There's a whole lot of words in 'NHK Okāsan to Issho: Niko Niko Pun', but if you break the title down it's pretty straightforward. NHK is Japan's public broadcasting organisation (equivalent to Britain's BBC), Okaasan to Issho is a long running TV series for children, and Niko Niko Pun was a segment on that series. I know absolutely nothing else about the series, but judging by the characters on the game box I'm guessing it's for children. Young children.
They may look like they're grinning with pure carefree joy, but it's more likely they've just learned a painful lesson about why helter skelters need mats. And soon they'll likely learn why they have safety barriers too.
The text says Nikonikojimagaarimashite, which came out as total nonsense when I typed it into Google Translate (such a thing is unprecedented!) But I recognise the word 'island', so I'm going to say this is Niko Niko Island they're flying over.
Our three heroes have set out on the mouse's boat on a journey across the sea. At least I assume it's his boat, it's got his shocked face on the sail.
This guy's a friendly baby dinosaur though, and he's trying to tell them something. He's speaking Japanese though, so I guess we'll never know what. Oh okay fine I'll try to translate it.
??? - "What's the matter?"
Uh, sorry, that's all I got out of that conversation. Man, I hope this doesn't turn out to be an RPG as my success rate with dialogue so far has been terrible.
I think I'll play as the cat, seeing as he's the only one who doesn't look like he's staring at an oncoming train. Plus he has the advantage of feline agility, retractable claws, a predator's instinct, and not being a penguin.
The gameplay seems similar to games like Wonder Boy and that J.J. and Jeff platformer I played a few weeks back, as I have to make my way rightwards against the clock, leaping over enemies and collecting fruit along the way. Though there is one major difference I've noticed so far: it is bloody difficult to get hit. Seriously, the game is so slow that you'd have to be pretty new or pretty terrible at videogames to actually collide with these creatures.
In Wonder Boy being hit just once kicks you right back to the last checkpoint, in J.J. and Jeff getting hit knocks a chunk from your combined health bar and timer. In this getting hit... stuns me for a moment, and that's about it. It's theoretically possible that if a player keeps running into birds they'll eventually run out of time and fail, but it'd take a more patient man than me to test that out.
Alright, what's in the mysterious blue door then? A bonus stage? A toilet? A portal to a H.R. Giger-style bio-mechanical horror dimension?
A FEW SCREENS LATER.
Oh hang on, I see that turtle slowly shuffling my way. Those things are like nature's trampoline, or nature's portable rock at least. Jumping on regular enemies knocks me back, but I've got a good feeling about this guy.
Hey it is safe to jump on turtles! Right, now that I've solved that puzzle and got my fruit I can go look inside the door.
I am really going to have to memorise the trick to solving these at some point, because twitch could play this minigame better than I can. Man that reference is going to be so dated in a few years.
A FEW YEARS LATER.
So what did I get for my trouble? Aside from the picture of the cat waving his arm I mean. Well I didn't get any points because the game has no score, and I didn't get any bonus coins or lives because the game doesn't have them either.
Wow, I guess all I got really was a picture of a cat doing warm up exercises. Moving on then.
Plenty of bars left on the timer yet though, and I've got a full box of strawberries.
Right, so it turns out that this island has dinosaurs that time forgot and ghostly smoke monsters on it. Now all it needs are some Island of Dr. Moreau style genetic experiments roaming around and it's got the set.
This time instead of strawberries I'm out collecting exactly three apples; I can pick up other kinds of fruit along the way but none of it counts. Out cute lil' dinosaur friend sure is picky about what it eats.
Should I give the monkey his chance to drop that giant pinball on my head or should I check the door first? Curiosity demands that I investigate the tree, but I already know I'm going to be disappointed.
LATER, AT THE NEXT DOOR.
The game really doesn't look all that bad in motion, with a little bit of parallax scrolling going on in the background to add depth. It's unambitious but competent.
This level introduces a new type of threat: the grasshopper. I have to wait for it to jump over me instead of trying to jump it myself. Since I figured that out though they're not exactly a threat any more.
Wait, this water is actually perfectly harmless. Well, okay then. I'll just let the bird go on his way then go carry on bringing this fruit to the dinosaur then I guess. By the way, if you want more evidence that the game is a little easy, check out how much fruit I've got (bottom right) and then check out my timer (bottom left). There's no way to add extra time as I play by the way, that thing ticks down constantly and there's nothing I can do about it.
I'm starting to think that we should maybe rethink this plan though, as he's getting kinda huge now and this is only the fourth level.
Alright, here's my final thoughts on Niko Niko Pun.
Well it's not made for folks like us, that much is obvious. A lot of games of the time like Super Mario World and Sonic the Hedgehog were designed to appeal to kids aged 5 to 80, but this seems more specifically aimed at children just old enough to have stopped chewing on the controller. In fact I'm surprised it didn't show me how to spell 'apple' before asking me to collect them, and I think I would've gotten more out of it if it had, as my knowledge of Japanese remains... limited.
The game is like a bizarro parallel alternate mirror universe doppelgänger of a game I played a few months back called J.J. and Jeff (also known as Kato-Chan & Ken-Chan). They're both PC Engine games based on a Japanese TV series from the late 80s, with Wonder Boy style platformer gameplay, two background doors per stage, and zero vertical scrolling (plus they're both for... immature gamers). But J.J. and Jeff somehow manages to be fun despite the joy it takes in finding cruel ways to kick you back to the title screen, while Niko Niko Pun allows no early release from its tedium, as it absolutely will not let you lose.
The more games I play, the more I'm convinced that challenge isn't the most important part of video games. Sure traditional games like chess, pool and beach volleyball are all obviously based around the challenge of overcoming an opponent, but video games are also art and literature and cinema and
But I owned a ZX Spectrum as a child and one cassette tape at a time the machine drilled into my head the lie that video games are all buggy and impossible to complete. It taught me from an early age when I was at my most impressionable that perseverance and practice is futile, and now I suck at everything! So if you've got a young kid and want to teach them that games really CAN and should be beaten, to build up their confidence before moving them onto Dark Souls, well this might actually be just the video game for you!