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The Asian Weird

Allen Varney | 8 Nov 2005 07:01
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Ai Cho Aniki's cult popularity spawned (if that's the word I want) 1995's Cho Aniki Bakaretsu Rantou Hen for the Super Famicom (i.e., Super Nintendo). This Street Fighter imitation starred Samson, as well as Botei (a pink berserker in a thong), Mami 19 (a phallic pink aircraft), and Sabu (a flying Elvis cyborg-ship, complete with dancing geisha). Backgrounds include a field of daisies and a church filled with giant purple men doing squat thrusts.

Next was Cho Aniki Kyukyoku Otokonogyakushu, another side-scroller, this time for the PlayStation and the Sega Saturn. This 1996 game, now quite rare, uses animated digitized photos of live actors, which means some real person actually had to act like Samson. In the game, bodybuilders ride other bodybuilders upside-down like pogo sticks. One enigmatic screenshot shows a human pyramid of thong-clad Japanese men.

The most recent entry (if that's the word I want) is 2003's Cho Aniki Seinaru Protein Densetsu ("Legend of the Holy Protein") for the PS2. You play a legendary blob of protein that can confer a perfect build on a bodybuilder with a perfect heart. Your two favorite candidates, Samson and his special friend Adon, shield you as you shoot construction workers, shark-men, and others who desire the ultimate body. Salvaging protein from defeated enemies, you increase Samson and Adon's "Men's Gauge" power. If you max out their Men's Symbol, they let loose a stream of, uh, manhood.

Did I mention I'm not making this up?

Familiar Weirdness
This list is Asia-only, but some strange Japanese games have made it to America. In years past you may have seen Akira Sato's Mister Mosquito (buzz around and suck blood from the innocent Yamada family) and Yoot Saito's Seaman (raise a bad-tempered human-faced fish to adulthood). And you've at least heard of Masaya Matsuura's rap-music simulator Parappa the Rapper, right?

Of course, the reigning Champion of Odd is Keita Takahashi's Katamari Damacy. In this PlayStation 2 game, a little-bitty alien Prince of the Cosmos rolls everything in the world into a gigantic ball to create new stars. The original Katamari sold okay by odd-game standards - over 150,000 copies in Japan and over 120,000 in America - prompting publisher Namco to issue a new sequel, We Love Katamari.

What's next, weird-wise? Hard to tell. On April Fool's Day 2004, Sony Japan announced a forthcoming Happiness Controller, where you supposedly must make 100 people happy, including a businessman, a bar hostess, a manga artist, and other despondent types. (What about writers on deadline? That could work.) From the GamePro preview:

"You take on the role of the controller, distributing happiness that is shown by either a heart or skull mark. If a person is very happy, the player can "suck" some of that person's happiness (or sadness) and give it to some unhappy sod by rapidly hitting the circle button. When over 71 people are happy, a 101st person appears, whose mission is to do nothing else than making others miserable [...] When the 101st Rastafarian guy attacks, the game enters a mini-game mode where the player fends off attacks by rapidly hitting the circle button."

Great screenshots, but Sony still hasn't published the game, and it's not yet clear this morale-building exercise is anything but a joke.

Strange Virtue
Is weirdness worthwhile in itself? Though Katamari has passionate fans, most of the games in this article are more fun to read about than to play. Obviously, everyone wants every game to be good, but if you had to balance Conventional-Good and Weird-But-Only-Sort-of-Okay, how would you set the proportions?

A certain seasoning of oddness probably helps keep a field healthy. Offbeat games can indicate new gameplay or new potential in existing forms. If nothing else, playing these games can expand your horizons. Once you play a side-scroller with fey bodybuilders shooting white globules at enemy proteins, you may justly say, "Well, now I know anything's possible."

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