We're going Japanese again for today's review. It's a long running series based on well-known legends; Kiki KaiKai or Pocky & Rocky as it's better known over here.
The first, Kiki KaiKai (Mysterious Ghost World) game began in the Japanese arcades in 1986 by Taito. You play as Sayo, a priestess sent to battle demons in order to rescue the gods of good fortune. It plays like a shoot 'em up, except the levels don't automatically scroll - much like Commando or Ikari Warriors. You're main weapon is the ofuda tags, described as magic cards in later games in the series which can be upgraded as you progress. You also have a secondary weapon, the oharai wand or magic stick. This allows you to brush away enemy fire or send enemies flying off the screen.
It was ported to several consoles, including the MSX and the Famicom Disk System, but the best version by far is the PC Engine port. This improved version was released in 1990, four years after the arcade game.
There are many strange enemies in this series that you may recognise if you're familiar with Japanese folklore. They were featured in the Japanese comic strip and cartoon series GeGeGe no Kitaro which has run in various forms since the 1960s. The only iteration released to the West was Takashii Miike's (Ichi the Killer, Audition) movie The Yokai War.
It's a fun game, thanks in part to the unique setting not usually found in a shoot 'em up. It's sequels that were released on the Super Nintendo, however, were to up the ante considerably.
Kiki KaiKai: Nazo no Kuro Manto (Mysterious Ghost World: The Enigmatic Black Mantle) actually found a release in Europe and the US. Renamed Pocky & Rocky, this sees our hero Sayo (Pocky) team up with the final boss of the previous game, Maruke (Rocky) to again vanquish an army of evil demons.
The same attacks are still here, but with an added sliding dodge move. The increased buttons from the PC Engine's 2 also means our heroes can utilize special screen-clearing attacks which are in limited supply.
The big change (other that the improved graphics) is the second player, Rocky. The game features a two-player co-op, with Rocky also being a playable character. Like the Tanuki legends that inspired the famous suit in Super Mario Brother, leaves play a role in his attacks, replacing Pocky's magic cards. His tail will also be the replacement for the magic stick.
It's a fun, hard game, but one that would not reach it's apex in quality until 1994 when the next game was released. Kiki KaiKai: Tsukiyozōshi (The Rescue), renamed as Pocky & Rocky 2 outside of Japan looks very similar, but has added minor RPG elements to allow for a far more rewarding experience than previous games.
This time you have a choice of three partners to accompany you. As well as rocky, you have Takuan (Bomber Bob) and Shinobi (Little Ninja). You will also encounter several other partners throughout the game during certain sections.
Each of these partners have special abilities which you can control with the Super Nintendo's A button Pocky can also throw their partner to retrieve additional items and secrets. Make sure you revert back in time, otherwise you'll take damage.
Shooting and wand attacks remain, but you'll notice that defeated enemies will now drop coins on occasion. Thes can be used in shops to purchase power ups or keys, which will allow you to open treasure chests and doors. You can even enter houses to converse with the residents which becomes a welcome break from the frantic action.
All these improvements make for a very unique game, both in the shoot 'em up genre and in the series. While both of the Super Nintendo games are exclusive to the console, this one doesn't feel like it's an arcade port, but a fully fledged gaming experience.
The next game in the series, and the final one to use the Pocky & Rocky name, was released on the GameBoy Advance in the handheld's early days. It unfortunately takes a step backwards ignoring all of the improvements the SNES games had and instead using the arcade original as its template.
Kiki KaiKai Advance or Pocky & Rocky with Becky removed all of the extra partners from it's predecessor and replaces them with Becky (or Miki to our Japanese friends). Again each have their own special abilities, however they are only accessed once a purple ofuda tag is collected. The game is single player only and the partner system has been removed. It is also graphically far weaker, looking close to an 8bit GameBoy Colour game than a 32bit GameBoy Advance release. Despite going backwards in quality, it's still fun to play.
Six years later a small Japanese developer announced that Kiki KaiKai World is in development for the PlayStation 2 and Nintendo Wii. Unfortunately there were some rights issues which meant the game had to be renamed to Heavenly Guardian in the US and Legend of Sayuki in Europe.
While the sprites and characters were changed, it's obvious that there is a connection between the games. The game feels like a budget title. The 2D graphics aren't anything to write home about and the difficulty curve is all over the place. At the time of it's release reviewers weren't kind saying it's cheap look and design take away from whatever fun the generic game-play had. There has been a minor resurgence though, with UK prices greatly inflated compared to its quality.
It's a mediocre diversion that some people may find interesting, but is the official games where the series really shines. It may have failed at redemption in its most recent installments, but the fantastic legacy has ensured the entire series be release from the Chamber's vault.
Several Pocky & Rocky games are now available to buy on the Nintendo Virtual Console, Switch, PlayStation Network and Steam. (Don't forget Reshrined coming in 2022!)
Buy Kiki KaiKai Arcade Archive on PSN & Nintendo eShop
Buy Heavenly Guardian on PSN
Buy Snow Battle Princess Sayuki on STEAM
Buy Pocky & Rocky with Becky on Nintendo eShop
Pocky & Rocky is © Taito and Natsume
Heavenly Guardian is © Starfish
Review, Cover Design and Installer created by me