Gekibo, a portmanteau of Gekisha Boy (translation: Photograph Boy) is at first glance just another of those weird Japanese games that YouTubers love to rag on about. First released on the PC-Engine in 1992, Irem's short-lived series is a satisfying mix of a shooting gallery with a platformer. It's a rather unique concept with only Pokemon Snap coming to mind that bears any kind of similarity to the gameplay on show. So why didn't we see this in the west?
The game has quite a sad backstory that kind of parallels the European release. The protagonist, David Goldman, is halfway through his stint at the LA School of Photography when his parents die in a plane crash. Deep in depression, his studies have fallen by the wayside. The Dean of the university takes pity on poor ol' Dave and gives him one last chance to pass the class. He has to take eight photos of some terribly specific encounters and apparently do so with a perverted grin on his face. This is a comedy game don't ya know.
The game and the character was to have a name change when the PlayStation 2 sequel was optioned for a European release by JVC Musical Industries. Now called Polaroid Pete, it was to be the first time at even a hint of a western release. Development got so far that I remember reading the review in the UK's Official PlayStation Magazine (Issue 16) circa 2001 and found myself enamoured by the quirkiness of it all. A 7 out of 10 in the console's early years was nothing to be sniffed at either. The proposed December 2001 release date came and went and it ultimately never hit store shelves. There was no cancellation announcement, no follow up in the magazine even though they gave a full page to the review and another one for the preview two issues prior. It was just gone like a long forgotten fever dream.
The truth of the matter was that JVC's gaming division crashed and burned like the cameraman's parents mere days before its release. A competition in partnership with Kodak was also launched, but I can find no information whether or not anyone actually won anything. I live in hope that a fully translated review copy still exists somewhere. Hell, as the closure was so close to release, perhaps there's a box of complete, fully packaged games somewhere in storage. Until such high hopes are fulfilled, the Japanese version is still very much playable.
The core gameplay is this: take pictures of weird shit while avoiding any obstacle that flashes red. When I say weird shit, I really mean it too. Spider-man casually climbs a wall. Aliens openly roam the streets. A pervert flashes you as you saunter past. An old man does a poo in a public pool. Godzilla stomps on a juggling clown. The statue of liberty offers up a perfect panty shot. These are just a small taste of what you'd see in the first few levels of each game.
PC-Engine (left) vs 2002 PlayStation port (right). Both are the almost same, though PSX version trades nudity for an extra level and easier difficulty.
In each level, you're asked to take a specific photo as well as reaching a certain number of points. For example, a flying car is needed for the first level of the first game. Sure enough, halfway through the DeLorean from Back to the Future swooshes by in the background. It lasts on screen no more than a second, so unless you know when and where it's coming you're likely to miss it. I doubt even the reflexed of a 'roided-up cat would be able to hit it without prior knowledge. With the camera reticle so frustratingly slow and small to begin with, the game requires you to memorize each level and come up with the most efficient route. Even with the power-ups maxed out, studying the layout several times is a must.
When you take a photo of a particularly interesting subject matter such as a woman tied to a rocket, a power-up will jump out of them. Most of the time, it will be some much-needed film. It's game-over if you run out so can't be too snap-happy. You'll also lose five photos if you're hit by any projectile too. The ones that do damage stand out among the chaos by flashing red. There are also power-ups that increase the speed and size of the reticle which will make that perfect shot a little easier to take.
That flasher with a five o'clock shadow appears in every level. The bespectacled Dean does too.
The sequel adds a few functions. You can now zoom in to focus on the action in the background as well as the ability to lock your cursor. This is particularly useful when you want to line up your shot while dodging projectiles and obstacles. There's also a dash move that can help prevent a collision too. By far the most useful is a screen-clearing flash. Not only will this remove any on-screen hazards but when taken at the correct spot can also unveil some hidden scenes and areas. Sometimes, entire levels will open up.
Gekibo 2 also adds the ability to save pictures into a virtual album. By pressing select on the level-select screen, you can open up a variety of options. The only one worth visiting for us English speakers is the album. Every snap of interest is collected here and it's a good way for completionists to find every lewd scenario and pratfall. All menus are in English but anything in more detail such as the story remains impenetrably Japanese. The fan-made translation for the PC-Engine original will let you know what picture needs to be taken but thankfully a handy image circumvents the language barrier for the sequel.
Get the right shot and it will appear in the paper. Take a selfie and stylishly lose points.
The insane sequel also made use of the PlayStation Printer - a rather pointless peripheral that also never made out west. You can print the front page of a newspaper where your photo takes centre stage. You can also print out any picture from your album too. I can't imagine it being of any sort of quality but not having the hardware means I cannot test it. Even though I have the physical disc, I prefer to play it on an emulator anyway and such extravagances will likely never be supported there.
It's not just printing that's closed off. The emulator doesn't support Sony's Picture Paradise initiative either. This allows you to connect a compatible Sony camera or camcorder to insert yourself (or anyone) into the game. It will paste the heads of your friends/family/victims onto random pedestrians that populate each level giving the game a personalised touch but nothing more. Only a very small number of games used this technology which became obsolete once the EyeToy came into being. In all honesty, I don't think we're missing much by not having access to these two fads, but it's still fascinating to know they exist.
Access Gekibo 2's photo album by pressing Select on the level select screen.
While both Gekido and it's sequel are often incredibly difficult, they are nevertheless insanely fun no matter how much you fail. It's a shame that these entertaining oddities never had a chance outside of Japan, even though we came so very close. I look forward to the European review copy to be leaked, but until then I'll just play these Japanese gems again.
To download the game, follow the link below. This custom installer exclusive to The Collection Chamber uses Retroarch with the Mednafen PCE and Mednafen PSX cores to emulate the PC Engine and PlayStaion games on modern PCs. The PlayStation 2 game is emulated using PCSX2. XBox 360 controllers supported for all games. Japanese Manuals included for some games. Tested on Windows 10.
File Size: 136 Mb. Install Size: 244 Mb. Need help? Consult the Collection Chamber FAQ
Gekibo/Gekisha Boy/Polaroid Pete is © Irem
Review, Cover Design and Installer created by me