Thursday, 20 December 2012

Too weird for the west? Part 1: Gegege no Kitaro

Obviously not a winning lottery ticket...
Being a bit of a Super Nintendo fanatic, I've always been partial to the odd crazy platform game. Unfortunately for me I'm also a member of the PAL community...which in Nintendo's translation book, I could wear means 'leper'. As a result of this I sadly missed out on many of the wackiest and often finest titles this happy-go-lucky genre had to offer.

Now I'm not going to sit here and preach that all Japanese games should have been released in the west because...well lets just say; Super Bikuri Man. In some cases though the lack translation and release of certain titles was a genuine loss to those of us outside of Japan, Seiken Densetsu 3 being possibly the most famous example.

Thankfully through magazines like Super Play and now, the maturation of online retailers it's easy for people like me to hurl themselves head first into the curious and wonderful world of Japanese gaming's shining stars. And then give them a once over to try and see if they really were missed over here.

So lets start with this; the loveable (and equally infuriating) Gegege no Kitaro - Fukkatsu! Tenma Daiou for the Super Famicom.

The subtitles say it all...erm, yeah! 
Gegege no Kitaro - Fukkatsu! Tenma Daiou (roughly translated as "The Ghost of Kitaro"...I think) is a magnificent looking and exceedingly strange (even by these standards) platform game by Bandai, based on the long running manga and anime of the same name. As far as I know the story goes something like this: Kitaro is the young looking, but actually very old last surviving descendant of an ancient tribe made up of half spirit/half human folk. He also has one eye missing...though this is strangely not a problem! Anyways, he receives a letter informing him that he will soon die, and so off an exciting quest he must go.

Putting the boot in.
The visuals in this game grab hold of you from the minute you flip the switch, even though it was released fairly early on in the console's lifespan it is achingly pretty. From the myriad of (frankly unintelligible) cut-scenes to the actual levels themselves, Gegege no Kitaro is stunning and does a staggering job in showing off just what the Super Famicom could do. Most pleasing of all though is how well Bandai have managed to capture the likeness of Kitaro's world, the characters from the original manga and series are brilliantly represented and alongside the legions of bizarre enemies, are right of out of top drawer.

More sumptuous eye candy... 
Gameplay wise there's nothing much that hasn't been done before so you're unlikely to find your mind blown wide open, but what the game does it does very well indeed. The controls are pin sharp and super responsive...especially for a third party title and Kitaro himself has a impressively weird line-up of moves (that can also be powered up) to help him take down the scores of paranormal baddies. From firing nails out of his eye socket (yep!) to electrocuting himself ala Blanka, you can guarantee that disposing of his foes will be well as rather challenging.

Facial expression perfection here!
Though the levels are are a bit on the short side they are quite stunning to behold. Each one is packed full of lush and vivid backgrounds which again, considering this game's release date is breathtaking. Bandai also made good use of the Sufami's parallax capabilities which adds much to this visual splendour...funny how 16bit fans will always appreciate a nice bit of parallax eh! There are tons of enemies skulking about so you're never left short on action and then there's the obligatory end of level bosses, which are all hard as nails.

I spy with my little eye...sorry.
As I've touched on previously Gegege no Kitaro is tough, brutally tough in fact, and there are times when this does sour the experience somewhat. Platform games are at their best when they're challenging, but it really does need to be fair and if you're prone to the odd bout of pad throwing rage then approach with caution! One way to ease this ball breaking difficulty level is to grab a friend and utilise the two player option. Every level gives Kitaro a different 'helper' for player 2 to control, each one comes with their own kooky set of moves and weapons which adds to the fun and the madness (more importantly). Historically, these games are more enjoyable with a friend and the same is definitely true here.

Guess what...I died here too!
Overall then, it's not too difficult to see why Gegege no Kitarou was never selected to make the jump form east to west...although if it had, I'm sure it would have garnered a very loyal following (with me included). I can't help feeling that it's just a bit too weird and the fact that both the anime and the manga are not massively well known outside of Japan won't have helped either. Whilst on a personal level I consider this a great shame, I'm also quite thankful that as a kid I was spared the sheer rage that this game can induce!

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