[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.]
When it comes to ’90s beat ’em ups, there are only a few games worth exploring outside Capcom and Sega’s catalogs. These two developers evolved and mastered the genre through dedication to polish, character design, and great controls.
PuLiRuLa has none of these things, yet it’s still a game worth highlighting due to its gaudy, psychedelic visuals that still look gorgeous to this day. Unfortunately, it’s very hard to witness them in the West without turning to YouTube, emulation, or arcade compilation imports.
PuLiRuLa (Arcade, PlayStation, PlayStation 2, Sega Saturn, FM Towns Marty)
Current value: $20 (via Taito Memories Joukan [PS2], cheapest option)
Fan translation: No, but an English version was released for arcades
For fans of: The Simpsons Arcade Game, Yellow Submarine, drugs
In the early ’90s, Taito was known for some terrible game names (Space Gun, Sonic Blast Man, Violence Fight, etc.) more so than developing quality beat ’em ups. In that regard, PuLiRuLa came out of the blue. It’s an unconventional entry in the genre not merely due to its visuals and simplified mechanics — yes, you can simplify a beat ’em up even further. It may not be remembered as being a great game, but it’s a memorable experience nonetheless.
I’m somewhat cheating with this It Came From Japan! entry because PuLiRuLa actually had a Western release in arcades. However, I’ve never seen a cabinet nor met anyone who has played one. In other words, most Westerners never got the chance to play Taito’s surreal brawler, and all future ports were unfortunately Japan-only. For those few that did play the game in its original iteration, they were met by one of the most terrible Engrish translations to grace a game. Instead of pulling the game down, the baffling dialogue complements the world and visuals surprisingly well.
PuLiRuLa (no idea what this word means) takes place in Raddishland, where time is kept in motion through the cranking of time keys. Each town has a time keeper who is responsible for his key, but some jerk with planet Earth for a face has taken them all and stopped time. An old man gives two young children his “magic stick” in order for them to retrieve the keys and turn the evil robots back into their original animal forms. The game grows even more nonsensical as you progress, but there is a charming Yellow Submarine vibe that makes the lunacy endearing.
No narrative framing could make sense out of the locations and enemies of PuLiRuLa. I imagine Taito must’ve stopped caring and let themselves go wild at some point, because there are things in this game that are so shockingly bizarre that I doubt there was any explanation among the development team. Levitating, bearded squids are one thing, but those prone to acid flashbacks should be wary of witnessing the giant screaming Japanese head and grotesque bosses.
One boss is a wild tribe leader who tries to jump across the screen and pierce the player with his rhino horn/boner. In another provocative moment, a large pair of female legs come out from behind you and kick around. In between the legs is a door you open to meet an elephant friend (yay, elephants!). This elephant bit was the only element removed from the Western release. American audiences just can’t handle legs this large, I suppose.
The game is played with three buttons: attack, magic, and jump. Your moveset doesn’t get any more advanced then a (not very effective) jumping attack, but all enemies can be defeated with one hit, counterbalancing the difficulty. This may be one of the easiest arcade beat ’em ups I’ve ever played, but you’ll still need to memorize boss patterns if you ever wish to clear the game on one life, though playing for high score is a more plausible goal.
Upon defeating an enemy, it reverts back to an animal which will run across the screen; if you catch it, you’ll receive some bonus points. The farther away an animal runs, the more points you’ll earn. This makes timing and positioning very important, if you ever wish to play for a high score. Otherwise, the combat is pretty dull and the feedback doesn’t feel very good. It’s also hard to line up your attacks due to the game’s large vertical plane and hit detection.
PuLiRuLa is a game you play for the spectacle. It’s not very long or fun, but it’s very, very pretty. The gorgeous pixel art, soft watercolors visuals, and surreal art direction present the player with eye candy of a nature that is very rare in this day and age. From the reflecting crystal floor of Stage 2 to the warped M. C. Escher paintings of the final stage, Taito created a game full of spectacular visual splendor that you’ll want to share with a friend.
If you ever want to get stoned and play a videogame, you could do a lot worse than PuLiRuLa.
What games with spectacularly trippy visuals do you love?
Did you ever see a PuLiRuLa cabinet?
Should marijuana be legalized? (Please include 5,000 word response below.)
[They landed in American West, on Strange Island]