Retro or Reboot?: Pocky & Rocky

If there are any regrets I’ve had while writing articles for Retronaissance, it would simply have to be the fact that I’m overzealous when deciding to begin new series. It’s not to say that I don’t like the concept of writing multiple pieces based around a single cohesive theme – quite the opposite, in fact. My problem is that I always seem to decide to start them off with only an idea or two to explore. I always sort of take my ability to come up with new ideas that relate to these categories on a whim for granted, but in reality, coming up with topics that I deem both suitable and interesting is a difficult undertaking. As such, I would often exacerbate the problem: introducing more series with the expectation that they’d be easier to write for. Sometimes this ends up working to my advantage – I’ve got quite a few concepts lined up for a few existing series – but when it doesn’t, it only adds to my guilt. As such, I’ve decided that this year, I’m going to try to restart a few of these abandoned series – or at the very least, give them proper follow-ups – and what better place to start than with good old “Retro or Reboot”?

It’s been a long time since I’ve written one of these articles, so it’s only fitting that I review exactly what Retro or Reboot entails. I’ll be looking at a series – with a minimum of two games – that has fallen victim to a significant hiatus. In the past, I’ve considered only games that haven’t seen a new release since the sixth generation (the days when the PlayStation 2 ruled the gaming world), but since the present generation has finally come into its own, I’ll amend this to involve anything that hasn’t been revived since the seventh generation: Xbox 360, PS3 and the Wii. Anything newer than that still has a chance to be revisited after all. Generally, I’ll favor series that only managed to exist during a single generation – it’s just easier to find a cohesive theme when you don’t have to worry about deviations like the 3D Castlevania games or the 2010 reboot of Splatterhouse when considering a franchise’s core concept. I also tend to prefer older franchises, simply because I’m more likely to be familiar with them. In the end, I craft two proposals to revive the franchise: one retro-themed proposition which simply tries to maintain as much of the originals’ concepts as possible and the other a total reboot that tries to reimagine the series with modern conventions. Of course, both proposals can be best described as fantastical pie in the sky wishing, but these are meant to be happy articles, soul-crushing reality be damned!

This article’s topic is Pocky & Rocky. Developed by Natsume, the P&R series is a perfect example of the shoot-‘em-up sub-genre colloquially referred to as the “cute-‘em-up”. The games play similarly to a specific style of shmup where players are capable of freely roaming the stage at their own pace – other examples with similar gameplay include Zombies Ate My Neighbors, Commando and Shock Troopers. Some time ago, the Nopino Goblins went on a rampage. A young Shinto priestess named Pocky managed to put an end to the mayhem, restoring the peace. One day, a Tanuki named Rocky came to Pocky’s temple, asking her for help. The goblins had lost their minds and began their rampage anew. The two team up to find out just why the spirits run amok once more. The second game involves the harvest festival, attended this year by Princess Luna – not that one –  the princess of the moon when she is kidnapped by a gang of demons, led by an oni named Impy. This time, Pocky and Rocky are joined by two new partners, Bomber Bob and Little Ninja. While I personally didn’t own a Super Nintendo when I was a kid, my cousin did and he had both games, so I have fond memories of them from my childhood. Years later, I got to play them again and they definitely held up. Unfortunately, the games haven’t been re-released since: Natsume expressed interest in putting them on Nintendo’s Virtual Console service, but they claim that Nintendo wasn’t interested in releasing any titles from that platform.

Retro

The funny thing about this is that I’ve already got a perfect framework to base the entire concept around. Recently, Natsume did an enhanced port of Wild Guns: Reloaded – currently on the PS4 and coming soon to PC via Steam – which took the original game and rebuilt it, optimizing it for larger resolutions, adding new characters and stages and beefing up the multiplayer to allow for up to 4-player cooperative play. With such a product already existing, why not expand on its core concept with another classic Natsume game? I normally try to title these concepts and this time around I actually have a perfect title: “Pocky & Rocky: Resurrection”. You know, because the enemies fought in this game are mostly various spirits and other creatures generally associated with the afterlife? Besides, the series hasn’t been active since the Game Boy Advance days – so I think that constitutes “Resurrection” in the title.

Speaking of, that brings up a potential issue with the entire concept. You see, the Pocky & Rocky games are actually sequels in a series of games that were originally created by Taito. Known as “Kiki Kaikai” in Japan, the series originated in Japanese arcades in 1986. Here, the character we know as “Pocky” was referred to as Sayo. Taito would eventually release the game on both the MSX2 computer and the PC Engine and even develop a remake for the Famicom Disk System. After that point, the games that would become the Pocky & Rocky games were developed by Natsume who also published the games in both Japan and North America. These two games improved the gameplay of the series significantly: the original Kiki Kaikai games were slower affairs with stiffer controls. They were also the first games in the series to allow for simultaneous multiplayer play: the previous games in the series only allowed 2 players with alternating turns. The only direct follow-up to these two games was a Game Boy Advance game developed by a third company, Altron. This game was published in the West as “Pocky & Rocky with Becky”, including a third character – “Becky”, Pocky’s nigh-identical friend who first appeared in the Famicom game – though the gameplay itself more closely resembled the original arcade games, to my dismay.

There was another attempt at licensing the Kiki Kaikai name for another title – but by this point, Taito had been purchased by Square Enix which led to an argument over the rights to the name of the game. The game would eventually be released as “Yuikinko Daisenpu” – or Heavenly Guardian as it was known in North America – and is clearly meant to be a spiritual successor. This begs the question: would Natsume be able to make a new game in the Pocky & Rocky series? After all, they re-released the GBA game with little problem, but would Square Enix be willing to license the rights to Kiki Kaikai for a worldwide release or would Natsume have to perform some kind of trademark wrangling in order to get a new game made in the first place? Given the fact that Square-Enix has previously tried to license out the rights to various Eidos properties, allowing independent developers to make pitches for new games in those franchises, I think that there may be a chance that they may be more open to licensing out the property, especially to a former collaborator like Natsume.

The funny thing about this concept is that I’d argue it would work even better with Pocky & Rocky than it did with Wild Guns. They have two games to work from, as opposed to one, offering a wealth of existing content to delve from – after all, both games were pretty much built with the same game mechanics in mind, so utilizing the stages from both games under a shared framework should be completely possible. Throw in some additional brand new stages on top of that like Wild Guns: Reloaded did, and you’ve got a perfect retro revival on your hands.

I’d argue that the gameplay should resemble the original games as closely as possible, but by the same token, take into account various advances we’ve seen in video games since the SNES days. Of course, there were some slightly different mechanics between both P&R games: the single-player in the original allowed you to play alone, while the sequel gave you an AI partner of your choice, that could be thrown as a bomb attack for massive damage or taken control of, offering Pocky an additional hit point. The first game gave each character a health meter and allowed them to power up their shots in two ways – either a spread shot or a flaming shot which did more damage. The second game depicted Pocky’s health via her clothing, allowing her to don additional armor for an extra hit point and added new power-ups like bunny ears that enhance Pocky’s speed and a flashing block that would allow her to switch out her partner for a different character, including those that could be unlocked by finding them while playing the game. Due to these improvements, I would suggest using the second game as the revival’s basis, but offer two different single-player modes: one with a partner (representing the second game) and a solo mode (for those that preferred the first game). Better yet, in the former, you’d be able to choose any of the partner characters as your main – which could allow Pocky to act as a partner character. I originally considered adding in an alternate control method – one akin to twin-stick shooters – before I quickly realized that this would completely break the balance of the games. From the series’ conception, players have only been able to aim in the direction they’re moving, a mechanic that is of the utmost importance when enemy placement is considered. As such, I’d have to insist that Natsume maintain the original control scheme from previous games if they decide to take this route.

Obviously, a multiplayer mode is a must. In fact, keeping in line with single-player mode, there should be individual modes relating to both of the previous games. The first game gave each character their own unique health and extra lives, while the second game only allowed the second player to play as Pocky’s partner – only capable of taking a single hit of damage, but having an infinite set of lives, not unlike the Sonic & Tails mode in Sonic 2 and 3. I’d also suggest adding a 4-player mode (based on the first game’s multiplayer), just like the one found in Wild Guns: Reloaded. This time, however, I’d say that Natsume should try to balance the difficulty levels based on how many players are playing at a time – as the game constantly being balanced for 4 players was the chief criticism I heard levelled at Wild Guns. I’m probably a bit biased, but I’d also love to see an online multiplayer mode in addition to the classic couch co-op mode found in Reloaded. Of course, considering how small of a company Natsume is, a mode like that might be a massive undertaking – but it would be a nice touch all the same.

The graphical style is a simple decision: just use the same graphics from the old SNES games, like Wild Guns: Reloaded did. Upscale the graphics so that they look good at the higher resolutions modern platforms can display, but keep the character to playing field size ratio intact, while rendering the game itself in widescreen. Fortunately, the shift to widescreen shouldn’t have as much of an effect on the game as it did with Wild Guns, just due to the difference in genre. Likewise, the sprite work found in both games is similar enough that they should be easy enough to incorporate into a single title and any new artwork should be drawn to match the existing style.

Ideally, I’d want P&R: Resurrection to include both original games in their entirety: storyline, stage progression, boss fights, effectively acting as both an archive of the original games as well as their evolution. On that note, I’d love to see a “third” story added to the mix – with an all-new assortment of stages, as opposed to the few new levels thrown into Reloaded. In addition, throwing in a sort of “remix mode” that would throw a random assortment of levels from all three scenarios would be another awesome bonus feature that would certainly add hours of replay value.

Reboot

The first issue with trying to conceive a modern take on Pocky & Rocky is simply that it’s hard to think of a modern genre that could easily represent it. After all, the classic beat-‘em-ups of the golden age of arcades clearly share DNA with modern character action games, and even the shoot-‘em-ups of yore could easily be turned into rail shooters for big-budget releases today. However, what of the run-and-gun variant of the shmup? After all, part of the appeal there is having full control over the playable characters, while both standard shmups and rail shooters both rely on the screen scrolling constantly, pushing the player along designated paths. A better question: what’s the modern equivalent of a cute-‘em-up? In spite of the second game’s “Angry Kirby” packaging, the in-game graphics still maintain a light-hearted appearance. The Bomberman: Act Zero treatment clearly isn’t going to work with this one – granted, it didn’t even work with Bomberman in the first place.

My basic concept involves a lot of genre blending. Off the top of my head, I can’t really think of any game that plays particularly like this – if anyone does, let me know in the comments – but essentially, it’d be a cross between an action game and a twin-stick shooter, essentially using some elements from a third-person shooter to bridge the gap between those two disparate genres. Essentially, we’d be looking at a game that offers quick mobility, emulating that of the SNES games – you could even incorporate the slide as like dodge maneuvers common in the action genre – but also allows for easy shooting controls. Ideally, the second stick would be used to both direct and aim Pocky and Rocky in a 3D environment, while either a face or shoulder button would be used to fire shots. Likewise, the items used to deflect enemy shots – Pocky’s “magic stick” and Rocky’s tail – would likely be expanded upon, expanding on what the melee attacks both characters were capable of in the previous games, while being sure not to overshadow the long-range attacks.

Originally, I considered basing a reboot of Pocky & Rocky on a third-person shooter. The problem with that is that games of this genre generally have clunky controls, which would be incredibly counterproductive when trying to translate a game like Pocky & Rocky into a modern design. After all, even among run-and-gun/shmup hybrids, both P&R games had remarkably responsive controls. The only game I could think of that even came close to what I was trying to achieve was Red Dead Revolver – itself originally conceived as a modern reboot of Capcom’s Gun.Smoke – but a modern take on P&R would require a much smoother and arcade-like interface. This led me to consider contemporary genres known for their responsive controls – and the action genre struck me as the best choice. Likewise, shooting is much more complex in the third-person shooter genre, so a simpler design choice was necessary and nothing is simpler than twin-stick aiming.

The graphics probably wouldn’t need to be all that complex – and any major release out of Natsume would likely lack the budget for anything ornate – so instead, I’ll discuss the type of art direction I’d like to see in this “big budget” reimagining of one of the cult classics from my childhood. First, I’d rather see an over-the-shoulder camera as opposed to the classic overhead view. If they wanted to retain the overhead view, they’d be better off going with the retro-themed revival. Besides, it would be interesting to see the world of Pocky & Rocky from a more direct angle. As for the game’s art style, I think the game should be done in 3D with cel-shaded graphics. I’m torn about how the art direction should take form beyond that point: either a colorful anime style or a graphical style evoking traditional Japanese paintings (not unlike Okami) would work for me.

As for potential developers, I’m kind of at a loss. Natsume doesn’t really have too many partners that they can commission to develop something like this and the project’s scope is also likely beyond the capabilities of their internal teams. As usual, my gut tells me Platinum Games would be a perfect choice, but given the caliber of publishers that have hired them in the past, they’re likely outside of Natsume’s budget. The best I can think of would likely be some random indie developer. The only team that really comes to mind would be The Game Bakers, the team behind the sleeper hit Furi – a game with an even faster pace than what I would expect from a Pocky & Rocky revival. Having said that, I’m almost certain that there may be some Japanese indie dev I’ve never heard of that would be a perfect fit for this concept.

It feels good to write another one of these and I’m happy to say that I’ve got even more ideas for Retro or Reboot in the pipeline. What did you think of these ideas? Would you rather see “Pocky & Rocky: Resurrection” become a reality or does a more modernized take on the series excite you more? Do you disagree that Pocky & Rocky is worth reviving in the first place? Do you have an even better idea for either concept? Are you also excited that Wild Guns: Reloaded is coming to Steam this year? Feel free to let me know in the comments.

10 More Games I Want Ported to PC

Hey, I said this was going to be a recurring series last time, didn’t I? If you’ve read any of my previous articles, you’ll know that I’ve been getting more and more into PC gaming in the last few years. One of the big reasons for that is the emphasis on backwards compatibility: even when the game’s original developers fail to deliver, it usually takes a resourceful fan a short amount of time to make it work again on newer systems. Consoles just don’t deliver on that as well as they did during the previous two generations. On the plus side, with the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 running on PC architecture, PC ports could be beneficial to console gamers as well, allowing for easier and enhanced re-releases of these older games.

Before I recap the rules I established in the previous article, I’d like to give a shout-out to Deep Silver for taking down one of the games I had planned for a future list, before I even got the chance to set it up: Suda 51’s latest game Killer is Dead is coming to PCs this May. So I’ll have to replace that in a future list. Anyway, the rules are the same as they were in the last article: only one game per company per list; sticking mostly to third-party companies (with the exception of Microsoft, who is known to release games on PC as well), especially those that have released games on PC recently and games will specifically be taken from the seventh (Wii/360/PS3) and eighth (WiiU/XBO/PS4) generations, especially those that were on multiple consoles at the time of their release. Finally, games that are both from the same series that were released on the same platform CAN be packaged together. So, once again, let’s get on with the list.

Darkstalkers Resurrection – Capcom (360/PS3)

Anyone who has known me for a good amount of time knows that I love me some Capcom fighting games. At the top of that list stands not Street Fighter, not the Vs. Series, but Darkstalkers, a cult classic fighter revolving around some of cinema’s classic monsters duking it out in a fight to the death. I love me some Darkstalkers and when the second and third games in the series (Night Warriors and Vampire Savior, respectively) recently got re-released on PSN and Xbox Live Arcade, I just had to jump on it. I got both releases of the game the first day they were available and I had a lot of fun with them. Unfortunately, the game sold poorly on these platforms. So why ask for a PC release? Well, while it is possible to emulate both games online with the same netcode Resurrection used, that’s not exactly legal. I’d jump at the chance to have a legal avenue to play some Darkstalkers on my PC. More importantly, PC gamers are clamoring for some legitimate fighting game releases, to the point where Arc System Works recently allowed other publishers re-release the mediocre PC ports of both Guilty Gear Isuka and the Blazblue: Calamity Trigger on Steam (which lacks netcode, due to GfWL shutting down and no one bothering to convert it to Steamworks) and people are just eating it up, in an effort to show ASW that yes, people want their games on PC. Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 may be the number one Capcom fighting game people are demanding a PC port for, but I’m well aware that Capcom’s deals with Marvel has lapsed.

Blazblue Chronophantasma/Continuum Shift EX – Arc System Works (AC/PS3/Vita/360*)

Speaking of Blazblue, I definitely want the other games in the series to see releases on PC. I guess at this point, getting Continuum Shift EX is useless for the most part, since its sequel Chronophantasma is already out in Japan and is due out in North America later this month. Anyone who’s familiar with the series, however, knows that there’s more to Blazblue than just having the current version ready for tournaments. The series has an extensive story mode, and considering the fact that we’ve got the first game’s story mode, it seems like it would be good to have the complete story up to this point, so doing a two-pack (perhaps gut CSEX’s online component like CT’s if that would make a port more cost-effective) would be great, especially for PC-only gamers who really want to get into the series. Xrd is still probably my top priority for a PC port, just because it’s both newer and runs on Unreal Engine 3 (which was literally made for PCs). Still, I’d probably be happier if the other Blazblue games made it to PC instead, as Calamity Trigger was the first Arc fighter I honestly enjoyed: my poor luck with the Guilty Gear series is legendary. Just my opinion, though.

Splatterhouse – Namco Bandai (360/PS3)

I’ve never really been that big on the survival horror genre, but I do tend to love games that borrow thematic elements from horror movies. Each game in the original Splatterhouse trilogy was a side-scrolling beat-‘em-up where you take on the role of Rick, who dons the cursed Terror Mask to save his girlfriend from a mansion filled with Lovecraftian horrors. In 2010, Namco Bandai rebooted the classic series as an action hack-and-slash, and while it wasn’t critically-acclaimed by any means, I loved the game. The atmosphere, the gameplay and especially the voice acting: if you can’t appreciate Jim Cummings cursing out Josh Keaton, I pity you. The only real flaw that bothered me was the abysmal load times which a properly-optimized PC port could easily fix. As an added bonus, Splatterhouse 2010 actually contained ports of the original trilogy as well, so even long-time fans who hated the reimagining have some incentive to pick it up. Besides, Namco Bandai recently ported Enslaved to PC, so why not Splatterhouse?

NeoGeo Battle Coliseum – SNK Playmore (360)

Considering we’ve recently seen Metal Slug 3 released on Steam, it seems like SNK Playmore has jumped on the Steam hype train. Frankly, I’d like to see something a little more recent come out. NeoGeo Battle Coliseum was one of Playmore’s first fighting games after regaining the SNK license and it’s an awesome little game. A 2-on-2 tag-team fighter that uses characters from various SNK games: King of Fighters, Samurai Shodown, Last Blade, Garou: Mark of the Wolves, King of the Monsters and even Marco Rossi from Metal Slug. I’ve had a hankering for more classic SNK fighters and NGBC is not only one of my favorites, but an underrated gem. Considering it was re-released on XBLA, just port that version, throw in the improved netcode from King of Fighters XIII or MS3, and you’ve got a solid release on your hands.

Sega Model 2 Collection – Sega (360/PS3)

The worst part is, this shouldn’t even be on here. Many sources online claimed that Sega’s Model 2 Collection was coming to PCs back when it was initially announced. Unfortunately, that never came to be, which is a shame, because I really want to get my hands on Fighting Vipers, one of my favorite 3D fighters of all-time, and the enhanced port of Sonic the Fighters, which finally made long-time dummied-out character Honey the Cat fully playable for the first time in any legitimate release. Virtua Fighter 2 would always be welcome as well. To make matters even better, Sega could also pony up the two games that we never got in the North American or European console releases: the original Virtual-On and Virtua Striker. Granted, in that case, Virtual On would be a higher priority for me than even VF2, but let’s keep it simple: porting the 3 games that were released outside of Japan to PC would be fine.

Vigilante 8 Arcade – Activision (360)

I’ve been a fan of car combat games ever since I played the original Twisted Metal at my aunt’s house when I was a kid. Unfortunately, Twisted Metal’s a Sony franchise, so asking for a PC port these days would be a fool’s errand. Besides, the latest game in the series (Twisted Metal for PS3) was apparently garbage. Fortunately, there’s one series in the genre I liked even more than TM and it’s ripe for the taking: Vigilante 8. Vigilante 8 Arcade was the third game in the series, released on the Xbox Live Arcade early in the 360’s life cycle, but it’s a pretty stellar semi-remake of the original game. Sure, it’s a little barebones and it’s an early title, but frankly, I’d love to see it get ported to PC at some point, even if just for the sake of preservation.

Red Dead Redemption – Rockstar (360/PS3)

This is a big one that people have been demanding for a long time, so I’m really just stating the obvious here. I’m one of the few gamers out there who actually remembers Red Dead Revolver, so I was ecstatic to hear it was getting a sequel on seventh-gen consoles. Unfortunately, they ditched PC for that release. Many other Rockstar games from that era got late PC ports: Grand Theft Auto IV, L.A. Noire and it’s been speculated that even GTAV is getting a PC port at some point. Unfortunately, I don’t really care much for GTA, I want RDR on my PC. Make it happen, Rockstar.

Mighty Switch Force! Hyper Drive Edition – WayForward Interactive (Wii U)

I haven’t really made it a secret: I’m a really big fan of WayForward Interactive’s work. They’ve made some of the best licensed games in recent times and their original IPs are generally fantastic. Considering we’re already getting the second and upcoming fourth Shantae games on PC, it seems fair to branch out and ask for a different series. Mighty Switch Force! HD Edition is a perfect choice, as it’s already an upscaled version of the 3DS eShop hit. Since the Gamepad support in the game was minimal, it seems like porting this to the PC would be simple, if not for the fact that WayFoward has a hectic schedule as it is. Still, this is a wishlist and I want more WayForward games on PC.

Muramasa: The Demon Blade (Rebirth) – Vanillaware/Marvelous AQL (Wii/Vita)

Muramasa: The Demon Blade was probably one of my favorite games on the Wii, so I was happy to hear it was getting an expanded port. Then I found out that port was for the Vita. What a waste of resources. Marvelous AQL has some experience porting games to PC and they handled the North American release of Muramasa Rebirth. Maybe they could even upscale the graphics to at least 720p, so we’d finally be able to appreciate Vanillaware’s hand-drawn 2D artwork in its full splendor. Bundle it with the additional DLC content exclusive to the Vita version, and it would be perfect.

Shadow Complex – Microsoft Studios (360)

I love a good Metroid-like. Most people call them “Metroidvanias”. I used to be one of those people until a friend of mine told me it bugged him and why it bugged him: because while Castlevania games in that style may have borrowed from Super Metroid, the same could not be said for the Metroid series itself. Why have I gone off on this random tangent? Simply because the only thing I really know about this game is that it’s one of the best Metroid-style exploration platformers to have come out in a long time. That’s good enough for me.

And that’s another list done. So far, two of the games on any incarnation of the six lists I’ve planned already have PC ports confirmed. While Killer is Dead: Nightmare Edition isn’t due out until this May, Double Dragon Neon was released last month. Abstraction Games did an excellent job on that port, even quickly patching many minor glitches in the PC version. Hopefully, by the time my third list is ready, a third game’s PC port will have been announced. Sure, that’s just wishful thinking at this point, but here’s hoping.