't recognize the clock gears in the background or the swinging pendulum, you'll certainly feel at home as you climb the ominous steps to the boss fight. Since YOU are (Kid) Dracula, you can't have a proper fight against another vampire. Kid Dracula wouldn't stand for that, so who does Konami send in for Kid Dracula to fight instead? A KKK leader wearing white sheets with an embroidered swastika, of course! Although it's unsettling and surreal to see a swastika in a kid’s game, I'm not sure if it qualifies as being offensive. After all, you are defeating a Klansman! In the U.S. version of the Game Boy remake, Konami removed the swastika and unveiled the figure to be an old wizard, once defeated. That's lame, part of why we aren’t talking about that game -- not yet, anyway. Although nothing can possibly top that opening boss fight, the following ones are more visually and mechanically interesting. Other highlights include a blue dragon that loops across the sky in crazy patterns, a tall robot that you have to fight upside-down, and a hard-as-balls final boss that will make most players cry, assuming you can get past the maddening mini-boss before him. Each level is gorgeous and completely different than the one before it, along with unique enemy types that fit the theme. Once you depart the Klansman's castle, you'll fight cacti in Egypt, robots in space, and Spider-Man and Jason Voorhees clones in New York City. The game even has an homage to the airship levels of Super Mario Bros. 3! Even better, the boss of the NYC stage is the Statue of Liberty! Instead of taking you on in a direct fight, she puts you on a quiz show and asks you questions about America. This wouldn't be so difficult had I not been playing it all in Japanese! To be fair, she also asks for the name of Konami's, which I wouldn't have gotten right in English, anyway.  Boku Dracula-kun is full of little moments like these that stay with you long after the game is complete. We talk a lot about "set piece moments" in games today, but they were rare during the NES/SNES years. Nonetheless, I can think of a couple classic ones in this game! My favorite moment is a toss-up between the roller coaster and subway train rides. The roller coaster is expected, since the stage takes place in an amusement park. However, the ride itself is crazier than a shit-house rat. You are constantly in fear of losing your ground and flying across the screen, yet it never happens. As you are going through loops, you still need to battle enemies coming at you from all sides. It's extremely hectic, but it wouldn't be as much fun if it wasn't. The subway train, which precedes the quiz show "boss fight" in the NYC stage, is another key moment. It's the classic "run on top of a moving vehicle while ducking underneath tunnel ceilings"-scenario we've seen in plenty of games over the years, but I struggle to think of one that predates Boku Dracula-kun. Even if one exists, it doesn't take away the surprise of it being there or the fact that it's one awesomely intense platforming segment. I don't feel bad about spoiling these two moments as the game is full of them. Before every boss, the game will throw some crazy stuff at you that will make you fret for your life, yet it's always designed well-enough to keep you from falling into cheap deaths. Sadly, the same can't be said for some of the platforming segments. Boku Dracula-kun may not be a faithful adaptation of the Castlevania series, but it does share some annoying quirks. Like Castlevania, you'll be stunned and fall back a couple steps when damaged. Thankfully, there aren't many enemies that come right at you, but you'll sometimes step back into a chasm and yell at the screen. The same can be said of some tricky sections that remind you of the wide gap between Mario and every other Nintendo platformer  -- Dracula-kun is no exception. These are minor gripes for what is otherwise a near-flawless Nintendo platformer, which is surprising considering it's the first one of its type that Konami made. Even similar Konami games that followed, such as Tiny Toon Adventures, didn't live up to Boku's personality, level design, and soundtrack (did I mention how good it is?). The game's aesthetic straddles a unique niche between horror and childrens anime. In fact, Namco's Splatterhouse: Wanpaku Graffiti -- another quirky Japanese title that never reached the States -- is the only game that is remotely similar. To be fair, Dracula-kun did reach the U.S., but not in the form some of us would like. The Game Boy remake Kid Dracula, released in 1993, took away certain levels, weapons, and enemies, and inserted new ones in their place. That game has a more coherent story, but it lacks the charm of the original. It's also a much shorter, easier game. It's not bad, but I wouldn't recommend it over the first one. There are few older franchises that haven't been remade for current gen platforms in some way and even fewer that I'd really care to see make the transition. Kid Dracula/Dracula-kun is the exception. The game's colorful world, likable protagonist, and unique design make it a welcome candidate for a 2.5D remake for current gen systems. There aren't many games that speak to the fun of a horror-themed world without the guts and gore. I love films like Monster House and The Goonies, and I struggle to see why there aren't games of the same ilk. Well, Dracula-kun is just such a game, one well worth seeking out for fans of platforming and/or lighthearted horror. ------ Would you like to see a new Kid Dracula? Why or why not? What are your favorite "lighthearted horror" games, like Dracula-kun and Wanpaku Graffiti? Are you still recovering from the 500+ comment shitstorm that accompanied my last review?   [Those who defile my home shall feel my wrath!]
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[It Came from Japan! is a series where I seek out and review the weirdest, most original and enjoyable titles that never left the Land of the Rising Sun.] It's still the first week of October, so it's not quite time ...

It Came from Japan! Super Back to the Future II

Sep 22 // Allistair Pinsof
Super Back to the Future II (Super Famicom)Developer: DaftReleased: July 23, 1993Current value: $30-50 Fan translation: NopeFor fans of: Average mid-'90s platformers  One quick glance at the game and it’s apparent that it was made with an audience in mind, and it’s not a Western one. Love it or hate it: Marty McFly, Doc, and Biff have been anime-ized. Marty and Doc are adorable, stocky caricatures of themselves, while Biff is a hulking beast fit to be the boss (again and again). Pair this unlikely character design with a catchy soundtrack, and game design reminiscent of Sonic the Hedgehog, and you get Super Back to the Future II -- a decent, if not good, movie-licensed game. What's wrong, McFly? Chicken?  There are a lot of memorable scenes in Back to the Future II, but among the most iconic is when Marty escapes Griff’s wrath via a hoverboard. After watching him dodge between cars and float across a fountain, my eight-year-old self couldn’t wait until the year 2015 when I’d be able to ride one. Turns out I was waiting for nothing but at least I can do it virtually, now, within a game from ... 1993. In SBttF2, Marty never gets off the hoverboard as long as you are controlling him. At the end of each stage, he has an animation where he gets off and spins it, but that’s it. Despite all the game’s flaws and odd level design, it’s hard to ever hate it due to the inarguable greatness of the hoverboard. Instead of Marty running around in his red baseball cap and down-filled jacket vest throwing yo-yos at goons like a chump, he pummels them with his hoverboard and bounces on their heads like a trampoline. With a spin attack, the ability to jump, and a button for gaining speed, you must navigate the labyrinthine levels of increasing difficulty and defeat the stupid-easy bosses. Strangely, the game doesn’t always feel like it was designed with the hoverboard in mind. The hoveboard gives you speed  -- maybe not hedgehog-speed, but still -- so it makes no sense that the camera is zoomed in so close. You can’t see what is in front of you and will have to repeatedly stop as the screen scrolls. It feels almost like a Game Boy game dealing with the limitations of its resolution but this is Super Nintendo, dammit! You don’t need to be zoomed-in so close! You are making a game for screens much bigger than a Game Boy! I would feel safe in going max speed on the hoverboard, only after dying so many times on a stage that I began to inadvertently memorize the enemy placement. Otherwise, I felt like I was playing Jetpack Joyride, where any second I can and will run into an instant-death trap. Occasionally, the maps will take advantage of the hoverboard and give you some ramps to jump off but not often enough. There are also bonuses you can reach by aimlessly jumping off an edge at max speed, hoping there is an extra life on the other side instead of a wall of spikes. Pro-tip: it usually is a wall of spikes. 300 bucks? 300 bucks for a couple of dents? Collecting coins/rings/whatever in games usually amounts to nothing more than a higher score and who plays platformers for hi-scores anyway? By storing power-ups, health and 1UPs in vending machines of varying prices, SBttF2 cleverly solves this problem by giving the player an incentive to collect coins. Instead of ignoring alternative paths, you’ll find yourself searching every corner of a map if only to increase the likelihood of survival. There is nothing more gratifying then getting halfway through a stage on one heart and finding a vending machine to give you one more. And, there is nothing worse than not having the money for it. Why don't you make like a tree and get out of here?  Perhaps, I haven’t sold you on Super Back to the Future II. Well, that’s okay because it honestly isn’t a lost gem worth seeking out. It’s an average platformer that is brief and nostalgic enough to check out, if you find it cheap. The main reason I chose to highlight the game for this week’s entry is for the collector and curious import gamer.  The odd nature of the project is worth a discussion alone. Sure we’ve seen Crash Bandicoot and other Western gaming mascots become “Japanimated” but it’s different to see it happen to a popular Western film. It’s kind of unsettling, like imagining a world where all my favorite American films growing up were average Japanese platformers. I don’t want to live in that world. Besides, those Jurassic Park games weren’t so bad, right? -------------------- Do Japanese takes on American properties freak you out? Who would win in a fight Pepsiman or anime-eyes Marty McFly? Would you give up your game collection for a hoverboard? Who am I kidding, of course you would!
It Came from Japan! photo

[It Came from Japan! is a series where I seek out and review the weirdest, most original and enjoyable titles that never left the Land of the Rising Sun.] Games based on films have a perceived stigma that indicates the...

It Came from Japan! Rhythm Tengoku

Sep 15 // Allistair Pinsof
Rhythm Tengoku (Game Boy Advance)Developer: Nintendo SPD Group No. 1Released: August 03, 2006Current value: $65-100  Fan translation: NopeFor fans of: Elite Beat Agents, WarioWare series, Rhythm Heaven Given the wide claims of OCD-ridden children and the growing popularity of rhythm games during the early '00s, it wouldn't surprise me if Rhythm Tengoku was made in response. Like Gitaroo Man and Elite Beat Agents, Nintendo's charming rhythm game collection is memorable for its music as much as it is for its strange sense of humor. Even when the game gets difficult -- grunting starts to mask the sounds of your tapping feet, head nodding turns into aggressive headbutting --  it's hard to get angry at the charming world of Rhythm Tengoku. However, it's very easy to be upset with Nintendo for keeping it from those outside Japan. After implementing innovative vocal technology in Wario Land 4's soundtrack and redefining mini-game collections with the WarioWare series, Rhythm Tengoku was the next logical step for Nintendo. It was an ambitious project with a bubblegum pop producer and one of Nintendo's most innovative development teams. Well, maybe not completely logical, but thank God it happened! Unfortunately, Nintendo decided to forgo a Western release due to the arrival of the Nintendo DS. Like Mother 3, Rhythm Tengoku is one of the greatest games for the GBA, one that I and the rest of the Internet soon discovered through emulation and imported copies. [embed]210680:40712[/embed] Like WarioWare, Rhythm Tengoku is a series of mini-games with controls that don't get more complicated than pressing a button or two in time to the music. Unlike WarioWare, the visuals are some of the most striking of the GBA's catalog, and the mini-games are more varied and developed -- as they should be, since you'll be spending minutes (not seconds) with each one. The game contains eight "stages," each containing five levels/songs and a sixth remix level that sets a combination of all the previous level actions to a new tune. Given the format of the game, which varies from song to song (and level to level), I thought that it'd be best to give my thoughts on my top five favorite levels. Make no mistake, I could easily list ten. Even if those ten included entries from Tengoku's two sequels, the majority of the list would still be dedicated to the original.   5. Night Walk Night Walk is one of the few levels in the game that doesn't open with a tutorial because of the simple fact that you don't need one. It's as reductive as the game gets -- press the A button in time with the beat. Your reward? You get to watch your 8-bit avatar skip from box to box, as stars twinkle and scroll behind him. Although my love for this level has waned since the first time I played it, it remains a memorable one due to the music and tension it draws out in the player. Given the relentless rhythm of the song and the seemingly endless sprawl of the stage, Night Walk's challenge has more to do with fatigue than timing. I often find myself becoming self-aware of what I'm doing and suddenly freaking out, wondering if I'll be able to persevere to the end. It's also the only stage to have distinctly retro graphics that refrain from pushing the power of the GBA yet still manage to charm and create a unique atmosphere as well as any other level in the game. The recently released Japanese sequel Minna no Rhythm Tengoku even has a direct tribute to Night Walk at the end of the game!   4. Air Batter Here is another "hit the A button in time with the music" level that I love. Maybe I'm just simple in my tastes, but the reason this one sticks out has more to do with presentation. It's rudimentary in concept, but Air Batter is one of the few levels in the game that messes with your perception. It's also the first and best stage that does so. Like Night Walk, the player is tasked with pressing the button in time to the beat, although this one is more consistent in its melody and rhythm. Your avatar is a baseball player trapped in a green room floating in space. Your visual cues are baseballs that are launched from a pot and return to the infinite when struck. The mind game is in the stage's inexplicably zooming in and out, to the point where the ball is no longer visible. Succeeding based on the visual cues is no longer an option, leading to inevitable failure on your first attempt (most of the time). To add to the stage's manic quality, your character's head becomes a giant tomato or a bunny after each extreme close-up. 3. Hopping Road In addition to having wacky character-based games, Ryhthm Tengoku is filled with wonderful abstract gems like Hopping Road. Here, you bounce small balls from one platform to the next, one controlled by the D-pad and the other by the A button. The balls bounce along to a shifting tempo that makes the timing hard to predict until they are right in front of your controlled platforms -- I develop an uneasy sensation every time they get near. Soon enough, the level throws multiple balls at you, each with their own rhythm which quickly ramps up the challenge. For a game that is so much about the audio-visual response, Hopping Road is surprisingly fun despite its simplicity.   2. Bon Odori There are many categories the mini-games of Rhythm Tengoku can be filed under. For example, Bon Odori is a "clapping" game, where you clap to a song as your three partners jump up with glee or give you dismissive glances (depending on your performance). As I mentioned above, the music is what sets Rhythm Heaven apart, and Bon Odori is a shining example of this. It's one of the few songs with full vocals, which are compressed though not enough to sound grating. The track itself is a traditional Japanese song, but it's so giddy and warm that it always puts me in the right mood. 1. Toss Boys I'm a fan of tossing stuff, be it salad, balls, or salad balls(?). If you knew this, you may have suspected that Toss Boys would be my favorite mini-game on tap in Rhythm Tengoku. After all, what could be more fun than tossing some balls with adorable children? By the time you reach the fifth tier of levels, you begin to feel like you've seen all the game has to offer. This isn't far from the truth, given that the levels remaining after the fifth tier are remixed, harder versions of previous ones. Toss Boys, however, is one of the most original and jovial entries in the game, tapping directly into my love of 16-bit volleyball games. With three characters mapped to the buttons and D-pad, Toss Boys has you keeping the ball in play as you toss to the beat. The beat will frequently speed up and throw your characters into full-on volley panic mode, keeping you on your toes. It's a simple idea that's well executed with just the right amount of feedback and presentation to make a mini-game that is memorable beyond its soundtrack. [embed]210680:40879[/embed] The post-GBA years  Rhythm Tengoku's legacy has carried on, with a DS sequel reaching Western gamers in 2009 and another one for Wii on the way. However, the original remains the best for many reasons. The music and stages of the series' debut are unmatched in quality, whereas I struggle to find a memorable tune or a stage that didn't make me want to pull my hair out the DS game -- jury's still out on the Wii game. Even in their best moments, they can't capture the magic and surprise of the GBA debut -- to be fair, I haven't played all of the recent Wii sequel. It's unfortunate that many will never be able to play this lost gem due to Nintendo's lack of faith in consumers. There was also an arcade port by Sega, but that didn't reach the States either. -----  Have played Rhythm Tengoku? Do you want to dropkick me for saying the sequels are inferior? Do you enjoy tossing balls as much as I do? Leave a comment below!   [Where we're going, we don't need roads.]
It Came from Japan! photo

[It Came from Japan! is a series where I seek out and review the weirdest, most original and enjoyable titles that never left the Land of the Rising Sun.] Japanese games often possess a delirious quality that leaves some...

It Came from Japan! Harmful Park

Sep 08 // Allistair Pinsof
Harmful Park (PlayStation)Developer: Sky Think SystemsReleased: February 14, 1997Current value: $200-300Fan translation: Incomplete [abandoned?]For fans of: Parodius, Fantasy Zone, Air Zonk As a shoot-em-up fan, I often want to introduce others to the genre but constantly run into the same problem: the best introduction to the genre has never existed in America and goes for insane amounts of money online. In a genre filled with sci-fi cliches, dull mecha ship designs,and intimidating difficulty levels, Harmful Park stands out for all the right reasons. It's a game guaranteed to put a smile on anyone's face, including those who have long avoided the genre due to steep difficulty curves and stale aesthetics. All aboard the Cow Train At its core, Harmful Park is an elementary, horizontal side-scrolling shooter with easy-to-grasp scoring and weapon systems. Yet, every detail beyond the core mechanics is filled with such imagination that is rarely found elsewhere in the genre. Its closest companions are Air Zonk and the Parodius series, but that has more to do with the game's humorous presentation than anything else. After glancing at the stellar pixel art and playing the game for a couple minutes, you may conclude that this is the product of a developer seasoned in the genre. I was surprised to discover that not only is Harmful Park the first (and last) shoot-em-up from Sky Think Systems, it also is the developer's third (and last) game. Before Harmful Park, the developer made two puzzle games that are even more obscure: Kururin Pa! and its sequel Shingata Kururin Pa! (both for PlayStation/Sega Saturn). Little is known of what became of Sky Think Systems, although there are some theories that it became a business software developers due to a another company in Japan sharing a similar name. However, there is no direct link I can find between the two beyond that. If this is the case, it's pretty sad because Harmful Park hints at a developer with a great amount of passion, imagination, and psychedelics readily at hand. Although the game features lengthy intro and outro cutscenes, I couldn't grasp much of what is contained in the dialog. From what I gather, the story is about an amusement park (Heartful Park) that becomes a battleground after a mad inventor (Dr. Tequila) turns the machines against its owners and visitors. In an effort to reclaim the park, another inventor sends her two daughters to the rescue. Apparently, she is too old and lazy to battle against inflatable dinosaurs and giant wiener dogs with helicopter blades. You (and a second player) play as the two girls, piloting ships that have hands which propel gun fire and heat-seeking jellybeans. A potato and some deadly sweets A major part of what makes Harmful Park so much fun is its simplistic weapon system that is easy to learn but takes time to implement skillfully. You will always have four weapons in your arsenal, each which have an optimum tactical use. These weapons are linked to the four shoulder buttons on the PlayStation controller, making it easy to switch from one to another. In each stage, you come across power-ups that raise the equipped weapon up to three levels, drastically improving the weapon's range and damage. In addition to this, each weapon has its own special attack, which you also earn through item pick-ups. The Potato is a pea shooter that develops a four-way spread as you power up. The secondary attack summons a giant exploding potato, the least effective of the four specials. The Ice (Cream) Beam is effective at taking down multiple enemies lined up in rows. Leveling up grants access to companion beams for additional attack damage. The special attack, the most effective of the four, is a giant DonPachi-like (ice cream sundae) beam of death. On Easy mode, this can kill the early bosses in one hit. The Pie toss is the most amusing and deadly of the four weapons. Although its rate of fire is extremely low -- a missed shot can spell death for you -- it's very effective against larger enemies and bosses. Powering up makes the pies faster, deadlier, and probably more delicious. The special ability launches wedding cakes all around your ship, doing away with surrounding enemies. The Jerry throws homing jellybeans that will target the nearest group of enemies then boomerang back to you. When powered up, the increased rate of fire and damage make it an effective weapon for spam-happy play. The Jerry is also the only way to deal with enemies that approach you from behind. Its special summons a Jell-O mold around your ship, making you invincible. During this state, feel free to crash into and kill as many enemies as you please. The perfect balance  Harmful Park is one of the few shmups that offers enough difficulty options to serve as both an excellent introduction to the genre and a worthy challenge-of-the-week game for hi-score seekers. The game's default difficulty is Easy, and it lives up to its name: enemy fire is scarce, bullet patterns are simple, life extends are generous, and bosses are quickly dispatched. However, on higher difficulties, the game becomes a formidable experience that few will be able to finish with no continues. If you like to play for score, Harmful Park has a simple but addictive combo and gem collect system. You also get a Perfect bonus if you don't miss any enemies in a stage, though it's much harder than you might think. Finally, there is a Score Attack mode, featuring an exclusive level that only the most hardened shooter fans will be able to clear. It throws all of the games trickiest enemies at you in a claustrophobic stage designed to trap you against walls. Amusement parks, jungles, and beer taverns I love the explosions in Metal Slug and the character designs of Neo Geo games, but it's Harmful Park that contains some of my favorite pixel art of all time. As a player who always thrives for that 1cc (credit continue) playthrough, I often become fatigued by the lifeless backgrounds of other shooters. This is not the case with Harmful Park. Every moment of its six stages is brimming with background activity, original enemies that don't appear elsewhere in the game, and numerous memorable oddities. Pandas riding pandas, gumball-dispensing spaceships, flying kamikaze squirrels, and so much more are prime material for forum avatars.  Harmful Park is overbearingly twee, but I can't imagine that its delightful, colorful world and cast won't put a smile on anyone's face. Bosses that know how to pump-it-up You can't have a shmup without some epic boss fights. I wouldn't say that the ones in Harmful Park will push your skills to the limit, but their personality and design make them unforgettable. It'd be a shame to spoil them all, but rest assured that you will see some of the weirdest bosses of all time. There's that inflatable dinosaur above, being pumped up by two blobs, or the mopey, giant teenage girl who you fight at a drive-in theater (projecting a film displaying a teenage girl's nosebleed). Like every other aspect of the game, the boss fights are full of little details. For example, the teenage girl boss fight in Stage 4 has an ugly face unless you play on Hard. You just haven't earned it yet, baby! Even the mini-bosses are awesome, such as a giant Frankenstein's monster giving you the middle finger or a man who sobs tears of death after witnessing his crush getting married to another man. There is always something supremely wacky and unexpected to look forward to in Harmful Park. What exactly is "High-Brow Gag & Pure Shooting"? This strange phrase is pasted on the game's menus and front cover, but I'm still not entirely sure what it means. Harmful Park has funny gags but none that I'd label "high-brow." It has shooting as well, but I don't think there's anything that makes it any more "pure" than other shooters. Nevertheless, the nonsensical phrase has its own charm to it. That, and the pancake on the cover looks freakin' delicious! Before I conclude this retro review, I need to emphasize just how original the game's stages and adversaries are, not just in visual design but also in functionality. After playing through the game again a couple of nights ago, I noticed some things I missed before. I imagine the same will happen the next time I play as well. Harmful Park is just one of those games. For example, before Stage 2’s mini-boss, you must travel down a long corridor with ghosts that can't be defeated by firepower. The only way to get rid of them is to fly through a pair of floating ghost teeth, triggering it to chomp down on whatever is caught in the middle. There are tons of other neat moments like this that make the game memorable in a way other shooters aren't. I love Cave and Takumi, but moments in those games just don't stick with you like the ones in Harmful Park.  Harmful Park’s slower pace and unorthodox level design may keep it from reaching classic status with shoot-em-up fans who have mastered Cave and Eighting titles, but it still has yet to be topped as being the perfect introduction to the genre. I can't think of many other games that embody such fantastic ideas dealt with a whimsical charm and stuff them into a nearly flawless shooter. What it really comes down to is that Harmful Park is the best game to ever feature a whale that throws up Colonel Sanders clones at you. E V E R!!!! -------------------------  Are you a filthy-rich Dtoid user who sleeps on a bed of $200+ Harmful Park CDs? Do you have a game that you'd like to recommend for a future entry? Have you played this game? How much do you love it? This much, perhaps? Leave a comment below!   [This beat is non-stop!]
It Came from Japan! photo

[It Came from Japan! is a series where I seek out and review the weirdest, most original and enjoyable titles that never left the Land of the Rising Sun.]Shooting killer clowns with cream pies. Exploring a haunted mans...


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