Kyuukyoku no kusoge
I first heard of Ganso Saiyuuki Super Monkey Daibouken on Game Centre CX where it was introduced as “kyuukyoku no kusoge” or “ultimate crappy game.” The host, Shinya Arino, tackled it as part of a segment that ran throughout 9 of the 10 episodes of season 3 (2005). The concept of the segment is that he’d try to tackle the game, and every time he’d get stuck or confused, he’d call a viewer to get hints on what to do.
He was eventually able to complete the game, but Super Monkey Daibouken is so incomprehensible that, in one of the episodes, he made absolutely no progress, and none of the viewers could help him.
I decided that I’d try that out for myself. Obviously, no one views me (that I know of), so my goal was to complete the game using the same viewer hints that Arino did. It’s an enlightening experience.
Dragon Quest to the West
Released by Vap Inc. in 1986, Ganso Saiyuuki Super Monkey Daibouken is a game based on Journey to the West, the classic of Chinese literature. I feel like I know very little about Journey to the West aside from all the ways it’s been bastardized by popular media over the years.
You play as the entourage for a monk who must, as the name implies, journey to the West. That’s more-or-less the best I can give you as a primer because, as I said, the game is incomprehensible. You play as the entire entourage, but the only one who’s with a damn is Goku. It sort of follows Dragon Quest’s example (Dragon Quest having been released earlier that year) by having you navigate across an overworld while it throws random battles at you.
The battles are fun, by which I mean they’re barely functional. You scoot across an endlessly scrolling screen, trying to hit the enemies. All the characters can damage enemies, but only Goku and the horse/dragon actually have an attack animation, and even then, they’re essentially just suggestions for the enemies to feel pain. Goku has this slow, sticky bo staff swing, which looks like it would be self-explanatory, but enemies are only sometimes hit by it, and it seems to happen at all ranges. Sometimes if you’re directly overtop of an enemy, they give the damage blink. Other times, they need to be several paces away. Most of the time, they do nothing at all.
However, you’re not going anywhere unless you kill everything on screen, so you’ll need to just keep flailing and try not to take too much damage in the process. You can jump and even fly on a cloud, but so can the enemies so nowhere is safe. At the same time, everywhere is safe-ish.
Along the way, you’re supposed to meet up with Hakkai, a pig, and Sha Gojo, the kappa. I don’t know why. If you defeat the weakest enemy in a battle first, an ally will appear. They’re not capable of much. They largely just move about at random, and sometimes when they bump into an enemy, the foe will take damage. Usually, they’re the ones that take damage, and when they’re dead, they’re dead. Sort of. They’re still with your party, they just don’t appear in battle.
You can also switch to the other members of the entourage, but, as I said previously, they don’t have attack animations, so there isn’t much you can do with them. Keep mashing the A button and hope the enemies take damage. If Goku dies, you’re essentially screwed.
I’m having a crisis here. If I acknowledge that Goku’s attack animation doesn’t ensure the enemy takes damage, but the lack of animation doesn’t guarantee the enemy won’t take damage, then the characters are equivalent right? Agh, my brain!
In any case, once you wipe out all the enemies, you’re left standing there on the field. Super Monkey Daibouken will then just let you stand there until you hit the A button again, then it will display a load screen for a while before spitting you back onto the overworld. It’s so disorienting. There is no success music, no stat roll telling you how much money or experience you earn – there is no money or experience. You’re just unceremoniously dropped back into horse mode to continue on westward.
The overworld brazenly hates you
If you watch any footage of Super Monkey Daibouken, you might think the worst part of the overworld is that your entourage moves tile by boring tile through an ugly, ugly world, but it really sucks on many, deeper levels. Let’s start at the beginning.
Have you ever seen a loading screen in an NES game? Probably not. There isn’t a lot going on there. It’s essentially a couple of chips communicating with a couple more chips. And while computer hardware works at an unfathomable speed, Super Monkey Daibouken loads slowly at an equally unfathomable level. It gives you a dialogue message, which then vanishes and leaves you at a blank blue screen for seconds. Seconds are meaningless in the overall timeline of your life, but it’s a really long time to wait for an excruciatingly terrible Famicom game.
The next worst thing about the overworld is how brazenly it hates you. The overworld is a confusing mess, containing a holy heavenly shit tonne of dead ends. There are warp zones that lead to inescapable traps and others that don’t exist until a certain time of day. There’s a place that outright kills you if you get too close, and a giant desert that has absolutely no function. There’s a day/night cycle, and you have to stop in houses to collect food and water, but be careful; some houses are full of ghosts.
Most of the game is just traversing this ugly, ugly world. There are sections where there are absolutely no random battles, so it’s just watching your party move tile by tile at glacial speeds across sprites. It gives you a lot of time to cradle your head and try to make sense of the tile set. It lets you really appreciate the overscan tiles that keep popping up. I liked to pretend the little grassy tiles were speed lines and the entourage was just screeching through the galaxy. Woooosh!
It’s not all bad. For example, there are… uh… The music doesn’t hurt. The bosses are really easy. Sometimes when you go into a house, it will give you a password that you can punch in on the title screen and continue. It is technically possible to complete the game. There are worse games on Action 52. Probably. Playing it didn’t cause unexplained bleeding again. Oh, wait. Nevermind.
They charged money for Super Monkey Daibouken. There aren’t even credits within the game, neither for the developers nor the publisher. We know the name of one developer, however: Kaoru Nakajima. We know this because they decided to covertly implant a dirty message into one of the tilesets. I guess someone at least wanted to be associated with the final product.
I suppose I’m at least happy to have experienced it. One of the great things about playing it along with the Game Center CX episodes is that many of the callers give their experience with it. One person mentioned it buying it after seeing the commercial for it. Another recounted playing it alongside two friends.
And that’s the magic of kusoge. I mean, sure, we’re suffering, but we’re suffering together. It’s almost like an analogy for life itself!
For other retro titles you may have missed, click right here!