POCKY & ROCKY (Natsume, 1992 - Super Nintendo)
This is the post that will make all of my friends scream in pain and agony: Pocky & Rocky, also known in Japan as KiKi KaiKai: Nazo no Kuro Manto, also known in my head as The game I have to talk about every 5 minutes of my life!
Pocky & Rocky is the sequel of KiKi KaiKai (1986, Arcade), a multi-directional shooter we actually got in the west (titled Knight Boy here) contrary to all of its ports on Famicom (1987), PC Engine (1990) or even mobile phones (2003) and PC (2004). The main character of the first game is back, the little miko Sayo-chan (Pocky), but this time with a brand-new Tanuki friend of hers, Manuke (Rocky).
As you’ve obviously guessed by now if you didn’t know this game before (something you should NEVER admit in front of me if you care about your life), Pocky & Rocky takes its inspiration in the good old Japanese folklore, allowing you to meet (and destroy) a myriad of mythical creatures.
No matter how much I talk about that game, whenever I do I always feel the exact same thrill as the very first time my ears heard its title theme, and my hands pushed the start button. Like many of my first times with video games, this one happened during summer. A very usual summer actually, though I couldnt say for sure if it was in 1994 or 1995. My sisters and I were staying at my grandparents’ place for a few weeks and I was lucky enough to have E, a great friend living two floors above, that I could go see all day (and most of the time all night) long. Every day was pretty much the same and our summers together consisted of eating Nutella, watching TV, renting movies, playing video games and staying far away from my sisters that I already had to bear 10 months a year (I was not a bad brother, they were the mean ones). My favorite kind of summer then!
So that summer of 1994 or 1995, E had bought a lot of Super Nintendo games from a friend of his, mostly old games the guy didn’t want anymore. Pocky & Rocky was in there, but none of us cared as Dragon Ball Z: Super Butôden 2 was already flirting with us and knew we were going to make passionate love to it for days. When we started to get sick of how bad the game was, we finally decided to try something else and went with this one, not really expecting a lot, maybe just a cute platformer at best.
But the moment my eyes saw the amazing-looking characters on the screen (and tried to understand why they were so ugly on the box art), and my fingers started to make this tiny miko shoot talismans all over the screens while E was destroying the hordes of demons with leaves, I immediately fell in love with this game.
Not only was it insanely beautiful, from its character design to the entire art direction, but playing was just as intuitive as it was challenging! In just a few seconds, you knew what to do and how to do it. Actually you really didn’t have the choice to react and learn fast, as you’re thrown inside the battle right away! But that’s what was exciting from the very beginning, the game told you right away that you don’t have time to rest and, most importantly, that you’re going to suffer!
Let’s not hide it, Pocky & Rocky is just as easy to understand as it is hard. So try to imagine how it feels when you’re only 10-11 yo! But no matter the difficulty, the game never felt frustrating to me, even at that time! The more we lost, the more we wanted to fight back and win, and we ended up spending the entire summer playing that game, cheating at first but then doing it all over again just with our skills and no cheat code. It’s a bit like what ATLUS can do with its Shin Megami Tensei franchise: the game is hard, it kills you to lose, but you’ll always want to go back right away just so you can feel how good it is to succeed.
Pocky & Rocky had the chance to get two official sequels. The first was in 1994 with Pocky & Rocky 2 (KiKi KaiKai: Tsukiyo Zoushi, Super Nintendo), maybe not as exciting and challenging to me as this one, but with great new mechanics despite making Sayo-chan a better and more improved character than her companion, while Pocky & Rocky considered them as equals with the same powers and techniques. The second one came much later, in 2001 for the Game Boy Advance, with the not-so-good-we-can-pretty-much-say-cheap Pocky & Rocky with Becky (KiKi KaiKai Advance).
Pocky & Rocky with Becky was the last official entry in the series. Official, because there’s actually another game, said to be a spiritual successor when it was never supposed to be: Yukinko Daisenpuu ~Sayuki to Koyuki no Hie-Hie Daisoudou~, known in the USA as Heavenly Guardian (2007, PlayStation 2, Wii). Originally a true sequel to the franchise developed by Starfish SD, the game would never see the light of the day as Taito, owners of the licence, was to be bought by Square-Enix in 2005. Unable to release the game the way it was supposed to be, Starfish SD decided to rework it, ending up with this very, VERY bad one.
Obviously, seeing this series dies has been one of the worst things I had to face as a video games fan. KiKi KaiKai was such a unique licence, inspired, fun and challenging to play, and everytime a company is about to reveal a new game, all I have in my mind is “Please announce a new Pocky & Rocky!”. I’m not asking for much, just a new entry, developed by Platinum Games and directed by Hideki Kamiya… is that too much to ask? At least I was glad to find some spiritual successors over the years, starting with Mamoru-kun wa Norowarete Shimatta! (2008, Arcade, Xbox360, PlayStation 3), a game I was addicted to for months…