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 Post subject: Cho Aniki (PSN Download)
PostPosted: Sat Jun 18, 2011 1:29 am 


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Joined: 03 Oct 2007
Posts: 46
Game: Cho Aniki
Platform: PSX (Japan only), PSN (Global)
Developer: Masaya (original creator) Pre-Stage (developed Cho Aniki PSX) (distributed worldwide on the PSN by Monkey Paw Games)


It's Good To Be Bad...Conditionally

Did you know that Japanese gaming culture regards crap as an art form?

No, I'm not slamming Japan: I'm a big Japanophile myself. A uniquely Japanese trend in gamer culture is the rise of something known in Japan as the "kusoge," literally, a "crap game." Kusoge is a title which carries with it two meanings: either it refers to a terrible game that is reviled, or it refers to something which was deliberately designed to be bad to cash in on camp. They are the video game equivalent of stuffing a Hayabusa engine inside a Smart ForTwo: behind a wretchedly ridiculous exterior lies a functioning engine which actually rivals those that can actually talk the talk as well as walk the walk. These intentionally ridiculous games are known as "bakage," or "stupid game." Two names come to mind for me when talking about bakage: Japan-only MegaDrive side-scrolling brawler Trio The Punch and long-running Japan-only shmup series, Cho Aniki.

Originating on the PC Engine in 1992, Cho Aniki, which translates into "Super Big Brother" is a video game franchise that elevated kusoge from a happy accident or the occasional gaming equivalent of trolling to an art form. Before the concept of video game parodies, Cho Aniki could be considered a proto-game parody all by itself. This first game was a shmup which involved fighting a musclebound emperor alongside a man named Idaten and a woman named Benten, as well as the game's arguable namesake: your two options, Adon and Samson, two bald, musclebound bodybuilding brothers with holes in the tops of their heads. The game was, of course, ridiculous, including nonsense visuals and an obsession with homoerotic imagery, as were all following Cho Aniki games, but under its exterior was a coherent game which spawned a full game series that persists even to today, with PSP title Cho Aniki Zero released last year.

Most of the United States probably wouldn't have known about this series were it not for television and the Internet. It was inevitable in a world where someone in the US can learn about media and culture in Europe and Japan would look past the pure, distilled ridiculousness behind bakage like the Cho Aniki series and look at them as the intentionally-stupidly-designed games they were. And so it was that Cho Aniki in its purest horizontal shmup form started hitting the shores of the West: the Wii Virtual Console got the original Cho Aniki, the PSP acquired Cho Aniki Zero, and the PSN would acquire Cho Aniki: Kyūkyoku Muteki Ginga Saikyō Otoko (that Japanese word salad means "The Ultimate, Invincible, Most Galactically Powerful Man,") or just Cho Aniki. Bakage was now not just a Japanese cultural phenomenon, but a legitimized cult movement in the West.

There is, however, a funny thing about the difference between kusoge and bakage: it's all tightrope walking. Remember, "kusoge" means "crap game." Being a bakage means maintaining that surprisingly-delicate six degrees of separation between looking like a big, garish train wreck and actually being a big, garish train wreck.

So in which side of the kusoge/bakage bin does the Playstation installation of Cho Aniki sit? Well, read on and I'll try to tell you.


Story

Understanding what could loosely be called the story is a bit confusing for me when you consider that not only is the game a bakage, which means it's intentionally stupid, but it's also all in Japanese, there are no subtitles, and finding information on the Cho Aniki PSX title is like trying to wrestle a greased pig to the ground while your sorry mitts are covered in slug slime. I can only suppose that from what the full title and the graphics in the opening suggest, it's a retelling of the original story of the first Cho Aniki game. Bo Emperor Bill (whose name means "Botei Bill" in Japanese, which is a pun on "bodybuild") is the galaxy's most successful bodybuilder, being crowned the galaxy's greatest ten times in a row. However, to keep his form and thus his crown, he must have a steady supply of protein. As he finds that his supply is running out, he starts invading planets unilaterally to put up protein factories and maintain his rippling muscles. The realm of Heaven itself is threatened by this turn of events, and sends Idaten, who looks like he auditioned and subsequently did not qualify for the role of Goku, and Benten, who looks like someone dumped pastel paint all over first-generation Belldandy, to take out Botei Bill.

Still with me? Good. Now it's time to get to the storytelling aspect of the gameplay: just like the actual narrative at the start of Cho Aniki, the tale within the journey from level to level in Cho Aniki is equally ridiculous. Environments are everything from cityscapes to areas in space, castles, places over the ocean, places under the ocean, a football stadium...who cares about cohesiveness? Cho Aniki certainly doesn't, and this is the signal to even the most hardened Marcus Fenix wannabe that this is a game that should not be taken seriously. Laugh. It's a game wherein there are more exaggerated muscle men than the audition line for a live-action Duke Nukem movie. You want plot twists? They aren't there. The entirety of the plot is pointed out right there in the paragraph right above this one. There is no fourth-wall breaking, it's all in the presentation. Any other attempts to find some more sense in this game are listened to, then laughed at while the game continues flexing its manly biceps. And that's the way Cho Aniki likes it. Basically, because it makes no sense, it makes sense. It's almost Zen.

Summary: 8/10. I can't give the story of Cho Aniki any higher than this because I don't understand it. Cho Aniki's a complete nonsense plot. It knows this and uses every opportunity to remind you of that. It's a glorious disaster. If it took itself seriously I would be lambasting it at every level, but it's playing with its own lack of seriousness instead. More than that, it's turning its own nonsense into something weirdly coherent.


Graphics

Up until the PSX Cho Aniki game, all the graphics for the series were regular sprites. Cho Aniki PSX was the only game in the series that used digital photography for all its sprites: these were all people in costumes and props which were all then photographed, then their photographs were turned into sprites for the game either by themselves or with additional editing. The backgrounds appear to be everything from regular sprite art to photographed props and they all look equally ridiculous. Of course, this is all part of the fun: everything from the player sprites to the enemies and background look like a Japanese film company raided an American Z-movie set and then went mad with their plunder. Manly men in various stages of undress abound, as well as sexually suggestive robots, weird creatures, human pyramids and various out-of-place 8-bit sprites. All the graphics will at least elicit a chuckle, and everything is covered in the same overall wash of Japanese ridiculousness.

As for the graphical quality itself, the graphics actually stand up very well. They're adventurous, to say the least, and thankfully they're all convincing. Idaten looks like Idaten, Benten looks like she should, the options, especially Samson and Adon, look and move as they should and all of them have been given equal detail. All the sprites are well-animated as well, at least for the ones that are actually animated.

There are problems with this, though: the graphics include a lot of sprite stretching and squashing, and this is often for large objects. I get the idea that the object of a bakage is to look all ridiculous and stupid, but compared to all the effort everywhere else to make it overblown and goofy, the effect comes off as lamentably cheap. Thankfully most of it doesn't look that out of place, but there could have been zillions of more ridiculous effects they could have turned to to get the point across.

Summary: 9/10. For a bakage in the PSX era, Cho Aniki's graphics are almost perfect. Everything looks so wrong that it's right. I wonder if Cho Aniki has the bakage subgenre all to itself on the PSX...


Sound

When I suggested that Cho Aniki is a bakage that could walk the walk, I meant in almost all aspects. This includes sound: while I can't say the soundtrack is catchy, it's certainly kitsch and goofy enough to fit the Cho Aniki universe. Men chanting using manly noises, unusual sound effects all over the place, and traditional Japanese instruments where they really shouldn't be are all part of the fun of Cho Aniki's music. Again, I find none of it particularly catchy, but it at least fits.

It's the sound effects that really sell it for me, though. The traditional shmup palette of laser and explosion sound effects is joined by more manly grunting and lots and lots of voice work aside. It's all high-quality, clear, and don't sound digitized, so they're good when they're there for a large amount of time, as most of it is just voice responses delivered quickly. Don't expect any touching soliloquies in Cho Aniki. There's a bassy narrator who does deliver a long story, the high-pitched cutesy voices of Benten's angel options, the manly voices of Idaten, Samson and Adon, the booming voice of Botei Bill and Benten's ladylike voice, who oddly reminds me of Kikuko Inoue. Perhaps Belldandy and Benten really aren't just a design relation?...

Summary: 8/10. Having no truly memorable music does not discount Cho Aniki from having a good soundtrack. The sound effects take center stage, as does all the voice work, and it all works entertainingly well.


Gameplay

While everything else in PSX Cho Aniki is squarely within campy bakage territory, it's the gameplay that really straddles the line between goofy bakage and full-blown kusoge. You play as either Idaten or Benten with no real appreciable difference in abilities and your powerup and attack system is fairly simple: you are almost always flanked by your two options, and most enemies you destroy drop little off-white pill things. Gather enough of them with either yourself or your options, and you power yourself up from single shots to a triple spread shot. You can also pick up penetrating laser beam special attacks this way, which act as your bombs and are in a finite supply. You and your two options are powered up separately, and while they can deflect bullets they stop firing for a moment when they do, so you need to dodge carefully. When either is incapacitated momentarily or when you lose a life, you are powered down. This sounds interesting, treating the options like drone versions of the player, and for the most part it is, but it's also a bit annoying. Most of the time you'll be dodging about and avoiding fire anyway, so you will often run into items at an inopportune angle, so you and your two options are likely to be powered up unevenly as the game persists. Luckily, three of these powerup items always appear when these are dropped, so you can fly all three things into three powerups so everything gets one each, but unfortunately, neither your controls nor the game's timing for when these powerups appear seem to want to cooperate.

Your handling is slightly drifty, but you can move fairly accurately. Your options, on the other hand, whiz everywhere as if they keep forgetting where you are, then sprint over to their appointed positions. This can often mean you will want to deploy your laser in a concentrated spread, more often than not you will fire it with a huge gap in the middle of it. That isn't the main problem with your handling, though: the main problem is your lack of occasion. You move too slow to effectively dodge most of the time, there's no way around it. You get one speed that isn't quite fast enough, and that's it throughout the entirety of the game. While this means you need to watch your positioning, this isn't meant to be a strategic, cagey game like an R-Type title: bullets spread across the screen mid-stage during certain attacks and enemies move quickly in what is purportedly a test of your reflexes in what would be more in line with a manic shmup or a bullet hell game. You can't treat Cho Aniki like this, however: you have a deceptively large hitbox that seems arbitrary at times and any hit will cause you to lose a life and go tumbling offscreen in a cloud of smoke. Your options don't always act like options, since using them to absorb enough shots will disable them for a considerable amount of time. Trying to use them as your defenses will leave you defenseless for stretches of time. How backwards is that?

That's not even counting the bosses. Unless you're significantly powered-up, boss battles will take far longer than they should, and the arbitrary collision detection and hitbox sizes for enemy attacks and you will make battles half a guessing game and half an almost humorously-protracted damage exchange. Sometimes, your options will even ditch you to ogle at the boss, making some already difficult battles damn near impossible.

As if to hang a lampshade on the whole deal, Botei Bill is playable in a few bonus stages where you must pilot his enormous bod armed with a thick, wide laser beam against waves of tiny 8-bit enemies. One shot ices him, all your enemies are small, and Botei Bill is huge. So is his hitbox. Duh, this is a bonus stage, but at this rate it seems more like the game is telling us "Yeah, the engine's bad, but it could have been much worse: we could have made it like this just for kicks!"

Summary: 5/10. It's a serviceable shooter with some significant issues. It's not broken, though, and it's certainly beatable: it's just way harder than it deserves to be, and most criminally, it kills the fun of enjoying all the rich camp-gay insanity within debatably the only bakage franchise in the world.


Conclusion

The PSN really got the short end of the stick when it came to handing out Cho Aniki games. Idaten got pumped up, Benten redesigned into something far sexier, and we got the new elephant-headed character Shoten in brand-spanking-new title Cho Aniki Zero, the Wii Virtual Console got the original Cho Aniki to show how it all began, and I suppose because it was the only PSX title, Playstation owners got saddled with the one Cho Aniki game derided by even some of its biggest fans, despising it for handling like a pig and playing like it actively hated anyone brave enough to pick up the controller.

Was Cho Aniki really that bad? Not entirely, but it's certainly not what Cho Aniki is about. The game shouldn't be this aggravating: it's supposed to be a fun shooter draped in an absolutely ridiculous set of visuals and sounds. Cho Aniki was innovative, risque and ambitiously executed, and it danced on its feet at every outing...except for this one. I guess it just goes to show that why so few bakage series exist today: while there's arguably nothing as rewarding as looking ridiculous and yet being just as good as, if not even a bit ahead of your peers, there is also nothing as embarrassing as being a poor game, and looking ridiculous to boot.

Final Verdict: 6/10 (not an average of individual scores)
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"Enjoy a nice Brown Betty with DEATH! But, but mostly eat death." ~Crow T. Robot~


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