Friday, 22 August 2014

NHK Okāsan to Issho: Niko Niko Pun (TurboGrafx-16)

Niko Niko Pun title screen
And the latest game for my year-long epic marathon through the alphabet is... another PC Engine game. If you're wondering why I'm playing this so soon after Neutopia, well, amazingly this the only game beginning with 'N' left to play on my requests list. I've got the names of 11 A games scrawled down there, 15 S games, even 7 W games, but this is the one and only N. And now that I'm playing it there are in fact no Ns.

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.

The game begins with out three heroes sliding down a... well I was going to say a rainbow, but it'd need a few more colours for that. Plus it's curving the wrong way, there's another clue.

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.

Oh, now they're bored of the slide and they're taking a hot air balloon.

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.

And now they're... man I don't even know anymore. There's a tree with a face on, an exploding snot bubble, a glitter volcano, and now everyone's flying.

You'd think from this that Niko Niko Pun was a cartoon, but it was actually performed by actors in animal suits. There was a mouse, a penguin, and a cat, and they all had adventures together on the island. This particular adventure I screencapped here seemed to mostly involve knitting and singing, but I've got less Japanese comprehension than a 4 year old child so I may never know what was actually going on.

There's a second intro! This one is slightly more skippable though as I can hammer the buttons until the messages boxes quit coming up.

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.

Disaster! The boat washes up on an island during a storm, and I guess they'll be stuck here for a while. The entire length of a TV series perhaps.

Disaster! It's one of those dinosaur islands, they won't last the night!

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.

It says "Stage 1"! I understood that bit!

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.


STAGE 1.


Whoa, it's a platformer from the 90s that doesn't begin in a forest. I'm surprised and confused.

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.

Hey, I never claimed to be any good at platformers. I guess that I'm supposed to duck when the birds swoop down then.

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?

Oh, it's a picture of a postal seagull delivering letters. Funny, all the ones I've met so far have delivered only pain.


A FEW SCREENS LATER.


Another door already? I'll check out what's inside just as soon as I get my cat to double jump and collect that fruit up there. The game's got a decent feel to it, but this guy doesn't jump anywhere as high as you'd expect him to.

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.

Oh crap, it's a sliding block puzzle! I take back everything I said about this game having no challenge to it, because I am utterly crap at these things.


HOURS PASS.


Well that's close enough, right? I mean you can kind of tell what it is. Crap, if this was a plastic toy, this would be the part where I'd get a screwdriver out and apply a bit of 'outside the box' thinking.

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.


DONE IT! I AM THE MASTER OF THE SLIDING BLOCK PUZZLE.

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.

Oops. I misjudged my jump and landed on the gold seal, which then bounced me off into the path of the seagull. Seems that if I get hit enough times in a row my cat is properly stunned for a bit, costing me a more serious chunk of my precious time while I wait for him to recover.

Plenty of bars left on the timer yet though, and I've got a full box of strawberries.

C'mon c'mon, throw the strawberries faster would you, the timer's still going down! Also I'm bored now. It turns out that I was gathering all that floating beach fruit to feed the cute lil' dinosaur from the intro, because he's too lazy to go pluck it out of mid-air himself.

Just out of curiosity I decided to try the level again to see what happens if the timer runs out or I reach the end without enough strawberries, and either way the cat turns around and returns to the start to give it another try with an empty fruit box.

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.

Well there you go, a full row of abominations. Half human, half flower, they sway and scream in constant physical and mental torment. That's what I imagine the text underneath says at least.


STAGE 2.


I went with the penguin for stage 2, but she plays exactly the same. The music's exactly the same too, annoyingly

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.

The major change on this level is that there are actual platforms in it, in the form of branches! I can't jump up too far into the trees though. The game's surely heard of this newfangled 'vertical scrolling', but it wants no part of it. Even scrolling across to the left is strictly forbidden, so I can't backtrack to pick up any apples I've missed.

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.

It's a lime green duck with a bad haircut and 'Piyopiyo' written underneath. Well I was kind of hoping for a chainsaw pick-up, but whatever. Maybe the next door will be more interesting!


LATER, AT THE NEXT DOOR.


NO NO, CANCEL! ABORT! WITHDRAW!

Man, I am so glad that I was able to quit back out of second puzzle. Now I can get back to proper gameplay, like walking under elephant trunks.

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.


STAGE 3.


Stage 3 looks nice too, shame about all the wasps. It's also a shame that the music still hasn't changed.

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.

This time my door reward is a frog with pigtails and a shamefully short skirt. C'mon Japan, this is a kids game!


STAGE 4.


Bloody flying enemies! He suddenly swooped down at me and I was forced to run back into the instant kill water to escape!

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.

This hippo is just another variation of the elephant from the last level, but I love his dumb expression as he opens his mouth.

Oh by the way, there is a reason that we're feeding the dinosaur all this fruit... I just don't know what it is (or why it has to be a specific type each time). But every time I feed the guy he grows just a little bit bigger.

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.


STAGE 5.


I've reached a slidey ice world! Can I get enough distance leaping from these slippery ice blocks to grab the hovering bananas? The answer is... no. But that's fine, there's plenty of other bananas to grab, and it's not like I get a bonus for collecting more than my quota.


STAGE 6.


Oh crap, could it be that I've finally ran into a challenging enemy? The guy's so huge that I can't quite manage to jump clear over him, and every time I fail he knocks me back over again. If the game carries on bringing in enemies like this I can actually see the next world stepping the difficulty level up to 'very easy'.

Whoa! See, what did I tell you about him getting too big. He may have started off as a cute little guy, but now he's Godzilla with horns. Fortunately he's a herbivore who relies on me entirely for his food, so I'm safe right now (though the minute that changes I'm in real trouble).

Uh-oh. I don't know what that says, but I'm guessing it ain't all good news for our shipwrecked TV stars.

Aww, the dinosaur's carrying them all home on his back! Happy ending.

Wait, that's it? That's the entire game? Six short stages, each with the same 20 second music loop? I'd say you could likely speed run Niko Niko Pun in under five minutes, but it doesn't seem right putting the words 'speed' or 'run' anywhere near the game.


CONCLUSION

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 walking simulators... a device to explore a new world (or view an old one from a new perspective), all in one package. Basically despite 'game' being right there in the name, video games don't NEED challenge to be engaging and entertaining, but they sure need to provide a more interesting experience than Niko Niko Pun. All you do in it (besides the sliding block puzzles) is jump over enemies and duck under birds, and this is too sluggish and joyless to be a rewarding action in itself. Plus there's no reward for going the extra mile and grabbing more fruit, there's no real reward for solving the tile puzzles, there's no reward for getting to the end of a stage in 20 seconds instead of 2 minutes; in fact much the opposite, as running low on time is the only thing that makes the bloody music change! There's just nothing in this game to encourage you to give it more than the bare minimum of your attention, and it'll still feel like wasted effort in the end.

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!


Maybe you want to talk about the game, criticise my writing, suggest ideas for my website, or perhaps just have a guess at what the next game will be. Well then fortune smiles upon you this day, as all this (and more) is possible thanks to the power of the comments box below, provided free of charge for your use.

4 comments:

  1. "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! "

    Your above statement rather captures this game quite nicely. There were soooo many platformers in that era which were marketed at young children (think SNES Lion King, Jungle Book, and their ilk), but their difficulty was sooooo hard that their target market couldn't really beat the games. This game is perfect for the young gamer just starting out.

    I'll throw you a couple more good "N" games for you to add to your list.
    PC Engine CD - Nexzr and Turbografx-16 New Adventure Island both are great games which deserve your attention. :)

    Thanks again for all of the great reviews!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I KNEW someone would jump in with some more 'n' suggestions when I said that! I'm just surprised it took it took a while.

      Okay cool, I've added them to the list.

      Delete
    2. Ray,
      I don't know how to contact you except through these comments, but since you're my favorite retro video game reviewer, I wanted to let you know about an offer. PCEWorks has just completed a release of a 4-game set of famous PC Engine CD games. They are offering a few free sets to reviewers out there. You can check out their website at pceworks (dot) net and/or contact them at info (at) pceworks (dot) net. I hope that you contact them and that you get a free set.

      After you read this, you are welcome to either leave this comment, edit it, or delete it.

      Thanks.

      P.S. By the way, please add the 4 games to your review list if you can. They all deserve the Super Adventures in Gaming treatment - Fausette Amour, Kaze Kiri, Renny Blaster, & Sylphia

      Delete
    3. I doubt I'm the kind of 'reviewer' they're after really, as it's rare I ever show off game packaging and I'm always mean to PC Engine games. Well, meaner than a nostalgic fan would be anyway.

      Also, as much as I like the idea of top secret comments self-destructing after being read, I'll have to leave it intact for now to give you this reply explaining that I've added those four to my list of 'suggested games'.

      Delete

Semi-Random Game Box