Pocky & Rocky and I go way back. I probably would have been 6 or 7 during the time I rented it and played it with my mom. It stuck in my mind for years until I was old enough to drive and buy insurance, so I looked it up to reconnect with it. That’s when I learned there was a sequel that I completely missed out on.
Pocky & Rocky 2 was released roughly two years after the first. Again developed by Natsume (though a mostly different team), the sequel actually makes a lot of substantial changes to Pocky & Rocky’s run-and-gun formula. What’s offered is a bit of a mix, and the game’s value will shift greatly based on player preferences.
Once again, Pocky & Rocky 2 is an extremely Japanese game that draws on the culture’s sounds, folklore, and imagery. Names have been changed to appeal better to a western audience, but the story is largely the same.
Princess Luna, the moon princess, has been captured by the evil Dynagon, who is attempting to force her to marry him. Series’ hero and Shinto shrine maiden, Pocky, jumps into action. This time around, she’s assisted by more than just the other titular character, Rocky, but also a growing cast of side characters including a ninja, a mole, and a scarecrow.
This marks the game’s most substantial deviation form the previous title. Formerly, player 2 was restricted to working as Rocky and was placed on an even playing field. They took damage, grabbed upgrades, and rationed their super-powers just like player 1. This time around, however, player 2 takes the role of more of an accessory. They are, most notably, unable to fully die. They can’t pick up upgrades or other items, nor do they have the ability to sweep away projectiles and enemies like Pocky can. It’s not as bad as forcing someone to play Tails in a Sonic game, but some people may feel insulted in that role.
On the other hand, player 2 has a wide variety of characters to choose from, each with a different set of skills and weaponry. As you explore the levels, more become available, so your friends aren’t left completely cold. Each one also has a different special attack, which is performed by having Pocky hurl the secondary character at her target. This kills the player, putting them in time out until they recharge, so, yeah, player 2 is a complete tool.
If you don’t even have a friend, you still get a CPU controlled buddy, which just goes to show how little the game thinks of your human companion.
WITH FRIENDS LIKE YOU…
Pocky & Rocky 2 retains the series’ trademark run-and-gun sensibilities. You still spend most of your time tearing through various yokai and obake by rapidly hurling ofuda cards at them. However, there has been some changes to the overall flow of the game.
Currency has been added in the form of gold coins, or koban. You can spend these in shops to buy upgrades. Health is now tracked by the clothes you wear, going from armor to your skivvies. Rather than two paths to weapon upgrades, there’s only one, which at least alleviates those moments where you pick up the wrong upgrade and completely downgrade your firepower.
The levels themselves have changed quite a bit in terms of composition. Pocky & Rocky were largely situational sprints to the end, where a level could start out on a mountain pass and end on an airship. In Pocky & Rocky 2, however, if it starts in a volcano, it’s guaranteed to end in a volcano. That’s a bit disappointing, because the levels feel a bit less imaginative than before.
On the other hand, there’s more stages here. They also contain homes that you visit containing characters who give you items or information about the plot. Some of them even unlock one of the three extra characters for player 2. Many of the levels branch off at a certain points, giving you a choice of routes to take. I’d say that it doesn’t quite make up for the more routine stages, but there’s at least a trade-off there.
SAYO-CHAN & MANUKE
There’s an overall lack of polish present, and that only gets more apparent as the game approaches the climax. The first area has lovely water, detailed bridges, and a nice atmosphere, but the further you progress, the more simplistic the environments are. This all culminates in a trek through a castle full of empty hallways and repetitive furniture. Considering the bright and cheerful graphics in both Pocky & Rocky games, this can be a little disappointing.
There’s also a couple levels that play out closer to a vertical shoot-’em-up, that I’m a little torn on. On one hand, they offer some nice variety away from the usual levels. On the other hand, it’s one player only for these sections, so player 2 gets the shaft once again. Again, these levels could have used more time to cook.
RED AND WHITE
So, it’s a bit rough around the edges, but that’s not necessarily a crippling blow. While player 2 gets knocked down the totem pole, and the environments aren’t as impressive, Pocky & Rocky 2 still contains the frantic run-and-gun gameplay combined with a traditional Japanese aesthetic that made the first game so charming.
It’s a more easygoing game, but that’s not to say it’s easy. It’ll last a little over an hour as long as you don’t make any substantial screw-ups. There’s also a password save which is appreciated, since Pocky & Rocky didn’t include one. It’s not a perfect experience, and to me, doesn’t really live up to the original, but it’s still a lot of fun and well worth checking out.
This review was conducted on a Super Nintendo using an original cartridge copy of the game. It was paid for by the author.