17/11/2017

SOME ANIMATION FRAMES FROM SUPER STREET FIGHTER 2 (SNES)

The title of this article sums it up, really. I’ve been thinking abut Super Street Fighter II for the SNES recently and how it’s probably the fighting game I’ve spent most time playing, and consequently the most time looking at. That’s fine by me, I like looking at Super Street Fighter II. It’s a good-looking game. For a long time, it was probably the best looking fighting game I’d played, although I’ll grant that’s down to both personal circumstance and aesthetic preference. The Street Fighter II series’ cartoonish but not too wild style always appealed to me far more than its competitors’ did. I’ve never much liked digitised graphics and I’ve always thought the Mortal Kombat games are kinda ugly. It felt like most other fighters were either aping Mortal Kombat’s visual style, or they were trying to copy SFII and simply not being as good at it as Capcom. The outliers are SNK’s fighting games like Fatal Fury. They do look great, of course, but between the lack of nearby arcades and the scarcity of SNK’s home console (I’ve still never met anyone who owned a Neo Geo during its “heyday”) those games only existed as pictures in magazines to me. So, Super Street Fighter II stands as a graphical high-point of the 16-bit era to me, even if other people would probably disagree. I thought it might be nice to look back at a few of my favourite animation frames from Super Street Fighter II, which now I’ve written it out twice seems like a strange topic for an article but hey, I’ve already taken a bunch of screenshots so I guess I’m going with it.


Let’s begin with Balrog and his mighty uppercut. Looks painful, doesn’t it? It makes sense that a character “inspired” by Mike Tyson would possess a devastating uppercut. I’d say that Balrog’s early appearances have something of the classical about them, though. They’re... statuesque, almost. This could almost be a 16-bit version of an illustration from a Victorian book, a pixellated take on The Gentleman’s Guide to Pugilism Under the New Queensberry Rules, Third Edition. That’s something I noticed when looking back on Balrog’s Street Fighter 2 sprites – they don’t seem to quite match up with his characterisation as a dirty, below-the-belt fighter. There’s something old-school about Balrog’s poses, perhaps because of the way his idle stance has his gloves up by his chest. Later Street Fighter games would introduce Dudley as the fair-fighting, honourable boxer of the cast, but Balrog definitely has a touch of the old-school about him at this point in the Street Fighter series. Well, until you use his jumping headbutt move, anyway. It’s not that old boxers were averse to nutting people, it’s just that they didn’t usually leap into the air while doing it.


Sticking with the theme of “classics,” Fei Long’s Bruce Lee impersonation is about as classic as they come. When creating Fei Long, Capcom may have shamelessly copied Lee’s looks and movements with little alteration besides Fei Long being able to set his own legs on fire by, I dunno, thinking really hard about kicking someone, but they did such a good job it’s hard to begrudge them. I think this simple punching animation captures it best. It’s all well and good having amazing animations for the big, flashy, oh-god-why-did-I-set-my-own-leg-on-fire moves, but this punch perfectly captures the Bruce Lee mannerisms and once you’ve got the basics right the rest will follow.


I’ll be honest, this frame of Blanka’s jumping medium kick it what got me thinking about writing this article in the first place. I think about this pose a lot, actually. Look, sometimes things get stuck in your head and you can’t explain why. There’s no rhyme or reason to it and it certainly doesn’t indicate that I should visit a healthcare professional. That’d be an interesting appointment. “What seems to be the problem? Well, I can’t stop thinking about this jungle-dwelling beastman and his mid-air poses. He’s just so goddamn jaunty, but if you cover his legs and just look at him from the waist up he looks he’s responding to a shocking accusation in an exaggerated manner.” Go on, try it and tell me you can’t imagine Blanka saying “You saw me creeping to the chambermaid’s quarters in the dead of night? How dare you! The very thought!” Actually, what’s the status on Blanka being able to talk at the moment? Is Dan Hibiki still the only one who can understand him? You know, it doesn’t matter. As Blanka didn’t appear in Street Fighter V I’m just going to assume he’s living with his mum and enjoying a peaceful, contented life.


Get down from there, Dee Jay. It’s unfair to take one frame from an animation – in this case, it’s Dee Jay’s forward jump – and single it out as looking goofy, but I’m going to do it anyway. Please know that this all comes from a place of love. Part of this one’s charm is that it’s one of the few frames of Dee Jay where he’s not grinning like the Joker on a visit to a puppy parade. He looks anguished, almost, as though he’s realised that turning side-on to his opponent and flipping completely upside down might not have been his smartest tactical move. He knows he’s going to feel a dragon punch slamming directly into the top of his bonce any second now. In a way, the anticipation is worse than the actual impact of the highly-trained martial artist’s flaming fist slamming into your head. What am I talking about, no it isn’t.


In a game with all the aforementioned flaming dragon punches and jaw-shattering uppercuts, it’s perhaps surprising that the most painful-looking thing is Dhalsim’s knockdown pose. I know he’s able to contort and stretch his body into any position he likes, but I don’t have those powers so seeing Dhalsim’s leg bent that way is enough to cause a sympathetic aching in my hips. It’s a nice companion piece to the actual aching in my hips that comes from being old.


Dhalsim’s knockback animation, with his chin being thrown so far backwards that he could nibble his own backside, that one’s fun too. Admittedly part of my appreciation for it is that I mentally append a rubbery “boioioing” sound effect to it.


Running Dhalsim’s hips a close second for “Most Painful SSF2 Visual” is Chun-Li’s hard kick. There has to be an easier way to fight crime than this. Chun-Li is a cop, and it’s going to be easier for the criminals she arrests to exercise their right to remain silent when she boots them so hard in the chin that their jaw lands forty feet away. I think it’s the way her feet are pointing in completely opposing directions that gets to me with this one. Like, I’m sure that it’s technically possible for a human body to get itself into this pose, but at the same time I’m wary of mentioning it in case someone reading this tries it at home and their legs fall off.
Seriously though, this move is excellently animated and the way the animation snaps makes it look like one of the most powerful moves in the whole game.


Also powerful: Zangief’s arse. It’s not often you get to describe hulking Russian wrestlers as “coquettish” but that’s the vibe I’m getting from this out-of-context image. Zangief wants you to look at his arse. And why not? It’s a backside to be proud of, powerful and abundant like the landscape of Mother Russia herself.


The Street Fighter cast are a colourful bunch of characters, drawn from all walks of life and imbued with a gamut of crazy abilities, and that’s what makes Sagat’s throw so great. No messing about, no magical powers or rigorous waterfall meditation sessions; just pick your opponent up and throw them over there. It is only by coincidence that in this example Sagat is throwing E. Honda, by the way, but we have the added bonus of it looking like Sagat’s picked Honda up by his nipple. That’d explain Honda’s expression. But it’s Sagat we’re looking at in this one, and as I watch the mighty emperor of Muay Thai hoist his opponent onto his back like Santa carrying a sack of presents, it’s difficult not to appreciate his straightforwardness.


Here’s T. Hawk riding his invisible bicycle. Ring ring ring goes the little invisible bell.


You know, even back when I first played Super Street Fighter II I thought Cammy’s costume was a bit much. Maybe it was because the girls I knew in high school were forever complaining about having to wear leotards during PE lessons. Wearing a leotard hoiked so far up her backside that her buttcheeks would have to use the telephone if they wanted to talk to each other? I’d heard enough stories about gymnastics class to know that Cammy must be in considerable discomfort. All that said, I still think Cammy looks kinda cool in her victory poses. No-nonsense, tough, the faint sense that she’s desperate to get home and put on some tracksuit bottoms. This is just a job to her, whereas everyone else seems to enjoy the bloodsports a little too much.


Here’s one I only noticed the other day: Ken goes a bit cross-eyed when he’s uppercutting people. Presumably this means Ryu also goes a bit cross-eyed when performing the same move. Perhaps these punches require a level of zen disassociation from the material world so complete that there’s no need for your eyes to focus, or maybe his underwear has suddenly ridden up just like Cammy’s leotard.


Here’s M. Bison, feared overlord of a vast criminal network. He’s posing. Of course he is. Half the work of being a fear overlord is posing, usually with menace. The other fifty percent is made up of overblown speeches and murdering the families of those who oppose you. But here’s the thing: is M. Bison posing, or is he in the middle of stomping on someone’s head? Surprise, it’s both, and in a cunning bit of recycling Bison’s post-victory stance and his head stomp move re-use the same sprite. Fair enough, it’s a good sprite, although I’d appreciate it if you take a moment to consider that the most evil character in the Street Fighter franchise’s go-to move is to jump on people’s heads. I guess the M stands for Mario.


Guile has a kick that somehow possesses anti-gravity properties, causing him to hover upside-down for a moment whenever he executes it. This is fantastic, don’t you think? I know I and my younger brothers loved it as a kid, with us encouraging each other to do “the upside-down kick” every time we played a Street Fighter game. It’s just such a weird move for a Guile to have when the rest of his attacks are mostly “classic” street fighting punches and kicks. I’m glad they retained it for later Street Fighters, even though it does look even weirder when a three-dimensional model’s doing it.
Then, while I was getting the screenshots for this article, I had a revelation. Guile’s got his upside-down kick, right? And he’s also got a crouching leg sweep, too.


They use the same sprite, just flipped. I feel as though I’ve stumbled upon a secret that has rocked my universe just a tiny bit.


Where else could I end but with Ryu himself? Ah, I can already hear the faint and distant arguments of years past. It is pronounced “rye-oo” or “ree-oo” or what? Do he and Ken fight in exactly the same way? Will anyone ever defeat Sheng Long? All questions that have since been answered, but none of that detracts from the iconic look of Ryu’s idle stance. And it is iconic, in an age where that word is overused, because I think it could and perhaps does stand as an icon for fighting games in general. If you took a silhouette of this sprite and used it as the logo for a category of games or something, then most people who play videogames would immediately know what to expect. As for me, just looking at it is making me feel nostalgic. I know that to some degree the entirety of VGJunk is a paean to nostalgia, but this is of a deeper kind, one that’s tied up in childhood memories of happy multiplayer games with friends and play-fighting with my brothers while shouting “hadooooken” at each other. I think that’s why I fancied writing this daft article about Super Street Fighter II’s sprites – sometimes it’s nice to be reminded that videogames can be a real force for positivity and camaraderie.

14/11/2017

FANKY PUNKY / FUNKY PUNKY (ZX SPECTRUM)

For today’s game, we’re heading into the hallowed halls of academia – well, kind of. From what I remember of my university days it’s a fairly accurate recreation of the higher education experience, but it’s definitely more about trying to avoid being turned into a skeleton than it is about receiving a diploma. I present to you Genesis Soft’s 1987 ZX Spectrum hangover-em-up Fanky Punky!

Okay, so it’s supposed to be called Funky Punky – that’s how the game’s referred to in the manual and on some of the cover art – but here on the loading screen it clearly says “Fanky Punky.” This is down to language issues, because Genesis Soft were a Spanish publisher and Fanky Punky is a Spanish game. Genesis Soft were also responsible for the ZX Spectrum game starring raunchy and sometimes topless Italian pop star Sabrina Salerno. Yes, the one where you could beat up priests with your boobs. I imagine that will give us an indication of how good Fanky Punky is likely to be.
On this loading screen, we get our first glimpse of Fanky Punky’s (almost) eponymous star. His name is Funky Punky, Funk to his friends, The Funkster to his close friends. He kinda looks like Rodney Dangerfield, an appropriate resemblance because I can’t imagine Funky Punky gets any respect either. Funky is a man of simple pleasures: he likes knockoff Adordis trainers from down the market, listening to his favourite tunes on his boombox and getting monumentally, liver-pulverisingly drunk.


Here’s the game’s premise: last night, Funky got absolutely mortal. If my student days are anything to go by, it was via either Tesco’s finest, cheapest wine (just thinking of the name “Marques de Leon” is making me feel a little queasy) or some kind of dangerously irresponsible offer on vodka shots. Unfortunately for our newly-pickled hero, he has an exam this morning! He’s got to get up, grab his stuff, get out of the house, drive to college and take his exam, all while his hangover is so severe that it might well kill him.


Off we go, then. Early indications are that Fanky Punky is an extremely generic Spectrum platformer. It’s got flip-screen scrolling, enemies kill Funky at the slightest contact and Funky himself controls like a lobotomised Womble. Okay, that last part might be a bit harsh, Funky’s movements are at least consistent, as in he has a consistent delay between you pressing jump and Funky actually jumping. You’ll want to try to avoid jumping as much as possible, because this game’s control scheme is O and P on the keyboard move you left and right respectively, while jump is M. Yeah, sure, why not, that seems sensible.
Not that I had much chance to practise jumping in these first couple of screens. Most of the airspace was patrolled by these floating orbs, and if you touch them, you die. From what I could glean by reading the (Spanish, don’t forget) manual, all the enemies Funky faces are actually manifestations of his hangover. Funky needs urgent medical attention to deal with his drinking problem, which is a bit dark so I’m going to pretend he’s being attacked by the spheres from Phantasm instead. You play a good game, boy! Shame it isn’t Fanky Punky.


It’s one of those “dodge the enemies” type games, then. Funky doesn’t have any offensive capabilities, and even if he did it’s not like he could could beat up the DTs, is it? So, it’s another home computer platformer from the eighties in which precise movements are required to sneak past enemies that move along predictable paths. That’s fine, there’s nothing wrong with that genre in concept and I suppose Funky doesn’t control that badly except when negotiating staircases, which he absolutely cannot handle without repeatedly falling off.
I managed to get over to the right of the screen and grab that doughnut, though, and it’s a good job I did because Funky has an energy bar that depletes over time and must be refilled by collecting highly nutritious foodstuffs like doughnuts and, erm, cigarettes.


How times change, eh? You couldn’t get away with presenting cigs as a health-restoring item these days, and that’s as it should be. However, it’s clear that Fanky Punky’s creators did understand the incontrovertible truth that having a cigarette after a night on the sauce will make you feel better. Well, until you start coughing your guts up, anyway. They keep the energy bar topped up, though, and that’s important. You might notice that there’s also another time limit based on, you know, time. I’m not sure the game really needed two time limits, chaps.
Oh, and there’s a skeleton wandering around Funky’s halls of residence, too. This feels like it’s going beyond a mere hangover, Funky. What the hell were you drinking last night, meths?


When Funky dies – which he will, frequently, because the enemies move quickly and have big hitboxes – he also turns into a skeleton. That’s cool by me, turning into a skeleton is in the top tier of videogame death animations, along with “exploding into an expanding ring of energy spheres” and “turning to look directly at the player and whispering ‘why have you done this to me, your incompetence has doomed the planet.’”


The point of this first area is to find the back-to-school essentials that Funky needs for his exam: a pen, a calculator and the key for his motorcycle, which he absolutely should not be driving on public roads, the selfish bastard. There’s also a clock to find, which shows you the remaining time until the exam. You can skip that one, it’s not like you’ve got time to dawdle and knowing there’s a time limit at all is more than enough motivation to get moving.


I found the pen in the basement, where there are more skeletons (this time of the ‘medical teaching aid’ variety) and a computer with “OK” on the screen, clearly referencing Radiohead’s classic 1997 album because Genesis Soft were just that forward-thinking. Or maybe Radiohead got the “OK Computer” name from this obscure Spanish ZX Spectrum game. It kinda feels like something Radiohead would do.


Having found all the items he needs, Funky leaves the house and floats through the air towards his moped. Not really, he’s jumping, it’s just that he doesn’t have any jumping animations. The key’s in the ignition, and it’s time for this dangerously hung-over young man to endanger some other road users.


That means we have to go through this half-baked minigame where you steer the moped as it moves along the road, trying to to crash into the cars. There’s really nothing else to it, you just move up, down, left and right. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I think it would have been more interesting if they’d factored Funky’s liquored-up nature into the gameplay by making him swerve across the road randomly or have the cars appear as marching elephants. At least that would be something, you know? As it stands, all you’ve got is an exceptionally dull “move the cursor” segment that comes with the added frustration of any collision resulting in an instant game over. Funky had multiple lives when he was at home, but now that’s he’s on the open road? Tough shit, make one mistake and start again. I don’t understand why it works this way. I know a serious road traffic accident is going to be difficult to come back from but being turned into a fleshless skeleton didn’t stop Funky, so why should this?


A couple of minutes later, Funky arrives at the university. It’s a lot like his house, except all you need to do is find the exam room by slowly – but not too slowly, because of the two separate time limits – avoiding the enemies and climbing the rickety staircases. In this case the monster is neither a skeleton not a sphere but a flapping, swooping monstrosity that looks like a bat trying to escape from a burrito. It reminds me of the titular bat-winged character from fellow weirdo Spanish ZX Spectrum game Bloody, which was also released by… Genesis Soft. Man, I love that there are so many home computer games from non-British European countries. They’re enjoyable in the same way as fiction set in parallel universes: similar enough to what I’m used to that the differences are fascinating. Of course, the horror of forgetting you have an exam and having to rush to get there, still reeking of last night’s booze, that’s a universal fear.


There’s not much to say about the school portion of the game, honestly. Just move between the rooms looking for the exam, and hope that you don’t waste too much time investigating dead ends. Fanky Punky is a slow-paced game, but the time limit doesn’t take that into consideration. But what about the gameplay itself? Well, this is definitely a ZX Spectrum platformer. That’s all it is, it’s almost comical in its adherence to the form. Slow character movement with no momentum or flair, floaty jumps and plenty of pixel-perfect positioning required to progress. It’s not bad, per se. The problem is that it’s not really anything. No, strike that, it’s boring, that’s what it is, although it is redeemed somewhat (as ZX Spectrum platformers often are) by the unusual premise, strange creatures and use of nicotine as a health food. The only major problem I had with the gameplay was that the enemies don’t reset to a specific "starting point" on the screen when you leave the room or die, which can lead to certain situations where you die when jumping up to a new room, only for the game to start Funky’s next life in the same place that he died while the enemy is still there, trapping you in a loop that quickly drains all your lives.


After one last smoke to settle his nerves and the terrifying knowledge that last night’s alcohol is definitely going to start affecting his bowels at some point during this exam, Funky has reached his destination. Congratulations, Funky! I look forward to seeing you next year, when you have to repeat all your classes, you irresponsible fool.


Oh. Oh. The game’s not over. You have to actually take the exam. I wasn’t expecting that. Okay then, I’ll be back to finish this article in a few years when I’ve learned Spanish, I guess.
No, wait, I’m going to tough it out using my extremely limited Spanish vocabulary and Google Translate. Also save states, because if you get a single answer wrong it’s game over. I’m fairly certain that is not how university examinations work. “I’m sorry, Mr. Einstein, your thesis is truly astounding and will shape the future of modern physics, but you misspelled “necessary” as ‘neccessary’ and therefore all I can offer you is this application form for Greggs.”
The exam, then. It’s a series of yes or no questions, with the unusual twist that the game keeps giving you answers until the “yes” answer appears. With this first question, I managed to figure out that “quelonio” means the animal class Chelonia – that is, turtles and tortoises – and obviously “tortuga” is “tortoise” so yes, tortuga es quelonia. But then I couldn’t figure out how to get the game to accept my answer. Can you guess what my problem was? That’s right, I kept pressing Y for “yes” instead of “S” for “si” and I’m sure there’s a lesson about cultural hegemony in there.


Some questions required less translation than others.
So goes the exam, covering a variety of topics from geography to physics, which makes me wonder what course Funky is actually studying for. A PhD in Pub Trivia, perhaps. Also, why the hell did I need to find a pen and a calculator for this oral exam that (mercifully) contains contains no maths? Truly, academia is a mysterious thing.


I got all the questions right, and Fanky Punky stopped. I was going to say “ended” but that might imply there was some kind of ending, which there wasn’t. A brief scene of Funky graduating might have been nice, and I was definitely expecting one, possibly with an Animal House-style “Funky died three hours later in a drunken motor scooter accident” final frame. Instead you get the high score table and that’s it, game over.
Is Fanky Punky worth playing today? No, not really. It’s a very slight game that takes its unexciting gameplay and slaps a layer of potential frustration over it via the double timers and the potential death-loops. Am I glad I played it? Yes, I am. It’s a unique set up, if nothing else, and the exam was actually favourite part of the entire thing because I am an insecure dork who likes to be made to feel intelligent by beating a trivia quiz. Or maybe it’s just that I like trivia games, so maybe I’ll cover another one soon. Until then, I shall retire to my chambers and bask in my newfound knowledge that the Spanish for “bone” is “hueso.” I’m a real renaissance man now, god damn it.

09/11/2017

SHOUNEN ASHIBE (SUPER FAMICOM)

Start warming up your vocal cords for lots of high-pitched cooing noises and squeaking out words like “precious” and “fuzzywuzzycuddlekins,” because today’s game is so sugary-sweet that spending too long looking at it can cause incurable eyeabetes. It’s Nova Games’ 1992 Super Famicom flop-em-up Shounen Ashibe!

Or Shounen Ashibe: Goma-chan no Yuuenchi Daibouken, to give it its full title. That translates as something like Young Boy Ashibe: Goma-chan’s Big Amusement Park Adventure, and I’m sure you’ll be shocked to learn that this game is based on a manga series. Created in the late eighties by one Hiromi Morishita, Shonen Ashibe is the story of a primary school kid (the Ashibe of the title) and the adventures he has with his pet seal Goma. That’s right, his pet seal. What, was the pet shop all out of puppies? Ashibe’s family must have a ridiculously large fish budget, but Goma seems happy enough to be their pet and it’s this lovable marine mammal that you’ll be playing as in this game. There he is on the title screen, flopping around outside a bootleg Disneyland which I guess is supposed to be the titular amusement park – although, as we shall see, the amusement park angle seems to get dropped pretty damn quickly.


Okay, we’re in. Presumably Ashibe told the people at the ticket desk that he’s blind and Goma is a seeing-eye seal, because I can’t think of any other reason you’d be allowed to take a seal into a theme park. Okay, maybe at Sea World. What we’ve got here is a world map of sort, with Ashibe and Goma wandering around, talking to the other visitors and entering the gameplay stages by walking up to the doorways scattered around the place. Let’s begin by heading to that strange domed building, shall we?


Here we go, then. Shounen Ashibe is a platformer, as you can see. Floating logs, collectible items, it’s got the lot. That bear may look painfully cute, but it is an enemy that must be avoided at all costs... and it’s just occurred to me that it might actually be an amusement park employee in a bear suit. Whatever it is, the bear must be avoided as you guide Goma through the stage. To reiterate, Goma is a seal. I’m struggling to think of a less appropriate animal to based a platforming-jumping, bear-avoiding, land-based action game around. All I can come up with are “slugs” and “even larger aquatic mammals, maybe a minke whale or something.”


But a seal is what we are, and while Goma doesn’t have the same jumping skills as the Super Marios of the world he can gracelessly hurl his lumpen form from platform to platform. All this movement is required to clear the stages, naturally, but Shounen Ashibe has a slightly different spin than the usual “reach the exit” objective. You do have to reach the exit, but you can’t leave until you collected eight items that are hidden throughout the level. Okay, maybe “hidden” isn’t the best word. Scattered, let’s say. Or “deposited.” Whatever the description, Goma must find the eight objects before he can move on. In this case, it’s apples. Here’s one on this platform. Thrilling.


Not all the items you need to find are sitting in plain sight. That would be too simple, too easy, for a seal of Goma’s talents. You’ll have to hunt out the hidden ones and the main way to do that is by headbutting the scenery. Goma has two moves – he can jump, and he can perform a sideways headbutt that will shake certain background elements like trees and houses. Sometimes, this will cause a collectable object to appear. For instance, in the screenshot above Goma is smashing his skull into a tree, and by the looks of it he’s not much enjoying the experience. An apple then fell out of said tree in an almost perfect recreation of Newton's revelations about gravity.


Just like in real life, going around sticking headbutts on everything you see can backfire. Whacking this tree made a bear fall out, which wasn’t helpful, although it provides a good opportunity to mention that Goma is invincible. He has no health bar and cannot be killed by anything in our physical reality. He can get hit, and if that happens one of the items you’ve collected pops out of Goma’s body in a manner akin to Sonic the Hedgehog losing his rings – except you can always go and pick the item up again, because if they disappeared forever then you wouldn’t be able to finish the stages. Getting hit is little more than an annoyance, although potentially a very frustrating one when something you’ve collected flies out of Goma and falls all the way to the bottom of the stage, a problem that’s compounded when there’s no way to tell if an object contains an item or an enemy before you headbutt it.


It didn’t take long to find all the apples once I’d figured out how to headbutt things. Once you’ve finished a stage, you can move “through” its icon on the map, allowing you to wander around a little and enter another stage, with there usually being a couple of locations available so you get a choice of areas to tackle. I went for this forest stage, because the idea of playing a game where an almost-spherical seal wanders a moonlit forest smashing its head into trees as though it’s been hypnotised into thinking it’s a woodpecker is so ridiculous I can’t help but want to experience it. There are small anime children roaming the woods at night. You might think this shows an alarming amount of parental neglect, but don’t forget that the colossal eyes of the anime children allow them to see perfectly in low-light conditions.


The anime children are also dangerous enough that nothing in the woods is going to mess with them, if the way they grab Goma and try to squeeze the life out of him is anything to go by. Death by smothering is the one of the dangers you face when you’re unbearably adorable, I guess.


There’s also a bit in this stage where you get apples by playing hippopotamus basketball. The little hippos spit out basketballs and you have to headbutt them back into the big hippo’s mouth. Why? There’s seemingly no reason but that’s what makes it so much fun. More hippo basketball, please. (Spoilers: there’s no more hippo basketball after this, which sucks.)


I must admit, I didn’t have much of a clue what I was supposed to be doing while I was playing Shounen Ashibe. Like, what’s my end game here? There’s a castle in the centre of the map that you can’t enter and I presume that’s Goma’s ultimate goal, but what with the whole game being in Japanese I had no idea how I was supposed to get in there. Obviously that’s down to my linguistic failings and not the game being bad, and I’m sure that the people you can talk to on the world map will tell you what you’re supposed to be doing (as well as giving out passwords, which they also do.) After checking out a few YouTube videos, I came to the conclusion that I needed to talk to a certain number of people and play the minigame they offer before the castle is available, so let’s get to doing that by talking to this half-salaryman, half-trout creature.


It is truly astonishing to me that in this game I am playing as a seal and the controls are somehow worse when the seal is swimming than they are when it’s on dry land. Goma’s movements are loose and floaty while he’s in the water and even though the goal of this stage is simply to reach the top of the screen it feels like much more work than it should be. It’s like trying to steer a shopping trolley with a wonky wheel and some mysterious sticky substance all over the handle – not a rewarding challenging, just annoying.


And that’s what you do in Shounen Ashibe. Work your way through a few very lightly puzzle-based regular stages, traverse the world map to find the person who’ll offer you a swimming challenge and then repeat until the final castle is unlocked. The areas of the map are loosely divided up into themed “zones,” like the forest world at the beginning or these none-more-typical platformer caves.


Some stages feel less “official” than the others, like these levels that are set high in the clouds and revolve around traversing huge flying cakes. Of course there are stages where everything’s made of sweets, Shounen Ashibe has to keep its sickeningly high cuteness ratio up somehow and having stages that are somehow so (literally) sweet they make your teeth melt just by looking at them is a familiar go-to for cutesy games.
I say these stages feel less “official” because they aren’t mandatory. I know this, because I finished the game but I couldn’t clear this flying cake stage. I spent a long time in here, jumping around in Goma’s heavy, belly-flopping style and performing so many headbutts that the game was in danger of turning into Super Glaswegian Fighter: Old Firm Derby Edition, but I simply could not find the last couple of birds. This is a little embarrassing given that the overwhelming feeling that you get from Shounen Ashibe’s gameplay is how easy it is. Make no mistake, this is a very easy game, and I most certainly don’t mean that as an insult. It’s very clearly aimed at young children, and unlike so many other “aimed at young children” games I’ve played – your Tweenies and Rugrats and the like – it manages to be easy enough for the nippers without ever feeling patronising or undercooked. There’s a game here, a fully-realised videogame and not a quarter-arsed smattering of awful minigames, and the developers must be commended for landing Shounen Ashibe squarely into the comfort zones of its target audience.


The developers must also be commended for including some spooky haunted house levels, complete with little jack o’lantern ghosts. Are these poltergeist pumpkins cute? You bet your backside they are! Now, clearly I’m a large, gruff Northern man whose machismo is second only to the lustrousness of his beard but it’s not like I’m immune to the charm of cuteness and that’s something Shounen Ashibe’s graphics possess in abundance. I think part of why I’m enjoying the look so much is that Goma, being a rotund little blob of an animal, is infinitely cuter than the kind of saucer-eyed anime kids you’re often playing as in games like these. Those kind of anime kids creep me out a little, if I’m honest.


Goma rides a skateboard at one point, which is fun and by fun I of course mean “radical” or possibly even “tubular.” I think my biggest criticism of Shounen Ashibe is that there just aren’t enough of these little set pieces and mini-challenges. Most levels follow the same formula of straightforwardly platforming through the small stages and headbutting everything in sight, with things like the hippo basketball being few and far between. There’s a delicate balancing act to be managed in keeping the game in that “suitable for very young players” zone that it does a good job of occupying without overburdening it with fiddly minigames, but a little more variety would have gone a long way.


Coming at Shonen Ashibe from the position of someone who’s far older than the target audience, I have to say it does drag on a bit toward the end, even in what is a pretty short game. Take the obligatory ice stages, for example: they’re basically the same as the caves, except the floor is slippery and the bears are now equally adorable polar bears. Those definitely aren’t men in costumes, those are actual polar bear cubs. You’d think a seal would be more worried in this situation, given a polar bear’s diet.


There are a few underwater stages, and once Goma is free from his human oppressors and back in his natural habitat it’s a relief that he controls far better than he did in the other swimming stages, although even in the briny deep there’s no escaping from anime children. I suppose Goma controls fairly well for the most part, or at least he controls better than I expected him to when I first saw his large, legless sprite. He’s a little slow and sometimes he has trouble with the edges of platforms, especially when you’re trying to get him to drop down and doubly especially when it’s a narrow gap that his blubbery frame won’t fit through easily, but on the whole controlling Goma isn’t as frustrating as it could have been. One quirk of his movement is that the headbutt moves you horizontally faster than simple “walking” does, so you’ll eventually reach a point where you’re moving Goma through the stages by having him flop face-first across the floor like a freshly-landed halibut.


One of the four surface-swimming stages I found includes Goma rescuing a stranded kitten, which I feel I have to show here because I know some of my readers will definitely appreciate this tiny pixel cat.


Eventually I made it into the castle, and boy, what a disappointment that was. It’s just a very slightly longer-than-usual stage with little to suggest it takes place in a fairytale castle, even a fairytale castle from an amusement park. It’s a big building and it’s got a few chandeliers, but it’s hardly lush with magical opulence. Mostly it’s got floating logs. A rather anticlimactic end to the game, but an end it is and so Shounen Ashibe: Goma-chan no Yuuenchi Daibouken comes to a close.


That’s right, Goma, you enjoy your little dance. You’ve earned it, I’d say. Shounen Ashibe might not be a ground-breaking game or an especially thrilling game or even a game that’ll live long in my memory, but by ‘eck it wasn’t half cute. Thumbs up on the graphics, definitely. If the cuteness in this game appeals to you,then you might be interested to learn that Shounen Ashibe received a new anime adaptation this year, so for once I'm accidentally timely with a review.
For a game aimed at kids it pitches its difficulty level at an appropriate level, so that’s a nice surprise – it’s got just enough challenge to it to be rewarding, but forgiving enough to stop a six-year-old getting frustrated. Plus it’s not often you get to play as a seal. Or the singer Seal, for that matter, unless “Kiss From a Rose” being on the soundtrack meant that he appeared as a secret character in the Batman Forever games. I’m going to assume that he did. Please do not correct me.

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