Pocky and Rocky
  • Genre:
    • Shoot 'Em Up
  • Platform:
    • SNES
  • Developer:
    • Natsume
  • Publisher:
    • Natsume
  • Released:
    • JP 12/22/1992
    • US June 1993
    • UK 08/19/1993
Score: 85%

This review was published on 08/13/2017.

Pocky and Rocky is a video game developed and published by Natsume for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System and Super Famicom. It was originally released in Japan on December 22, 1992, North America in June 1993, and Europe on August 19, 1993. The game is known as Kiki Kaikai: Nazo no Kuro Manto in Japan, which roughly translates to Mysterious Ghost World: The Enigmatic Black Mantle. As its Japanese title implies, this is the sequel to the original Kiki Kaikai, which was a coin operated arcade game officially released in Japan in 1986, though an unofficial version titled Knight Boy did make it to North America. Despite having created the original Kiki Kaikai, Taito Corporation licensed Namco to develop and publish its sequel, Pocky and Rocky. This turned out to be a great decision, because Namco did an excellent job on the game. The first game in the series is merely okay, but Pocky and Rocky is fantastic.

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The world of Pocky and Rocky is set in feudal Japan. As indicated by the title, this game stars Pocky and Rocky. Pocky, known in Japan as Sayo, is a priestess of the Shinto faith, which is sort of like Japan's ethnic religion. As for Rocky, he's an anthropomorphic tanuki, alternatively known as a Japanese raccoon dog. In the previous game, a group of creatures known as the Nopino Goblins went on a rampage, but Pocky taught them a lesson. Things were pretty peaceful after that, but that peace came to an end in Pocky and Rocky. One day while Pocky is tending to a Shinto shrine, Rocky shows up to meet her for the very first time. Despite being a member of the Nopino Goblins, Rocky is friendly and informs Pocky that his fellow brethren are up to no good again. Rocky asks for Pocky's assistance in fighting the Nopino Goblins, to which she agrees. It's now up to the titular Pocky and Rocky to save the day.

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Like Kiki Kaikai, Pocky and Rocky is classified as a multidirectional shooter. In other words, everything is viewed from an overhead perspective and you can shoot in multiple directions. Under the default control scheme, you use the d-pad to freely walk around in eight directions and hold the Y button to rapidly shoot in the direction you're facing. You could also press the A button to shoot one shot at a time, but there's no real reason to do this. If you press the B button, you'll do a melee attack that is able to swat away enemies and block certain projectiles. Pressing either the L or R buttons will use a bomb to damage a large amount of enemies at once, but you only have a limited number of these. The X button allows you to do a slide move that wasn't in the previous game, which is useful for quickly getting out of the way of attacks. The controls are spot on, providing an unparalleled level of precision. You still can't strafe, though.

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Once you're past the opening cinematic, you'll be prompted to pick either Pocky or Rocky. Both characters control almost exactly the same, though. The differences are primarily cosmetic, like how Pocky throws magical cards at enemies, and Rocky throws leaves. Meanwhile, Pocky uses a ceremonial rod for her melee attack, whereas Rocky whips his tail. However, there are some minute differences between the two characters that aren't cosmetic. For instance, Pocky moves and slides a little bit faster than Rocky, but Rocky's slide goes farther. Pocky's bomb attack is also stronger than Rocky's, but Rocky's hits a wider radius. Additionally, Pocky and Rocky each have unique moves that are used by holding the B button for a little while to build up energy, then releasing it to unleash the technique. Pocky's special move allows her to do a twirling spin attack for a few seconds, and Rocky's unique move has him briefly transform into an invulnerable and immobile statue. While the differences between playable characters don't have a terribly big impact on the game, they do add a tiny droplet of depth.

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Unlike the previous game, you now have a life meter in the form of hearts that enable you to take multiple hits before death occurs. Hearts can be replenished by finding certain power-ups. Speaking of, this game has power-ups. Power-ups are usually found inside breakable boxes, and most of them resemble orbs bearing icons that signify what they do. One class of power-ups will increase the amount of projectiles Pocky or Rocky can throw at a time, making the projectiles come out in a spread pattern. Another class changes their projectiles into fireballs that do more damage and pierce through felled foes. Getting multiples of the same power-up will upgrade it further, resulting in bigger and more numerous projectiles. You can't mix these two classes of power-ups, though. These projectile power-ups also get downgraded if you take too much damage. There are a couple of other power-ups, as well, like a defensive barrier that protects you from a few hits before dissipating, and an animal you can ride around for temporary invincibility. This game has a fairly robust power-up system.

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Similar to Ghosts 'n Goblins and Castlevania, you'll get to see a cute map screen in between stages, but this is just for show, because you're unable to select where to go. At any rate, stages are all completely linear, but unlike most shooters back then, they don't typically scroll on their own. This allows you to travel at your own pace, though you do have a time limit now. The endless enemies will also generally prevent you from staying in one place for too long. As with the previous title, most of the enemies come from Japanese mythology, but there are far more types this time around. Most stages introduce new enemies, which constantly keeps you on your toes, because you never know what to expect. Like Contra, the game is incredibly difficult due to the sheer number of enemies and projectiles on screen at any one time. Thankfully, unlike Contra, there are unlimited continues. There are also occasional bouts of slowdown, but this is more of a blessing than a curse, as it gives you a momentary reprieve from the intense action.

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Almost all of the stages are set in exotic Japanese settings with a fantastical spin, like a haunted Shinto shrine, an enchanted bamboo forest, a grave graveyard, a mystical mountain range, and a floating fortress. All of these environments are rendered in amazingly detailed and colorful graphics. The animations are good, too, and your characters even have shadows cast over them when under parts of the environment; this was very impressive for the time. The stages also have a decent bit of variety to them. One bit has you being assaulted by monsters while on top of a raft that's going down a river, making it one of the few sections in the game that actually scrolls automatically. Another section takes place in a cave with retracting walls and floors. In addition to the enemies, some stages also have hazards, such as bottomless pits, deadly water, and bouncing skulls. These varied environmental elements help make every stage feel distinct, which is a hard thing to do in a shooter like this.

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Generally, there's a boss at the middle and end of every stage, though there's sometimes more or less. Some of the bosses actually appeared in the previous game, but they have been significantly upgraded here, featuring new attack patterns that are even deadlier than before. There most certainly are new bosses, though, like a living bamboo that shoots bamboo shoots at you, and a floating suit of armor. The stages of this game are hard, but the bosses are even harder. Every boss will put your skills to the test, forcing you to use everything in your arsenal. Besides mastering their attack patterns, you must often use your melee attack to block their projectiles or the slide move to quickly evade attacks. Crowd control is another crucial component of boss battles, as many bosses will have an endless amount of lackeys pestering you during the fight. Bombs make quick work of bosses, but saving them for boss battles is no easy feat. Boss fights in Pocky and Rocky will definitely give you an adrenaline rush.

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Another improvement over the last game is that Pocky and Rocky supports simultaneous cooperative play with two players. A second player can join the game at any time, and they'll control whichever character the first player isn't using. Even if a player dies, he or she will be able to seamlessly jump back into the game, provided there are enough lives. If a player runs out of lives, they can steal some from the remaining player to rejoin the game. Whenever a player comes back to life, they'll automatically do a bomb-like attack that damages most enemies on the screen. This is some good game design, because it prevents players from unfairly dying as soon as they come back. Also, if players slide into each other, they will get knocked around the screen, defeating most enemies they collide into. Players do lose some health for doing this, though. Due to all of that, players must use teamwork to succeed, which results in a game that's very fun to play with two people.

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A huge improvement over the original Kiki Kaikai, Pocky and Rocky is one of the best multidirectional shooters out there. It's certainly one of the best action games on the SNES. This game delivers top notch arcade action right to your home. The intense action doesn't let up until the credits roll, never giving you an opportunity to lose interest in Pocky and Rocky's thrilling adventure. This game is just pure adrenaline. As if all that weren't enough, this fantastical journey can be enjoyed with a pal, which is highly recommended.

Word Count: 1,666

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