I’ve been revisiting the Kiki Kaikai series as part of research for another article I wrote. While digging up details on some of the games I know less about, I encountered the fact that the sole Gameboy Advance game in the series, Kiki Kaikai Advance — otherwise localized as the bizarrely named Pocky & Rocky with Becky — was released on the Wii U’s virtual console. An odd inclusion considering the SNES titles that it followed up on were omitted from release, but, okay, sure, I never played it, so let’s give it a go.
Way, way back in my youth, my mother and I spent some time renting Pocky & Rocky on the SNES, and playing co-op. While we never got very far because I was a scrub, the time I spent with my mother and scenes from the game itself stuck in my mind for over a decade before I looked into re-acquiring it. That game was great. Pocky & Rocky with Becky, on the other hand…
WITH? JUST USE A COMMA!
It had been 7 years since Pocky & Rocky 2 had been released on SNES, but a lot of early Gameboy Advance games were digging deep into retro libraries to revive characters who never made the leap into 3D. Kiki Kaikai was one such character dug up from obscurity and slapped onto a portable cartridge, giving us this game in 2001.
The story this time around is… Hold on, I think I need to look this up. Oh, right! Now I remember. A ghost was imprisoned for 100 years and has broken out. That’s it, go stop it. I’m not saying that the Kiki Kaikai ever really had an deep storyline, but they at least had a little more than, “There’s a bad guy, go get him.”
As the name implies, a third character was added to the mix. Named Becky in the English version, because I guess they couldn’t think of anything else that rhymed with Pocky and Rocky, she’s actually a renamed reintroduction of Miki-chan from the Famicom Disk System version of Kiki Kaikai. Although supposedly based off Japanese idol, Miki Ito, she’s basically just a palette swap of the main character in the FDS version, and, well, she’s still a palette swap on the GBA.
THREE’S A CROWD
You kind of have to wonder what the point of having three characters is when it’s strictly a single-player game. There’s no good answer for that. The only distinct difference between the characters, aside from visually, is that they each have a unique special weapon.
As was the case in the earlier games, weapons are power up by picking up coloured scrolls. However, previous games had two and this time around there’s four. You can only upgrade your weapons by picking up the same type of scroll. This has two problems:
First, the drop rate is so rare that it’s difficult to plan for a specific upgrade route. You could pick up a red scroll, then find nothing but the other colours in perpetuity.
Second, two of the power-ups are so vaguely defined that I had to look up their effect. Apparently blue extends range and yellow speeds up shots, but the visual difference is non-existent, and these effects are so unhelpful compared to red’s increased power and purple’s special shot.
Speaking of which, here’s where the unique weapon comes into play. Pick up purple scrolls for Pocky and she throws exploding cards. Do the same for Becky and she gets a spread shot. So, that’s why three characters were included. They probably would have been unnecessary if the scrolls just provided the effects of each character, but then, I guess I should be happy that there’s some visual diversity and replay value provided by the characters.
THE SHINTO SHUFFLE
If you’re not familiar with the Kiki Kaikai/Pocky & Rocky series, it’s best described as a top-down shoot-em-up set against a backdrop of Japanese folklore. The games follow the exploits of the heroic Sayo-chan (or Pocky in western releases), a Shinto shrine maiden who combats various yokai and obake from folklore by throwing ofuda cards at them, and can deflect projectiles with her oharai wand. If you’re not at all familiar with Japanese imagery, you may find yourself a little lost.
That’s okay, though, because the gameplay is simple enough. Get from one end of the level to the other, blasting everything in the way. It’s a pretty standard formula popularized by games like Commando and Ikari Warriors, but the change from military combat to Japanese fairy tales makes the experience seem fresh.
The first game in the series was a serviceable but drab affair. The graphics included a lot of dirt, and that’s about it. When it hit the Super Nintendo, Natsume injected a tonne of bright colours and sped up gameplay. Rocky & Pocky with Becky (gosh, I hate typing that) eschews a lot of this in a return to a style that’s more similar to the original formula than the updated Natsume versions. Hell, even most of the early levels are just remakes of the ones in the original arcade title. How many, I can’t say for sure, since I’ve only played the original once, but suffice to say that a significant number of the small handful of levels are lifted.
What I’m saying is it’s drab, and the gameplay is slow. Pocky & Rocky had a habit of burying you in baddies, but their transition to Gameboy Advance has severely thinned the herd. The graphics are a poor shadow of their SNES kin, dropping the bright cheer in favour of dirt. Even the most out there levels are as bland as thrice steeped darjeeling. Oh, golly, it’s so disappointing.
THRICE STEEPED DARJEELING
Disappointing is the best way to sum up Pocky & Rocky with Becky (eesh), but even if you strip out my affection for the series, you’re still left with a game that’s drab, lacks difficulty, and is far too short. I finished the game with two characters in a single morning before breakfast.
It’s a barebones and lazy game. It feels like it was simply rushed out to land in the GBA’s launch window. It’s a shame that this was the only game in the series to land on the Virtual Console, because there are other, much more sterling games under the Kiki Kaikai name. I’d honestly recommend you avoid this one, whether you’re new to the series or an established fan. There are far worse games out there, but this one is a massive disappointment.
This review was conducted on a Wii U using a digital copy bought from the Virtual Console. It was bought by the author.