Friday, January 20, 2012

Clueless Gaijin Gaming: Bakushou Yoshimoto Shin Kageki (1994)

I'm sure some of you wonder -- I know I do -- why I insist on playing so many random, obscure Japanese PC Engine games, when I could more easily tackle the acknowledged classics like Cotton - Fantastic Night Dreams and Akumajo Dracula X: Chi no Rondo and be done with it.  It's because once in a while I run across a little gem that makes all the indecipherable RPGs, generic shooters and endless rounds of mahjong worthwhile.

Such a game is Bakushou Yoshimoto Shin Kageki, published on the Super CD-ROM format by Hudson Soft in 1994, toward the end of the PC Engine's storied lifespan.

I'm as clueless as always with my lack of Japanese skills, but the opening sequence implies that this game is based on a Japanese comedy TV show of some kind, as we meet what I presume to be several actual human beings and their in-game representations.

I really like the game's music -- the title track is an old-fashioned American-style rinky-tink tune, circa 1920s, combining kazoo-like instrumentation with a throaty saxophone that lends it an appropriately Benny Hill quality.  Most of the music is presented in CD-quality Redbook audio, shifting briefly to the sound chip between levels to cover data loading access.

I really had no idea what to expect from this game -- the packaging hinted at some sort of board or quiz game, but it's a proper 2-D comical side-scroller, where the player must dodge or jump over a variety of hazards.  The enemy characters, many based on the people introduced at the game's beginning, are varied and bizarre, and I often found myself distracted from the action just trying to catch their comical facial expressions or figure out what they were up to.  There's a lovely comic-strip flavor to the proceedings, as our hero Oto-chan makes his way through the levels with a mildly dismayed expression:

The game also takes full advantage of the CD-ROM medium, using the ample storage capacity to interrupt the side-scrolling action with lots of brief and amusing mini-games.  There's a
dance contest, where we get to pick one of two ladies with whom to participate in a simple arrow-pressing rhythm game:

A round of Jan-Ken-Pon (paper-rock-scissors) where the loser gets what I assume to be pizza flung in his face:

And a boss battle aboard kites that plays like a cross between Joust and Road Rash:

The PC Engine was created at Hudson Soft, and one gets the impression that with this late release the developers were showing off every last thing the system could do.  We see subtle parallax scrolling, detailed and colorful sprites, and lots of voice samples that would be even funnier if I knew what they were saying.  Some events and situations seem to be tossed in just to show off, like pinball-speed channels to roll through Sonic-style, an alternate pathway where the player can become bloated by draining the canal of water -- with a straw -- and this high-speed rollercoaster ride:

Our hero can also adopt brief disguises, which lend him offensive or defensive capability, and increase the entertainment value:

The game both honors and parodies many classic games of the 2-D era -- this level set in feudal Japan has a hint of Shinobi about it:

It's also not overly easy -- the first level passes pretty quickly, but things get more difficult later on.  Between levels, and when the game ends, the whole affair is revealed to be taking place on a stage -- this explains why we occasionally hear the audience laughing during play, and see them tossing things at us when it's Game Over time:

Bakushou Yoshimoto Shin Kageki is an unsung Japanese classic, inventive and fresh at every turn, throwing in everything the designers can think of just for the sheer pleasure of it.  It rarely reuses anything -- there are spot animations that only get used once, and the whole game feels like it's been put together by people who just love making games.

The coming of HD graphics and the associated increase in development costs has made crazy, random entertainments like this more difficult to pull off, and the world of video gaming is poorer for it.  At least I've run across this one, and now I've written about it, so maybe someone else will be able to discover it a little more easily.

This one is just crazy and freewheeling enough to be well worth picking up, if you can find it.  It's occasionally in stock here.

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